Thursday, April 30, 2020

LET'S BE PERFECTLY FRANK

Our next-door neighbor is an ER doctor. It’s comforting to know he’s right there, not just because he’s a capable medical professional, but because he’s pretty much the nicest human on the planet. Last month he was teaching one of his sons how to repair sprinklers in his front yard as I was driving a bit of hot soup over to my friend Sharla. We stopped and chatted. I told him that Sharla’s husband, Frank, had just been transferred to McKay Dee Hospital with Covid 19 and was unconscious and intubated. My neighbor exhaled, dropped his head, and asked a few more details. “To be perfectly frank, he’s not likely to make it. All the factors combined make the odds pretty bad. I don’t know how you prepare a family for something like that, but you may want to try. I am so sorry.” I thanked him for his candor, and drove off with a pit in my stomach.
Because Sharla also had symptoms of Covid 19, (she later tested positive) she’s been completely isolating herself, so I left the soup and bread on her porch. It’s probably a good thing I couldn’t see her because knowing something terrible and trying to hide it is hard. Frank was not likely to survive this.

Who among us has not done “the Google” in an attempt to put lines around the unshaped monster who took up residence on planet earth in the last few months? We average folk, who do not understand medical jargon, are left to conjure up synopses from various stories floating around the internet and spewing at us from radios and televisions. The monster morphs according to the thread we follow down the virtual rabbit hole of internet search engines.
I stayed up till 5 am reading all sorts of frightening stuff. I finally went to bed when the birds outside my bedroom window were starting their first chorus.
With all due respect for that information, and gratitude to the professionals who fight the monster even when they are not likely to win, I tucked my head into my pillow and did my prayer thing. I would not call myself a pro in the prayer category. Because of residual neuropathy I do not kneel well. I don’t kneel at all, in fact. When I am trying to be particularly reverent I place my hand over my heart when I pray. That’s my version of kneeling. Over the years this prayer stance has evolved. When I am uttering a prayer that I think should be recorded in my personal history, by my personal angels, then I speak it or whisper it, making my thoughts slow down and fit into word form. More often, though, this prayer stance has become a sort of pondering-praying-formulating-discussing conversation with either myself or my Greater Power. I’m not entirely sure what form that Greater Power takes, whether it’s my special guardian-type angels who are assigned to help me (who may or may not include ancestors and folks to follow on our family tree), or the Holy Ghost, or the Lord Himself. Or maybe it’s just me talking to me. My faith leads me to believe that these ponderings become prayers when they invoke the power of my advocate, Jesus Christ. Then they make their way, filtered or not, to our Creator. And I believe that Creator has all sorts of power. My pillow is familiar with these conversations at all hours of the day and night.
So, here’s how that 5 a.m. conversation went:
“Well, God. You’ve got Frank. It’s you and the people wearing full protective gear in his ICU unit. Nobody else has an ounce of power to help him. So please, God, bless Sharla and their family with as much peace as can be mustered. Peace is the only thing that can pierce the confusion and the great overpowering helplessness.”
I was praying for Sharla and Co., because… you know… there wasn’t much hope for Frank. And then, in a flash, I had a stupor of thought. My mind shifted from praying mostly for his family to confidently praying for Frank himself.  I felt physically compelled to pray for Frank individually. Separate prayers were for his family. 
I really have very little understanding of how prayer works. I don’t know how much what we want can change what God wants, or needs. But I do know we, who carry spiritual trust in our hearts, are encouraged to pray. Whether or not praying changes any outcome, or it changes us, I do believe it is essential, for me at least. I just need to feel like I am communicating. Things get a bit more focused and organized when I have to arrange my thoughts in a communicable fashion. Sometimes it’s helpful for me to even write down my prayers, so I don’t swirl in the mush of mumble. Like, when one of my kids wanted something, and they rambled on and around and up and down, and I finally stopped them and said: TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT! Then the actual words were easier to answer. So, I think maybe I should present things to God that way, after my pillow ponderings. Boil those thoughts down to actual answerable supplications.
And so, with regard to Frank, I got pretty specific. And then I had this thought that there could be strength in numbers. I got up from my bed, and sat at my computer, and called all angels in Facebook-world, and Instagram-land. A simple request to unite in prayer, if you were the praying sort. I have a wonderful bunch of friends, and most of them are believers. Within hours the energy was shimmering and hope was rising from all over; from our sleepy little towns of Farmington and Fruit Heights, to the eastern and western shores, and over to Europe and Australia and the UK. Up in Alaska, and down in the southern hemisphere. People I do not know, and people, many of them, who have no idea who Frank is. My daughter tells me that every blessing on every meal at their house, spoken in the tiny voices of her small children, carries the words “…and please bless Gummy’s friend, Frank.” They’ve never met Frank. I’ll betcha half of the people praying daily for Frank have never met him.

Let me pause here and say something. I think it is pretty awesome that the most powerful force in the history of everything has invited us to talk to him. Through whatever channels he uses on his end, he gives us access. Even the littlest among us. Even the most unworthy. Even people who are general sceptics, who use prayer as a last-ditch effort. There are not many world-leaders, celebrities or even friends who extend that sort of unlimited access.
So, for one solid month Frank’s Army has been doing the prayer thing. Sending positive vibes, if that’s the limit of belief, and fasting and speaking specific requests for the serious believers. We have all been faithful to Frank and Sharla and their plight. Hooray for the internet in keeping us united and connected.
There was a time, that first week, when I thought my neighbor’s prediction was coming true. There were a few nights when I wondered what I might hear in the morning. But the prayers continued to rise, like a fountain spewing heavenward. Day by day things got a bit worse, then a bit better. Then there came that day when Frank opened his eyes. And a day when he gave a thumb’s up when he heard the voices of his family over an iPad the nurse took into his room. And then they removed the tube from his lungs. And then he coughed. Each little thing brought a collective cheer, and a shout of thanks shot through that fountain of prayer.
Frank's nurse, bless her heart,
sent a video to the family when
Frank finally had the tube removed.
Today Sharla drove to the hospital and they let her in. For the first time, they let her in. She has lived the sorrow of social distance since that day a month ago when she dropped Frank off at the hospital, parked the car, and then when she tried to enter to admit him, they turned her away. For her own safety, and the safety of others. Today she walked through those doors.
“Can I hug him?” she asked. The nurse replied that she wouldn’t look, and wouldn’t tell. Finally, Sharla’s throbbing heart beat against Frank’s. I believe that particular moment was celebrated on both sides of the veil. Sharla spent most of the day learning, step by step, how to care for someone who survived three weeks of intubation in a virtual coma.
Sharla is learning the ropes of physical therapy.
Tomorrow, one month and one day after Frank was first cocooned in his private fighting place, Frank is coming home. That’s home, with a lower case “h”. They can wait a while to get him in the eternal Home, with the capital “H”. My pillow, tonight, will hear the words of gratitude repeated over and over, my hand over my heart.

Logic, one month ago, would not have sent us to this place. And God would still be God, if Frank were not coming home, with the lower case “h.” But if all good things come from the Lord, then we are blowing Him one gigantic kiss over this one. I guess it wasn’t Frank’s time. And to be perfectly “frank”, we are fine with that. 
Power couple.
Team Hunt.
(Cononavirus deaths to date: 234,075) (note, this is not 234,076!)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

HIS HONOR & OUR FAMILY ZOOM EVENING

Though it isn’t really necessary, the man I love rises early every weekday, during this pandemic, the same time he always has. He showers, and shaves, and dresses in his neatly pressed shirt, a knotted tie, and a belted pair of dress slacks. He pulls a clean pair of dress socks over his feet and bends over to tie his leather shoes. I remain hunkered in a downy cave there on our bed, my head dreaming away on my pillow. Dave quietly turns the handle on our bedroom door, so as not to wake me, and walks down the hallway and into the study. It is there, with our old cloth flag tucked onto the corner by the bookshelves, he holds court. Our humble little den where the grown-up books reside, where the printer pumps out worksheets for my guitar students, and where one full row of shelves is dedicated to cookbooks, has become a virtual courthouse and judge’s chambers, all in one. 
Weeks ago, following the advice of the President and our Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court issued a request that courthouses close, in light of the current pandemic. Yet the workings of the judicial arm of government had to continue. For the last full month I have watched Dave, who is presiding judge of the Second District, work from 7 am until midnight, day after day, trying to figure out how to allow justice to be served in a world of social distancing. Interfacing with fellow judges and staff, researching and test running and brainstorming, they have finally figured out how to hold court in a virtual setting. The judge, in his black robes, is just ten steps away from the kitchen table. Attorneys in their homes, trying to keep the children quiet in the background. Inmates appear from a private room in jail or prison. Judicial assistants attend from their homes. They line up in little windows at the top of David’s computer. I have to remind myself, once I join the world of the living, not to run the mixer, or blend a high-pitched smoothie for breakfast.
I tiptoe into the front entryway of our house, where I can peek through the glass panes in the French doors to the study, to see if he is on the phone or in a video conference. If he is not, then I can slice a nice fresh orange or a firm ripe avocado and set it on his desk. He is always graciously appreciative, though sometimes, late at night, when I turn off the lights in the study, I see the orange remains untouched. He is a serious and a dedicated worker, devoted to upholding and appropriately interpreting the law, and I admire him deeply, even if I can’t figure out why he’d wear shoes and socks when no one is going to see them. I’m pretty sure he dresses fully so that he completely owns his part, and I respect him for that. I, myself, feel pretty content in my pajamas. I guess that’s why I’m a “creative” and he’s the judge.
A couple days ago we had what we called a Family Zoom Evening with our kids. Since they were little we have had Family Home Evening with them, though our faithfulness in gathering has waxed and waned. Due to the statewide order to isolate at home, we have not snuggled a grandchild nor hugged our kids for nearly six weeks. It has created an exquisite kind of pain, our longing and yearning glows with the radiant hope of reunion. Absence truly makes the heart grow fonder.

So, since we can’t meet in person, we did it virtually. At 4:30 Sunday afternoon each of our kids and two of my sisters came knocking on the virtual door of my computer screen. One by one we welcomed them in, Kate coming all the way from New York. The cousins chattered and laughed and the cacophony felt like a beautiful symphony orchestra warming up before a concert. We sang, we prayed, we shared spiritual thoughts and scriptures, I told my daily joke. I sat with my guitar in my lap, scanning the little virtual windows at the top of my small computer screen, drinking in the faces of the people I love most in the world. David led our family discussion. We talked about the positive things we have noticed in this difficult time. From the oldest to the youngest we found blessings wrapped in the cloak of a curse. Siblings have discovered friends in each other, parents have learned to pace themselves in their interactions, we’ve discovered new talents and nurtured old ones. We’ve tried new recipes, and pulled out old ones. Our kids’ kids appreciate being able to snuggle on the couch and watch a movie together, without outside forces coming in. We’ve learned how our emotions go up and down and we survive it.
Family Zoom Evening
David shared with us the beauty of something he experienced personally a few weeks ago:
 The pandemic had devastated places dear to us: Italy, where he served his mission and where our good friends live. Great Britain, where Johnny served, and Ann Marie and Michael, and where we performed with Saints on the Seas in various port cities. France, where three years ago this week we visited the beaches of Normandy. China, where Kate studied Mandarin, and Hong Kong where she served her mission. So many people in those places had died from Covid 19 that they were having to bury people in mass graves, or cremate them without family or funeral. The epidemic had finally made its way across the ocean to the US, first crushing New York, turning stadiums and other meeting places into hospitals. It moved like a tidal wave westward, reaching us in Utah a couple weeks before an earthquake shook us. We didn’t see the earthquake coming, but we did see the pandemic, and we braced ourselves. In David’s discussions with the Chief Justice and other presiding judges, as well as law enforcement leadership, it became apparent that this disease was likely to slither into our jails and prisons. With foresight, the judges asked sheriffs and wardens to review their tiered inmate plans and prepare an informed list of inmates with the most time served in their sentences, those serving time for misdemeanors, and people who would pose the least risk to society if they were released. 
In early April, when it was apparent that the pandemic was indeed spreading quickly in our state, the Chief Justice requested that judges with jails and prisons in their districts release a percentage of inmates in order to accommodate social distancing in those facilities and forestall a raging outbreak. On Friday, April 10th, Dave drove to the courthouse, entered alone, and was soon joined by the County Attorney and the head of the Public Defenders office. He had prepared an order to release certain qualified inmates from the Davis County Jail. He leaned over the desk in his chambers, pen in hand, then paused, as he looked up at the the defense lawyer and the prosecutor. “I don’t know what your religious beliefs might be, but I was once an altar boy, and my Christian roots run deep, as does my faith. It is not insignificant to me that we should be releasing these prisoners on this particular day, Good Friday.” 
David’s words got caught in his throat as he told this to our children and grandchildren. Tears wove through the crevices in his face.
“It was tradition, in Israel, that at the beginning of Passover one prisoner would be granted release from prison, as a token of good will between the Romans and the Jews. When Jesus was brought to the court on that Friday, having been found guilty of blasphemy, Pilate offered to make him that one whose crime would be forgiven, but the people chose Barabbas instead. And thus, the wheels of eternity rolled forth.” 
All these generations later, this singular event represented a beautiful meeting of mercy at the bar of justice. 
"It was a weighty and a sacred thing for me", Dave said, "to sign my name to that order on that day.”
I listened to Dave, and imagined inmates walking out into the springtime air, inhaling the newness of the awakening earth, perhaps embracing people who love them. From my chair in our little Family Zoom Evening I offered a silent prayer that those who were granted early release would embrace new lives and good choices with this newly bestowed gift. Having served as a church advisor in that jail for three years, I knew firsthand that hearts can sincerely yearn for a new start, and that change, though hard, is possible.

It’s a lonely thing, being a judge. Few people are delighted with what a judge bestows on them. It often takes the passage of time and a bit of wisdom to see the beauty of justice. We humans are drawn to mercy, but it is justice that in the end truly makes us free. And though he is probably the smartest, most even tempered human I know, David is still just that, a human trying his best to do what’s right with what information he is given. He is diligent, and steady, and honest. And he is definitely the Yin to my Yang.
At the end of our little virtual family gathering, before Aunt Libby closed with prayer, our eldest grandson Timothy played a hymn on the piano in his house in Herriman. We all sang along.
God Be with You, till We Meet Again.

Our kids.

Our patriarch.


Coronavirus deaths to date: 178,551



Sunday, April 12, 2020

GOD IS AWAKE

Dave went to the auto parts store today, gathering parts to repair the carburetor on a grass edger. I rode along. As we sat there in the car, our face masks and thin plastic gloves on the console between us, I mused aloud;
“In a dozen years, everyone alive today will know where they were, who they were with, and how dramatically their lives changed in the spring of 2020. Life as we knew it is changed, and probably forever. It will be BC and AP – Before Covid19 and After Pandemic.”
I sense this, from experience. My own life is divided in BGBS and AGBS – before and after Guillain Barre Syndrome. That illness changed me.
There are all sorts of before and after’s, all of them altering us in varying degrees. The moon landing. JFK and MLK’s tragic endings, the Challenger explosion, 9-11: If you’re old enough and you’re still alive with your wits about you, you probably remember particular details about where you were and what you were doing.
This pandemic will go down in history as a universal pivot point. No one gets to escape it.  Most especially dramatic for those whose loved ones have felt the sting of the disease itself, but also deadly in its side effects that are not even health oriented. Other stressors are already rearing their heads from this: lost jobs, financial disasters, dramatically altered family situations and routines. Things we haven’t even considered will end up being major problems that started here, in the springtime of 2020.

In the back of our heads we are all  wondering if our feet will hit a figurative landmine in our daily walks, and we too will end up in a sterile hospital room, the door locked to anyone entering or exiting, unless they are medical personnel, covered from head to toe with protective gear. These are lonely times, everywhere, but especially in those rooms buzzing with the mournful hum of mechanical ventilators.
How can we not be changed?
All change, even good change is hard. Change, in and of itself, is not inherently evil, but it is often uncomfortable. Sometimes painful. Sometimes not.
For years, I’ve whispered a personal mantra. It represents how I feel about my life, and that of those around me:
"YOU CAN'T NOT GROW"
I used to say: “You can’t not learn.” But then, on further thought, I decided lots of people don’t learn. We often lose the lesson life offers to teach us. But growth? That comes with simply breathing in and out. Our spirits, whether or not we recognize it, are going to grow. We will one day look back on our lives, however long they are, however much power we had in our situations, however gifted or handicapped we are… we will look back, with the help of divine vision, and see that we have emerged grown, to some degree. Like those little withered peas I pushed into the soil in my garden beds a few weeks ago. They are sprouted and growing now, without me doing a single thing to help them. God took us, all wrinkled and new, and breathed life into us, and sent us off knowing that regardless of what happened while we were down here, we would return to Him with experience and some level of increased wisdom. Even if our intelligence were stripped from us, the process of moving through this earth life is going to change our spirits. Without getting too complicated or philosophical, I believe we will return to our Maker advanced in our spirits. The degree will vary, and we will probably carry some level of regret and some level of joy for what we have or have not done. But I sincerely believe that God did not set us up to fail. He sent us with an inherent ability to grow, like those peas in my garden. And like silly little children, we get mad at Him because we cannot or will not understand this like He does.
Tonight, as the clock turns us to a new day, I am reminded that my ability to “return Home” is facilitated by the one who crafted our frames and created this earth. The Son of the God who breathed life into this clay, who offered himself as advocate, mediator, and savior. The one who opened the door for us so our own two feet can carry us through.
Surely, Eastertime 2020 will be remembered by all of us. No community Easter Egg Hunts. No Easter Parades down 5thAvenue. St Peter’s Square is empty. The chapel in our little rock church down the street is dark and dusty. The seats at our large family dining tables sit vacant. Even the air is cleaner because so few people are driving.
Rome, 2020. The Pope holds Easter Mass at an empty St Peter's Square. 

And still, we kneel at our personal altars, in our own homes. We pour a few cups of water and break a single piece of bread. And the same power that turned water to wine, raised the dead, changed blistered skin and broken hearts and troubled minds with a single touch… that same power, bestowed by our Maker, cleanses our souls. From the humblest hearths in faith filled homes across this earth, we lift our voices in praise and supplication. 
We cannot say we were not prepared. Our ability to worship from home began a whisper and a nod before this tragedy struck. Our shelves were filled because we were advised to fill them. Our study, as individuals and families, were shifted to home rather than classrooms, not in response to this, but in prior wisdom. Even our children were taught what songs to sing and how to pray, so that when there was no one standing beside them to help, they knew from experience how to at least try on their own. The Spirit whispers, from ancient days, “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” We are still in process, and while physical preparation is necessary and comforting, the most lasting, solid, emotion-calming preparation comes with a sense that we are not being asked to do this alone. 

Victor Hugo, the author of one of my favorite tales, Les Miserables, wrote:
Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.

 It's the most comforting truth I know.  


A blessed Easter to all. This completes my Lent Writing 2020. This daily Lenten sacrifice has been a blessing for me during this troubled time. (Coronavirus deaths to date: 108,907)


Friday, April 10, 2020

GOT THIRST?


Got thirst? Good! Me too! That means we're in this together!

My sisters and I ventured out today to purchase flour on the black market, since that is where you have to get flour these days. Actually, a guy advertised in an online marketplace that he had to close his restaurant and was therefore selling his current order of baking supplies. So we met in the parking lot of an abandoned store and he hefted 50 lb bags of flour, some sugar and some yeast into the back of my car and I paid him through Venmo. Never even touched the stuff. That's how things are done these days, in our world.
When I got home it was 2 pm, and the sun was shining and the springtime air was breezy and dry and the urge to just get a nice long drink of water, or even more tempting, a cool tall glass of Coke on ice... the thought of it almost overwhelmed me. And then I remembered.
I love that word: Remember. It's one of the most divine in our vocabulary.
remembered we are fasting today, this Good Friday. In response to the call of our prophet, we join a worldwide day of fasting and prayer, that we will have the Lord's sheltering and guiding hand as we journey through this pandemic. I've fasted almost all my life, at least once a month, The first Sunday of every month, in our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we fast and witness to ourselves, our Lord, and each other, that we have confidence in God and are willing to sacrifice for each other. So, basically, I've been in "Fast training" all my life.

Still, it's hard! I'm so used to getting what I want when I want it. This is such a good and humbling exercise for our bodies and our spirits. Hooray for hard, and for people training themselves to do it.
One day, when I was teaching the gospel through song to the little kids in our church, it was fast Sunday and I asked the kids if any of them had tried fasting yet. Many of them raised their hands, which was quite moving to me. I asked them if it was painful for them. And they said "Oh yes!"
We talked a bit about pain. And then I told them about discomfort, and how it's sort of like pain but not quite. There is a difference between pain and discomfort. When I am fasting... truly fasting, for a long time, I feel the stages of the fast. It begins with the emotional loss, the absence of routine that involves eating or drinking: the gulp of water after you brush your teeth, the banana or smoothie in the morning. Then, as the day progresses, it turns to little snips of thirst, or pangs of hunger here and there. They pass, without much problem. It then moves into discomfort. I am aware of my dry mouth, of the pinch in my stomach. And then, deeper in, there is the constant grip of hunger. I rarely let myself go there in my daily life. I am always surprised, when I get through those phases, how I end up, near the end of my fast, settled into a place of peace and spirituality. Often, when I fast only a meal or two, I never get to that spot, and that's a shame. But today, I feel it coming.

Right now, however, I'm in the "Gee, wouldn't it be nice to have some nice cool water" phase. The pollen has given me a perpetual headache, and my habit is to think, pretty much always, that food or drink will help me feel better.  Alas.

I love the law of the fast as it walks hand in hand with prayer. Every time I feel thirst, or hunger, I immediately send up a prayer. It's like that little "ding" i hear on my cell phone when I have set a reminder for myself. Fasting helps fulfill the request to pray always. And the deeper I go into it, the more constant and sincere are the prayers. A side effect is compassion and empathy for those whose lives include daily hunger and thirst.

So right now, mid-afternoon on Good Friday, I celebrate every single other human on this planet who hungers and thirsts for righteousness' sake. We unite our prayers and send them heavenward in a massive blast, like the shofar horns being blown heavenward in the holy temple. Our hunger stirs our prayers, and they rise like smoke, heavenward.
Hear us, oh Lord!
(Covid 19 Death toll: 102,687)

TWELVE

Twelve. As I was sewing face masks today, part of my current pandemic practices, I needed a metric ruler to use a pattern I found online. When you sit at a sewing machine you have time to ponder interesting things. I found four rulers, all of them divided in twelve inches. I started wondering why rulers were twelve inches long.
Twelve is kind of an interesting number. Who picked that as the limit of a ruler? Twelve months in a year. Why? And why are eggs and donuts sold in dozens? My brother and I even have a thing for the Sesame Street song “Twelve”, the one about lady bugs having a picnic. There are twelve notes in a chromatic scale, and twelve major Greek gods (if I remember correctly). (You can really let your mind go bonkers at a sewing machine!) Then, as I pondered to the rhythm of my needle pumping up and down through fabric, I got to wondering why Jesus specifically called twelve apostles, the pattern we still follow today in the restored church. Twelve’s been on my mind. It’s a nice little benign diversion from fixating on worldwide pandemics. There must be something divine in collections of twelve.

The clock struck twelve, I’m serious, right when I decided to ditch the writing I had been doing on my computer. You may, or may not, know that I write every day during the Christian season of Lent. Even though I am not Catholic, and we don’t practice, as a church, the tradition of Lenten sacrifice. I made a decision quite a while ago that I should exercise the opportunity of becoming more aware of myself and my Lord in the season running up to Easter. So I made a commitment to write every single day during the 40 days of Lent, before Easter. It’s become quite the experience for me. My brain has to prepare itself, coming up with a subject day after day, and trying to write something fresh and interesting, while working to develop my skills as a thinker and a writer. Since my life doesn’t stop to let me add this to my days,  and I am especially skilled at avoidance bhavior, I often end up writing into the wee hours of the morning (like right now).
I opened up my bog a few minutes ago, to start a new post. (I force myself to publish what I write so I have the pressure of accountability.) Then I got curious. When did I start this Lent Writing thing anyway? It took me a full 20 minutes to scroll down through my posts to see how many years I’ve been doing it. Turns out that number is… you guessed it…twelve. 
I guess I started in 2008. Two-thirds of the most important people in my life were still waiting their turn in line back then, up in their heaven-place. Our Kate was starting her stint with Teach for America in Houston. Sarah was trudging through her medical residency in Kansas City, with two babies and a heart yearning for home. Annie was newly married, and John and Ash had recently moved into their house on Quail Run Road. 2008 was the year Dave was sworn in as a judge, and Gram, Cyndy and Cindy were still with us, among so many others who have since switched places with those grandlings who floated down to us since then. 
Twelve years of making myself aware, and then recording something every day, has preserved so much of who I am, so I am grateful for all those late-night musings saved on my blog. But I am, I might add, a little weary.
So here I sit, at 3:20 am. Dave is sound asleep in our bed. In a few hours he will rse and make a living for us. (this writing stuff doesn't pay, at least in worldly wages). 
It's late, and I'm thirsty. But the sacredness of this particular snip in time is evidenced in my dry mouth. I resist the desire to take a drink of water, because we began, this night, our participation in a world-wide fast. Until the sun sets tomorrow, we symbolically join hands, asking our God to increase our faith, and to preserve us collectively and individually from this pandemic.
The act of fasting in prayer is a powerful current that draws me quickly to my Savior. Like electricity, I don’t understand how it works, I just know it does. Each time I feel thirst, I hear His words… “I thirst.” When I feel pangs of hunger, I hear his words… “Hunger and thirst after righteousness.”
The relatively easy pinch of suffering takes me to Him, and my faith is added upon.
These days, more than ever, we need help. I need help! I need that gift of faith He has promised me, a dozen times over. I need the weave in the fabric of my heart to open up to Him and let Him infuse into me, so that even if some unwanted little virus finds its way into my life, my spirit will be able to say, “It is well with my soul.”
My sister's supper table tonight, their last supper before the fast.
a Passover Seder
Bitter root, raw green vegetables and salt water, all symbolic.
My nephew Joseph breaks matzo bread he made himself.
The first Last Supper

(Covid 19 Death Toll: 95,714)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

FOCUS

The week before Christmas, just a few months ago, our kids and grandkids and my sisters who live close-by gathered for our traditional Christmas Family Night. Usually we do this on Christmas Eve, but this time John and Ashley were taking their family to Mexico to help build houses for the poor. So, we met in our home for dinner, followed by tradition: service sharing, a tidbit of wisdom from Gummy and Gumpa, and our Nativity. We end the night by giving the Grands their new Christmas pajamas.
About a decade ago Dave and I had given our children and siblings a sculpture of two hands, held out together in the manner of giving. We told them that we no longer wanted them to give us presents for Christmas. Instead, we wanted them to provide purposeful and meaningful service for others, then report to us what they had done. There is value in returning and reporting. Accountability is a fine motivator.
We now have a precious large album that sits on our coffee table at Christmastime, wherein are found photographs and stories and drawings of beautiful acts of service given by the people we hold most dear. Each family reports on what they have done, and then gives us a page for our album. It is a growing treasure.
Each year Dave and I give some sort of spiritual token to them. This year I bound Come Follow Me manuals, designed to help us in our scripture study, and an edition of the Book of Mormon that I really like. And I made these little magnets for the kids to put in their homes as reminders:

I used the idea of an optometrist’s eye chart to emphasize our desire to have them focus on their Lord, just a little more. We get so comfortable in our lives, if we are lucky. The demands of daily living, when not in crisis, drive us along the path of complacency. It’s human nature. 
What Dave and I wanted was for our kids and grands to focus just a teeny bit more. Not to overwhelm, but to encourage. It’s not hard to try just a little bit. I handed them this image, and asked them to focus while I counted. 
“Don’t look at anything else, just the dots in the middle.” I watched as the littlest and the biggest stared at their pieces of paper. Then I asked them to close their eyes and look into the black behind their eyelids. You can also just look at a white wall or a piece of blank paper.
Suddenly seven-year-old Joe let out a squeal, “Aaaaaah!  Aaaah! I see him! I see him! It’s Jesus!” His delight drove us all to laughter, and deep affection. The negative turns to a positive in our brains, and sure enough, an image of Jesus will appear if you focus long enough.

Then I handed everyone the following detail from the famous Sistine Chapel, where God, the Creator, is reaching toward Adam, otherwise known as Michael. 

“Look at their fingers.” I said. Look how close they are, and yet they do not touch.
I asked them if they had heard the song that says God will force no man to Heaven? Or if they'd seen the picture of Jesus standing at the door knocking, but there’s no door knob? How does He get in?
Parker replied, correctly, that we must let Him in, He will not force himself on us.
“So, here’s Adam, so very close to God, but look at his posture. He is almost too comfortable. If he just stretched, even just a little, he could touch the finger of God.”
Come on, Man, can't you stretch just a teeny bit more?

I asked the people whose lives and choices affect my heart more than any other if they could perhaps, this coming year, give a little more focus and a tiny stretch.
I was talking to our kids, but really, it was myself I was addressing.
Now, a few months after Christmas, I realize that it is not a difficulty for me to think about God in my daily life. Pandemics are great facilitators that way. I pray constantly for my friend in the hospital with this disease, which leads me to pray for his family, which leads me to pray for my family, and then the human family. My yearning heart, aching to hold my treasures, ponders daily how I might serve them without touching them. My siblings are constantly on my mind, as are my friends, and I feel strangely more connected to them through our shared isolation.
I see with a clarity that makes focus easier, because of the struggle we are in. I don’t hardly have to try, it’s a side effect of generalized suffering.
And as for the tiny stretch, I feel my spiritual tendons loosening day by day, stretched in my sleeping and waking thoughts. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that as I am compelled to resist touching those I crave, the ones I long to draw into a full-bodied embrace... the further I get from them, the closer I get to Him.

 (Covid 19 deaths to date 88,502)

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

CURVES

When I was an adolescent, trying to figure out the language of adolescent boys, it was my understanding that guys liked curves. On girls, at least. So, when I started getting some, I felt dandy. Then, when the reality of my habits mixed with my gene pool, those curves took an evil turn. Concave became convex, in all the wrong places.
I have a love/hate relationship with curves. The curvy roads of western PA made me motion sick.  And the stupid bell curve in college got me my first and only failing grade. (My professor: “Somebody had to fail. I guess it was you.”)
But the beautiful bulge under my heart, stretching over my babies? I loved those curves. And I do enjoy spreading soft butter cream frosting over little mounds of moist chocolate drop cookies. 
And... rainbows!

There’s a lot of talk about curves in the news these days. My daughter, who is a doctor, said in a phone conversation a few weeks ago, that whomever created that coronavirus curve graph would likely be on a Nobel Prize short list. The way the world has reacted to what that graph of curves represents makes me think she might be right. Basically, the two curves on that graph represent us humans, one if we went on living our lives like normal, and the other, the shorter one, if we altered the way we lived and what we chose. Those of us trying to be responsible, reasonable citizens, are following the prescription of staying home, staying away from other people and places where the virus might be present. It has been a dramatic change. Seriously dramatic! It’s actually quite moving to me, to see how we can cooperate as a culture, and how our respect for others and for ourselves sits soundly as a foundation under our choices. Way to be, fellow humans!

Being dutiful, however, creates its own crazy circus! My friend Sharla is on a roller coaster ride right now. Yesterday it looked like the ride might even be ending. But it looks today like we just hit a low point, and the car decided to take a teeny upward curve today. Her husband Frank is a patient at McKay Dee Hospital, riding that rickety roller coaster of Covid 19. Not sure how that sneaky little virus found its way into that workhorse of a man, it has taken the family and all his friends for a loop, that’s for sure. He is intubated and sedated. Oxygen is being forced into his lungs to keep him alive. No one who knows and loves him can even see him. A kind hearted nurse has to dress from head to toe in protective clothing to take an ipad in so they can see him and talk to him, hoping that the sound of their voices will give him courage and hope.
Last week, when Sharla dropped Frank off at the hospital, they would not even let her in to see him after she parked. She didn’t even get to kiss him goodbye, or whisper some sweet little nothing. Just, "I’ll see you in a minute." But that minute didn’t come, and Sharla waits at home, distanced from her kids and grandkids, and from the man whose name she has owned most of her life. I don’t think I know a stronger woman than Sharla, but this is a serious stressor, so I pray for her, as I pray for Frank. And their kids… I can’t even imagine… terrified for their dad, worried about their mom, and trying to calm their own throbbing hearts. All from a painful distance.

Years ago, when my mom was alive, she was sharing a meal with us. I looked at her across the dinner table and knew instantly that something was wrong. She thought she might be having a heart attack. We went immediately to the hospital. It turned out to be a bona fide panic attack. This was a new experience for us then. We are more familiar nowadays. Mom and I were able to get help from a great psychiatrist. He recommended a book that Mom and I read together: Hope and Help for Your Nerves. The thing I most remember, and that I most use in my own anxious moments, is the concept of the roller coaster. Instead of bracing ourselves, wishing the ride would stop, holding our breath until it does, the safer thing to do is to breathe out, raise our arms, and just ride it on down, trusting that once we hit the bottom we will start to rise. It takes incredible courage. And it works. Mom eventually crawled off that roller coaster, a bit dizzy, with a healthy respect for what the human mind can do to the human heart.

Tonight, I look out my front door and peer into heaven through the brilliant light of a Super Moon. I understand it is the closest the moon will be to the earth this year. I look at it, silvery-pink and bright and dependable, noting the perfect curve. True to its course, the curve travels round and round, until it reaches the starting point. I place my confidence in the belief that one day my arms will do the same; wrap themselves around the people I cherish, one hand meeting the other, with a super-moon portion of love inside. 
And I pray, for Sharla and Frank, their arms will do the same.

(Covid 19 toll to date: 82,108)