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.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

By Popular Demand

One of the things we get to do (or some might say HAVE to do) in our church is speak on occasion because we have no trained or paid clergy. When I first became a member this was difficult as I was very shy and unsure. But over the years, getting more comfortable with people, and in gaining confidence that I have something to say (thank-you, writing), speaking in church is now something I greatly enjoy. I LOVE the preparation and spend the weeks prior reading all kinds of things relating to my assigned topic and pondering various angles while I'm vaccuuming and stuff. It's really just writing, except geared toward verbal delivery, so you know that's my niche. I'm not saying I don't get nervous about it. In the few hours right before delivery, I kind of want to throw up. And then I'm up there, and it's all clear and I'm in a zone. This particular topic is one I have ALWAYS wanted to speak on, so I was thrilled to get the assignment. Here it is. Stay tuned at the end for the choir number. I actually accidentally recorded it because I forgot to stop recording after I finished speaking. But it was obviously not a coincidence. It was my favorite choir number we have ever done--and a pretty good recording considering my phone was under the pew!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Piles of Things

In our house, our favorite meals consist of what Brad calls, a "pile of things." Say, a bed of rice with fresh veggies on top and drizzled with some kind of dressing. Or a piece of broiled fish with a bunch of chopped veggies on top. We also like sandwiches (not your standard lunch meat and cheese, but bread with a bunch of veggies piled on and maybe egg or mushrooms or chicken inside). Wraps and Quesadillas, too. The point is, we like meals that are "all in one." Not only is this a convenient and healthy way to eat, but it's pretty much dead-on for the smorgasbord that is our lives.
Steak and corn yumminess on a bed of red cabbage AKA Pile of Things

A couple of days ago I got a summons for grand jury selection. I had to go online and complete a questionnaire that would help them determine if I’m what they’re looking for. One of the questions asked my occupation. I stared at the blinking cursor for a moment and considered what to put. My knee-jerk answer was “homemaker” because, well, that’s what I’ve always put and that’s my primary responsibility at the moment. Brad has always spoken with more progressive terminology, stating that I am a “Work from home mom” because I do a lot of things besides “making a home”(which is pretty ambiguous if you think about it) or even taking care of children.

Sometimes, though, you can be something without actually BELIEVING you are, know what I mean? Take “child of God” as a label. We hear it all the time, but life is this seemingly endless process of finding the conviction to believe it. Once we actually believe it, ACTING like it becomes a lot easier. Anyway, lots of things are like this. My husband calls it “faking it ‘til you make it” because you have to ACT like what you want to be in order to BECOME that person.

In the case of writing, I want to BE a writer. I want to sell books. I want people to read them. And by golly it’d be nice to contribute to the family budget via this avenue. But to be honest, despite the huge amount of time I spent working toward the goal of publishing my first novel (and have continued for subsequent books), I never believed I was “a writer” in the same way I believed I was “a homemaker.” “Occupation” carries with it an air of obligation. We go to our job at wherever because we have an responsibility to provide for ourselves/family. I have a responsibility toward my children, an obligation if you will. These obligations are necessary for survival of our family. Therefore I was a homemaker. My primary purpose for publishing was not and is not to make money, therefore writing never felt like an obligation in that way.

But as I weighed the word “homemaker,” it suddenly did not feel like the right label anymore. I don’t feel like a homemaker now in the same way six months ago I didn’t feel like “writer” was my occupation.

But a lot of things have happened since then. They haven’t changed the reality of my obligations, but they have changed the way I see myself against the backdrop of my day-to-day life.

So what DO I do? For one thing, I have executive assistant responsibilities toward our insurance and investment business, which we have now had for around 8 years. It’s something I have always taken part in—answered emails, checked stock prices, quoted insurance, called clients. I do this from home. In the case of phone calls, I hide behind 2 locked doors to get a kid-free moment to talk to people who might not see working amid screaming children as "professional."

As for our stock portfolio, I’ve recently taken on more responsibilities toward it so that we could stop paying someone else to do it and thus earn more money. This job means analyzing charts, options chains, and trade history, setting exit prices and researching the earnings calendars and looking at valuations.

It’s a bit hectic at times to juggle all these things during the business day. Answering an email about an escrow close is often woven in with making my kids lunch or hugging an injured child and settling disputes. I can have Zillow pulled up to look at the specs on a home for an insurance quote while Iyov sits next to me on another computer playing ABC Mouse. Keshet can be on my lap (her favorite place) while I answer emails.

I think I always subconsciously saw these things that I so regularly do as not a “for real” job because I didn’t leave my kids at daycare to spend 8 hours at an office. I didn't earn a paycheck with my own name on it and my work day does not flow seamlessly without interruption. I'm constantly moving between completely unrelated tasks (wipe 2 year old's butt and then go back to composing that email, followed by  looking up a recipe for dinner, for example) But seeing myself as a non-professional is societal standards talking, not mine. I have simply bought into the American idea that civilized society means segregating the different parts of our lives in the same way we might divide side dishes from the main dish at dinner.
Me at my "jobs." Photo taken by one of my apprentices. :-)

And now I am also a writer. For too long I didn’t see this job as seriously as my other jobs because I did not see it as an obligation. Instead it was a hobby that took up a TON of time. But again, I allowed a cultural standard to dictate the word “obligation” and to tell me how “legit” I was as a writer. Book sales, I thought, would decide whether I could put “writer” as my occupation on a government form. But the reality is that writing IS an obligation. The circumstances and experiences of my life have breathed it into me. Putting it down on “paper” is the exhale. It has altered the way I see everything and the way I treat everyone. It has been miracle grow to my spirituality and a mirror to reflect my true self-worth. Accepting that writing is quite literally essential to my well-being is something I have come to understand gradually, because it took a lot of effort and experience to stop feeling guilty over "taking so much time to myself." Once I did accept it's necessity, I took it as seriously as I did quoting an insurance policy. I have slowly but surely been edging toward feeling I have the right to label myself as a “writer” when I tell people my occupation.

I don’t think one blank is sufficient for a question about my occupation, but of all the things I currently do, writing will be the one that remains as long as I am alive. It describes who I am and what I do better than anything else. So "writer" is what I put on that jury summons questionnaire. And it felt absolutely right to do so. Not because of the royalty deposits I finally get every month, (as substantiating as that is), but because I finally allowed it to be as important as my other obligations without guilt. Now I spend time on it without the mentality of “I should be doing xyz instead” but with the mentality of “I have to go to work.” And like all forms of work, some parts are pleasant (the writing itself), and some parts are not so pleasant (the marketing).
And the really cool thing is that I stopped seeing this thing as time I deprive my children of. Instead all of my “jobs” are meshed together in a way that sometimes feels like a well-oiled machine, and other times feels like a giant pot of 15-bean soup that gives everyone gas afterward. And I'm totally fine with imperfection of such a giant mess of things to do and trying to find enough hours in the day to do them.

Accepting writing as one of my jobs has also done something I did not foresee. It has brought balance to itself. A lot of writers face the chore of making themselves find time to write. I face the chore of stopping myself from writing too often. But ironically, once I allowed writing a place of necessity in my life, I stopped feeling so compelled to do it all the time. In effect, I can tear myself away without withdrawls. And I am content to wait until another free moment arises to crack on with it again. I can't say I'm going to bed any earlier (too many demands from too many jobs!) but I know I'm getting better at balancing my many obligations, tossing aside the ones that don't truly matter and allocating enough time to the ones that do. As a result, moments are fuller and I feel less haggard. Even crazy post-15-bean-soup flatulence is a reason to laugh at the end of the day. Disappointment is shorter lived. Patience lasts longer. We're still a work in progress, but I only ever demand of myself that I am moving in a direction and I can undoubtedly say I'm doing that.

Look, I can’t tell you my house is immaculate, (which I think is a waste of time to care about when you have small children), but I’m more pleased and concerned with showing my kids that work is well-being and well-being is work. My Dad was someone who was always, always working (It should be no surprise then, to see who I chose for a spouse), except when we watched Star Trek, which we did as a family. :-) Dad would come home from his job on base (he was in the military) and he'd start working on some project--building a shed, fixing the chicken coop, rebuilding a lawnmower engine. Whatever. His weekends consisted of nothing but him outside, working. Mowing. Spraying our peach orchard. Fixing the tractor. As a child I once asked my mom, "Doesn't Dad ever like to relax?" Her answer, "For Dad, working is relaxing."

As I got older, those projects my Dad did began to involve us girls more and more. We pruned peach trees and then picked bushels of them to sell in the summer, we helped fill the hay barn with bales to store for winter and sell to surrounding horse owners. We gardened. We helped build our horse barn and we trimmed yards of hedges and mowed miles of fencelines and cleaned stalls and fixed fences. Even when my dad was sick with cancer, he was working on something and not until he was unable to get out of bed did he stop. It is this legacy of work he left behind, and it is the one I have more desperately fretted over teaching my children than anything else. I cannot give my children a farm. But I can give them an environment of work. I can always be doing it and by my eagerness demonstrate that I look forward to it.

We are often warned against "working too much" and neglecting the needs of our family, but I'd argue the problem is not working; the problem is trying to live work-life and family-life separately. But if this segregation never occurs, it's not possible to do it too much. The kids know what our various jobs require, having been in and around it all the time. If Dad gets called away by his job outside the home, they get to take turns going with him. It is the greatest joy for them and I cannot think of any moments when the look on their faces and the joy in their voices communicates how special they feel during those times that working and spending time together occur precisely simultaneously.  Even a trip to the pool or park together doesn't rival their feelings on being taken to work. "Mom is working" or "Dad is working" are phrases so often repeated in my home. I relish the fact that they understand it's importance, the priority that work is, and that it is ever-present and that we love that fact.  And I love that these many responsibilities of ours reside together, in one place. This ideal is one that actually feels ideal.  I have a lot of things on my plate, but family is not the main dish and work the side dishes. Instead, it is all-in-one, inseparable like one big pile of things that I get to enjoy all at once.