CHRISTMAS—–AGAIN!

Christmas Nativity

Elizabeth Willis Barrett…………December 9, 2014

Well, it happened again. Christmas arrived before I did with it’s carols and lights and trees and store hype while I am still back in flags and fireworks and patriotism.  Christmas just seems to be on a faster track than I am.  I need time to allow the great Spirit of Christmas to seep in slowly so I can adjust and clear my head of incidentals like bill paying and house dejunking and family crises and Church callings.  But Christmas doesn’t tip toe in quietly and slowly raise the blinds until you can get used to the light.  No, it jerks you awake with a thunderbolt of hoopla which I never seem to be prepared for.

Part of the problem, perhaps the biggest part, is that Thanksgiving came a week late this year.  A whole week!  There should be a law against that.  Why can’t Thanksgiving be on the 3rd Thursday of November, not the fourth?  That would help immensely.  Then as soon as Thanksgiving is over we could be more attuned to Christmas and its incredible hustle and bustle. Actually, I think we’re all trying to do the H & B all year long and just accelerate the moves in December.

Last year I made a great attempt to be ready spiritually and physically for Christmas, trying to do something every day in its honor.  I was inspired by Scrooge’s classic sentence, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”  I sort of petered out by June but I was more ready for the season when it came barreling down the calendar and blasted into December—or rather, October.

But this year I can’t gather the warm blanket of Christmas wishes around me tight enough and I’m rather hanging out of the season’s joy.  Here it is December 9th.  Many of my neighbors’ lights are twinkling like little Christmas giggles and their trees are triumphant in their showcasing windows.  But our house stands in unlit shame and the Christmas tree still needs to be dragged from its year long cardboard entombment across the dry grass of the back yard and into the house that has just been scrubbed clean by the God-sent cleaners.

The many “So, are you all ready for Christmas?” inquiries made by well-meaning OCD individuals, who are just looking for conversation, embellish the problem.  They make you feel that if you are haven’t lit, hung, decorated, bought, wrapped, baked, read, visited, photoed, written and sent by the day after Thanksgiving, you might as well not bother.

This is about when my yearly mantra chimes in, “I will just make it through this year’s celebration and do better next year.”

But wait.  I can change that.  I can fling that sentence out of my head’s storage of useless jabber.  The years are thinning out for me and to miss the full joy of even one irretrievable Christmas would be counter to a life well spent.  So ready or not, it will not be hard to fill my mind and my soul with these sentences instead.  They can bring peace not only to me but to all:

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

What else matters?  Merry Christmas!

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A LITTLE SAMPLER OF LIFE

 

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Elizabeth Willis Barrett………October 19, 2014

When I was little, I went to Primary—faithfully.  I usually walked.  Once I called my Aunt Mona and asked her to take me but she said no.  It wasn’t that far and she knew I could easily walk it in about seven minutes.  Mom was at work or I certainly wouldn’t have asked Aunt Mona.  She would have felt really badly if I had been kidnapped on the way.  I think.  I never tried the Aunt Mona avenue of travel again.  I loved Primary.  We’d have opening exercises and then go into classes.

Do you think that in the hereafter we will get our full memories back?  Because right now I can’t remember sitting in class.  I easily remember that one of my Primary teachers was killed in a terrible car accident.  I can still feel a deep sorrow with that memory.  That was the first time I learned that someone in MY church could die unexpectedly.  I was pretty sheltered.  Anyway it was a terrible blow to her family and to all of us who knew her.  It shook my faith.  So God doesn’t always protect you even when you pray every day, “…….and let no harm or accident befall us”?

I just read on the Internet (and how could that ever be wrong?) that nine, ten and eleven year old Primary girls became LiHoMas.  And all this long while, I thought we were called Liahonas, named after the golden instrument of direction found by Lehi in the desert in the Book of Mormon.  But nope!  I guess we were LiHoMas which stood for Little Home Makers.  Whew!  I like Liahonas much better!

To be more specific, the nine year old girls were named Larks, the ten year old girls were named Bluebirds and the eleven year old girls were named Seagulls.  The most significant thing from Primary that I remember is making a sampler.  I really need to find mine so I can scan it and let you see it.  It is a real work of art.  I still remember what was so carefully stitched onto that sampler in cross stitch of various colors:

Greet the Day With a Song

Make Others Happy

Serve Gladly

My friend Louise and I used to work on our samplers together once in awhile.  I was a very tall LiHoMa and she was a small one.  Once she wanted to work on our samplers in a top cupboard in their guest room.  Why?  I don’t know!  But my body didn’t quite fold as well as hers did and that experience might have added to my extreme claustrophobia.

I am proud of myself for getting my sampler completed at all since many craft projects like that never make it to finé. Maybe the finishing of it gave me an extra doodad on my bandlo which I thought was called a bandalo—a felt thing you wore around your neck like a long collar.   Neither of those words is in the dictionary, by the way.  Interesting what you can learn on the internet.  My whole childhood could be changed if I’m not careful of what I look up.

Anyway, aren’t those wonderful words?  The words on my sampler, I mean.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to put them into practice and see what happens.

IN DEFENSE OF SARAH’S MOM

TemplepillsLisa Ling

Elizabeth Willis Barrett…………Oct 14, 2014

The other day I watched “This is Life with Lisa Ling: Inside Utah’s Struggle with Drug Abuse.”  She showed that even though Mormons have a strict health guide, they are still falling in high numbers to the addiction of pain pills.  I felt that she was very compassionate in her interviews.  She attended a Mormon Addiction Recovery Program meeting, spoke with a Mormon Bishop and in addition to others, met with a very candid girl named Sarah.

I didn’t learn about the danger of prescription pills until my son was in high school.  He went to a friend of mine who worked in the school’s bookstore and asked her for one of her pain pills.   Very responsibly, this friend called me before giving him one.  She told me that Jeffrey had come to her saying that his back really hurt.  As a football player, Jeffrey had many reasons to have a hurting back.  I told her it was OK to give him one of her pills.  Unbelievable, I know.  Looking back, I am astounded at my naiveté.  I had no idea that I had just given my consent to an addiction that would become so full blown that we wouldn’t see the end of it for fifteen years.  I knew nothing about addictions and, of course, nothing about the role pills play in dependency.

Drugs were so out of my realm of consciousness.  I had five nearly perfect children.  It was very interesting to watch the Ling program because it stressed the obsession we as Mormons tend to have with perfection.  We don’t want anyone to know that our family might be having problems, so disasters like drug addiction can be swept under the rug of denial for years.  Although that’s probably not solely a Mormon dilemma.

Lisa showed how easy it is to get addicted.  Many start innocently with prescription pills given by a well-meaning doctor.  When pills get too scarce or expensive many turn to heroin and other illegal drugs.  Addicts need their next hit just like everyone needs their next breath of oxygen and they’ll do about anything to get it.

When Lisa Ling was interviewing Sarah—a full blown heroin addict—she asked her if she wanted to quit.  “More than you’ll know,” said Sarah.  Lisa also asked Sarah what she wanted.  Sarah’s answer was that she just wanted a hug from her Mom.

Sarah’s Mom, who was never named, might have sounded like an unfeeling woman, one who wouldn’t even hug her daughter.  But not to me.  I have been that mom to some degree and I praise her for her courage.  It takes a lot of courage to divorce your addicted child and let her determine on her own that she is ready to pay the price for sobriety.  I would guess that Sarah’s Mom has already spent years hugging and encouraging and saving Sarah from the consequences of her disastrous choices.  After all, she is raising Sarah’s child which is a difficult thing to do after raising your own children.  I would also assume that Sarah’s Mom has been lied to and stolen from because that is what addicts do—they lie and they steal.  Enough is enough.

Brad and I have had many couples sitting in our living room trying to absorb any advice we can give them about dealing with their own addicted children.  We tell them all the same thing that a recovered addict told us:  “There is nothing you as a parent can do or say that will change your child.  They are the ones who have to decide when they are really ready to walk the difficult path of recovery.”  We also tell them of helps that are available to parents and meetings that would strengthen their resolve.  Most parents don’t like our advice.

I am assuming that Sarah’s Mom finally arrived at the point we all must come to: we are not helping our children by enabling them.  We are not helping our children by giving them a nice place to live and driving them places and paying for their needs.  They will never recover until it is harder to be an addict than it is to be sober.  When we make life easy for them,  addicted children continue farther down that destructive path and there is no retrieving them.  Our son wasn’t willing to get ultimate help until he had been homeless for about a year—living behind dumpsters and on the canal bank in a bush, panhandling for money to get more drugs.  We couldn’t coddle him anymore.  We couldn’t bring him home.  We had to go on with our lives and let him go on with his even though his path might lead to death.

So to Sarah’s Mom I would say that there are many imperfect Mormon Moms who are behind you right now, wishing you the best and saying, “Hang in there, Sarah’s Mom.  You are doing the right thing.  The only right thing!”

I wish I could tell Sarah that although she wants to be clean she didn’t sound like she was quite ready to throw herself into a program where she’d have to give her all into getting well.  With the nation watching, I imagine that many would step up to help her into a rehab if she had said that she was ready and willing to go right now.  But when she is done, truly done with her addiction, there is help for her.

Our son finally got the help he needed in a 24 month program that changed his thinking and his life.  It is called the John Volken Academy . It was started by a wonderful philanthropist and costs next to nothing. Two years seems like a very long time to be in a program, but the many expensive thirty day and three month programs worked only for a little while and then the addiction returned.  When you are deep into addiction, a few months isn’t going to pull you out. Thanks to John Volken we have our son back—our wonderful son.

And one day, Sarah, if you are willing to make recovery your first and only priority, your Mom will get you back .  And, I promise, the hugs won’t stop.

My Aunt Mona

Aunt Mona with her friend

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

I saw a basket the other day–rustic, grayish, large with a small handle on each end.  It reminded me of my Aunt Mona Campbell–Dad’s oldest sister.  Aunt Mona lived behind us in Mesa, Arizona, on a large piece of land in a rambling two-story that was as interesting as she was.  She would walk across the little bridge over the very narrow and shallow irrigation ditch, come to our back door and call out “Yoo Hoo!” as she opened it.

I don’t think I was very aware then of how much I admired her, but looking back I can see that she made an impression.  She had deep red hair that was caught into a low bun and she was always dressed up to go somewhere with her Country Club group, gloves in hand.  When I was still in possession of childlike believing, she would take me to the Country Club to meet Santa.  I think he always came there first.  I should have kept my belief at least as a cover so I could continue this exciting tradition.  But as soon as Aunt Mona knew that I was privy to the Santa myth, I was no longer invited.

When I was in grade school we had a glorious day of playing with clay. Sadly, I think it only happened once.  It was a salt clay that would harden and we could make anything we wanted.  I was ecstatic.  I chose to make a little bowl with a chicken for a lid.  Very enterprising for a Third Grader who had all the desire for art but not much inner skill.  Aunt Mona had a bowl like that and I wanted one too.

Aunt Mona grew nasturtiums around her house and her house had a musty smell that, if I concentrate, I can smell now.  She was an antique and garage sale shopper and her house was filled with old things.  I’ve never been into decorating styles much but I wish I could go back to that house and look around again to get a sense of her style.  I would like to copy pieces of it.  She had an extremely old piano that filled one complete side of the living room.  It looked like Mozart might have played on it.  I could never play it, though, even when I started taking lessons from Sister Alta Standage.  It was never tuned, was just for show and was definitely not put there for children.

Coming from a very old Mormon Pioneer family that settled Snowflake Arizona, you’d think her faith would run deep.  But Aunt Mona was the only one of twelve children that didn’t cling to the Church, not counting two siblings who died in childhood and another sister who didn’t attend Church very often. Her other siblings served well in various Church callings as teachers and Bishops and Presidents of this and that, but Aunt Mona had her own set of friends and priorities.

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Her lack of faith isn’t what I admired in her because I am a devout Latter-day Saint and feel that the Church could have used Aunt Mona’s special gifts.  But I applauded her for her ambition and her get-it-done abilities and the way she made things happen in her life.  She went to college in her forties, receiving her Bachelors and Masters.  Then at fifty-seven she received a doctorate from ASU and became a professor.

She built her own cabin near a lake in Arizona’s beautiful White Mountains with some help from Grandpa Willis.  When something went awry, she’d fix it herself whether it be the roof or the plumbing.  And she thought nothing of cutting off the legs of frogs for a tasty morsel which makes me shiver even now.  Her son, Gordon, caught the frogs and she did the rest.  Gordon, by the way, became a very successful lawyer and wrote a book that made it to the New York’s bestsellers list.  It’s called Missing Witness.  Check it out.

When her husband, Uncle Bill, died, she didn’t fall apart.  She took charge as she always had and bought a place on Coronado Island and made a new life for herself.

Then, in her 90‘s–not allowing age to get the better of her–she followed her son’s example and wrote a great book called Up From Backstreet.  It never made it to a bestsellers’ list but it was the crowning glory of a full life, describing Snowflake and her time there.

I don’t have a need to be like Aunt Mona in every respect, but I hope to have her drive and her desire for accomplishment and her clear thinking mind well into my nineties.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Eternity

Mesa Temple 2

 

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

Just when I thought there was no more to write about, I did something stupendous–stupendously stupid.  I feel the capillaries in my face enlarge and a pink glow begins in my neck and travels up to my hairline when I think about it.  I’m hoping the writing of the incident will help me let it go and march forward into sanity, although that may be impossible.

Since my Dad had Alzheimer’s for seven years before it finally took him, and my mother had dementia that made her life and those who loved her miserable for a couple of rough years, keeping my mind throughout a long life doesn’t seem too probable.  However, each of my parents had siblings who lived well into their 90’s with tarp as a shack–whoops! I mean sharp as a tack–minds.  I have been counting on following those with the healthy minds since some of their DNA belongs to me.  But what I did was so crazy that the insanity road seems more likely.

Here goes:

We attended a beautiful wedding ceremony in the Mesa, Arizona, LDS Temple on Saturday.  While there we saw many friends who belong to one huge wonderful family who were attending a different wedding.  Because of the sacredness of the Temple, we are asked to take off our shoes and put on little white socks to go into the sealing rooms.  It was a crowded day and the cubbyholes that hold the set-aside shoes were quite full, but I found a place for my long black boots and a cubbyhole for my black coat.  I even put my name by each which I usually don’t take time to do.  I put on the provided socks and felt a great spirit of love and peace as I witnessed the Temple Wedding.  Had I known what I was about to do, I would have stayed in the sealing room for a long time.

After the ceremony, I needed to go to the bathroom before the ride home, so quickly went to where my boots and coat should have been.  I couldn’t see them.  Hmmmm.  I did see a black short coat in one of the cubbies and thought someone had selfishly moved my coat to make room for her things.  I grabbed it and put it on and in a bottom cubby were some black boots.

“Wow, people were being insensitive,” I thought, “moving my things around like that.”  On went the boots and into the bathroom went I.

While in the bathroom I felt a phone in a pocket of the coat and realized it was in an inside pocket.  I didn’t even know my coat had an inside pocket.  I pulled out the phone and saw that it wasn’t mine.  I had someone else’s coat!  I was mortified.

Just as I told a friend that I had taken the wrong coat, the coat’s owner–another young and beautiful friend–came toward me with my coat.  Thankfully, she was very understanding as I told her that I thought I was the only one who had worn a coat in 60 degree weather!  She showed me my name that I had placed with my coat.  That made me ponder.  If my name was with my coat, was my name also with my boots?  There in a bottom cubby were a pair of long black boots and alongside them was my name.  I was wearing someone else’s boots, too!

By this time I was surrounded by a group of laughing friends so I couldn’t nonchalantly take off the boots and replace them with my own.  They all knew that I had taken not only someone else’s coat, but someone else’s boots as well.

“Your boots are round toed and the others are square toed,” someone gently pointed out.  I have never been a stickler for detail, obviously.

The laughter continued–in a Temple-like way–but my own laughter was a bit hysterical.  Dementia?  Had it started already?

I can hardly breathe as I relate this story because that mishap took a walloping chunk of promise out of my future.  What other imbecilic things am I going to do before the last fragments of my life are over?

In one of my next essays, I am going to instruct my children on how to take care of their aging, demented mother.  They’d better read it!