This is my February piece running over at Segullah today. It’s about cleaning house and getting answers to questions. You know, basic Wednesday stuff. https://segullah.org/blog/refinement/
I am going to talk about this blog, my worldview, and wearing pants to the temple.
Writing for a nebulous audience has become a particular chore for me, especially since the Coscto Incident of 2017 and the related Internet Skewering Incident (of me) which followed. I used to say that I didn’t care about people’s responses to my writing. If they were shocked or appalled by the Code Brown stories or the aggressive behavior stories, that was their problem, not mine.
My tune, as it were, has changed. I don’t want to talk about my most vulnerable challenges to a hostile audience. Isn’t sharing one’s most sacred experiences with uncaring individuals figuratively known as casting pearls before swine? I am less and less comfortable with writing about my most personal struggles and epiphanies for an internet audience that I can’t even really define.
And yet, this blog is still here. The Holy Spirit urged me to start it and has pressed me to continue it. So I write about things that happen to me. I talk about faith and Jesus, mostly (I suspect) to people who already have faith and who already love Jesus.
Since Jack left for residential care, I do not yearn to write. I still write when I feel there is something I am meant to say, or I write for myself when I’m not trying to craft my words into anything other than basic sentences to convey information I want to remember. I don’t aspire to write books. I truly do not care about publication or notoriety. This may be the result of my own evolution. Perhaps it’s the Holy Spirit confirming to me that my work lies elsewhere. I am completely fine with this.
I currently spend most of my time parenting people on the spectrum (plus one non-spectrum-y teen), teaching writing to the most delightful undergraduates, going to the temple, doing everyone’s laundry, keeping food in the house, and spending time with my widowed mom. I feel confident that this is where my energies are best spent at this moment in time. Specifically, when I ask my Mother and Father in Heaven to tell me how I can serve, these are the answers I get (see above list).
Blogs, you may have noticed, are out of fashion. Even bloggers (those whose blogs are monetized and who sell a lifestyle) do most of their heavy lifting on Instagram, in the form of posts with lengthy captions. The heyday of blogs ended a good eight years ago. But here I am. Begrudgingly maintaining a blog which used to be about raising Jack, but which has evolved into a venue for writing about faith and my perspective on life. Which leads me, Reader, to:
My worldview! I don’t talk about politics here, because it’s so divisive, and Jesus is my focus, yo. But I would like to expound for a moment on how we see each other both because of and in spite of our individualized perspectives on the world.
I had a student last semester who, in the voluntary Student Response to Instruction (an evaluation of my teaching) wrote that something the course should change is “less liberal agenda.”
This response both puzzled and intrigued me. While I know that all of my students do not like me or my teaching style which emphasizes forced interaction and spastic tweets, I mulled over this response for a few days. The student was reacting to my use of topics such as refugees, sexual harassment, poverty, racial inequality, and mental health concerns as a starting point to our discussions which are designed to foster critical thinking, which is one of the university-stipulated course outcomes for the argumentative writing classes I teach.
While I obviously have opinions about all these subjects, I am clear with my students that the point of rhetoric is to see issues from multiple perspectives, in order to better understand the issues and to better convince an audience of your stance.
I am literally a married, straight, white, Christian mother of four whose open-minded, people-first perspective on world issues was too much for at least one of my students.
It made me think of the people online who lost their minds over the Costco Incident. It was as though the slightest bit of discomfort with their challenged perceptions led to an all-out rejection of the messenger.
Being Jack’s mother has taught me to see people as people, rather than as their issues, their labels, or their outward trappings. I’m baffled by the unyielding and rigid perceptions of those who seem to be completely locked in and essentially blinded by all of these peripheral things. Why is this? And why is it so disheartening to me?
This leads to me to my final point, which is to tell you about when I wear pants to the temple.
Reader, I go to the temple a lot, and I almost always go right after teaching. I refuse to teach every day in dresses at 7:00 am when the air is arctic (not that it’s anyone’s business), so sometimes when I go to the temple, I wear dress pants, a blouse, and dress shoes.
The first time I went to the temple in this ensemble, I wondered if people’s heads would explode. I do happen to live in the heart of cultural Mormondom, where folks are less apt to be familiar with any sort of visible variance from cultural norms (read: women going to the temple in skirts/dresses, period). Doing things differently just isn’t done, guys.
What happened was this: no one said anything. The temple worker at the desk looked at my pants, scanned my recommend, and welcomed me to the temple.
When I walked into the women’s dressing room, when I left the dressing room after my temple session, and when I walked through the parking lot, this is also what happened: around a dozen older women stared at my pants. It wasn’t just a double-take. It was a stare, where they stopped walking and cocked their heads to the side. I told myself they were either a) wondering why they haven’t done it yet, or b) thinking I’m a heretic. Bordering on witchcraft, possibly. Because pants, yikes. How dare I.
I asked myself later if fitting into this deeply entrenched cultural norm was so vital that I would be willing to change in a bathroom stall at the university into a dress before leaving work to go to the temple. And I decided that I’m already dressed professionally. I’m wearing nice clothing and my heart is ready to serve in the temple. My Heavenly Parents know this. I am 100% temple-ready.
I am growing so much in my individual ability to access spiritual receptivity. Part of the reason this is happening, I am convinced, is because special-needs parenting has taught me to see beyond what is “normal.” Beyond the culture. Beyond the outward appearance. Beyond the exterior.
Because of my parenting struggles, I am better able to look at people and see what’s inside. I am humbler and able to listen. I’m ready to be taught.
What’s inside people who look or act differently are people who can’t truly be defined as “other,” because they’re all our brothers and sisters.
What’s inside the temple is not a fashion show where pants on ladies are horrifying, but a holy place of spiritual instruction.
What’s inside me is a sloughing off of judgment and resistance to pigeon-holing ideas, groups, or individuals. There’s also a spirit hungry to learn what my Heavenly Father and Mother are ready to teach me.
I learned this, from Jack, and from Charlie, and from Truman.
Reader, I would not trade this education.
My great-grandma Laura Thueson England has been on my mind.
This is because I’m becoming mildly obsessed with my departed people and all their glorious foibles. I mean, don’t be alarmed, but the fact is that I descend from Princess Annabella of Scotland (born in 1436 in Holyrood Castle, Midlothian) (stop it. STOP IT.), the daughter of King James Stewart and Queen Joan Plantagenet Beaufort. Family history is sort of fabulous.
I also descend from bunches of people who left England, Scotland, New Zealand, and Denmark to emigrate to….(wait for it)…Utah. To live in dugouts and cabins. I’m astonished and blown away at their stories. They did hard things and they did it with faith as their propeller and their rudder.
But Laura England specifically is on my mind. She was born in 1875 in Scipio, Utah, which is renowned for NOT being Holyrood Castle in Scotland, but for being a tiny town en route to Southern Utah (which is to say, it’s not renowned). She married Charles England and lived much of her life in Plain City, another tiny town.
These are the things I know about her: She lost her first daughter at the age of two, her husband died of cancer the day before Thanksgiving at age fifty-two, she cared for her mother and both her husband’s parents in her home at the end of their lives, for many of her older years she consistently took a bus from Weber County to the Salt Lake temple once a week to do temple sessions, and she lived with my mother and was cared for by my grandma Lila at the end of her life.
I also know from my mom that when Laura cared for her mother, Alice Wasden Thueson, at the end of her life, Alice told her, “If there is any way I can reach out to you from beyond the veil to warn you of something, I will do it.” To which Laura replied, “Then I hope you don’t reach out to me.” I mean, right?
The fact is, though, that Laura’s mother Alice DID reach out to her in a spirit of warning or preparedness, in the form of three dreams at three different times in Laura’s life. The first was before her toddler daughter, Loneda, died. The second was before her husband, Charles, died. The third time was also relating to the death of a loved one, although it hasn’t been written about and my one living source on the topic can’t remember the specifics. Which is fine, because the important parts of Laura’s story are intact.
My great-grandmother had revelatory dreams, people.
I have never felt so connected to one of my departed relatives.
Meanwhile, my dreams have been of the vivid, detailed, and instructive variety throughout the months of January and February (and, frankly, well before that). While I write here about many of my dreams, I don’t write about all of them. There are too many. They would comprise a book. And they are meaningful mostly only for me. Some are pleasant. Some are disturbing. Some are filled with beauty. Some are traumatic.
All of them stay with me when I wake up and leave me with lingering feelings relating to the tone of the dream, and all of them cause me to take stock of what I have seen and felt.
I’ve always been enchanted by dreams as a portal to the subconscious mind. But now I’m fascinated by my dream life as a vehicle for spirituality. I’m learning so much as I simply write down what I see and feel, forgoing the urge to make sense of it or assign meaning to it. My initial interpretations are usually wrong, but if I wait and observe, the actual meaning tends to materialize. Or I have hope that it will materialize.
My dreams over the years have gone from reflecting my fears to giving me peace in turbulence. They speak to me in symbols about my life as it currently is, and as it relates to my Heavenly Mother’s and Father’s plan for my life. It’s the blueprint overlaying the fully rendered art piece of a soul’s potential.
I don’t think this is because I’m particularly special. I think it’s because our Heavenly Parents have big, amazing plans for all of us. Mine just happen to come to me in the form of my dreams, as they did, at least at key points in her life, for my grandmother Laura.