Sunday, November 25, 2012

Organize Yourselves


When we were preparing to move into our new house four months ago, I had a verse of scripture that kept banging around in my mind.

“Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” (D&C 88:119)

I still say it over and over to myself because it feels exciting. It reminds me of what I am doing. It reminds me of what I need to do. It gives me purpose. I enjoy the parallel between my work in building a household and the Lord’s instructions to the Saints at Kirtland to build their first temple. I feel that both kinds of work are based on a similar purpose.

But this work is painful. Excruciatingly so. Building a house, especially a house built on the principles in that verse, is dreadfully hard. I mean, I am at my wits end when I can finally crawl into my unmade bed. And I think most times that I am failing the commandment.

My house is a mess right now. There are broken Christmas ornaments on the floor upstairs, quick oats that I spilled on the kitchen floor, and a basket of laundry sitting on my couch. A bottle of nailpolish is dumped out artistically on my carpet, despite the 5 liters of acetone I just used trying to get it out. The cats’ litterbox is full of poop. There are hair ribbons all over the bathroom floor. I don’t have time to finish installing those closet doors. And the basement floor is suffocated in toys and coloring books and crap. Oh, and I need to shovel the driveway of snow.

I had the most exciting vision of my home when we were getting ready to move in. I was going to make a little sanctuary, this clean, polished, and pleasant place where the Holy Spirit could just curl up cozily in every corner and my children could blissfully develop their minds and souls with every new activity. Then life came and smacked me hard in the face and I am down for the count. So what do I do now? How do I organize myself? How do I establish a house? I sleep, I get up, I try to establish a house of God, and I fail. Everyday.

There is an image in my mind, one that I must have seen somewhere, of your typical housewife. She has a housecoat on and there are bags under her eyes. Her hair is frizzy and I think she has a wooden spoon in her hand. I like to think of her, my patron saint, in moments like this, and I plead to her for comfort. I wish there was more she could offer. Because I am a man, I can never quite fit into her fuzzy slippers. Perhaps one day there will be another caricature made, one of a househusband in a housecoat, with some heavy stubble on his face and a deranged expression, holding a screaming baby, with a caption above him saying something like, “God give me patience but please hurry!” Something simple that reminds me that it is okay to feel this way, that every Dad feels this way, and it’s normal. It’s just temporary insanity. You’ll get through this. But for now, I feel like the only father who starts his day furiously spiteful because of the way rice crispies dry onto bowls. Because, yes, we had them for supper last night. And yes, they were still sitting on the table.

I am not trying to imply that my wife is blissfully going to school each day, coming home smiling to put up her feet and read the paper. She is every bit as frazzled as I am, and we can commiserate fairly well. I work too, and so I have my escape from the drudgery of this house too. But we both are struggling to stay afloat. It seems to me that the Proclamation’s mandate to “Help each other as equal partners” just means that we both end up losing our minds. Establishing a house requires both of us to be pushed to our limits over and over and over again.

But somehow in all this I believe, or want to believe, that I am establishing something worthwhile. I want to believe that my house is worth comparing to the temple, that it is like a place of refuge, a house of God. I want to believe that the work going on in these walls is holy, and that my family life will be as eternal as the work in the temple. I like to think that scrubbing burnt rice off the bottom of this pot has a more divine purpose. And even though my house is a disgrace and my children look like ragamuffins, I want to believe that my offering will be as acceptable as the offering of the Saints at Kirtland.

And so I will wake up tomorrow morning with that scripture rattling around in my brain again. I will pretend to sound cheerful when I wake up my daughter for kindergarten. I will try to organize myself—hopelessly, but I will try—and I will try to prepare every needful thing. I will try and remember to say a prayer with my family before we jump into the fray. I will try to fast and put my spiritual needs above my physical demands. I will try to develop faith and live it so that my children will develop their own faith. I will try to encourage learning, both secular and gospel learning. I will make my house as glorious as I can, even though I can’t really make ends meet right now, and I will try to make my house a house of order. I will try again tomorrow—however unsuccessfully—to make my house into a house of God.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Connections

The emphasis on family history and temples has been increasing in the church. Or maybe my ears have just been tuned in to it better. The last couple of conferences seemed to emphasize the growing push for family history to be done, and the latest letter from the First Presidency was about doing your own family history and taking the names of your ancestors to the temple.

I happen to love genealogy. Yes, I am one of "those."  I started doing genealogy when my son was born. I was feeling a growing emptiness inside me then. It was winter, my wife was in school, and I was trapped inside my house, restless, depressed, and feeling cut off from people and the world. As any man in such conditions would do (muffled laughter), I wrote poetry:

In my dreams, I dissolve myself out of shell
And out of mind.
Like a hermit crab grown too large for his home,
With a brain that bangs, claws, zings into next.

Man is such an empty word.
I can hear the emptiness plain
When I shove my ear
Against my chest.

I thought about what it would be like to cut myself loose from all my social/familial entanglements, move myself far away, preferably close to a beach and with a pretty garden. No human responsibility, no human anything.

I don't remember how it started, boredom perhaps, but I started doing genealogy. I searched out my history and I was surprised by how easy it was, with the convenience of search engines and digitized images of birth records, newspaper archives, and parish transcripts. I felt a spirit move upon me that changed me inside. I felt a new sense of connection, the turning of my heart to generations gone before, which also seemed to turn my heart to accept my children and the generations ahead.

I remember the feeling of discovery, late at night, bouncing my newborn son’s baby chair with my foot for him to sleep while I sifted through genealogical records online. With my son at my feet and my ancestors at my fingertips, I felt an overwhelming sense of connection. My thoughts of isolation, loneliness, and meaninglessness faded away, and I learned about the power I had as a father. My ancestors had families, they had left me a legacy and, most sobering, my children would pass on a part of me.

When I was married in that holy room between two mirrors, I was clasped fast between innumerable years of past and future. An eternal past, and an eternal future. I existed as one still-life frame in eternity.

I feel the weight of expectation at times, but I also feel the freedom and blessing of my covenants.

In any tree, there are roots. In my own family there are strong roots of history and tradition:  pioneers with handcarts, marriages, divorces, birth, death, suffering, sacrifice, and faith. A person does not need to have an extensive Mormon pedigree to discover those things. I once wondered if those things tied me down, frustrated my passions, inhibited my development. Perhaps. But when I look beyond myself, outside of my selfish desires and ambitions, I find that these roots also give me something more, like stability, spiritual nourishment, and hope.

And then there are the branches, the fruit, the seed, the blessings. My children mean more to me than my own life, even though I feel stretched beyond my capacity to bear them as their father. The fruit is often bitter, as Eve discovered, but after the sorrow, in quiet moments of appreciation, I feel "my eyes have been opened" and I can understand the purpose of my life in a new way.

The Savior said, "I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." 

And so I try to do my part and stay connected.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Grandpa

My Grandpa is getting older.

I have a lot to I could say about my Grandpa. I live close by him and so it has been special being able to visit him often and help him. He has had a series of strokes, one of them being quite serious, and it wiped out part of his memory. My Grandma is grateful that it was not the essentials. He is able to remember most people, especially family and her, and he knows the important stuff about each of us. He can also look after some of his basic needs most of the time. 

He had a lifetime full of church service. He told me last week, "People say I was a bishop and a stake president and a temple president and a patriarch, but I have no memory of any of that." Grandma reads to him from his life history to remind him of things. He says it's just blank space when he tries to recall it. 

He says to me that there remains a strip of memory that includes family and loved ones on one side, and his testimony and gospel knowledge on the other. Somehow, that information has been preserved intact. That is remarkable to me. Ninety-two years of life and memory has been stripped down to just those two parts.

I am grateful that my grandfather has been able to keep the two pieces of knowledge that make lifeany lifemeaningful. He has the understanding of Heavenly Father's plan, and of the gospel. He understands Christ and His atonement, and He maintains a close relationship with Him. Without that understanding of eternity, there is nothing more bleak than getting to the end of your life and seeing the gaping hole that is left after everything else is taken away.

And he has his family and his wife: Love. Relationships. Eternal Covenants.

And that is a blessing because without those two pieces of divine truth, this life is just a dead end road that goes on for far too long.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Love and Death


The closest friend I’ve had during the past two years passed away last Friday. She was eighty-three years old.

Her funeral today, as a strange coincidence, is the two year anniversary since we met. She moved into the assisted living facility and I got her into bed and tried my best to make her feel comfortable in her new surroundings. She was in terrible pain, terrified to be in a new place, and embarrassed to have a man help her undress. I was nervous too, because I had only been working as a Health Care Aide for a month when she arrived. But there was an immediate bond, some sort of “kindred spirit” connection that we had that day. It sounds corny, but it’s true. Work in health care is about as personal as you can get with someone:  wiping bottoms, cleaning teeth, giving medications, changing clothesbasic acts of care, and they made our bond grow stronger.

She and I talked constantly about everything. We are both LDS and come from the same small town and we discussed everything that was on our minds, from bodily functions to who’s related to who, and gospel topics, including controversial ones. We read scriptures together regularly, and I listened to her heartaches and her anxieties, all her fears of not being good enough, her impossible questions. I heard all the sorrows, baggage, and weight of a lifetime and tried my best to offer her some peace.

Mine is a strange but rewarding work. I guide human beings to the precipice of death and watch them fall off it, usually with much relief. They are ready for the next part of their eternal progression. I do not know exactly what the next realm is like, but I know enough to consider death with hope.

But with her, this time, it was difficult for me. We had developed a closeness that went far beyond my job expectations. I looked forward to our time together and to our visits. I peeled her oranges and brought her macaroni and washed her socks. She gave me toffees and treats to pass on to my kids. We expressed our love to each other regularly. Every fifteen minute coffee break I had at work for the past two years I spent in her room at the foot of her bed talking about life and the gospel. I was reeling with confusion when she was gone, and it surprised me. It was a sudden death, as far as sudden deaths go in such a place, and I never saw it coming.

I was an emotional wreck all week until today. When I embraced her family and after we all had a good cry, I knew it was okay. Life is only a transient, imperfect, fragile thing for all of us, and I know better now that there is more, much more. There are answers ahead, where relationships are made sure, and spiritual wounds are healed, and the brightness of truth bursts over the horizon to light our eternal souls forever.

I love her. Service does that. Just six days before she died, she asked for a priesthood blessing. With my grandfather, we anointed her head and I spoke words of comfort that I knew did not come from me, but from the Lord. Then I went on holidays for the week and didn’t see her again. It was the last thing I did for her.

I am beginning to see that experiences like ourshuman love, kindness, and serviceis one of the only things in this world that actually mean anything. All the rest of our frantic scurrying and ambition is nothing but “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.” I am grateful for the experience I had to learn that truth better. I will miss her terribly.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Darling Whelpley


Darling Whelpley is my great great great great great great great grandfather.

1.Christopher—2.Robert—3.George—4.Aubrey—5.George F—6.George W J—7.Andrew—8.Elizabeth Weldon—9.Elizabeth Whelpley—10.Darling Whelpley.

He was born in either Greenwich or Stamford, Connecticut around 1739. The details of his life are sketchy, and many of the records that would tell us more about him have been destroyed, but Darling Whelpley is one of the ancestors that I have worked with and searched out the most, trying to figure him out and gather his family together. I know now that Darling was named after his grandmother, Mary Darling Whelpley. His great grandfather, Henry Whelpley, came to New England in the early 1600s from England. His father was Jonathan Whelpley, Jr. and his mother was Martha Pennoyer.

Darling fought on the British side of the Revolutionary War. He fought at Lloyd’s Neck on Long Island, NY and was defeated by the American Revolutionaries. I am unsure of the details of the raids and skirmishes that he participated in, but one source I have states that in retaliation for this, Darling and the other British soldiers made a raid on Greenwich(?) where he burnt buildings including the church, likely the same church where the family’s records were held. The loss of those records made it hard for me to put together his family.

After losing the war, he was convicted to death by the victorious revolutionaries because of his actions. Before he could be executed, however, it was decided that he would be exchanged for an American prisoner (thankfully), perhaps because they had mercy on him because of his large family. The family did, however, lose all their land and property, which was given over to the American side. I often wonder how that would have been for his wife, Abigail Peck and their ten children. The horror and anxiety of having your husband and father sentenced to death, and then the relief of having him returned, but losing all your property and land and being forced to leave to a new country.

Darling Whelpley left the United States and sailed for New Brunswick on board the ship called “Hope” in 1783, along with his wife and nine of their children, according to the passenger lists. They settled in Upper Saint John and Kingston area with many other British loyalists.  Another son, Jonathan, probably came later.

I like that little fact that they came to Canada on the ship “Hope.” After surviving the war, losing all their property and most of their possessions, forsaking a land they had worked hard to build, and narrowly escaping execution, they came to Canada, their new promised land.

Sitting in the sealing room with my sister and wife, I felt their presence and their overwhelming acceptance of the gospel as they were sealed together for eternity. After over two hundred years, the family had finally reached their destination with plenty of hope.

     Darling Whelpley
     Abigail Peck
          1. Oliver Whelpley
          2. David Whelpley
          3. Jonathan Whelpley
          4. Martha Whelpley
          5. Abigail Whelpley
          *6. Elizabeth Whelpley
          7. Jeremiah Whelpley
          8. Richard Whelpley
          9. Joseph Whelpley
          10. William Whelpley

Friday, September 7, 2012

Zina Prescinda Young Williams Card



Zina Prescinda Young Card is my great great grandmother. I have strong memories looking at her photograph beside my great great grandfather, Charles Ora Card. She looked so beautiful and pleasant in that photograph, and intelligent. I loved her.

She was the daughter of Brigham Young and Zina Diantha Huntington Young, who were respectively president of the Church and president of the Relief Society. (Maybe someday I will write about Zina Sr. and her tangled mess of marriage and family life.)

Zina grew up in the Lion House in Salt Lake City with Brigham Young. She wrote about him saying:

“President Young was so just, so tender, so noble, and his children were taught by their mothers to obey him implicitly. But his rules were few. The time for instruction and association with him was found when evening came and he would ring the old prayer bell that would bring the whole family together for prayers in the spacious parlor. Oh, those prayers! It seemed as if he talked face to face with God. They have been a tie that bound the family with sacredness and devotion that is rarely found. … He used to have his children sing and dance for him. They had a music teacher, dancing master, and a governess, for he appreciated an education and did all in his power to give everyone in his family an opportunity for knowledge and improvement and culture.”*

Growing up in the Lion House meant she had the rare opportunity of a private tutor and an fine arts education. Brigham Young, if nothing else, was a great champion for education and the arts. Zina was an actress in her young life, and she had refined tastes in art, literature and music that was uncommon in the unruly frontiers of the United States and even Utah, where most people did not have much of an education at all.

One interesting tidbit about her is that Zina P Young was chosen by John Taylor as a delegate in Washington D.C., where she represented Mormons and defended polygamy before the first women’s congress. There she met Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I wonder what they thought of her. I think she must have represented a strange and perhaps conflicted flavor of feminism during that time.

After the death of her first husband, Thomas Williams (she was the second wife) she became the polygamous wife of Charles Ora Card, who fled the government because of his wives and sought refuge in Canada, where he founded the town of Cardston and oversaw the construction of the Cardston temple.

Zina Prescinda Young Williams Card was the wife chosen to accompany C.O. Card to Canada mostly because she was the youngest, and therefore more physically up to the difficult task of carving out a new community near the Rocky Mountains. Talking to my grandmother about her, she remembers well sitting on her lap and hearing her “pleasing alto voice” and feeling her refined, cultured personality. My grandmother tells me that Zina P Y Card took an informal charge over the youth of Cardston from the beginning, teaching them proper grammar and manners. She was affectionately called “Aunt Zina” by many that knew her.

Her home was the cultural center of the community for many years, and many came there to hear music, poetry recitals and to dance. She worked as a midwife and was leader of the Young Women`s Mutual Improvement Association, and when she moved back to Utah she was the matron of the LDS University and worked in the temple where she gave talks to the brides. She brought manners, culture, and refinement to an otherwise rugged place. My grandmother believes that Zina’s fine arts education in the Lion House was an important force in shaping the community of Cardston.

Zina was a prominent and influential woman in the church and the community. Her legacy comes down to me, and I want to understand and appreciate it. She believed in the vision that was given to her about eternal families in heaven, and she believed in giving herself up to build Zion.

I am her great-great grandson. I would like to capture in my life some remnant of her faith and refinement, her love of truth and education, and her dedication to marriage and family.

* Much of my information is gleaned from the Church history website page on Zina Prescinda Young Card, http://history.lds.org/article/zina-young-card-biography?lang=eng