Thursday, December 18, 2014

People of Williston: Audrey

*Brad didn't pick this one. I asked him to give me a person but he never got back to me, so I made a random selection, and Audrey was the winner!

We were at church not long after we had moved back to Williston from Culbertson, and we got there late, which meant we sat aaaaaaaall the way in the back, in the gym, because our ward was (and still is) so huge. Audrey and her then-husband Christian sat behind us with their little girl Kali. Beya had been asking all morning before arriving if we could have someone over for dinner that night (Beya loves dinner guests). We told her she could pick someone to invite, so as soon as sacrament meeting was over, she asked Audrey and Christian, despite the fact that we didn’t yet know their names. It was the first time we had ever seen them as well. I was wearing pants to church that day, and I only remember this because Audrey told me later that this was one of the first things she noticed and she automatically wanted to know me. I think this fact sort of symbolizes what it is that draws me to her—our shared desire to see the Gospel work in any kind of person in any kind of life.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that dinner except that Audrey seemed a little uncomfortable, and Christian asked if my book was a chick book. Funny what you remember about first meetings.

Audrey and I didn’t see each other a whole lot after that because I was in primary, and it was months later when I saw her sitting in Sacrament meeting, and she happened to have some open seats next to her. I learned she’d been going through quite a rough time. She and Christian were separated, and while “divorced single mother” does not encompass who Audrey is, it was that moment, seeing her in church with little Kali on her lap, determined to be there no matter what stigma may follow, that my “amazing person radar” went off I told myself I was going to make more of an effort to know her.

That particular time in my life was pretty hard for me. I was only at church because I didn’t yet have a good enough reason not to be. So I guess you could say I was always looking for reasons to keep staying. Audrey was one of those reasons. I think we all have those people, right? The ones that we say, “If they can do it, so can I.” And then you keep your eye on them, because you need their example.

That’s how I learned that Audrey is not often idle. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say “I don’t have time…” and I have thought to myself, “You don’t know what that really means.” But I think Audrey does. I am continually impressed with what she manages to get done as a working single mother. She teaches 5th grade AND manages the school district’s website, and some other technical thingies that I don’t know a whole lot about. She works away from home. She works AT home. She works a LOT. And she is also super crafty and has an amazing eye for interior design.

In all the time I was in Williston, “Lunch with Audrey” was always on my to-do list, and I am sad to say I never got to. (It’s STILL on my to-do list though!) But I did get to talk to her for more than a couple minutes from time to time, and I was able to glean a lot about her during those times. Audrey is a smiley person. That’s just the way her face naturally falls, it seems. And she laughs a lot. She laughs no matter what she’s feeling, but if you know her well enough, you can tell the difference, and you know what each laugh means. Some people wear their emotions on their face. Audrey wears them in her laugh. I don’t know if she would hide her emotions if she could, but I’m glad she doesn’t.

The longer I have known Audrey, the more I have WANTED to know her. She doesn’t fit a mold, and you know how you can meet a person and think, “This person reminds me of such and such a friend”? Well I can’t think of anyone Audrey reminds me of. I love her uniqueness. And I love the things that come out of her mouth when it comes to the Gospel. They are the words of someone who has put a great deal of thought into how the Gospel fits into her life. She actively engages herself at church. Having spent many months disenfranchised with Sunday meetings, it was people like Audrey that helped rekindle my love for it. Audrey came to help me fold the Clark’s laundry while they were with Chase in the hospital even though I know Audrey is one of the few people that can honestly say, “I don’t have time.” Sometimes small acts speak even more than big ones. When you know what someone sacrifices in order to serve, it makes it that much more meaningful.

I don’t have extended family that are members of my church. This means that I cannot lean on them for my testimony, for my conversion. I can’t “do as they do” because we don’t rely on the same principles. This means that I have to pick and choose who will fill that place for me, who will be that example. It wasn’t something I consciously did after I was baptized, but it happened. Sometimes I “pick” them because they have obvious struggles or because they are so drastically different from me and it intrigues me. Sometimes I “pick” them because we have similar ideologies. These people are those whose opinions and whose actions I care about the most because they strengthen me the most. Audrey is all of these things. I find her inspiring in every way. She just… TRIES. And it’s evident in all that she does. Her life, like mine, is this beautiful mess. I consider it the best kind of life, the most inspiring kind. She might struggle to stay on top of things, and her head may barely be above water, but it's far better than wading. I know from experience the kind of faith that takes, and the kind of growth that engenders. She's an active participant in her own life. It’s kind of addicting to watch her push onward no matter what. You just want to keep cheering for people like her. And you want to BE someone like her.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

People of Williston: Kay

I like Kay because I can’t tell what age she is. Sure, she has a sprinkling of grey hair, has a few wrinkles, and wears glasses, but when you speak to her for any extended period of time, you’re left with the impression that she is neither old nor young. She can giggle with the girls or shake her head with the old biddies. He stories are twenty years old, but her childlike exuberance has stayed with her through the years. Kay is friends with everyone. Or maybe it just seems that way because she seems to fit in with any group. But she gives great hugs that are full of honest affection. I like hugging Kay, and you know I’m not a hugger.

Kay works in the library at church, and before I knew her beyond her calling, she gave me chalk and made copies for my primary class. But Kay and I really began to know each other through my books, which she asked me if she could purchase while giving me chalk in the library one day. She asked like she and I were already friends and I was embarrassed to say that I wasn’t confident enough to address her by her name because I wasn’t 100% sure it was Kay at that time. It took some investigation to verify it,  but looking back, Kay knowing who I was and taking an interest in me and my life’s work when she barely knew me is her MO. She knows how to make friends because she is genuinely interested in people. That sounds like a simple thing, but if you think about it, most people aren’t good at doing  that so organically (including me).

This is my favorite picture of her. She used to have really long hair that she wore in a ponytail or braid down her back. She recently got it cut and I am now more confused than ever about her age. :-)

Some other interesting things I know about Kay:

Kay keeps chickens. Her interest in chickens goes beyond simply egg production, and she reminds me of my sister in that way, because she really enjoys having them.

Kay works as a home care nurse for a family in our ward (church congregation) with a daughter who is in a partial coma (another amazing story for another post!).

Kay works the nightshift. My kind of gal. She’s knows the nighttime is where it’s at.
Kay is a voracious reader. Of all kinds of things.

Kay is a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as of only a couple years ago, I believe. And yes, I am biased toward converts. Go figure. :-)

Monday, December 15, 2014

People of Williston: Shaleena

Williston, North Dakota, is home. I wasn’t born there. My childhood was not spent there. But I dug the roots of my heart deep into the North Dakota prairie sod in November of 2011. The good earth of that place gave nourishment and my heart grew through so many sizes that I’ve lost count. 

On December 8th, 2014, I left home in my Durango with my husband, 4 kids, and pulling a 4x8 foot Uhaul trailer. The last time I left a place with so few possessions, I was on my way to college. This time, however, I’ve replaced the items I used to cart from place to place with things far more useful, like iron will, untiring hands, courage that defies my understanding, unwavering drive, and faith—the kind that may just let me walk on water pretty soon. :-)

I also carry people with me.

My heart is so chock-full of them that they’re leaking out of my eyes. When something fills me up so much, there is only one thing to do: get that thing on paper.
So I'm going to start a "People of Williston" blog series.  I’m going to get every single one of them on a piece of virtual paper all tidy-like. Watch out though. These people are so incredible that by reading this, your own heart might get too full. And then what will you do?

Move to North Dakota probably. :-)

Because there are so many people in my North Dakota family, and because I can’t possibly decide which one to do first, I’m going to let Brad decide. He picks the name. I write.

For my very first post, Brad has picked a gal we know named Shaleena.

My first “real” conversation with Shaleena was at this year’s Chokecherry festival. We’d been facebook friends for a while, and she saw me post a picture of my office fridge, which is full of energy drinks.

Anyway, Shaleena messaged me after seeing that picture and asked me if I’d be interested in trying an energy drink that she sells. I said sure, because I’m willing to try just about any energy drink.  So at the Chokecherry festival a day or two later, we talked about this drink she sells, and she was pushing her son and new baby girl in a stroller. Her son N was looking lively that day. Of course, N always looks lively to me. N is disabled, and I’m not sure how exactly, but I think he was born prematurely, resulting in being  wheelchair-bound and unable to talk (that I’m aware of). But he’s full of personality. When I taught primary, his class was two rows in front of me during sharing time. He can use his arms quite well, and I’d often watch him slowly inch forward during singing or sharing time. He’d scoot forward little by little and then his teacher would pull him back. I’m certain N just wanted to be the center of attention at the front of the room like most other 3-4 year-old boys.

I don’t like think about people in terms of their hardships, but the great thing about a story like Shaleena's is knowing some of a person’s struggles without them having to tell you. Shaleena has a weary but determined look about her--which I can relate to. The last 6 months of my life have felt that way. She reminds me of this gal I knew in Claremont, CA who had twin girls who were colicky non-sleepers as babies. I asked her honestly how she'd done it. She said, "You don't have a choice. You just do it." I've carried that piece of advice with me through 4 children. Shaleena has that "Just do it" attitude about her and when she speaks. And though we aren't close, I know this about her. And I draw strength from merely seeing her push her son around. She recently gave birth to a baby girl as well, and I know she's pretty athletic (which I can NOT relate to). Anyway, I think to myself, "Dang, she just does life like she owns it."

Shaleena isn’t an outspoken person and her voice is quiet. But I can tell you that beneath her meek exterior is a woman prepared for life's battles. You can see evidence of it in what she accomplishes.
These are the kinds of people you find in Williston, ND.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Investing in My Love Story

You know you like a good love story. You know you love seeing those cute little stories on facebook about such and such couple who have been married for 70 years or something and they're dolling out their marriage advice. And they're just SO. DANG. CUTE! Right?!?

About 3 months ago, my husband lost his job. Rather than wallow or take advantage of the down time, my husband threw himself (I mean FULL BODY LAUNCH) into promoting my dream--to be a professional writer. He has worked NONSTOP at marketing, building my twitter and facebook following, setting up a tour schedule, sacrificed and risked our resources to promotional materials and inventory. He did it without a thought but one:

"I believe in what my wife is doing and I want to help her."

I have something to tell you.

I have written 6 of the 7 books in the Colorworld Series, and the only reason ANY of them have made it to your hands is because my husband believed in me SO much, he would not let me hide my talents, or cower in fear of what people would think about my words. We fought and argued. Countless times I defended that "I wasn't good enough yet." "I don't do this for other people. I do this for myself." And while it's true, I am not a perfect writer, and my greatest joy has been what I have discovered about myself and the world through writing, we are not meant to hide beauty. Many times I resented him for pushing me. And if he had let that back him down, again, you would not have access to this series

Our journey, as a couple, has not been easy. Like, ever. Even now we are beset with the threat of financial ruin.

But I have never, EVER been happier. Because I finally see myself the way my husband has ALWAYS seen me. Do you know what that kind of love can do? It makes you fearless. It makes you write your guts out, open your heart up, and spill the blood on paper. And then it makes you show it to your friends and the cold harsh world. It makes you not care what ANYONE says. That one person thinks you are the most incredible person in the world and SHOWS it in everything they do. If you hear that message from them all the time, for 12 years, how can you NOT put your every effort into BEING that person?

This series was born out of my personal love story. It is not just MY child, it is Brad's, too, because HE is the one that is making sure it sees the light of day.  And he is working SO hard to promote it. And not just IT. He is promoting ME. He is shouting MY name from the rooftops. That's love, ya'll. That is friggin' real-life L.O.V.E.

I don't want to see his efforts go unrewarded. I want him to experience the validation that I have. Because I have always believed in HIM. His ability to love fearlessly, to cast caution and self-consciousness aside, to spare not a thought for himself, to put zeal into every action, and to sell like a BOSS are astounding and enviable and ought to be rewarded.

Will you help me show him that?

Below is a link to my KickStarter project. Brad's baby. ANY pledge counts and helps. And EVERY reward level gets you something. Think of KickStarter as preordering something you already will buy in the future. It's getting the funds for production up front. And we NEED this in order to keep our pace and to continue to promote Colorworld by every means available.
Thank you for investing in MY love story!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Time to Judge a Book by its Cover

I work with some amazing people when it comes to my books. A few of them do work for me for free or next to nothing. I had a hand in deciding what would go into the cover, but I did not make it. It was up to the talents of people who care about their craft. I want Colorworld to be judged by its cover. Absolutely. So could you do me a favor? Do YOU like Colorworld's cover? How about voting for it?
Click on the link below and comment on the entry. ALSO, if you share the link on facebook or twitter, that earns votes too!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

June 18th

If you read my last blog post, you know about my friends, the Clarks, and their son, Chase. Last weekend was particularly hard for him and for them as he struggled to stay alive. Kami sent out a plea for stories about how this experience has affected others, and well, I had one brewing. It just took me a while to write it out the way I wanted. With their permission and encouragement I am sharing the letter I wrote to them.

Dear Kami & Phil,

On Tuesday, June 17th, at around midnight, Brad came home from work to find me in my office, supremely agitated. I’d been in a state of general unrest for a few months until that point, feeling off about the place I was at spiritually. I was trying to come to terms with a lot of things, namely the fact that I hated going to church and came away each week feeling drained rather than edified. Weekly I’d been asking myself why I still went, and then I would remind myself of the same thing over and over: I’m not going for me; I’m going because others need me there. My kids, my family, other people in the ward whom I love and respect. I love the Gospel. I think everyone needs the perspective it brings. I know the Plan of Salvation is true. I clung to the memory of the “Before Rachel” (before I was a member) and “After Rachel” to catalogue all that the Church had done for me. I wanted that foundation for my kids. Despite knowing these things, I still asked myself the question all the time, even though I always answered myself in the same way. Even though I knew, in my heart, I was committed to going no matter how onerous it was.

But I was tired of asking. I just wanted to do the right thing without questioning the whys all the time. I wanted to stop feeling like church was an endurance test. If that was what it was going to be for me, I wanted to let go of wanting it to be different. But I couldn’t. I wanted to find the same spiritual growth there that I did at home in the quiet moments I spent studying or reading or writing. Because the reality was I had grown an awful lot in the last few years. I could not have been more pleased with that, but I began to feel like I had outgrown church because I never found understanding or peace there anymore like I did on my own. The short of it was that I was soul sick over it, experiencing a gradual decline in how I felt about church, and to my dismay, it affected how I saw people, and therefore life. I wanted out of feeling so confused and conflicted all the time. Something needed to change.

On that evening when Brad found me, I had hit the peak of it and wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong with me outside of simply being unhappy and unsettled. We’ve had a lot of things up in the air for a while now and I was halfway to believing that my unrest was a sign that one of those things was going to have a resolution that would change things. I wasn’t sure if it was a good foreboding or a bad one. Anyway, I was so upset that I considered asking Brad for a blessing. That’s a big deal because I have never, ever asked for a *blessing. I accept them tentatively, but not because I want them. Occasionally they seemed to help, but I wasn’t convinced (still am not entirely). I just do not have a testimony of them and I don’t really understand them. So when I asked him, it was more out of desperation than expectation. Either way, both Brad and I had been feeling similarly in our anxiety. We both expressed that “Something isn’t right” and we both conceded that “something is going to happen.” For me it was more like, “Something NEEDS to happen so I can get out of my head.”

He gave me a blessing. It was long. Probably as long as my *patriarchal blessing. I’d call it a recap of the things I had done, the questions I had, the things that were important to me and the things that bothered me. I think it was hearing that repeated back to me, validated in that way, that made my anxiety ease that night, but I don’t know. I do know that I remember most specifically the end, when Brad counselled that I should strive to stay close to my visiting teaching sisters, that I should seek out every way I could to serve them. He said I should work hard to fulfill that calling and I would find comfort in doing that.

The next day, June 18th, Wednesday, my own visiting teachers came around 10 am. I had not read the message for the month because I asked Maggie, my partner, to be in charge of preparing it. We planned to go later that day. That morning Julie Jones gave the message to me. It was very quick but I do know that she told me her favorite part of it was the account of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. Brigham Young told the people during a conference that the handcart company travelling to the valley needed help. They needed everything, so the sisters undressed right there in the tabernacle to donate their clothes. Petticoats and all.

I admit I listened to that story with a little bitterness, thinking, “just another well-meaning story to make our acts of service pale by comparison.” Nobody does that anymore. Can you imagine everyone undressing down to their skivvies in general conference just because someone pointed out there are homeless people in Utah? I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to glean from that story. It’s not relevant to today because we’re too engrossed in our own insecurities to accept that kind of help or to give it.

A little after 1 pm that same day, I received your call. I’ll fast forward through all of the ensuing emotions and phone calls to standing in my living room and seeing the sobs building behind Alora’s eyes as Brooklyn recounted that Chase would be airlifted to Minot after all. I remember hugging Alora and thinking how nice it was to do that. I don’t particularly like to hug people. Touch is not my love language, and I usually feel awkward when someone other than Brad hugs me. But I liked hugging her, I think because it felt like I was doing something. That’s all we want during these times: the opportunity to DO something. But we’re so helpless and inadequate compared to our maker. Life so often feels like fumbling, and it only occasionally yields a catch. At least I could hug Alora. That was the only catch I could manage right then, though I began to seriously ask myself what more I would do.

While your kids made preparations to go stay with the Martinez family, I began plotting because I was NOT about to sit around and do nothing. If I look back, I can see all the ways that I should have felt responsibility toward doing something for you. I’m your visiting teacher. Brad is your home teacher. You live three doors down. All these things might have added the pressure of “This is your job” but interestingly, it had a completely different effect. It became my justification for doing things that I worried wouldn’t be received well. A conversation in my head would go like this:

“Oh look! Kami didn’t do her laundry! Yay! I can do her laundry and I bet it will be SO nice for her to have clean clothes when she needs them.”

“What?! You can’t do people’s laundry without their permission!”

“But if I ask her, she’ll tell me no!”


“But I’m her visiting teacher. I’m allowed.”

My motto became “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” When I asked Brooklyn and Alora for the key to your house to “look after it” I was very adamant with them that I would gladly pay a bribe if it would keep them from telling you what I was doing. Once they were finally gone and it was just me and your house, I spent a great deal of time mulling over what I was “allowed” to do. One minute I’d think, “Holy Mother, Rachel Kelly! Kami is going to hate you!” and the next minute I’d say, “Kami will love this!” and eventually settled on the more realistic, “Kami might bite your head off at first, but she’ll get over it. Just do it. It’s okay. It will be okay.”

I kid you not, I was downstairs with my trusty shop-vac in Boston’s room, having one of my doubting moments, and I honestly considered messing the room back up so you wouldn’t know I was down there. I had moments like that a lot as I went from room to room. Fortunately, I had so many good reasons on my side, so many excuses like “but we’re neighbors!” or whatever that I could use to violate your home haven that I won the arguments against impropriety over and over. The more I ignored self-consciousness over what you would think, the easier it became.

One day someone came by for something and saw me folding laundry. They said, “If my child is ever in a hospital, you are NOT allowed to clean my house. In fact, it will be your job to bar anyone that tries.”

“Why?” I asked, knowing exactly why. After all, we ALL know why we wouldn’t want someone in our house, don’t we?

“Because I would be embarrassed!”

And there it was, my precise fear over what I was doing confirmed by another source. I think it should have shaken me, made me rethink what I was doing. But instead I found the most incredible conviction. I remembered the story about the sisters in the tabernacle, undressing. In. Front. Of. People. During a time when that would have been a HUGE cultural no-no. They must have been embarrassed. I bet the people on the receiving end felt embarrassed for taking what they didn’t have, for taking clothes off the backs of others when they should have been better prepared. I bet there was embarrassment all around. But then I remembered how strong those saints were, how close. I’ve read conference addresses by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses to the people during those early years. The language is intimate. They all knew each other and they were an incredibly close-knit community. Probably not by choice, but out of necessity. So many hardships they faced that required deep trust in each other. They must have learned quickly that embarrassment was a luxury they could not dwell on. There were more important things, things that actually mattered.

And then I remembered the story of the Savior when he washed his disciples’ feet even though it was the lowest job that could be done. His disciples were embarrassed. I’m sure of it. Can you imagine the Savior washing your feet? In fact, it’s considered such a powerful act that in Joseph Smith’s time it was common practice for him to wash the feet of the 12. It’s actually an ordinance. I don’t know if it is still practiced, but I have no doubt that during that time such a thing bound those men as more than colleagues. There had to be brotherhood among them, and not just by title or assignment. The bonds would have had to have been familial.

And that’s when the negative voices stopped. I cleaned because people thought I shouldn’t. We aren’t related and we aren’t super-close, but I don’t think I could have felt any more pain for you over Chase or cried any more tears if we had been. And I wanted to do something more than send you a text or tell you I’m praying. I wanted to wash your feet. A clean house does nothing for Chase, and you may never get to appreciate it, but I don’t care in the least. The Savior washed their feet knowing they’d get dirty all over again that same day. It was the act that brought them together, not the outcome of clean feet.

I began to experience how that happens. Other than simply staying busy and feeling engaged, I began to know you. A home, I realized, is the most intimate expression of who someone is on the inside. The way we arrange things. Which things are organized versus which things aren’t. What we keep versus what we throw away. What is messy and what is not. You can tell what matters to a person in this way. Even the arrangement of furniture says a lot. The books someone keeps and which ones make it up to the light of day in the front room rather than being in the basement. Notes your kids taped to their wall to remind them of whatever incentive program you’ve got going on or something they need to remember. Old records on display in Chase’s room and his neat line of bows on the wall amid a pile of shoes and boots and candy wrappers. The bow tie he was working on himself next to a small pile of pins and a paper pattern. I stood there with it in my hand for a minute and imagined the quick-witted conversation/argument you two must have had over it.

The way we weave organization and chaos in our homes is an expression of how we balance life, what we’re working on and trying to improve, and what we have mastered. I can’t tell you how many times I stopped what I was doing to smile at something I saw, and how many times I felt humbled to be “allowed” to be there. I loved you more each day as I pushed past inhibitions and decided I'd gladly face Kami's aggravation with me over violating her personal space. Getting to know the both of you more personally was worth it.

The days since June 18th have changed my life forever. I went to bed emotionally spent every night. My moments were beads of fear and courage and worry and hope and faith and anguish all strung together. But I’d never felt more involved with other people. I’d never felt more involved with a church community. As a result, I’ve never had more peace with it. I began to understand what was happening to me and what the sickness was that I felt leading up to and so powerfully in my soul the night of June 17th. I was disconnected from church because I was disconnected from its people. And I allowed it because I feared offending. I imagined that people don’t like you butting in to their lives, showing up unannounced or without a reason, or asking invasive questions just because. I was upset that people were inauthentic without ever doing anything to encourage authenticity. I waited to connect rather that doing something TO connect. Church was a hardship because I spent the time waiting instead of working. Wishing to be asked instead of granting without being asked, thinking I needed an excuse to serve, to smile, to hug. I was awaiting an invitation to be let in because I was afraid of making people uncomfortable. I realized how few people I know here, how few people I know in general, thinking for the first time that my excuse of not being a "people person" was lame. It's a poor excuse for simply being afraid of people. You can’t connect deeply if you are always afraid of offending. I had to ask people more meaningful questions. I had to not be afraid to ask a new person their name for the third time because I can’t remember it. I have to text or call people just for the heck of it without worrying whether I’m “bothering” them. I need to do things for people without worrying that they’ll read the wrong message in it. Doing so leaves us free from the fear of misinterpretation. When we serve that deeply, unafraid of how we are perceived, we love according to the higher law. And that love will never separate us from our fellow men. It only has the power to bind.

People are the spark that has been missing from my life. It is our earnest endeavour as human beings to connect to others. When that is not fulfilled, our spirits become malnourished. We NEED each other, and I will never “outgrow” church for this reason. It’s ironic that I found such realizations while so often alone in your house. But I never really did feel alone. The essence of you and your family is there.

So you ask what have I learned from Chase’s experience? It has shifted my view and healed my soul. I do not say that lightly and there is no need to contrive the implications this has already had and will continue to have on my life. It is just as powerful and heartfelt as it sounds. I know I was being prepared to make the most out of what would happen to Chase so that his suffering would not be in vain. I know that the writhing unrest I felt the night of June 17th was no coincidence. I know the idea to get a blessing was not my own. And I know I was meant to be your visiting teacher and your neighbour. The beautiful intricacy of the whole thing is breathtaking, the way moments have aligned, details have moved forward in my memory so that I can see how our Father ensured that the most lives would be touched when sorrow came to visit. I thank you for your part in it. I thank Chase for his part. I realize it’s probably often hard for you to escape the chaos of emotions amid the situation. Sometimes life hurts so much that we can’t see anything past it, and we often reject the things we HAVE seen. But quiet moments will return. They always do. What we choose to see in those moments of clarity is what matters. Those are the moments that make us. What we choose to organize in our spiritual homes matters more than the surrounding chaos. I know you have a powerful spiritual home. Thank you for letting me see it and thereby making mine more powerful, too.

*blessing-Sort of like a prayer, but basically revelation from God given by someone who is ordained to the Priesthood. There are healing blessings said over the sick and afflicted but also, and in my case, comfort blessings given when we are spiritually ailing.

*Patriarchal Blessing-Similar to a regular blessing but given only once in someone's life, delivered by someone who is called as the Patriarch. It is personal revelation to apply throughout the course of one's life. They are typically transcribed so that the person receiving the blessing can reference it over and over throughout their life.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

This is Chase Clark

There is an animated movie most of you should be familiar with called The Incredibles. It’s about a family with superpowers who were put in “hero protection” because society no longer wants superheroes and if people knew their true identities they would be persecuted. The young boy in the family named Dash has super-speed ability and is trying to convince his mom to let him go out for track. His mom argues that he would not be able to hold himself back and would reveal himself by running too fast.

Dash replies, “But Dad said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of. Our powers made us special.”

His mom sighs and says, “Everyone’s special, Dash.”

Dash poignantly replies under his breath, “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

I’ve given that bit of surprising logic a lot of thought over the years, pondering again and again when I hear people refer to someone as “special.” People particularly like to use this phrase whenever someone who has hard lot in life perseveres. We often use it when speaking about children who are faced with horrific diseases and also when young people die. We use the word “special” so often, little wondering what we really mean by it and what it is that makes “special.”

But this past week I finally learned what “special” means.

It starts with a young man named Chase Clark.

Now that you know what he looks like, let me tell you some things I know about him.

1)    Chase wears vests over a dress shirt on Sundays. He always has his sleeves rolled up, and he completes the look with a tie. I think vests ought to try for a comeback in men’s fashion. It may be because I know him better than the other young men at church, but his snappy clothes always catch my attention. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s only 16, (and therefore clearly has never worked in a casino), I would expect him to pop out a pocket watch from his vest pocket or maybe a deck of cards. In actuality, he’s more likely to have candy in there instead, which he often sneaks to my children.

2)    “Chase!” belted out by my kids—Iyov in particular—is a sound I can recall very easily in my head with little effort. He is very, very good with little kids—exceptionally good because he enjoys playing with kids. This is not a quality I possess but really appreciate seeing in others.

3)    One time Chase babysat for us, and when Brad and I got back, Chase refused to let us pay him. He literally ran away from me and went home (his family lives three houses down). Brad and I peeked in at the kids and they looked like this:

Brad and I were like, “Whaaaaat happened?” And then we laughed our butts off and put it on facebook. For the record, we have not seen them like this at bedtime before or since.

4)    As the oldest, Chase knows how to annoy his sisters. One time we were over at the Clark’s house for dinner, and we challenged Kami to Monopoly (a game she loves but nobody will play with her because she’ll kick your butt). Chase and his sister Brooklyn played with us, and the whole time Chase bugged the crap out of Brooklyn. She got that high-pitched angsty teenager voice, and kept saying “Stoooop!” over and over. I honestly cannot remember what Chase was doing to her. I just recall thinking, “Wow, he’s good.” and “So this is life with teenagers…”
And then I discovered Chase is pretty much an expert at quickly figuring out how to push anyone’s buttons. I think he hangs on to Momma’s Boy status, just so he can annoy Kami, his mom, and get away with it. :-)

5)    Case in point: Chase likes to sing falsetto in the Soprano section during Choir practice to annoy his mom who is the Choir director. When she puts the kibosh on him, he sits with the bass section who are the rowdy bunch (thanks to Brad), so he can be in on the rabble-rousing. Sometimes he sits with us tenors, and I like elbowing him to get him to stop singing the melody in my ear and messing me up.

6)    Chase is a self-taught musician. Guitar, I believe. I’ve never heard him play though…

7)    I hired Chase to mow our lawn last summer when we went on vacation. He was almost done doing it when the wheel broke off. And once again, when I got back, he ran away from me when I tried to pay him. I honestly don’t think he would have taken it even if he had finished, so I doubt refusing pay had anything to do with not completing the job.

8)    Being introduced to someone and actually MEETING someone are two different things. I was obviously introduced to Chase when I first met his family, but I actually MET Chase the first time we had the Clarks over to our house for dinner. It went like this: I was kind of nervous about feeding them all. Not only are there 5 kids aged (at the time) 5 and up, but Phil (Chase’s dad) had already labeled us “his liberal friends” and was already known for ribbing us for our vegetable-eating, ethical meat-eating ways. (Such honesty, for the record, is our favourite thing about the Clarks) I made a vegetarian Ethiopian stew, which seemed to go over well, fortunately. But my clearest memory of that night involves Chase. Brad and I were talking and laughing about something after dinner with Kami and Phil when suddenly a hand squeezed my shoulder and a voice in my ear said, “Thank you, Sister Kelly. That was so good.” I realized it was Chase, and I was taken completely by surprise. In that moment, Chase became more than Kami and Phil’s oldest son. Funny how such simple things can leave such a lasting impression.

Chase was in a horrific accident on Wednesday of this past week. It involved a semi, which I think tells you just how bad it was. He is alive, but suffered lots of internal injuries and bleeding. But the most worrisome injury was to his head. He is currently in critical condition at a hospital in Minot, being kept sedated and on paralytics to keep him from fidgeting and possibly injuring himself further. With lots of brain swelling to be concerned about, and being unsure of how well his brain will heal, whether there will be long-term effects, how long his recovery will take, etc, waiting is the limbo in which his family is suspended currently.

I happen to be Kami’s visiting teacher*. And Brad is the Clark’s home teacher* (double Kelly whammy for the Clarks). That, and the fact that we are virtually neighbors, means that we’re kind of up in their biz. In a nice way, I think. From the time Kami called to tell me about Chase in the hospital until now, I think I’ve had a rare view of what has transpired among our ward family in the past three days.

I cannot possibly expound on every single act of service on behalf of the Clarks that I personally know about, but I will say that the most pointed demonstration of all of those acts is best summed up in the Ward Fast* that we participated in for him that ended with and filled up our chapel on Thursday night. It was clear, from day one of this tragedy, and each day since, that Chase Clark is beloved on a level that I do not think the Clarks recognized before now.

Chase’s situation is certainly not unheard of. Crap happens to people all the time, and people rally together in support. It’s pretty much what human beings do best. But this is certainly the first time I have been so heavily involved and also aware of the monumental effort that has gone on behind the scenes as well as in the open.

Because I am the neighbour, I have been hanging on to their house key, letting people in for various reasons, taking care of pets, dropping off stuff, etc. Today I went over there to change over a load of laundry. As I passed through the living room, I had a strong desire to just sit down there and start matching up the socks that have been there since yesterday waiting for me. I suddenly realized how much I liked being there—how pleasant it was doing something mundane like matching socks (which I hate doing on any other day in my own home). The house was empty of people, but for whatever reason, it felt incredibly full anyway. I was wondering over this feeling—how could a house that wasn’t mine feel so much like home?—as I went downstairs to grab up the sheets and blankets from Chase's and Boston’s rooms. I was halfway down the stairs when this same feeling came over me even stronger, overwhelming me as if the air were permeated with it. I sat down on the steps, overcome with it to the point of tears. It was then that I finally recognized it as the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.

I’ve heard people say quite often that when a great number of people pray for you, you can feel it. Kami and Phil have said the same thing several times since Wednesday. And I’m telling you, that even though they are two hours away in Minot, that same Spirit has brimmed over to their home as tangible and comforting as if it is drawn to their very belongings, to the space that they call home.

By the end of The Incredibles, Dash finally feels special. But it's not because he can now kick super-villian butt with his super-speed. It's because his Dad has finally let go of the past glory days to realize how much his family matters to him. Dash finally knew he mattered to his Dad for reasons outside of his supernatural talents.

That's what being special is. Being part of others' lives and mattering to them.
Chase Clark is special. Not because he possesses superhuman abilities or earth-shattering skills, but because he’s come to leave a lasting impression on a great deal of people. Whether it was by annoying people just to get a rise to make things more interesting, making kids giggle by wrestling them, or putting his hand on someone’s shoulder and telling them thank-you, Chase matters to a LOT of people. I know this for a fact. I have not just seen it; I have felt it as I found myself alone in his home with the Spirit that has been intensified by the sheer number of prayers and thoughts offered by the thousands who care about him. It is just as clear as the time Chase put his hand on my shoulder. I cannot think of anything more special.

Now that you know Chase, too, will you say a prayer for him and his family? They are special to all of us, and we all want to have Chase back again.

*Visiting Teaching is a program in our church where all women are assigned to visit with other women in our congregation in order to be sure their needs are met.
*Home Teaching is pretty much the same as visiting teaching except it involves men being assigned to other families to visit and attend to their needs.
*A ward fast is fasting done by an entire ward (aka congregation) for one particular cause or purpose for a twenty-four hour period. The bishop of the ward decides if a ward fast is called for. It does not happen often. This is only the second time I have been involved in an emergency ward fast.