Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ode to a Missionary

Yonder see the morning blink:
The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
And work, and God knows why.

Oh often have I washed and dressed
And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
And all's to do again.

-- A. E. Housman

I thought I would post an example of the type of poetry (ie one of the actual poems)my dad sent me while on my mission. The man never served a mission; how did he know?

My Christmas Gift

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

That Hardy poem, entitled The Oxen, expresses a sense of what I suppose I will call a hopeful crisis of faith. (It is also, by the way, one of the poems my dad clipped out and mailed to me while on my mission, and definitely the most faith-promoting one I received. At least Hardy has hope, unlike the other depressed atheists writing poems from the depths of their existential angst. Just what every struggling missionary needs! My companion and I used to jokingly read them to each other right before we walked out the door as that day's "animo" until the irony was not funny enough to outweigh the powerful downer of the poems themselves. Now that I am not an overweight missionary with a bad haircut and a weird skin condition and a single pair of shoes, the fact of those poems has regained its humor.)

I think that part of the Christian experience for most people is to endure "the ebb and flow of faith." For me, my faith had never ebbed on the issue of whether God exists or the divinity of Christ or the other related basics of Christianity. But for some reason, the birth of my second son prompted me to constantly think about, and fear, what life would be like, and what life would be, if there really was nothing after this, if death was really the end. Maybe I confronted those issues for the first time because we were so worried about Will's health. In any event, it got me pretty depressed. I used to impatiently shrug off the argument of those who could not believe in God because of all the horrible things that happened in this world, but suddenly I could understand what they meant. Where before I did not even worry about death, I became very upset and nervous about what would happen to us, and the thought that there really was nothing filled me with an awful dread. That death would cut me off from all the ones I loved, and end my existence altogether, was inexpressibly saddening.

So it was in this spririt that I entered the Christmas season. Obsessed with my own mortality and feeling a fear and emptiness about what life was and the finality of death. And trying to keep myself from thinking of it by shopping. It was a weird Christmas season.

But it also turned out to be the most spiritual. It was not until I felt that it was possible that there was no hope, no life, no further frontier of existence after this one, that I was able, for the first time, to feel real gratitude for Christ. Without him, my worst fears would come true. I found myself thinking that the only gift I wanted was to be able to live forever with my family and those I loved. I realize that this all sounds so cliche and self-evident, like the story line and supposed 'plot-twists' of those Stephenie Meyers books (which I read), but it was not to me, and I really did wish for the gift that is the focus of every church lesson and meeting, not realizing that I had already been informed of all these answers.

I read a book (The Life of Pi) that was touted as being able to make one believe in God, because it demonstrated that if there were two explanations for a state of affairs, we should choose to believe the explanation that makes us happier. Unfortunatley for me, I cannot make myself believe something just because it makes me feel better. I am stuck with what my honest heart tells me, and my honest heart, I think, is a sort of pessimistic one sometimes. I write all of this to explain that it was not from a sense of needing to believe that I suddenly did again believe, and believe in a deeper and truer and more desperate way.

After struggling with these feelings and fears, my faith broke through. And I am thankful that I can say with my honest heart that Christ was born in a negligible barn in an obscure part of the world to simple people. He lived a perfect life. He died and on the third day He rose again. As in Adam all men die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. This I do believe. It was a very merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Brig Made the Post Again (and I did, too, sort of)

Last Monday, I went to the federal courthouse in Alexandria to watch Brig give his closing argument in the case that had taken up so many months. He was awesome. I was nervous for him, but that was the last time I am going to waste my worries on his performance in a courtroom. I was very proud. I will also add that my pride was inflated a tiny bit more when the line I gave him the night before when he was practicing for me made it into the pages of the Washington Post: "The only consistent part of Junior's story is that he consistently lied." Thank you, Moot Court.

Here's the link to the full story and Brig's other quotables:

Friday, December 07, 2007

My Husband looks like Kenny Chesney, and other fun thoughts

I thought I would take a second to record some recent little moments from our life that make me laugh when I think about them.

1. Brigham asked me how many candles I wanted on our two year old son's birthday cake. He was defensive about my reaction and insists that it was a reasonable query.

2. Andrew is watching Sesame Street on my parents' couch. Brig and I are next to him. I am talking. I reach the point in my story where words will not suffice; Brig must look at the facial expression I am making. I don't remember what I was showing him, but it required that my eyes be shut. Upon opening them, I saw that Brig had never looked at me. So I complained, of course. He apologized, but explained in all sincerity that he had just never seen that episode before. Of Sesame Street.

3. Three minutes later, we are all focused on Sesame Street. Ernie is playing some game where Bert is supposed to guess a body part with the hint of the first letter. The current body part starts with "N" and I guess, in all momentary seriousness, "Knee!" It was the look Brigham gave me that was the funniest part, for me. (I must be given a break here, I had just gotten home from the hospital having our baby.)

4. Brigham looks like Kenny Chesney. This is always funny, especially when you look at a photo of Kenny or watch him in his videos. I love to think that a guy who wears tight jeans, necklaces, cowboy hats and some type of tank top resembles my husband.

5. While dressing Andrew the other day, he closed his eyes and exclaimed, in his funny little teasing voice, "Andrew no see! Oh no!" He was pretending to be blind, an old favorite game of the Smith sisters circa 1981-present (actually, we haven't played since probably 2001. I know I played it once with an unwilling companion on a boring day on my mission). Having never mentioned nor exposed Andrew in any way to this game, I can only conclude that it is a genetic thing and that I should expect that in a few years, Will and Andrew will be leading each other through crowded areas, one boy with eyes shut while the other walks the blinded right up to people or things or puddles etc. I played this as an adult.

6. Andrew pulled his hands into his sleeves and announced, "Andrew has claws!" A little weird, but I chose to interpret this statement to mean lobster claws. I don't know the origin of this announcement.

7. Brigham is my GPS operator. Unfortunately, he does not really have me on his satellite, so he can only provide me a route if I can accurately provide my location. This leads to problems because I often am calling for emergency backup because I do not know where I am. I became upset with him the other day for his poor navigational skills because he failed to tell me if I should turn left or right onto Wisconsin Ave. It was not until I comprehended his protestation that he did not know which way I was facing (and I could not tell him) that I let him off the hook and allowed him to stay on as my telephonic navigator.

8. As I drove onto my parents' street to pick up Andrew, whom I had left in the care of my father so that I could take Will to his 2 week appointment, a surreal sight awaited me. First I saw a man, who I initially thought was a neighbor lady who I always think is a man but is not, standing in the road with a little boy, who I thought was the neighbor lady's son, but was not. Before I could register anything more, the man began waving his arms frantically, as if I were the rescue helicopter to his crash-site. That was when I saw the boy was Andrew. He was playing in the middle of the road with two toy cars. He seemed really happy. Then my dog rushed in front of my car. The man was the across the street neighbor who, after living there for 35 years while I grew up across the street, did not recognize me either. He asked me in a panic if I knew who this child was. I briefly considered that he was kidding, but it would be too weird a joke. After about 5 minutes of confusion, he finally understood who I was and what had happened. We both began to worry about my dad. Surely Andrew and the dog could only have gotten out if my dad had suffered a stroke or something. The neighbor drove my car down the driveway while I herded Andrew toward the house. My dad wandered out, hands in pockets,
and announced, "The dog got out again."

9. Andrew disappeared into the bathroom. When I opened the door to see what he was up to, hoping it had something to do with the tiny potty I had purchased, he tried to wave me out, saying "No, Mommy, no, Andrew is fixing hair." He had gotten ahold of Brig's hairstick and was rubbing it vigorously into his bangs. Later that evening, I had him on my lap while telling him stories. I started to try to (with my hand) brush away the rat's nest of gooey hair he had plastered against his forehead. He turned to me, took my offending hand in his and said, "No Mommy, Andrew fixed hair. Don't touch it."