Sunday, June 25, 2017

OUR LOVE TRIANGLE (an anniversary letter to our kids)

40 years-ago today your dad and I lowered ourselves to our knees and looked each other squarely in the eyes, our hands intertwined on top of the altar between us. With a very few simple words we made covenants that, figuratively speaking, super-glued us together as husband and wife. Since Dad became a judge 10 years ago he has performed many marriages, in various settings, and I don't recall any other marriage ceremony where the couple kneels at an altar facing each other rather than facing the officiator. When I think about the covenant we made that day I recognize that, from day-one, we have been involved in a love triangle. Its always been me, your dad, and that altar.
Even though I was young and remarkably immature, I knew I was making very serious promises to your dad, for sure, but it took some maturing for me to realize that it was never going to be just the two of us…and thats not even considering you kids, whom I like to think were peeking over the edge of heaven when we sealed the deal there in the Washington DC temple. That danged altar has been hanging around all these years, sometimes making things soft and sweet, and sometimes, frankly, feeling like its in the way.
God is pretty clever, don't you think, representing Himself with an altar. What divides us also unites us. He plants himself between us because there are times, as you probably know by now, when our mortal instinct is to put up our dukes and fight, or just turn and run. So he either keeps us from killing each other or ties us together with that altar. It might surprise you to know that there have been times when I felt like maybe Id made a mistake back on June 25, 1977, even though I was married to Mr. Perfect.
It's a pretty difficult thing to be married to Dave Connors. I know I need to explain myself, because on the surface no one could possibly see any logic in that, but I have some. As you know, for many years I thought your father might be one of the three Nephites from the scriptures, those apostles who were given the gift of remaining on the earth and never tasting death. Theyre here somewhere, doing good in the name of the Lord. Dave is pretty much an ideal man, and sometimes that is hard to live with, because, as you also know, I am not an ideal woman. And, because I am a believer in being candid and truthful, I need you to know that there were times when I really didn't want to be married to a perfect man. I kind of wanted someone flawed, like me, with whom I could spar. Also, he is no fun to play Trivial Pursuit with, or any lexicology kind of games. So, here's my point: even if you're married to the ideal person, you're going to have times when you might not really care for them all that much. I don't know anybody really, who doesn't have some moment when they wonder what in the world they were thinking when they picked that particular partner. And there are times when we aren't the healthiest ourselves, in our thought processes, and our strengths become weaknesses for a while. These are the moments when I think of that altar, the third component of our marriage trio, and I remember that I made promises to two people, not just one, and sometimes that invisible one in the middle needs to get me through until I regain the feeling I had for my spouse. And after 40 years I can tell you, as long as I have kept the Lord a part of our trio, that feeling does eventually return, sometimes a little bit morphed, and usually a bit more mature, and it carries with it a strange kind of peace and satisfaction that people who have not gone through such things don't even comprehend. That altar is not always churchy, but it is always profoundly spiritual to me, even if I havent been to the temple in a while. (I have yet to stay awake through a whole endowment session.)
So heres the motherly advice I have earned the right to offer, but not force you to take, after 40 years of marriage: Hang in there, when these moments come, and be careful not to do anything you'll regret. Get help from others if you need to talk things out. And make sure that those others are not your children. 
Now, here's another truth. Not all of you are married. And none of you can make anyone else do anything they don't want to do, even your spouses. So, I remind you that each of you, and I consider this one of the great joys in my life, have chosen to kneel before the altar of the Lord individually and make your own sacred covenants between you and God alone. It was important to Dad and me that you recognized that your covenants made in the Temple of the Lord, your initial covenants, are yours and yours alone - between you and God and no one else. It has been 40 years since I made those covenants myself. My covenants with your dad happened at a later date. If Dad goes bonkers, (and I might drive him to it) then I have to live with my Lord and our own contract, and let that fellow I married choose what he wants to do. It was the first gift the Lord gave us besides our bodies to offer us freedom of choice.
Your dad and I pray nightly for each of you by name, for your spouses and your children, and your future spouses and children. I don't know what God has in store, and I don't know what we are all foreordained to experience to get us where we need to be in the end. But I have an awful lot of confidence in God, whomever he is and wherever he is, and in his team.
I hope for each of you to have enough. Enough trials to keep your spiritual muscles alive. Enough joy to keep hope in the mix. Enough questions to keep you growing, and enough answers to not only fill-in the blank spots in the puzzle of life, but keep you interested and willing to keep trying to find how the pieces fit together. I pray for you to have enough compassion that you are compelled to sacrifice for others, but not so much that you lose who you are and what you are destined to do because you are overwhelmed with the neediness of the world. I hope you have enough laughter, even if you need to dig deep for it, to see how crazy this existence is and how magical it is that we get to experience it. I hope you have ample opportunities to fall, so you can practice getting back up.
I hope you have enough that you will never starve to death, but I do hope you know the feeling of hunger, figuratively and literally. And I also hope that you have too much sometimes, and that you recognize you have too much, and are willing to let go of some of it for the sake of others and for your own sakes.

It is such an amazing thing to have lived this long! And really very cool to have been married this long! I feel like Dad and I should wear a ribbon or something saying, Ta Da, we have partnered through life for decades and we are still going strong. Huzzah for us!
On testimony Sundays I get a little uneasy. Sometimes well-meaning people will stand there and say they know the Lord loves them because they got what they wanted. The actual truth is the Lord, as I understand him, loves all of us, and he gives us what we need, and only occasionally what we want is what we need. So, on this day, the anniversary of my marriage to your father, I want to thank the Lord for giving me what I need. And I celebrate that what I need is generally also what I want. I love your dad with the love even I don't understand, but I accept it and embrace it. I have many weaknesses which you kids may have inadvertently inherited, and I'm sorry; but the one thing I am most grateful to have given you is a father who loves me and loves the Lord. I guess I can't really take credit for that, except for that in those times when I thought your dad and I had absolutely nothing in common except you kids, I stuck with him anyway. And let me say this, even though your dad will probably never admit it because he wears very narrow blinders where I am concerned, there have to have been times when he felt the same.
You know this antique Masonic altar we keep in our family room? The one that says Purity, Fidelity, Love and Truth on its four sides? I like to keep that here as a reminder of that third component of our personal relationship. Its Dad, and God, and me.

And then, thankfully… there came you!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

I HATE YOU

I pounded my feet against the stairs, hurling myself away from her, twelve-year-old angst burning under my skin.
“I hate you. I hate you I hate you I hate you!” 
The words burst out of my mouth, singeing my lips as they escaped. I knew instantly that it was a lie, but I didn’t care.
Late that night I lay in my bed, my head planted in that old feather pillow of my childhood, my eyes focused on the sliver of light under my mother’s bedroom door just across the landing from our room. Squeezing my eyes shut, I begged the Lord to forgive me, hoping that if He forgave hard enough it would take away the reality that I had said such a hurtful thing to the woman who had already suffered enough. Her spirit and her flesh had already been repeatedly beaten by my father - sometimes under the influence of alcohol, sometimes not. He dipped in and out of our lives until finally, sadly and blessedly, he left for good.
Though my dutiful conscience kept nudging me to tiptoe into her room and apologize, my feet never left their safe place under my covers.
The memory of that episode burned itself into my brain, and decades later, when my own kids were grown, I asked my mother for forgiveness. She chuckled.
“I don’t remember that.” She looked at me as if to say; “Really, Cori, do you think I took you seriously?”
Thinking back on it, I suppose, strangely, that I am a better person for having told my mother I hate her, though I do understand that it only worked for good because I did not repeat it very often. The moment allowed me to examine the truth of this woman: She never left me or any of my siblings, she remained true and holy, though she was a fallen angel, like the rest of us. She did what she did, and even she could not tell you why. She just followed her feelings. And because she had no idea how to do what she had to do, she turned to the only thing she knew for aid. That’s when her dance with her Lord began. He called to her, and she called to Him, and their steps aligned so that eventually in the end they swirled right off the stage and into the wings.

Today I stood at her grave in the chill of this day in May. I shifted the flowers someone had laid across the back of the lion that watches over her resting place, stood back, bidding her image to return to my mind, and whispered over and over again: 
"I love you! I love you I love you I love you!"

Saturday, April 15, 2017

40. DOOR

After a delightful evening in Paris, where we feasted on friendship and good food with Paco, Anne and Bea, we returned to our flat for three hours sleep and an early morning train ride to Normandy.

 Our speedy silver bullet took us I fast forward through the French countryside, new with pale green colors of spring, spotted with blocks of brilliant gold in the early blooming grapeseed crops.
We met our tour guide, Flo, at the train station and began our eight-hour tour with a short video in the van. I sat in the second seat between Libby and David and knew we were in for a memorable day when I noticed that both of them were immediately wiping tears at the sobering recounting of aging war veterans telling of their experiences in this place. Flo was full of passion for the Americans who gave their lives for the freedom of his people. That passion and vigor in a twenty-six-year old man was refreshing.
Flo shows us a paratrooper's vest called Mae West.

We heard our hushed whispers echo in churches, felt the sands of Utah and Omaha beaches on our feet, walked awestruck through Pointe du Hoc where the farmlands were so damaged by bombing that the farmer had to abandon it, leaving a holy scar to remind us of the wounds received there by all mankind. 
We felt the chill of large German bunkers built with slave labor by some of the French themselves, forced by the Germans to work against their will, and walked in grateful silence the rows on rows of white crosses, thousands of them, that stand at attention in the American military cemetery that overlooks the waters. 
We spent a charming evening strolling through the streets of Bayeaux, France, eating a small dinner on the porch of a restaurant in the shadow of the town cathedral, and then caught the train back to Paris.
As we stood at the train station waiting for the train back to Paris, Libby’s Fitbit sent her this message: 

“Congratulations! You’ve earned your first Trailshoe badge for walking 30,000 steps in one day!" 
I don’t remember a single thing about the train ride home.
It was nearly midnight when we arrived back at the flat we were renting. We were staying in a very old building, a couple centuries old, with wonderful old wooden floors and large wooden beams jutting through the ceilings and floor to ceiling glass doors opening onto a courtyard. There were perhaps a dozen or so flats that were accessed through a courtyard entrance. Walking down the narrow street one would not know that behind a pair of massive blue doors was this community, unless you had been there. 
The heavy wooden doors were locked when we returned, so David entered the security code. There was a strange buzz when he finished, but not the familiar click, indicating the lock was lifted. We pressed on the doors and they would not open. Kate took a turn trying the code, and then Libby and then me, just to satisfy each of us. You know how when something isn’t working each of us has this human instinct to give it a go ourselves, even though we have complete confidence in the other person trying? Libby messaged the manager from whom we had rented the flat. While we waited for a return message an energetic cluster of young adults came walking up the rue carrying a couple boxes of pizza. They greeted us and tried the code, with the same results of course. The young woman among the three men planted herself atop one of the motorcycles parked on the street while the boys shook the large wooden doors and tried the code something like 538 times. They also tried to contact the person from whom they were renting their flat for the week. They finally ate their pizza, and the girl had a smoke. I walked up and down the street whistling, enjoying how music echoes off tall stone structures. Libby heard back from the manager, who answered something like: “Oh yes, that sometimes happens. Let me see what I can do” followed by, “I’m working on it”, followed by, “I’m still working on it.” 
Trying to storm the Bastille, or something like that,
with our new neighbors in Paris
After an hour and a half he suggested we find a hotel. Apparently, historically, when someone was locked out they called other residents who were inside and asked them to come open the door. But last night no one was home, or they were not answering their phones. The large knocker on the right-hand door, ancient looking, sort of like the one on Scrooge’s front door, was ineffective as it had been painted stiff in the joints. The boys gave the door a good shake, hoping someone inside would notice and rescue us. Alas, to no avail. The youngsters went on their way, and we finally resigned ourselves to the fact that we would need to find another place to sleep, with no pajamas, no toothbrushes or other supplies. We just hoped that by morning the manager’s promise that he would get us in would be true.
Sure enough, when David walked over from our hotel at 8:00 this morning, the large blue doors were open. We retrieved our things and took off, stopping at the home of Victor Hugo and the Eiffel Tower before we boarded the Eurostar, where I am at this moment writing as we travel back to London.
I’ve been pondering that adventure last night, standing on a narrow street in Paris, just feet from our belongings and a nice soft pillow after a long day, thinking about the meaning and power of doors. My sister Sherry likes to lock her doors. I think it’s in response to a friend of hers having been murdered when she was showering and someone entered her house. I understand that. But I am torn about locking my door, especially when I am alone. I realize that not only am I locking out anyone who might harm me, I am also locking out those who could come to my aid if I needed help.
A number of years ago, when they built an addition on our little neighborhood church in Farmington, they added doors to the outside in our Primary and Relief Society rooms. The strange thing about those doors is they’re made only to exit. There is no handle on the outside. If you wanted to get into the Primary room in a hurry from the outside, your only option would be to knock and hope someone would let you in. Otherwise, go to one of the main doors.
Those doors on our church, and the huge blue doors at the courtyard to our flat in Paris, remind me of that painting of Jesus where he is standing outside the door, knocking. There is no handle for him to turn on his side of the door.
I am reminded, this Easter eve, that while he has the most amazing gift to offer us in our human lives, He will not force it upon us. We must open our own doors and let him in.
Jesus saith unto him;
I am the way, the truth, and the life:
no man cometh to the Father but by me.
John 14:6
One day all of us will get to the point when the doors we come to are the ones we have no control over - eternal doors. It is He who flings them open, allowing us access to that place we could not enter on our own.
At the end of this Holy season, culminating tomorrow in the commemoration of His Resurrection, I add my witness that He is the way. In the end, because of the gift he gave that first Easter, every one of us who has a body now will be resurrected just as He was. It’s what I call God’s "open door policy”. We need entrance, and Christ is the door.
What a Giver - and what a gift!