Go Aggies!

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This is a story about my son. And my dad. And me. And how sometimes death is not the end of a relationship.

Last year, when my oldest was in 11th grade, I started to have panic attacks about college. I never thought I’d have to deal with this. My husband and I both attended BYU, and while we didn’t love it, it was affordable and academically I’ve always maintained you can get wherever you want from BYU. So I just assumed my kids would do the same. But I hadn’t factored in a kid who a) did not want to attend a Church school; and b) didn’t attend seminary regularly. And let’s be clear; our budget could not stretch to cover all these lovely little liberal arts colleges around here. Plus I did not want him taking on great debt. Which left me thinking Jonah would end up at a UMass. The schools are fine, but are no bargain. I did the math and realized once we covered tuition, he’d need to live at home.  I love Massachusetts but it is cruelly expensive. None of these things are the end of the world and I know worrying about college is a privilege. But I also know these decisions can alter our lives. I felt depressed and desperate and greedy for options.  Lots of praying ensued.

I called my sister Angela to talk about all this stuff and she joked, “Too bad Dad’s not around to write a letter for you.” I’d forgotten about my very thrifty father’s proclivity for writing letters to save money. When Lee, my oldest brother, applied and got into grad school at UCLA, he was denied instate tuition because he’d gone off to BYU and served a mission so they said he had lost his California residency. The difference between in and out of state tuition was huge and my dad was having none of it. So Dad typed up a forceful missive about why his son was still a CA resident and got Lee his cheap tuition. Next up: Danny, kid number 2, applies to med schools all over the US. He gets into several but is not even granted an interview at UCLA. My dad is outraged. Out of state tuition is a killer and who is UCLA to say no to his Danny? So once again, Dad breaks out the Smith Corona and outlines for UCLA their mistake. UCLA begrudgingly granted Danny an interview…and loved him. A week later he was accepted with a scholarship. Next came Angela who got a medium award to BYU. My dad was convinced that if BYU took SAT scores instead of just the ACT, her scholarship would have been more. So he said as much to President Holland in a forceful letter. Elder Holland politely denied his request. But by golly Dad tried! And then there’s me. I was never up for anything that required a letter. My dad was so happy I just got in to BYU that he didn’t even care that we had to pay full price. If anything, it was my fault, and not BYU’s, that nothing was special enough about me to merit a discount.

The last weekend in January 2014 I was at my friend’s house in the Berkshires with a group of really smart, interesting women. During a conversation about college with my new friend Julia, she mentioned something about one of her kids considering Utah State University.  “But out of state tuition is a bummer,” I said. She replied that USU has a special deal where kids of their alumni can get instate tuition. “That’s wonderful,” I said. “I wish it extended to grandkids since my dad was an Aggie.” She told me that come to think of it, due to the lowering of the missionary age, she’d heard that USU might have extended the tuition break to grandkids of graduates to keep their numbers up. As she spoke these words a door opened in my mind. My dad went to USU. Tuition would be affordable. It’s strong in science and engineering, which Jonah wants to study. Logan is a great college town. We have lots of family in Utah to be a safety net.  Jonah could leave home but not take on massive debt. And religiously it’s neutral. If he wanted to attend church, awesome; but nobody would stalk him if he didn’t.

The following Monday I called USU and asked if it was true, that grandkids of graduates could get instate tuition. Yes, the woman said. It’s called the Legacy Scholarship. That night I told Jonah about it all and he also seemed relieved—and excited. He immediately started googling and tells me about “genetically-modified goats that produce milk containing the spider silk proteins that can be used in their research on synthetic material for artificial ligaments.” So nerdy and so cool.

I called Angela that night and told her that dad had come through for me on the college front. She laughed and said, “Hon, you finally got your letter—from the grave.”   I teared up a bit as I thought about that, and how I just assumed that relationships have a hard stop in death. My relationship with my father was always strained. We were incapable of giving the other what the other needed: I yearned for acceptance and engagement; he expected excellence and conformity. Since his passing seven years ago, I have felt his love in ways I never did when he was alive. And since my grandmother passed last summer, I often dream of her and awake feeling like I’ve just spent the afternoon with my best friend. For Christmas I bought myself a copy of Brian Kershisnik’s “She Will Find What is Lost.” When I first saw it, I was speechless. It captures what I know has happened to me. I have been buoyed up by loving people I cannot see. I just never realized my dad was among them. I now accept that those on the other side are indeed present with us, rooting for us, and occasionally, writing letters for us.  We can find what was lost.

Jonah was accepted to USU and starts this fall.

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The 5th Sunday Project

the 5th sunday projectIn today’s world of internet communication, we Mormons have access to a lot of information about our faith. [ ie - Websites are dedicated to our temple ceremonies, scriptures, and interests. The Bloggernacle is full of thoughts and attitudes about devotion, practice, and culture. And The Church itself puts out videos, article, recourses, and essays on lds.org.] Some of this information is troubling and difficult to absorb. Many are concerned. These concerns range from authenticity questions about LDS scripture to race imbalances.

My concern is for women in the church. I am concerned that in our patriarchal structure of governance, women have limited visibility and voice. I am concerned that in the exclusivity of male-only Priesthood, women have a reduced development in spiritual gifts and inadequate outlets sacred expression.

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Christmas Series: For those without a gift for giving gifts

big present IMG_3432I do not have a gift for gift-giving.  I am overwhelmed as the holiday season approaches and I ponder gifts for my kids, who are already bored of the gifts I gave them for their birthdays; my parents, who already own nicer things than I could afford to buy them; and my husband, who only ever wants specialized hobby equipment that I am not even knowledgeable enough to buy.  It seems that anything I can afford to buy en masse for my neighbors and coworkers is junk.

So I have scoured the Exponent archive for tips for remedial gift-givers like me. Exponent blogger Whoa-man, who is a natural at gift-giving, shares tips for choosing the perfect gift in The Art Of Gift Giving. I marvel at the thoughtfulness of the gift highlighted in Jessawhy’s Birthday Gift From My Pro-Feminist Husband. Here are some great thoughts about children’s gifts by Emily U: What Kinds Of Toys Did You Buy For Christmas. A guest poster resolves the neighbor gift dilemma with Simple Gift Suggestions For Friends Who Are Not LDS and these ideas for a Mothers Day Gift From Bishopric To Women would also work well as neighbors’ Christmas gifts. Emily CC reminds us that sometimes we don’t need to pull off the perfect gift, A Good Enough Christmas is good enough!

And this video is a great one to get in the giving mood:

My Song in the Night by BYU TV

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December Young Women Lesson: Standing as a Witness of God and Using Spiritual Gifts

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français
For the lds.org lesson plan see HERE

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How can I invite others to come unto Christ?

When Alma was baptizing the members of his new society, he taught them about the covenants they made:

“Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—” Mosiah 18:9

What does it mean to stand as a witness of God?

In the last conference, Elder David R. Bednar shared a story of his young sons when they were playing one day.  The younger one got hurt and the older brother was trying to comfort him.  He bandaged up his little brothers wound. When he realized how happy it made him, he wanted to share that happiness with his friends, so he took the band-aids outside to share.  Elder Bednar relates this to us, because it is in our nature to want to share things that give us happiness and comfort with others.

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What we see

This is what I was drawing when my professor and I had this conversation.  I don't remember any more what the model looked like, but I do remember myself at age 18, and this could have easily been a self-portrait.

This is what I was drawing when my professor and I had this conversation. I don’t remember any more what the model looked like, but I do remember myself at age 18, and this easily could have been a self-portrait.

“Do you know why you’re so good at drawing this model?” asked my figure drawing 101 professor. “Because she looks like you.”

The model was hired from the student body of my junior college. She was a petite, White, eighteen-year-old, like me.

Unconsciously drawing yourself is common among art students. They will painstakingly study the unique person posed directly in front of them, in plain sight, and then proceed to draw exactly what they see–themselves. And this happens all the time! It is perfectly normal.

This perspective problem can happen in other situations besides sketching. Instead of seeing others’ concerns, challenges, hopes and desires, we project our own onto them, oblivious to the diversity around us.

The golden rule has fallen out of favor with some diversity awareness advocates because “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” works only if the other party actually does want the same thing you do. They promote the platinum rule: “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.” In other words, don’t give other people what you would want. Give them what they want!

While recognizing the validity of this point, I still prefer the golden rule, and not just because Jesus came up with it. The problem with the platinum rule is

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Are we not bonded?

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My grandmother passed away a few days ago.

I wrote before of the tender acts of service she received before she passed – the pots of soup, the flowers that kept her home cheery and beautiful, the visits from family members and friends who were touched by her life.  The final weeks of her life were filled with even more tender watchcare - her husband, her children, and her grandchildren were able to show their love for her by tenderly washing her body, rubbing her feet, sitting with her, holding her hand, administering medicine, helping her walk – literally sustaining her all the way through her final breaths on earth.  She was so loved by her family – it was simultaneously a time of holy ministry and tremendous grief.

I’ve thought a lot about those final months – how we were all desperate to see her one last time, to give her one last hug or to say one last “I love you.”  We knew that our mortal separation was imminent, and so it seemed like we were all frantic to make sure that we crammed in as many experiences and loving words as we possibly could.  We didn’t know the day or hour that she would die, but we knew it would be soon, and the impending separation drove us to her bedside.

I’ve heard before that the threat of separation is what bonds us – we would have no incentive to get to know one another or spend time with each other if there were no risk of it ever being over.  

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