Dear Kami & Phil,
On Tuesday, June 17th, at around midnight, Brad came home from work to find me in my office, supremely agitated. I’d been in a state of general unrest for months until that point, feeling off about the place I was at spiritually. I was trying to come to terms with a lot of things, namely the fact that I hated going to church and came away each week feeling drained rather than edified. Weekly I’d been asking myself why I still went, and then I would remind myself of the same thing over and over: I’m not going for me; I’m going because others need me there. My kids, my family, other people in the ward whom I love and respect. I love the Gospel. I think everyone needs it. I know the Plan of Salvation is true. I clung to the memory of the “Before Rachel” (before I was a member) and “After Rachel” to catalogue all that the Church had done for me. I wanted that foundation for my kids. Despite knowing these things, I still asked myself the question all the time, even though I always answered myself in the same way. Even though I knew, in my heart, I was committed to going no matter how onerous it was.
But I was tired of asking. I just wanted to do the right thing without questioning the whys all the time. I wanted to stop feeling like church was an endurance test. If that was what it was going to be for me, I wanted to let go of wanting it to be different. But I couldn’t. I wanted to find the same spiritual growth there that I did at home in the quiet moments I spent studying or reading or writing. Because the reality was I had grown an awful lot in the last few years. I could not have been more pleased with that, but I began to feel like I had outgrown church because I never found understanding or peace there anymore like I did on my own. The short of it was that I was soul sick over it, experiencing a gradual decline in how I felt about church, and to my dismay, it affected how I saw people, and therefore life. I wanted out of feeling so confused and conflicted all the time. Something needed to change.
On that evening when Brad found me, I had hit the peak of it and wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong with me outside of simply being unhappy and unsettled. We’ve had a lot of things up in the air for a while now and I was halfway to believing that my unrest was a sign that one of those things was going to have a resolution that would change things. I wasn’t sure if it was a good foreboding or a bad one. Anyway, I was so upset that I considered asking Brad for a blessing. That’s a big deal because I have never, ever asked for a blessing. I accept them tentatively, but not because I want them. Occasionally they seemed to help, but I wasn’t convinced (still am not entirely). I just do not have a testimony of them and I don’t really understand them. So when I asked him, it was more out of desperation than expectation. Either way, both Brad and I had been feeling similarly in our anxiety. We both expressed that “Something isn’t right” and we both conceded that “something is going to happen.” For me it was more like, “Something NEEDS to happen so I can get out of my head.”
He gave me a blessing. It was long. Probably as long as my patriarchal blessing. I’d call it a recap of the things I had done, the questions I had, the things that were important to me and the things that bothered me. I think it was hearing that repeated back to me, validated in that way, that made my anxiety ease that night, but I don’t know. I do know that I remember most specifically the end, when Brad counselled that I should strive to stay close to my visiting teaching sisters, that I should seek out every way I could to serve them. He said I should work hard to fulfill that calling and I would find comfort in doing that.
The next day, June 18th, Wednesday, my own visiting teachers came around 10 am. I had not read the message for the month because I asked Maggie to be in charge of preparing it. We planned to go later that day. That morning Julie Jones gave the message to me. She was kind of rushed about it but I do know that she told me her favorite part of it was the account of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. Brigham Young told the people during a conference that the handcart company needed help. They needed everything, so the sisters undressed right there in the tabernacle to donate their clothes. Petticoats and all.
I admit I listened to that story with a little bitterness, thinking, “just another well-meaning story to make our acts of service pale by comparison.” Nobody does that anymore. Can you imagine everyone undressing down to their skivvies in general conference just because someone pointed out there are homeless people in Utah? I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to glean from that story. It’s not relevant to today because we’re too engrossed in our own insecurities to accept that kind of help or to give it.
A little after 1 pm that same day, I received your call. I’ll fast forward through all of the ensuing emotions and phone calls to standing in my living room and seeing the sobs building behind Alora’s eyes as Brooklyn recounted that Chase would be airlifted to Minot after all. I remember hugging Alora and thinking how nice it was to do that. I don’t particularly like to hug people. Touch is not my love language, and I usually feel awkward when someone other than Brad hugs me. But I liked hugging her, I think because it felt like I was doing something. That’s all we want during these times: the opportunity to DO something. But we’re so helpless and inadequate compared to our maker. Life so often feels like fumbling, and it only occasionally yields a catch. At least I could hug Alora. That was the only catch I could manage right then, though I began to seriously ask myself what more I would do.
While your kids made preparations to go stay with the Martinez family, I began plotting because I was NOT about to sit around and do nothing. If I look back, I can see all the ways that I should have felt responsibility toward doing something for you. I’m your visiting teacher. Brad is your home teacher. You live three doors down. All these things might have added the pressure of “This is your job” but interestingly, it had a completely different effect. It became my justification for doing things that I worried wouldn’t be received well. A conversation in my head would go like this:
“Oh look! Kami didn’t do her laundry! Yay! I can do her laundry and I bet it will be SO nice for her to have clean clothes when she needs them.”
“What?! You can’t do people’s laundry without their permission!”
“But if I ask her, she’ll tell me no!”
“But I’m her visiting teacher. I’m allowed.”
My motto became “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” When I asked Brooklyn and Alora for the key to your house to “look after it” I was very adamant with them that I would gladly pay a bribe if it would keep them from telling you what I was doing. Once they were finally gone and it was just me and your house, I spent a great deal of time mulling over what I was “allowed” to do. One minute I’d think, “Holy Mother, Rachel Kelly! Kami is going to hate you!” and the next minute I’d say, “Kami will love this!” and eventually settled on the more realistic, “Kami might bite your head off at first, but she’ll get over it. Just do it. It’s okay. It will be okay.”
I kid you not, I was downstairs with my trusty shop-vac in Boston’s room, having one of my doubting moments, and I honestly considered messing the room back up so you didn’t know I was down there. I had moments like that a lot as I went from room to room. Fortunately, I had so many good reasons on my side, so many excuses like “but we’re neighbors!” or whatever that I could use to violate your home haven that I won the arguments against impropriety over and over. The more I ignored self-consciousness over what you would think, the easier it became.
One day someone who came by for something and saw me folding laundry. They said, “If my child is ever in a hospital, you are NOT allowed to clean my house. In fact, it will be your job to bar anyone that tries.”
“Why?” I asked, knowing exactly why. After all, we ALL know why we wouldn’t want someone in our house, don’t we?
“Because I would be embarrassed!”
And there it was, my precise fear over what I was doing confirmed by another source. I think it should have shaken me, made me rethink what I was doing. But instead I found the most incredible conviction. I remembered the story about the sisters in the tabernacle, undressing. In. Front. Of. People. During a time when that would have been a HUGE cultural no-no. They must have been embarrassed. I bet the people on the receiving end felt embarrassed for taking what they didn’t have, for taking clothes off the backs of others when they should have been better prepared. I bet there was embarrassment all around. But then I remembered how strong those saints were, how close. I’ve read conference addresses by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses to the people during those early years. The language is intimate. They all knew each other and they were an incredibly close-knit community. Probably not by choice, but out of necessity. So many hardships they faced that required deep trust in each other. They must have learned quickly that embarrassment was a luxury they could not dwell on. There were more important things, things that actually mattered.
And then I remembered the story of the Savior when he washed his disciples’ feet even though it was the lowest job that could be done. His disciples were embarrassed. I’m sure of it. Can you imagine the Savior washing your feet? In fact, it’s considered such a powerful act that in Joseph Smith’s time it was common practice for him to wash the feet of the 12. It’s actually an ordinance. I don’t know if it is still practiced, but I have no doubt that during that time such a thing bound those men as more than colleagues. There had to be brotherhood among them, and not just by title or assignment. The bonds would have had to have been familial.
And that’s when the negative voices stopped. I cleaned because people thought I shouldn’t. We aren’t related and we aren’t super-close, but I don’t think I could have felt any more pain for you over Chase or cried any more tears if we had been. And I wanted to do something more than send you a text or tell you I’m praying. I wanted to wash your feet. A clean house does nothing for Chase, and you may never get to appreciate it, but I don’t care in the least. The Savior washed their feet knowing they’d get dirty all over again that same day. It was the act that brought them together, not the outcome of clean feet.
I began to experience how that happens. Other than simply staying busy and feeling engaged, I began to know you. A home, I realized, is the most intimate expression of who someone is on the inside. The way we arrange things. Which things are organized versus which things aren’t. What we keep versus what we throw away. What is messy and what is not. You can tell what matters to a person in this way. Even the arrangement of furniture says a lot. The books someone keeps and which ones make it up to the light of day in the front room rather than being in the basement. Notes your kids tape to their wall to remind them of whatever incentive program you’ve got going on or something they need to remember. Old records on display in Chase’s room and his neat line of bows on the wall amid a pile of shoes and boots and candy wrappers. The bow tie he was working on himself next to a small pile of pins and a paper pattern. I stood there with it in my hand for a minute and imagined the quick-witted conversation/argument you two must have had over it. The way we weave organization and chaos in our homes is an expression of how we balance life, what we’re working on and trying to improve, and what we have mastered. I can’t tell you how many times I stopped what I was doing to smile at something I saw, and how many times I felt humbled to be “allowed” to be there. I loved you more each day as I pushed past inhibitions and decided I’d gladly face Kami’s aggravation with me over violating her personal space. Getting to know the both of you more personally was worth it.
The days since June 18th have changed my life forever. I went to bed emotionally spent every night. My moments were beads of fear and courage and worry and hope and faith and anguish all strung together. But I’d never felt more involved with other people. I’d never felt more involved with a church community. As a result, I’ve never had more peace with it. I began to understand what was happening to me and what the sickness was that I felt leading up to and so powerfully in my soul the night of June 17th. I was disconnected from church because I was disconnected from its people. And I allowed it because I feared offending. I imagined that people don’t like you butting in to their lives, showing up unannounced or without a reason, or asking invasive questions just because. I was upset that people were inauthentic without ever doing anything to encourage authenticity. I waited to connect rather that doing something TO connect. Church was a hardship because I spent the time waiting instead of working. Wishing to be asked instead of granting without being asked, thinking I needed an excuse to serve, to smile, to hug. I was awaiting an invitation to be let in because I was afraid of making people uncomfortable. I realized how few people I know here, how few people I know in general, thinking for the first time that my excuse of not being a “people person” was lame. It’s a poor excuse for simply being afraid of people. You can’t connect deeply if you are always afraid of offending. I had to ask people more meaningful questions. I had to not be afraid to ask a new person their name for the third time because I can’t remember it. I have to text or call people just for the heck of it without worrying whether I’m “bothering” them. I need to do things for people without worrying that they’ll read the wrong message in it. Doing so leaves us free from the fear of misinterpretation. When we serve that deeply, unafraid of how we are perceived, we love according to the higher law. And that love will never separate us from our fellow men. It only has the power to bind.
People are the spark that has been missing from my life. It is our earnest endeavour as human beings to connect to others. When that is not fulfilled, our spirits become malnourished. We NEED each other, and I will never “outgrow” church for this reason. It’s ironic that I found such realizations while so often alone in your house. But I never really did feel alone. The essence of you and your family is there.
So you ask what have I learned from Chase’s experience? It has shifted my view and healed my soul. I do not say that lightly and there is no need to contrive the implications this has already had and will continue to have on my life. It is just as powerful and heartfelt as it sounds. I know I was being prepared to make the most out of what would happen to Chase so that his suffering would not be in vain. I know that the writhing unrest I felt the night of June 17th was no coincidence. I know the idea to get a blessing was not my own. And I know I was meant to be your visiting teacher and your neighbour. The beautiful intricacy of the whole thing is breathtaking, the way moments have aligned, details have moved forward in my memory so that I can see how our Father ensured that the most lives would be touched when sorrow came to visit. I thank you for your part in it. I thank Chase for his part. I realize it’s probably often hard for you to escape the chaos of emotions amid the situation. Sometimes life hurts so much that we can’t see anything past it, and we often reject the things we HAVE seen. But quiet moments will return. They always do. What we choose to see in those moments of clarity is what matters. Those are the moments that make us. What we choose to organize in our spiritual homes matters more than the surrounding chaos. I know you have a powerful spiritual home. Thank you for letting me see it and making mine more powerful, too.