Friday, March 6, 2009

Lonely and Alone

I have often said how much I would like to live on a mountaintop in Alaska, hunt my own proteins, grow my owns carbs, and be left alone. I like to tell myself that is how I would like to be, because I don't really feel like a social animal. Eliza tells me sometime she thinks I would be happy all by myself with computer games, that I isolate myself so I don't have to deal with everything else going on around me. I realize every time my family is gone away for some reason, or when I used to have to leave for business, that something isn't right. I don't enjoy being alone nearly as much as I think I will. I can't sleep, I waste hours playing games on the computer or x-box, I sleep with my gun because I'm jumpy and freaked out in my big empty house (true story, so don't break in!), I even tolerate the cat more because it is my only company.

I really started thinking about this more closely when reading a comment from Kindra, my sister in law, on Michelle's , another sister in law, blog. She talked about Lo, my father in law, explaining to them how lonely he felt with Kathleen sick and in the hospital. Right now she is in a quiet place, not speaking much, not reacting much (at least on the outside) and he has a rather large void in his life. To know Kathleen is to know exuberance incarnate. A woman whose smile extends from her lips to her eyes and radiates from her face. She is a story teller, a performer, a teacher, and a friend. To Lo she is a queen, his love, his life. He is a proud father, but his life revolves around his wife and their relationship. He would protect her any way he could, and would gladly give his life for hers if he needed to. It is no wonder that this man is lonely. I am grateful for the faith and prayers of all those who care for him, they shore him up, and without them I fear his will would be crushed, because he needs his Beloved.

Struggling to deal with the depth of his, and our, loss (at least for now, because I believe that Kathleen will be back and better than ever) of Kathleen's companionship, that smile, her warmth and wisdom has been a time of spiritual growing pains for most of us. It has been a bittersweet opportunity for me to fast with greater faith and intensity of prayer. It has been wonderful and sad at the same time to hear my children pray for their Granny with such sweet simple faith. It has been amazing to read the Ensign and find stories and talks meant just for me, and to hear testimonies born with assuredness of the saving power of Christ.

Just a few nights ago I began thinking that this experience is happening for a reason, or at least we are finding reason in it. Brothers, sisters, cousins and friends sharing stories or prayers offered and peace felt. Daughters and sons expressing great feelings of spiritual growth and calm peacefulness filling their hearts at different times. The greatness of God revealed in a seemingly random occurrence of a body rebelling against itself. I believe (because I really shouldn't speak for everyone else) that our Heavenly Father is teaching us one of the hardest lessons He has to teach His children, to be alone.

As the prophet Joseph Smith languished in the Liberty jail, falsely imprisoned, separated from the love of his life and his children, separated from the the body of the Church he loved so much, he plead to God with words that seemed to express his loneliness "Oh God where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth Thy hiding place?" This wasn't the first time the prophet had been "alone". In fact in many ways he had been alone throughout his life because of his experiences and convictions. I do not doubt that Joseph longed for more time to be spent in the arms of his wife. In the company of his children. At the hearth of his mother and father. But it was not to be. It seemed that our Father in Heaven had a need for Joseph to learn a bitter lesson, one the He knows all too well. In fact the Lord told Joseph as much while he was still a prisoner at Liberty jail "If thou art called to pass through tribulation... if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison... know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." It was if the Lord was saying "Joseph, My brother, swallow this bitterness now, for in time you will never be lonely again, and you will truly savor the sweet companionship's of the eternities" (again I don't mean to put words in anyone's mouth, especially not Jesus, but for me it feels right).

Why do we need to know what it feels like to be alone? Why did Jonah need to be alone in the belly of the whale? Why did Adam need to be a lone man in the wilderness? Why did Samuel find himself alone upon the wall crying repentance to the Nephites? I believe it is so we can understand the words "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" or "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?". As Christ Himself performed the ultimate act of condescension for us He was for a time alone, not just left alone by His disciples who slept as He suffered, but by His own Father. A Father who understood what must be done in order to save us all. A Father in Heaven who knows exactly how a husband feels when fearing the loss of his wife, or a daughter struggling to cope with the thought of becoming a mother herself without her mother there at her side. A Father who understands that to appreciate the greatest of all blessings, the most exquisite of all joys, the fulfillment of our lives, we must sometime in our lives know the uncertainty, pain, and fear of being lonely and alone.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Blood is thicker than...

The old saying goes "Blood is thicker than water..." meaning that familial ties, blood ties, are stronger than any other. Lately I have had occasion to think about what family means, who my family includes. I must say that I was blessed with a tremendous "blood" family. All sides carrying strong ties to my faith, possessing a great many and varied talents, and a strong work ethic. I am grateful to my family for passing these traits on to me, and instilling in me the learned behaviors that have blessed my life. I recognize the great contributions made by my biological family and the sacrifices made on my behalf, great and small.

That said, I have an extended family that is not necessarily biologically mine. Through marriage I became part of another large family steeped in wonderful traditions, built on good works and hard working. I didn't really take into consideration the blessings I would reap when joining this family, in actuality I was just happy to be getting an incredible wife (beautiful, intelligent, spiritual, wise, unbendably strong convictions). It was a bonus that I seemed to get along with those of my in laws that I had met, and truly like them as well.

Considering that Eliza and I met on a blind date, it was pretty miraculous that her family enjoys so many of the things that I do. It was a very good sign that on the first real time meeting the family Eliza's dad Lo grilled up some very tasty steaks. How did he know that I was a steak lover? Come to think of it, I think this may have been the first time in my life I ate a salad, but that is an aside. That night I played the basketball game "poison" with Eliza and several of her little sisters and a brother. I felt as if I belonged, even though I was so far out of my element surrounded by a big family. Along with the steak I found out that Lo was a conservative ( a huge plus in the book of the only guy I know that listened to Rush Limbaugh daily as a 15 year old), that at the time he was in the farming/sales industry ( I grew up on a farm, and was in sales), and he biked (as in bicycle, of which I like the mountain variety, although I'm not against leg shaving). Lo has always been to me an example of what a father should be: steadfast in the gospel, true to family and friends, a deeply devoted husband, and faithful father. As a cocky kid (which I think all 21 year olds just off the mission are) I caused Lo some consternation a few times, but he has always treated me so kindly. In fact I feel as though he has always treated me like one of his own sons. I don't know that a father in law could have a much higher compliment. Coming from a guy who has a dad and a step dad who I have grown up with, I am probably as close with my father in law as with either of my two dads (no offense intended fellas) and would proudly call Lo "dad".

So much has been made of the "evil" mother in law. Countless jokes and complaints, even movies and television shows based solely on this idea. Personally I don't get it. I never have. From day one my "mom" in law Kathleen has taken me in and taken me under her wing like one of her own little chicks. I have always liked Kathleen, I see so much of her in Eliza so what's not to like? Kathleen has always struck me as a supermom, without trying to appear to be a supermom. Like my own mother she has a soft spot for people and would quickly stand up for someone down on their luck but trying to what's right. Like my own mom she was on her high school's spirit squad (or whatever they were called, for my mom I think it was the "peppers"). I can see Eliza's drive and determination in her mom. I can see Eliza's intense love and desire for her children's well being in Kathleen. I can see the beauty and grace with which Eliza carries herself in Kathleen. My mom in law is the epitome of class, with the ability to make a joke (even very mildly off color) without coming across as phony. I love Kathleen as if she were my own mother and in some real ways she is.

Now, more than ever, as Kathleen is battling through a very serious health problem with her tumor and subsequent surgical complications I have come to truly appreciate my family. I have really felt that my extended family is just that... family. As Eliza and I were sealed together in the temple in front of friends and family the sealing power of the priesthood made me a very real link in her family chain and my spiritual family is every bit as real to me as my "blood" family. If all goes well I will be with them all together, forever.