Believing

In my study of the New Testament last week, I read the last chapters of the gospels, where the Savior resurrected and was seen of the disciples. Matthew recounts that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were at the tomb when an angel rolled back the stone and announced that the Savior had resurrected. He told them to go to the disciples and share this message. As they traveled, the Savior himself appeared to them and commanded them to announce his resurrection to his disciples. Mark adds that when Mary Magdalene testified that she had seen the Savior, the disciples didn’t believe. Mark also shares the experience of two men who saw the Savior on the road to Emmaus but again, their testimony was not believed. When the Savior finally appeared to the eleven apostles, he rebuked them for their disbelief. Luke describes the response of the disciples to the testimony of the women at the garden (Luke includes Joanna and other women): “their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” Even when the Savior did appear to the eleven, their response was fear and uncertainty. Only when the Savior invited them to handle him did they rejoice and believe. John shares the beautiful experience of Mary at the tomb with the Savior and the gladness the apostles felt when they finally understood that the Savior had come back to them. He also recounts the doubt that Thomas felt at the testimony of the apostles and his humbling experience with the Savior himself.

As I read these different accounts I was struck with a couple of things. First, I wonder at the relationship the Savior had with these women that he would choose to appear to them first. What a tender blessing to the grieving hearts of those women who had followed and served and consoled the Savior during His ministry. Second, why did everyone doubt their testimony, as well as the testimonies of the men on the road to Emmaus? Surely they knew each other well enough to trust in their words? Was the concept of resurrection so impossible to believe when they had seen the Savior raise so many from the dead? As I try to put myself in their shoes, I wonder if maybe they were afraid to believe, to hope in the resurrection? As one who has grieved deeply, I think I could understand that a little. But I think it also reflects a fundamental lack of understanding in the mission of the Savior. Despite His continual teachings, these men who had worked with Him still didn’t understand the Atonement and Resurrection. Fortunately for them and all of us, the Savior was merciful and gave them both experience and the gift of the Holy Ghost to help them understand.

We often point to Thomas – doubting Thomas who had to actually see and touch to believe. But the other gospels point out that Thomas wasn’t the only one who didn’t believe. Until they had personal witness of His resurrected glory, none of the apostles believed. John shares these words of the Savior: “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” The early apostles had the privilege of seeing the resurrected Christ, but most of us will be in the category of having not seen but having believed anyway. We will have to exercise faith in the testimony of those who have already seen. But, just like He came to the apostles, the Savior can come to us through the Holy Spirit and confirm in our hearts that which we believe.

I guess what I’ve learned from these passages is that even the most faithful and knowledgeable of us can have trouble believing. We have moments of doubt and uncertainty. Sometimes we are prideful in our demands to “see in his hands the print of the nails”. But the beautiful message in these chapters is that the Savior doesn’t give up on us. He didn’t cast off Thomas for his unbelief. He didn’t refuse to appear to the apostles because they didn’t believe the testimony of the women at the tomb. He didn’t refuse to linger with Mary and the men on the road to Emmaus because they didn’t immediately recognize Him. Instead He loved them and patiently opened their eyes to Him and taught them and invited them to be more believing. How grateful I am for those always inviting and outstretched arms.

02. July 2019 by tjsjohanna
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Going back to school … sort of

In January my boss suggested I should get my real estate broker’s license and offered to pay for the the education hours (168 in the state of Colorado). Although I have mostly just worked for his boat and RV storage company, my boss is actually a commercial real state broker who mainly does commercial real estate development, so it isn’t a complete stretch to move into the real estate side of things.

Anyway … I started the classes thinking I would breeze through them. Then the reality of 168 hours started to sink in. There was a lot that I already knew – but enough new material that I began to think maybe I was actually going to have to study! The further I got into the course the more it started to feel like I was back in school (shocking realization, I know!) In the end, there was no “breezing” through the work. Just like everything else, I had to work at acquiring new knowledge. Real world experience assisting in real estate transactions helped cement the practical side of the stuff I was learning.

I’ve always thought of myself as good at self directed learning – but having to engage in more formal learning again made me feel surprisingly insecure. I was a good student back in my formal education years and suddenly I wondered if that wasn’t part of who I was anymore. Who knew getting my license would throw me out of my comfort zone??

This year as I have made the transition to full time work, I’ve had this unsettling “move out of your comfort zone” experience over and over. I’ve had to learn more than I ever wanted to about working with planning departments and figuring out requirements and getting the correct permits and badgering companies for plans. I’ve sent out more emails that make it totally obvious I have no idea what I’m doing – yet people have been patient and I have learned.

I suppose it is good practice for doing the same in my personal life. After 25 years of full-time motherhood, my youngest is preparing to “leave the nest” and I’m going to be figuring out what the next phase of my life is going to look like. Doing it as a single person adds another layer of uncertainty to the process. I can’t say I like being out of my comfort zone, but at least the past six months have taught me that I can survive and maybe even thrive during the process.

PS – I passed.

30. June 2019 by tjsjohanna
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Sticking with a routine

Four years ago I remodeled the master bath – new tile floors, new vanity, especially new shower space. The old shower had a built in bench that caused a leak down into the kitchen below. It also had a standard builder glass door with textured glass that was cloudy from years of lime & soap scum build up. My inspiration for the new shower was my neighbor who replaced her shower door with a wall of clear glass. I loved the way it made her smallish bathroom look bigger. It is one of my favorite things about my bathroom.

My bathroom 5/11/2019

I knew that trying to clean a glass shower door could be a huge pain – actually cleaning a shower space in general is a huge pain. I did a little research on preventative measures and discovered that the biggest thing that seemed to help was removing water from surfaces instead of letting it dry (and leave behind hard water deposits). So I created a routine: rinse the glass & shower with hot water at the end of every shower. Squeegee excess water from the glass and the bottom of the shower (I’m a little paranoid about another leak in the kitchen). Wipe stray water drops off the glass & faucet. Does it sound like a pain? It totally is. If Tom were still alive I’m not sure the routine would have survived!

Here’s the thing – I have never had to scrub the glass surface at all. It still looks like it is brand new. I’ve used a cleaner on the inside floor maybe two or three times in the last four years – mostly because I dye my hair and sometimes I need a little extra help getting hair dye out of the grout. The shower looks as beautiful today as it did the day it was finished. I spend 2-3 minutes doing after-shower cleanup and that is it.

Some of you might be wondering if you somehow stumbled on a house cleaning blog. I promise you haven’t. I started thinking about some of the things in my life that I wish were a little more “shiny” and didn’t take such huge efforts in “clean-up” time. And I thought maybe there is a lesson in all my shower upkeep principles. For instance, I would really like to have a more consistently close relationship with God. But currently I’m a little erratic with my upkeep routines. During the school year, I’m pretty consistent about scripture reading and personal prayers – seminary pretty much demands it. But once summer rolls around, I often put these habits on the back burner. And yet, when I do that, I find myself having to put in a bunch of time scrubbing the accumulated “debris” from my relationship with God. And then there is the whole physical health aspect of my life. I really need to reinstate some daily routines with regard to exercise and healthy eating. I’m sure it would be easier to maintain physical strength and a healthy body weight than it is to start over from scratch after months of neglecting this aspect of my life.

I’ve never been a big fan of strict routines. I like to feel that my life has some flexibility in it. I confess that there have been some mornings when I have been sorely tempted to just step out of the shower and forget about it. But on the couple of occasions when I have, tell-tale water spots remind me that the scrubbing is not going to be worth it. Over the years, the shower routine has become easy – I don’t even think about it now. But the first couple of years I would feel annoyed every morning – I’d have to talk myself into taking care of it. I persevered, however, and learned to see the benefit in this strict routine. Maybe it is time to put the lesson to work in another area of my life!

11. May 2019 by tjsjohanna
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The girl inside me

You know how sometimes you are thinking about one thing and then you find yourself wandering down paths far from the original topic?  Maybe it’s just me … I was thinking about how once in awhile Tom would call me “girl” and how that was probably the only time I liked the label.  But then I started thinking how at fifty probably no one would ever think of me as a girl or call me that.  And then I started thinking about things that I shared with my ten year old self.

So the first thing that came to mind was my love of reading.  I’m not sure when exactly I became obsessed with reading, but I remember distinctly having thoughts about not wanting to play with friends because I wanted to read.  I also remember taking a book with me while trying to climb trees because I just didn’t want to stop reading.  This past Friday I had a serious conversation in my head about whether I was going to go socialize with my friends or stay home and read.  And on Monday I changed the sheets on my bed with a book open on the night stand so I could read a few lines every time I got close.  That’s pretty darn similar behavior! Ten year old me and today me are pretty identical in that way.

What else? I always loved to have long conversations with my mom… And I’m still a big fan.  My love of chocolate was well formed as a girl… my preference for Hershey’s special dark chocolate and Baskin Robbins chocolate fudge ice cream definitely started when I was young (though my favorite chocolate candy brands have changed).  I still have all the freckles that I acquired in childhood and the silly cowlicks that make my hair so aggravating.  Ten year old me lives on in a lot of ways.

Fortunately experience has wrought some changes.  As a girl I was very fond of rules and making sure everyone followed them.  I spent six months sitting out at recess because I couldn’t play kickball with my class without getting angry at everyone who was “cheating”! I like to think I’m much better at letting others figure out how they want to live without my interference. And hopefully I see that there are a lot of different rules out there. It doesn’t always have to be three strikes and you’re out.  It could be four or five strikes instead!

As a child I felt shy. I was jealous of my little brother who always seemed to make a bunch of friends instantly no matter where we went.  As an adult I think I’m a little better at being friendly and reaching out to others. Apart from some obvious opposites, I think the child I was has gradually grown into the woman I am… Life experience has taught things that ten year old me couldn’t imagine.  In many ways we aren’t much alike.  But hopefully the girl I was would be happy to see how we turned out!

 

19. March 2019 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog | 1 comment

Writing and remembering

Someone asked me recently if I ever dreamed of Tom.  Off hand I would have answered that I really didn’t.  I would have guessed that I’ve only had a couple of dreams of him in the four years he’s been gone.  And really, I never dreamed of him when he was alive, so nothing new there.  But I’ve been writing to him pretty regularly over the past four years, and when I’m feeling particularly masochistic I have been known to go back and read what I have written.  Given, there are tears – but there are also clear indications of healing.  And, pertinent to this bit of writing, there are a lot of references to dreams of Tom.  Like, maybe twenty or thirty occasions where he appeared in my dreams.  My reality is actually a lot different than my remembered impressions.

I’ve been thinking how this relates to faith in Jesus Christ.  For Christians, having an experience of spiritual enlightenment or recognizing an answer to a prayer or feeling God’s love are all ways in which our faith in Christ grows.  But just like my impressions of my dreams, experiences with the Holy Spirit have a way of slipping away.  In the moment, I am sure of the reality of God.  But time and life have a way of making me doubt those experiences.  Over and over in the scriptures we find the counsel to remember God.  The law of Moses was full of actions and clothing and rites all designed to help the children of Israel remember God daily.  And my experience with faith makes it clear why God puts such emphasis on remembering.  I can’t just have a spiritual encounter with God and then go on my merry way and expect it to stick.  I have to remember it and ponder on it and let it change the way I live my life.  This is a place where journal writing comes in handy.  There have been dark days when I have felt alone and unsure … and how grateful I have been to pull out an old journal and read of some of the times I have felt God’s hand in my life.  It has reminded me to trust Him and not lose hope.  And just like my experience with dreaming of Tom, I have been surprised to see just how often God reaches out to me and invites me to believe in His Son and His great mercy and strength.  When I begin to think that I never have “faith promoting” experiences, a quick scan through my journals reminds me that my reality is very different than that impression.

There are a lot things we can do to grow in faith in Christ – prayer, scripture study, living a Christ-like life – but recording and remembering our spiritual experiences is an important one.  In the writing, I articulate what my experience meant and in the re-reading I remember just how God reached out to me.

11. March 2019 by tjsjohanna
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Mourning with those who mourn

Two weeks ago my brother-in-law passed away unexpectedly.  His is not the first death of someone close since Tom died, but it maybe hits a little closer to home, since Richard was relatively young and his death was unexpected.

The weekend of the funeral I kept thinking surely there had to be something I could say or do to make things better.  After all – what was the point of having gone through the very same thing if I couldn’t somehow help my sister-in-law avoid some of the pain?  I know that sounds silly … there’s no magic pill for grieving.  Death is an ever present part of mortality and sooner or later we face the loss of someone we love dearly.  It will never be easy to face living without that person.  But I wanted so much to somehow take away the pain.  All I could really do was cry with Joanna and her children and offer lame words of hope that eventually it would be a little easier and reassure her that everything she was feeling was normal.  I couldn’t even offer her any magic remedies to make it easier.

In talking with widows and widowers, I’ve discovered that grieving is very individualized.  While many spend time talking to their loved ones, I have always felt self conscious about that … but I write to Tom pretty frequently.  I’ve found comfort in sleeping in the same bed surrounded by all the reminders of my life with Tom – but many find that very reminder too difficult and have to make big changes to move forward.  So…  the best advice I can come up with is:  cry when you need to for as many years as you need to.  Be gentle with yourself and don’t expect to feel normal for awhile.  Enjoy the moments when you feel happy – because sorrow will still be there even if you find things to smile about.  Trust Heavenly Father that He will take care of you even if you can’t see how.

It seems like so very little.  A wise prophet taught that as Christians we are to be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, yea and are willing to to mourn with those that mourn, yea and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9).  I hope at least my experiences have helped me to be a little better at this – to know what it feels like to have someone mourn with me and to be able to do that for my family.

Tom and Richard were great friends.  I can only imagine their reunion as they shared their own unique greetings and inside jokes.  They shared a love of all things BYU as well as time spent out on the golf course.  I have Richard to thank for my first married home.  Tom and I left on our honeymoon with no place to live but Richard came through in the clutch with our little basement apartment. He and Joanna were generous enough to open their home to us 18 months later – a lucky house where our hopes of conceiving a baby came true.  Richard was always ready to lend a helping hand and always made a point of making me feel welcome as I figured out how to fit into this big, loving family I married into.  I’ll miss his welcoming smile and hug when I go to Provo to visit family.  I know he will continue to take care of his family with the same love and devotion he showed while alive.  We’ll miss him.

02. March 2019 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog, Family | Tags: | 1 comment

“WITH you it’s different”

It’s been four and a half years since Tom passed away.  Just writing that seems unreal.  It is hard for me to believe that he has been gone so long.  Much of the grief of his passing has tempered with time.  I still think of him almost daily, although a lot of the pain of that remembering has gone away.  However, there is one of result of his death that has not really changed – the fact that his death meant I quit being part of a couple.

It sounds like an insignificant thing.  I’ve always considered myself reasonably independent and in many ways I had to work to rely on Tom when it would have been much easier to just rely on myself.  But after 23 years as part of a partnership, it has been eye opening to find myself on my own again.  In the beginning, it felt overwhelming to make big decisions.  When I had to decide on car repairs, or how to handle a parenting issue, or even if I should spend money on a vacation I missed having that second person with whom to talk it through.  There have been good substitutes – I have wonderful parents and siblings and friends.  But some things I really am alone on – no one has the same responsibility for my children that I do as a parent.  All the well meaning counsel and advice doesn’t have the same weight as counsel from a co-parent who has the same investment that I do.

I’m more comfortable with solo decisions now, which is a good thing.  But I’ve never really gotten used to being the single person in a crowd of couples.  I have never had the experience of being excluded because of my status – I have great friends and family who go out of their way to let me know that they want me around and I’m still valuable even though I’m the odd one out now.  Just me writing that statement is really a reflection of how I feel about myself and not how anyone else has treated me.  I’m not sure why I feel this way, but the fact is that I do.  I miss that feeling of being part of a unique relationship – one where my partner knows things about me that no one else knows – and still loves me!! 🙂

Last weekend I went to an evening meeting for seminary teachers (I’m a volunteer religious teacher for my church).  The invitation was for teachers and their spouses.  I’m pretty sure I’m the only single teacher in the group right now.  I was greeted with enthusiasm and interest when I arrived.  Yet, when the lights went out (it was a church-wide broadcast meeting via television) I found myself tearing up.  I was surrounded by couples who were together, not alone.  They were sharing an experience they could go home and talk about and that would give them yet another thing in common.  I used to have that, and while it didn’t seem like a big deal (heck, going to another church meeting wouldn’t have really felt like quality time spent together), in retrospect it was such a big perk of being a couple.

In almost every social gathering, I had a safety net.  If I didn’t have a friend to talk to and hang out with, I always had Tom.  When I just had to get something off my chest but was wary of saying too much, I could always share it with him.  He didn’t judge my words too harshly, he would never pass them on, and he often gave me a different perspective.  We were “in it” together when it came to parenting, house upkeep, retirement planning, and how to spend our free time.  While I do enjoy some aspects of doing these things solo (who doesn’t like having complete control of the TV remote?) mostly the trade offs are a pale substitute for being part of such an intimate partnership.

I’m grateful that my life is good … there are so many things that have gone well in my life.  And really I’m grateful for all the years that I was married to Tom and got to learn first hand the perks of couple hood.  If I’m fortunate enough to remarry, I hope I never take them for granted!  In the meantime, I’ll try not to feel too sorry for myself and to focus on being happy for my friends and family who have this gift in their lives.

17. February 2019 by tjsjohanna
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Just My Opinion

In my school days (and probably long after that!) I was a lot like Hermione Granger in that I always had something to say.  I wasn’t nearly as smart as she is, but I had lots of opinions and I had to share them.

The problem with over sharing is that inevitably you become a pest or worse, you actually hurt people.  I probably did a little of both in my younger years.  I hope I’m more careful now.  If you were one of those people that I annoyed with all my opinions, I’m sorry!  And if you were one that I hurt, I hope I have made things right with you.  One thing I have learned over the years is how little I really know about anyone’s experience but my own.

A few years back a leader in my church gave a talk entitled, “Your Name is Safe in Our Home”.  The emphasis was on avoiding gossip or talking unkindly about others.  I have found in my own life that it also includes making blanket statements about how things should be.  I’m sure in the past I shared things like, “In our family we always do this, so our kids are just turning out perfectly!”  It is only as the parent of young adults that I can see how hurtful those comments were to parents who had “always done this” and whose kids were not turning out perfectly.  Now I know that child raising is more nuanced – that children are individuals with agency and personality – not some constant in a child raising equation.

The question I try to ask myself now is, “will this help or will it hurt?”  I’m not obligated to share all my opinions – and I’d be smart not to, because some of them might be embarrassing to admit to in coming years!  I’m working on limiting my advice to people who actually ask for it.  My kids would probably say I’ve got a ways to go yet.  I do believe that sharing our personal experiences can be helpful – but we need to be careful about how we do it.  Our experiences are unique and not all lessons are transferable.  The words I found most comforting after Tom’s death may not be comforting to someone else who has lost a loved one.  The counsel I found most helpful was that which I asked for.  The comfort that was most comforting was strangely free from counsel – hugs and expressions of love and a willingness to listen.

In the end I hope that I speak more in love now and less to show off what I know.  Because really, I just look foolish when I try to be wise.  And really, what I want to do is make people feel loved and understood as a result of my words.

05. February 2019 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Uncategorized | 1 comment

“Great things never came from comfort zones”

Roy T Bennet said it, and intellectually I know it, but comfort zones are awfully safe, even if they aren’t always enjoyable.

Growing up a Navy Brat, change was an ever present part of my life: new home, new school, new friends were guaranteed every couple of years.  Even when I moved on to college, there was still a lot of change going on.  Of course I didn’t like everything about it, but moving meant starting over when things weren’t going well.  It meant adding new friends to my life. It meant exploring Hearst Castle and eating lobster rolls and finding jelly fish on the beach and spending Saturday mornings watching the gorillas at the zoo.  Every place we lived had something interesting to explore and enjoy. Even when I went off to college I moved a lot – a new place to live every year, a summer spent in Germany, 18 months in Spain.

It wasn’t until Tom and I moved to Denver in 2000 that I began to put down roots and settle into a life that wasn’t transient.  When I was young and thinking about marriage, I could only imagine marrying someone in the military and continuing my life on the move.  I thought I would never be content to just stay put.  But now I quite like being tied to my neighborhood and my longtime friends and having a history with the place I live.  I am grateful that I wasn’t limited to my imagination in creating a grownup world.

There is a downside to this stability … over the years I’ve become less open to change.  As hard as moving could be, when I was a kid there was always a low level excitement about what was coming next.  And what came next might be hard, but it always brought compensating positives. As an adult who is facing the end of yet another stage of my life, I’m much less excited about what is coming next.

It feels weird to be reluctant – like I’m not who I always thought I was.  But maybe I’m just more experienced. I know that some changes are like tidal waves – they drown and bury and  completely change the landscape of a life.  I’ve had a few tidal waves come through and strangely they don’t make small changes feel like “no big deal”.  On the contrary, every change feels threatening, even when I know with my brain that it’s not.

But as John Maxwell says, “Change is inevitable.  Growth is optional.”  If change is coming anyway, I want to take advantage of it and find the joy and satisfaction that come with effort.  So 2019 is my year to move out of a few comfort zones as I figure out what this next part of my life is going to look like.  Here’s hoping I can work up a little of that excitement I used to feel when I was a kid!

03. February 2019 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog | Tags: , | 2 comments

Gratitude

 

If Facebook is any indicator, November is the month for public gratitudes.  My feed is filled with posts expressing thanks for wonderful spouses, loving children, inspiring parents, great jobs, etc.  Often the person posting expresses the thought that these blessings help them know that God loves them.

One of my favorite books, The Hiding Place, includes a story about Corrie and her sister in Ravensbrück concentration camp.  Corrie’s sister reminds her that they need to thank God in all things, to which Corrie replies that she can’t be grateful for the fleas.  But her sister prevails and they thank God for the fleas. Later they find that the fleas are what keeps the guards out of their barracks allowing them to share the comfort of the gospel with the other women. 

I don’t think anyone would feel grateful for any part of a concentration camp and feel that this was evidence that God loved them.  But Corrie and her sister did because they were obedient to that commandment to be grateful in all things.  So in that spirit, I share a few of the “fleas” in my life.

I’m grateful for children who have been challenging to parent … Despite the many tears I’ve shed and the worry I’ve felt, the experience has taught me so much about loving like Christ does, about being patient in afflictions, about forgiveness, about compassion for those who are struggling.

I’m grateful for the death of my spouse … Amid the grief and loneliness, I’ve felt the sustaining support of God in the hands of so many of His children who have loved me and mourned with me and supported me. I’ve discovered just how much I love Tom and how much of who I am is because of our relationship. I’ve gained a hard won understanding of how death changes life and how I can better succor those who are also grieving a loved one.

I’m grateful for being single again … It has forced me to reach out to others more, to leave my comfort zone and make new friends and try new things.  It has made me appreciate the challenges of living without a partner in ways I didn’t understand before.

Theses are big things, but I feel challenged to find gratitude in the little things as well.  Can I be grateful for a traffic jam? For an obnoxious customer that I have to listen to at work? For a car repair?  In this month of Thanksgiving when there are so many good things to be grateful for, I want to try a little harder to be grateful for everything (good and bad).  I want to thank God, trusting that He has a plan for my life and happiness even when I can’t see it. Happy Thanksgiving!

07. November 2018 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog | Tags: | 3 comments

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