Monday, December 7, 2015


Carli Wright - my English 10 colleague, introduced me to Neil Pasricha's "The Book of Awesome" which was based on his blog A Thousand Awesome Things at 

You might be familiar with it already - but if you aren't, it's a great gift - a book I can't put down, a book that makes me happy, a book on the bright side, entry after entry.

I introduced it to my classes as the next book we are going to read together and it went over like a lead balloon because Sophomores only want to read for about six and a half minutes and then they are ready for a nap, or treats...or...whatever isn't words on a page.

So I introduced them to the author via Ted Talks at: 

And kids cried. 



So Carli's hunch paid off - the kids need this book as much as we did. 

That was last week - the day after the mass shooting in San Bernadino. The news was heavy that day and for the next few days the shootings magnified the flooding in Cumbria, the refugees leaving Syria, and Donald Trumps polling numbers to mention just a few of the tragedies around the earth.

I thought it would be such a good time to teach a book in which the main theme was looking for the awesome things in your life.

Then one of my best students was pulled out of class via the intercom which connects us to the front office and I can tell you that is never a good sound - unless you are getting excused from class to go with your family to Disneyland. Thinking back, I could hear it in our sweet secretary's voice "Please excuse (this student) to come to the front office." Same as usual, but different. It struck me, the tone in her voice...after 25 years, one can tell. 

At lunch, a dear assistant principal came in and told me that I might want to know that my student, the one that got called out of class this morning, won't be back for a few days because her 10 year-old brother accidentally shot and killed himself with a gun he found while he was waiting for the school bus that morning.

Now, I have this kid twice - once for English and once for debate. She is a killer debater, one of the best. So, naturally, with the time I spend at tournaments with debaters, I am invested in her a little more than the usual tenth grader. A lot more. So when I heard the news I was stunned. I immediately thought of the new debate topic which is banning privately owned guns. I wondered how carefully we would need to tread in the coming days with her in class. I started praying to know what to say, how to deal, what to do.

That night after school I was prompted to go out to her house, half hoping that they wouldn't let me in, because I really didn't know what to say. (I'm too smart to ignore a prompting. Learned that lesson the hard way so many times.) I hoped it would come to me. I brought along The Book of Awesome and I didn't know if that was lame, like "read this and everything will be all better!" kind of lame. But I felt that she would like it...she is a straight A kid and so very upbeat. 

I was invited into the house by her little sister who looked like she herself had been run over by a train. Her little 12 or 13 year-old face was bright red, her eyes sunken back into the hollows of her face and frequently wiped nose looked chapped and raw. I was invited in with a croak and an apology. No apology needed.

While she was retrieving her older sister, I looked around the big house. I felt as though I was walking into a very crowded room. The Spirit of comfort was so thick I felt ten pound lighter. There was obviously a multitude of angels surrounding this house today. There was a familiar picture of Jesus Christ prominently hung above the fireplace. There was a religious magazine on the table and several sets of scriptures in piles around the bottom of the couch, perhaps left there from morning scripture study with the family. Had that little boy sat there this morning among his family? 

The house was filled with people, but it was silent. There were ladies from the church bustling about cleaning and doing laundry. There were several people in the back yard raking leaves. I could smell dinner starting, everyone was working...and crying. While I was waiting, I noticed my student's mom wrapped in a blanket and sitting in the front window being consoled by a neighbor. "I feel so bad, everybody is doing everything..." she said quietly. Then, noticing me, she looked me right in the face and said "She will be so happy that you came." All I could say was "I'm so sorry" to which she replied simply, "we know we will see him again, but the waiting is going to be terrible." 

I thought about the Christmas Eve when we lost our son Noah and how it changed the entire season for me from that moment on. I wanted to tell her how I knew how she felt, but she had her son for ten years, she got to know him, to raise him, and my empathy paled in comparison. Then her neighbor said "they also lost a two year-old last year." I was aghast. Like, I cannot breathe aghast. What to say, what to say...please God, help me think of something to say that didn't sound trite in the moment. Nothing. I just nodded in horror. 

Then my student came down the stairs, saw me, ran across the room and threw her arms around me. It was right to come. Even if I didn't have anything to was right. She sobbed, wracked with sadness and loss. I wondered how long they would all cry and the kinds of headaches they were all earning. After the most awesome hug ever, I lamely told her that I brought her The Book of Awesome and she said "I'm so glad! I need this book today." I was relieved. Not so lame after all. 

So today I announced what happened to my B3 class period full of Sophomores and told them about the accident and that the debaters were collecting money for a gift. I did not make it back to my desk - which is about 15 feet, before two kids had already stood up to deposit money in the envelope. And it wasn't just change - it was $5 and $10 dollar bills and one lumbering kid said "I can go home for lunch today" and gave all his lunch money. And all day long kids have been contributing money. And I have been in that lifted, purified air I get when I see the same teenage girl come into the temple every single Saturday morning without fail. I am in awe because they are ... awesome. 


Simply awesome.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Is anyone else taking up space on the DVR with Sister Wives? I'm addicted to it. Not sure why...fascinated by another TLC reality show I guess, except this reality is a little too close to home and it raises the hair on the back of my neck sometimes. I first started watching because it was about a family from Lehi, Utah where I grew up. I recognized the neighbors yard and called my sister who lives in the same part of town. She said "Yes - it's being filmed down the street and their kids are in my kids classes at school." I was hooked instantly, waiting for it to be the next TLC train wreck. 

When Big Love came out, the HBO series about a man with three wives, I followed the news about it, including the episode where one of the characters wore her sacred temple clothes and enacted portions of the endowment ordinance. I can't speak for all Mormons but the Utah crowd cried out in vain. (Even though it wasn't about their religion. Not sure why everyone got so uptight about it.) However, I think if you know that a religion would rather not expose their most sacred ordinances to the public... out of respect, you might think twice about airing that information. Out of respect. But ratings are ratings. Tom Hanks (the producer) disappointed me. That was lazy T.V. Quick to entertain, quick to raise some eyebrows, big ratings, but sad for those that consider those ordinances sacred. Kudos to Cody Brown for not televising his last marriage ceremony on TV. He said "we consider that a sacred ceremony not to be put before public scrutiny." Brilliant! Not only did they get to hold the ceremony in private, but the entire nation of viewers got to fill in the blanks with their sick and twisted imaginations. Even better. Great for ratings, TLC.

Apostolic United Brethren (the religion of the Sister Wives) is not affiliated with the Mormons, though they believe in the Book of Mormon. Just as any religion that was ever created has also spawned disgruntled sects of that religion, the Book of Mormon is a powerful testament of Jesus Christ and has it's fair share of believers that don't call themselves "Mormon." Last week we were in Nauvoo, Illinois, and we learned that in the 1840's, 8 religious groups branched off of the original LDS church. The polygamists believe that John Taylor, the third President of the Mormon church kept a small group of men ordained to carry on the principle of polygamy. I mean...great... if you love stress and multiple "Honey-do" lists. Do you think Cody Brown runs to the store for tampons, bread and milk several times a day? Do you think he loves doing yard work on 4 homes or going to 20+ kids piano recitals? NO! I think he's too busy running back and forth between homes. I think Cody is a raving lunatic to take all that upon himself and still feel like he can be available to all of those people ever day when they need him. But it's a sacred tenet of their religion and he appears to be doing his best to uphold it. I'm happy to watch his show like an addict and he's happy to let TLC pay for his culdesac. 

Confession! I have come to really like their family! Jeanelle is definitely my favorite wife. You go girl! I'm really proud of the Browns for always pointing out (for what its worth) that they are not mainstream Mormons. They obviously don't want to be mainstream because in the mainstream Mormon church you can only have one wife at a time. Now, there was a time...but that's a crazy can of sour gummy worms that can be opened by someone who cares more than I do. However, when I see similar artwork in their house and mine, pictures of Joseph Smith and hear them reading from the Book of Mormon, it makes me nervous that people group all of us with a Joseph Smith background into one goofy group. (Through a TLC filter, no less!) None of us are crazy. We're just abiding by the tenets of our faith. Though after a week on Facebook after the new ruling on same-sex marriage, I can honestly say that some of us are pious pinheads. 

Andy and I have had the amazing opportunity to work together, in the same school, for our entire married life. I see him all morning, we eat lunch together every day and we go home together...every day. Now for some, this might seem like torture. But not to us. As I write this Andy is coming over to my dorm room at the National Theatre Conference just to see me because he had to judge a competition this morning and hasn't seen me since breakfast. It's sickeningly sweet isn't it? I am so lucky and I know it.

Could I share Andy with someone else? Could I sit on a couch with other women and Andy in the middle without being next to him, holding his hand?


I never have been good at sharing my stuff. I'm an oldest child of eight. If it has my name on it, leave it alone. I just can't imagine sharing my husbands secrets, insecurities, body fluids... with three or four other women. And that's okay. I don't have too. And because I feel like I am a mainstream Mormon with a modern sensibility of sorts, I'm truly okay with those that have multiple wives. It's true. I don't really care. Be married to four men too if you want! Or someone of your own sex. The sanctity of my marriage will not be determined by the Browns or by the gays or by anyone but me, my husband and God. What denigrates marriage is people like Brittany Spears or the Kardashians 17 week/minute marriages that make a mockery of committed love. Cody Brown seems ultimately committed to all of his wives and his children. He runs from house to house; he's not walking. In my book that is committed love and a big family usually equals...pardon the pun, BIG LOVE. Kids need a family bunker in today's war against them no matter how many siblings they have to share their dad with (at least they have and know their dad.) I can't imagine my life without my seven siblings. They are, collectively, my support system and safety net. 

I admit that I am only seeing the family through the lens of the TLC camera, but I wish the Browns every success. It looks like its working. That's that key for me. Does a relationship promote peace, love and the welfare of the community? If causing extra gossip and judgement in the neighborhood is the only detriment to having a polygamous, same-sex or unmarried couple next door, then shame on us. 

It's been an interesting couple of weeks in the marriage department for the United States as a whole, hasn't it? Allowing same-sex marriages as a constitutional right has gotten half of my Facebook friends projecting their profile pics through a rainbow filter and the other half crying all kinds of apocalyptic doom and was heartbreaking see some of my Uber-religious Facebook friends (Mormon and not) and acquaintances post such vitriol. Then to see the backlash from the gay community in ugly expletives and stinky in-your-face sarcasm...GAH!!!! I finally just had to shut it down.  Ironically, we spent the same week studying the history of the LDS church as they were pushed out of town after town, then building the second largest city in Illinois at the time - the City Beautiful (Nauvoo), only to watch their prophet be murdered, and witness their temple burn as they walked away to cross the plains to escape more torture. I watched so many people quickly forget what it is like to be the oppressed.

We need to remember that Facebook is an international site. While it is our right as a people to fight for what we believe in, we must respect both sides of the fight on behalf of peace in the community and for our children. It will all work out. I don't believe that the expanded rights that were given to all citizens of this country will affect my marriage. I hope it will positively affect my cake decorating business, ;-) and my gay friends are enjoying a new level of social acceptance that, I pray, will decrease the bullying, the discrimination and the suicides over time. Remember Mormons - what we asking our gay brothers and sisters is an awful lot.  That One Blog about Mormons and Homosexuality

The definition of marriage in my world is a religious ceremony called "a sealing." It's specific to my church and my worthiness to participate in it. There are enough words in the ceremony to appease the civil requirements, but the rest of the ceremony is as expansive as all eternity and as simple as the word "Yes." In addition to connecting us together civilly for all those worldly benefits, Mormons believe that this ceremony "seal" us spiritually, to our spouse forever. I and an infinity of tomorrows. I will be bugged that Andy lets our dogs chew up his black socks from now to endless nows. 

If I had a sister-wife, there might be less black socks on the floor. If I had a sister-wife at home during the day, I could relax at night and not worry about laundry or if we have clean underwear or what needs to be ironed for the next day. Our dogs might not be feral. Our garden might have less weeds. Our mail pile might magically disappear. I might be able to come home to a cooked meal instead of standing in front of the open freezer...crying. 

I guess I'll just have to cry. I'm always going to work, there will always be black socks and I'm not willing to share Andy. But now is the time for us to show what we are really made of and stop the ugly judgments and the passive aggressive posts about how the "Mormons are squirming now!" or "Satan's army is getting a grip on us!" What we don't see is Satan smiling as we both piously push "post." 


Saturday, June 6, 2015

9 Tardies, 8 Absences

"Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses."  Mitt Romney

Class of 2018. Ironically, after just binge watching all 6 seasons of The Walking Dead we are now zombies ourselves. 


So this just happened:

Student:    What?! You count "sleeping in" as an unexcused absence? I didn't even know I was                             missing class because I was asleep.
Me:           Don't you set an alarm?
Student:    My mom usually wakes me up but she forgot. By the time she remembered I didn't have                      time to get ready.
Me:           So you are blaming your absence on your mom?
Student:    Well, it was her fault.
Me:           Should I send your unfinished work to her too?
Student:    She's really busy so I don't think she'll have time to do it.
Me:           So when are you going to learn the stuff you missed while you were gone?
Student:    ..............I dunno. I have to work after school every day this week.

Not kidding. This was a 16 year-old person who ended up with 9 tardies in my class and 8 absences and we met 21 times total. He was dead serious.

I just finished my 25th year in secondary education and things bug me so much more than they used to. ;-) I'm seeing a couple of trends that have always been there, but seem to be getting worse by the day. Keep in mind that I spent my first year of teaching in a Japanese High School trying to find out what they had that we teachers needed to have and what I found out was that the Japanese parent is a slave driver. In a good way. They seem to be single-mindedly concerned about their child's daily education. Do you see young Japanese families on vacation here in the United States? No. You see young adults that are through with their education. A Japanese parent would rather die than take their kids out of school for any reason until they are 18. A Japanese citizen also takes care of their parents until they are dead. It's good karma. You won't be wearing the cheap leaky diapers when you are 80 if your kids are independently successful. They can afford the Depends Deluxe. See the pay-off?

Seriously, I feel like there is no clear standard or line we cross when allowing a child to miss a school day. Nobody wants to take blame anymore. Nobody wants to admit they are wrong. Nobody wants to volunteer for anything anymore. Nobody wants to take on responsibility anymore. School doesn't matter. You can catch up at any time. Except this concept of catching up comes at a cost.

It used to be sickness. You could miss school if you were contagious, but for no other reason. My mom would hold up her hand and say "Show me the blood," or "if you are awake, you can go to school," or "when you lose a vital organ, bring it to me and then you can stay home from school." Then there was that ONE time my dad poured a glass of ice water on me to get me out of bed. That only happened once.

I'm not sure where they are learning it or if some kids are not expected to work hard in school, or if there isn't a parent riding them from home encouraging them to take on goals and personal standards like mine did. Perhaps its a mix of each of these problems. Whatever it is, its a terrible turn. In my class, we are pushing, driving, learning every day. If they miss, they will be behind. Yet there are a million excuses now, and "family vacation" and "I slept in," have far surpassed "sickness" as the most common reason to skip school.

When I emailed this mom about her child's absence (in the example above) she said "I have to wake my children up. We've tried to get [our child] to use an alarm clock but [child] turns it off." What happens when that kid has to wake up for work when they're 30?

At the end of April I had the following conversation with a student and this is what prompted me to start this blog:

Student:     My family is going on vacation starting on April 29th and we won't be back until after                         school is out. What will I miss?

Me:           (choking) Whaaat? You're going to miss the entire last month of school?

Student:     My mom got cheaper flights by going now instead of we have to go.

Me:           You have to go too?

Student:     Well, I don't want them to leave me home (duh...).

Me:            Aside from the state standardized tests you are going miss, the daily bell work, the daily                      assignments, test and quizzes...

Student:     Can you email me all the work and I will do it while I am there? But sometimes we won't                    have internet. Can I just pick up all that work right now?

(Update:      No homework was submitted, school got out last week.) 

I appreciate that a student is getting an opportunity to go on vacation and perhaps they will learn a lot while they are there. But they are only in school for 180 days - half the year. They can't choose from the other 180 to go on vacation?! I know there are legitimate excuses but this is just a symptom of how we (the American people) are devaluing the education system in America. This student missed an entire month where we learned to write an analytical essay and put it in the MLA format. This formatting will be required of her throughout her academic life from this point on. She missed it. She'll have to catch up somehow and that will put stress on her next teacher down the line, not to mention the added stress on me to remember to email everything to her and/or have it ready for her to take with her. Contrary to popular opinion most teachers don't have the assignments for the next week or two ready to go in advance because things change, concepts have to be taught at their pace and many forms of assessment are not written on paper nor from a book. We are not human regurgitating textbooks that can print out the next two weeks of worksheets and tests and send a kid off on vacation and expect them to focus on that work while they are gone. I can't give any kind of assessment of their learning if I am in the classroom and they are in the Bahamas. I can't answer questions, correct their work as they go or even explain a concept at their level of learning if they aren't getting it.

Yet...that student will eventually be tested on a standardized test that the state wants to be a direct reflection back on me...a direct correlation to my paycheck. A paycheck that would never afford me an entire month of vacation time outside the country.

I digress...gotta stop before I start spouting green smoke out my ears.

The real point is...on any given day, there are several students out of class. This means that I will be repeating what I have taught several times. Kids get sick and I was sick two days this year myself where I was medicated beyond recognition for migraine. I get it. But its the vacations, the babysitting, the work, the laziness, the apathy that adds stress to my work day. Every time a parent allows a student to miss class for any of those reasons, it adds an incredible amount of work to the teacher. Times that by 3 - 6 kids per class every get it. I wish everyone would think about that before they let their kid sleep in, babysit or enjoy a discounted cruise opportunity. Think about the sheer volume of work you are adding to a teacher's day, a teacher with a masters degree that already stretches their paycheck like a rubber band just to live.

Now before you react with indignant huffs and puffs about family time, special opportunities that just come up, or even surgeries or extended illnesses, etc... I get it. But this is my blog and I get to complain and plead for understanding too. I understand when there are kids that land in the hospital or have diseases and issues that require extended absence. I will bend over backwards to help those kids who have come upon unfortunate health problems. What makes me crazy is the illogical and absurd excuses kids and parents give that are not related to sickness at all.


10.            "I work full time and don't have time to help my son his work after school. So it's my                          fault really. Don't fail him because I'm a bad mom. I just can't keep up with all his work                      and mine too. We have 6 other children. It's really tough."

9.               "I won't be in class all week. My parents are going rock climbing and I need to stay home                     and babysit."

8.                (spent the entire day in her boyfriends car in the parking lot)

                    Jan: I saw you in the parking lot with your boyfriend. Why didn't you come to class?

                   "I don't have to come if I don't want to. My mom will just call it in."

7.                 "Mrs. Hunsaker: [my child] was on a life changing family vacation for my parents 50th                        anniversary. Please accept all of her late work on time because we were on a cruise and                        we didn't have access to the internet."

6.                  (missed finals week)  "My families time share is only good for the next two weeks, so                          we are going skiing in Germany and I will be gone. What do I need to do?"

5.                 "I forgot to plug in my phone and it died in the night so my alarm didn't go off.  You                             can't blame me for technological problems."

4.                 "I had to work. There was no one else they could call."

3.                  There are some classic excuses for unfinished, or non-existent work, but none so good                           as this one: "I didn't have any colored pencils." I point to a box with probably 1000                               colored pencils in 16 colors sitting up at the front of the room 15 feet away. "What's                             that?" I asked. "But I asked people to bring me some and they wouldn't." I shake my                             head to see if I had actually heard that. I lower my head and look under the desk.                                  "Those your legs?" I asked. "Well, I didn't feel like getting up," she responded.

2.                   "Can I borrow your glasses? I'm staging some pictures to put in my Sterling Scholar                             portfolio. I'm pretending that I gathered glasses for the homeless and I need as many as                       I can get. Don't worry, I'll give them back in about 10 minutes." That goes right along                           with this: "What can I do for you in the next fifteen minutes that I can put on my                                   resume?" (So much sure you can dedicate a whole fifteen minutes to                         it?)

And finally...

1.                  "I was trying to get caught up with the work I missed while I was gone."

With the advent of the internet and programs that allow teachers to post class work to online sites that students can access from anywhere - even their phones - we are attempting to take the excuses away. Still, it doesn't replace time in the presence of a teacher with specific knowledge in that content area. Please consider how much work you are adding to a teacher when you plan family vacations during unplanned time off or let your kids sleep in because its just too cruel to pour a glass of ice water on them. And college students! You think I forgot about you? I taught you too! Get your butt out of bed and go to class!

Consider the crueler lesson: if these habits are allowed to form you are stunting their growth! You might end up with a dependent human that can't function under a deadline, can't be on time to anything, has no respect for priorities or can't learn what they need to learn to drag themselves up and out of your basement to support themselves or their families.

Times are not getting easier. Life is not short. We are in a battle to prepare our kids for a time when they will govern us in our old age. Will they take on that responsibility and if they do, will they be able to seriously guide and lead the world through what are surely trickier times ahead? Only time will tell...meanwhile, and I say this to teachers and students alike: every minute we spend together in a classroom can make a difference, consequently, every minute needs to count.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Ecphonesis O

O Me! O Life!

By Walt Whitman

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.


The poem "Oh Me! Oh Life!" was published in 1855 and part of a volume of poetry called Leaves of Grass. Click here for a copy of Leaves of Grass I fell in love with it after I saw “Dead Poet’s Society” the movie starring the brilliant Robin Williams (RIP).

Click here to see Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

This is my favorite poem. Of the thousands and thousands of pieces of poetry that contend to be #1 on my list, this is it.

Poetry is special because the combination of theme, rhythm and word choice can elevate emotion like music. In fact, poetry should be read in silence to really feel what it’s trying to say. Every single time I read "O Me! O Life!" I am lifted. I feel better. It’s a like an old friend that hugs you and says “everything is going to be okay. You matter. You are enough.”

In the beginning it sounds like a poem of lament, or grieving, maybe self-pity. In the first line he summarizes his conflict: What is the purpose of my life (O me!), if life is so hard (O life!)? He comments about the “endless trains of the faithless” and “cities filled with the foolish” and then he humbly notes that he is the most foolish and faithless of them all and he is “forever reproaching” himself. I do that. So by beginning with a question, he makes an unusual choice by providing the answer to his questions:

Answer: (he gets the answer from himself)

That the powerful play goes on (choose life, powerful life)

And you may contribute a verse (everybody gets to equally contribute something, anything – a verse suggests something different from everyone else – if we were the same he would have said chorus)

What I love about the ending is that instead of wallowing in self-pity by leaving the question open and out there unanswered, he is strong enough (don’t we always have just a little juice in us to keep going?) to know the answer but there is no condescension about it. He pushes that universal button of empathy for life’s difficulties and his humility opens the door to us. He manifests his belief that life is powerful, but he doesn't offer a quick fix to humanities problems he intimates that we (everyone one of us) are contributing to society just by being alive…each one of us in a unique way.

But that’s not even half of the emotion it contains.

The tone of Walt Whitman’s famous poem starts with the very first word, which is in fact just a single vowel: O. This kind of O, the kind without the “h” attached to it, is special. You see it in the scriptures, in Greek theatrical texts, in Shakespeare too. We hardly ever think about its meaning because it’s just a single letter. But it’s so much more than just an O. It has been given the formal name “Ecphonesis O” by modern linguists. Sometimes it’s called the rhetorical O.

Ec-phonesis is Greek, and means “to cry out.” It’s derived from “exclameo,” to cry out. “Ecphonesis is a pathetical figure, whereby as the Orator or speaker expresses the vehement affection and passion of his own mind, so he also excites and stirs up the minds and affections of those to whom he speaks.” (JG Smith)

In Milton’s Paradise Lost the character of Eve, being told that she must leave her paradise, cries out, "O unexpected stroke! Worse than of death.”

This O elevates the emotion automatically! But why the heck is it missing its H?

Because I teach and study in Shakespeare’s world, when I coach our high school kids this is what I tell them when they ask the question “why doesn’t it have an H if you still pronounce it Oooooo?”

Well you really don’t pronounce it “o.” Early authors used the single O as a placeholder for emotional exclamations like “GRRRRR!” or “sighhhhh,” or “#!%*!” The Ecphonesis O is only used when the emotion is so high that there aren’t words for how troubled, or angry or happy a person is. Now days we might substitute the O with a piece of music and call it musical theatre. But Milton, Shakespeare, Sophocles and the authors of the bible didn’t write musicals. They couldn’t spell that moment in time when your body is wracked with torment and you expel a guttural “YAWP” as Walt Whitman would say:

The Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains
          of my gab and my loitering
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
          I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Ever wondered why you never see movie or stage characters blowing their nose or going to the bathroom? We recreate life on stage or in a book for entertainment or education. We don’t watch a play about someone brushing their teeth or tying their shoes. There is no conflict in that. We don’t learn anything from it. It isn’t COMPELLING. However…add the Ecphonesis O to a script where Ruby the 8th grader goes to brush her teeth and she lets out a deep throaty “OOOOooooo” there’s something to that. She looks down and all her teeth are in the sink. WHAT IS HAPPENING? Now that's dramatic. That needs an O.

See, storytelling is only interesting when compelling things occur. So the Ecphonesis O is very useful for a playwright to give the actor/reader a clue about the grand emotion that is happening. There are upwards of 2400 Ecphonesis O’s in the Shakespeare canon alone.

Here’s a few good ones:

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo!
O what a rogue in peasant slave am I…
O no! It is an ever fixed mark…
O you beast! O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch!
O reason not the need!
O let me be not mad, not mad sweet heaven!
O brave new world that hath such people in it!
O, O, O, I have lost my reputation!

The O didn't die with Shakespeare and Whitman. We've all used it at points in our life. There were a couple of times in my life when I tested the magnitude of the Ecphonesis O. One real doozy come to mind. I was living in the basement of my parent’s home trying to save money to buy my own home and I got a letter from one of my student’s parents rebuking me for not casting her daughter in a play. Her daughter was a loud, angry and negative soul. I think she reveled in creating drama backstage and I just couldn't face another show adding “put out [this girl’s] fires” to my to-do list again.

So I didn’t cast her.

I think that’s what parents don’t understand. They think by not signing their name to a steaming, stinky letter like that they are saving their child from some kind of retribution or retaliation from a teacher that can cast their children in plays. What they don’t know is that we need the system to function and I save myself a lot of trouble by not casting your kid. It’s never about you. I don’t care what you say. I know what I know.

Anyway... I digress. That's another blog for another time.

I was working late hours trying to put up the show, give kids an opportunity, seemingly by myself, and I was exhausted to say the least. In the middle of the night, I walked through the dark school up to the faculty room to buy a Diet Coke to keep myself awake. I grabbed my mail from my box and sat down on a comfortable chair and started going through it while I drank my precious Diet Coke. There was the letter. It was addressed to me but no return address, and no signature, though from its contents I knew exactly who it was. In a nutshell it said I was emotionally abusive and didn't know how to handle kids because I wasn't a mother myself. She called me “useless” because I was “free-loading” off my parents by living with them. (Everybody knows everything in a small town I guess.) She punched and kicked and stabbed. When I had finished digesting the letter I let out a cry that certainly defined the Ecphonesis O. It wasn't because the letter hurt me. It was because I suspected the letter was true. I was at that point in my life where I suspected I was useless except as a machine to showcase other people’s kids. And since I had chosen not to showcase her daughter this time, she had chosen to stab at my insecurities as an older, single, childless, Mormon woman with no prospects in sight to complete her version of who I should be. (You can only cut so close to the bone if you are also Mormon, which she was.)

I sat in that chair for a good hour, spilling Ecphonesis O after Ecphonesis O in heaps all over the floor. Crying out "...The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?" It was the kind of crying that makes your eyes pop out. It turns your face into a swollen flat surface. It gives you a migraine. It's wet and slobbery and you don't care. It makes you bend in half toward yourself, hug your knees, wipe snot on your pants because you might be the only one that can offer comfort in that moment. It makes you heave and gulp for air and whimper, all at the same time.

In the midst of it all, I started praying. I prayed that I could find out who I was and why I was truly alive. What purpose did He have for me and if this was it – just being the machine – I wanted o.u.t. I cried until I was finally able to ask Him to help me stop crying. I felt the Spirit wrap its arms around me and I fell asleep.

Around 5 AM I was awaken by the sound of custodial keys in the door. I bolted upright and looked at the clock. I sat there for a minute in a fog as the custodian laughed. I tried to remember why I was there and then I saw the letter – still clutched in my hand and it all came back to me. I laughed it off with “boy, that was a comfortable chair!” or something lame like that, and went home to shower so I could come back and do it all again. My eyes were two tiny puffy slits but I was emboldened with the kind of motivation that makes you write letters of resignation, which I did, and never submitted. I needed someone to notice me. I needed change. I needed my absence to count. I needed to be enough. Something.

My parents, long accustomed to me spending the night at the school, were still in bed when I got home. No one would know I had been gone all night. No one would care. No one would even raise an eyebrow… except the laughing custodian.

It is in times like these I am tempted to go on auto-pilot and tell myself that even my least passionate work, just my instinctual work, is still good enough. And then the guilt of working halfheartedly adds to the building disgust I have for myself. I create a fantasy world where I have 3 kids and a mini-van. Where people say “you’re kids are gorgeous!” or “your kids are so well behaved.” I crave teaching my own children how to walk, ride a bike, sew, bake… (grass is always greener). But the only thing I could really do to take my mind off of it, to fill the time, was disappear into a dark movie theatre by myself where I didn't have to talk to anyone and someone else could entertain me. (Ironic that I ended up teaching film.) Silly me, those moments only made me feel more sorry for myself. 

You can imagine that the other Ecphonesis O's in my life are not surprising and involve the years of bitterness, loneliness, finally getting married and then subsequent miscarriages and burying a baby. Those are obvious. But most of those O's were filled with hope, faith and a knowledge that those blessings will be restored if I am faithful and endure my trials. Some of those O's were bitter, but not for long. They taught me so much. They actually increased my faith and gave me strength, depth and empathy for others. Is that it? Is that it's function? I might be on to something.

My favorite Ecphonesis O is taken from the New Testament. The teacher in me appreciates what the O does to elevate emotion, but the human in me, the person that has utilized the Ecphonesis O a few time in my life as I have spoken in desperation, grief or gratitude to my Heavenly Father makes this particular "yawp," this cry, so significant to me.

At the close of Jesus’ public ministry, He found himself at the top of a hill overlooking Jerusalem, the Holy City, lamenting. The children of Israel had rejected Him and the safety He brought to them. As He looked out over the soon to be destroyed city, He was overcome with emotion and expressed His anguish:

          “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”

Just a few years later, the city was obliterated by the Romans, fulfilling the prophesy. Imagine being able to see that in the future and not able to prevent it because of the hardness of the hearts of your people. Jesus Christ knew the Ecphonesis O. He probably invented it; for "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." They who saw Him suffer, instead of seeing the sacrifice in it, imagined that He was suffering at God's hands. In His greatest agonies, they scoffed at His alleged parentage, yet in His death He would save them all.

I often wonder who the atheists turn to in the depths of an Ecphonesis O moment? What Omnipotent power comforts them in their darkest moments? To whom are they grateful? I'm ignorant here and I admit it. Who sustains them, makes them powerful? Maybe that's the big idea here. The trials that bring on the Ecphonesis O are a necessary evil. They brings us to our knees, they reminds us who we are and that we are not alone. We are simply building an unbreakable connection and life line to the endless power from whence we came.

Let the mighty trials and tribulations roll forth...BRING IT! Though I will probably always feel "foolish...faithless...intertwined in the plodding and sordid crowds" its my verse.

And I'm enough.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In the Guise of Sacrifice

Me and Sister Ratana, my first companion. I love her so much!
She was very patient. They called us the "monster and the mouse."

I read a post on Facebook the other day that disturbed me. It was a man responding to a post about the how he felt the LDS church stunts the growth of its youth by making them go on missions. He said " the guise of sacrifice...they stall their education, careers and lives by serving God when really they are just proselyting for more members to fill the churches coffers."

Helping a member deep fry grasshoppers and sell them. We
thought if the Americans helped her, she would sell more.
She did. Never refuse a bit a service, even if it includes a
morning or pulling the wings off insects.
I served a full-time mission from 1984-1986. No one MADE me do it. Contrary to this man's belief the church does not make anyone go on a mission. I never thought I would go. I thought by the time I was 21 or 22 I would be married. Most of my friends were. I was a junior at Southern Utah University at the time and I was just sick of school. At the same time I didn't want to stop my life by dropping out of school to work for minimum wage but I had been in school since I was 5 and I was burned out. I also needed some time to reevaluate my major. I decided that a mission might give me some time to refocus and it might divert my attention away from ME for a while. I also looked at it as a way to keep learning but NOT in a classroom.

It worked out well for me.

I submitted my application to serve and just one week later I received news that I would be serving in Bangkok, Thailand.
I did not choose to go to Thailand. I firmly believe that it was the place God chose for me to serve with my skill set. I was given a "language aptitude" test at the time (which they no longer do) and I guess I passed that with flying colors because learning Thai was like walking a tightrope in heels. I wanted to go somewhere Spanish speaking. I already spoke a lot of Spanish and I thought it would be cheaper for my parents to send me to a Spanish speaking country. Now days all missionaries pay the same each month, but in my day, you paid based on the cost of living in that area or country. My brother was serving in New York and my parents were already paying a fortune to keep him out. I needed to go to a mission that was next to free. No such luck. See, if you didn't know, missionaries aren't paid for their service - they or their families PAY for the opportunity.

In Thailand atee rice three times a day and killed cockroaches the length of your palm. I served as diligently as a person can who serves in the land of the Golden Buddha. I obeyed my mission rules and kept busy. I wrecked three bicycles while I was there, twice by my own stupidity and once I was hit by a motorcycle and thrown into a sewage canal. He didn't stop to help me out. I had a few hospital stays with dysentery and passed my first kidney stone while I was in Thailand. But it was the greatest adventure of my life.

Eventually I learned to speak Thai. I don't think I ever learned to speak it like a native, but there was a day, about 5 or 6 months in, that I knew I was reaching people with my Thai. I had so many blessing in learning that beast of a language.

I was living with my "companion" (another missionary serving in my area - my roommate and
Leaving Chiang Mai. I served in that incredible city for
6 months. I was so lucky. Amazing missionaries - all.
working partner) in Chiang Mai, Thailand way up North in the country when one morning, before I had a chance to put my tag on, the doorbell rang. Standing on our porch were two women that looked an awful lot like Mormon missionaries, but I didn't know them. One was a young Thai native and the other was an older German woman. They were wearing skirts, white shirts and name tags just like us...but not, somehow. The older German woman asked me if I was American and I said yes. Her English wasn't great, but her Thai was worse, so we went with English. I asked the Thai girl if she spoke English and she didn't. So we settled on Thai. The Thai girl's eyes got big and she said "are you from Thailand?" and I said "No. I'm from the United States. I've been here about 5 months." I explained that I was always asked if I was Thai or part-Thai because my black eyes and dark hair are very Thai. I noticed that she really took that in. She was looking at me as if I was some kind of freak. She said "your Thai is very good..." with a kind of question mark? "Are you CIA?" I did not understand that word see-aye-ehhhhh. I need to write that down for later, I thought. I said I was sorry I didn't know what see-aye-ehhhh was in phasaathay
(the Thai language). She explained "you know, cops shoot-em-up bad guys FBI." She has her finger stuck out in a gun position. "OH! CIA! THAT CIA. Hahaha! No sorry. We are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." WHAT A LET DOWN! You have me confused with some 007 type that could crush you with her index finger. I pump a bicycle 40 miles a day. I have the thighs of a good kickboxer but that's about all. (I didn't say that last part.)

They were Jehovah's Witnesses I found out. Having never run into any people from this religion, I was fascinated that I had to come all the way to Thailand to meet the "JDubs" as I had heard them called. (I hope that nickname isn't offensive. I don't mean it to be.) We exchanged pleasantries and they asked me to buy their pamphlets, which I was happy to do. I went back into my room to find some change and gathered about 15 of the LDS pamphlets and handed them to German woman with the 50 baht that I owed for her pamphlets. The German woman said "Oh no, we can't afford your pamphlets, we are only volunteers," to which I replied "me too! But go ahead, they're free."

No caption needed.
It's very rare to meet other Christians in Thailand and I was smitten immediately and asked them to come back when we could sit down and talk. I thought that would be fun. (Ah youth is wasted on the stupid.) About a week later, the young Thai woman did return. But she was alone. We learned her name was Lai. We invited her in and she listened to me talk about the Mormons for a long time. At first I thought she just wanted to make sure we were real. But after a while, she relaxed and stopped asking me why I could speak Thai after only having been in the country 6 months. It was like a magic trick to her. It was the perfect opportunity to tell her about the Gifts of the Spirit. I explained that I had been given a blessing before I left for Thailand and another one just a few months later when I became a Senior companion that I would be blessed with the "gift of tongues." We read some scriptures that talked about it. I knew the power of that gift! It was as if someone had dumped a Thai dictionary into my head. I spoke without a problem. I understood what people were saying to me and anyone that knew how easily it came to me, was truly shocked. Did I study? Of course I did. Like I was on fire. But if I studied a certain group of vocabulary words that day, I noticed that I would "just happen" to hear those same words used in common conversation. I would connect them to their context and in this way, my inner vocabulary exploded daily.

This must have been early on because I was still wearing shoes.
I also noticed that when I got home from Thailand and went back to school to study theatre, I would merely have to pass over a script once or twice at the most and it was memorized. My mind had been expanded somehow. I was shocked at how my study habits had been clarified too. My college transcripts testify of a girl that struggled to get mediocre grades before her mission and then returned to sail through school afterwards. It was so much easier. I had really learned to focus but more importantly I had learned how to listen.

I left Chiang Mai shortly after we started teaching Lai. Not sure if she was ever baptized but I know she was lead to our door so we could introduce her to the Mormons.

I thought I would give Mr. Negative on Facebook a little list of the things I learned while I was
Rod Hinck as Santa. He had the suit made, then we stayed
up all night and made bags of popcorn and delivered them to
the polio wards and orphanages on Christmas day. Best
Christmas e.v.e.r.
"putting off my education." This "sacrifice" he calls it might be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard and I'm sorry if he's reading this...because he might...but he needs to know how goofy he sounds to the thousands and thousands of us that have taken the incredible opportunity to serve a mission for our church.

Things I learned on my mission that I had not previously learned while in college:

  • I learned about several other beautiful world religions
  • I learned that it can rain so hard your skin crinkles up under your clothes
  • I learned that being fat is good everywhere but in the United States
  • I learned that everything can be eaten. Everything.
  • Women can have babies next to a rice paddy
  • I learned to appreciate world music
  • I learned that toilets can also be stood on
  • I learned that hospitals do not provide toilet paper
  • I learned that there is real hunger in the world
  • I learned that in some cultures people give away their children if they are born with disabilities
  • Polio ward.
  • I learned that you don't have to have stuff to be happy
The teachers in the refugee camp. This is the side wall of
one of the classrooms. What an amazing group
of people! They were always happy!
Happy people! I didn't meet a native
Elder that wasn't incredibly happy and
so positive to be around. 

No gears, basket, bell, seat on the back for passengers.
  • I rode and slept on a train many times overnight and I had never done that before. 
  • I learned to get up at the crack of dawn everyday at the same time to study and pray
  • I learned how to ride a bike in a dress and feel grateful for the transportation
  • I learned that if you have a wok, you need no other pan (I have three)
  • I learned how to get the best exchange rates for the American dollar
  • I learned to drink soda pop from a plastic bag...without ice.
  • I learned to wash clothes out on a rock
    Try to look happy while you eat
    crickets over rice. Mmmmm. Disgusting.
  • I learned to make spring rolls (believe me this is a valuable skill)
  • I learned that you can't ride a bicycle immediately after riding an elephant 
  • I learned that dysentery can be obtained for 40 cents and how to avoid it
  • I learned that there are 400 kinds of bananas (and I ate most of them)
  • I learned how to barter for better prices
  • I learned to make rice like a PRO!
  • I learned how to make khaawniawmamuang (yes - come over)
  • I learned how to make somtum and curry and amazing fried rice (yep - its true) 
  • I learned a thousand ways to use sweetened condensed milk
  • I found out you can survive a national water fight on a bike, wearing a dress
  • I learned to de-wing grasshoppers and fry them up in front of the movie house
  • I learned that rice is very powerful
Dysentary #1 (or 2). (There are 2 more
dysentary events....heehehe!)
  • I learned how to live and get along with another human being that is with you 24/7
  • I learned that deodorant is optional in some countries
  • I learned how to potty train orphans
  • I learned that polio still exists
  • I learned humility for myself and patience for all people
  • I learned that you must love even the people that are hard to love (the guard at the camp)
The greatest learning experience of my mission service was the time I spent as an English teacher in the Phanat Nikhom Transit Camp for Vietnamese and Cambodian Refugees. Those people had fled the oppressive governments of the North Vietnamese and Pol Pots ethnic cleansing regime. The Killing Fields. Remember that movie? Those were my students.

They were doctors and lawyers, students and moms. They got in big and little boats and crossed the Gulf of Thailand with nothing but their birth certificates and marriage licenses. Some of them walked into Thailand for refuge, carefully avoiding (or not) mine fields and open fighting. They were assigned to a series of United Nations refugee camps along the Laos and Vietnamese border. Once their paperwork was in order, they would come to our camp to await acceptance from another country - we were the "transit" camp. At our camp they learned to speak English from the Sisters of the Mormon church through the churches Welfare Services Unit for Refugees in Thailand. WSURT. I was one of four or five sister missionary teachers that continually served in that unit. I was there seven months. I was so blessed by this experience.

  • I learned how to love every kind of pepper that can be grown and I lost most of my taste buds in Thailand
  • I learned to look out for snakes in the grass literally and figuratively
  • I learned how to ride a bike with no gears while carrying an easel, a film projector and a bag of books
  • I learned how to fix a flat tire in the middle of nowhere
  • I learned how to deworm refugee children
  • I learned not to climb into a house that was on stilts (if the family still wanted to keep their house) Consequently I learned how to teach a gospel discussion in mud up to my knees
  • I learned to eat fruits that smell like stinky feet
  • I learned to eat all kinds of things I didn't know could be eaten...and then say "thank you!" (See dysentery above)
This pic should be flipped. "Quinn" was headed to Toronto.
I think. I wish with all my heart I was still in touch with
all my friends from the camp. They are literally all
over the world now, resettled in different countries. 
  • I LEARNED HOW TO TEACH! (I did NOT learn this in college.)
  • I learned rejection and how to crawl back from it
  • I learned true joy and how to reach for it
  • I learned how to study
  • I learned how to use a day planner
  • I learned how to write a letter and use a real post office
  • I became a better pianist (because I had to)
  • I learned get up from the floor with both legs completely asleep and pretend everything was fine
  • I learned to speak another language fluently (for my survival) 
  • I learned why organized religion is so crucial to the world
  • I learned how lucky I am to be alive and healthy
  • I learned that freedom is not free
    My class at the camp. Knees to back. Sitting on the hard
    cement. No desks, no complaints!
  • I learned that its not what you get out of life, its what you put into it that's important
  • I found out that what I believe is true
  • I set a path for the rest of my life based on opportunities I was exposed to while on my mission
  • I learned that there was so much more to learn - I now crave education
  • I found out that Jesus Christ has saved the world and me - literally, not figuratively
  • I found God
  • I learned to love someone else besides myself and consequently...
  • I found ME
And after I learned all that I was only 23 years old. I spent the next two years in college, and the next 26 years in a classroom - working and putting money into a pension that won't be enough and a social security system that looks iffy. Believe me, if I had it to do all over again, would I skip the mission
This is the Southeast Asia version of "knocking on doors"
This is a street board sign. It's meant to attract interested
people and give away books. If I had a nickle for every
hour I stood at a street board...
and rush into the work force at 21? GAH! NOOOOOOOOO! I wish I could have served for years and years. Living simply on meager means (missions cost approximately $450 a month), driven by the love of God, doing good continually because you can, studying scriptures and good books because you have time, making eternal friendships all over the world and feeding your brain at the same time?!?!?! Why wouldn't you take that opportunity?

So Mr. Negative, you said we serve " the guise of sacrifice..." and I say - if that's sacrifice then I want to keep doing it all my life. Initially I went in to the mission field to pay God back for what I owed him and all it did was make me more indebted. I can't wait to serve another mission with my husband; we are already saving for it. 

Dried squid anyone?
You also said "they stall their education, careers and lives by serving God..." Education doesn't only happen in a classroom! In fact most of it doesn't! Serving God?! Could you work for a better boss? When can a person learn another language fluently without spending time in the country? When can a person test their brain, their courage, their instincts and everything their parents taught them all at the same time over and over again for two years?

Finally you said "... when really they are just proselyting for more members to fill the churches coffers." O! if you only knew how many people in the world are sustained by the "coffers" of the church and don't fill it at all. If I could tell you what a blessing it is for me to give 10 measly percent of what I earn, back from whence it came...well that's another blog for another time. But if you are really in need of some blessings, give 10 percent of what you earn to a charity each month. You will be shocked at the kind of person you will become and the windows of heaven will open to you. I challenge you to try it. Karma may be a b@!*ch - but it goes the other way too.

Half way through my mission I was transferred to work in a refugee camp teaching English instead of the proselyting the gospel. I've already talked about my time in the refugee camp. There are Worse Things than Miscarriages LINK  Next to holding my tiny son before he died, it was the most precious time of my life.
Residences in the United Nations refugee camp in Thailand
I will never forget how it felt to share my language (we were not allowed to proselyte) with those amazing Vietnamese, Laos and Cambodian people while they waited to be accepted to another country. I felt the magnitude and miracle of the scripture in Jeremiah 3:14 "I will take you one of a city and two of a family and will bring you to Zion." I can't explain it, but every teenager should have to serve in a refugee camp in their lifetime just to learn the true meaning of gratitude. We are so blessed in these United States! We must remember the people that founded, fought and fight for what we have here. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are blessed beyond measure.

The classroom at the refugee camp
Every single day I walk into my classroom with its carpet, desks, endless whiteboards, video projector, computers (I have 34!), printer, podium, bulletin boards, etc.... I remember teaching English to 90 Vietnamese students at a time. They sat on banana mats if they had one, and if they didn't they pulled up a piece of the hard concrete floor. There was one whiteboard at the end of the "classroom" which was surrounded by woven bamboo mats with big holes in them for "air conditioning." They listened as if their life depended on it. Because it did. My student today only listen if I say the words "extra credit," or when the bell rings. Everybody hears that.

A "kitchen" in the refugee camp. Isn't she gorgeous?!
In the refugee camp we were able to teach the refugees about the customs and traditions that they would also have to go through in their new countries. We did an Easter egg hunt, a Halloween party, a Thanksgiving dinner complete with chicken, purple Thai yams and rice flour bread dressing (thanks to the cook at the American Embassy for letting us have a bottle of thyme and sage.) Everyone thought the idea of seasoned wet bread was terrible and I only have two things to say to that: "fish heads and chicken feet." So there. I learned to appreciate my traditions and my culture by learning and living theirs.

The constant thriving learning environment turned me into a teacher. It was because of that experience in the camp that I solidified my journey to become a certified teacher when I got back. It was because of that experience that I was able to focus so easily and stay on track when I returned from Thailand.

It is because of that experience that I cried like a baby when I heard the announcement about an LDS
Boot. She was a college student that we taught for a long
time. This was such a happy day! That's the Chiang Mai
branch president in the background (1986)

Temple being built in Thailand. There was not a conference that went by that I didn't pray like a crazy woman for a temple announcement and in April  - we got it! I've been praying for that event since 1986. I know it is because of the good members of the church in Thailand that they are finally going to get their own temple. I have seen on Facebook the burgeoning church meetings and heard from the missionaries that the church is rolling forth in Thailand just as the mission dedicatory prayer predicted it would.

We called this dog "Nuke." He hung around our house
(because I fed him). Yes, it's a dog.
I wasn't afraid to serve. I wasn't afraid of the people or the culture or even the food - though seeing a rack full of drying snakes makes you a little queasy at first. I wanted to see the world and selfishly, I was glad that I got called to see part of the world, this school teacher would never get to see (and has never been able to afford to go back). But in the end, I learned that its not where you go, because all of those things on my list can be learned in Idaho or Indonesia... but the greatest thing of all is that the Mormons have the truth about God and Jesus Christ and I learned that. We have the whole truth, we really do. Despite crazy stories about the church that may turn you against it, or incidences of offending remarks or actions made against you that made you leave  - it is true. I'm not even hoping for the truth - I know it. It's a sure foundation for me. It grounds me. It keeps me focused. This mission gave me the foundation that I have needed just to get through my crazy life. And contrary to what they say - life is not short - it's tricky and it comes one day at a time. We need all the help and knowledge we can get.
Planting and watering for a future harvest...

I'm proud to say that I was one of those missionaries that planted a lot of seeds back in the 80's and now I have the blessing of looking back to see the harvest. It's wild! A temple in Thailand! Who'da thought?! Can't wait to be there for the dedication!

Hmong siblings at the camp, always
taking care of each other.

My favorite service project! Every Wednesday we got to
go out and help with the babies at a huge orphanage in Udorn!

Durian. Elder Anun. I loved that guy!
He would eat anything!

Feeding many babies.

Leaving Udorn!

Udorn! I loved this branch! Incredible members. They even
had a keyboard. What is my hair? 1987.
Never underestimate the power of rice
in a refugee camp.

Phanat Nikhom across from our house. Rice fields everywhere.

Lesson #488: You don't have to have stuff to love life!
I thank God every day for this experience and for making me who I am today! What a blessing to have met and known so many amazing people. I highly recommend serving a mission! It will bless your life a thousand times more than
you can bless others through your service. You don't want to regret not having taken the opportunity to learn and grow through this kind of experience. If you are still thinking about whether or not to serve... what are you waiting for?