bishop

Day 60 – The Two Most Important Things We Can Do in Times of Trial

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Tuesday – October 28, 2014

Our biggest trial. And yet, I look at this picture and I wonder how that's possible.

Our biggest trial. And yet, I look at this picture and I wonder how that’s possible.

I needed today in a big way. Without fail, it is those days I get out of the house to visit and serve others that I am most the most calm and optimistic about my own situation.

Case in point: I went three hours without fidgeting. I am a big time fidgeter. In the fidgeter olympics, I medal every time. I think it’s just because my mind is always working, usually in overdrive. Fidgeting, changing my position in my seat, biting my nails–all of it helps me to focus on the task at hand. Or at least it seems to.

Tonight, while out visiting with families to assess their needs with the Bishop, I just never felt the need to fidget. I sat and listened carefully to the conversation with nary a switch to my crossed legs or a tap of my finger. I was in no hurry to leave at any point and I enjoyed the visits immensely. It was glorious.

Just before our last visit was over, I got a call from Erin in a panic. Two of our friends had just been in a serious car accident. Their truck rolled three times but, miraculously, they were just fine with only a couple of scratches and a completely totaled truck to show for it. Understandably, they were, sure, grateful to be alive, but also freaking out. Their truck was gone.

It was more than fortuitous that the Bishop and I were together. We headed their way quickly to find them frazzled and angry and upset and lost, as any of us would be. They wanted a blessing, which we were pleased to give, but also just to talk. They couldn’t see how their lives could accommodate this disaster. It wasn’t just a truck. It was a vital part of how they conducted their day-to-day lives and a financial obligation they had to meet despite the fact that the actual truck no longer existed. They were facing complication upon complication upon complication.

One of the things I said that either helped or didn’t was that I felt a lot of the same things right after I lost my job. Even as I was being let go, I couldn’t help but have grand, terrible visions of losing our house and not being able to feed the kids and panhandling on the side of road and splitting a chicken nugget between the five of us with a now-useless credit card. I thought of every awful thing the future held for us, and more besides. And the more I thought about it all, the more anxiety I had. All was darkness. I couldn’t see a any way out of our previously unfathomable situation.

I told my friends I did two things to help myself make it through:

1. I stopped projecting past the present.

This is a trick we learned with Cami, our middle daughter with special needs. After six years of testing and worrying and struggling and no more answers about who Cami is and what is wrong with her little body and mind than when she was first born, Erin and I finally just decided to stop thinking about the future and to let go of the past. We couldn’t reverse all the hundreds of hours spent with doctors and the expensive tests and the heartache of coming to terms with having a daughter with special needs, and we couldn’t contemplate what her future would look like–whether it be in a home with other people like her or at our side as we cared for her for the rest of our lives, or even if she would ever be able to talk to us or have a relationship with a man or live into adulthood or any of that–so we decided to ignore all of that in favor of the present. The present, which is far more singular in nature, can be dealt with much more easily than the disappointments of the past or the endless, difficult-to-comprehend possibilities of the future. In the present we found so much joy that we hadn’t known was there all along. As it turned out, Cami was a deliriously happy kid, and we had been missing that. And the things we had to do to help her through her life? They didn’t seem so bad when we just took them one at a time and ignored the rest. We found Cami, the real one, by doing this, and we actually got to know her. Likewise, when I lost my job, the magnitude of the responsibilities that now lay ahead for me seemed too impossible to handle. But when I broke it down into “today, I will apply for unemployment, follow up on some job leads, and spend some extra time with my kids,” the task of finding a new way to support my family and surviving the time it took to do so didn’t seem so bad at all. It actually seemed quite nice.

The present is always a more pleasant place than we give it credit for. The problem is we weigh the present down so much with the future and the past. It’s not built to really bear those burdens. When you don’t let it, the present starts working for you, not against you.

2. I reminded myself of all the times I was down so low I  thought I might never get up again and yet I did anyway.

Experience doesn’t do us any good if we don’t learn from it. How many times in our lives have things seemed hopeless only to turn out quite differently from the negative outcomes we imagined and believe in wholeheartedly? Obviously, not every bad thing turns out well in the end, but enough do–I would argue the majority do–that we should give positive outcomes more of the benefit of the doubt. All those impossible ordeals I’ve been through? They’re just a memory now, something for me to reflect on and grow from. I never thought I would, for instance, find someone to marry. I was terrible at dating and insecure and had never even kissed a girl for a long, long time. I thought I was hopeless. I truly, genuinely did. I thought relationships with the fairer sex was one of those things that I just didn’t–and would never–get. And yet here I am, all of that past me. It’s just gone. It’s better than gone, it’s actually reversed. I didn’t just find a girl, I found the most beautiful girl in the world and trick her into marrying me and having kids. The proof is in my wedding ring: we make it out of bad situations all the time.

I encouraged my friends to believe on their past and look forward to that future where all these matters were settled and they were taken care of. That’s a difficult perspective to have especially in the middle of a trial, but it’s important to have it.

Advertisements

Day 45 – I Have a New Job (Just Not the One I Was Expecting)

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Sunday – October 12, 2014

file000103102419

This is such a misleading photo. I don’t know why I used it.

Today, it happened. Four wards dissolved in the Fresno East Stake and six new ones were created. If the preceding sentence makes absolutely no sense to you, I highly recommend reading yesterday’s post in which I explained what was then only a potentiality.

So, yes, boundaries were redrawn and our ward, the Fresno 7th Ward, got cut into pieces. Erin and I ended up in the McKinley Ward, which is also the ward that most closely resembles our previous ward, but with about a third less people. We lost a lot of friends. No, they’re not dead, but we won’t see them as much in the future now that we’ll be attending at a different building. There’s not even a chance of running into people in the hallways. Lots of tears in the room tonight as all this was announced.

Butler BuildingAlso part of the announcements: everyone was simultaneously released from their callings (ie, jobs within the church). The key difference between the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) and most every other church is that we are run–from the very top on down–by a lay ministry. No one makes a dime serving in the church.

No one makes a career out of it either. Callings are extended to members and they are expected to take them. That’s part of the commitment we make at baptism–to sacrifice our time and talents to serve in the church. But every calling comes with a release. You may be a Bishop one day–in charge of running a 500-person ward–and the next day be released and called as a nursery leader, instead pouring water from a pitcher into 8 little Dixie cups for 8 little Mormon rugrats. In my time in the church, I’ve been a teacher of children, teenagers and adults; a counselor; a secretary; and financial clerk. I don’t have a lot of time for this stuff, no one does, but we all serve gladly anyway. It just plain feels good to serve the Lord in these capacities, and we know we’re serving each other as well.

Six new wards meant six new Bishops, and they were identified immediately, during the meeting. Six new Bishops meant each of them needed two new counselors and three new secretaries, a group collectively known as a Bishopric. These were all also identified.

20 minutes before the meeting started, Erin and I were called into the Stake President’s office. There, he extended to me a calling to serve as the Elders Quorum President in the McKinley Ward. An “Elder” is one of the offices of the priesthood and the Elders Quorum is generally the largest “quorum”–or male group–in the ward. If a Bishop is like a pastor and his counselors like assistant pastors, then the Elder’s Quorum President is like an assistant pastor that leads the men.

What do you call that? A specialty pastor? Is that a thing? I don’t know. I’ve been to lots of other churches, but I’ve never been clear on the different rankings of pastors.

Stake President Nef made it known that there was some hesitation about calling me to this position because of my status as unemployed. Not because they doubt my abilities, but because I could up and leave town to pursue a job at any time, and they know that. But like an annoying tick you can’t shake off, they couldn’t get my name out of their minds and made the ridiculous and ill-advised choice to call me to the position anyway.

That’s the other thing about callings: really, they’re from the Lord. Lots of prayer goes into each and every one of them. I can’t imagine what President Nef has been through the past several months as he tried to sort through all these changes and the dozens and dozens of callings he’s had to extend.

I’m of mixed feelings about the whole thing. I’m incredibly excited to take on this responsibility and throw myself into this job that pays terribly yet yields high rewards, but how long do I really have to do it? I’m interviewing with two different companies right now, both of  them far, far away. It’s entirely possible I’ll just get things started in the Elders Quorum so I can make it easier for the next guy. Or, maybe this is the next three years of my life. I don’t know.

What I do know, immediately, is what I want to focus on as President. I want us to take care of each other; to do a better job reaching out to those around us–particularly those who do not attend church–and let them know they are loved and that someone is mindful of them. It’s a tall order, but I hope to be able to inspire the brethren I lead to do exactly what Christ commanded Peter to do when He said, “Feed my sheep.” There’s lots of people starving in one way or another. I  think we’re in a position to help.

But before any of that noise gets to happen I really need a couple counselors of my own. And a secretary. This job is way to big to do it alone for too long. Lots of my own prayers ahead in the next week.

After the meeting, lots of people congratulated me on the calling. I’m honestly not sure that’s entirely appropriate. For one, it’s not like i did anything to get this calling. There was no campaign and desire on my part to have it. There’s simply no “moving up” in the Church, and certainly nothing we gain based on our own merit. Secondly, this calling is tough.

I generally prefer to offer condolences when someone gets a calling, particularly one that will require a real time and emotional commitment. To lead and set an example is work. It’s not always easy, and, like I said, the people who serve in the Church don’t just do church stuff. They have all of their regular, normal life responsibilities as well. They have jobs.

Well, most people do, anyway. There are some notable exceptions.

Exposition SUCKS!

Now that I’ve secured an agent and am putting together a proposal for publishers, I’ve had a chance to reflect a bit on what I’ve accomplished thus far. Quite a bit, as it turns out.

When I started the book, I had no idea how or if I would ever finish it. The longest thing I’d ever written topped out at about 10,000 words, maybe less. My word count goal for my memoir? 85,000 – 100,000. The longest draft (so far) was the first at almost 97,000. Subsequent drafts brought it down to 90,000 and now it’s back up at 95,000. Lots of big additions and changes in the past couple drafts. But why would my word count go BACK up?

The manuscript has been through a lot of evolution. While it is a true story, deciding which parts of the story–my life–to tell and which to leave out is very, very tricky. Adding to the complexity is that I’m Mormon. I exist within an entire subculture that has its own terminology and operates according to its own rules and which most people on the outside find really, truly strange. As a storyteller, I have to bring the reader into that world while at the same time not overburdening them with detail. They have to both understand and not be bored. Man, that’s tough to do.

Here, look at these terms: Ward, Bishop, Elder. Or, in the minds of most people: a place for crazy people, a senior Catholic clergy (or chess piece), and an old person.

In my world, a Ward is a church congregation, a Bishop is our equivalent of a pastor or priest, and Elder is a title given to missionaries–who are usually 19-years-old!

Glossaries are tacky. I loathe them. I don’t like flipping back and forth and, to me, when they’re there it feels like the author gave up. The challenge is to incorporate the information into the story without making it seem like you’re just throwing facts at the reader. You gotta entertain.

As a reader, you know exposition sucks. Writers often have more than a story in mind, they have an entire world. They want to tell you about it and must if their story is going to have any kind of context. Bad writers dump that information on you, thinking wrongly that every corner of their imagination must be shared because it’s just that awesome and the reader NEEDS to know it all. More often than not, the reader doesn’t. The reader doesn’t mind a little mystery and discovery along the way. I’ve stopped reading books because I was that turned off by the way the author doled out pertinent information.

My aversion to exposition is strong enough that around draft 7 of my own book I had taken so much of it out that there were sections that were unintelligible to outsiders. I went too far the other way, which can happen. That’s why my word count went back up, but I didn’t just add stuff back in. If you’re able to take something out in the first place, chances are it’s not that great to begin with.

The best kind of exposition is through a story. To explain that missionaries are called “Elders” and some other bits of Mormon and missionary lore, I went back to the beginning of my mission and wrote about my time in the training center and how difficult it was. The training center got very little coverage in earlier drafts. My new draft not only explained the world of the missionary in a very succinct way, it also gave me the chance to raise the stakes and better show the intense pressure missionaries are under from the get-go.