Fix This!

Recently the mission president of the Denver North mission came to our ward to inform us that elders would no longer be able to visit single women investigators without a priesthood holder from our congregation going with them. Our ward has many capable sisters, many who have served missions themselves, who would be excellent chaperones for these types of appointments but apparently this is unacceptable. He told us that this was standard church policy, that it is written in the handbook and that there could be no exceptions.

Unsurprisingly, this has proved to be a significant hardship for our inner city ward that struggles with a lack of priesthood holders to fill all the callings reserved for men. These are good men but they are already spread too thin. They simply do not have enough time or energy to take this on. Which means that my husband, as bishop, is the one that has to go out with the elders so that they can share the gospel with women.

Mr. Mraynes already has a demanding career which the church has now put a second, unpaid full time job on top of. The nights and/or weekends he has to go out with the elders is time away from his children–time that is already in too short supply. What does it profit the church if they potentially gain one soul but lose the souls of our four, young children because their father is never home?

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Birth/Rebirth: From God, Who Is Our Home

“And by the vision splendid is on [her] way attended; at length the [wo]man perceives it die away, and fade into the light of common day.”  William Wordsworth 1770-1850

Five years after the birth of my second child, I was at home preparing for an ultrasound appointment. The local hospital was only a few miles away, so I was in no rush. My children were at school and the day was quite ordinary. Except I remember feeling a kind of sacredness in the simple tasks of showering, doing my hair, applying make up and putting on comfortable clothing – almost like I was getting ready to attend the temple. Perhaps I was in a meditative state of mind. After all, I was nine months pregnant and on this day I would see images of my unborn child for the first time. 

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All I Really Need To Know About Mothering I Learned From My Cat

While I raised my children I remember watching myself over-expend energy. I was aware of what I was doing: helping and working, sharing and caring for everyone who needed me. However, it seemed there was never enough time in the day to slow down and provide for myself what I routinely (and for the most part happily) provided for others.

Midnight is missing from this photo. But my three mewing children are all there.

Midnight is missing from this photo. But my three mewing children are all here.

At work I was a skilled and compassionate nurse. At church I invested heart and soul as a primary teacher, den mother, young women’s leader, choir member, whatever I was called to do. At home I was a deeply devoted and exhausted mom to three kids. Honestly, most days I was overwhelmed by all the responsibilities. But I did the best I could. We ate cereal for dinner on really hard days. Other days it was a rotating menu of tuna casserole, spaghetti, grilled cheese sandwiches, hamburger patties with Rice-A-Roni. Taco Time, Arby’s and Stan’s Drive-In fed us more times than I can count. This was a time of endless giving and comparatively little receiving on my part.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t gain anything from serving and loving all those people at work, church and home. I gained a great deal of understanding about the human condition via those relationships. My capacity for love was enlarged because I believe God gave me strength beyond my own when I chose to serve people in need, especially my own children, and that was a good thing. But I learned lessons along the way about how to give and receive in more enriching, nourishing ways, rather than just “on the run.”

Amazingly, the most empowering example of how to be a good mom and good caregiver came from our cat. My daughter named her Midnight because, well, what else can you call a black cat? Midnight was an indoor-outdoor cat, a combination of street cat and diva and I came to love her for this. We had no pets in my own childhood home and I recognized being pet-less was one of many tragedies of my early years. (I’m both sarcastic and serious when I say that, depending on the day). So, I let my kids have pets. Through the years we had gerbils, mice, rabbits, fish, lizards, frogs and the occasional garter snake. But mostly cats. By the way, it turns out cats like to eat frogs, especially in the middle of the night. And then leave the remains in the hallway for you to step on in the dark on your way to the bathroom. Just in case you were wondering.

Anyway, one afternoon I retreated to my bedroom to fold laundry on the bed, away from the sounds of TV and whatever else was going on in the house. It must have been a Saturday because it was mid-day and I was at home. A few days earlier Midnight had given birth to a litter of kittens in a blanket-lined box in my closet. As I folded towels and matched socks, I watched her caring for her newborn kittens. She nursed them, cleaned them, let them cuddle next to her. Then she did something that surprised me. She left her babies.

She got up from where she was lying, stepped over them, and left those newborn-blind, helpless kittens mewing plaintively in their box. They began feeling around, smelling for her, trembling as they tried to walk on tiny paws. And she just walked away. I stopped what I was doing to watch. I remember feeling sorry for the kittens. But I also felt compelled to follow Midnight to see where she was going.

She went to her food dish. She ate. She drank. She went outside and did her business. Then she came back in the living room, found a spot on the floor where a shaft of light had warmed the carpet and she lay down. She cleaned herself, stretched her legs, laid her head on her paws and closed her eyes.

That’s when it hit me. BAM! This cat instinctively cares for herself. No one has to tell her what to do. She doesn’t buy books about feline co-dependence or how to be a good mommy cat. She doesn’t call her cat sister on her cat telephone to cry about how hard it is to create balance in her life. She leaves her kittens safe and sound and follows her natural instincts to care for herself so she can care for her offspring. Period. End of story. Her cat brain does not allow her to over-ride her instincts like a human brain does.

Maybe you were raised in a home with a mom who provided a good example of how to do this. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. So, this was a big deal for me. In fact, I was permanently altered that day. Midnight’s example of self-care was all I needed to let go of mommy guilt that held me hostage. I stopped feeling bad about the time I spent in my garden. I made sure to provide regular lunch dates for myself with friends. I joined a writer’s group. I started paying attention to my physical, emotional and spiritual resources and began responding in a more organic, instinctive way to cues of stress and exhaustion. This may be the time when I began taking routine afternoon naps. I no longer made excuses for my particular energy level or lack thereof when it came to church callings. I realized that my own instincts were the landmarks God gave me to define my mothering and care-giving limits.

I also began to understand better that each woman has different capacities and only she can interpret her own inner cues in context of her mothering.

This moment of enlightenment has stayed with me for more than twenty years. Initially, I thought about it every single day. Now, it’s only on occasion. But I do still think about it and remind myself to pay attention to what my body, heart and mind are telling me. I also use the Midnight-the-Mother-Cat allegory to provide support and counsel regarding caregiver burnout for my patients and their families.  I did this just last week for an eighty-year-old spouse of one of our dialysis patients. He became misty-eyed as I told him how I learned about being a good caregiver from my cat. I think Midnight’s example helped him. I hope it will help you too.


How do you nurture yourself?

Are you planning ways to provide good self-care during the holidays?

Do you have a cat?

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This January marks the two year anniversary of the formation of the Potomac Ward, a mid-singles ward in my stake (Mount Vernon Stake in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington DC).  There are hundreds of mid-singles (ages 31-50) in my stake and I am one of them.  I have a love/hate relationship with my own status as a mid-single – just as I have a love/hate relationship with the Potomac Ward.

The ward has seen much success; many of my single friends attend the congregation, enjoying the spiritual comradery of other singles, the quiet sacrament meetings, and the wide range of activities.  The ward impacts my single too – though I prefer to attend my family ward in Alexandria – because its critical mass dictates the lion’s share of single’s “goings on” in the stake.

The Potomac Ward has acquired its own church building, which it shares with the two YSA wards in the stake – and this, in my opinion, is unfortunate.  I can appreciate that congregations of singles have different logistical needs, but I feel the negative side affects of a separate place of worship outweigh the positives of large classrooms and activity spaces.  In this set up, the singles congregations are separated from the main body of the church on the sole basis of their marital status.  This is a strong message to the single individual that they are different and “removed from”.  Some individuals worship away from the main body of the church for up to 20 years and their unique experience in singles congregations deny them of continued experiences with children, couples, and elderly members.

I think the annexing of singles also has a negative side affect on the family wards, who do not enjoy the dynamic personalities of single individuals. Because singles are removed from them, stereotypes grow and integration dwindles.  (And, in the case, of my family ward, which is small, we feel the lack of talented singles who could help fill much needed callings.)

So, to family wards everywhere who feel the lack of single association, I dedicate these comments (and suggestions) about singles.  I hope that you will find them useful in integrating singles into your wards and lives, that we may be one in Zion.

Singles are Happy
*Gasp* It’s true, though some stereotypes indicate that we are continual sad as we await our marriage. The singles I know live full, happy lives with fulfilling careers, involved extended families, meaningful service, and interesting hobbies.

Singles are Different from Each Other
I know this should seem obvious, but stereotypes are strong, lumping singles together in large categories. Primary is a good example.  A married friend once told me that her ward puts all its single members in as Primary teachers “because they are the only ones not exhausted with children during the week.”  While many singles are not involved with children during the week, that doesn’t necessary mean they enjoy children on Sundays.  And some do.  Conversely, many married individuals I know enjoy involvement with children during the week AND on Sunday.  And some don’t.  These differences extend to career choices, friendship connections, desired interaction from Bishops, etc.

Singles are first, Individuals.

Singles have Life Experiences beyond “Being Single”
In his 2011 talk, Forget Me Not, Elder Uchtdorf told the story of a single woman who became sad and bitter when her lifelong dream of being married was not realized.  This story was later turned in to a dramatized video which horrified many singles because of its dark images of single loneliness and one sided representation of a single life: the fixation on getting married.  While some singles would like to be married, this does not consume our entire lives.  We are involved in many other things, as I have indicated above, and many other relationships – platonic heterosexual relationships included.  Discussions with singles can including dating AND a wide range of other topics like church, politics, hobbies, travels, books, sports, family, education, career, etc.

Singles Look for Connections Beyond their Single Friends
I loved being invited by members of my family ward for dinner, movies, game nights, and children’s recitals and Birthday parties.  Many of my friends do too.  I like being including in mixed groups of different types of people.  I try to extend invitations as well.

Singles Look for Meaningful Church Service
One of my single friends recently to her bishop, “Give me something meaningful to do!”  And he did.  Enough said.

Singles Grieve
Back to the video dramatization of Elder Uchtdorf’s story. It seems to indicate the being sad and grieving for life’s unmet expectations is a bad thing and individuals who grieve demonstrates a lack of gratitude for the gifts God has given.  I think this is unfortunate.  All people grieve over life’s unmet expectations.  Grief is messy and hard, but necessary.  The loss of a spouse and/or family is huge and can be recognized and supported. Supporting each other in grief rather than offering a “consolation prize” is a good way to go.  I believe we can be happy, have gratitude, AND feel loss and anger.  I see many people hold these varied emotions at the same time – single people included.

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