Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sacred Places

I know. You're surprised to see me back so soon. It's only been two days and last time it took almost two years. But here I am, and already I have something new to say. It is much different than what I had to say last time. Last time I talked about things silly, and life is unexpected and happy when it is silly. But today I hope you won't mind if I take this blog to a new place. Today I want to talk about things sacred.

I've been on a sort of personal pilgrimage this weekend. Matt and I loaded our girls in the car and drove to Boise, Idaho--the place where I spent the most critical of my growing up years. For those of you who know my husband Matt and have discovered his new and wonderful blog, his last post described his anticipation of this weekend, and please forgive me if the next several sentences echo some of the things he has already said.

The purpose of our trip to Boise was to take advantage of a unique opportunity to tour the Mormon temple with our children. The temple has recently undergone a major renovation. Normally our temples are not open for public tours. However, when a new temple is built or when an old temple is renovated in a significant way, our Church hosts what is called an "Open House" before the temple is dedicated to God's work. This is a chance for people who are not of our faith, as well as our young members who have not yet come of temple-attending age, to come inside and see for themselves a place that can often seem mysterious.

Matt and I were married in the Boise Temple, and so we considered this chance to walk with our young children through the room where we were married, the room where our family began, a very special and unusual opportunity. Even worth a 500 mile drive with a whiny Maryn.

I was surprised that it hadn't occurred to me until we arrived at the temple yesterday that the significance of this temple, for me, went well beyond being the place where I was married. It wasn't until I was approaching the doors for the first time in more than 12 years that I realized that this was the place of some of my earliest and deepest experiences with God.

And I found myself feeling sad that I hadn't come back to this place sooner. What if it wasn't the same? What if all of those memories were somehow linked to the mauve carpet and upholstery and that now that those things were gone, maybe my sacred place would be gone too?

Please don't be too different, I found myself hoping. Please be home still.

The lobby was gorgeous. The centerpiece was a new stained glass window behind the registration desk that depicted a beautiful nature scene with crystal leaves that reflected light beautifully. The new African mahogany wood was rich and dark and elegant.

We went through a small chapel where young people wait before entering the baptistry. So far everything was new. Beautiful, but unfamiliar to me.

I held my breath as we entered the baptistry. For some reason, of all the rooms, this was the one I wanted to recognize.

And, happily, it was familiar still. The room had been renewed, but I was not a stranger there. There was a new, expansive stained glass window in greens and blues. The benches were covered in new soft green upholstery with leaf motifs, leaves honoring the Idaho Syringa, I read in the brochure.

I saw the bench were I used to sit while I waited for my turn to be baptized on behalf of ancestors who had departed this life, claiming them, one by one, for God. And it was there, waiting patiently for my turn, where I first learned to be still. To be present. To be present enough to know God just a little bit, like a fragile green bud emerging though dark earth into the spring.

There is a scripture that says, "Be still, and know that I am God."

Be still. Be still. Be still and know.


And how I wanted to gather my young daughters onto my lap on that bench and tell them some of the things that I came to know in that place. But the room was full of people and the tour was moving on. So those conversations will have to wait for another day and perhaps for another place.

We moved on, up the stairs, past some offices and through the chapel. The leaves of the Idaho Syringa gently blanketing the carpets and the benches and running through the glass. Leaves whispering of life. Everything about the temple whispers to me of life. Of life before and life now and life to come.

Soon we were at the Bride's Room. The small room where I had prepared to marry their dad. The girls looked inside and were awestruck. "Whoa," they said. A large crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling and smaller crystal sconces adorned the walls, making the entire room sparkle. The room held a beautiful vanity with a large mirror, complete with a plush vanity bench. On one wall was a huge three-sided mirror with gold edging that would have been completely at home in Versailles. For my daughters it was like the ultimate dress up room, and I could tell that finding it had surprised and delighted them. I had forgotten to tell them about the Bride's Room. "It's beautiful," they said reverently.

From there we went to the Sealing Room. This is the room where temple marriages are performed. A much larger crystal chandelier than the one in the Bride's Room hangs from the ceiling. In the center of the room is a cushioned altar where couples kneel together and hold hands while the wedding ceremony is performed. Around the room are chairs for guests. On the walls on either side of the altar are large mirrors that reflect each other and symbolically show the couple going on forever. Eternal.

Again, this room was much the same as the last time I had been there. Except now it was blue and cream instead of mauve and cream. To me it seemed smaller. To Matt it seemed larger.

Sydney was upset because she wanted to see herself going on forever, and yet when she looked in the mirror she couldn't seem to see past her immediate reflection. She kept leaning from side to side, trying to see past herself. That's the tricky thing about mirrors. And about life I suppose. It's sometimes hard to see past what's right in front of you.

Next was one of several instruction rooms. It was in one of these rooms, many years ago, before I set off on my mission to Romania, that I came and made promises to God. Promises that are more than promises. Bigger. Deeper. Promises that I try to live up to every day, in spite of myself.

Such a plain room. Such a significant room.

The final stop on our tour was the Celestial Room. This is the place that symbolizes heaven in our temples. It is the most beautiful room. There are soft couches and chairs and beautiful flower arrangements. In the Boise Temple there is a new stained glass dome in the ceiling with blue glass and more Syringa flowers. And the crystals. Large crystal sconces lit up the walls all around the room. An enormous crystal chandelier hung from the center of the stained glass dome, elegant and luminous.

Everyone in the room was looking up, especially at the crystal chandelier. These are the kind of crystals that don't just reflect white light, but they pull every color inside and shoot it back out at you. Prisms of light.

In my adult life, I come to the temple to pray in the Celestial Room. It is easy to be still in such a place--quietly sitting with others who are also there to pray. Or to think. Or just to be. In a place that is full of light it is easy to be filled with light.

But the temple isn't the only place where I find God. But it is the place where I was able to quiet my soul enough to teach myself to recognize Him elsewhere. In the garden. In poems and books. In a cathedral in Paris. In the eyes of my children. In the forest, where I have claimed for myself other sacred places.

It was because of my experiences learning to know God that one day while hiking in the forest with Matt when we were dating that I was able to recognize and trust the voice that whispered that I'd found my Love.

He is yours and you are his.

And the sun came out and lit up the raindrops. Tiny prisms of light. Thousands of them.

When we left the temple Sydney put her arms around my waist and buried her head in my stomach. I hugged her to me and after a minute she looked up at me and whispered, "I loved it." And that was all she needed to say.

Later, in a quiet moment with Cora she reverently said that she had felt the Spirit in the temple. Maryn loved "those pretty lights."

Every parent wants their children to be happy. And so we take them to places where we have been happy. When they are small we take them to the park and buy them ice cream. We read them books that we loved when we were small. We take them camping. And, we take them to our sacred places, hoping that in their own way, they can glimpse what we have glimpsed.

This weekend, I was humbled to see that perhaps their own fragile green buds have begun to push through the ready earth of their tender souls. The quiet beginnings of faith.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cheesy Potatoes

The Preamble

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Almost 2 years to be exact.  Those of you close to me know that the last year and a half have been a whirlwind for me and Matt; and while in the midst of it I was too paralyzed to write about any of it.  We’ve been stretched in ways we didn’t expect.  Sometimes the stretching was fulfilling and good and full of growth and purpose, and at other times it was crushingly painful and debilitating.  We’ve said terrible goodbyes to cherished friends because God said it was time for all of us to walk different paths.  And we’ve welcomed new and important friendships into our lives. 

We had a glorious summer.  Matt was splendidly unemployed, which sounds horrible (and it certainly was for our stock portfolio), but it ended up being the best summer of my life.  We spent the summer frolicking about in the wild where we saw tens of thousands of wildflowers, dozens of waterfalls, bears, deer, grouse, and some very ferocious goats.  And with every step I took through the mountains this summer, I felt myself being renewed.

A lot of people have been encouraging me lately to start blogging again.  If you are one of those people, I want to thank you for caring about what I have to say even though I have no idea why you would.  But it means a lot to me.  I especially want to thank my husband who loves me tenderly and unconditionally and whose patience with me on a daily basis defies reason.  I also want to thank my dear friend John Graham who has given himself as a sacrificial lamb for my first blog post in nearly two years.  You are a true friend John Graham.

The Post

I love backpacking for several reasons.  First of all, at least in Washington, when you get out into the mountains there is beauty everywhere you turn.  The vistas are extraordinary.  The trees are impressive. The meadows are stunning. The flowers are tremblingly delicate and if you stop and take a moment to inspect one of them you will find that each one is a tiny and unique work of art.  Nature fills you up and teaches you.  I become very introspective when I am immersed in it—I find myself thinking about life in its grander sense; I’m not distracted by all the little unimportant things that can sometimes take over our lives and prevent us from really living.

Also.  You don’t have to do your hair or makeup and that is AWESOME.

You really get to know your backpacking friends.  You talk about things you don’t normally talk about.  You help each other.  You drink from the same cup without washing it.  You share each other’s deodorant.  Backpacking is all about breaking down barriers and replacing those barriers with bonds.

One weekend this summer I found myself on a backpacking trip with Matt and our friend John.  We went to the Olympic Mountains and did an 18-mile loop.  The second day we hiked into beautiful Heart Lake and set up camp.  Because there were bears in the area, we opted to make our dinner lakeside, away from our campsite, so that any crumbs and smells that we should leave behind would be well away from where we were sleeping.  

That night’s menu was Cheesy Bacospuds.  I found this recipe on a backpacking website online and we selected it because it was easy, lightweight but filling, we only needed to add water; and, having tested it previously, we knew it tasted pretty good for backpacking food.  It was a combination of instant potatoes, butter, cheese, and crumbled bacon.

When backpacking you have to take turns eating because you can only boil so much water at once.  Being the gentlemen that they are, Matt and John decided that I should go first, so I got the first helping of Cheesy Bacospuds.  I could only eat about half of it, so I gave the rest to John.

I’m going to pause here.  There are a few things that you should know about John.  First and foremost, John has the metabolism of Captain America and a body that appears to have been chiseled by the gods.  He can pretty much eat anything he wants, without consequence.   All food that John consumes seems to magically turn into lean muscle mass.  It is desperately unfair.  And believe me; when he’s hungry, John can really pound down the food.

So John ate my leftover cheesy potatoes.  And then he ate his cheesy potatoes.  And then we had an extra serving and so John ate those too.   And then we cleaned up and headed back to camp.

And on the way back John started rubbing his stomach a little bit and commenting that perhaps he had overdone it with the cheesy potatoes . . .

I’ll admit it.  There was a wicked little part of me that was happy to see him finally experiencing some food-related consequences like the rest of us. You know, it’s only fair.

Since you probably have a tiny inkling of where this is headed, I’m going to take this opportunity to inject something else.  Mostly because Matt is making me.  Personally, I would prefer to whitewash history and maybe not mention everything that happened this night because I don’t know if it is actually relevant to the story.  But Matt assures me that it is.

So here goes.  The truth is that I was actually the first person to break the sound barrier that night. Because John and I share a 10x10' office at the dance studio, Matt and I had been speculating for weeks on whether it would be John or me that would break the sound barrier first (aka pass gas in front of the other person) and Matt had his money on me.  Rude.  I was hoping and praying it would be John. 

Alas, as we were sitting there next to the lake preparing our dinner, quiet and contemplative, a dainty little indiscretion escaped out into the evening. Matt of course smiled a little bit because he loves being right.  John was polite and pretended not to notice.  I was feeling that if it was going to happen and it was going to be me, it was much better that it happen in the wide open wilderness than in our tiny office space.  So there you go Matt, I confessed.

Fast forward and we are in our tent, laying there in our sleeping bags like three fat grubs all in a row.  John was massaging his food baby, writhing to and fro and moaning “Cheesy potatoes . . . . Cheesy potatoes . . .”

“Are you okay, John?”

“Cheeeeeeesy Pooootaaaaaatooooooeees!”

He was becoming a little delirious.  In the twilight I noticed small beads of perspiration on his forehead.  My wicked satisfaction was starting to give way to actual concern.

“John, seriously, are you sick?”

There was a pause.  He said, “I’m sorry guys.”  His choice of words was ironic only because the bodily sounds that then filled our tent were very loud and long and most unapologetic.

Well, I couldn’t politely pretend I hadn’t heard THAT.  So there was nothing to do but giggle.  And then it happened again.  And again.  And again.  And each time it sent me into fits of laughter until there were tears rolling down my face.  Matt just chuckled next to me and sighed, “John. John. John.” 

(Matt would like me to let all of you know that of the three of us, he was the only one without any flatulent indiscretions on our camping trip.  And to that I say, Bravo.) 

I finally decided that really I was John’s angel of mercy.  If I hadn’t broken the sound barrier first, John might have actually DIED on our camping trip whilst trying to contain the effects of the cheesy potatoes. 

When things eventually died down, we started to talk about a range of topics.  The night sky was big and bright and full of shooting stars.  We talked about things solemn and things sublime.  And whenever we started taking ourselves too seriously John would bring us back down to earth by serenading us.  Not with his singing.

Eventually we drifted off to sleep.  At around 2 a.m. I heard John rustling around and woke up.

“Time to deliver your food baby?” I asked.

“Yep.  The cheesy potatoes have run their course.”

“Good luck.”

“Thanks,” he said, and headed off to the latrine.

John felt much better in the morning.  The hike out was uneventful except for the part when we almost got skewered by mountain goats.  NBD.

As I said before, backpacking replaces barriers with bonds, and if you've never been, now you know a little bit more about how that happens. I am so grateful for a beautiful and rejuvenating summer, for my cherished friends and my amazing family, and for one unforgettable night under a blanket of shooting stars.   

So there you have it.  The blog is back.