Monday, June 30, 2014

Confessions of an Uptown Girl

The ipod seems to want to play this song over and over and I have Billy Joel unmercifully stuck in my head.  I have recently found myself dubbed with the title and I can't help but sit here and contemplate the idea.  It is a strange piece to me because through absolutely no fault of my own I suppose life would consider me an Uptown Girl whether I accept it or not, but let me share some reflections on the matter and perhaps let my dear reader in on a secret or two. 

The tenor of the song begins and continues with the assumption that a wealthy female would of course initially embrace the luxurious life.  Perhaps I am rather alone in this but in many respects I never have appreciated the class distinctions to which so many cling with exceeding tenacity.  My mother recounts that when we visited her poverty stricken relations in Mexico during my childhood she would primly dress me up in ribbons only to find me a few minutes later with my hair a mess and my general person covered in dirt.  I defended my position by insinuating that she wanted me to look as though I was financially above everyone else and that I wanted the people there to know that I genuinely loved them and held myself as not one wit higher or above them.  I often behave recklessly when I visit Mexico to this day and much for the same reason.  

As Uptown Girl is a reflection involving romance, I have to relate another experience I endured through high school.  I knew a fellow who had fairly humble beginnings in life but had since risen to relatively great wealth.  I met him through his childhood friends who still lived "on the other side of the tracks" and we danced and mildly flirted for over two years, but though I knew he liked me he never asked me out.  When I threw my best friend's Sweet Sixteen party he found himself dragged along by a mutual acquaintance.  He stood before my parents' four story mansion and I heard him whisper to himself, "And I thought my house was big!"  Shortly thereafter he finally decided I was worth his time and after boasting that he was wealthy too started to ask me out.  I cut him off and threw him to the side.  Human relationships cannot be measured by monetary stature and if he couldn't ask me out when he assumed I was poor he certainly was not an appropriate counterpart when he discovered me rich. 

There is another kind of Uptown Girl.  It's the kind of person who cherishes a rich heart.  It is the kind of person who loves people for who they are and hardly for the measure of their bank account.   She doesn't necessarily live in posh surroundings but she carries a wealth more powerful than all the empty sophistry and shallow designer clothes in the world.  She is a woman of faith, of love, of hope and of humility.  She lives on a higher spiritual and emotional plane.  I am not certain what the person who called me an Uptown Girl meant when they declared me one but if I had my choice I'd choose to be of the second type, strong and loving, and donning homespun rags. 

Washed Clean

She stood before a church going crowd who expectantly looked to her to lead them in musical worship and religious fervor.  Beautiful, confident, and poised I watched her direct children's music and as young voices rang through the chapel I considered this lovely chorister's face and angelic countenance.  Genuine light and tender concern for the children she led shone in her eyes and her radiance was enough to fill her onlookers with a deep sense of awe.  It affected me more because I knew something of her dark history.  

I have always admired this musical leader, though her life has not always aligned itself perfectly with the commandments and moral code of the faithful.  I watched her struggle through moral trials and trudge through sorrowful repentance and biting disgrace.  Years had proven dark for her and I had watched her, like a cheerleader from the sidelines, as she slowly and painfully worked her way nearer to the divine truth she had misplaced in her life.  It had been a bitter experience for her to survive and my heart had bleed for her in her troubles. Rebuilding her life seemed to take forever and to many closest to her I am sure it seemed like healing would never fully come.

But as I watched this glorious lady the truth swept through me that her repentance was surely complete and I saw in her face the vibrant beauty of heaven.  She was truly fit to lead and teach these young, innocent souls and they were well blessed to have her as a role model.  The purity that surrounded her proved fitting and she belonged to it, nothing lacking.  I considered my own life.  I have been straight arrow all my days and though not perfect have never committed grievous sins to that extent.  But in the economy of heaven, when all things stand complete and we meet in the eternal realm, I am not sure that there will be any difference between myself and this beautiful feminine spirit except that the angels may possibly rejoice more for her exquisite redemption than for mine.  In her I saw the Atonement of Jesus Christ made manifest and all traces of darkness unalterably gone.  She is a living testimony to me that through the grace of the Lord all our vice can be washed clean. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Man at the Street Corner

Most mornings and often well into the day at the intersection of Shannon and Cortaro there stands a man holding newspapers with a gigantic smile on his face.  His person is nigh a permanent fixture there, as are the newspapers and smile.  He smiles through the heat of the Arizona summer as his skin becomes blistered by the scorching sun, he smiles through the freezing temperatures in winter, and all the varied weather in between.   Wait at the red light and you will find yourself a recipient of the light happiness he carries with him.  Speak to him and you will readily discover that his speech is garnished with impediments and his mind seems somewhat aloof from the established social and psychological norm.

But always, the smile remains so vibrantly that I think he must wear it in his sleep.  He greets your purchase of his wares with a cheery, “Thank you.  God bless.  Jesus saves.”  He seems to genuinely want to share that message with all who meander into his realm of influence.  Sometimes if you find yourself chatting with him a moment he may comment that the Second Coming is near, as he discerns by reading the events transpiring in our lost and darkening world.

I cannot express in the short length of a simple blog post the respect I have for this valiant though unconventional spirit and son of God.  He carries obvious mental handicaps, which would surely obstruct his ability to attain the so called good things in life but his spirit is clear as a summer’s day, and I can’t help but consider that God placed him on that street corner as a warrior in the cause of Jesus Christ, to shamelessly and beautifully proclaim his simple testimony to all within his reach.  His advantages are perhaps not the most powerful but he makes use of every instant of life that he has.  Do we do as much with the much greater resources the Lord has rendered us?  When we find ourselves held in the balance on Judgment Day, will we be able to stand as tall and confident in the presence of the Lord as this simple missionary or will we find that this man so stricken in worldly terms towers above us?  When we see him as the Lord sees him, how will he appear?  In this society of hustle and bustle that values first and foremost monetary gain, social prowess and unrealistic physical attractiveness let us remember that sometimes the greatest among us are not to be found surrounded by hosts of admirers in fashionable attire, but more likely are the gentle and valiant spirits we find quietly haunting our alleyways and street corners.     

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Julia's Baptism

Those who read my blog regularly but do not know the intimate details of my life likely wonder why I've not written for some time.  Those who do know the goings on probably wonder regarding my thoughts pertaining to my daughter's baptism today.  Julia has endured tremendous trials rising from autism, including an extreme fear of water touching her face, and has lived for years in terror of the thought of baptism by immersion, as Jesus Christ set example and which stands as the mode of baptism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Her love of Jesus and of religion knows absolutely no bounds but the idea of immersed in water filled her with absolutely paralyzing fear.  Years ago I had come to the idea that though children of this faith generally accept baptism when they are eight I would support and accept Julia's decision to wait much longer or forego the ceremony altogether.  I felt very assured through prayer that the Lord who gave her this trial would understand.  I put no pressure on her and repeatedly told her point blank that I would never try to force her to be baptized. 
Today my little eight year old stood dressed in white and found herself voluntarily immersed completely in the waters of baptism.  She rose with a brief look of panic but immediately thereafter smiled ear to ear and gave a double thumbs up to those in attendance.  She changed out of her wet clothes and received a priesthood blessing to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  The presiding authority asked her if she wanted to bear her testimony at the end of the meeting.  Sitting next to her I heard her respond with a very strong, definitive "yes."  She stood, faced the large group of primarily adults and began.  In her beautiful, broken autistic language she told us how she knew this gospel was true, how she had been frightened of baptism for years, how she had received her own personal knowledge that this was what the Lord wanted her to do, how the peace of Jesus Christ had come over her and testified that it was right and that He would help her, and that she knew that baptism was right and very important.  She thanked everyone for coming and learning more about baptism.  This little imaginative girl, who usually would randomly lose track of her speech and begin describing invisible animals during any prolonged speech or conversation spoke with beautiful simplicity and perfect focus of subject.  I am not certain that there was a dry eye in the room.
I have often considered that the Lord blessed me with post traumatic stress for many reasons, not least of all that I might better understand and succor Julia in her crippling fears, and it has been a day of too many miracles to address in one post.  A virtual army of family members from both sides of her family worked toward helping her accomplish this.  I am grateful to God for my mother who catered the celebration, ordered a special doll, complete with a dress to match Julia's.  I am grateful to God for Julia's paternal grandparents who, immediately finishing their mission to Italy came to Arizona to attend, and who supplied the rest of Julia's baptismal attire.  I am grateful to God for my beautiful sister Coral Newberry, who, though not even a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints anymore, packed up her six children and together with her husband made the eight hour drive from Las Vegas to Tucson, gave the opening prayer at the baptism, and will have to make the trek back to Vegas very soon due to work constraints.  I am grateful to God for my lovely sister Crystal Junior, who has been a comfort to Julia in this as well and who directed the music Julia requested during the service.  I am grateful to my exquisite young niece October Zitzmann, who proved a heroic reassurance to Julia, offered the closing prayer and due to whose promise to attend my sister made the Vegas/Tucson trip.  Many doors were opened by unseen hands to make this possible and I am most especially grateful to God for Julia, whose passionate devotion to righteousness has already proven a heaven sent example of goodness and courage to so many. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Getting Your Man to Commit

I have been contemplating this post for many months and the time never felt quite right but today I feel impressed to put my thoughts into print on the subject.  We live in a society where often women feel that all men prove fully against commitment and that no matter what a girl does she just can't get her happily ever after from a man.  She gives her time, love, body, and everything else she can to no avail and I have certainly heard enough from women to know that this is an ongoing trend.  I myself have had the opposite problem in my life.  I have lost count of how many men have wanted to marry me, so let me give you one small word of advice.  

Some time ago I was reading a newsletter pertaining to the psychology of relationships and romance.  I came to a part that prepped a female reader for some wild, outlandish, irrational advice.  Then it said, as if announcing some strange, unheard of idea, "make him wait for sex."  I have to admit I nearly laughed out loud at the hilarity.  Somehow, I think I have heard that idea before.  Perhaps it was somewhere in the commandments of the Old any rate, it is an idea that has been around for quite some time.  The article suggested that a woman wait until a man is dating exclusively her.  I would go further and insist that one wait until after he says "I do."  Why?  Partly because if you are giving him everything right off the bat what reason does he have to commit to you?  I had a male friend once insist that sex was essential to a dating relationship and that after all, "a man has needs."  I have thought much of that argument since and would now counter with, "Yes, and a woman has needs.  Like absolute commitment."  Relationships are two way streets, after all, and a woman's needs are half of the recipe.  This doesn't mean one has to be catty about it.  It just means that a woman has moral standards that she carries with her and which mean more to her than immediate lust or fear of loss does.  It means that she values herself to do what, to many religionists, is the right thing, anyway.  

One may argue that no man would be interested in a woman like that.  I beg to differ and please allow me to prove it.  I have spent much time talking to men of the world, including a dear friend I have had since high school who is intelligent, well educated, classy, gentlemanly and fun.  He is not religious and was complaining that women were not committing to him!  In our discussions I learned that he would become physically involved with women fairly quickly upon dating them and he was astonished to learn that I would never kiss on the first date, actually didn't kiss my high school boyfriend until some time after he was my boyfriend, wouldn't let a man touch me sexually until after marriage, and that I would sooner break up with a man than let him come between me and my moral conscience - and in fact have done it before.  His reaction was, "Michelle, I need you to hook me up with a woman exactly like you!  That is exactly what I want!" Speaks for itself, ladies.  In this society it goes against the grain a bit but in truth, the commandments in the Bible are there for a reason.  They do not offer immediate gratification but they lead us to an ultimate and far more satisfying happily ever after.  And after all, since God made men, women, and relationships, shouldn't He know how to bring them together best? 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mormonism Saved My Sister's Life

Summertime here in Arizona can be fatal and it proves not uncommon for people to suffer dehydration, heat stroke, and the like in this most arid, scorching climate.  Quite recently my sister, being the excellent mother she is, took her four children to the local pool and stayed, drinking plenty of water in 108 degree heat.  This is very typical of Arizona weather and indeed temperatures here in Tucson sometimes hit 117 or hotter.  Plenty of others were at the pool and she thought nothing of it until nearly three hours had elapsed.  Then feeling faint and weak, she rounded up her charges and headed home.  As she drove, she felt as though she would go unconscious but bravely said nothing to her children.  She went to take a cold shower, thinking it would help her recover, but it only served to put her body into shock. 
Her son had a friend at the house and she asked them to go find a neighbor who could help, as she by this time was too ill to act for herself and her husband was away from home teaching scout camp requirements in the mountains at the time.  One of their neighbors was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who had been asked, and had accepted the call to act as a scoutmaster, as boys in Mormonism are automatically enrolled in the Boy Scouts when they come of age.  Her own son was already a scout and he and his friend knelt together and prayed for my sister, then got their scout manuals and proceeded to take care of her.  They and the scoutmaster called in kept her from going into further shock and by the time an ambulance came to escort her to the hospital, the wheels of Mormonism were in full swing.  In this religion it takes only one brief text to get virtually everyone in the congregation involved.  We are set up at all times as an organization prepared to deal with emergencies and by the time my sister was in the ambulance her phone was ringing off the hook as it were with people offering to take care of her children, bring her family dinner, visit her in the hospital, likely clean her house, or do anything else required to help.  Though this may seem strange, and that my sister must have been the most popular person in the congregation for a long time running, this is actually quite typical of how the Mormon church works.  An army of adults appeared at her house to take care of her children, one of the women already knew the allergies my sister's children had and was prepared to take them to her own house and cook gluten free meals for them, and the children had to pick and choose who would take care of each of them.  My sister spent the time she needed in the hospital without a worry in the world about the welfare of her home or four children and knowing that whatever she needed would be provided.  That, my friends, is the power of Mormon service and organization.
This is not an unusual experience in this religion.  When a woman has a baby it is customary that the others will provide her family with home cooked dinners until she can get back on her feet again.  When a friend of mine with seven children had to have an emergency surgery she had other women immediately in her house taking care of her home, her children and her until she could function sufficiently again.  Every month I have two women assigned to me to visit me in my house, check up on me, get to know the needs of my family and they are assigned to be my first means of communication if anything goes amiss.  They text me frequently to make sure I am well and ask if there is anything I need.  I, in turn, am assigned to two beautiful women who it has been my privilege to know and serve.  Each family has two men called home teachers who come into their home every month to check up and make sure all is well.  This is typical and it never stops, though the companionships and assignments do change so that we can all get to know each other and have turns serving each other in love and Christlike charity.  As my sister can rightly testify, there is no people in this world so well trained to provide Christlike service as are the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  We love each other and we delight in service to those within and outside our faith.  The next time you have an emergency, get ahold of a Mormon.  ;) Our compassion is not reserved only for our own members and we're always here to serve!       

Making Learning Fun!

As I have often discussed, I love to teach my children and anyone else who would like to learn.  This keeps me on my toes because young children in their sponge years really can learn more quickly than we as adults can often teach.  My son frequently asks me to recount historical events as his bedtime stories and never likes to hear the same one twice, as his memory is quite excellent.  Thus it happened that after some time he drained my history buff self quite dry and I had to study a bit in order to keep up with the bedtime routine. 
But recently, due to my daughter's passion for learning and imagination, we have taken to study in a very unusual but exceedingly amusing manner.  We throw parties.  Our last one was themed Ancient Egypt and we invited several friends for a play date, made clay amulets, learned to draw various Egyptian gods and goddesses, and turned two of our guests into mummies.  We "removed" their liver, intestines, and the like and put them into their corresponding canopic jars, covered the children with "salt" which in our case came in the physical reality as pillows and wrapped them in toilet paper.  One of our guests was a girl, who we called Cleopatra, told her history and let her kill herself with a paper cut out of an asp, and the second was a boy who we dubbed King Tut, recounted how his broken knees led to his death, and laid him in the smallest room in my house where archeologists and grave robbers would have a difficult time finding him.  We also discussed the differences in mummy making during the time of Tut versus the era of Cleopatra.  After some research I had also Ancient Egyptian snacks and my children got inventive to create the river Nile out of blue towels throughout a section of the house.  We are planning a 19th century costume party play date on July 19th and inviting whole families to come dressed as Abraham Lincoln, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Dickens, Joseph Smith, Jane Austen, Frankenstein and the like.  My children in preparation for that will be spending the next month learning 19th century literature and the like. 
Wondering how to entertain your kids this summer in a meaningful way?  There really are countless ideas out there.  My daughter and I also made brownies and delivered them as a random act of kindness to several pregnant ladies in our congregation.  Teaching children work and compassion proves at least as important as the academic side of the learning coin, because it isn't just what we teach children to know.  Much more importantly, it is what we teach them to be.