Saturday, June 27, 2009

What greater goodness can we know than Christlike friends whose gentle ways strengthen our faith?

It's technically a question. Which has always amused me since in the hymnbook it is punctuated with a period. But the construction is fairly complex, so I suppose I can forgive the oversight. You should already know how obsessed I am with the hymns, don't be surprised that I have spent time pondering the punctuation of a verse. And while we are at it, please notice that I am getting comfortable enough with this blogging thing to bore you more frequently with my hymn obsession. First you got lectured on Amazing Grace, now if you would all kindly open your green scriptures to hymn number 293... Someday you may even get lectures on my very favorite verses and passages, but this is the one that came up today.

No, its not my favorite hymn. I don't dislike it, its just not really in my top 25, partly due to the complex grammar construction, that makes it so that I wonder if those that get all teary over it are really aware of the text. There are a whole bunch of great and emotional phrases in it, but the real meat of it, the real substance of the text is often entirely overlooked.

I wish I could actually graph it out on the blog, but lets take apart the text of that second verse for a moment. "What greater gift doest Thou bestow" is a question, but since the thought is not complete we are postponing the punctuation with a comma. "What greater goodness can we know" is another question, but it is continued with the qualifying "Than". You see, language is really just math. (Or I suppose if you want, math is really just language. Whichever helps you to comprehend better). The bottom line is, if you shave down all the extras, the question asked is "What is greater than?" So it is a question. and a profound one at that. What is a greater gift than friendships that strengthen and enrich us? And perhaps since the author intended to convey that the answer is "nothing is greater" I can see why the statement is punctuated with more finality than a question mark. Of course, if I really wanted to convey finality, I would have gone with an exclamation point, which is why I question the period. It seems to be neither accurate enough to represent the grammar, nor emphatic enough for the philosophy.


This is why a lot of times, I just don't talk.

My very dear friend from my freshman year at BYU found me the other day. I have no idea how her husband ran across my email address (perhaps they already had it and he was cleaning up files?) but he emailed me to ask if I was me and when I was they looked me up on facebook, and we have hadd all sorts of fun chatting since then. And I have been thrilled with the whole thing, because I have been thinking about the two of them so much lately. He was my friend too, but she lived on my floor in the now flattened Deseret Towers, S-Hall, and we had all sorts of wonderful chats and fun. And the thing is, I have grown up a whole lot since that year, and I have come to an awareness of what a mess I was back then, and how much of that mess must have been evident to everyone around me. And yet there were, in spite of the messiness, a very few people that took me under wing and gave me the benefit of the doubt. I wasn't unaware of the awkward silences and looks I got, I wasn't oblivious to the social aviodance, I was in fact entirely convinced that I deserved it, and so I did nothing to change it. But for some reason, there were a few people around me that felt I had more to offer. One of those people heard me singing while I was cleaning a bathroom at 4 am, and he invited me to sing in his choir, and he encouraged me to do a little more with music. And maybe he was just in need of an extra soprano, but it made me feel like I had a place on that campus. I would have drowned without that. He is a high school music teacher now, and I have quite a few friends that know him as an authority figure rather than as the friend that offered me a lifeline when I sorely needed one. And maybe life hasn't dealt him all the cards that he wanted, and maybe he has grown into someone else entirely, but he still gets to count mine as one life saved.

Along with Johnny is Jenny. She is one of those Ensign cover model type women. Well, when we were BYU freshmen, I suppose it would have been New Era cover model. Bright and funny and friendly and talented and practically perfect in every way, she had all the popular friends and was out on a different date nearly every night of the week. I was nowhere near her social circle. Yet somehow, she chose me to be her friend. It wasn't the patronizing "project" kind of friendship, I don't think. I've been in those before, and I think I recognize them, but if it was she was way better at it than anyone, perhaps because she was more sincere. She played the piano, I could barely read music, she flirted with every boy in the ward, I didn't even own makeup, she smiled easily, I was too terrified to make eye contact, she had smart funny replies to everything, I could barely loosen my tounge to talk. She was the first person I really knew who spoke openly to me about things like hopes and dreams and daydreams and fantasies and faith. So many of us were too terrified to really share, but Jenny had confidence and humor that comforted even the most insecure of teenage girls. And insecure is what I was. It didn't matter though, she still treated me as if I belonged in her circle of friends, she still invited me to parties and told me about the boys she was seeing and writing and interested in. And even though I was nowhere near ready to start talking and sharing myself, she let me watch and listen and simply accepted that I was learning and that I was making my own efforts. Maybe what I am trying to say is that I never once felt like she was mocking me. And when I did start to talk and to try things, she was right there encouraging me. And of course, she got married right out of freshman year. But we stayed in touch here and there, we had each others phone numbers for a long time, and she had babies and I went on a mission and she bought a home and I graduated and she raised a family while her husband got a PhD and I worked a few dead end jobs and she went back to school and finished while I worked a job I loved and she got accepted to med school while I returned to working dead end jobs. And I think is particularly funny that 15 years later, the former pre-med student now has a degree in music and the former music major is starting med school in the fall. That's right, we went our seperate ways after just one school year, but somehow her frienship still affects me to this day. And I have made many more friends since then that have been affected by the confidence she taught me, and perhaps they are unaware, as much as I may be unaware of their friends that affect our relationships. And some of the friends I have made since then have had as much as an affect on me and my life.

The thing is, I have been asked in the past few weeks how I have the patience to listen to or deal with a certian level of immaturity, and the answer was easily, because of Jenny. I wonder where I would be if she hadn't had the goodness to teach me, and I have to offer whatever I can to that soul that is sinking where I once stood. It's taken a lot of good friends placed perfectly in my life to keep me afloat. Whatever stability I have is not my own, and as such I have no right to withold it from others that stand in need. And every time I offer my hand to someone else, I offer it knowing that were it not for people like Jenny then I would have nothing to offer. I wonder who the people are that helped her to become someone that offered strength, and I wonder if they are aware of how they have touched my life, and I begin to see very faintly how connected we all are. And I feel more deeply how important those friends are that we sing about in hymn number 293.

So I'm choosing the exclamation point, and I'm dedicating it to each of those friends that has strengthened me. I don't know if you all know who you are, and I don't dare make a list, not here, because of all the lists I could make, that would be the dearest and most personal to me. Just know that if we have laughed together, if we have mourned together, if we have shared testimony together, if we have sat up ridiculously late chatting and reading, if we have exchanged emails full of hopes and fears, if we have hugged or cried or thanked each other or called just to say "hi", if we baked cookies and ate the dough before any of it hit the oven, and most of all, if I have been able to listen and learn from you, you can take a bit of the exclamation point as well.

What greater goodness can we know than Christlike friends who strengthen our faith!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Childhood Exposed?

I taught elementary school music during the height of low-rise jean popularity. (Can low-rise jeans be said to have a heigth of popularity?) You might remember that at the apex of said fashion statement, the highest high brought the lowest low. That is to say, the jeans were extremely low cut. And lower even than that was perhaps the pentient that young parents had for putting their children into the low jeans. Parents of kindergarteners, paricularly, young 20 somethings were determined to make their child the most popular thing right off the bat by putting them in the latest styles, in an effort to help them avoid all the trauma of the friendless junior high years that they suffered from. (We all suffered from them. And once we deal with them, we learn that the suffering was somehow formative. But until then, we somehow make a whole lot of efforts to see that our own offspring won't have to suffer them.)

And as an elementary school music teacher, faced with managing a classroom of 75 kindergarteners at a time, I employed an old Mid-west trick for maintaining control. When things got too loud or needed to transition without the mess, we sat in "Tornado Position". Heads down, hands over the backs of our necks. But a kindergartener from the mountain regions doesn't quite grasp how to put their head down while sitting criss-cross-applesauce, and so they shift towards the familiar, which in Utah is family prayer style with bowed heads. And the 75 kindergarteners in low rise jeans would wiggle and turn their bodies around until they managed to kneel, put their head down, cover their necks with their hands, whispering and giggling and letting their pants simply slide down.

I'm not exactly sure, but I think you haven't really lived until you have been mooned by 75 kindergarteners all at once.

And I know there are horrible people and perverts out there that make such things an impossibility, but I always wished I could have taken a picture of it. The innoncence of 75 cracks staring at me every Wednesday and Friday at 10am.

Today is Water Day. We are fully into our summer camp days, which means the schoolish type learning is over and the real learning of childhood is in full swing. We go on a field trip once a week, we spend a day baking cookies once a week, we have field days and bike days and craft days and once a week we have a special day for the teachers. We put the kids in swimsuits and turn the hose on them. The kids think its for them. They think the fun and games of playing in a sprinkler is extra special because the teachers get excited about it too, and then we get outside and they run and scream and jump in puddles and dump water on each other, all the while the teacher stands there manning the hose. Do you think it's cruelty to offer a child a drink from the hose and then spray them in the face instead? Silly. It's a game. I count out loud to thirty, and whoever is taking a drink when I get to thirty gets doused. Some of them try to be there at thirty. I count slower or faster depending on who really needs to be soaked. And when we get back into the classroom, they change back into their warm dry clothes and I change back into a fair and balanced teacher. And they all sleep really well for naptime.

Of course, the connection to all of this is again the case of the crack. For about 45 minutes I have 20 naked children running around the classroom. Because try as I may to regulate things, every single one of them will forget to bring something or another over to the bathroom to change. and they will only realize it after they have stripped down, so they will run as fast as their naked legs will carry them over to their cubbie, find the forgotten item, and run back. And no matter how I regulate how many children are in the bathroom at once, several extras will be too excited to wait their turns and sneak in while I'm not looking. And once we are in our swimsuits we will have so many wedgies on the girls and low-rise on the boys that propriety is an impossibility. And our playground is level with the office windows of the cubicles that we share a building with, and i have no doubt that people sitting there enjoy the innocence of the play as much as the rest of us do. They too know the joy that is being mooned by an unsuspecting kindergartener.

Of course we try to teach them to keep their dresses down and pull their pants up. Of course we teach them to cover their bodies and be aware. And their innocence is both sweet and scary, and I wish we could simply leave it as sweet. But they are growing up as quickly as the world is growing into a frightening place. And we give them safe places where they can be children while learning to face that frightening world, and while most days I am very frustrated by my job, by the frightening people that are perhaps too close to the innocence, and by the closed and uneducated minds that don't protect as well as they should, there are also days when I get mooned by 10 kindergarteners and I don't think I want any other job on the planet.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Full of grace and full of Grace

I hope you are prepared for me to go a little religious nerd here. Don't worry, I can mix it up with some self-deprecation, just to keep it fun...

If you look up "Nancy" in one of those baby name books it will tell you that my name is a derivation of "Ann" and it means "Full of grace". This has always been a source of amusement for me, since as much as I love things like dance, and as much as I enjoy actually participating in it, graceful I am not. Yes, I can dance. No I will never be invited to join a ballet company. I can dance well enough so a director doesn't have to worry about me keeping up, but I certainly will never be cast in a dance-centered role. I can kick it up with the chorus, but ask me to leap across a stage solo and you will hear something that can only be described as "Gallumphing". I could go on for days.

But I digress. My gracefulness came into full view the other day, much to the delight of more than one of my co-workers. In my defense, it's been crazy weather here lately, which tends to mess up my knees quite a bit. I stumbled into work on Weds knowing that I should probably stay home and give them a rest, but also knowing that since it was field trip day, they couldn't spare the staff. I (fairly literally) girded up my loins with ace bandages and painkillers and set my mind to the task of ignoring the ache. We organized the 20 children into 4 teams of 5 before setting out to catch our bus to the museum. My little ensemble consisted of "Future Serial Killer" (you've met him before), "Pees his pants daily" (at nearly 6 years old he should probably be getting over this), "Mommy I won't be a princess without my jewelry" (she also has come up before), and "unfortunate child of the most neurotic parent" (He's actually a great kid, its his parental figure I struggle with), and of course I had the flex spot, the empty space available to the kid who was scheduled to come but his parents didn't get there in time so we would give it away to the kid who wasn't scheduled to come, which is irksome at best and if you are a parent that is reading this you should never be either of those to any teacher. *deep breath*

We headed out the door at 9am, which on any college campus is the heaviest time of day for traffic, simply because people who work and attend college campuses are generally too lazy to actually function before then. (I dream of the day I can join their ranks) and we stepped out onto the road , joined hands raised up in the air, to make us taller so the cars could see we were crossing. But suddenly my knees were no longer coming to the party. In fact, they checked out entirely leaving a heap of Nancy in the street, still attached to the 5 year olds who were simply staring in a state of utter confusion. Teachers don't fall down. Especially not while doing something basic like walking. And the kids were kind of looking at each other and looking at me wondering what the heck just happened when suddenly (and I should have expected this) all of their preschool training kicked in. It started with "Mommy I won't be a princess".

"That's ok Miss Nancy, you are a tough girl! You can get up and we will be tough girls together!" (growl grunt snort) "Tough girls!"

Then "Pees his pants daily" chimed in: "Do you need a bandaid or a hug? Let me help you up" (grunts as he tries to grab my arm and pull) "Wow, you are a tough girl, you are strong!"

"Yeah, you can do it!" adds "unfortunate child of neurotic parent". I'm afraid he's not quite as creative in his encouragement, and as much as I would like to psychoanalyze that, I simply need to add here that Future Serial Killer just stood there staring at me the whole time. (Insert your own guesses as to what his thoughts were, I shudder to even consider it)

Many of you may have experienced similar moments of gracelessness, falls in front of co-workers (in this case it was still in view of the office windows at work, and I heard later that everyone saw and enjoyed my moment) and many of you may have had the luxury of tripping up in front of strangers. But I tell you there is nothing quite so humiliating as falling in front of both co-workers and strangers, stopping the cars full of strangers who are late for work, most of whom work in my building or complex, so they are strangers that I will continue to see every day, all the while being patronized by 5 year olds. It was the "tough girl" comment that stung the worst, since I knew exactly where she had learned it from.

But of course, I had a job to do, so I picked myself up and we went on our merry way. It wasn't until about 4 hours later that I finally got a break enough to check the damage. One knee was bloody but had scabbed over. The other was bruised and clearly had a lump on it that was growing to a fully swollen knee, and one ankle was nearly the same size as the swollen knee.

Full of grace. Graceful. Nancy.

But there's more! You see, as I was contemplating this blog post, in the face of those same co-workers who took delight in my tumble, I was faced with a fascinating little conversation. I was exiting my classroom today headed out for a lunch break when I accidentally walked into a debate in progress.

"It's not a church song" says co-worker that I just don't get.

"Yes it is, where did you learn it?" counters raging lesbian.

"I don't know, probably from TV or something" inserts chatty friendly co-worker.

"What song?" I ask, because, well, I'm me.

"Amazing Grace" They all reply.

"Oh, well, it's not in the LDS hymnbook, but the Tab choir still does it and it has been sung at the funerals of several different leaders in the church"

"Oh, are you saying that since it's not LDS then its not a church song?" (Raging lesbian tends to hate on some of the culture here. It happens.) She stomps off without waiting for a reply.

"Actually, I learned it in the Lutheran church. And it's in pretty much every church hymnal except the LDS. Why?" (That's me again.)

"Well it doesn't talk about anything church in it" says chatty friendly co-worker.

"Yeah, it was just about freeing the slaves" inserts co-worker that I just don't get.

"Umm, allow me to help you out" I proceed to recite the first verse of Amazing Grace to them.

"See, nothing churchy in it!" They both concur. And I am APPALLED. I know that Co-worker I just don't get is referring to the movie that was made about the song, but if she is still convinced that there is no religion in that text, I wonder how she can claim to have seen the movie? Are the people I work with really this clueless?

Silly Nancy, glutton for punishment, continues the conversation where she could have just left it alone.

Yeah, nothing churchy at all, except that the term "Grace" is always capitalized, indicating that it actually refers to the Grace of God, which in Protestantism is a direct reference to Jesus Christ and His crucifixion. Grace means Atonement in that text. As in "Amazing {Atonement} how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me..." or in the next verse, "How precious did that {Atonement} appear the hour I first believed..." I could go on, I know seven verses, and don't even get me started on the foreign translations I know. And where do you think the "there" is when you sing "when we've been there ten thousand years, ...we've no less days to sing God's praise"? Have you ever even thought about the text?

There was more, questioning and answering, but that pretty well sums it up.

And once again, everybody sort of stared at me and made a few jokes as I stumbled out of the room. And I thought, as I painfully navigated the furniture while trying to stay upright, that I was probably at that moment the last person who could lecture on the term "Grace". But then I wonder how many people out there have never looked beyond their own circle of experience and thought about the things around them. And I wonder if somehow their unawareness of an entire philosophy, an entire branch of their own religious roots left unexplored, is related to those kids that threw some cliches at me simply because that is what we have trained them to do. Their responses weren't bad. It's not wrong to call someone a tough girl so she won't cry when she falls. And I suppose it's not wrong to limit your knowledge to personal experience. It's not wrong to dance the correct steps with a bit of a thud. It's not wrong, but it's certainly not the best way.

Which I suppose is where gracefulness comes into play. You see, the protestants that wrote "Amazing Grace" were lumping a whole lot of doctrine into one word. There was the necessary Grace that saves each of us, there was the extra Grace that we can ask for, there was the concept of Father and Son in one, and there was the concept of Father and Son as separate. All things considered, the message of the enire song is, there are ways to do things blind, lost, and faithless, but life goes so much more smoothly with a little Grace. It's not wrong to stumble around in the dark. But there is a better way. And for as many people that think they are doing the world a favor by leaving the lights off, there could stand to be more of us willing to turn the lights on.

Go ahead and laugh with me at my stumbles, grace is overrated. I will continue to trip and gallumph my way around busy streets and stages. But let's see if I can't manage to work on being more full of Grace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Big things are coming... (no matter what)

... But I think I have finally learned to keep my mouth shut until they are in motion. Otherwise, when things fall apart I have to answer all of the questions about my failures, which only makes me more sad. So you will just have to wait for any details at all until the plan is in full swing. But what you can know is that I am excited, happy, and actually looking forward to a few things in life. And if the plans fail, if they somehow bottom out, or if I screw them up (which I am apt to do) or if they just somehow don't pan out, I will be more than devastated and I will remove all evidence of even having tried (specifically this blog post). This is sort of a last ditch effort, and I am going to go down big if I go down. By which I mean: if this doesn't work, expect me to consume enough gallons of chocolate ice cream each evening to not only gain back the poundage I have lost in the past few months, but more than triple it. When I say I will go down big, I mean big as in a 350 pound diabetic coma that has to be removed from her house on an auto-wrecker. At the same time, if I take no risk at all, I will be working in a daycare for the rest of my life, which is just as disappointing albeit less exciting to me than an auto-wrecker assisted demise. So here's to risk, here's to ice cream, here's to figuring out who I am, here's to knowing that who I am is better than who I've been, here's to hope, here's to progress, and most of all, here's to optimism. I am choosing to believe in a better me.*

*will you all please choose to believe in a better me too? It would really help me believing in a better me. Like Charlie Brown. "If just one person believes in you... then maybe even you can believe in you too."

Friday, June 5, 2009

This is getting old

Well, the blog posting thing was interesting, since I couldn't see anything for about 12 hours, on my blog or anyone elses, then it came back up for a few hours before the internet at my house shut down completely. Grrr. That's not the first time Qwest just stopped working for us, and whenever you get a technician on the phone they treat you like you are the idiot. So we told them to just shut it off, and we're switching to comcast. My internet is down until Monday. I am typing this at work, which never leads in a positive direction. It also means I don't particularly want to post any of my real thoughts or decisions, because I'm afraid to consider them in this environment as well as because I don't particularly want any of my co-workers to read about the adventures in my mind. So this post is brief, simply designed to inform you that I am making decisions, I am moving forward, I am more than these people give me credit for or allow me to be, and I am not a glorified babysitter. (I just had to get that last one off my chest, since it seems to be coming up a lot lately.) I do have yet another new roommate, and I am not so sure about how that will all turn out, but it was the only option available to me in the time I had to consider moving or finding someone or negotiating contracts or whatever. But again, since I am typing this at work, take my perceptions with a grain of salt. Hopefully Monday I will feel more like chatting! (Ha! Is it futile to hope for a good day on a Monday?) Philosophize until I return...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Why is it, then, that with 112 posts, I can't get any of them to show up? They are still in my little file, but gone from the site.... is this temporary or should I panic?