Lullay, My Liking

One of my earliest memories is lying under the glowing Christmas tree with all the other lights off, listening to my dad’s LP collection of Christmas music.  Last year, as I tried to recreate this collection digitally, I rediscovered a song that was deeply embedded in my memory.  Lullay, My Liking—in this case sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir accompanied by the New York Philharmonic—was mesmerizing to me as a child.   

Then, I didn’t understand why it affected me so deeply, but I now realize that the interplay between major and minor chords with a sweet and hopeful resolution at the end set some of my core preferences for emotional music.  Hearing it again more than 40 years later brought memories flooding back. But as a parent, Mary’s 15th century crooning lullaby of “Lullay, mine Liking, my dear Son, mine Sweeting, Lullay, my dear heart, mine own dear darling” struck me somewhat differently.  The poignancy of the resolving chords now sound as fragile to me as they did hopeful. The emotional pull is still there, but deepened with adult understanding.  My own experiences with the devastating love of parenthood has changed the song for me.

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Turning Grief into Charity and Welcome

The majority of my career has been spent designing, administering, or managing foreign assistance programs for Afghanistan.  I spent 10 years in the State Department, including two living at the Embassy in Kabul.  Seeing the flag lowered at the Embassy compound was a moment of real grief for me.  It was my workplace and home.  After my time at the State Department, I spent a few more years helping to administer a grant-funded scholarship program at a university to educate Afghan legal scholars on the rule of law.

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Thank you for your honesty. Seriously.

I am an old mom. Not by Mormon standards, but by legitimate biological standards. I am simultaneously dealing with kindergarten orientation and arthritis. My friends are starting to firm up their retirement plans, and I am firming up an understanding of how much string cheese and gogurt I currently have in the fridge. I have to use my big brain to outsmart my five year old, because if he decided to bolt, there is NO WAY I could catch him. I am an old mom.

While there are some obvious joint- and exhaustion-related drawbacks to this situation, there are glorious rewards too. I get lots of hand me downs from friends who have moved on to other stages of life–stages that don’t involve elaborate bedtime routines and occasional potty-training regression. I’ve never bought a bike for my kid, and occasionally, amazon packages just show up from friends with notes that say “this (toy/book/crafting kit) saved me when my kids were his age.”

While I’m so incredibly grateful for this kind of material generosity, I’m mostly grateful for their brutal and searing honesty. Old mom honesty has saved my sanity, and kept me from throwing in the towel. Thanks old friends.

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Never Forget: A 9/11 Reflection Demanding we Remember Consequences

In September 2001 I had just started my first job out of law school—working right next to the FBI building in downtown DC. I evacuated out of the city, mostly on foot, resting for a while in the apartment of someone I didn’t know—a friend of a friend. It was disorienting, terrifying, and I kept thinking “when will things get back to normal?”

For me, they never did.

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Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

[Note:  This post is ridiculously full of spoilers for a show that has been off the air for seven years.  Consider yourself both warned and encouraged to watch.]

I’ve loved the show Friday Night Lights since I first watched it years ago.  I liked the family drama, the well-written characters, the springy beauty of Connie Britton’s hair.  It was a good show.  Recently, I started re-watching to wind down before bed and discovered a new show.  This time around, with my new foster parent eyes, Friday Night Lights was a love letter full of hope and encouragement, portraying flawed people who put their own needs aside to love, serve, and advocate for troubled kids.  It was soul balm that I needed.   [Read more…]

Sharing Holy Spaces

When my niece was 12 years old, I told her that if she picked a foreign language and stuck with it until she graduated from high school, I would take her to the country of her choice that spoke that language.  This smart, hard-working girl just graduated from high school, having completed AP Spanish.  On Tuesday we leave for Spain, with a brief stopover in Rome.  I’m beyond excited.

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That One Particular Word

For most families celebrating today, the word “mom” is not fraught with sadness, fear, hope, confusion, and powerlessness.  But for foster children, the word “mom” is one of the most difficult words they have to deal with and choose how to use.  It doesn’t fall off the tongue in uncomplicated reliance.  It is a constant reminder that something went terribly wrong for them.

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A Bunny Juggling Whipped Cream

I’ve always been horrible at expressing sympathy.  Not that I don’t feel it–I feel it deeply.  I just feel so paralyzed by others’ grief, and I get so worried that what I say or do will be wrong and cause more pain.  So sometimes I back away slowly and feel guilty.  I’m not proud, but if I’m being honest, I’ve definitely taken the coward’s way out and just left people alone who clearly needed love and support.

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The Islam I Know

Sometimes I have moments working with my international students that are just transcendent. After my dad died, I received heartfelt messages containing prayers to Allah, one of them saying “may Allah lead his soul to paradise.” It was utterly lovely and so comforting.  I could repeat a hundred variations on this anecdote from the past 15 years of my career.

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The following is based on an excerpt from the eulogy I gave for my father at his funeral last week.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  1 John 4:7

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Surely, This Cannot Be

March 3, 2018

Dear God,

I don’t believe in bargaining—theologically, that is.  I don’t believe that you would be so unjust as to favor a few children with a whim of a miracle based on their pious pleading, while allowing others to suffer in a mercurial world.  I don’t believe it, but I want it.  I want to beg, “please God, don’t let this cancer take him.   Of all those who have humbly served you, surely his kind and generous heart has called out and caught your notice.  You have to have seen his pure soul.  I know it shines.  Please, let him stay a while longer…..he’s my dad.”

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My Short Valentines

It is strange to sit on a hard chair in a classroom
Reading a presentation called
“Can I love them enough?”
Foster Parent Training is not for 
Those with weak souls or hesitant hearts.

When I met you, I was determined to love you enough.
At first it was a conscious love,
A resolute love.
An act of will.
I loved you with stubbornness through tears and fright.
I commanded myself
And then I cried, exhausted.

I loved, but my soul ached from stretching.
I ran an obstacle course I could not finish,
Every muscle sore and seized.

And then we learned to laugh.
And I hug you and blow your hair from my face while we watch tv.

And, our feet intertwined, you tell me secrets.

I dance, and you are delighted.

Now I hold you.
You and me and blanky snuggling in the dark room.
I cannot hug you tightly enough.
Can you melt into my chest?
So tomorrow when you are away, my arms will not ache?

An Entirely Too In-Depth Review of a Vintage MoTab Christmas Album: “This is Christmas”

See the source image

This album is the best of times (category, Christmas music) and also somehow the worst of times.  It is beautiful, soaring, heart-breaking, and bonkers.  I love it.  I have loved it for over 20 years.  It is the soundtrack to my season.  It is also now available as a Mormon Tabernacle Choir “Legacy Series” on itunes for $9.99.  So, you too can now bliss out to vintage MoTab greatness.

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Mormon Lectionary Project: Peace

Sometimes your Christmas season is a joyful and spiritual season of peace.  Sometimes it is a jolly pastiche of fun, family, and friends.  And sometimes it is a Dickensian/O. Henry mashup that you just hope to survive.  I was hoping for joyful and spiritual season of peace.  I would have settled for the jolly pastiche.  Apparently, this is the year for literary irony and urgent care visits.

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Imperfect Gifts

This morning was a good morning.  My toddler slept in.  By the time I went to wake him up, his sleepy baby eyes bleary and blinking, I had already showered, prepared his breakfast, and packed my own lunch.  As I changed his diaper and dressed him, I cooed and patted, laughed, and kissed.   He smiled and cuddled me.   While I fed him breakfast, I made up silly oatmeal songs:  “Yummy yummy oatmeal, slides in your tummy tummy.  Nummies, nummies, nummies….”  His wide mouth grinned, he showed me his eight perfect little teeth, and he giggled and giggled while he gummed his breakfast.

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Dear Food Human

Note:  Almost four months ago, I became a single foster mother to siblings: a ten year old girl and a one year old boy.  My world has turned upside down.  In addition to the chaos of adding a couple of kids to the house—one of them a really busy and curious toddler—there is so much for all of us to process from such a huge life change.  There are also endless giggles and hugs.  But it’s a lot to handle.  Honestly, I’m barely keeping it together on any given day.  It’s entirely too overwhelming to coolly evaluate and blog about.  But then, my dog, Dia, slipped a note under my door this morning, so I thought I’d just publish it instead. 

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Links Between Theology, Behavior, and Reform

Hal Boyd wrote a piece for the Atlantic this morning that gently (i.e. in a most Mormon-like way) probed the hypocrisy and limitations of praising Mormon behavior while mocking Mormon belief.  He suggested that the relationship between a rigorous theology complete with behavioral expectations is closely linked to the admirable behaviors being praised by outside voices (most recently, the prominent condemnation of Roy Moore by Senator Flake, Evan McMullin, and Mitt Romney).  The piece can be read here.

The piece troubles me–in all the best ways.

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The Airplane Incident

Ten years ago, on a flight from Kabul to Dubai, a man sitting next to me on an airplane pretended to be asleep, leaned over, and grabbed my breast.  Besides elbowing him away, I did nothing.  At the luggage carousel, he invited me back to his hotel room, I hissed NO—my voice gone from a closed-off, panicky throat–grabbed my suitcase and left.  I didn’t tell anyone this happened for several years.

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Unexercised Hearts

I just finished reading Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale.  I had been avoiding reading novels about World War II for a while now, unwilling to face the similarities of the rising white nationalism that is evident in our country today.  When I concentrate on it, it causes an ache in that tender place right below my diaphragm and I can’t stand up straight.  It’s hard to explain the physical impact that I feel watching the white nationalism bubble up into public view—with adherents emboldened by the words they are hearing from the campaign trail and White House.

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Some Thoughts on National Security–Introduction

On, March 3, 2016, notable scholars and practitioners in the national security field (many of them republicans who had served in former administrations) released a foreign policy-based letter opposing the candidacy of Donald Trump.[1]  While it made headlines for a day or two, the move—which would have been game-changing in any previous “normal” election season—scarcely made waves in the tumultuous campaign season.  Privately, many of my friends who work in the field of foreign affairs were baffled.  Why aren’t people paying attention to this?  This was the wonkish equivalent of an 85 yard hail mary in the last seconds of the Super Bowl.  [Read more…]

My Unexpected and Exceptionally Fuzzy Answer to Prayer

Sometimes these moments come in the darkest hours–and this one certainly did.  I was coming off of a year of heartbreak, trying to deal empathetically and lovingly with some challenges that people I care for very much were undergoing.  But I was finished.  I was empty.  There was nothing left in my heart, and secretly I feared that my ability to love had been extinguished, or maybe wasn’t even there in the first place.  I was on the way home from a dreadful whirlwind business trip to Jamaica–yeah I know, but trust me, it was awful–and I was sick, jetlagged from a previous trip, and underdressed for a cold dark plane ride.  I was huddled into an inadequate cardigan and trying not to cry.  It was just one of those “this is too much” times.  And I heard a distinct and strong voice in my head:  “You need to get a dog.”

What the what???

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A Loveletter to BCC’s Single Readers

Last weekend, Sister Bonnie Oscarson spoke at women’s conference and made, what I assume she knew would be, a controversial statement.  “We fail to teach our young women that preparing to be a mother is of utmost importance because we don’t want to offend those who aren’t married, those who can’t have children, or to be seen as stifling future choices.”  A longtime reader contacted me and wondered whether BCC would address this line.  I asked her what she would say, and her response broke a little piece of my heart.  “I’m not exactly sure how to articulate how much that hurt and why, exactly.  Maybe the gist of it is that *I* feel like I’m part of the “us” but keep getting reminded that no, I’m not.  Since I don’t have children, the thing of utmost importance in the Church, I went from being less valuable to my community to some kind of enemy to my community.”

Here is the sermon I wish our reader had heard: [Read more…]

In Autumn, a Young Woman’s Fancy Turns to….Making Soup Stock?

About a year ago I gave myself permission to label all the activities that I waste my time on as “hobbies.”  Sudoku?  One of my hobbies now.  Driving randomly around on the county roads near my house, then seeing if I can get home without GPS even though all I see is cornfields?  (Weird) hobby.  Watching dog training videos, even though I don’t have a dog yet?  Hobby.  Teaching myself to cook Korean food based on internet bloggers?  Delicious, delicious hobby.  But when the temperature starts to dip (please start to dip soon), then all I want to do is make soup stock.  [Read more…]

Coming Home

I drive by miles of cornfields every day to and from work.  I watch as the fluttering leaves and straight stalks slowly grow.  I pass only two or three cars on my 20 mile commute.   I arrive at work energized, ready to meet with students, plan lectures, research, and write.  And I return home relaxed, looking forward to watering my tomato and herb garden and then cooking a homemade dinner.  On my frequent traveling adventures doing student oversight or recruiting, I enjoy the time in other places, but look forward to returning home to the peace of this place of belonging that I’ve created.   After a year of upheaval and change, I did not expect to find this harmony.  But one day, I looked around and realized that I was happy.  It was an unexpected moment of grace that has continued with me—quiet in my heart—the whole summer. [Read more…]

Be Still My Soul: the Tallis Fantasia

When I am anguished of mind and soul I consistently turn to a piece of music that speaks to my heart.  I have started to joke that it is my personal ctrl+alt+delete.  It provides a reset button that lets me regroup and move forward.   [Read more…]

A Mirror Too Horrible

“There is no gender inequality in the doctrine of the church, there are just people who apply it unfairly.”  I heard this statement over and over while growing up in the church, attending BYU, attending relief society, and talking with smart people about tough issues.  It shored up my identity as a Mormon of fairness and conscience, and provided comforting walls to my Mormon reality.

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Celebrating Champions of Justice or The Day I Cried in Class

I’m usually a “shoot from the hip” kind of professor.  I prepare notes and presentations, but then I just talk with the students.  I ask questions.  And I try to lead them to thinking through issues more thoroughly.  My class is made up of 10 students from all over the world.  None of them are from the U.S.  They are here studying “Democratic Governance and Rule of Law” which is a fancy way of saying that we are teaching local attorneys to have the skills to reform their own justice systems.  My class is focused on American history and the American legal system, but they have other classes in comparative constitutional law, international law, human rights, issues in transitional democracies, etc.  We’re taking a break from the textbook this week to do a module on racial discrimination in America and the civil rights movement.  So in preparing a lesson slavery and the civil war and jim crow laws, to a class that includes four students from Africa, I thought long and hard about how to introduce this topic.  Contrary to my usual practice, I wrote it down.   [Read more…]

The Future of Mormon Cinema–A Decade Ago

I’m in the middle of a move right now, and as part of my organizing, I came across some notes from 2003 where I had written my jokes from MC’ing a singles ward talent show.  One of my bits was to take current t.v. and movie titles and mormonize them.

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Honest Prayer of a Nervous Home Seller

Dear Lord, help me sell this house before the snow melts, because a peaceful blanket of your winter moisture over my backyard will be the only acceptable camouflage for that neglected jungle.

Bless my eyes to open to new visions, and see the scuff marks upon the walls that have hidden in plain sight lo these many years.

Please send slightly unimaginative buyers to my door, that they may see the beautiful golf course next door, but not comprehend the possibility of a plague of mulligans that shatter the glass of house and auto and cause the sin of profanity.  And while you’re at it Lord, bless the untalented golfers to send their mulligans to the right—not to the direction of my vulnerable abode.  Send the balls to the right and the cash-buyers to the left.

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A World of Spice

The scent of butternut squash roasting in curry, coriander, and cumin is filling my kitchen, a layer of comforting protection from the bitter cold outside.  Some people express their love through song or poetry, I express my love by making soup.  My parents are coming to visit me for Thanksgiving, and I want to greet them with some hot, homey butternut squash soup and cornbread.  Unexpectedly, though, the scent of these spices is bringing back a strong memory from my childhood, also infused with curry and cold weather.  [Read more…]