Righteous Gentiles.

I wrote a much longer diatribe about today’s events, but really, it all boils down to this:

I am heartbroken over my church’s silence on today’s Executive Order regarding refugees and immigration. I hope they break that silence soon.

I’ve been attending a class on Judaism, and this past Monday’s class we discussed the Holocaust. Our teacher told us about “Righteous Gentiles” who didn’t even think twice about helping Jews. They acted because they had courage and compassion. He told us about the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, and I struggled to hold back tears as he spoke.

It’s past time for me and my fellow Mormons to start acting like Righteous Gentiles, and to speak out against the blatant religious discrimination that happened today.

It’s past time for me and my fellow Mormons to appeal to the elected Mormons in Congress that this is the kind of battle they should suit up for–more so than any other political issue that might cross their committees.

It’s past time for me and my fellow Mormons to start acting like the Christians we claim to be and stop being afraid of refugees who are already put through an arduous vetting process.

It’s past time for me and my fellow Mormons to want to be Righteous Gentiles.

I’ve spent most of my life responding to accusations that, as a Mormon, I’m not Christian. I am.

But tonight, and in the days to come, I want to be a Righteous Gentile.

My Judaism teacher gave us this article to read. He said it is one of the best articles he’s come across regarding how to ensure another Holocaust does not happen. Please read and share.

 

 

 

Introverts Belong.

2017 marks 20 years since my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Every Monday, I’ll be posting tales from that time.

My first week in the Missionary Training Center was quite an adjustment. I’d never in my life lived in a dorm-type setting, and I panicked a little at the structured meal times. Since I’m hypoglycemic, not having access to even a banana when my blood sugar dropped worried me. But it all worked out.

Missionaries are arranged in “districts” of about 12 missionaries each, and in ideal situations, most districts end up going to the same mission. That was not the case with my district. Nine missionaries were heading to Marseilles, two to Ivory Coast, and then me to Montreal. Down the hall from where we met and studied, a district of 12 missionaries were all heading to Montreal. Any number of scenarios could explain why an odd number of women were heading to a mission, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter why I was the one who was isolated from everyone else.

But as I reread my journal entries from that first week, it’s clear that going on a mission was so far out of my comfort zone. The phrase “I feel anti-social” or “I just don’t belong” are on just about every page, and I’m reminded of many articles that I’ve seen in the past couple years about introverts at church. Here’s one such article.

Even though I was an older missionary, there was still so much I didn’t know about life, even though I thought I did. And I wish I’d understood more about introverts and extroverts–especially in a church setting–when I was a missionary. I could have been more direct about how I best serve, and I could have had a bit more compassion for others as well.

But even though I felt I didn’t belong, here’s evidence I did: as part of missionary training, we had culture nights, where we learned about the areas we would be living in once we left Provo. Our first culture night was my 3rd day in the MTC. From my journal:

“I felt so alone at the Quebec meeting, since my district is all going to Marseilles. But one sister came up to me, gave me a hug and said, “You’re not alone! We love you!”

A pretty extroverted move, if you ask me. And one that this introvert really appreciated.

Twenty Years.

Twenty years ago today I went into the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah and started my LDS mission. It began 18 months of illness and injury, discovery and doubt, fear and faith.

For the next 18 months, every week I’ll share a journal entry or experience from my time as a missionary. I’ve been thinking about my mission quite a bit this week, as meteorologists are predicting a brutal ice storm to hit the Omaha metro. (Incidentally, I can trace the beginnings of my back troubles to this storm.)

But this week, instead of sharing something from that first day in the MTC, I want to share an effect of my mission.

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with the most basic component of my faith: trusting God knows I’m alive and cares about me. While in the MTC, I remember going to many meetings in which I was told the most important person to convert as a missionary was myself.

Twenty years later, I know that is truth.

This morning I woke with a heavy heart and a helping of survivor’s guilt. The reason is not important; what’s important is the events of the morning. I knew I needed to be around people, that I needed to reach out to anyone, so I could feel reassured that it’s okay I’m alive.

What followed might seem like a series of coincidences to most people, but for me, was clear evidence that God knows I’m alive and I’m here for a reason. It’s still a bit too raw and personal to give specifics, but here is what God told me today:

He told me I have a big heart and a capacity to love, and that I shouldn’t feel bad about that capacity. He told me to love those around me and not hold back, that part of why I’m still alive is because of how easy it is for me to love people. He told me that the little things I ask for in times of need are just as important as the big things other people ask for, because they are important to me, and I am important to Him.

My former bishop has been trying to tell me for the past 6 years that God loves me–unmarried, childless, liberal, cantankerous me. And I’ve had glimpses of that in the past, for sure. But today was a day when I felt it to my core.

Which brings me back to my mission. Over the next 18 months as I share pieces of that life, one piece should be clear: the person I am today, for good or ill, would not be the same without my time in Montreal and Ottawa. My ability to talk to God would not be the same, my knowledge of scripture would not be the same, my faith would not be the same.

And as for God knowing me? It’s relevant to share this tidbit, from when I received my mission call in November 1996: missionaries often dream of where they want to go, hoping when they open their letters it will match their dream. For some it is Asia, for others it is Europe, for some (the more humble than me) they are just happy to serve. For me, I wanted to go to one place.

Montreal.

Christmas Gifts.

This morning, I woke before my alarm went off. I looked at my phone to check the time, and saw three text messages from friends, all wishing me Merry Christmas. One friend thanked me for writing again about Advent, and I felt a tiny twinge of regret, because I didn’t set aside the time to write like I have the past two years.

It doesn’t feel much like Christmas to me this year, and I only blame myself for that–I let the stress of accompanying choirs get in the way of truly enjoying the season.

This morning at church, I played my final accompaniments of the season, and one in particular meant more to me than all the others I’ve played this year.

At the beginning of December, a young teenage boy was asked to sing a solo of “Guard Him Joseph,” a song I hadn’t played in years. He needed an accompanist and since I was already playing four other numbers, what was one more at this point? It’s not difficult music, and while Sally DeFord has a knack for complicated accompaniments, this one is simple (it’s not what you hear in the video, by the way–what I played was quite different).

I practiced a couple of times with the young singer, and this morning he performed it with confidence and innocence. There’s a different between playing for a choir and playing for a soloist. I feel a greater responsibility when playing for a soloist, because if I mess up, it’s much more apparent and can often rattle the singer. So I tend to be a bit more focused, a bit more tuned in to what the soloist is doing, and much more aware of how my playing adds to the overall production.

When I was in high school, my choir teacher once told me she had not taught a student that had my innate sense of musicality, and ever since, I’ve taken that compliment as a responsibility: it’s not enough to just play notes. I must make music out of those notes, and after teaching piano lessons for the past ten years, I can attest that it’s hard to teach that skill.

After the number was over, I looked at the congregation and the choir and saw tissues dabbing at eyes and heard sniffles throughout the chapel. He knocked it out of the park, and I was so proud of such a young kid taking that risk to sing a solo at a Christmas service. I knew both of us created a piece of music–he didn’t just sing notes, and I didn’t just play them.

After the service was over, I was on my way out, and I felt a tug on my sleeve. It was the young singer. “Thank you for playing,” he said, as he gave me a little hug.

“Thank you for singing,” I said. “Don’t ever stop sharing that gift.”

When I spend months preparing Christmas music and accompanying choirs at a most stressful time of year, it is so easy for me to forget that playing the piano is a gift. It’s not something that everyone can do–and I forget too often the words of my choir teacher and the responsibility I have to create music.

I’m glad a young teenage singer reminded me today of the power of creating music, especially at Christmas time. It was one of the best gifts I received this year.

 

 

Some Thoughts During Advent.

I sat in the back row of a Presbyterian Church, thinking about all the things I needed to do: grade, read drafts of newspaper stories that should’ve been finalized four days ago, plan lessons for the week, holiday baking, practicing the piano. It’s not that I resented being at the church, or performing, or even sitting for an hour and a half listening to Christmas music, but I started to wonder why I was there.

Why do I listen to music? Why take time from my work, my life, my leisure time to sit in a church sanctuary and listen to a bell choir play Christmas carols and choirs sing praises? What drives this group of people from all different faiths to sit and listen?

My shoulders hurt, my eyes are heavy–I’m in pain and yet I’m sitting there looking for something, trying to feel anything to ease my harried mind and body.

I have worries, though Jesus tells me not to worry. He tells me to “cast my burden upon him” and he shall sustain me. But I don’t feel sustained, so I sat there, begging for spiritual sustenance to work its way into my heart.

By the third song, I remember why I am there: God’s word and the story of Jesus’ birth and the music that accompanies that story lifts me. I let myself fall into the comfort of carols, and I remember that, at least for an hour and a half, everything else can wait.

My shoulders still hurt, and though exhausted, I still have so much work to do. I’d planned on doing that work after the concert. But now I’m writing, in last year’s Christmas PJ’s, by the light of my Christmas tree. I’m warm for the first time in hours, and I remember that I will have time tomorrow to complete the work that, three hours ago, I was convinced had to be done tonight, regardless of how late it might take. I remember that sometimes, sleep is more important.

Why do I listen to music? Take time from my work, my life, my leisure to listen or perform? Because it reminds me that there is more to me–to everyone–than work and life and leisure. The sheer number of people that this non-huggy person hugged tonight is a testament that music somehow links our souls in ways we might not be able to explain.

So I will listen to more music this week, this stress-filled week that on paper makes me want to curl up in a ball and disappear, and hope it brings me the peace and energy I need.