Monday, September 24, 2012

Mormons: Not So Weird After All

Preamble: We the Mormons, in order to form a more perfect people, establish families, ensure domestic tranquility. Provide for the common congregation,  promote the general welfare, and insure the blessings of eternity for ourselves and our posterity, do restore and establish this peculiar church of Jesus Christ..of Latter-day Saints.

I guess you could call this "Part II - The Little Gray Fish." I probably should keep my mouth shut...but it's just impossible. 

I'm almost certain that when I experienced the tradition of the windsocks in Japan ( The Little Gray Fish ) God was saying "you are going to have to talk about the Gospel in a time when people think it's weird. As soon as I invent blogging, you will be required to write about being a Mormon. People trust you. They think you have good sense (mostly). You won't be famous. You won't ever be covered in the latest fashion. But you have a big mouth so get out there and use it.

This past month, a couple of things happened that compelled me to write boldly about my faith. The television show, Rock Center, did a entire broadcast centrally focused on my religion, and a friend of mine, a strong woman that I thought I knew better than I did, declared the church to be oppressive and gave it a very public way. I felt the things she said were an attempt to make me (Mormons) feel stupid that I am adjusting my grip every day and hanging on to my silly religion...or rather, letting it hang on to me with "it's hands around my throat." Another friend of mine, commenting on our mutual friend's dissension said "That was dumb. Doesn't she know Mormon is the new black."

Am I being paid by the Mitt Romney campaign to write this blog? WAH! I WISH! (Brother Romney, if you're reading, we need smaller class sizes. We need to be able to pay good teachers what they're worth. You want to create more jobs? You've got to create passion for creativity and innovation and that disappears somewhere after the First Grade...we need to talk. Call me.) 

I have been a Mormon for the past 39 years. I was baptized in 1972! 

I remember SO MUCH about 1972. My sister and I had an elaborate playhouse that my dad built in our back shed back then and we role played that we were married to Donny and Jimmy Osmond. Our pseudonyms were Wendy and Kathy.The Tradition of the Unexpected We had a neighbor I adored named Cliff Austin that treated me like his own granddaughter. The other neighbors ducks laid their eggs in our yard. My brother released the emergency brake that year while we were playing in the open station wagon. The car rolled backwards taking off a passenger door before my mom could stop it from rolling through the neighbors living room.

The first time I swore was in 1972 and I remember exactly where I was and what I said. My favorite pair of pants were some lavender corduroys. I still love corduroys but Andy calls them "firestarters" because of the heat they create when rubbed together...between a pair of chunky's true, fatties like me shouldn't wear corduroy in the forest on a red burn day. You should be able to see light between your legs all the way to your promised valley if you're going to wears cords. Or carry a fire extinguisher around. Just sayin'.

I digress. Wow.

I was given the option of not getting baptized, but do you turn down all those cards and gifts? No way! There was no brainwashing involved. I've since tried to leave the church several times! But I have a real distaste for the feeling that I am lost. There's no control in "lost" ;-) and I like control. I also felt, that with my knowledge base, even if it was only a hunch sometimes, turning my back on religion was in fact, spitting in the face of Jesus Christ. My faith is a gift. I could never bear the thought of giving it back for very long.

Because we were always doing fun things with our congregation when I was young, I equated Mormonism with happiness. I think that's partially true. It was easy to see back then. I fight for happiness now. Not because I'm Mormon, but because I'm an adult. 

The flip side is that life comes at you and cracks its ugly knuckles over your head sometimes and there is no crying in Mormon-dom! Sometimes you make mistakes, we deal with it optimistically. When someone dies, we'll see them again, they're better off. When we have a tragedy, it's for our own good. When we make a dumb choice, that's okay. We humbly learn from that. I think those traits are true for nearly every religion! Some of the best people on the earth, in my life, leading the world, are not Mormon! God doesn't just work through the Mormons. Though we do our fair share I think.

I really liked the Rock Center special and I love that it described the church as one of "self-reliance." You need chicken? Got it. Wheat? Got it. Cotton, dairy, corn, toilet paper for 15 million? GOT IT. When the storms blow in, call the Mormons. In fact, you won't even have to. The Mormons probably already have a plane full of relief headed straight toward the storm.

The Mormons grow gardens just to put it in food storage or give it away. The women in my neighborhood sew birthing kits for Ghana, school kits for Nicaragua, children's clothing for the homeless in America and the list goes on and on. I have always associated the "Mormons" with action, self-reliance and optimism. Put the wheel back on the cart and keep moving. Do, share, give, then do some more. Lose yourself in the work. Sharing, loving and doing have never made me unhappy. Those things have almost always healed me too. 

Thank you Rock Center's Harry Smith for also reminding me that my parents sacrificed to pay for me to serve a mission and see the world. It shaped me as nothing else could have. It gave me a sense of humor, courage, self-reliance, but MOST of all He gave me a sense of my divine nature which connects me to something so much bigger than this little world and my little problems. My world became very big because of my mission. It was a set of lessons that just can NOT be taught in any university. Don't say we Mormons have our heads stuck in the sand. There are five languages spoken at my house. My mother sews re-usable sanitary pads for the women in Uganda. I worked in a refugee camp! I was given the opportunity to love a lot of people in a time when they were at their very lowest. GOD lifted them, through us, by putting us in their path. And we were lifted right back. We can and should be responsible for the welfare of God's children...everywhere. That's not weird! 

I also liked being reminded that people around the world think the missionary experience is ridiculous. I'm not kidding. (Thanks Book of Mormon - the musical)  IT IS. Who in their right mind would trust the strength of their religion to 50,000+ 19 and 21 year-old young punks out to proselyte God in every nook and cranny of the earth?  God would. In every divers language? God! I learned THAI for crying out loud. You think John Huntsman came up with that Chinese because he plugged in the Rosetta Stone every night for two weeks?

Think about it - if Mormons are so secretive, why would we send our punk young kids into the world to knock on every door, give you a free book, explain the book to you and invite you to come into the church and know E.V.E.R.Y. S.I.N.G.L.E. thing that we all know? 

How do I know God watches over those white shirts and ties? Because I was hit by a truck one day, a monkey jumped on me, a cobra lifted it's head out of our front weeds while we were praying one day, I wrecked three bicycles to smithereens, I was in the hospital three times with dysentery and once with kidney stones, I worked in polio wards, de-wormed Khmer children, had a rifle pointed at me, got propositioned by hookers that were earning money for their gender transition surgeries and got lost in Laos...just to name a few good memories. I was a stupid KID. Unless He's left the country since, God protects those young Mormon punks even the ones that are struggling with their faith, their obedience, or maybe even their sexuality. Hey cast of The Book of Mormon, keep telling everybody how weird that is, raise those questions.

(I have only listened to the sound track of the musical. I could never afford to actually see it. In response to the media requests before the musical's preview, the LDS church released the following: "The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ."  - About the Book of Mormon: The book, I know that to be true.)

All that I have is because of God. My parents? God. My work ethic? God. My awesome new job? God. Andy? God. Noah? God. My 16 year-old car that should not work...but it does for some reason because I need it too? God. 

I'm half kidding about the last one... but I can't explain it any other way so I'm going with God.

There was one other thing I really liked about the Rock Center special. And you might not like my opinion. The following Sunday at church, the hot topic was the fact that they posted a picture of the Mormon underwear. Dum..dum...dummmmmm. That was all the talk. I actually liked the fact that they showed my underwear on T.V. You know people have wondered. And one man's weird is another woman's door to corduroy because when I started wearing garments I was able to buy corduroy pants again. It cut the heat element right out. My bra doesn't dig into me anymore. My clothes last longer, it puts a layer between the heat and my skin which actually keeps me cooler...think about it. ;-)

Now you've seen the big crazy mystery! If you want another look you can google it at any time. No big surprise there. So let's debunk the mystery a little. I'm tired of the questions. 

When can they be taken off? Do you think I would actually swim in them? Shower in them? Oh brother, use your good sense people! Do you think I would actually work out in them? No, Ms. Huntsman, we don't. Maybe if you were a practicing Mormon you would know that. Or maybe your Mormon friends are just that nuts. Could be. Do we have sex in them? Impossible. Like literally, impossible. But they are a constant reminder, like a prayer shawl, a wedding ring, or even a tattoo, that I have made sacred commitments to something I take very seriously. Everyone should learn to commit to something at that level. That's why we call the temple "God's University." Contrary to public belief, it's not BYU. Love ya Coug's!

P.S. The saggy excuse for the Mormon underwear seen in the picture on Rock Center is not so much what they look like now. Modern sensibilities exist in the Mormon church too. Lycra? Yes. Got it. Thermals for the members in Outer Mongolia? Yep. Camo for the military members? Yes. I'm just glad they didn't show the woolen garments from 1890. Yeeks.

One last question from the peanut Donny and Marie wear them when they know, I can't answer that, but for me, I don't usually wear them on stage because I sweat so much under all that light. D and M are workin' it in that show, W.O.R.K.I.N.' I.T. and by the end of the night they are drenched in sweat and that's not really, in my mind, respecting the garment. So even though, they don't wear costumes that would prevent them from wearing the prescribed undies...OH BROTHER!!! WHO KNOWS. WHO CARES?! It's none of my business. To each his own. I think Donny and Marie (and the entire Osmond family) have been nothing but outstanding ambassadors for the church all over the world. NINE little gray fish, that's who they are. 

Have you seen 50+ year-old Donny sing Crazy Horses in concert? It''s 1972 all over again. The man has still G.O.T.  I.T.

I digress again. 

Aside from Ms. Hunstman's professed knowledge about the church, there was one other thing I didn't like about the Rock Center was that they ignored the central belief of the church: that it's Jesus Christ that sits at the head of the Mormon church. What's so hard to believe about that? So many people think the Mormons have their own Jesus. Nope. Same guy. We just believe that we have another testament of His mission, His divinity..."other sheep I have that are not of this fold"...why is this such a hard concept to believe? It's such a no-brainer for me. Religious folks are so territorial sometimes! (Waaaahhh!)

I guess it's also easy for me to believe that a young kid, a teenager (of course, because teenagers still have an open mind) wanted to know what religion to follow and God and Jesus Christ appeared to Him. Two people. And they gave him a record of peace and the tools and means to translate it in modern times. 

You can fight me, you can tell me I belong to a cult, but do you really care? Or do you just think it's weird? Weird sells, ya know. And that's why I think they left Jesus Christ out of Rock Center. Jesus isn't that weird. He's been around for centuries.

Consider this, even if He was just a great human man, think of all the good the Christian people of the earth (of which I am one) have done in His name, because they strive to act like Him, to be His hands on earth. I can't imagine a single bad thing about that unless you pick up weapons instead of bread. 

The little gray fish is the true symbol of the Mormon church for me. Opening our big mouths, doing more with less, optimism at it's true potential. Do other churches do the same thing? YES YES YES!!!! Are their good people that don't believe in God?! Are you nuts? Most people are GREAT. We are all His children. 

Do the Mormons think they're perfect? Yes...yes we do. Just kidding, geez. Though I do think some of them (I won't mention the Eagle Forum here today) are hardcore fundamentalists that never fully committed to the concept of FREE WILL. They need a pair of the new Lycra underwear. That will relax them! In fact, fundamentalists don't last long in the Mormon church, or as I've noticed, in any church. I've seen them get offended too easily by the rest of us sinners and go off and start their own rule books. I believe that church is a place for sinners. I'll always be found there. No one's perfect. No one will ever be perfect.

We are waiting for further light and knowledge like everybody else. We believe that we have a living prophet that will open those windows when it's right. Hmmmm...maybe I should be more specific...I believe, that we all, ALL, have a living prophet that is God's mouthpiece on the earth. What a nice addition to life! Woot!  A direct line to God...imagine that. 

I've never been unstable where this is concerned, just so you know. I'm not on any kind of pill, punch or spell. I've come to know this gradually over the last 39 years as a pretty sensible kind of person. But..I know it to be true and even though I joke a lot and sometimes I'm irreverent, please take my word for it, if you can use it. It's not easy to say that so publicly to all my friends that struggle with my decision to keep both feet in the Mormon church. But I've not been known to keep my big mouth shut either.


Until we get more understanding, let's choose to find the smallest wind and go with it. Everybody lighten up! It's going to be okay.

While we wait, let's choose love. Let's choose tolerance toward everyone. Even the Sister Wives. ;-) Let's choose dinner and a movie, I'll order the cheese sticks, you have a glass of wine, we'll share the popcorn. I won't judge you, you won't judge me and we'll all look after each other. Let's take care of the children, especially. Let's work along side each other and give our excess and our knowledge to each other.  

Because that's what Jesus would do.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ladies in Waiting; The Big-Mouthed Fish

Right after graduation from SUU I took a job teaching high school in Japan to pay off my student loans. I didn't speak Japanese, but I had served an LDS mission to Thailand and I was no longer afraid of anything. 

I was assigned to teach in a town called Mori-machi, in Shizuoka-ken. Mori was two train stops from civilization. It was dense with trees and had a small population of 10,000. I was so very alone and the solitude of it all, living by myself, not speaking the language, not having even one friend nearby, or a cell phone...!...magnified my singularity to the point where I was miserable and feeling abandoned by God in my true desire to be married and raising children by then.

Japanese school teachers all have the same big office. My desk, however, faced a big wall of windows with a beautiful view of a pine forest banked in bamboo.

I only taught three hours a day. I was four hours round-trip from another American, from anyone that I could really talk to. (My phone bill in December was $780) So, I spent a good deal of time contemplating the seasons as they changed before me through the windows. I watched the bamboo foreground evolve from bright green to deep golden yellow. I watched it bend with the wind until I thought it would snap in two, but it never did. I watched a house being built, and then a neighborhood was erected around the first house. New children played below the window where I sat and new mothers hung their laundry out every day in the country breeze. You'd have thought I was in Kansas, 1957. Except for the bamboo.

The Japanese are very good at taking care of their elderly. They almost always live as one big extended family. I watched new grandparents shuffle around in the streets, smile, bow to each other politely. The whole subdivision was created in about 3 months, tops.

The summer was hot and humid in Mori. I wished for my dad's big backyard and a hose. It was a relief when the winds started to blow,  but also a happy surprise when families with new baby boys raised a string of giant wind socks, shaped like fish, in celebration of the birth. The month before I had seen extravagant doll displays in the homes of families that were blessed with a baby girl that year. Apparently we aren't the only country with a gender stereotype issue. (Or is it?)

This year  in Japan was especially fun for the new neighborhood and their two new baby boys. On the first really windy day, I watched two sets of grandparents unfold these giant wind socks, some of them 20 feet long, and attach them to a rope which was diagonally strung from a peg in the ground up to the top of a telephone pole.

Almost immediately all of the giant swimming fish inflated with wind and took off. Black, gold, red, bright blue, green and purple... The intricate Oriental designs, the brilliant colors, gold and silver scales...amazing! It was a spectacular sight. I'm pretty sure the two families were having a contest to see who could get more fish on that line. 

After about a week of watching these schools of fish swim around, get tangled in each other, smack each other down, lay dormant without wind, I noticed that one of the smaller ones, added at the bottom,  was very plain. It was a narrow, black, gray and white fish without decoration, Probably the only reason I even noticed it was because it was always "swimming." It had a bigger mouth than the other more ornate ones. It's design was shorter, more streamline, allowing it to swallow up the tiniest bit of wind and take off. But the fancy long heavy ones lay limping in the same small wind as if they were fighting for breath in the bottom of a Coleman cooler. Only the biggest gusts of wind would set them sailing.

I built up quite an empathy for the little gray sock. It had a plain wrapper, like me. It did more with less and constantly proved that more isn't necessarily more.  I marveled at it's optimistic attitude as if to say "Hey! I might be plain, short and stout but if this was a race, I would be winning!" But the bigger fish always waited for more wind to motivate them, handicapped by their decorations and spectacle. They would whip into each other and tie themselves in knots until the little old ladies in the neighborhood would come out with their long bamboo poles and untangle them.

The little gray sock never got tangled or tied. It just swam all the time, and it would instantly change directions with the wind just like the bamboo behind it. It was cooperative, dedicated to its task, thrifty, creative and optimistic.

I felt pretty sure that a higher power was trying to teach me something about the little gray wind sock. I've always felt bad that my physical self wasn't more ornate, more eye-catching. No amount of gold or silver embellishments will give me a waist or...a neck. ;-) It isn't easy to get the attention of (a man or) if you will only show your legs from the skinny part of your calf down. To add insult to injury, my eye surgeries, though saving my sight, have made me allergic to eye makeup, so I rarely use it and it really affects how I feel about myself. 

So I've worked hard to find and display other talents. To catch people off guard by entertaining them using wit and storytelling. I've learned the art of "magnetizing the details" as my mom would say. It distracts people from my plain gray wrapper. I preempt their perception of me with a portrait of someone that gets things done and can be counted on to bring creativity and optimism to the table when resources are slim (and I never have been)... 

...I am "always swimming." 

Blogging is great can't see me. I'm safe behind the invisible interweb. For all you know, except that some of you do know me, I could be Quasimodo sitting here typing away. I could have some crazy physical defect like gills or a mermaid tail. 

I don't have gills. But I do have a really big mouth. And I'm not afraid to use it, especially in this blog. I have used it to advocate for myself, for drama teachers, for my students and, on occasion, when I feel a great responsibility to stand up for the Mormons, I have tried to have a modern sensibility and be the voice of reason. Blogging has become a sanctuary for me. I'm very grateful to all who read, but it doesn't matter if you do. I will keep swimming.

Years ago, when I discovered that I could change people's perceptions of me by constantly swimming, I met a man that was also swimming along waiting for someone to notice him. 

And I did.

But he was so much younger than me, I thought his youthful energy was just a mask for other things, like mine was for me. 

Turns out he was the real deal. 

I would be very remiss today if I didn't add a big I. L.O.V.E. Y.O.U. to my real sanctuary - Andy Hunsaker. It's his 34th birthday. His "Jesus year is over" as he likes to say. Whatever that means. Maybe he'll take those crazy sandals off now. 

I promised him that I wouldn't post a big tribute blog to him today but I just want him to know that I am so grateful he got to know the girl inside of the plain brown wrapper, found out about her insecurities and big mouth, and loved her anyway.

He didn't know I wasn't going to be able to see in the dark, or that I have to have a pile of blankets over me when I sleep. He didn't know that sleeping in (his favorite pastime) is impossible for me, or that marrying me meant he would have to learn to love my dogs. He didn't know I was obsessed with work and completely unaffected by Disneyland (his sanctuary.) 

He didn't know I wouldn't be able to bear his children. 

But he does now. 

And I'm so grateful that he willingly attached himself to the same rope and is still hanging on, swimming along side me every day despite all that.

Everyone that knows him knows his sparkle and charm are real. When we walk into Disneyland today he will cry big alligator tears - he does every time - and I will think "what?" But I will swim along side him for the next 34 years if he will let me. 

(Incidentally - if I live another 34 years he'll be pushing me around Disneyland in a wheelchair which isn't as awesome a bonus as it used to be.)

To anyone that ever sees themselves as a little gray fish in a big pond, keep swimming. Open your mouth and go where the wind points you. For me, it has provided "blessing beyond my comprehension to receive."

Joshua 1:9 - Be strong of of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."

To my beloved on his 34th Birthday - 

Have a magical day!

I guess I'd better wake him up now if we're going to make the gate opening. 

And they learned to love him back.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ace; Portrait of a Provider and Protector

Blackmail picture. Here is Steve doing the Hava Nagila at
the Sixth Grade Field Day, sporting his brand
new Sears Huskies. Good form! (The kid in front
is either behind or ahead.) Such coordination.
Such commitment.
Am I holding hands with another guy? In 1978? 
Note: There was not a single picture of my brother Steve in which he was not smiling, except for these two, circa 1978 and 1966. I'd say, as an overview, Steve was a very content kid. It wasn't until the economy of 2008+ dragged the sides of his smile south. I can see it in the pictures. I haven't seen him really smile in such a long time. So I decided to direct this blog toward the magical time when Steve and I were in high school together and times were so all-American-small-town good. 

Foreshadowing...that far-away look in his eye...the bat....he's not thinking about anything but baseball.

Chocolate chip cookies are a staple in any American household, but in a Mormon household, a Tupperware full of cookies is akin to having a full wet bar. Chocolate chip cookies were made in secret, frozen and hidden deep in a freezer the size of a sofa, while we were at school. They were doled out one at a time because with 7 lunches to make every day the cookies didn't ever make it to the actual jar. However, once one magically appeared in your lunch, still frozen a little in the middle, you knew there must be more...s.o.m.e.w.h.e.r.e.

I was 17 years old when I was made class Seminary president in high school. In Utah, we have one class period called "released time" where you can take a religion class or an extra elective class if you want to. In our family seminary was not an elective. It was something you signed up for first, THEN you took those other, less important classes like English, math...

As Seminary class president I decided one day to make cookies for my class. I pulled out the ingredients in broad daylight. Huge mistake. One by one, the smaller Sheltons filed by, eyes shifting back and forth, curious about the E.T.A. of the cookies. By the time I was finishing up the last batches, it was dark. My brother Steve, just a year younger than me in school, came in accompanied by our cousin Bob who was the same age. They had come from football practice and were still wearing their shoulder pads, easier than carrying them I guess. They were following the smell of hot chocolate chips. "We want some," they announced. "They're for my seminary class. You can't have any." Whatever, you made thousands. You can give us one." But I was mean. "The rest are for lunches. Get outta here."

"Where's mom?" they wanted to know. Grumble...grumble...stupid...dumb...." Then they disappeared down the stairs into the kid abyss called "the basement." Then silence.

I noticed it immediately.

Even the younger kids were silent. Something must be going on. Oh well. My inner mean girl started bagging up the cookies in bread bags (Tupperware was not allowed to go to school) and tying them off.

It sure was quiet.

"I'm sure you're mad, " I yelled out, "but if you want some cookies, you should just make them yourself!" The feminist in me, was always, ALWAYS bothered that Steve never had to do anything that remotely smelled of "women's work." He took out the garbage and mowed the lawn. Big whoop.

Then about 3 minutes into the silence the lights in the entire house went off. It wasn't windy, it wasn't snowing. But suddenly it was as black as the inside of a cow's belly (not that I would know, but that's what my mom used to say) and I froze, still wielding the metal pancake turner that I was using to take the cookies off the hot trays. I walked toward the stairwell bumping into bar stools as I crossed the kitchen. I yelled down the stairs "Paula?! Penny?! Do you have the babies? Hey? Is everybody okay? Bring up the candles!"


Then I heard it. An entire bag of cookies sliding off the counter-top. Unmistakable.

Snickering. Giggling. Cramming cookies into their mouths.

But I hadn't even heard them come in the back door. "Hey! Get away from those cookies, Steve! I will kill you! Those are for Seminary! Bob!" And I took three or four huge steps toward the kitchen knocking over bar stools in my path and swinging the pancake turner around trying to hit both boys. Contact! Laughing! Screaming (from me) "Don't you dare, you idiots!!!" More laughing (from the boys) and then the little kids, who had been threatened with their lives to keep quiet in the basement started crying and blindly ascending the stairs. It was pitch black.

There was a rage inside of me that I cannot explain. I have not felt it since (For Steve anyway.)

"Get away from my cookies!" I was screaming and swinging, trying to hit them in the face. Trying to kill. I made contact several times, but they were still wearing those blasted shoulder pads. I tried kicking them, shoving them away but their hands were groping around in the dark, grabbing cookies as they screamed with laughter. I could tell that cookies were just flying everywhere. I was spouting green smoke out my ears by this time. Reaching for hair, eyes, knee caps...I w.a.n.t.e.d t.h.e.m d.e.a.d.

But it was too late. The back door to the deck was already open and the two boys were racing down the stairs and had gotten away. I could hear them laughing all the way down the street and Bob yelled back "Thanks for the cookies!"

I groped around and found the electrical box in the laundry room and turned the main switch back on as the house picked up energy and the little kids stopped crying on the stairs, bribed with cookie pieces from the kitchen floor, the living room floor...the stairwell. It looked like a cookie bomb had gone off. Furniture was everywhere. Even the kitchen rug was found later in the front entry way.

B.S. Before Steve.

I was 21 months old when my brother Steve was born. We were living in Hermosa Beach, California. I have no memories of my life before Steve, in fact, my earliest memories are of Steve and my two cousins Bob and Joe who lived in Redondo. My dad and his two sisters were very close and their kids were like my siblings too. So, I was outnumbered 3 to 1 all the years I was growing up, but honestly, I was the one with the skills and the smarts...I say as I type my blog from my mother's basement, 30 years later. Karma. That's what you call that.

Bobby, Ace, Jannie, Joey

We are Two Different Animals

Our birthdays lay in such a way that we were only one year apart in school. I tried to ignore him. I worked in the library. He played football. I was in the musicals, he was on the wrestling team. He called my friends "gay" and I called being on the wrestling team "more gay." Have you seen what they wear? I mean...have you seen what they do to each other? The places they have to hold on to...the sheer human knots created by arms and legs in unnatural shouldn't be a public sport.

Someone had to lay across the bottom I guess.
Steve was a boys boy. From the time he was old enough to make his own choices, he always stumbled into trouble as boys do. He tested my parents. Though looking back, when you have a daughter that reads books and goes to debate tournaments on the weekends...every single thing Steve did, E.V.E.R.Y. thing he did, was more colorful than that, more dangerous, more overt, more obnoxious, just plain "cooler" than their socially retarded daughter. But they didn't see it in that way. I became the "easy" child, Steve was "a handful." If they wanted to know where I was...I was "downstairs reading," or "at rehearsal." If you wanted to know where Steve was, well, think of what a group of boys, fresh out of football practice (or wrestling or baseball), would do to shed all that worked up testosterone. Homework? Yeah. Homework. No.

At the Shelton household our report cards were always magnetized to the refrigerator for a few days after they came home. It was like raising a banner for me, not so much for Steve. I often wondered if it wasn't all the sports that knocked him around in his youth that caused him to hate school with a fiery passion. Though he was required to get a B average in order to drive the cars, his grades were a combination of vowels and consonants. It was a revelation to me, that he didn't so much care about it. He still went about his day laughing and having a good time while I was well on the Prozac path by 16.

It was through his good example, however, that I learned that good grades were a way of getting my parents off my back. I thank him for the diversion. My parents rode Steve like he was a bucking Bronco at the rodeo. He was never far from their haunting looks, words, prayers. I apologize for that today. I never wanted to set him up for comparison. I always wanted to be like him.

Looking back, (waaaaay back) as I write this, the high school administrator in me now sees my jealousy. That's all it was. I craved it so much. I was pretty sure Steve had kissed most of the girls in his class (and mine) before I had gone on my first date. Which, by the way, was girls choice. Steve's group of friends was so popular, that even I, who was Senior to their Junior, knew their names and still do: Corey, Ricky, Andy, Bob, John, Evan and a big, tall, giant of a kid named Robert. Robert chased Steve home one day because Steve had called him "Moose." He was seven or eight feet tall (in my mind) and however appropriate, Steve was the next biggest kid in the group, he would always guard the quarterback. Robert didn't like being called Moose, nevertheless, it stuck. They became great friends and ate cookies at my moms house many times over the years.

I vaguely remember Steve making the Lehi Free Press before I did too. I remember that there was a picture of him standing about 20 feet away from another player that was laying on the field surrounded by coaches and an ambulance. When I asked Steve about my vague memory he delivered the classic American football story. He remembered every detail like it was yesterday.

        "There was this kid from Emery High," he began...

Suddenly the sound track from Remember the Titans is playing in his head, I can hear it too.

       "This kid was 6'2", 250 pounds. Everybody in Utah was talking about this kid. He had already been recruited to play at BYU. But during the Lehi game I really rang his bell."

Did he just say "rang his bell?" - he's was so 46 right then.

       "Lehi had almost pitched a shutout with Emery."

I think he meant to say Emery hadn't scored the entire game, but since baseball has taken over his life the last 30 years, this was what his 46 year old brain pulled up. ;-)

        "As their quarterback came down the field he was being guarded by their lead blocker. I came across the field to stop the play and hit the blocker hard. He flew five yards out of bounds then stopped and didn't move."

I'm guessing that's when all the coaches ran to him and the picture for the paper was taken. Steve was just standing there, wanting to be the hero of the moment but worried that he had just destroyed this kids livelihood. Turns out the kid hurt his leg enough to sit out for a few games. But instead of reveling in the moment, Steve just stood there, worrying about this kids future.

       "I saw him two years later at the BYU Smithfield House and I asked him how he was. He said "How do I know you?" and I said "I was the one that hit you in the Lehi game," and the future Arizona Cardinal replied "that was the hardest hit I have ever taken." 

And at the end of that resurrected moment of glory, there was a sigh. A sigh of the proud All-American football player from days past, who just turned 46. WAHHHHHHH! Had to throw that in.

The Dare Devil

It was his high school football coach, Lou Andrus, that taught him a lesson back then that has been his life's motto. Lou told his players that if you gave 110% you would not get hurt. It's when you give 80% or 50% that you make mistakes and let your focus go, that's when you suffer the consequences. I can see why you'd hang on to that lesson.

This is great for most of life's goals and dreams. But because he lived at 110% all the time, where Steve is, there is always "something about to happen," if you will. Stay close, things will get exciting any minute. For starters, when he went to Clear Creek (a summer camp) he broke out into a heavy dose of chicken pox, spreading it to the entire fifth grade.

He had a wandering dog that was nabbed by the dog catcher. He and his friends "broke the dog out of prison" nearly getting themselves put in the human prison.
Pretty sure that puppy did not
enjoy Steve as much as Steve enjoyed
the puppy.  This gives "underdog"
a whole new meaning.

He and Bob and their friend Vaughn used to jump from the rafters of the high school gym onto the gymnastics mats below. B.E.L.O.W. Which fueled his fire to become a stunt man. He even took lessons and drove a car in a demolition derby. The man has no fear.

In college he became a member of the cheer leading squad. He joined a fraternity. Ironically, he majored in criminal justice.

Yet when I asked my siblings what defined their oldest brother, they didn't say "daredevil." There was an overwhelming chorus in unison over this one. The great truth about Steve Shelton is that he will always protect the underdog. Maybe, just maybe, it's because growing up in the bossy shadow of a sister like me, he knows exactly how they feel. Then there's the fact that after his fourth sister was born, my dad said "Sorry, Ace, we hoped you'd get a brother this time," to which Steve replied, "oh that's okay. It's kinda fun being the only boy." No it wasn't. But that was nice of his 11 year-old self to say. Woot!

The Provider and Protector

Just as he always covered his quarterback, Steve has taken his role as protector very seriously, though I'm quite sure he doesn't think about it in advance. It's just an innate drive. For example, my mom loves parades. We will get up at the butt crack of dawn to get good seats along a parade route. We were at the Provo park one time on the Fourth of July. My dad was driving a float in the parade so we were one parent down. We were parked at a picnic table eating Cheerios from home for breakfast. Not kidding. Milk, paper bowls, plastic spoons...(I've also eaten Tuna sandwiches at Lagoon and peanut butter at Disneyland - oh yeah!) when suddenly a very large and scruffy man wrapped in an Indian blanket, wandered over to see what we were doing. He was obviously a few sandwiches short of a picnic. My mom said quietly, "kids, go to the car, right now." We did. But about half way across the parking lot, Steve stopped. He did not like the idea that my mom would be left alone. So he went back. He was probably 13 or 14 at the time.

My beautiful sister Paula was being stalked by a guy on her college campus and it had turned into quite a fiasco. It seemed that no one was doing enough (back in 1988) to stop him. There simply weren't laws for things like that back then. So she told Steve about it one day, because she thought Steve knew the guy. When he found out who it was, he already didn't like him and went over to Paula's apartment, happened to see the guy walking down the sidewalk and just...clocked him. Once. That was all it took.

Steve doesn't like mean people. He doesn't like situations that are obviously not fair. He can't watch reality T.V. if it involves abused animals, husbands cheating on their wives or people backbiting each other. He'll say "life is too short to waste it watching stupid people." But that's where we differ, see.....I'm not quite sure how football or wrestling are precluded from that group...but whatever. To each his own. I do musicals for Pete's sake...we dress up like other people and sing. There's some wackiness in that too, I guess. But at the curtain call our brains are still intact...there's that.

So the Steve that would pop a guy for stalking his sister, is the same guy that cries when he has to scoop up a half dead dog from the road, cries when one of his baseball kids misses a catch and feels so badly, cries when his daughters leave for college even if they've only been home for the weekend, cries when he talks to God.

Steve has always had a very close relationship to God. Unlike myself, he always got an A in Seminary. My mom told me she passed his room one night after a homecoming football game that they had lost. He was kneeling in front of his bed, sobbing...and praying. I relied on his faith when I was being stupid myself. The day he got his mission call, I was working in Jackson, Wyoming. When I got the phone call, I burst into tears. They weren't joyous tears for Steve. I realized that I had made choices that would prevent me from going through the temple with him...something I thought was way off in the future somewhere. Now here was the future, in the now. It was that very day I walked back to safety and got my poop in a group. About a year later I joined him in the field, though across the world, doing the same thing. I'll always be so grateful to him for choosing to serve a mission.

But when Steve returned he wasn't interested in going to college. Eventually I talked him into coming to SUU with me and that's where he met and married my fifth sister, Juanelle. (Your welcome.) She saved his life. Take my word for it. She was/is the kind of person you say "we like you more than we like our own brother, welcome to the family." He gladly quit school to go to work. He has a resume full of jobs working as a salesman for companies that sell doors, windows, millwork...He has had leadership opportunities in all of these companies as he has worked his way up in the business. Because of his fearless ability to give 110% to anything he does, they also have S.I.X amazing kids.

Then in 2008, people stopped building houses.

Then there was the heart attack. Then 10 strokes or more, they were never sure. Lost his job, lost his sight to the point where salesmen stop working because they can't drive anymore. He was put on prescriptions that crippled their income. Recovery. The second heart attack. New job...back to square one. Suddenly, instead of protecting everyone else, he was in the hands of his family and his God.

And it squashed that precious innate fearlessness. I saw it happen. That clawing, fighting, inner strength that held up everyone around him, left. And I want him to take it back. I want him to smile again and think about all the blessings he's gotten and given. I want him to ride this bucking bronco, this crazy American chaos, through to its end with his head held high. He has been the daredevil, the protector and provider and I'm quite sure he doesn't know how powerful he has been/is all this while giving 110% of himself. I just want to tell him that his example of riding out life's stormy weather has buoyed me up so many times. You know I'm a firm believer that God gives us certain skills and puts people in our path that can benefit from those skills. I am so blessed to have been in his path all these years.

A few weeks ago I asked him what he really wanted to do, REALLY wanted. And he said " I always wanted to be a high school coach. But I just hated school. And now I'm 46 and have two kids in college. And it's...too hard."

So there it is. After 46 years of thinking we had nothing in common but a gene pool, the thing that we do have in common is the feeling we get when our kids win a baseball game, or open a show: that pride in watching them do their best work. It's like a drug. And while you are coaching, you are oblivious to the world. You are oblivious to your own needs. You are oblivious to the fact that you are having a heart attack, or your retina is falling off. You are giving 110% to the one thing that takes you out of the world...for just a minute. Kids. One thing I know for sure, that every minute you spend coaching a kid or loving your child, is two minutes of rest you'll get back in the eternities. At least, I'm hoping for those odds.

He gave you a smiley one....
...then two more....

Then three more! Lucky!

"My dad is the strongest and kindest man I know. I hope I can be half the person he is...." -Bradie Shelton

"...I never really appreciated how hard my dad works to provide for my family until recent years. I've grown up. I understand now the sacrifices he made for his family. It's a humbling experience to know that my dad loves us and cares for us so much. I love my dad's sense of humor. He gets a lot of that from his dad. He will joke with us kids, make fun, laugh with us and at us. That's something I really love about him. He knows what makes us happy....  - Ashley Shelton

I've always adored you. I've always been jealous of your ability to walk fearlessly through life. So many other things, that were difficult for me, came so easily for you. Like...being a parent. God does know how to give his greatest gifts to his greatest protectors. You have an incredible talent for being a dad.

To you (and everyone else in the world that is feeling the pressure of this critical time in the world) I say there is nothing in our way. I just left a school I loved, students I adored, and a pay check I didn't hate. But I did it. I'm only just now learning what you have known all along: 

Thanks for reminding me. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Coming Soon: "Ace"

Happy Birthday to my baby brother Steve, Steverino,
Damn It StevenOh You Little Shit....Ace.
The Blog is coming. Be afraid... be v.e.r.y. afraid.