Homelessness and the Ugly Cry

I hate crying.  But, a few weeks ago, I couldn’t hold back the tears after telling my husband I’d given money to a homeless family—a whole week’s worth of groceries worth, in fact—and still felt like I should have done so much more.

I first saw them outside of Smith’s.  It was late afternoon, and I had gone to grab a few last-minute items to make dinner for our friends.  I was just pulling into the store parking lot when my eye caught a beat-up car parked across from the lot.  A toddler was perched on the hood of the car, holding onto a young woman.  Next to her, an older man held up a sign, “Please Help.  Food, Gas, Lodging.  Anything Helps.”  Aside from the family, the sign caught my attention.  They weren’t asking for money.  They were only asking for the necessities of life, and ones that we often take for granted—food, fuel, and shelter.

I made a mental note to buy them some water and maybe a gift card when I went shopping.  Unfortunately, in my hurry to gather all my food, I checked out without buying them a single thing.  As I pulled out of the parking lot, their small group caught my eye again and I felt a twinge of regret—but I thought, “Oh well.  Maybe next time. I sure hope someone helps them though.”  And I drove on.

As I pulled farther away, though, I couldn’t stop glancing at them in my rear view mirror. I thought about the other times I’d driven by homeless men or women because, like now, the circumstances hadn’t been quite right to help them. The person had been on the wrong side of the road, or traffic was moving too quickly to hand them anything.  It had been too late, or I’d been in a hurry.  All those experiences built up in my mind, and suddenly, the thought burst out, “Not this time!  NO.” Before I could second-guess myself, I pulled into a side driveway and turned around, reaching the family in less than a minute. The man’s eyes widened as I pulled my SUV onto the shoulder and rolled down the window.

“Can I get you something from the store?”  I asked him.  He and the young woman looked at each other, then at me. “That would be great,” he said after a moment.

“Does someone want to hop in? I can drive you.”  I was mentally calculating how much time we could take in the store before I’d be unforgivably late.  Driving would be quicker, and less exerting, than walking.

“Why don’t you get in?” He asked the woman next to him, “It’s more proper for you to go.  You’re womenfolk.” He gave an awkward half-laugh, and at that the woman cautiously came around the car and hopped in the seat next to me.  “Thank you for coming back,” he called out. The boy clung onto him, and I saw him bend down to console the child, “It’s okay.  She’ll be back…” his voice trailed off as we pulled away.

In the short drive to the store, I chatted with the woman a bit. I was curious about what had brought her and her son here. Softly, she told me how her dad, the breadwinner of the family, had lost his trucking license because of his diabetes. After that, they’d come to Utah to live with family, but their family had not been able to help them as they’d planned, and they’d been sleeping at the homeless shelter [“It isn’t a good place for a family,” she’d said shortly].

Recently, they’d had a spot of good news—they’d gotten a slot in some state-funded housing. Now they were waiting for approval to move into their home—and were left stranded in the meantime. “I’m just grateful it isn’t winter, I hear houses are a lot harder to get into then,” she commented.  How much did she need for a room? I asked her.  They’d found a weekly rental for a good price in Salt Lake, she responded.  She told me the price.

I nodded, suddenly knowing what I needed to do. I walked to the customer service desk, calling out to her, “Pick up what you need.  This will only take me a couple of minutes, but pick something up.”  She looked at me for a second and then hurried away.  I went to the rack to the side of the desk and picked out a gift card for Smith’s.  As I meandered to the counter, the woman came back.  She held two water bottles and a bottle of Gatorade [only what she needed] and I paid for them.  Then I took out an extra $100.  It wasn’t the full amount for the hotel room, but I hoped it would be enough. I handed her the gift card, the money, and the bag of water.

She seemed taken aback when I handed the money and gift card to her.  “Thank you,” was all she said. I told her I hoped things would work out, then wrote my number on the back of her receipt. “What’s your name?” I asked.  I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten to ask till that moment.  She told me.  “I’m Jackie,” I said, “Please, call me if you find yourself in a bad spot.”  I handed her the paper, the image of her boy flashing in my mind.  He looked the same age as my son.  She thanked me again, declined a ride back to her family, and walked away.

As I walked back to my car, tears were already brimming in my eyes.  I pulled out of the spot and drove past them, not too quickly, so I could see her return.  She’d already put the drinks on the roof of the car, and was handing the Gatorade to the little boy.  He was jumping up and down excitedly, and threw his arms around her—out of relief she’d returned, or happiness at having a Gatorade, I don’t know which.  But that’s about when I started crying. I felt a deep pang for that child.  I wished I could make sure that boy would be happy every day.

Obviously, my emotions were still high when I got home, and when my husband asked what was wrong, the whole sobby story just spilled out.  He was incredibly supportive, of course; one of the things I love about him is his kind heart, so of course he was happy that I’d given money to that family. After all, at the end of the day, it was a sacrifice we could afford.  He kissed me and we hurried the kids out the door to drive to our friends’ house.  Hours of friendly company helped me to feel calm again.  But the image of that family just stayed with me.

I know some of you might think I shouldn’t have given them any money. After all, the whole story about needing a hotel room could have been a lie.  She could have used the $100 on drugs, booze or smokes.  That thought is why I hedged my bets with a gift card (“at least her boy will eat this way”, I’d told myself).  But do you know what?  I’m ashamed of that ungenerous thought now.  I wish I’d given them more.  More money.  More time.  More courage to tell the woman that helping her would be a joy to me—that making her family’s life easier would be a joy.

What if, instead of viewing the homeless with disdain, or fear, or even pity, we viewed our interactions with them as opportunities? We can learn from every person we meet; but when a homeless person asks for our help, we have the added privilege of being allowed to serve and help them.  Giving up that money wasn’t easy for us, but it was doable, and I’m grateful I had the chance to help someone in need that day.

As a Christian (and, I hope, a decent human being), it’s my imperative  to help out someone in need.  After all, Christ didn’t say, “Clothe the naked and feed the hungry, but only when it’s most convenient for you.  Only when you have an abundance of money.”  On the contrary; He told us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the sick and afflicted. (Matthew 25: 34-40).  Moreover, He condemns those who speak of good works but, ultimately, do nothing to help relieve the burdens of the needy:

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. James 2: 15-17

I hope, the next time I see someone in such need, I can remember that charge, and give more of myself.

Year of Polygamy

I’m spending a surprisingly pleasant Sunday listening to the Year of Polygamy podcast.  This is a series dedicated to exploring polygamy in the Mormon Church; and let me tell you, as a practicing Mormon, polygamy has always been a sore point for me.  On the one hand, I was brought up with a deep respect for the prophet Joseph Smith.  On the other hand, I find the practice of polygamy (which Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets adopted) to be a hurtful practice.

Now, the LDS Church officially disavowed the practice of polygamy in 1890, but it has never withdrawn its assertion that this practice was instituted by God– and, arguably, the Church still practices plural marriage today.  No, there aren’t men walking around with forty wives (sorry Brigham Young), but there are men who are married to multiple women in the temple. See, a man who has been widowed or divorced may, with special permission, be sealed (married) to another wife in the temple, without the previous marriage being annulled by the Church.  However–and this should come as no surprise–a woman cannot.

Anyway, I’m having a fun time getting to know the history of this, erhm, interesting practice, and if you’ve ever wanted a primer on our “plural wifery”, this is the place to go.

Mommies, not Models

Girls, you are so much more than your looks.

Have you caught Melissa McCartney’s interview with Ellen?  If you haven’t, you should.  Apparently, Melissa was criticized by a reporter for “really look[ing] bad” in her latest movie, Tammy. According to him, she was only a good actress when she looked attractive (never mind she was playing a broken-down woman, whose outer appearance was supposed to reflect her terrible internal struggle).  When she encountered the reporter at a film festival, though, rather than attack him, she used the moment to educate him.

Ellen Melissa McCartney
Click above to watch the video

“If [your daughter] comes home and someone says you can’t have a job because you’re unattractive, are you gonna say, ‘That’s right?’ And he took that in his heart and he was like, ‘No, I would never want that to happen. I would never in a million years want that to happen.'”

“I said, ‘Just know that every time you write stuff, every young girl in this country reads that and they just get a little bit chipped away.’ I just think that we tear down women in this country for all these superficial reasons and women are so great and strong.”

Isn’t that the truth?

I’ve been privileged to have many strong women in my life, starting with my mom.  She worked as an accountant, having three kids and putting my father through graduate school before finally graduating herself. Though she eventually had five children, she continued to use her formidable analytic and organizational skills as an accountant, church leader, and volunteer social worker.  She’s a wonderful example to me.

I met other impressive women in college and, later, in law school–women who somehow managed to juggle all the demands on their time:  spouses, children, jobs, and intense studies.  These were smart, educated and driven women. Yet, if you passed these women on the street, you’d probably have no clue just how incredible they are. None fit the Hollywood mold of the perfect woman; that rare Angelina Jolie-type female who wakes up, meets her personal trainer, shoots a scene for her latest film, meets with the UN and, at the end of a long and satisfying day, calmly tucks her kids into bed–all while looking flawless.  No, these women were all average-looking; not overly fashionable, or beautiful, or exceptionally thin.  These women are some of the most intelligent people I’ve met; and yet, if you believe the overwhelming message from Hollywood–that a woman’s appearance is the most important thing about her– these women would be considered lessless attractive, less desirable, less worthy–simply because they did not put all of their efforts into their looks.

And that is such a damaging message.

How many girls do you know who have issues with their bodies?  I’ve watched friends shrink away, depriving themselves of food simply because they believe their worth is tied to how much they weigh. Other women push their bodies to the limit with exercise and “healthy eating”–myself included.  After having my first child, I was anxious to lose the baby weight, so I adopted a punishing exercise routine.  I would get up in the early morning, even after little sleep, to run and exorcise some imagined calorie overload I’d had the day before.  One ulcer and a torturous year later, I realized I couldn’t push my body so hard- and I learned to accept myself as a complete human being, not just a physical body.

Now my children take up so much of my day, I don’t have the time or the energy to pursue a physical ideal that, quite frankly, I will probably never reach.  This is a point most of us come to, as mothers.  We make a conscious choice to put our children’s needs above our own needs, even the need to feel beautiful.  While we may not have Hollywood-worthy bodies, what is important is that we like the people we are now.  And we are not lesser for channeling our energies into our families; we are better and greater people for it.

It’s a shame that our entertainment industry can’t seem to grasp that truth.

Adventures in Parenting

So, you know when something is so ridiculous, it’s actually funny?  I feel like I have moments like that, oh, every day as a stay-at-home mom.  Take today, for example.

What, me?  Think I'm going to cause trouble?  Yes, yes I am.
What, me? Think I’m going to cause trouble? Yes, yes I am.

Although I no longer go into the office, I still manage to do a bit of work.  This afternoon, when the kids’ naps magically overlapped for about 45 minutes, I managed to leave messages with a few people. Then, feeling pretty productive, once naptime ended I stopped by the—ahem—ladies room, with both kids in tow.  (News flash:  when you have small children, you never, never get to use the bathroom alone).

Just at that moment, what do you know, one of the people I’d phone called me back.  This was a very important call, so even though I have a strict no-phone calls-in-the-bathroom policy, I thought, “Screw it. I’ll answer.”  I picked up and, quickly excused the background noise by telling the caller I was at home with small children.  I left out the part about being on the toilet.  B-a-a-a-d idea.

I tried to rush the call, but nothing is faster than an inquisitive toddler.  Within moments, Kisan accidentally pulled something into the sink and started hollering.  He wanted it back and he wanted it back now!  I frantically motioned to him to be quiet (it didn’t work).  Unable to get off the toilet or to quiet toddler-zilla, I looked around in desperation for something to snap Kisan out of tantrum mode.  I found a plush bumblebee sitting in the baby’s lap and, panicking, I did the first thing that came to mind—I chucked it at Kisan.  No, it wasn’t my finest mommy moment.  I think I was trying to snap him out of his agitated state, sort of like slapping a hysterical person across the face.

Well, no need to judge me, because I knew it was a bad idea as soon as it left my hand.  You know when something terrible is about to happen, everything seems to slow down? Well, time now took on a movie-like quality as the plush toy slowly arced up in the air and, yep, landed with a soft “thunk” on Kisan’s head.

It was like I’d prodded a rabid dog with a stick.  Kisan’s voice rose at least five octaves.   If he could’ve foamed at the mouth, I’m sure he would have. Instead of being merely frustrated, Kisan was now incensed because, well, I’d thrown something at him.  And really, it was a dumb move on my part.  Oh, and the man on the phone?  At this point, he’d stopped talking (probably shocked into silence). So, as the last resort of the desperate, I picked Kisan up and locked him outside the door.  As I quickly stammered out an apology to the man,  Kisan (now in full Hulk mode) started to use his tow truck as a battering ram.  At this point, I just told the man I would be sending him the paperwork in an e-mail, and hung up the phone.

Hulk
I’m no longer your son. Hulk SMASH!!

I probably stayed in behind the door for another minute or two, gathering the willpower to deal with the weeping and wailing small human that was now trying, heart-breakingly, to reach me from under the door, pressing his face and hands as far as they would go under the one-inch crack.  I eventually opened the door and calmed him down, and we went about our day.  I wish I could say this is a unique episode—but it isn’t.  Each day is broken up with moments like this, so many moments where I am dealing with a child who is, by turns, irritating, then amusing; angry, then gentle and kind. It’s a constant emotional rollercoaster, and at night I’m so drained I don’t even have the energy to watch a favorite show, or write a blog post, or do anything but stumble into bed.

But today was better than yesterday; and, reluctant optimist that I am, I know tomorrow will probably be a little better than today.  If I’m going to have these crazy moments, I’m glad I can at least laugh at them now—not five or ten or twenty years down the road, when I’ve forgotten how bad the bad can feel.  I want to enjoy these moments now, the moments that are so over-the-top chaotic and (quite frankly, ridiculous) that you can’t help but laugh, because, hey, they make life endurable.

A Perfect Baby Blessing

Months ago, my husband and I decided we’d each give Ava a baby blessing. It was a very controversial decision for an LDS family to make.  That is because, in our church, only fathers with the higher priesthood may participate in the public blessing and naming ritual for new infants.  Mothers must sit among the congregants while the baby is being blessed.

But my husband and I are products of a country where, outside of religion, women and men are very nearly equal.  As a parent, I want to send a clear message to our daughter, beginning with her first blessing, that this equality would not end at the doors of the church.   I don’t have the priesthood—but I don’t need the priesthood to give my child a blessing.  I have the right, as a daughter of God, to pray over my children, and expect He will provide guidance, blessings and inspiration in return.

Ava

And so, with only our parents and bishop to witness, Jang held Ava first and gave her a beautiful blessing, which I recorded.  I won’t share it all, but the most touching moment came when he asked God to give her “the strength to know that it’s okay to be different and to be yourself.”  He continued, “I bless you with the desire to accomplish great things in your life…with ambition and leadership that you can be a shining light to other people.  That other people can look to you as someone who is faithful and trustworthy.”  Since a baby blessing more often conveys the parent’s hopes for the child, rather than any prophecy, hearing my husband say these things about our daughter warmed my heart.  I hope Ava will be a trailblazer and example for many people, both inside the LDS faith and outside of it.  We smiled at each other when he finished.

Then it was my turn.  I’d stayed outside the priesthood circle, at my hubby’s request, but now I stepped forward to hold my child.  The bishop, my father and father-in-law stood somewhat awkwardly around me.  I’m sure none of them had any idea what this moment would look like.  Truth be told, neither did I. It was a blessing my own mother had never voiced.  I felt a little uncomfortable coming forward then— but the instant Ava was in my arms, her face brightened, and I felt a calmness come over me.  She recognized me, her mother—and as her mother, this was exactly what I should be doing for her.  Thankfully, I’d thought and prayed beforehand about what I wanted to say; and when all the men had moved to the side or taken their seats, I began to speak:

“Ava this is a special day for you.  This is a day where all your family is gathered together to celebrate your birth.  We’re so very happy you’re a part of our family.  You’ve been blessed with an even temperament and a sweet nature, and we truly hope that these character traits continue in your life.  As your mother, I pray that Heavenly Father will bless you with the ability to clearly know right from wrong, and to be a guide for your siblings and an inspiration for those around you.  It’s important now to stand for things that are right and true.  We hope that you’ll always stick close to the Church and close to your Heavenly Father, and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

As I spoke, I somehow felt a rightness to my words.  I wondered if that is how fathers feel when they bless their children.  In that moment, I was happy, surrounded by family as I held my baby daughter.  I had stuck to my commitment to bless her out of sheer principle—there had been times when Jang and I wondered if it would be worth it to go ahead with the mother’s blessing, fearing how our friends or church leaders would react.  But I can tell you, when we each blessed our daughter in turn, it felt so right; so complete.  As parents, we are a team, and we stood together that day.  And I believe God stood with us as well.

My Husband “Gets Me” Because He’s Asian

I’m a little different than the average Mormon girl. I’ve often voiced my opinion that women should have equal rights and standing in the Church with the men.  This attitude may have put off a beau or two over the years. Fortunately, I married a man who not only appreciates my egalitarian views, he embraces them.

Jang was the only Asian I ever dated in college.  With a student population that is roughly 84% Caucasian, it was practically a given that I’d mostly date white men at BYU.  Then I met Jang. He asked me out, I said yes, and the rest is….well…history.

When you’re dating, you tend to hide the crazy a little bit.  I don’t think Jang quite grasped the depth of my “feminist” leanings until after we were married. It wasn’t long into our marriage, however, before we were having deep discussions about my dissatisfaction with women’s role in the Mormon Church. At that point, I discovered something amazing; he not only appreciated my feelings, he understood them.  Like, really understood them.

Being a racial minority, Jang knows all too well how it feels to be marginalized.  Over the years, he’s explained to me what it felt like to be an Asian kid in the Bronx; the insults, the threats, the constant feeling of being different. He talks animatedly about Jeremy Lin, Ichiro, Wu Tang Clan and Daniel Dae Kim, all for the same reason—they each brought Asians (or Asian culture) into the public eye. America’s acceptance of these groups or people as “cool” made my husband, by extension, feel validated by the mainstream.  Because Asians don’t have a strong presence in any mainstream media.  Their voices aren’t heard.

Jang often tells me how, growing up, he’d search for faces like his on favorite shows, in his favorite sports teams or in the movies.  He never found them.  He’s still looking for them. He understands what it’s like to feel unrepresented by institutions you hold dear.  To not only feel that you’re not being listened to, but also to wonder if the institution even knows you have a voice at all.

So, yeah, he gets it.  He understands my fruitless childhood search for a strong female presence in LDS magazines, in General Conference, in the leadership or even at the pulpit on Sundays.  He comprehends how hard it is to feel like the odd (wo-)man out, to feel that your opinions and feelings aren’t understood or being represented by the people in power. So when I tell him my frustrations with Church culture, and he says he understands how I feel, I believe him.

Growing up, Church culture made me feel like my dissatisfaction was sinful. But American culture has made Jang feel like his dissatisfaction isn’t important.  Both messages are wrong; they’re so…wrong.  We’ve each chosen to reject these untruths.  It’s a process we’ve gone through together, and the experience has made us closer.  It’s odd, but working through my complex feelings towards the Church has helped me understand my husband, and his complex racial identity, better. The main difference now between our experiences is recognition of the problem; while the Mormon church is now debating its treatment of women, the mainstream culture still doesn’t seem to believe racism towards Asians exists.

I often think, what if I’d married in the other 84%?  Would a white man understand my feelings as well and Jang?  Maybe. But it may have been difficult for that man to truly empathize with my situation.  That’s why I so admire the men, and especially white men, who do speak out against gender inequality in the Church and elsewhere.  Because it’s one thing to recognize a wrong exists; but it’s an entirely different thing to have felt that same wrong in your own life.  Experiencing discrimination, and then seeing it inflicted on someone else, gives you feelings that are hard to describe—but they’re strong, and compelling, and having that shared experience binds you to that other person.

Every time I speak with Jang, I’m impressed by the richness of his life experiences.  I hope he’ll share them with you sometime; I’m so glad he’s shared them with me.  He’s been a listening ear and a sympathetic voice during all my struggles.  He’s my rock.

Mommy Time-Out

 

Capture

You’ve probably all seen the “Mom on Strike” video (click on the video to watch).  Listening to her, I can feel a little empathy; what mom hasn’t wanted to go on strike, at some point?  There are some days I’ve felt so fed up with my children, I’m counting the minutes till Jang gets home so I can hand at least one of them off to him.

Even right now, I’m writing this post while my son is in his room for a time out, watching a few minutes of Frozen.

“What?!” You might think,  “Letting your son watch videos in time out isn’t punishment!”  And you’re right.  He isn’t in time out; but I am.

Even as a young mom, I’ve already learned there are times when children just won’t cooperate; punish them, cajole them, bribe them, threaten them—they just won’t do what you want them to do.  If your kids are anything like my toddler, they have the will of a tyrant.  When he wants something, you have to be pretty creative to get his mind off of getting that thing.  To reach things we’ve taken away, he’s made step stools out of everything–from clothes to boxes to toilet paper.  (So-o much toilet paper).

Of course, I can always force him to do what I want.  But that gets tiring. Sometimes, after a day of pestering and high-spirited behavior, I get so fed up that the slightest thing could tip me over the edge.

So, even though I’m generally opposed to parking your kids in front of the T.V. or tablet, there are times I just need ten minutes (or twenty, or thirty) to just chill out.

I do something for myself—blog, listen to an audiobook, or watch Downton Abbey.  I don’t worry about television rotting his brain, or really anything at all.  I do exactly what I want to do, just for a few minutes.

Then, when I’ve calmed down and retrieved my toddler from his media haze, something magical has happened:  he’s better-behaved.  Sometimes the time out was just enough of an interruption to make him forget his mischief-making.  Other times, I just have a renewed patience and can channel his energy into more constructive activities.

My mommy time outs have already had a positive effect on our relationship. When I’m calmer, my discipline is more consistent and less reactionary.  This helps him learn more quickly which is appropriate behavior, and which behavior that will get him punished.  He’s learning to control himself.

Don’t get me wrong, he still has a will of steel.  But we’re working on this parenting thing together.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure it out in the next 16 years or so.

 

God Exists

Cloister-Aug04-DC3866sAR800

“What if it’s all fake—what if God doesn’t really exist?” It’s a question that I’m sure we’ve all had at some point in our lives. There are several experiences in my life that have proven to me that God exists. They’re not miraculous or newsworthy; but to me they’re undeniable proofs that He lives.

A decade ago, I was in an England study abroad program. We were learning about art and literature, and I soaked up our visits to cultural landmarks, museums, and castles. Yet, even as I threw myself into the experience, I soon found myself homesick. I called my parents regularly, but this wasn’t enough to remove my feelings of loneliness. I became very sick and depressed, and started to skip school excursions and social gatherings because I didn’t have the energy to attend them.

I tried to make myself “snap out of it,” but I wasn’t successful. It wasn’t long before I realized I needed help. As a Christian, I believed that God could heal me; but my prayers, to that point, hadn’t yielded any result.
I had also been raised to believe that I could be healed through a priesthood blessing. Finding I couldn’t be healed through my faith alone, I finally worked up the courage to ask another student for a blessing. We had only spoken a couple of times, always in a group setting, and he knew very little about me. But he readily agreed to give me the blessing that evening. What would follow was one of the most powerful priesthood blessings I’ve ever had.

This young man was soft-spoken, and clearly shy around girls. You had to look directly at him in a conversation to fully understand him. But when he laid his hands on my head, there was no hesitation when he said I would be healed. Then his voice continued, strong and clear: “God knows the desires of your heart,” he told me, “He’s heard your prayers, and someday, your family will be close with one another.”

To this point, I haven’t told you the full extent of my problems. This struggle with homesickness wasn’t new for me; I’d wrestled with these feelings since, at age seventeen, I had left home to attend college in Utah, thousands of miles away. Even if the man blessing me had guessed my illness was somehow psychological, he would have no way of knowing the severity of these feelings, or the fact that my depression and feelings of alienation continued when I was at home.

Ball Family Pic Dec 2014

Already two semesters into college, I was quickly finding that my short visits home during the summers did not make me feel any less lonely. Most people have a need for love and acceptance from their family. My family generally holds their emotions very close—we didn’t share feelings or talk about our internal struggles; in short, we did not take the time to truly get to know each others’ emotional needs, much less try to fulfill them. Thus, going home for me was, in many ways, as emotionally unsatisfying as being away from home. And I was left struggling to find a way of connecting with my family to fill the huge hole this left in my heart.

At the time I received this blessing, I hadn’t quite figured out why my visits home left me feeling so solitary. I just knew that I wanted my family to be closer, and I often prayed for this to happen. Nobody knew what I had been praying for—I hadn’t told a single soul, ever, that this was a very deep desire for me. So when this shy, reserved man started to talk about my family, and promise me that my prayers would be answered and my family would be closer, I knew that only God would be able to tell him this.

When I reflect on what my story means to me, I think about the Biblical account of the woman at the well, in ancient Syria. In the story, Jesus asked a Samaritan woman to draw him water. She resisted at first, and a verbal exchange followed. In this conversation, Jesus revealed to the woman details about her life that he, a stranger, could not have possibly known. The woman went away in amazement and told all the city, “ Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

I used to overlook this story as one of the lesser miracles of Jesus; but thinking about my own experience, I’m struck by how simply, but effectively, Christ was able to reveal himself to her as a prophet, even the Son of God. There are too many stories to count of those who have seen miracles in the world. But, if there is any weakness in these accounts, it lies in their physicality.  With time, we can second-guess anything that we alone see, touch, feel or hear. Too often, I do not write my spiritual experiences down, and the emotions or sensations that I felt at the time become diminished; until, eventually, I forget the miracle.

That’s why this blessing was so special; it was not something I alone experienced.  If I’d heard a voice in my head saying these same words, or only had a feeling in my heart, I could have one day disbelieved in them, because I so often doubt my thoughts and feelings. But God took it upon Himself to inspire a young man, a virtual stranger, to discern the thoughts and intents of my heart—and so His existence is something I can never deny.  Ten years ago, I wrote that experience down.  And it will remain forever etched in my memory as a testimony that God lives and is aware of me. And He is aware of my family as well.

 

Not my Baby

This April, you won’t see us blessing our daughter in a church. Her father won’t hold her up, Lion King-style, in front of an admiring audience as I sit silently in the back pew. This decision makes us atypical among our Mormon friends. But I simply don’t like the message that the typical baby blessing projects—that Jang, as the head of our household, is the only one worthy enough to bless and present our baby before the congregation.

Let me just tell you how our family works; there is no head of the household.  Jang and I approach religious worship as we do all other aspects of our marriage—as equals.  That’s not to say there’s no division of duties; I recently became—gulp!—a stay-at-home mom.  Thus, by default, I get to make many of the day-to-day decisions on raising our kids. Jang is the “breadwinner” and full-time working parent.  So, although he asks my opinion on many work-related things, he does not consult with me on most decisions about how to run his law firm. It’s not because we necessarily believe in proscribed gender roles; this division of duties, for us, is about what is practical.

But excluding mothers from participating in baby blessings serves no practical purpose.  It is only about division, about demonstrating the “proper” priesthood order that governs the Church today.  In doing so, I believe the Church undermines women’s roles in creating and raising that baby; some would see it as another example of how women are marginalized in the Church today.

Let me tell you the thoughts that go through my head when I think about letting my daughter be blessed in the traditional way. For nine months, I suffered intense bouts of nausea, terrible acid reflux and exhaustion, before laboring to bring her into this world.  Since then, I’ve been her constant companion.  Often, mine is the first face she sees in the morning and the last one before she sleeps at night. In my divine role as her mother, I’m responsible for her nurturing, care and safety. Yet, on the day when she is recognized by my Church, and given a name and a blessing, I’m essentially nothing to her; I don’t even have the standing to be able to bring her before my fellow members and say, “Look! Here is my daughter.”  Nope; I’m just another face in the crowd.  Any adult Melchizedek priesthood holder, although a stranger to her, can participate in this blessing circle. But not me.

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I had the traditional baby blessing with my first child. I won’t apologize for this decision; my husband and I wanted to include our new ward in the blessing, because of their many kindnesses to us. Before the blessing, I remember asking the Bishop if I could record it, so that my son could later listen to his father’s words. That request was met with such a firm (if kind) no, I didn’t dare ask if I could participate in the blessing circle. Later, I regretted my choice.  I now firmly believe that there is no justification for prohibiting me, or any other woman, from participating in blessing her child.

The thing is, my ideas about revelation and blessings have come a long way since first blessing our son almost three years ago. I know now that every person, whether a priesthood holder or not, has the right to ask for (even promise) blessings upon their family. I’ve discarded the image of my husband as being the head of our family and the primary source of God’s revelation for us. As my children’s mother and primary caregiver, I know their spirits and personalities more intimately than anyone. And while I emphatically believe in the sacredness of priesthood blessings, and I believe my husband will receive revelation to guide our children’s future lives, I also know I can too.

And so, we’ve made a decision; this time around, we won’t bless our baby in a church. Her father won’t carry her ceremoniously up to the mount of revelation, leaving me behind with the masses. In this at least, I will not be a second-class participant in my children’s religious lives. Not only will I hold her during the blessing, I may even say a few words about my baby as well. Because, if I speak, it will be as a mother who prays over her children constantly, and who has already called down numerous blessings from Heavenly Father for her small family. Asking God for revelation and blessings, particularly concerning my children, is something I am entitled to do as a mother, without regard for any institution (religious or otherwise) on this earth. And so, if I choose to speak, I have no doubt the Spirit can be with me, as well as my husband, to give us direction for her future life. I don’t need for it to be officially recognized by the Church for the words to proceed from God. In conducting the blessing this way, I do not feel I’m undermining my husband’s priesthood authority; I hope I am complementing it.

I hope the blessing can be an opportunity for our family to establish healthy interactions, not only with the Mormon church, but with one another as well.  With this decision, I want to show my children that their father and I are equals before God, both at home and at Church.  And since that equality is not apparent in the blessings that take place in Church today, our daughter’s will take place where it belongs—in our home.

And I’m recording the entire thing, darn it.

God Doesn’t Make Deaf Children

Recently, an acquaintance (hearing about Kisan’s hearing loss) said to me, “You know, God sent him to you because He knew you could handle it.” I smiled, and the conversation moved on; but underneath, I burned a little at his comment.  Somehow, without ever having been directly involved with our family, he knew that Kisan’s hearing loss was part of God’s plan.

I’m not sure what God’s plan is for anyone; not for me, and certainly not for Kisan. But I’m pretty darn sure Kisan’s hearing loss was not a part of that plan. Having a child with a hearing loss has been hard; it affects us, and Kisan, in ways that sadden me and continue to sadden me.

Finding out about Kisan’s hearing loss was a hard pill to swallow.  When you’re pregnant, you expect your baby will come out whole, and perfect, and camera-worthy.  And while Kisan is whole, perfect & camera-worthy, his ability to hear is decidedly less-than-perfect. I was so sad and frightened when I first heard the diagnosis. I didn’t know what a future for such a child would entail.  Would he have problems learning to speak? Be different in other ways (mentally) from the kids around him? Would he be teased and rejected by his peers? Childhood can be hard enough without the added burden of being, in a very obvious way, physically different from your peers. And believe me, Kisan’s hearing aids do get noticed—at daycare, at the store, and at the park. Occasionally, a poorly-trained child will point at him and whisper. Others (always strangers) just stare. Since Kisan doesn’t notice, I let it roll off my back.

I feel very lucky, in that Kisan is “just like the other kids”—a bright, friendly toddler who is developing on par with his hearing peers. He most enjoys playing with his friends in the neighborhood and at daycare; and the kids he plays with don’t even seem to notice his hearing aids. To Jang and I, his hearing loss is now just a part of the package that is our wonderful little boy.  It’s more than I could have hoped for. But it was a hard road to get to this point.

For a solid year, Kisan would pull the hearing aids out at nearly every opportunity. We battled him every day. I didn’t put him in daycare for a long time because of this, and I tried my best to work at home. When he finally entered daycare, I’d suffer bouts of anxiety worrying if he would throw his hearing aids, rip them out, or put them in his mouth.

Over the past two years we’ve spent countless hours working with Kisan on exercises designed to help him listen and speak; modeled phrases, over and over, for him to repeat; urged him to point out words, locations, actions…and so many other things, all geared towards helping him develop properly. On top of this, there are regular evaluations and testing he has to take, all part of Utah’s Early Intervention program for children with hearing loss. In truth, this program has been a Godsend to us. Part motivational coaches and part drill sergeants, their employees make sure we’re held accountable for Kisan’s development. And I hold myself accountable for this development, every…single…day.

Parenthood has been hard.  I knew this stage in life would take commitment, dedication, and time. But, ultimately, I thought a child was a pretty self-sufficient entity, capable of walking and talking with only moderate parental intervention. I’m so glad we have been able to stretch ourselves to meet Kisan’s needs—but, in some respects, I do feel that I never got to simply enjoy his infancy. I was always too focused on his progression to the next thing, worried that if he lost momentum we’d quickly fall behind the other children. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever feel complacent about his development, not for a long time.

So, back to the beginning. When this man told me that these many, many struggles (both past and future), were inflicted by God himself on an innocent child and his family, you can understand why I bristled inside.  He, like most people who make insensitive comments, probably didn’t think through the connotations of what he said. But that doesn’t make what he said any less hurtful, or false. And this isn’t the first time someone has made a comment like that about my son. 

I wish I could say to my well-intentioned acquaintance,  “I know you made this comment with the best intent. But what you’ve said isn’t true, and it’s hurtful. In the future, please, please don’t try to opine on why we go through this, or any other hardship.  You just don’t know why.”

Only the individual can decide how God interacts in his or her life. Not even I fully have the right to determine if Kisan’s condition is God-given or not—only he does.

Sincere beliefs do not excuse thoughtless remarks. I shudder to think of this man saying something similar to an impressionable child, like my son, rather than well-informed adult parents.  God did not pre-ordain Jang and I to have one (or possibly several) hearing-impaired children. Kisan was not part of a crop of spirits in heaven marked “to be deaf or hearing impaired”, just waiting to be assigned to families on earth. Kisan has a hearing loss because two people with recessive genes for hearing loss decided to marry and have children. Children are born every day with mental impairments, Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, paralysis, congenital heart defects—not always because God intended them to be that way, but because people with imperfect genes, or living in polluted environments, or with poor nutrition and medical care, decide to have children.

Here’s where I see God in all of this.  I see God in the dedicated individuals of Early Intervention who work to provide us with education, motivation and training. God may have even inspired people to set up these state-run programs in the first place. I see God directing me and Jang, from time to time, to know how to best care for our son. I see God in the kindness in other people, because I believe we all have a special light from God that helps us feel love and empathy towards one another.

I do not believe God made my child hearing-impaired.  I only believe He is here to help our family as we raise this precious little boy.  And what right does anyone have to say otherwise?