Sunday, May 29, 2011

Imagine a Life

Imagine life in poverty. Imagine life without a mother, or with an alcoholic father, or with family imprisoned. Imagine life with an abusive spouse or as a single mom. Imagine life after rape. Imagine life as an illegal immigrant, or with no food in the cupboards, or without education. Imagine life with mental illness. Imagine life in an arranged marriage, or as a series of co-habitations, or on the verge of divorce. Imagine life with disabilities or living in a hospital room. Imagine fearing violence in the street or dying from cancer.

Imagine life fighting for life and you can imagine my sisters.

As their Relief Society President, I’ve been given a tour of what used to be a plastic globe to me, but is now flesh and blood, lots of blood, too much blood. Women have washed themselves of it in the waters of baptism and now keep the commandments in a life that may be new and improved, but a life that cannot compare to Sister Mona’s charmed existence as an American. Or so they imagine. They love me for for my empathy (which gift I sometimes have too much of for my own good), but deep down, believe it can only go so far, which is true.

One day, while discussing the purpose of suffering in Relief Society, I made a dot in the center of the dry erase board and then drew a line all the way to the edge. I walked around the perimeter of the chapel, continuing an imaginary line, marker mid-air, until I came back to the dot on the board.

“Imagine this line as eternity,” I said. “And imagine this dot representing our mortal probation. As we agreed earlier in our discussion, we can only internalize many important lessons while on earth, through opposition, to prepare for all the rest.” I swept my hand around the room. “Is it any wonder then that with so much to learn in such a short time [pointing at the dot], that life is a crash course?”

They looked thoughtful.

“Yet we expect our ‘dot’ to be a smooth line in and of itself, with only occasional blips,” I continued the line metaphor, using the board to draw what looked like a healthy EKG; praying I was making sense to them.

Suddenly, a voice from the back rang out: “That may be YOUR life Mona,” (referring to the smooth line with a couple of hiccups), “but it’s not mine!

The room froze at the mockery in her voice. If we’d been in a Wild West saloon, everyone would have backed away, clearing the space between us.

“That’s not my point.” I answered carefully. “This little line is not MY life. This line is NOBODY’S LIFE.”

It got very quiet.

“Would you like to see MY life?” I raised the pen impulsively. “This is MY life.”

Then with emotion that startled everyone, including me, I drew an EKG that looked like a woman having a heart attack.

“That’s MY life!” I finished. They were stunned.

Earlier in our stay here, I had listened to a sister for thirty minutes on the phone. She told me about an incident in the ward years before that had wounded her feelings so deeply she found it impossible now to trust the sisters. “I worry for YOU,” she said, turning the conversation in a surprising direction. “I watch how happy you are, and I think, she is going to get hurt.”

The next day I got an email from another sister (one whom I knew was under terrific strain) that read: “Thank you for your example, dear Mona. I watch how happy you are and I think, WOW – she can only be that happy because she's been through a lot.”

Wow is right. One sister assumed I was happy because of the ABSENCE of adversity in my life and the other thought I was happy BECAUSE of it!

I mused over that for a long time and ruminated on the conversation in the classroom (which spawned tears and hugs afterward.) If our happiness quotient is directly related to a lack of tribulation, how realistic is it that we could ever go up the scale? Do we imagine our plastic twin living on a plastic globe with nothing to disrupt her tranquility? When I imagine my Eden-Eve, I realize she couldn’t be anything like Flesh-and-Blood-Me, and actually, I don’t think I'd want her kind of contentment. Our Little Dots, our ”small moments” (D&C 121:7-8), may be going haywire more often than not, and may sometimes be filled with even terrible things, but I believe it’s the only spot where we can become strong enough, or deserving enough, for a FULNESS of JOY (D&C 122:5-8), which IS coming.

And imagining THAT life is what makes me happiest of all.

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted… To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord…” (Isaiah 61:3)

Photography by Dreamstime

Beautifully related post by fellow Muser, Momza at MMB:
Growing Roots

Muse with me: What do you imagine life is about?


John and Laura said...

I read this post a few weeks ago, but I'm grateful that it got re-posted. It seems that everyone in my circle of the world is in some form of crisis: illness, injury, marital turmoil, more marital turmoil. I've found myself bothered by other people's trials to an unhealthy level of discouragement. "Why (fill in the blanks)?" "Can't life just be smooth for everyone?" are the natural (man) thoughts that come. I knew that this life is a probation, to learn and grow, but I love your explanation about how we need trials to be strong enough, and deserving enough for a fulness of joy. This hit me perfectly today. Thank you!

ldsjaneite said...

A wonderful post. I only know snippets of your life, but I know you've had your share of trials! And it was the happiness and joy I felt from you in spite of the hardships in your life that inspired me to do whatever I could to get out of the sad rut I was in. I'm happier than I've ever been in my life. My hardships aren't over, but perspective and faith in the Lord have made them much more bearable. Thank you for everything you have helped me with, and how you have helped those sisters in England.

Kira said...

My challenges are my blessings. I have five BIG ones that will never go away. I have one more I chose a decade ago. Others come and go, but I would not say they did not leave their mark. I am better for them. All of them.

Bri... only she said...

Grant told me something you said once that I think is true: "Everyone has a universe inside of them." We cannot pretend to understand the depths of another's soul, nor their personal struggles. We can find human empathy to love them in the midst of the tumult of this life. We can all be uplifted with the understanding that our personally-packaged trials are preparing us, in a way only they can, for eternal increase.

Mona said...

Wow Laura! You must be physic or reading too many blogs - cause this post is a world premier! :) Regardless, sounds like it came at the right time. Continuous crisis does seem to be everyone's lot these days, doesn't it? I get drained to the bone thinking of it myself, and it was in those musings that I realized this principle.

Mona said...

ldsjanet: "sad rut" is a great way to put it - the place we get stuck in so easily. The trick is perspective, isn't it? I know you have learned that for yourself or you wouldn't be happy now.

Mona said...

Kira: SO true! "Blessings" can be our biggest challenge! That's hard for someone to grasp who feels deprived of blessings -- getting more than "their fair share" of tribulation - but managing and organizing our life for happiness is a challenge regardless - it's all how you look at it.

Mona said...

Bri Colorful: I read only yesterday this quote - " each one of us the holiest and neediest and most sensitive place of all has been made and is reserved for God alone, so that only He can enter there." (Mystery of Marriage)

Domestic Diva said...

I love you Mona, I just love you. Everything you write resonates deep within my soul, you are truly a kindred spirit, and I'm so grateful to know you through your honest writing.

Heidi said...

You know some of my adversity so you will understand when I say I wouldn't trade it for the world. I think people can only feel peace--the foundation of true happiness--if they have been through a lot and come to terms with it. I think those who haven't had a ton of adversity experience the biggest adversity of all, yet, we can't really judge as to how much any one person has had to deal wtih. Things that seem easy to me are probably difficult for the person who is going through them. For a long time I kind of sat in judgement of those who seemed to have a "smooth" life but once I got to talking to people and getting to know them, I found that pretty much everyone has tough stuff to deal wtih. Not everyone feels grateful for their trials and has found peace, but we are all on that same path. Some of us are on to the graduate courses and some aren't quite yet, but, as a wise bishopbric member once said to me "It doesn't matter how big or small, problems tend to fill a room."

Mona said...

Diva: I'm so glad! I think what resonates is the gospel, plain and gorgeous - don't you? (Note the way I've picked up ending everything politely in a question mark - Brit style!)P.S. I LOVE you too!

Mona said...

Heidi: I never thought of this! And I love thinking new thoughts! That accepting our challenges and coming to terms with them is something like a continuum: I've thought of it as a 'process' to be sure, but not as a continuum that plays out across our lives. One of my favorite sayings is: "Maturity is learning to live with loose ends." I also love the quote that teaches us to "make friends" with our trials. (And it is only after we DO fully, that we are often "delivered" from them.)

Momza said...

Thank you for your comments on my MMB post. You're right, our thoughts are quite similar!
On a side note, we spent some time in Nottingham. The ward members there did have many trials, and yet, their faith was extraordinary. When we were there, it was during the preparation of the Preston Temple Open House. Beautiful experience.

Bonnie said...

Oh Mona, we are kindred spirits! First let me thank you for the wonderful review of my book you left on Amazon. I really needed that.

Now, about your post. Wow! You have such a way of expressing yourself. You took me completely into that R.S. meeting and I could feel, literally feel, the charged atmosphere. I saw the passion you displayed when you etched YOUR LIFE on that chalk-board. The spirit must have been electric. How did your sister react after that? I hope she gained new understanding, but I don't doubt that most in that room did. One of satan's biggest tools against all of us is to get us to feel sorry for ourselves, and excuse ourselves because OUR trials are so much bigger than others. When in fact I know that every soul on this earth has major trials, tailored JUST for them, or they wouldn't be on here now, right before the Savior's return! I can't think of a more beautiful way to illustrate this than you did. What a powerful, wonderful soul for good you are! It is indeed a privelege to have made this connection with you. How did I find your blog? Surely it could not have been a mistake! God Bless you Mona!

I will post on how to publish with Kindle, but in a week I will be in Barcelona, and then on a cruise with stops in Italy! So later in the month I will get back to my blog. (I will think of you my friend while in Rome, and I will not "do as the Romans do" but as my friend Mona does!) What a wonderful example as a disciple of Christ you are!

Valerie said...

Interesting how people think someone's life is easier because they don't see the struggles they have gone through or are going through. So many people who knew me before my divorce said that they always thought we had the perfect marriage. You just never know what is going on with someone. You sure have your hands full with so many wonderful sisters in hard situations.

About my recent post--I left this comment there, but in case you don't see it--Mona, of course you can link to the post. But most of my post is purely quotes so feel free to just link to the talks if you'd like. That's where the real treasures are. :)

Mona said...

Momza - oh I LOVED your post - I hope you saw the link on this one. Nottingham? We just drove through there this weekend! Have you seen my romance blog about Europe?

Mona said...

Bonnie - I think we are a mutual encouragement society because your remarks mean as much to me as the words I left in review of "Joy Outweighs the Sorrow" (run and get Bonnie's book everyone - now on Kindle!)

Mona said...

Valerie - it is SO true that we do not know one another's sorrows - I was just discussing this tonight with one of my sisters who is going through a real trial that few in the ward know of. We agreed that we should perhaps be more open with one another, but it's hard, isn't it? I do enjoy blog-sphere as a forum for sharing and supporting, I must admit. It's not the same as getting a hug, but we women need to talk things out to figure things out and blogging helps!

Brent and Emily said...

So exactly what I need right now. Here's something my mom wrote to me in an email last week in the midst of commiserating the current situation, "I was just thinking that for you, the past couple of years have been/are like a crash course in pretty much all the lessons a person should have to learn in this life...I hope!"

Thanks for the healthy dose of perspective. And for doing my ironing. :)

Mona said...

I think YOU keep ME in perspective!!!! And I LOVE ironing.

ALB said...

Thank you for the analogy you gave in this post. It was perfect to help my roommate change her view into an eternal perspective.

I shouldn't be as amazed as I am that your posts always seem to have perfect timing for my week.

Love you!