August 31, 2011

The Summer of God, otherwise known as: Church Hopping

This has been a busy summer and has been filled with lots of good experiences. Back in the beginning of June I had posted my moving experience going to the morning service at Pride and then Jeff and I made a decision to try to find a place where we could feel comfortable finding God and community. Since I had attended several times with him at First Presbyterian Church (their contemporary service) I'm already familiar with how things work. I particularly like some of their traditional services, like Kirking of the Tartan and of course one of my favorite events, Midnight Christmas Service!

We started out by going back to the First United Methodist Church in SLC a couple of times. The feeling of inclusiveness in that church is unique and there's just a great spirit of unity and diversity there. The pastor is super-friendly and it is a very welcoming place. It really helped that some of our friends are members or sing/play in that church. I particularly love their communion. They stress that a person doesn't have to be a member of the church to participate and it is very moving.

The next church we tried to go was Sacred Light of Christ; we had been there before because a friend was singing. It was a good experience, but frankly, the music there was probably a little too Rock-N-Roll to me, the "Amen!" and "Alleluias" take a little while to get used to and it just felt a little too out of place. Their communion was also nice though, same concept as before, all are welcome, no need to be a member but this time the person who gives you communion prays with you for as long as you need it--a nice, personal touch.

We were supposed to try the Unitarian Church on a given Sunday with Kiley, but she flaked out on us at the last minute--probably a date or something (he, he--just kidding, she was meeting her sister) so it was one of the Sundays that we did a repeat attendance at First United Methodist and ditched plans to to go Unitarian--but I still want to go back and try them one of these days soon, I had attended the Unitarian Church once before but it was more out of not wanting to be home, I really wasn't in the right frame of mind at the time.

The next place we tried was a little hit and miss at first, I have a friend who attends the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas and he seemed to really like it. When I heard that there was going to be a Cathedral of Hope in Salt Lake City I liked their Facebook page immediately and had been following their progress. I met the pastors at Pride and made plans to attend their first gathering, but that coincided with me moving and I missed it. We attended the next Sunday and it was a nice, quaint and personal service. The pastors Marianne and Julie are absolutely adorable and sweet. Granted, there are usually around 10 or less people and by all means the messages, music and feelings are great and personal, as Jeff put it, it is a very GRASS ROOTS community but they're very inclusive, accepting and so far I really enjoy the spirit there. Communion is again very simple, come as you are whether you're a member or not, regardless of what you believe. Of course this church is just starting but until it gets too big it is nice to walk in and have pretty much everyone know your name! :-)

Now the reason we've tried these places is that we've wanted not only a community, but also an affirming church where Jeff and I can attend and not have to remind ourselves to watch out with the occasional reaching and holding each other's back and/or perhaps even holding hands--and just about all of them are (well we haven't asked point blank at First Presbyterian if they are--but they're still very nice and welcoming folks). I've also expressed that although the affirming part is important to me, I also wanted it to feel very much like church, not just any stale, unorganized and general service--if that makes any sense at all!

I have to say in conclusion that my feelings for God (or all things God) have softened much, because I have decided to believe that most of what God does is through other people and at least from the few examples I've seen attending different denominations I've seen how loving and inclusive people are; which again, maybe it is more about my state of mind than the church itself--and of course, I don't think that my search is done, like I said before I would still like to try the Unitarian Church, possibly even Episcopalian and I'd sure like to go to Catholic mass now and then and of course the occasional LDS service when a friend or relative is speaking or has something important going. See? I'm doing much better already, I'm no longer the rabid, anti-God, scum of the earth heathen anymore, I'm starting to clean up a little, one Sunday at a time! 

August 29, 2011

Religion vs Science & The Imaginary Cousin

There's a distant relative of my mom's who happens to live in Utah. Not the closest by any means but it wasn't uncommon to see her and her family at the main family functions (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) In fact, when mom would talk about her, we used to make fun and tell her that it was her imaginary cousin because it took a while for us to finally meet her....I know, crude.

It appears that  sometimes news about bad health or tragedy hits family all at once, when it rains it pours, right? Aside from dealing with mom's illness two weeks ago this cousin (who is in her mid-30's, 2 small children under age six) had a severe brain hemorrhage from which she has not been able to recover. She is currently in a coma, connected to machines that breathe and pump life into her. I had been talking to her husband, visiting the hospital and trying to be as much help as I can in whatever way it can be provided and her mom arrived from Mexico a few days ago on a humanitarian visa. 

The doctors had a meeting with the family yesterday about a couple of possible options:
1. Pull the plug, plain and simple. Her injury is not where the brain can regenerate itself. She has no way to respond to any kind of stimuli and prone to infections of all kinds (as hospitals are prone to be perfect places for this).
2. Fit her with more breathing/feeding tubes and send her to a nursing home still plugged in to machines until someone decides what to do with/about her, still no hope for her to ever wake up or respond to any kind of treatment or surgery.

Her mom is a "born again Christian" she swears that God will bring her daughter back. The cousin's LDS bishop keeps giving her blessings and basically pronouncing that if the cousin is strong enough she'll pull herself out of the coma with God's help (not the most impressed with the bishop's approach if you ask me). The doctors say there's really no hope. My cousin's husband says that they never discussed the "if I'm ever in a situation, this is what I'd want done..." nor the possibility of organ donation so he is/was as lost as could be--trying to hang on to hope as well as trying to be as realistic as possible and yet making sure that no one thinks that all he wants to do is pull the plug either--I hope I never have to be in that situation or put anyone though that misery but at least I've made my likely choices vocal to the people who may have to decide for me.

As I sat in the family meeting with the specialists, the social worker--God bless his soul--made the best effort at trying to explain the scientific base for the doctor's recommendations vs the family's desires to hang on to all hope and expectation for miracles--and he did a great job in my mind, I'm sure they're experts at managing the God vs Science issue from dealing with this day in and day out, but it still must be a hard thing to do. They're having another meeting today to make a final decision, possibly by this evening--but by all indications they'll be pulling the plug. Part of me wants to be a fly on the wall to watch all of this unfold, it is pretty fascinating (in a morbid kind of way). 

Life is so freaking fragile. Sure we go through it thinking to ourselves that we are invincible, but let's face it, it can be taken away in a blink of an eye. My cousin was a seemingly healthy woman, full of life and hopes for her family and here she stands at the gates of life and death. All I could wonder was when was the last time she got a chance to hold her babies, kiss her husband and tell him she loved him or enjoy the rain on her face, the scent of a flower and watch a slow-paced sunset on the horizon. I sure hope she did...

How often do we take the time to do those things that seem so small and menial yet they hold the most meaning to us when we look at what matters because again, no one knows when it may be our turn or how it will happen. So hold and hug your loved ones, don't let any time pass without them knowing of your love for them; take time and enjoy the little things that will mean the most in the long run...

That's all.

August 20, 2011

Hiking Pictures & Stories...

I had gone on a spur of the moment hike a couple of weeks ago with my dear friend Clive at the Bonneville Shore Trail but we only made it part of the trail, since we didn't quite know where the trail would lead, but I had every intention of going back and finishing it soon.

I got a chance to go back and finish it on Thursday with Jeff, we packed sandwiches, water and trailmix and headed out to the trail. One of the things I mentioned was how odd that within 10 minutes you don't even feel like you're in the city anymore, yet a few turns and climbs and there are stunning views of the Salt Lake Valley to the South, then a return to semi-reality with a neighborhood of beautiful mansions below the rim of the mountain--I wonder what people who live in those houses do for a living...

While hiking up and trying to catch our breaths we managed some interesting conversations, one of which was when I made the "wonder what those people do for a living" comment, Jeff said something to the fact of: "The main things in life are who I love, who loves me (family, friends) I have a good job that allows me to pay my bills and allows me to have a good life". Having that kind of conversations brings my life back into somewhat of a perspective. It is true, a lot of times we focus so much on what we don't have and fail to realize what we do. I need to think that way more often...

Once we made it to the top of a mountain we found ourselves literally surrounded probably by hundreds of dragon flies in a field. I was a little mesmerized by the view from the top and I wish I'd been able to take a picture of the dragon flies but instead shot only a view of the valley to the West, after all, you can only do so much with a camera from a phone.

I have to admit that this is one of the things I LOVE about Utah, the outdoors and views compare to very little else in other places and as much as it drives people insane because of the local flair (religion and politics) nothing compares getting to the top of a hill and looking down below, nothing matters up there, other than being in the moment. 

This is another view coming down by Ensign Peak, just as we were making it to the neighborhood down below. The total hike was about 5 miles, 2 hours, sore legs and a great time spent enjoying the scenery, the view, great company and having excellent conversations with the babe! 

Life is good, indeed!!!

August 18, 2011

Adventures in life: Feeling a little less than...

This is not a cry for help or pity, it is just to get my thoughts out and sorted out--or so I claim.

Ever since I planned my move to the downtown area I considered what would happen to the kid's ability to get to school. Their schools are not in their neighborhood, so it isn't just as simple as walking to class. Over the last 2 years their mom had dropped them off at my house early in the morning and I proceeded to drive them to school and then head to work. Well this year is different since I'm not so close to them. Still one of the reasons I considered moving where I live is that work is literally a walk away, I'm relatively close to everything I would need (walking distance) and I honestly am not afraid of using mass transit if I have to, so I always considered just handing the car to my 17-yr old son so he could drive his sister and himself to school as a possibility, after all the car would just sit parked at my place all day, all of it sounded much simpler as I thought of it in my head and eventually voiced it to the kids as an alternative. He was able to get his license this summer and things just have fallen into place to make the best of the situation, it all seemed great,

Until they drove off in the car last night; then it hit me: I may not get it back! eeeeeeeek!

It has been way too long since I haven't had a car. Now granted there are some perks of not having one, such as not having the insurance, maintenance and gas expense--which in reality does bite a big chunk of my already meager budget and my kids don't have to worry about how they're getting to school first & foremost and perhaps other places as well. The flip side of that is that my son is not working, I really don't know if his mom is able to take on the expense for an additional car, not to mention the fact that I'd always wonder what he is up to and of course if he is safe and sound--now it isn't like he drove off in a Ferrari or even a Lexus or anything, but still a car is a car, right? 

And let's face it, part of me says that a 40-something year male should be in a better place than this and be way more self-reliant than that even if it is something as basic as having my own wheels to move around--this part is kind of crushing my reality right now and is probably bugging me way more than I anticipated, after all, a car is one's little kingdom where I can feel the freedom of coming and going as I please and be in my little bubble which now feels like it just about burst

--I'm sure I'm making this sound way worse than it really is, seriously it isn't the end of the world and Jeff's offered to help where he can---what a fantastic guy, right? :-) I suppose things can always be much worse than they are and I'm sure there are people in even more dire circumstances than I find myself, at least my kids are able to get to and from school without worries and having to depend on others, so I probably should go with that thought in my head and make the best of the situation. Who knows it may be a good thing having to learn to use mass transit again and the benefit of walking somewhere--even for a gallon of milk is always an advantage, so I'll go with that... The trade off would be for me to trek all the way to the kid's house, pick them up, drive them to school, drive back to work--I don't think I'm up for that kind of stress, NO THANK YOU!

Yeah, I'll keep telling myself that I'm making the best choice, even though I'm losing some of my self-assumed freedom...this is probably more than I should be sharing on here--but just had to get it out and I also realize that there are worst things in life to moan about--life is good, it really is!!!

August 09, 2011

Family... it is about time!!!

Plans had been drawn: My niece had a quinceaƱera (it had been in the works for a couple of years, actually) and my parents and siblings were all supposed to meet in Utah last week. However, a few days before the party and family reunion my mom was diagnosed with thyroid cancer that was threatening to block her airway and she had to have surgery right away to fix that. Lots of last minute plans had to be altered. We all went into a state of panic and trying to decide what to do and how to react, cancel the party? travel to my parent's home? continue on? Mom's desire was that we kept the original plans and supported my sister and her daughter as much as we could and three of my sisters remained with mom and dad back in Texas.

We had to have hard conversations the best way we could. I was anticipating having mom in person to talk about a lot of 'issues' but ended up doing it by phone the weekend before her surgery. We cried on the phone, we mended a lot of fences while we were still trying to understand what was going on. We brought up a lot of skeletons that once we talked about them, were merely shadows once we understood where each other were coming from---it is an irony how an illness or something tragic like this makes people stare at the face of reality and forces you to say things that normally we don't have the guts to do but I hope that we can move forward from now on with mended relationships and better dispositions.

My brother got here from Seattle with his family and lots hugs were shared all around and caught up from the years of absence, I mean we have Facebook, telephones and modern technology to help with the distance, but nothing beats good old face time. Mom went into surgery. The outcome was better than anticipated and now she is gearing up for treatment for the next few months. My sister arrived from TX and more hugs and more catch up time--all in between even sleep seems of little importance, every minute was/is precious.

The party went on, it was a smashing success and my niece was happy (as were all her friends and guests). Everyone worked so freaking hard, my two sisters who live in Provo being at the top of the list; my brother in law was able to broadcast the party to the family on the web, everyone took extra assignments--even Jeff was out there setting and cleaning tables--whatever needed to be done--we laughed, we danced, we cried--that's what family does, work together, hold together, pull together for each other and with each other. We had more serious conversations--some of which were too uncomfortable for many of us, yet the outpouring of love was greater than anything else which I believe was the central theme here--no judgement, no preaching but instead tremendous show of respect and love all around. Maybe it is what age has done to us, we realize that love is what matters most.

Sadly it was time to go back home for my brother, sister and their families, but lots of good things happened in between. We ate, we played, we hung out together and we held each other--literally. My kids got to spend time with some of my family, I got to spend time with them and Jeff got to meet more members of the family and see where some of my craziness comes from...I've been extremely blessed in the last few days. I got to spend some 1-1 time with my brother and my sister. Their impressions to me: "I'm glad you're happy, Jeff is amazing" -- yeah I know that! :-) he went so out of his way to make them all feel welcome and loved, just like his family has done to me and I'll be forever grateful for it.

I felt loved the way really I am, the way I wanted to show (or those I was able to show anyway); of course everyone wants to be accepted for who they are and in the middle of coming out and living a whole new life there's always all these worries of what may be real and what may be assumed as we talk on the phone and being face to face it is much easier to read and interpret people's reactions and body language and I'm glad to report nothing but positive outcomes not just from my siblings but also their families.  Bliss...I don't know how else to describe the last week or so. I was a whirlwind of activity that came and went so fast yet so much happened in between so now it is time to sit back and contemplate on all that has happened as life sort of gets back to our normal routines, but I suspect none of us will be the same again...

That's what family time did to me last week.