Saturday, April 26, 2014

Family Ties

A little while ago, I was reading Jacob 4 in the Book of Mormon, as in the chapter before Jacob 5, as in the precursor to that chapter, as in an explanation on why we have Jacob 5. For those of you not entirely familiar with something as vague as a book and chapter reference, is the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon with a whopping 77 verses AND home of a famous allegory about olive trees.

The long and the short of this allegory is this:  You start out with an olive tree.  It gets old and starts to decay so the gardener prunes and digs about it and nourishes it.  The tree put out young branches but the top got old and started to die.  So the gardener takes the young branches and grafts them into olive trees throughout the vineyard and takes wild olive tree branches and grafts them into the original olive tree.  Then he prunes and digs about and nourishes all of the grafted trees.  Some of the resulting fruit is good and some of it is bad.  There's more grafting and pruning and digging and nourishing.  Until we get to a time when all of the fruit is bad and the gardener throws down his tools crying, "What more could I have done for my vineyard?"  The gardener's helper convinces him not to give up on the trees altogether but that they should do a little more pruning and digging and nourishing, one last time.  So they do.

There's a lot more to this allegory, obviously.  Otherwise it would have taken two verses rather than 77 to express it all.  This is not even the Cliff's Notes (Spark notes?) version.  But essentially you get the idea: there's olive trees, good and bad fruit, lots of pruning and digging and nourishing and a number of confusing grafting sequences.

So, back to Jacob 4.  I'm reading and suddenly this phrase caught my attention: "that [our children] may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents."  This is Jacob talking.  His parents are Lehi and Sariah, spiritual powerhouses from the time of Jeremiah.  True, they did drag his older brothers and sisters away from their comfortable living (I assume) in Jerusalem and travel in uninhabited wilderness for eight years before getting on a boat that took them to this land but the American continent is the promised land!  God said so.  And I live here - and love it - so it must be true!  Right?  I thought about Jacob's older brothers who tried to kill their parents and their younger brother and wondered once again how much family drama and heartache I gloss over because it's written in old-fashioned language in verse form.  How could Jacob teach his children not to hate their parents?  He gave them an allegory - a really long one.

For the first time in my entire life, I was able to examine Jacob 5 as more than the history of the world (as per the usual interpretation).  I viewed it as a family, with people making choices and affecting others for good or bad.  Just like olive grafts, some people leave the family and others come in, bringing their own traditions and ideas.  Some of those traditions mix well and some of them don't.  The result can be messy and confusing (just like Jacob 5).  I'm sure at some point in every family, possibly even every member of every family, asks, "What more could I have done for my family?"  There are times, it seems, that we try and try and try and fail and fail and fail.  Our best efforts blow up in our faces and we hurt people simply by not trying to hurt people.  It's easy to say, "That's it!  I'm through with this family.  I'm not going to try anymore.  Everyone will be better off without me."  Except something stops us.  For me, it's thinking about how much I care about them.  "I'll try one more time."

The ending of the allegory is this: they work one last time and the good fruits are all gathered up together and the bad fruits are burned.  When all is said and done (and here's the religious part - and with the mercy and grace of a Savior, Jesus Christ) it is possible for us to have a happy family, to have good memories and real healing.  It is possible to let go of the anger and the hurt and to store up the joy.  When that happens, we will be able to look at our parents (and other relatives) and ourselves without contempt.

Wall of Truth

A year ago, when my life was uncertain, when getting data and a PhD were elusive, I started what I called my "Wall of Truth" with lessons I had learned recently that reminded me that God was in my life.  I recently found those old notes and thought I'd put them here rather than just throw them away.  Each note could take an entire blog post to include thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Thus, presenting, the notes that got me through my last year of grad school:

Love : = Unity (3rd and 4th Nephi, August 2012)

God loves the servant as much as those who are served.  The ninety and nine are as precious as the one. (Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd, Japan)

Jesus' whole mission was to teach us about a God of love. (A Life of Jesus by Endo)

Learning to love and to be loved is the greatest lesson to learn in this life.  (August 2012)

Vulnerability (November 2012)

Agency - Be an agent for good (or bad).  You choose.  (December 2012)

The Savior holds the roles as Savior.  We cannot be saved without Him nor does He intend for us to.  (January 2013)

Joy ?= Salvation (February 2013)

The spirit [soul] was created to last for eternity.  (Japan)

Psalm 22 and Psalm 31: A message of love and hope from the cross.

God will get me through tomorrow.  (17 Mar 2103)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Credo

While sitting in a dissertation defense the other day, I had a feeling of panic wash over me.  There are so many things that I have not accomplished in these past few months.  Do I keep fighting to achieve these goals - belated now as they may be?  Or do I let sleeping dogs lie?  It would be so much easier to just let it slide - to move on.

Desperate to calm my nerves, I found this article: Ex-soccer pro now high school head (from the Japan News, 読売新聞 より)

The article is exactly as the title suggests - an ex pro soccer player is now a principal at a high school.  While in high school, his own soccer coach suggested that he become a teacher.  This led the now 30 year old obtained his degree and teaching license before putting in 6 years as a professional soccer player at a J2 club.  When he retired in 2011, he was asked to help a private school start up a soccer team.  Now, he has become their principal.

I only found this article because it made a point to mention that this soccer player turned teacher administrator attended and played on the same soccer team as Makoto Hasebe.  And I'm not even entirely sure why I read it, other than the fact that I was looking for a distraction and this was surely one.

The tone of the article was different than I expected - I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting.  But I was impressed to find this man's story overturned a few negative judgments I had formed from the article's title.  (I know: shame on me.)  Most of all, I received some very clear advice.  "Whenever you have trouble making a choice, take the tougher route."

The panic immediately subsided.  If this man that I didn't know but had come to respect in sixteen short paragraphs could make tough decisions and succeed, then so, surely, could I.  I switched off my phone, turned my attention back to the presentation and smiled.

There is work to do.  Let's begin....again.

Cousin Love

Saturday evening, Baby is running chaotically around the room, just because.  She runs from one side to another, laughing all the while.  Gwiyomi, sitting in her mom's lap, watches for a few minutes and then it hits her.  I watch her face as the recognition sets in, "I can walk!  I can do that!"  She wriggles out of her mother's embrace and starts following her cousin around the room, shrieking in delight.  I watch them for a while and then get an idea.

I jump up, "Hey, Baby.  I think it's time to teach Gwiyomi 'Ring around the rosey'.  Come help me show her."  Baby obliges and runs over.  She directs Gwiyomi to watch her as we hold hands and rotate around the circle singing, and then fall to the ground, laughing.  Gwiyomi is intrigued.  When we stand up again, we reach out our hands to her and she cautiously walks towards us and joins in.  We walk around the circle and sing.  At the end of the song, I collapse to the ground as Baby gently tugs Gwiyomi down with her.  And then Baby and I collapse onto our backs again, laughing.  Gwiyomi watches us, wide-eyed, and then collapses backwards, cackling.  We laugh even harder.  The game continues a few more times, until Gwiyomi has gotten the hang of it and soon, she's tugging us down to ground before the first line of the song is completed.  Baby looks at me in shock and I just nod at her.  "It's ok.  We'll go along with Gwiyomi.  She's playing with us."  Over and over again, we play, each turn ending in us flopping onto our backs, laughing and then looking up and laughing at Gwiyomi as she collapses onto her back and rolls around on the floor, cackling in delight.
Sunday evening, Baby is playing with her brand-new clip dolls and she graciously gives one to her cousin to play with.  Gwiyomi cautiously holds the doll, watching Baby for indication on how to "play with dolls."  Baby expertly takes the dress off her doll and then reaches over to show Gwiyomi how to do the same.  Armed then, with a doll in one fist and the plastic dress in the other, Gwiyomi watches Baby again, for indication on the rules of this game.  Baby, oblivious of her avid audience, sends her Cinderella doll jumping up and down on the couch.  Gwiyomi takes her Snow White and follows suit, laughing in delight that she's caught on.  When Baby replaces the dress, Gwiyomi takes her doll and dress and holds them out for Baby to help her out too.  Later, in the kitchen, Gwiyomi squeals, holding her arms out to Baby, asking for a hug.  Baby gives it happily, not really noticing as Gwiyomi resists hugs from everyone else (excepting her mom).

Gwiyomi definitely loves her cousin.  Here are some pictures from the weekend.
While in the car, Baby had opened my jacket and pointed at my jersey, "I want to wear this!" So when we got home, I obliged her.  But she wouldn't pose for a picture.  

Cousins watching TV together.  

Gwiyomi at the community Easter egg hunt.  

Picture of Sister's birthday cake, taken by Baby.  

Gwiyomi picking up Easter eggs.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Barnancy

Yesterday, while having a long, deep conversation with my friend, I decided it was time to share something about myself that I had never shared with anyone else before.  The less we talk of this experience, the better, but suffice it to say, it was terrifying for me.  And my friend's reaction? 

NBD.   

I don't even think she blinked. 

Her (non) reaction was a shock.  Quite simply, the conversation that followed almost too easily defeated walls of defense I've spent years building.  Perceptions of God and self crumbled before my eyes.  All that work to protect myself from something that apparently didn't need protecting.  When I went to sleep, hours later, I was still shaking my head, confused.   

This morning, I found myself still mulling over that conversation and its aftermath.  It brought me back to my favorite book, The Blue Castle. 

My entire life, I've found myself relating to, and feeling like Valancy - a girl constantly afraid of what other people thought of her and said about her, and in reality, trapped by her own misgivings.  I cheer on this kindred sister as she takes charge of her life and throws off the shackles of propriety and lives true to herself and her convictions, transforming her life of drudgery into a life of real value and good.

This morning, though, I realized I am also like Barney.  This must be why his character has always attracted and intrigued me.  Here is a man who is well-read, well-traveled, and well-written (is that a thing?  he's an author).  He started traveling the world to run from a painful past and a broken heart.  In his travels, he discovers a rich, full life of good experiences that change him and strengthen him.  Now he's back, but rather than face the world, bravely and generously offer his talents and gifts and wealth of experiences, he hides himself away on an island, content to be seen as a supposed disrepute who hangs out with the town drunk.  Time and distance, while they have sweetened his existence, have still left the bitter conviction that no one could ever truly love him. 

To be honest, his character arc is one of the most thrilling parts of the book for me - for a man to go from being convinced that no one could ever love him to being absolutely convinced that he could love and be loved in return.  It's a moment of healing for him to realize that, once and for all, he is not defined by his past and that he should not let that past hold him back from a happy future.

My friend helped me realize that, as I watched those walls I had built up fall away.  I feel a little like Barney, asking, "Is it possible to be loved, despite being me?"  The naysayers in my head scream loudly, "Never."  But a new voice is starting to whisper and growing in volume, "Yes."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Life Like This

I think he likes me. 

That's good.  I've grown fond of him, too. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Team Sarah

Have you ever heard of Veronica Mars?  I hadn't - not really, until a few weeks ago.  It kind of buzzed around facebook opening weekend and then my roommate came home one day, excited that she could watch it Instant video via Amazon.  We sat down and watched it, much to her delight (and her husband's, who made a point to thank me for sparing him the date night at the movie theater, watching "a teenage girl movie").

I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I seriously opened a can of worms.  Intrigued by the witty and compelling story line from the movie, I started reading some reviews about this hit canceled TV series and its comeback as a kickstarter movie.  Did you know that the movie reached its 2 million dollar goal within 10 hours?  (It ended the campaign with 5.7 million.)  


In the past three weeks, I've dived more into Veronica Mars, burning through the first season and more than halfway through the second, as my roommate tries to pull me off Team Piz and squarely onto Team Logan.  (I was almost there until the beginning of season 2). 

I find myself thinking again about that 5.7 million.  What would I be willing to put up to back this show?  It has witty dialogue, compelling storylines and a cast of intriguing and well-developed characters.  (Disclaimer: this show, in spite of its sterling qualities, also holds some content that gives me pause so I maintain mixed feelings about it.)  If I were asked to support this movie (and I had a job) what would I be willing to put up?  What were the backers willing to put up?

I think I assumed the fandom was intense, shelling out serious bills to get this movie off the ground.  But while 5.7 million is no paltry sum of money, it came out of the pockets of 91,585 people, putting the average at $62.26 per person.  $62.26 sounds reasonable.  Not the hundreds or thousands I was expecting. 

Around the same time that I discovered the phenom that is Veronica Mars, my sister, Sarah, started a fund for Wounded Veterans so that she can run for this cause in the upcoming Marine Corps marathon.  My sister's run this race a few times before and although she's run in several different kinds of races, I think this is one her favorites.  (It's definitely one of her most talked about ones.)  It means a lot to her to support and raise money for the armed forces.  When my sister told me about her hope of raising $300, I smiled and secretly thought, "That'll take a day, three days maybe."

But over three weeks later, she's still not there.  So, here's my plug for a sister who is trying to do something small to make a difference.  If you and 91584 of your closest friends all gave a penny, we'd be more than there.  But since I don't actually know 91585 people, perhaps we can try for a dime or a dollar.  I can't guarantee witty dialogue on my part or drama-filled storylines about my life, but this definitely goes to support at least one well-developed character.  Go Team Sarah!

Here is my sister's donation website: Team Sarah

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Forgiveness, the Atonement and the Blue Violin

About a month ago, I was discussing the topics of forgiveness and the mercy of Jesus Christ with a friend.  (Actually, now that I think about it, I discussed it with more than one friend.)

In any case, I tried to think of a few examples to explain some of my questions and this is what I said:
"A few years ago, I lent a friend my violin to use.  I call it the blue violin because it had a distinct blue case.  My friend lost the violin.  I didn't know what to do.  I couldn't demand her to buy me a new one because a violin is expensive!  In some ways, it wasn't worth it since it was just my high school student violin.  But then again, it was a violin that had a lot of memories for me.  I told my friend that it was ok and never held it against her.  I knew it wasn't her fault and refused to let it get in the way of our friendship but when I thought about it, I still felt sad that my only violin and one with important memories for me, was gone."

I looked at my friend and asked, "I think I've forgiven her.  But why, then, when I think about it, does it still hurt?"  

My friend looked at me and replied very matter-of-fact,"That's because you still don't have a violin.  For the Atonement to fully work, it should make up for your loss."

I looked at him, surprised.  "Like, give me a new violin?"

My friend didn't even pause, "Yes."

!!

What seemed so simple to him was simply baffling to me.  I asked him about other situations where "loss" was less tangible - such as loss of virtue or loss of love, hope, self-esteem.  He insisted it worked, that we would come to a new reality where the loss ceased to be seen or felt as a "loss". 

I confess - I walked away from that conversation confused.  I wondered at those words for a long time and wondered if the Atonement really had the power to make up for all the losses of all the people in the world.   I mean, I believe in Christ and his infinite atonement so in my head, yes, I believed it, but in my heart, I didn't know how it was possible. 

Recently, I ran into my friend's mom and she was holding my blue violin!  She smiled and apologized that it had taken so long for me to get it back (we're talking 5+ years).  I felt like I had just witnessed a miracle.  When I told my rational and wise friend from before, even he was surprised and delighted. 

Through this experience, I felt that God was answering my bigger questions, "Erin, if I can return your long lost violin, then surely, surely, I can make up for the losses that come in our lives.  The loss of virtue, the loss of time, the loss of loved ones and the loss of feelings of love and peace and hope.  Those can all be made up.  My Atonement truly can heal!"  

This experience also teaches me something of forgiving others and being forgiven.  Forgiveness is a gift - a precious one - and also a miracle.