This is how we do bath night at our house, starting with youngest and working our way up. The other kids get to stay at the table and color, and then after their bath they get to sit on the couch with flash cards to practice. That’s what works for us, and keeps them busy and happy. It takes us almost two hours to get all seven kids bathed, plus another hour to do Six’s hair.
So, when my work and homework were all done by noon today, I was thrilled to discover some rare free time. I thought I could use it sitting in my reading chair like a slacker, or maybe taking an actual nap, or maybe (gasp!) actually watching a movie or something. It’s been a really intense month, following a really intense summer, and I felt fully justified.
That’s when I remembered this, from my bedtime reading last night:
How do we fulfill the measure of our creation upon the earth? I answer, it is for us to be obedient, hearken unto the counsel of our parents and leaders, to keep the commandments of God. It is to qualify ourselves to follow some useful occupation, to be industrious in acquiring knowledge, and not spend our time in useless visiting, and lounging about in idleness. It is to have every moment devoted to some useful employment, to serve God, and walk humbly before Him, blameless in all of His ordinances, be true to God and His servants, follow in the dictates of wisdom and experience, be patient and courteous toward each other, be persevering, virtuous, honest, and faithful – in short, be good, faithful saints of the Most High God… As physical strength shall be given, so shall mental strength and ability, and you will increase and strengthen until you can fathom the deep sciences, and unfold the mysteries of eternity.
~ David Wells, 1854, JoD 2:25
It’s like a body slam, right?
Every moment devoted to useful service.
No lounging around?
Wait, the mysteries of eternity? That’s in my patriarchal blessing.
And it sounds big.
Maybe that’s why, then, that a blessing so grand would require a (seemingly) big sacrifice of not being a slacker, or worse: a pajama lover (gulp!).
While I know laundry is ongoing, I was kind of proud of myself that the dishes were done and stew was simmering in the stove. I know I need to dust, but I was proud of myself to have already finished my notes and scheduled a new intake for next week – a holiday week! That should give me bonus points! I knew there was more personal study to be done, but I was proud to have already finished my homework from my medieval Jewish history class and practiced my Hebrew.
And besides, this pneumonia is gonna kick me if I can’t kick it, right?
And isn’t it true that everyone is telling me to slow down?
Turns out slowing down, and even being still, are not the same as lounging around not giving anything to the world or working in some way to give myself some positive input for later gifting to the world.
This guy says, later in his talk, that since we have the gospel, we do not have to carry “the burden of trash and nonsense to wade through” as do those without the gospel.
Trash and nonsense.
So while resting is encouraged in principle, and necessary in balancing health, and reminded to keep in perspective, my primary motive – even when resting – ought to be contributing something positive to myself or the world in some way.
Well, I am assuming here that positive and useful are the opposites of trash and nonsense.
And now that I think about it, I see trash and nonsense everywhere.
The trash might be more obvious, like movies or tv shows or music or other content that is inappropriate for me, so we are often good at avoiding that I think.
But that’s just neutral.
It’s not the same as specifically choosing positive content that adds something, builds up somehow, or adds upon who I am or what I have to offer the world.
Nonsense is trickier, like that which I don’t notice or am not bothered by, and yet doesn’t make sense as part of the plan of happiness. Am I on the internet with a question to discover or a testimony to share? Or am I on the internet because my brain shut off half an hour ago, and I haven’t even noticed yet? Am I gleaning something, avoiding something, or just putting myself to sleep?
And how do you have rest, if it is still productive?
Except that is what we have the sabbath for, and if this is so, the how can the sabbath be a sabbath, if I am stealing sabbath moments in other blocks of time?
That’s when I realize that besides any level of consecrated living, there is also the layer of keeping the Sabbath holy by working hard hard the other days of the week – not just not working on the Sabbath, but by really working the other days. So not only can I consecrate my days by working hard and serving much most days, but doing so consecrates my Sabbath, which is what sanctifies the whole lot of it anyway.
And I need me some sanctification anywhere I can get it.
My margins, like in the pages of a book, are justified, I know, by what the Savior has done for me.
The atonement brings me back to zero, thanks be to God, and gives me new footing for fresh starts.
But I do have to start, to act to do something.
And when you justify your margins, all the words in the middle bounce around into funny spaced lines, so that the edges are sharp but the words themselves are a mess.
And that’s me.
And if it is justification that makes straight margins, that brings me within the bounds the Lord has set, then it is sanctification that cleans up the internal mess, all those funny spaced words in the middle.
That’s what I was thinking about and praying about when the phone rang.
It was the school, and then another school, and then our kids started dropping like flies. Fevers and vomiting and coughing and some kind of flu bug, my goodness.
And I thought how lovely it was to learn, just in time, that cleaning up such a nasty mess of bodily fluids is holy work, same as pouring pink fever medicine into tiny medicine cups, same as the eternal matching of socks and the forever folding of tiny clothes, same as the hour long braiding of hair twice a week, same as the picking up and delivering to and from visits, same as the stroking of hair after a nightmare, the same as the singing of little songs and giving warm baths and cooking pots of stew.
I was thinking, then, how glad I was, to be given just exactly so much as I have been given, knowing I needed a lot of healing up and cleaning out and sanctifying.
I know that He has a vision of me that I cannot yet see, but knowing He is working on it gives me great comfort. That’s why I have never felt abandoned by God, not through all the hard things we have endured.
Because anytime I know He is getting my attention, it is because He is already paying attention.
And I am not forgotten.
And that is humbling, and healing.
And it gives me peace.
Even moments of stillness.
Even moments of rest.
After our cold days, I loved the warmer afternoon I spent outside with kiddos itching to play on our local trails where they talk better than in stuffy office.
I started the day at 530, though, rising early to get to the hospital for my second chaplaincy assignment. I had to give an early lecture on Mormons, and answer questions about how that impacts care (stop sending up trays with ice tea as the only drink choice!). I focused on simple things, like our Articles of Faith, the Living Christ, and the Family Proclamationh. I provided copies of those three things to everyone, and they asked really good questions!
They also asked a lot of questions about my cochlear implants, which reminded me I was back in the hospital environment.
They did great to finish on time, so I made it back to work on time and saw all my peeps as scheduled. It was a log day, but worked out just fine.
Except for Five, who came home sick. He feels fine, but had a fever, so the school made him come home and won’t let him go back to school tomorrow. He was so sad! I couldn’t miss patients, so Nathan had to leave the school where he was teaching orchestra to go pick Five up and take him home to bed. Poor guy!
In the meantime, having fresh energy from the early morning and hospital work gave me new life in my regular job, so I had a really good day and fun time of it. I was worried when our hours were cut back that I wouldn’t get to do enough or like it or know how to adjust, but this has fit perfectly and fits me perfectly.
For so long, I had these random pieces of my life – the counseling, the theological studies, the extra ministry pieces in different settings – and this chaplaincy thing really is integrating it all together into something that feels very me.
As the heaviness of it falls on me, so does the testimony that it is good and right and exactly what I need.
It is service, but with training, so I get the refinement I crave and the accountability to improve upon myself, and in a setting where there are needs and I have something to give.
The group work of the chaplain cohort is very reflective and intense internally, and I think it is time for me to do some serious work about the deaths of my parents.
Nathan and I know that since we were called to this, we will be qualified for it – both of us – even though right now it feels impossible. We also know it is preparatory, though we don’t know for what exactly. We also know it will be hard as we adjust and transition and endure, but we are super excited to experience the growth and healing and progress that will come.
It will be a challenge practically, as I will be working overnight shifts (there is a room for me to sleep in when I am not being paged) and weekends, with every sixth Sunday as the chaplain in Tulsa – including giving the chapel sermon and doing the service! So funny to year them call me “pastor” and “minister”. The weekends I am not on call or shift or doing Chapel, I will be at the other hospital as the psych person for the ER.
It feels like a lot, but the scheduling works out perfectly, though we may not take more foster kids as the three on their way out head home.
There will be a two or three week period in April where my chaplaincy assignment shifts to a different hospital before being finished at this one, and so those two weeks will be hard.
It will be a wild ride, for sure, like any of our adventures.
But I would rather work hard and play hard than sit around with cancer and pneumonia.
I am breathing better and have not had as many fevers, but my lungs are still cloudy so I haven’t kicked the pneumonia yet. It is making me crazy, but my lungs have always been easily irritated because of the heart stuff. It’s a mess how they are all so sensitive to each other. I am trying to heal up, and wouldn’t work so hard if my job didn’t entail sitting in a chair all day!
The doctor called today with my lab work from this week, and my cancer marker levels are holding but not improving. It is so frustrating, though the fatigue is the worst – to always be swimming upstream just to do the simplest things. Maybe it’s true, when we really get down to it, that I don’t sit still because I am afraid I would die. But I feel so much better than I did before, that it sets me free and makes me want to live in every way I can.
Walking two miles in the woods today was glorious, and the best thing for me.
It was healing.
Like that chaplaincy group that felt so much like some serious group therapy.
It was good for me, all of it this day, and I am excited to see what shifts and changes, because I know I am going to be transformed. The old has been violently yanked out of me, weeding my soul, and there has been two years of planting after thirty-five years of soil prep, and something – now, finally – is about to grow.
Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.
We got this little boy when he was only Four, and I cannot believe he is already Six!
I really, really love this little guy.
We had a fun evening with family and friends, ice cream and cupcakes, apple soda that Nathan found, balloons, and costumes galore.
Oh, and one more popcorn fight, just for good measure.
He was delighted to open his presents of Spider-man stickers and costumes and big boy Legos, and almost delighted to get some books and flash cards and lacing cards, all of which are good for him and will be enjoyed for hours on end (I will make sure of it).
We do not know what will happen in court tomorrow, which is only about visits (to continue them or not), or what will happen in trial in February (so tomorrow should be our last court until then).
But we do know that we did our best to make tonight amazing, just in case tomorrow is really, really hard.
Or worse, since we already know it will be hard.