Practicing Compassionate Patience

Since last fall our household has been navigating a substantial disappointment.  In the aftermath of our experience, amidst the agony of confusion, self-doubt, and just plain hurt, I feel unsettled about my ability to trust myself and anyone else, including God.  As I acquaint myself with this rift that has torn my spirituality to shreds, I comfort my soul with the assurance that there is no animosity directed at me.  There is no condescension or judgement aimed my way and this moment I speak of didn’t represent a “lesson” or a “trial” that I had to endure.  Rather, it’s an experience and it will be what I make it of it.  And it doesn’t have to be all sorted out right now.  I believe someday I will I look back on this stretch of my life and really respect the substantial work that I’m attempting to do in settling my spirit so that it can begin to heal.  Even now, with a small amount of space, a bit more heartbreak and further introspection, I can sometimes see these months as maybe as a prodding, a gentle nudge.  It’s surprising, even to me, that moments have the potential to move from ‘near death blow’ status to ‘gentle nudge’ in the space of a few months.  In addition to simple time, I think a lot of that has to do with not berating myself or forcing meaning but rather trying to wait compassionately with an eye towards recognizing the hand of God while the rest of my story unfolds.



Faith and Freedom

The other day I found myself behind a car with a few different bumper stickers plastered to it’s backside.  One of them read ‘My FREEDOM is more important than your FAITH.’   I felt a visceral punch to my abdominal region as I processed this jarring statement (and we hit a few lights together so I had plenty of time to think it over).  I don’t know the driver of the car.  Based on his other bumper stickers, I have a few clues about him but other than that I’m left to speculate.  I think I might’ve liked to have had a conversation with him though, and this is what I would’ve asked:

1-Can there be any sort of real freedom without faith?  Where does a freedom governed only by human nature lead a society of people who have increasingly less value for themselves, let alone each other?

2-If you don’t use faith to appeal to your better and nobler self, what do you use?

3-I’ve been grappling with a sensitivity to humanity and her struggles and a respect for principles I hold dear and all this time I have worked to fight this mental battle on compassionate ground.   Are you willing to offer me the same space to be and do as I will according to my faith that I am trying to grant to you either with or without your own?

I wonder what he would’ve said.

Regarding Relationships

Our relationships, especially the ones that have the power to affect us at our very cores, can elevate us to beautiful views of love, loyalty, sincerity and compassion and also send us crashing into the depths of self-doubt, loneliness and despair; and sometimes we experience both within the same relationship over the course of a few minutes, hours or days.  Relationships are so fluid, multifaceted and unique which can leave us feeling content and/or conflicted.  Their quirky intricacies are known only to the individuals party to them so it’s nearly impossible to guess at the exact dynamics that play out in other relationships.   Oftentimes we keep details about our most treasured relationships pretty close to home.  And yet our daily interactions throw us headlong into many situations where relational satisfaction and discord are very deftly displayed.   I believe our goal is to learn to relate to each other with the same honesty, compassion and understanding that the Savior offers us.  And I believe that any precious time and effort we devote to enhancing our relationships is time well-spent.

The point of listening ears

In the late night hours during my year as a resident assistant, I would often find myself on the floor, or leaning against a wall, locked in a bedroom or curled up on a kitchen sofa, listening to my girls as they detailed their various struggles with homework, boys, roommates or family members.  In hindsight, many of the stories represent efforts at growing into adults, something we were all working on at the time (and something I am STILL working on).  At the time, I knew that my job was not to directly tell them what to do.  My job was to listen.  However, in my genuine desire for their well-being and in my exuberance to be be of some aid, I couldn’t help myself and I would ask questions intended to guide them to a certain conclusion.  Basically I was trying to get them to see their problems through my perspective because sometimes the solution seemed so clear from where I sat.   Over time, my listening eyes became trained enough that I could see where this approach led.   Given enough of these loaded questions, the speaker would begin to fidget, look around and seek an escape route.   The conversation would hastily come to a close and I would walk back to my room, heavy-hearted and shaking my head, completely confused at their inability to see the solution with the clarity I thought I’d offered.

It wasn’t until I had to explain my own therapy experiences to RJ that I was able to see how my understanding of listening had matured a bit.   Rather than doling out sage advice or guiding with pointed questions, more often than not, I realized that my job with those residents was to help them know themselves, not as I saw them but as they were.  Sometimes it’s almost impossible to see oneself clearly through a fog of trauma, conflict, or even just new ideas.  It can be hard to pinpoint agitation or discontent without a safe place to empty one’s thoughts and sift through them.  That is the job of a listener, to carefully receive the words of a speaker and then methodically sort through them in an effort to identify possible connections or make unbiased observations.   I am grateful for the patience of those 58 residents who trusted a bit of their growth to me and patiently taught me how to listen.

Leaning & Listening

(NOTE: My apologies if you read this the other day.  I accidentally posted it out of order.  It should make a bit more sense now :))

Posture.  Leaning forward says “I’m invested in what you’re saying, I hear you.”   Whereas leaning back can create an air of indifference.   It doesn’t have to be an in-your-face forward listening posture, I’m all about respecting personal space.  Even an inclined head can close the space between two people in an argument or conversation.

In certain situations, being mindful of body language also really helps me to focus on listening because it takes some extra concentration so I’m not as easily distracted.  I may only be able to employ one or two of the body language cues, like making occasional eye contact while I’m slicing vegetables for dinner and leaning my head slightly forward as I listen to RJ weave tales of paving and asphalt glory (Note: this happens on the rare occasion that RJ is home when I am making dinner and our preschooler is occupied and our dog is not barking.  It does feel a bit magical to have a decent conversation prior to 9 pm).   It may seem like a lot of work at first, but over time it becomes second nature.  Try one of these whole body listening cues out and let me know how it goes!

With love,


Learning to Listen: Body Language

As a resident assistant, I remember feeling carried away with fascination as our mentor taught us about the ways to say “I’m listening” with our manner and posture.  I had always considered listening to be a task managed with ease by my ears and I was intrigued by the idea that it was a whole body endeavor.  So, without further adieu I will relate to you the ways we can listen with our whole selves.

Today’s topic:

Eye Contact.  Have you ever tried to talk to someone and maintain eye contact for more than a few seconds?  It’s rare that people will hold your gaze for very long.   I like to think that earnest regard can be conveyed through eyes willing to see the speaker, whether the person is 4 or 44.   In the 14 years since I was taught this lesson, there have been technological advances (i.e. my iPhone) that have forced me to be intentional about trying to connect and listen with my eyes.  I do that by seeking eye contact.  Sometimes it takes looking at the side of someone’s head for a bit (because they’re looking at anything but me) but I keep offering it regardless.  People say a lot of things with their eyes…have you noticed?

Tomorrow…Listening; with your arms.

Until then!


3 Ways to Help Someone Bear a Burden

1.  Listen carefully.  Be mindful of a (natural) tendency to suggest solutions to “fix” the problem.  Also be aware of your own internal dialogue, try to separate any fear or anxiety you’re feeling from your response.  Those feelings are important to acknowledge and process, and maybe even articulate, but it’s best if your responses aren’t unknowingly slathered in your own discomfort.

2. Don’t pity. Although there are those of us who feel the need to solicit pity, most of us want to be understood and offered empathy.  It’s really hard to dig deep and find ways to relate and extend our own understanding (of the individual and the situation) if we’re busy feeling sorry for the person we’re talking with.

3. Be still.  So often, in our efforts to sidle up next to someone and extend compassion or share our love, we desperately desire to DO SOMETHING.  Sometimes actions are called for and very appropriate.  Sometimes though, our dear ones just need us to be present and sit in the uncomfortable places they’re in without questioning how or when they’ll move out of them.

Bearing the burdens of mortality, alone or alongside someone dear to us, is hard work and the effort entails a lot of endurance but with some practice and patience, we can see a grace-full increase in our abilities to meaningfully care for those we love.

O Pioneers

The summer I turned seventeen, my mom and dad borrowed a pop-up trailer and orchestrated a study of Mormon pioneer history for our little family of 7.  In our occasionally trusty, bright blue 12 passenger van, they carted us across the country to wander through the sacred grove, tour visitors centers and listen to kindly guides.  We traversed trails and hiked rocky mountains, visited jails and blacksmith shops, walked around temple sites, and forded rivers.  Our mother, always big on vacation preparation, had some stories at the ready for each of the sites we stopped at.  She would engage her 5 girls in conversation about the people, what it must have been like for them and what they might’ve learned.  Though the details of the stories are a bit foggy and the exact images of the locations we toured are sometimes hard to recall, the feelings of humble faith and community that I felt during those three weeks have never left me.

This past week I was asked to share some thoughts with our congregation about the pioneers and their humility.  As Ritchie helped me think through my ideas, we both humorously realized that I am not necessarily speaking from a fortress of strength as I address the topic of humility.  I’d like to think I’m not the only one of us who sometimes struggles to bend my will to leader’s direction or ideas or revelation.  My agency is a treasured gift and I appreciate direct communication from heaven as I try to understand why things are the way they are but there are times when the “why” of a commandment or invitation is not readily accessible and my thirsty faith has to continue on with only the hope of a drink on the horizon.  It is in those stubborn moments when it is my task to choose humility.  With that in mind, I decided to re-visit the stories of the pioneers with the hope of nestling into a more comfortable arrangement with humility.  I was intrigued as I contemplated ideas of personal humility, parental humility and community humility.

I believe that one of the things each of the pioneers lay on the altar were some of their ideas about how their lives would turn out.  Like all of us with a determination to follow the Savior, oftentimes we face moments where we are asked to let go of the lives or jobs or finances or health that we’ve dreamed of or worked for and we’re asked to be open to new things.  I believe that in response to these mental, emotional and physical challenges we can either hold staunchly to our former plans and cry foul (which I have been known to do on many occasions), or set off on our own journeys of faith where unknown paths coupled with some humble seeking can lead to surprising beauty.  But the beauty is often detected after struggling through heartache, pain, and seemingly impossible stretching.  Though we speak of the pioneers collectively, assuredly the men and women who crossed the continent in mid to late 1800s were as varied as all of us in this room.  I imagine they had dreams and ideas about how their lives would go and they worked hard to make those dreams reality.  Some of them were establishing farms, working year after year to clear away trees and create more land for farming.  Some of them had gone to school, learning professions or trades that would enable them to provide for their families and thrive in society.  Some of them were overseas, deeply entrenched with people and a culture they held dear.  Some of them were just getting established, barely making ends meet and working every daylight hour to provide themselves with the basic necessities of life.  Regardless of their background or station, when the call came to move, again and again, there were so many of these very strong folks who responded with obedience born of humility.

As I’ve made my way through a bit more life, it’s easier for me to imagine the process they perhaps went through to become those faithful men and women, for surely, they didn’t begin the journey in the same way they ended it.  With the benefit of hindsight, I have contemplated the blessings they received and the beauty they witnessed as a result of their decision to obey.  A decision, that I imagine for many of them, was fraught with doubt, uncertainty, full-fledged fear and maybe even a little resentment.  The beauty of our perspective is that we get to see all of them on the other side.  We see the accomplishment dressed in all it’s historical glory and we rejoice in their experience.  However, if we had caught them in their moments of decision, moments I’m confident came again and again, I imagine we would’ve seen them experiencing the kind of conflict, turmoil and frustration that comes in “the middle” of a challenging circumstance.  The outset, filled with excitement and the promise of adventure, quickly faded into blistered feet, broken wagons and tired children.  The faithful fortitude we cherish was probably something they really did muster up, step, by precious step.    During those long hours of walking with the threat of Indian attacks, with cattle slogging through mud and torrential rain, I wonder if any of them echoed the thought I find myself thinking so frequently, “Is it really supposed to be this hard?”  I used to think that the decision to venture out on the trek was a decision that was made once.  But now, like any act of submission or obedience, I imagine it had to be re-made at each stopping point along the way. The decision to keep moving had to be made again each time the oxen needed to be hooked up to the wagon and each morning when the bedding needed to be folded and gathered and carefully tucked into the handcart.  And then again when it was time for sunburned arms to heave the weight of the handcart.  The decision had to be made when slipping worn and half-soled shoes onto the feet of a worn and tired-souled child without any answers as to when the walk would be over or what the day would bring.  Surely there were mothers who looked at their babies and wept at the monumental task that obedience was requiring of them.  And yet, each morning, so many rose, prayed and worked, just trying to move forward, day after sweltering day. In the words of a dear friend, they just kept trying.  It’s hard for me to believe that there weren’t moments of grumbling or times of disagreement and when those times came, on a starry night in the middle of a prairie or at a tricky river-crossing, there was a decision, yet again, to submit ones will and the well-being of one’s family in order to follow the inspiration of a prophet and those he had called to lead.  And when that obedience meant frozen toes, crushed limbs, lost children and trailside graves, I can’t help but think the decision to obey felt like a weighty one.  And like Joseph’s prayer, I imagine sometimes they were left wondering where the Lord was.  Where was His help and why were they being asked to struggle so hard and for so long?  Much like us, I think of them tired, devastated or discouraged, unsure of how to pick themselves up and move away from the crude grave of a small son, or an aged mother.  I believe those moments they put one foot in front of the other, really represent the most beautiful and accurate testimony of humility that there is.

My seventeen year old self considered those pioneer stories with a focus on the initial decision to go and the glorious arrival in the valley.  My 33 year old self realizes that those stories are mostly full of “the grueling middle” and it probably bears a close spiritual resemblance to the middle that most of us experience.  The peace that comes with understanding, may not have graced their souls in the immediate way we attribute it to them.  It’s likely that they experienced their revelation piece by piece as they chose to seek it.  I believe many kept trudging forward based on faith in the promise of a prophet that what they were doing would lead to something beautiful and good and so often, that beauty and goodness ends up being manna for a starving soul, rather than a change in circumstance.

I think about what a gift it was to those children who walked alongside their parents. And maybe, on the mornings when weary bones could barely handle another step, an exhausted mother or father might look up to see a tow headed boy, kicking a rock as he walked beside the wagon.  And like so many things, the thought of someone else may have kept them going because if nothing else, this trek was an undeniable testimony of humble obedience for the children who watched their parents muscle on through untamed lands and angry rivers.  And for so many, whose tired bodies gave out before the trail did, the effort was the important thing.  The process of faithfully moving as far and as long as possible, regardless of the outcome, that was the testimony.  And now, all these years later, humbly wearing my own parenting mantle, I want nothing more than to guide my sweet Jessica’s steps to the Savior and it is likely that any humble actions I can accrue will speak louder than any sermon I offer.

On the culminating day of our trip, we stood atop This Is the Place Monument in Utah feeling such a profound respect for the trek that these faithful men and women endured together.  The understanding that they had with each other as a result of the shared experience was beautiful to contemplate.  Feeling buoyed up by being part of such a beautiful collective faith, I remember purchasing a t-shirt, emblazoned with the “Faith In Every Footstep” logo.   A short time later, our family came across a pioneer scene depicted on canvas and the emotions I felt then are still poignant, half a life later. In the foreground there’s a steep muddy hill on the bank of a swollen river with treacherous rain clouds above.  There are wagons, with torn canvases flapping, men and women, straining to heave them from the river’s water up onto the meadow grass.  The steepness of the bank is evident in the faces and muscles of the pioneers.  There are several wagons struggling to make the ascent, cattle slipping with each step, and several wagons in the distance that have already begun to work their way forward in the prairie grass.  Towards the back of the scene, the sky lightens and inside the brilliant setting sun you can make out a blurred outline of the Salt Lake Temple with her majestic spires.  Hinted at, in the evening clouds above is an image of Joseph Smith, clasping a Book of Mormon to his chest with one arm and holding out the other hand in a guiding gesture indicating in the direction the wagon train is traveling.  By that time, Joseph was but a memory for these faithful saints who were spurred on by his love for them and the testimony He was asked to share with them.  And the temple was a distant hope on the horizon.  With the benefit of hindsight, I knew that those strong men and women, depicted in a moment of desperation, were on their way, through an arduous trek, to a beautiful place where they would continue to face challenges but where they would build temples, thrive and enjoy many blessings.  I felt the beauties of the stories and poignancy of the losses and the gift of faith that these men and women offered by simply continuing to move forward.  That faith, and the belief in the prophet they loved so dearly was what spurred them on during a journey filled with many hard things. They went because he told them that it was what the Lord wanted and they chose to believe Him, and then to believe his successor.  They had followed the prophet, time and again, because of the conviction they had that he would lead them to good things.  And when they had moments of doubt or fear, or even rebellion they figured out that obedience was just a simple step away. They knew that their conviction didn’t excuse them from facing hard things along the way, but their continued effort was a testimony they offered in humility as they worked to be part of something larger than themselves.

Ultimately, that is what humility affords us right?  The opportunity to slowly and carefully make our way through mortality with the promise of a steadying connection to heaven.  We do this as individuals, in families and as a community of Saints led by inspired leaders one faithful footstep at a time.

Thank you pioneers.


Mary & Martha: relating

At the crux of that moment, and inherent in the Savior’s reply, was an emphasis on relationships.  In reading the definition of charity, I notice that there are many qualities that are more easily applied in a relationship than in a vacuum.  So instead of trying to possess all of the qualities all of the time, it seems a bit more manageable to think of them as being doled out in quantities as necessary and applicable in relationships with oneself and other people.

The Savior pointed out that Mary was seeking Him, spending precious time learning from Him and connecting with Him and those moments, stored away in her very soul, were becoming a part of who she would always be.  The meal, important to sustain the bodies housing those souls, would probably be forgotten while the feeling of proximity to the Savior would linger.  I think that’s what He’s trying to help Martha understand.  The trouble is, sometimes there are very real mortal concerns that go into creating moments like that.  Be they in formal religious settings or in homes.  Sometimes an awful lot goes into orchestrating a spiritual experience and the conductor experiences only the last lingering notes.

As we navigate our lives attempting to seek Him out wherever He is to be found, it makes sense that in formal settings, sometimes we will create the moments for others and sometimes we will partake of them because of another.  This recognition along with some semblance of balance seems important.  I wonder if Martha was obligating herself to a course of action when what she really felt like was sitting at His feet?  I wonder if she was claiming some space her in life, even just a few moments, to soak up His presence or if she was constantly waiting for an invitation.

In family or individual settings, we all have different personalities and we’re prone to different priorities.  I believe the Savior manifests Himself to each of us in beautifully personal ways and He can be found in quiet, intentional moments.  But it can be hard, especially at the phase of life I find myself in, to set aside the mountain of tasks I face each day in favor of a few quiet moments of spiritual presence.   And, perhaps like Martha, when I neglect my spirituality for a number of days, I can relate to blaming a lot of other things for my floundering.  Thankfully, I believe He can also be found in the details and preparations of my life if I seek Him there.  I benefit from a consciousness that He’s available, maybe when I’m preparing dinner as part of caring for my family, maybe when I’m driving my little one to preschool, to help her soul grow or maybe even when I’m outside, under the clear blue sky He created, walking my rowdy dog.  And even though I’m careful and troubled about many things, if I can mange to get at least one eye single to Him, He will manifest himself to me, usually with a measure of peace.

Mary & Martha: revisted

In between moments of teaching large groups of people, the gospels document small, personal exchanges between the Savior and individuals.  Mary and Martha appear in only a few of these moments and but each mention of them offers precious insight into the personality of Jesus Christ.  Luke recounts the now-famous moment when Mary sat at the feet of the Savior while Martha served Him as a faithful hostess.  In the midst of her service, it appears that Martha started to feel frustrated, maybe resentful, maybe angry and she approached the Savior with her complaint against Mary.  He, seemingly tenderly, with the “Martha, Martha” introduction, pointed out the differences in the activities of the two women.

First off, being familiar with passive-agressive modes of communication myself, I wonder if Martha was banging pots around and setting ingredients down with a bit more force than necessary, before she approached the Savior.  I wonder if she felt frustrated because she wanted to be the one sitting down, listening.  I wonder if she’d had a long day, if she’d received notice of the Savior’s impending arrival and was worried about feeding this important guest or if she was trying to string together a meal from the contents of her bare larder.  I wonder if she’d reached her wits end when the meat was about to burn and the flatbread was still baking and the table needed to be set.  I also wonder why she didn’t ask Mary for help directly.

I find it interesting that the Savior didn’t feel the need to say anything until Martha requested that Mary’s service mirror her own.  He seemed perfectly content to let them serve in their respective spheres according to their desires and talents and the needs of the moment.  I imagine He was aware of both of them the entire time but at no point did He jump up and demand that Martha stop her preparations and come sit by Mary, even after he helped her understand more about what Mary was trying to do.   It seems so gracious, the recognition that our service to Him will look different depending on the hour or need or the person.  As we fumble around and learn to offer that brand of graciousness to our striving selves as well as those around us, I believe we learn volumes about how He loves.