Borrowed Light for Your Sister

We have a lot of platitudes. We have things we say as Latter-day Saints that might be unique to our own speaking patterns and vernacular. It took me years of being a member before I had the gist of some of them- I wondered for several months who Bishop Rick was, and I’m still unsure what the Activity Girls are doing or where their ages fall.

Church has become a minefield of platitudes and unintentional hurt lately. Aside from furthering the wounds by insisting if I am offended, the fault lies with me, I thought it might be cathartic to jot down a few ideas on how to make a divorced or otherwise less-than-perfect member feel welcomed and loved. [Read more...]

Perverting Modesty

Growing up in a family of California hippies, I saw a lot of barely-clad bodies. It was not at all unusual to see my parents fresh from the shower, or even their friends swimming naked in the lake where we would vacation in the summer. I recall many a bath in the galvanized apple tub at the family farm- the only order was the dirtiest kids went last- with our moms waiting to wrap our slippery naked bodies in terry towels and sit by the fire before being tucked off to bed.

We were taught about inappropriate touching and respecting others, but those lessons were never tied to our clothes or our nakedness. It was perfectly normal to see a friend’s mother breastfeeding out in the open- there were no blankets draped over babies heads or removing oneself to another room- or, unimaginable, a bathroom- the mothers simply fed their babies. [Read more...]

Summer Solstice: A Nod to My Pagan Roots

Once upon a time, I dabbled in a a lot of things. One of the things I dabbled in was the earth religions with a fascination in paganism and the occult. Don’t freak out- it’s not a big deal- and there is, like in any religion, good things to be mined. I learned a lot from my time drawing circles in the backyard and paying attention to the seasonal cycles. I have long since given away most of my tools, but still retain my cast iron cauldron and athame (a ceremonial knife), packed carefully in a box in the garage. This stuff doesn’t freak me out one bit- and people who equate paganism with the Christian devil are simply uninformed.

The solstice is one of four cardinal holidays in paganism. The two solstices, winter and summer, when daylight is at it’s greatest, and least, respectively. And the two equinoxes, when the daylight and the night are balance in perfect equilibrium. There are four minor holidays equally spread between the four cardinal: Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. All holidays are calibrated to the grand cycles of the Earth orbiting the sun, and the procession of the season. All symbols used in these faiths are tied to the symbols of the season and the cycles of birth and death as seen in the procession of the seasons. It’s actually quite beautiful. [Read more...]

On Being a Single Mother in the Church

This being a single mama in the LDS church is turning out to be a lot harder than I thought it was gonna be. Don’t get me wrong- this is my church, and I know that I belong here– but boy, if I didn’t come into this thing with a rock-solid testimony, this whole new world might have broken me. It’s no secret we are a family-centered church- I suppose a lot of churches are- maybe all of them try to be. I don’t know. We may give lip-service in random talks or conference addresses to non-traditional families, but when it comes down to brass tacks? It’s just lip service. The actual facts of being a divorced woman with three kids in the LDS church are hard and sharp. And I’m tired. [Read more...]

General Conference Cinnamon Rolls

Everyone swears their cinnamon rolls are the best, but they’re deluded. Mine are. (Well, with the possible exception of Brad’s mom.) These cinnamon rolls are the closest thing you’re ever going to make at home to the real deal. I say that with absolute certainty and calm. They. Are. It. I’ve held this recipe close to the bone for a long time, folks, but I will divulge the secret:

Pudding.

That’s right, you make the rolls with vanilla pudding as your primary liquid. (get out your food storage pudding!) That, and a lot of butter. I have no idea what the nutritional breakdown is, but to be on the safe side, and out of kindness to your heart, I suggest making them only 2 or 3 times a year. Without further ado, I give you… [Read more...]

Bent Petals

Last night I had the chance to go to the temple, and I grabbed it. For the rare BCC reader not Mormon, the temple is not a place for our weekly services, but is instead a special “House of the Lord” where we go for additional teaching, learning and to perform services for our ancestors. It’s a place we hold sacred and its somewhere we can retreat to when we are needing guidance, answers to prayers, or just to feel closer to God. Not all Mormons go to the temple, but a great many of us do- myself included- and I love living close enough to one that I can pop in on a few moments notice. [Read more...]

All Imperfect

Our ward talent show was tonight, and was yet another reminder of the imperfectness of my little bedraggled family. Yeah, yeah, I know the platitudes- we’re all imperfect, if we could see them not on Sunday, everyone has problems and we’d all pick our own back from the collective pile given the choice, etc etc etc… I’ve heard them all, and know there are grains of truth in every platitude. Yet there it is, right in my face, the litany of perfect smiling families on parade.

We are many things, my three children and I- but mostly we are battle-scarred and tender around the edges still, a year and half beyond divorce. While it may be unpopular to say, I do believe divorce doesn’t have to always be catastrophic- if both parents can rise above pettiness, children can still thrive with two parents who love them, even if those parents aren’t married to each other anymore. Unfortunately, this isn’t the straw we drew. [Read more...]

Life Lessons: Small Shoulders

My son told me he hated me tonight. My oldest child– the child who split my soul wide open and cut a chasm into the wilderness of motherhood, the child who introduced me to God and allowed my bright tears to fall on his fiery copper hair while he was still wet and folded and trailing the scent of heaven– told me he hated me.

It doesn’t matter why– it was trivial and meaningless– and it was selfish the way only a child secure in the love of his mother can express. Even as part of me recoiled at his vehemence, I could recognize what was happening. I leaned on the doorjamb as he glowered over his scowled brow at me, using his stocking feet to shove the messy piles of Legos and dog-eared Calvin & Hobbes paperbacks littering the floor around his bed. [Read more...]

The Season

These are the best hours of the whole year. Not the chaos and hoopla and clatter of joyful children that come with dawn’s first light- while those are wonderful too- what I love most is the soft, pregnant richness of Christmas Eve.

The babies are settled into their beds, tucked in for the tenth time already, their eyes sparkling with anticipation and their teeth chattering with excitement. Sleep won’t come quick for them- but then, neither will it for parents tonight. The house settles down, the old timbers creek and familiar sounds come to rest for the night.

Tomorrow, we will have tired eyes as we follow the bounding bundles of childhood down our curving staircase to see what surprises await- and that is its own type of joy. But for now, I relish the quiet. I relish the solitude, when I can take a few moments and think of what a blessing my life is, how richly the Lord has shed his light in my life, and how profoundly grateful I am for this ultimate gift- finding faith and knowing Jesus Christ. [Read more...]

Reflections of a Single Mormon Mama

This last Saturday, I was invited to take part in a panel on Alternative Latter-day Saint Families. After struggling to figure out how exactly a single mother was alternative, I prepared the following remarks. Most of this was not used in the panel discussion, and we instead talked about my son and his preference for wearing tutus. Go figure.

It’s Saturday morning in November. It’s unclear if the sound of rain gurgling down the gutters wakes me, or if it’s the cold little feet of my daughter under my side as she flops sleepily, arms akimbo, in the pre-dawn light. When I fell asleep to the muted monologue of Letterman, I was alone in my bed, but as happens so often now, I wake with one or several little people pushing on my warmth and needing their mama. [Read more...]

Gospel Principles

It was late. The house was quiet and still, and my baby had just been fed and slept on the sofa next to me as I read. For a few weeks I had been attending the local LDS church, and was seriously contemplating which path I would chose for my small, growing family. I’d been church-shopping for years, and had piles of pamphlets and books from varied denominations.

At church that week, I had grabbed a faded pink copy of a book called Gospel Principles. At that point, when I picked up that book, all I was certain of was that God was real. Some indescribable experiences gave me the gift of certainty- and I absolutely considered that certainty a gift. I flipped through the book idly, and finally decided to actually read. [Read more...]

My Rebellious Heart

Several lifetimes ago in Southern California, I found myself listening to a lecture on abstract expressionism. My professor was a painter from west Africa. He wore colorful dashikis with large bone necklaces, spoke with a musical cadence that combined with the droning summer fans and aromatic paints made his class enchanting.  He pushed us- he could tell if we were playing it safe. Most of us students were accustomed to praise, and the first time he threw one of my works in the trash and told me to leave if I wasn’t serious, I was stung, umbraged, offended- and deep down, under the pride, I knew he was right. He didn’t want art from privileged kids who had been petted for their talent all their lives- everyone at that school was talented- he wanted to teach us to be fearless. How to examine our motives, to tear away our safety nets, and build our own wings as we were falling.

Which brings me to Jackson Pollock. If a person knows nothing about modern art, they know Jackson Pollock. And almost everyone has heard someone exclaim, as they look at a Pollock: “My [small child of various bladder control ability] could paint that.” One day a student in Mr. West Africa’s class made the mistake of making just such a statement. Fury sparked, and he turned on the student. Paraphrasing, because this was nearly 20 years ago, he said: [Read more...]

Summertime Recipe: Bread & Butter Pickles

First, when making pickles, you must have the perfect pickle recipe. Along with David Bednar, I too happen to have one- it’s my great-grandmother’s recipe, from many a hot Iowa summer, written in my grandfather’s own hand, which somehow makes it cooler than cool, and guaranteed to make magic pickles. It’s also helpful to have a wooden-yellow-handled vintage pickle cutter. Helpful, but not necessary. Cooler, but everyone will live if your poor pickles have straight sides. They’ll feel sorry for you, but they’ll still like your pickles. [Read more...]

Arnold Friberg (December 21, 1913 – July 1, 2010)

American illustrator and beloved LDS painter Arnold Friberg passed away early this morning, July 1, 2010 in Salt Lake City. [Read more...]

Getting an Education as a Single Mother

“It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can. The Lord has said very plainly that His people are to gain knowledge of countries and kingdoms and of things of the world through the process of education, even by study and by faith.”

~Gordon B Hinckley [Read more...]

School’s Out / Back to School

Today was my kids’ last day of school. I now have a fourth-grader, a first-grader and a pre-kinder kid. My baby-years are officially over. So what do I do to celebrate? Monday is MY first day back at college.

It’s odd to find myself again in a time of making big-decisions. We usually attribute (and I did too) those times to our younger years. What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to major in? How will you chose a partner or spouse? I thought the Deciding Years were far behind me. Ha ha! Joke’s on me! [Read more...]

Handled with Care

Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” Doctrine and Covenants 13

One of the things that frightened me most about getting divorced was the lack of a father figure in our home. I know I can accomplish a lot as a competent mother- but I also know, for both my sons and for my daughter, having a healthy idea of what a man is and does is vitally important. And this is something, no matter how good a mother I might be, I cannot provide. [Read more...]

The Blessing

She wasn’t looking as she stepped out Emma’s front door, and the fall knocked the wind completely from her chest. It was a big first step, and she was so distracted by the people surveying the Smith family cemetery across the street, she completely missed it. She was still in her skirt from the Temple earlier, which flew up and let the rough concrete take a gnarly bite of exposed leg, as her head slammed into the iron railing on the edge of the landing.

For a few seconds she sat, stunned and detachedly noting the reality she had long suspected only a Looney Tunes gag- but nope- stars and bells, coupled with black swirly spots swam across her vision. [Read more...]

Winging It

Sister Paul stuck her head in my room and asked if I had an extra manual. She teaches the next class up, the 14-year-olds that I had last year. When they say you love those you serve, I had no idea how true it was until I was called to teach a dozen teenagers Sunday School. It’s been two years now, and I’ve never loved a calling more than I love teaching these kids. Which of course means I’ll be released soon and thrown in Nursery or (shoot me now) Scouts.

“Here, you can have mine. I’m winging it today.” [Read more...]

Moving Day

Taking the first picture off the wall and gently placing it a box was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Days later I still sat looking at the bare spot on the wall, a lump in my throat and tears welling uncontrollably. Taking that picture down was acknowledging the inevitable, and I kept forgetting to breathe.

The next week, women began showing up on my doorstep with cardboard boxes and rolls of tape. The doorbell would ring, and I never knew how many kind faces would be standing there- but every day, they came as the sun. My shoulders were bowed under the weight of a life imploding, and those hands held up more than cardboard boxes that week.

Divorce ripples out and out, and changes people who thought they were far enough from the ragged epicenter to be safe. No one is safe. Divorce, while first a deeply private and painful rending surprised me in being also a communal sorrow. I did not – could not have- anticipated the families effected by, touched by, and changed by the private hell of the loss of my marriage. [Read more...]

A Christmas Story- of Sorts

My hand is shaking as I dial the numbers, balancing the little spiral-bound directory on my knee. Jane picked up on the second ring, “Hi Tracy…!” I jumped a little, always startled when caller ID betrays me. I was born at the wrong time. “…How are you!?” Jane is always cheerful, despite having seven kids and an array of stray pets brought home by her veterinarian husband.

“Hi Jane” I choke out, the tears clogging my throat and getting stuck somewhere in my mangled greeting.

“Are you okay? No, I know you’re not okay, I’ll be right there.”

Gratitude wells within. Grateful for someone cheery who talks a lot and doesn’t need me to fill in the yawning gaps. My life is full of yawning gaps. Everywhere I step, the ground is thin, fragile like a crust of ice on snow that’s frozen overnight. Looks are deceiving. Looks don’t mean anything. [Read more...]

Circling the Wagons

One thing Mormons do better than just about anyone is to circle the wagons. As a people, we love to help. We prepare, we practice, we take classes, we bring casseroles, and heaven knows, we store our wheat. I’ve watched with fascination over the years, as my membership in the church has mellowed from newbie to fully-aged and sort-of mellowed active, adult, endowed member. I’ve participated, as my friends practice what they preach- or at the very least, make a mighty effort to do so. I read posts like this one, and especially this one and I find myself swelling with pride. These are My People, and I am counted among the flock. [Read more...]

Thanksgiving

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is on the TV, as it is every Thanksgiving morning. My grandma was a firm believer in this Parade, and would even get up early to watch it live, sipping her Sanka and making me a grilled cheese sandwich and frozen red grapes. As an adult, I don’t particularly care for parades, let alone parades on tv that are spliced and diced- but it would not be Thanksgiving for me without Al Roker yelling at me and the Rockettes freezing their cute tushies off while they slip around in the New York cold. [Read more...]

Pillars of My Faith

Along with Steve Evans and J. Stapley, I was honored to present as part of the Pillars of My Faith at Sunstone Northwest this last Saturday. Most of this story will be familiar to anyone who’s followed my journey, but I agreed to post and share my thoughts. Thanks also to Molly Bennion and Mary Ellen Robertson for all the good work they devote to others.

The pillars of my faith are planted in soil that is still soft and freshly turned. The ground where they rest is still marred by the plow, loamy and verdant from only relatively recently having been broken and turned. This lose fresh soil makes my pillars more like stakes, sprouts… wisps of what they may someday be, but the seeds are planted nonetheless, and I have seen the seeds sprout that may someday have the breadth of pillars, the strength of cedars. Not yet, but the promise makes me gasp in awe, and make me willing to gamble on faith. [Read more...]

Unanswered Prayers

…it’s all going to be all right. You and your family will be fine, and you are not to worry…

Those were the words I used to close my last post. It’s with a mix of reverence and perplexed bemusement that I contemplate them now. After two years of unemployment, a son diagnosed with autism, and my husband making choices that were beyond my control, I find myself still tremendously comforted by those words, and oddly, they have more meaning to me today, in the middle of a divorce, than they did then. [Read more...]

My Sophomore Talk

bryson,canolaI gave this talk this morning in my ward. It’s my second in 7 years of membership. The photograph is from a friend’s mission to Canada.

We are a living church. One of our greatest blessings is that we belong to a church with continuing, ongoing revelation. The heavens are open. Most Christian denominations have a closed canon of scriptures, meaning that they believe the Bible contains all of God’s words to his children, and that nothing further can be added or will be given to the earth. The heavens are thus sealed to Mankind. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, we reject this notion. We believe in an open canon- meaning we have the limitless and hope-filled potential for more binding revelation to be given and received.

Joseph Smith wrote, in the ninth article of faith, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and all that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” [Read more...]

Prayer and the Plumber

ando-hiroshige-hiroshige--navaro-rapidsExtended Unemployment. Simple little words, but words that have rocked my world. Who knew? I mean, when this all started nineteen months ago, we were so confident it was nothing more than a minor blip- a new job would surely materialize quickly- We’d never even heard of someone who wanted to work actually being unable to find a job. We figured we’d call some connections, float some resumes and something would come up. Tick… tick… tick… tick… the weeks turned into months, and more surprises surfaced in our lives.

My husband suffered some unexpected health issues, and without medical insurance (because earlier we had to decide: Mortgage? Or COBRA?) we were saddled with some hefty bills. Recovery and therapy followed. Tick… tick… tick… We had our six-months reserves, as counselled. We had our credit cards paid off. Our modest cars and student loans were paid off.

My husband picked up odd jobs where he could, while continuing his search. We paid a headhunter to help us. We broadened our horizons, looking in other cities. At one temp-job, my husband broke his hand in some machinery. More medical bills. Tick… tick… tick… At the same time, our youngest son was officially diagnosed with Autism, and we began learning a new language. [Read more...]

Husband Wife Man Woman

50skitchenJust back from running errands, I kicked my shoes into the basket by the door, and dropped my keys on the piano. Hollering a greeting to David, I ran upstairs to my bathroom, grabbed some clean folded clothes from the basket on the bed, and turned on the hot water. After my scalding shower, the kids came to greet me and we played before a phone call pulled me away.

Heading downstairs, I kissed my husband on the cheek and asked how his day was going- standing at the kitchen sink with suds on his muscular forearms, he frowned, “Abby’s pooped three times. Did you notice the bathroom?”

The phone rang again- holding up my finger and whispering that I loved him, I nodded and took the call. I was late for a meeting with a cabinet maker I’m doing some freelance murals for, and I hated to shower and run, but I was going to be late. I grabbed my purse, blew kisses, headed towards the garage and hit the opener “What time will you be back? Don’t forget family night tonight…” I waved through the windshield, shouting over the engine that I would be back on time- and that my phone was on if he needed me. Wiping his hands on the dishtowel, he stood in the doorway, watching me back out of the driveway… [Read more...]

More Mormon

Ten years ago, while preparing for my own marriage, I was also looking into Judaism. I had taken some Hebrew classes and attended temple at my local synagogue, and found the traditions and history especially rich and fascinating. As an artist and a soon-to be bride, I was especially drawn to the tradition of the Ketubah. In ancient times the Ketubah was a marriage agreement written up as protection for the bride. As part of the wedding ceremony, it was read under the chuppa, and was signed by the Rabbi and by witnesses. It is still done today.

Ketubah are quite beautiful, and often are seen framed in Jewish homes. The artwork can be elaborate or simple, modern or archaic and the wording, with a few exceptions, reflects personal choices of the couple. I found this a lovely tradition and decided to make something similar for myself and my husband. [Read more...]

A Study in Contrasts: The Dole

Continuing our theme this week… Almost seventeen months ago, my husband lost his job. We had our six-months reserves, we had our cars and student loans paid off, we had our food storage and our credit cards were empty. We did everything we were counselled to do. We cashed in our 401K, pared down our expenses and tried to stretch our dollar, making our six months savings last almost a year and half. In these months, we’ve also accumulated over 300 rejection letters for the jobs my husband has applied for in three states.

Today, we are out of rope. The savings are gone. The 401K is gone. The unemployment insurance is gone. We don’t know what comes next. But here is what I can see from where I stand… [Read more...]

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