Saturday, January 31, 2015

Being an Aunt

Today I spent a few hours at home in Layton, taking a roommate along for the ride. She wanted to get out of Provo for a little while and thought the Jamberry party my sister and I were hosting sounded fun. I was excited to introduce her to my family and be with my family, even if it was just for the evening.
We got to my house, the same house I have lived in my entire life, around 2:00. I introduced my roommate to my parents before heading to my sister's house in Syracuse to help get things set up for the party. (We were making muddy buddies and she needed some of the ingredients that my mom had picked up at the store).
However, once I got to my sister's house my focus shifted from the upcoming party and the treats I needed to make, to the little blond baby waiting for me at the gate at the top of the stairs. I never knew the power a baby held until this blue eyed boy, Mckay, entered my life nearly a year ago. He has me wrapped around his little fingers and he doesn't even know it.
As soon as I walked up the stairs I picked him up and hugged him, but not too close. He doesn't actually like to snuggle. I introduced him to my roommate and we began a game with him and the paper towel role he was playing with before we showed up. (It's amazing how interesting everyday objects suddenly become when you're entertaining a small child).
Throughout the party I turned to find Mckay, picking him up or playing with him and whatever toy had grabbed his attention. He currently has a slight cold and isn't feeling the greatest so every once in a while a small whimper would escape his lips. The sound melted my heart and whenever I heard it I couldn't help but pick him up and try to comfort him. It didn't matter what was going on with the party, my world at the moment revolved around him.
It's amazing, the connection between family members, specifically between an aunt and her nephew. I have always been told that being an aunt is the best, but I didn't understand what that meant until March 18, 2014 when Mckay entered my life. He's been a part of our family for less than a year and yet I can't picture life without him.
He loves to laugh and smile. His favorite game is peek-a-boo (with roaring sound effects as opposed to saying "peek-a-boo"). He's already walking and gets into absolutely everything he can possibly reach. Bath time is his favorite time of day and he loves to read stories and to turn the pages himself.
And no matter what my reason for going home, he somehow always makes my visit even better. My friends were right, being an aunt really is the best.

Me and Mckay (my own picture)

Working Alone

(FYI: Names have been changed. I figure I have no right to embarrass anyone besides myself in this post, ha ha. . . .)

Click for Options
Photo mine

I hate group projects.

The professor of our Business Writing class had told us to come on Friday with rough drafts of the “Methods” section of our proposals. Thursday night, I sent an e-mail to the other members of my group about that. No responses. So I chose one subsection and woke up early Friday morning to whip it up.

The professor never asked for the drafts, so I’d lost sleep for nothing. And I didn’t get much of an explanation from the other group members.

I like them as people. But that’s the problem with group projects: you can’t depend on people—even likable people—to be as committed as you are. It’s safer to work alone.

After class, I walked to the Wilk and picked a table. I generally go straight home, but I needed to work on my internship application, and I get more done on campus than at my apartment. I chose the Wilk because I’d heard James sometimes hangs out there at that time of day. Pathetic, I know.

My pile of work hadn’t shrunk much by the time I got home, but my patience had. So I spent the next hour curled up with Gretchen on her bed finishing her favorite webshow: “The Lizzy Bennett Diaries.” They’re a hundred short clips portraying a modern version of Pride and Prejudice.

I always forget that Gretchen is four years younger than me. She comes off as pretty mature, even with her purple-streaked pixie cut and taste for things like webshows. Maybe it’s her smile. It emits a casual wisdom: earned but taken for granted. She also scored a boyfriend last week—something I’ve never done.

Gretchen eventually headed off to meet said boyfriend somewhere, leaving me to watch the last couple episodes on my own. Of course, the resolution scene (in which Lizzy finally admits her feelings to Darcy and starts a kiss fest) was my favorite. I watched the emotion leak from their eyes and drank it. Clicked “replay” and drank the backwash, too.

When I wandered into the kitchen to grab dinner, all five of my roommates were gone. I took my food back to my room and sat on my bed.

And suddenly I was bawling. It wasn’t my usual cry, or anyone’s, really—the best comparison I can make is to the squeaky hysterics of the Spanish princess in Ever After. I heard my own jagged sobs and wanted to slap myself.  

“Why am I even crying?” I thought. “No one has hurt me.” I forced myself to stop and pinned the whole thing on the combo of sleep deprivation, a hard day, and an evocative video.

A couple roommates and friends made it back from some social event a few minutes later. Apparently I’d gotten all the mascara off, since no one asked about my eyes.

“Anyone up for a round of Nertz?” I asked, holding up one deck of cards and looking for another. You can’t play that game alone. 

Remind Me

Man, I’m super tired today. I just got home from work so I’m starving and just want to wear pajamas. I don’t care that it’s only 6:30 on a Saturday night. Sometimes you just need a night in. Especially after a long day spent wholly in a skirt. This morning I went to the temple with some people from my ward. It was so awesome to go with people again. My schedule is kind of weird and changes all the time so I usually just go by myself, which is also a really good experience, just different.
Anyways, then I had work at the MTC at one so I came home and ate and then went right back up to 9th East. I feel like I spend a lot of time there... haha oh well. The missionaries were getting really tired by the end of class, so I think that’s partly why I feel so tired now. We did weekly planning today and it was pretty boring even as the teacher, which you know is a problem. Sometimes it’s so surreal to be back in the MTC. I find myself reminiscing everyday back to my life less than two years ago. It’s the same ‘70’s style brick walls with equally old, distasteful carpet. The same flimsy desks with “tables” that only hold half of one notebook. The same tension in the air when the teacher throws out something new in Italian and nobody gets it. It seems like the only difference is… well, me. Now I’m on the other side. I’m the “experienced” one, the one who made it all the way to the mission field and back. I’m the teacher that throws out the Italian like nobody’s business. (Well, at least I try haha. I’m still learning!) Watching these missionaries, I remember how hard it was to learn a new language. I remember how awkward it was to stop someone on the street and ask them in broken, halting Italian if they would listen to a message about Jesus. I remember thinking on Saturday nights that all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and throw the blanket over my head. I remember how the four brick walls seemed to get closer and closer together the more time I spent between them. I remember my companion scratching tick marks in the gray cement between the bricks to mark each day in our “prison.” Remembering it like that makes me wonder why I ever enjoyed those six weeks there and why on earth I would want to go back.
But then I really remember. I remember friendly smiles and encouraging words. I remember giggling over rookie mistakes. I remember the distinct smell of cheap hand soap. I remember the warm biscuits and gravy that I always craved. I remember the sound of a million voices singing together. I remember the incredible spirit that followed us everywhere.

That is why I wanted to go back. That is why I am so lucky that I can go back five times a week. Even though my role has changed, their role is the same. There is just something different there, something unique that you can’t find anywhere else. And even though I’m totally wiped out and just want to crash at the end of each day, it’s totally worth it. I just love seeing the missionaries faces light up when they realize that they are doing the Lord’s work. I can’t believe how much I just adore and love these wonderful missionaries that have decided to sacrifice this time for God. There is nothing more beautiful to me than that.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Choosing Redemption

Photo by Christ Tolworthy
Tonight we went to The Count of Monte Cristo. Spencer had managed to get tickets for $4.00, and I was very excited. When I pulled on a maxi skirt and a woolen scarf, I felt ready to watch a tragic musical. I first read The Count of Monte Cristo in High School. I didn't see the film adaptation until five years later and was shocked to find such drastically different endings. With each in mind, I still hadn't decided which version I found more moving. Was is more important to show the ruinous results of revenge, or man's miraculous capacity for redemption? I didn't know.

The De Jong was dark and the pit began to emanate orchestral music. As the actors danced around the stage and sang song after song, I grew nervous. The show was beautiful, the singing was stunning, the graphics projected behind were innovative, and the effect was great. But, as Edmond Dantes sank lower and lower, I just knew they couldn't let him stay there. It didn't matter that he had decided to hate, that he had decided to remain unmoved by his once-true-love's pleas, that he was everything his original perpetrators were, the story would force him to be redeemed. I promise I'm not morbid, unforgiving, or even a lover of sad endings, I just couldn't see how a man who had determined his choices and destiny would suddenly have a change of heart in the course of a song. (Oh wait . . . it's a musical and heart-changing songs are a blissful convention.)

Sitting in my chair, I slowly began to hunch over and mutter under my breath as the life-changing moment came. He would suddenly have an epiphany, conveniently after he'd gotten all his revenge, and still repent in time to get the girl. Spencer, watching me become more and more frustrated and my frame more and more contorted with disgust, just chuckled under his breath. But it wasn't funny! They were straight up doing it wrong!

After leaving the theater I stood off towards a side wall, waiting for Spencer to finish giving guidance to a fellow stage managing employee. I was really frustrated. The performance had been beautiful, the bows all tied. But it just didn't sit right. Why would we, as an audience, demand that a story be adapted to allow a main character sudden redemption? Why did we think it was okay to change the story just so he could have both his revenge and the love of his life? I was disturbed with myself. Did I really have such a problem letting a man repent?

I'm sad to say I still don't know the answer. I can guarantee from a literary perspective that Alexandre Dumas did not intend to have his self-ruined character suddenly redeemed by viewers or readers who couldn't take a realistic ending. What is the purpose of such characters as Anna Karenina, Edmond Dantes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dorian Gray, or even the Ancient Mariner from the poem, if their stories are nipped and tucked to be pleasant and devoid of consequences? When we remove consequences from our stories, we rob our stories of their power to display consequential reality. The problem is not that Edmond Dantes was redeemed; the problem is that The Count of Monte Cristo chose not to be redeemed. Themes such as the consequences of agency and the transformative effect of our choices morph into the cycle of vice, quick repentance, and a removal of responsibility.

All men may be redeemed; not all men will choose redemption. So what are we really looking for: a happy ending that highlights redemption, or fictional support that we may choose sin and still be redeemed?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Me, Composing Devotional Writing

1. An Inner Struggle

“If life gets too hard to stand, kneel.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

Perhaps this quote has a drastically different meaning to those who do not pray.

Or maybe it doesn’t, after all.

The first and only time a burden has literally brought me to my knees, it didn’t weigh a single gram. But it didn’t need to; sometimes life can carry enough metaphorical weight to crush the human spirit, without resting a particle of mass on that person’s body.

The short of the story was that I found myself outside of a door that read Counseling and Psychological Services Center, and that for the first time in my life I was on my knees, trembling, and trying to squeeze my tear ducts shut. You might think that it was the trial(s) bringing me there that had lowered me to this emotional wreck. It was, to an extent, but you ought to know: I had a deep, abiding fear of talking to psychologists. Or better put, I have a deep, abiding fear of being medicated into mental oblivion.

What if I walked through that door?

What if they heard my problems and told me that my miracle solution was a drug whose side effects were worse than constant feelings of doom and despair?

What if I were to begin a pattern of life that never allowed me to really live again?

And was I doubting my God? Was I just not looking to Him with enough faith to find peace and healing?

What was wrong with me?

Well, at least being brought to your knees – sometimes a euphemism for “being humbled” – is a natural position for asking for help. And if you do pray, it’s a natural position for receiving guidance.
I got the answers I needed, and those in the very moment I needed them. It was an answer I may not have wanted to receive, but it was one that got me off my knees and gave me the strength to walk through that door.

Since that time, it hasn’t been easy behind that door. But any time a door is presented to me by one who pulls me up from my knees and takes my burden from me, even gradually, it’s a door worth walking through.

2. Scripture, Personal and Powerful

You’ll often find that Mormons have their favourite “scripture hero.” I have some of those. The one who most stands out to me today went by the name of Samuel. Or, as he is known more often, Samuel the Lamanite. Not just “Samuel;” they had to point out his different skin tone, different family, different upbringing, different nation. Love it or hate it, Samuel was titled: “This is Samuel the Lamanite.”

And I relate to him ever more personally, now that I understand what it’s like to be called by the name of your ethnicity, nationality, and family, among a people not my own.

It’s a scale that stands in balance; to the faithful who heeded Samuel, the fact of him being Lamanite – not a Nephite like themselves – made him all the more exemplary; this meant he had learned to love his enemies and to teach them like friends. But to many of the people he taught, the fact of him being a Lamanite made him all too easy to hate; here was one of “them,” not one of “us,” thinking he had any right to think differently from “us” and tell “us” that we could be better.

Why is this significant to the Metis Canadian with the weird name, living in the USA?

…I don’t know.

Samuel met this crowd and found them enthusiastic – to throw him out of town (probably literally).
The scriptural account of what happened next is one of the shortest sets of words to have ever inspired me so much. In fact, it’s so short that it’s not even there.

Helaman 13:2 says that after Samuel preached repentance, “they did cast him out, and he was about to return to his own land.”

Verse 3 says, “But behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people whatsoever things should come into his heart.”

Verse 4 immediately cuts to saying, “And it came to pass that they would not suffer that he should enter into the city.” So the words, “Go back, Samuel,” are followed immediately by Samuel doing so.
There’s no questioning recorded here. No deliberation. No refusal or pleading. And definitely no turning back and ignoring this command. Instead, my friend Samuel got up and returned to the people who had hated him, trusting that God knew what He was doing.

…That’s my life right now.

Samuel, had you and I lived our parallel missions in the same day, I would have cried on your shoulder in despair. But seeing how you have gone before me and shown the way already, you have given me something to aspire to, and something in which to rejoice.

Thank you, my Lamanite friend.

3. A Wilderness Quest

December 27th, 2012. I may be terrible at history, and I may have a weak spot for remembering exact dates, but then there is December 27th, 2012.

Two days after that Christmas, I felt like taking a walk. In itself, this desire may not have been significant. If it stood out to me in any way, it was only the fact that it was – 25 C (- 13 F) outside, lower with the wind chill, and the temperature dropping as the sun set.

That, and I was wearing only a thick sweatshirt – not a winter coat.

I didn’t know where I was going or why; I only knew that I was to go. Some peculiar little feeling in me would tell me only that much.

It was on that march, passing the lakes and trails and even my old elementary school, that something was revealed to me.

My own family thinks I’m crazy for my love of the winter. Nobody enjoys the stinging skin, the deadening numbness, the incessant shivering, the ponderous darkness. And absolutely nobody is happy to hear that the temperature has dropped to – 40. Nobody.

Except me.

It was on this trek through the snow, slowly losing body heat, that I saw an eternal truth at play not only in my love of winter, but in my love of all things difficult. I later wrote of the experience,

Photo by me, December 27th, 2012

“The Great of Heavens’ light decreased
But was not altogether ceased
Nor was my hope to ash made cold;
I now had faith to keep me bold

“For oft I dwell within the dark
While in this wintry land I hark
Oft times the Sun sinks out of sight
Which taught me, ‘Always carry light.’”

Or as a man named Lehi once taught, “it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… all things must be a compound in one.”

As surely as you need to know the bitter to be able to recognize the sweet, you only know what warmth and light are to the extent that you understand what cold and darkness are. It’s as true physically as it is otherwise.

And for that, I will continue traipsing around on frigid winter nights; I always like meeting God out there.

Speaking with God

Inner Struggle Essay

Photo by Natalie Cherie Campbell
Standing on a sidewalk I was stopped at a fork in the path. Instinctively I looked down the right path to my apartment window. My friends would be waiting, including the man I was dating. Without hesitation, I began to walk down the left path. Soon enough, as I’d felt to be true, Spencer ran up behind me, holding my hand. Through his eyes I saw his soul sigh, and we kept walking.

Opening my eyes, I waited for the dreams to seep from my memory. I was accustomed to feeling forgotten dreams flee the daylight because I never remembered my dreams. But this morning was different: the dream didn’t leave. I had known Spencer for six months. We were folk dancers, and I lived for the moments when we danced together, talked together, laughed together, my feet burning with energy. But I also knew that he loved me and that I could easily love him if I let myself. So I didn’t let myself, instead choosing to spare with my conscious in an endless dance of self-denial as I remembered a priesthood blessing that told me "I'd know my future husband when I met him." Sometimes I decided that if Spencer was "the one" then he’d just have to wait. Sometimes I decided that God would have to fix my fear of marriage before I did anything. And sometimes I would dream. In the quiet moments of night, when fear had gone to sleep, I began to dream honestly, and refusing to let me forget, my dreams started to become a reality.

Scripture Essay

Photo by Dee West
In the summer of 2012 I would often sit on my roof, gazing up at God through speckled sunlight and leafy boughs. We would often talk, God and I; I would ask the questions and He would give answers. One day I climbed up onto roof from the side porch gap and lowered my head, shoulders sagging with repetitive weariness. I felt inadequate, frightened. I had received an email from Jerusalem, it was Spencer’s day to write, and he’s told me of his plans to work for the CIA. So I’d fled to my roof instead of arguing with mom over the wisdom of me loving a boy with such dangerous career goals. Feeling the warm shingles with my toes, I laid on my back, stared at God and began to speak:

“How is it done?” I paused as a bird flew from its nest. “God, how is it done, that you take such small people, move us so far, and use only those two actions to fuel your work? How?”

I sat quietly, waited, and began to speak. True to form, His answer emerged, simultaneous with the sound of my vocal cords. “By small and simple things, are great things brought to pass . . .”

Bombs bloom and poppies litter,
In realities where children shiver
From breath of hate and strain of woe
To such places my trusted go.
The small and simple are infinite,
When bringing with them the Omnipotent.

Wilderness Essay

Photo by Natalie Cherie Campbell
We were lost and it was my fault. I had gotten 25 people lost in a lush green wilderness of English footpaths. I’d spent the past month hiking through different parts of the United Kingdom with my study abroad group. On this particular day, we were trying to get to the London Temple because having gotten my endowments a month earlier, I had requested we go. Doing my best to book rail tickets, plan bus trips, and minimize walking, since my director didn’t want to, I thought I’d done a pretty good job until the bus didn’t arrive and we were left stranded in a small town a few miles away from the temple, ignorant of which way the temple even was.

“We could have been visiting tourist spots.”
“This is such a waste.”
“I didn’t want to come anyway.”
“So much for that plan.”

The words swirled around me like bee stings. Tears began to coat the stingers as each drop slid down my chin. “Heavenly Father,” I prayed, “please just help me find the Temple.” The gravel near my feet crunched as a tire filled my peripheral vision. Looking up, a silver passenger van had filled the road in front of our pathetic band of walkers, and a man in a white shirt and tie with silver tipped hair got out.

“Are you people looking for the temple?” he asked casually.

I was dumbfounded. As our director arranged to have our group driven to the temple in shifts, I got into the car. I was silent as everyone filled the air with thanks. The gentleman simply replied,
“Don’t thank me, I was just working in the temple when I was prompted that a group of lost brothers and sisters was looking for our temple and wouldn’t find it if I didn’t go and find them.”

As we drove away from our wilderness of English footpaths, I bowed my head once again, “Thank you for finding me Heavenly Father.” 

Personal Essay Practice

Inner Struggle:

     Tainted and flawed. How can I ever move on? How can I ever forgive myself? Chest pressed and throat clogged. They say that time heals all wounds, but how can it fix this, when it is constantly in my mind? Resurfacing and resurfacing. What I did, replaying over and over and over. I can’t move on. Perhaps He has forgiven me, but I know I will not be able to forgive myself. How can I when it’s always there, engraved in my mind?
    They say that time heals all wounds. I never really believed that, until it did. The pain is still there. It will always be there. But now I can breathe. There is no longer a weight on my chest or that constant lump in my throat. Time heals all wounds, but it was not only time that I needed so I could forgive myself. The pain has been soothed, my mind calmed and reassured, my heart peaceful and filled with gratitude. If I can trust that God can forgive this horrible thing that I did, then how could I not forgive myself and move on? Of course, it was not as easy as that. I fought. Constantly, I fought myself:

I have to move on—you don’t deserve to move on—I’m okay, He wants me to be okay so I should forgive and move on—how can you pretend it never happened?—It’s not that, I just need to be better and I can’t if I don’t forgive myself…    

They say time heals all wounds. I believe it’s true, but I would add that Time and God heal all wounds.

Scripture, Personal and Powerful:

     “I cannot do it. I cannot do this anymore. I’m tired. And it’s hard, it’s just so hard.”
How many times have I thought these words to myself? Too many times to count. When struggling in classes, when trying to overcome bad habits, when going through pain and suffering. Always the same words: “I cannot do this anymore.” And sometimes I let myself wallow in this misery, thinking that maybe I should just give up. Why try if it’s always going to be this way? Why try? .... Because if I endure it well, God will exalt me on high… “thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if though endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; though shalt triumph over all thy foes.”

After remembering that, it’s not so easy to give up or to say that I don’t care. “Peace be unto thy soul.” That is exactly what I feel each time, and after that things are not one hundred present solved, but they are better.

Growing Up is Hard to Do

My Inner Struggle:
In my dreams I still experience it all. I hear the ropes slap, I smell the new gym shoes, and I feel the energy through my body has I jump and cartwheel and turn. For years I jumproped (yes, I made that one word) on the Proform Airborne team. I competed and performed in everything from red ribbon week assemblies at elementary schools to the AAU's Junior Olympics. It was entwined in every area of my life. I practiced at least seven hours a week all year round, and taught once week during the school year. My team was my family. We competed, performed, traveled, laughed, cried, and shared our passion together. In fact, it was so ingrained in me, that I decided I would wait to got to BYU. Instead I'd stay at home, where I could continue competing and work on my associates at BYUI. But as my senior year progressed, I knew that I wasn't the right decision. I needed to give up my team. But not jumprope. I'd practice everyday! I'd work on singles. I'd stay in shape and be ready when a new jumprope opportunity arose.

But my freshman year was hard and busy. I only jumped one time. After my freshman year I got married, then eventually I had kids, and all the while I was still putting my heart and soul into my studies.
When I scroll through my facebook feed, I see all my old jumpers. Many of them have become professional. Some of them take time of off school to jumprope for Cirque du Soleil. Some of become world champions. Meanwhile, I wake up at 6:30 most mornings to work on homework, and my husband and I go to bed at ten at night so we can survive waking up with the baby. From the outside looking in, we're not very extraordinary or evening exciting. But on day, when my knees are bad and my arthritis sets in, I can't wait to look back on this again, and see where my struggle brought me.

Second Wavers, Crying, and Painting Humans

1. An Inner Struggle: The Second Wavers

As I get older, I see more and more people fall away from their faith in God. It has happened in waves. 

The first group to fall away was composed of those looking for a way out, those that for whatever reason disliked the culture or lifestyle faith promoted and willingly left. 

The second wave, which has been more common as of late for my friends and associates, is composed of people who genuinely have fought to secure their faith, but feel unable to do so because of their prevailing doubts. These people want to believe in something bigger than themselves, but in spite of their sacrifices and painstaking efforts, still face a reality in which they feel more doubt than faith. 

I have thought a lot about both of these groups. These are not bad people. In fact, the closer you get to these people and situations, the more I realize that I fundamentally do not believe that "bad people" exist. No one wakes up in the morning and immediately thinks, "Today, I'm going to be as violent, angry, stubborn, close-minded, immoral, impatient, and irreverent as humanly possible." People just aren't wired that way. Just like you and I, everyone wakes up and does his or her best to make sense of difficult questions and situations that frankly do not make sense. 

Understanding people like this, we can sympathize with this first wave, that simply feels like a greater happiness is available outside of the realm of faith. The more interesting of the two groups is the second: if God exists and has answers, why does he let the drifting minds drift on? 

This is an undeveloped thought. It is one I have thought a lot about in my life and likely one that will reoccur as long as I live. We know that God, even in his infinite wisdom, weeps because of his inability to curb the agency of men more fully. My mortal tears for these second wave friends and family members are far less perfect than Heavenly Father’s, but my heart goes out to these men and women who, like a young Joseph Smith, felt doubt in the knowledge they had and insufficient answers to their rapidly turning minds. I have learned that we are all vulnerable, and that faith is possible and real, but how we help those who have given their all is something I will continue to seek out.

2. Scripture, Personal and Powerful: Crying

I am not a crier. Movies, books, break-ups, and all variations of losses still have meaningful and lasting effects on me, but they are unable to ignite tears. There may be a blocked valve somewhere up in there. My mom calls me heartless. I’m not sure I have a lot of tangible evidence to refute their claim, but there is one instance I have to my aid. I was fairly deep into my mission in Rosario, Argentina, struggling in a new area and living with a companion who seemed to have been created with the sole purpose to disagree with everything I did and said. I had not cried, but I was tired. So mentally exhausted that my body would match it by falling asleep whenever it hit a solid surface on anything but my two feet.
As I was preparing for bed one night, I opened the New Testament. I happened upon a verse in Luke 9 that had new meaning to me. “And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” It dawned on me: Christ was tired. His exhaustion must have been almost unending. Even in death, he went immediately back to work. Thinking of how tired I was and how much more tired Christ must have been while being rejected of his own and living on the road, I started to cry; a temporary repair or malfunction to my valve, depending on how you look at it. But my appreciation was real, and it felt so good to be understood by anyone at that moment.
So I do have a heart, mom.

3. A Wilderness Quest: Painting Humans

            My mom is a painter. She would be the first to tell you that she is not a very good painter, but she’s a good mom so I grew up thinking that she was a good painter, too. Painters know a great deal about meaning and categorizing things, and I think my mom did her best to help me. She would take me on long walks with her to scope out new things to paint in her tiny studio in the corner of our house. We would walk for what felt like hours at a time, and my mom would ask me to look for images in the trees or the sky for her next project. My mom would normally paint something other than the object I pointed out, but she had a way of thanking and validating my efforts. Once, I pointed out what I thought was the most handsome dead stump I had ever seen. It’s roots reached out of the ground like a rotten, aging fingers and were covered in a mold that was the kind of green that you avoid when shopping for sweaters. I cried out, “Mom! Mom! It’s a masterpiece!” My mother, the world’s most effective diplomat, kneeled down to my level and said, “You’re my masterpiece.” I was so flattered, I forgot about my idea all-together. I would come home and look at my mother’s art on the wall, proudly keeping her secret to myself that she was nothing without my obviously gifted pair of five-year-old eyes.
            My mom’s paintings developed through the years. Sometimes she painted beautiful landscapes. Other weeks she would focus on small objects that people would never deem as aesthetically pleasing while passing them by in the wild. But my mom could make anything beautiful. Looking at my mom’s paintings, I noticed a consistency between how my mom treats her paintings and people. No scene my mother painted was perfect. She wouldn’t distort the scene to make the painting more picturesque, but she was forgiving in her renditions. That is also how my mom treats people. She can see the good in the bad, the light in the dark, and the hope in the hopeless.

Getting Personal Here

Inner Struggle- It’s an Addiction
It’s right there. My mind is bothering me. Should I do it? Will I regret it? It really isn’t that big of a deal. Okay fine. I want it. I did it. I regret it. Why did I do that to myself? It honestly wasn’t even worth it.

I don’t have an eating disorder. I am just anal about food. I can’t stand this continuous process I go through every time I decide to eat something. But I also can’t help it.

I don’t have a disorder.
I have an addiction.
I am in love with food.
I hate the guilty feeling after eating what I do not need.

It is a social component.
“Let’s grab some lunch”
“Are we going to the dessert party?”
“One word, Sodalicous.”

Eating is so much fun. Being able to connect with another human being because of food is different then any other connection I have ever experienced. We need to eat to live. But what about all the extra things we don’t need to live but eat? I do it because I am addicted to the side effects. But why? I have no clue. It is my inner struggle.

Scripture- New Beginnings
            I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.”

Every year my parents would gather my family the night before school and give my siblings and I a blessing. I looked forward to this time because I knew how special it was that I was able to receive such a blessing. But, this is the scripture that made this blessing stay with all year. Every first day of school my mother would wake us up to have family scripture study. We always restarted the Book of Mormon and this is the scripture I think back to. Even though our fathers blessing only happened once, studying the scriptures everyday reminded me of those blessings I was promised. Starting with this verse reminds my where I came from and who I want to be. It gave me a new beginning to a new year. Restart button. This scripture has been something I look forward to once a year.

            Since I was young my mother had me enrolled in many extra circular activities. Now that I am in college I like to keep myself busy and it is the beginning of the Book of Mormon that brings me peace and calm through out my stressful days.

Wilderness- Why am I here?
I am not a camping person. But I like to have fun. My best friend, Haleigh, and I had decided to take a trip down to Moab Utah to visit another friend who was a river guide there. Luckily for us my dad had gone to several Scout Camps and we had plenty of gear to take with us. Our friend had told us that it was warm enough that we didn’t need a tent. We grabbed cots, sleeping bags, pillows, and a cooler. By the time we got there it was late afternoon and our friend met us at our camping site and helped us to set up camp. There we made a fire where we cooked a luxurious hotdog and chill dinner and finished the night with smores. Our friend left to go back to her home and me and Haleigh were left in the Moab wilderness with no tent, and really no knowledge of camping. We laid on our cots and had pillow talked until we both decided we should get some sleep because we were going to have a long day on the river with our friend the following day. As I laid there in silence I realized I couldn’t fall asleep. After about ten minutes I had asked Haleigh if she was still awake. She was also having a hard time to go to sleep. The weather was warm enough but there was also a full moon. The moon and the star were so bright we could see each others faces clear without any extra light. It seemed the higher the moon rose the brighter the sky was. It was beautiful and kept me up all night thinking. I thought about the world I was created in. Why it was created for me. What is my true purpose here in this beautiful land.

Blood, Guts, and Bridges

Writing about myself is generally easy; a 200 word limit changes that. But I hope these few words will convey my self and experiences well.

Inner Struggle

Succeeded by pajamas, the others take their nocturnal stations: blouse in hamper, skirt on hanger, name tag on desk. I crumple into my plastic chair; it sighs with me. 

The page I open to is cleaved up the middle by white stitches. Tonight I enlist my red pen in addition to the black. Red goes first.

I want to do what He wants me to do, but I don’t know what that is.

The black pen responds: God gives us autonomy when He trusts us.

But He shouldn’t trust me.

Remember—President said “Willing and worthy.”

He had. With perpetually carefree smile wilted, eyes darkened behind his glasses, he’d actually told me twice in our latest interview.

But I’m not as willing to do hard things as I should be. And when I don’t do them, that decreases my worthiness.

Black references my morning’s scripture study: “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak.”

Yes, but I haven’t helped bring about enough miracles in the land like Ammon did.

“Have we not great reason to rejoice?”

Not if I haven’t done enough. The ink is blood on my hands.

The day’s events and words waft behind my eyes. One Elder’s mantra surfaces, dragging indecisive hope along: “Let the Lord form you His way.”

I’ll try.


I smile when the oldest five file in. They join our oldest three, filling the bench everyone recognizes as ours. Jake—four months my junior and ten years my friend—sits next to me. His hand is stained with the guts of my ’94 Escort. I remember with a wince what Jake doesn’t know: that he may never get to finish my car. We might be moving.

The opening prayer lets my eyelids hide my tears. I silently say my own. “How can we leave them?” I ask God—again. “They’re practically family.”

I’ve given up on an answer when a local missionary recounts her recent transfer. I’m only half-listening until she says: “It was hard to leave the people I’d grown to love.” My chin pops up. “Then in my scripture studies, I read this verse.” I lean far enough forward to almost hit the next bench.

“‘I know thy heart, and have heard thy prayers concerning thy brethren.’” The words strum my innards. “‘Be not partial towards them in love above many others, but let thy love be for them as for thyself; and let thy love abound unto all men, and unto all who love my name.’”

It’s a combination of comfort and command, and it rinses my soul. Today this verse is mine.

Wilderness Quest

I trudge up the dirt ramp and pause at the top of the berm. The bristly tamarisks and pubescent cottonwoods have overrun the flood plain below, and the river-side of the ramp must’ve been washed out in my two-year absence. I climb down anyway. 

I have to part and lunge between branches, but I make it. The river is colorless as usual and gunky at the bends, but the tonal flow is loud enough to mask my voice.

I glance upwards for tradition’s sake. “What am I supposed to be doing?” I ask Him. Unstifled sobs bob atop my mind’s flood of questions. “I don’t even know which career I’d want, let alone what I’m meant to choose.”

An attentive silence is in order, and I reach out for any hint of a response. There are no words this time. Nor pictures. But the feeling of being heard smooths my tear stream into a flood plain.

“I know,” I say. “I don’t always get to have a plan. This is teaching me to move forward with faith.” It’s nothing new, and I don’t like it. But it’s true.

As I start back, my ranging gaze lingers on the bridge—the bridge between the islanded neighborhood of my youth to the rest of the world. How long it looks from here.




A few weeks ago I heard back from Teach from America about my interview: I’m in. They’ve offered me a job teaching middle school math in Cincinnati. That’s in Ohio.[1] I accepted the job; I start training in Atlanta in June, and then I will move out to Cincinnati in July.
          “How are you going to do that?” everyone asks, out of what I believe to be a sincere concern for my well-being. This question has a couple of subtexts, the first one being Pack up and move to a new place where you don’t know anyone? Eeesh. Another is Who would ever want to live in the Midwest? Yuck. (That one mostly comes from natives of the American West.) The last, a really fun one, is Why would you leave the Promised Land? There aren’t any Mormons in Cincinnati. My answer to all of these external struggles is, simply, This is what I am going to do. My decision to join Teach for America was a prayerful one, derived from about a hundred moments of personal revelation which led me to it. So as irritating as that initial question is, it really doesn’t mean anything to me, because I know that this is what I should be doing.

          Still—and I never thought I would say this—Provo, in the past seven years, has become a home for me. I’m at the point in school where I love being in my classes and feel on top of college, rather than crushed by it. I love working at my job, where I get to help people learn to write, and where I am part of an inspiring community of writers. I love my apartment—after four years of searching, I’ve finally found one that is close to campus and not gross! I love the mountains, I love the 7-11 on 5th and University. And I love the friendships I’ve made here, which are ultimately what makes me love everything else. There are some people in this town that I cannot imagine not seeing every day.
          How do I carry out my own plans? How do I move to Cincinnati without being terrified?

Finding Worth and Finding God

An Inner Struggle: Mission Impossible

General Conference October 2012: Morning
We are all sprawled on the couch or on the floor. Pajamas are the fashion and cereal is being crunched during the opening song. The program proceeds as usual, "Welcome to such and such session of Conference...the young women of the Church will now be able to serve missions at the age of nineteen". All of us gasp and eyes gawk. One roommate had always planned on a mission so this simply shifted her plan forward. Another roommate was seriously dating a nice young man but now a mission was on the table. And then me. A mission have never been on or off the table. Now, in a matter of five seconds, I was of mission age. The more I thought, the more enthused I became about the idea. I called by parents who replied "We knew we would get this call from you".

December 2012:
"Dear Paige Whitney, You have been accepted into the Landscape and Literature study abroad for Spring of 203". I knew what people would think. "Oh, you chose a mission over a study abroad?" or "You know, you will never regret going on a mission but you will regret not going", as if I had made one of my greatest decisions on a whim. No, God did not tell me not to go on a mission. He left the decision up to me though I wanted Him to make it for me. When I decided to go on a mission, I felt anxious and confused. When I decided not to go, I felt peace. Perhaps, I finally accepted, my mission would not come in the mail or send me away. Though God did not make my decision, once made, He let me know I had a different mission ahead.

Scripture, Personal, and Powerful: Finding a Gift
I was the only girl in my Young Women's group who played piano. I won the creative writing contest at my high school. I was a Mormon and so I stood out in my community. I had considered writing and piano my two talents from a young age and being a Mormon was a large part of my identity...until I arrived at Brigham Young University. Every sacrament meeting contained a musical number performed by an individual who had played since infancy. I began the English major and everyone had impressive writing abilities. I became absolved in a Mormon community where I was one of many. I was in a BYU rut, I like to called it. I was lost in a sea of talent, intelligence and spiritual giants. With nowhere else to go and little hope of finding solace, I opened by scriptures randomly to Doctrine and Covenants Section 11 and read "Behold, thou hast a gift, or thou shalt have a gift if thou wilt desire of me in faith, with an honest heart, believing in the power of Jesus Christ, or in my power which speaketh unto thee". Though my fingers did not magically fill with musical genius or my mind with beautiful poetics, the scripture touched my dampened soul. Looking back, I cannot point out specifically a new talent I received but I can say that God heard me and my plea for acknowledgement.

Climbing Mountains and Other Such Things

Inner Struggle: Choosing English
"I'm sure you hear this all the time, but what can you do with an English degree?" I asked the guys at the information desk in front of me. I was at an on campus major fair trying to choose my future as I wandered the tables filling the ballroom.
They responded that English taught you a set of skills that could be used in a wide range of careers. It all just depended on how you chose to use the degree. I nodded my head and smiled, pretending to understand what that meant. It seemed so vague.
I would later repeat this same question to my creative writing professor who would give me a similar answer. And it still seemed vague to me.
English didn't come with a clear cut course. There wasn't an engineering job or a teaching position waiting for me at the end. Instead it opened up to a realm of unknown potential. A place where countless opportunities awaited (or so I was told) that I just simply had to find. These endless possibilities sounded exciting, but for a planner like me they also sounded terrifying.
I decided to try it, though. Despite my fears I took my first English class and took my first step down the road to the unknown. And I have yet to look back.

Scripture: All Things Testify
"I say unto you, I know there is a God . . . But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto that they are true; and will ye deny them?" Alma 30:39,41
The first time I really remember reading this scripture was on a family vacation. It was a Sunday and my dad, wanting to set a spiritual tone before we headed into nearby Teton National Park, read the scripture to us. He talked about what it meant and challenged us to look for God's hand as we drove through the park.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Little Moments

Inner Struggle: Finding Courage

I stared at the woman as she chattered on in a one-sided conversation. There were three of us seated at the small round table, but my companion and I didn't have much to offer in making small talk. Panic rose in my chest as I realized the woman had asked us a question. Please, please respond to her. I pleaded silently to my companion, hoping she had understood the question. Instead, my companion turned to me with a questioning look in her eyes. Oh no. I felt my mouth start to open. "Um, come?" My dry throat made my voice sound like I'd swallowed cellophane.

Instead of repeating the question, the woman slapped the table with a loud crack!, making both of us jump. Then she started laughing like she'd heard the world's greatest joke.

"Non avete capito niente!" ("You haven't understood anything!") she cackled in amusement.

She sure hit the nail on the head. When will this language stop sounding like Chinese?? As I sat there praying for a response, sudden courage filled my heart. It's okay, sister. She's just a member of the Church and she understands how hard this is. Just speak!

I swallowed hard and tried again. "Mi dispiace. Come?"

Maybe I still wouldn't understand her question today, but I knew that it would make sense one day. God needed me to learn this language to help His children and I wasn't going to give up so soon.

best of luck.

Here are my three devotional writings. I found it really difficult to keep my stories within 200 words, but I hope I was able to convey the right ideas within these short writings. So, best of luck while reading these.

Inner Struggle: Puff, Puff, Pass

I was handed a thick blunt, a cigar casing stuffed full with marijuana. It was simply to pass along since I was in the circle, just another stop along the way. My friends laughed around me, chatting and joking, unaware of the obvious struggle showing on my face. I’d been clean for four months, by choice, and had not stopped hanging out in the same places with the same people. Because it was my choice to quit, I knew smoking again would be my choice, though it wasn’t in my plans. But reality was pushing in on me, blinding me, making me go deaf from the noise; the stresses of being on the line of poverty, the fighting I watched every day in my own home, the coping I couldn’t handle, the escape getting high brought me.

I put the end to my lips and inhaled, a muscle memory that I’d forgotten was so easy. A soft, warm burning filled my throat, down into my lungs. The THC found itself in my body once again and I could feel it setting in quickly. I passed the blunt, my thoughts slowing down, reality was subdued. The yelling was muffled, the lights dimmed, the pushing weakened. For the first time in four months, I relaxed. It was an overwhelming high, where I felt like a lava lamp with an insatiable case of the munchies.

About Scripture: April 17th, 2009

My eyes fluttered open and closed as my mother sped down the freeway to the ER.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Assigned Blessing

While I first starting watching the videos I had noticed myself noting down the people who flowed and sounded most relatable with. These personal essays really hit home for me. My favorite essay was “Temporal Death,” an essay about an old woman facing the end her life. This weekend my family has been getting calls from my grandma’s assisted living home with notice that she is not doing well. Today she was admitted to the hospital and this essay really comforted me. This essay gave me a better understanding of death and the reason we are here on this Earth. This author did a great job using word choice and perfect description to make this situation seem beautiful. Reading this essay made me feel like I was there with the old woman and that I knew her well. This was a blessing for me.

In my own personal essay I would like to tune in on the audience and relating to a more specific audience as well as a general audience. These essays did a good job on doing both. I found myself relating to many of the essays even if I hadn’t experience the same circumstance. They were well written on the technical writing side but stayed personable throughout. Their topics weren’t boring. In their videos it was like they were talking directly to me and as if they knew what it was they wrote I was in need to read. This inspired me to choose a topic that I am comfortable with but am also passionate about.

I honestly can say I haven’t read very much Mormon literature before this class. This was very fun to read and I think it was because it was a short personal essay that almost any Mormon could write about a special experience they have had in regards to our religion.  I think that is what made this assignment so enjoyable.