Friday, January 20, 2012

You Never Know

One of the things that I have really enjoyed about going back to work outside of my home is the opportunity to interact with people that are not of my faith. In Page, the vast majority of my closest friends were LDS women in the throes of raising their LDS families. In our small town of about 7000-8000 people, there were five wards (congregations) Here in Amarillo, a town of about 200,000 with 4 wards, being a Mormon is more of a novelty.

I recently had an interesting conversation with one of my new co-workers that I had a lot of mixed emotions about. At first it was kind of scary, but ultimately very faith affirming and positive. The women who occupies the cubicle next to mine is a delightful woman named Janet. She had retired from Amarillo School District and has now come to work for the education center. She has been divorced for more than 20 years, loves to quilt, and dotes on her grandkids that live here in town. I adore her. She is also pretty religious. Many times as we have been getting to know each other better, I have felt her deep commitment to living a Christian life. I don't know which church she attends, but she is certainly devout.

So, one afternoon we were chatting as I shared with her the fact that I would be traveling to a memorial service in April for my Grandma that passed away in January. This led to inquiries about who in my family would be there and the like. I should insert here a note that I have had several occasions to describe the make-up of the family that I grew up in, including the number of siblings I have. I still have to catch myself and adjust when saying, "three brothers, two sisters". It still sounds weird. People have no idea the inner turmoil they have caused when they ask about our family demographics. Anyway, we started talking about siblings and our relationships with them. She talked a lot about a brother that she had struggled to have a relationship with in recent years because of his conversion to Buddhism. Without much forethought, almost to my own surprise, I started talking about Debbie/Weston. I usually avoid this topic if at all possible. Not because of embarrassment, but rather to avoid sensationalism or salaciousness. Unless people really know Weston and our family, I feel like it is a difficult matter to explain without sounding titalating.

Janet was naturally surprised and very gracious when I told her about our family struggles over the last several years. She got the cliffnotes version, but the most interesting part of the conversation wasn't really about Weston at all. I found that as I explained the unfolding of the events leading to where we all are now, I was able to share many aspects of my beliefs as a Latter Day Saint. Janet is always very careful to be respectful and appropriate, and obviously wanted to understand without being intrusive. We talked about things like the Plan of Salvation, the nature of our spirits, showing Christian love, the role of the Savior and the Atonement, lots of good stuff. I felt like if nothing else, our conversation gave her a real understanding that I am a Christian too, just like her. We share a lot of common beliefs.

When I came home from work that day, I told Theo that I was so excited to have had a missionary experience that day at work, but also how surprising it was in the way that it came about. As I tried to recount the things that were said, I was unable to articulate it in the same way that I had earlier. I suppose that is the way the Spirit works. He lends us the words we need when we need them.

Although I still have a lot to work through with the relationship I have with Weston, I am grateful that I have made a new realization. The experiences that we have had over the last several years have only stengthened my testimony, and they have given me a greater depth of understanding of a lot of gospel principles. I guess you never know what your struggles will bring, and you never know when or even how you will have a chance to share your testimony.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas Southwestern Tour

For the Christmas break this year, our family was once again debating how we ought to spend our time off from school. The kids would have the standard two week break, and Theo would have his longest break of the year of four weeks. Then there was me at the new job. Only a week off for me between Christmas and the New Year. We decided that we would keep the plan in place to go to Durango first, then Salt Lake, and finally ending up in Page. Since I would have an abbreviated vacation, I would come home to Amarillo after the Salt Lake leg, and the family would continue on without me.

In the week leading up to Christmas, the boys (including Theo) ended their semester on Wednesday. The weather was nice, so Theo took the boys on another Palo Duro Canyon hike. This time they tackled the Lighthouse trail. I got to work Thursday, so I missed that one, but by Friday we were all officially on break together. In years past this would often be a very busy time of last minute shopping, parties, and family gatherings. Being here in Texas, we had our shopping done, and we were hanging out on our own. Kind of relaxing.

Christmas morning we had a snowy surprise. Although the forecast had called for sunshine and temps around 50, we woke up to snowfall which continued throughout the day. We are learning that a weather forecast here is not something you would want to bet money on. We did the usual gift opening and eating with plenty of time to get ready to go to church by 9am. Apparently our kids are not yet old enough to care about sleep more than gifts.

Christmas afternoon was devoted to packing our bags. Despite the dreadful weather, we had scheduled ourselves to leave for our big cross country trip. Monday morning, long before the sun came up, we loaded the kids and the dog into the SUV, put it into 4-wheel drive, and headed out into the frozen tundra. About 7 icy hours later, we arrived in Durango for a joyful reunion with the Gilleland clan. This was a quick one night only stop. We had originally planned to caravan to Salt Lake City together, but an unexpected surgery for John's mom required the Big G tribe to stay home to watch over their recovering grandma.

Once in Salt Lake we were able to spend several days with the Hannays and Grandma and Grandpa Ross. One evening we had a big family dinner at Kim's and we were joined by Weston (Debbie). You can read more about that here if you are not in the know. My parents had asked Theo and I ahead of time if we were okay with the kids hanging out with Weston. They have not seen him in about a year and a half. The physical changes would be obvious. We figured, no time like the present.

We had a very nice dinner, and once we had finished eating, many of us sat around playing card games. It was a fun filled and light hearted evening that passed without incident. In fact, it was probably the most enjoyable time I have had with Weston in a few years. A few hours later as we headed back to Grandma's to go to bed, Bowen asked Theo and I, "Who was that other person that was there?" I was pretty sure who he meant as we had all been playing together the last several hours. I played dumb and asked Bo who did he mean. He said, "The person at the table with the hat." With a sidelong glance to Theo I told him that person was Debbie. There was a pause. I went on to explain that Debbie wants to look like a boy and that she goes by a different name now. He and Rex asked several more questions, mostly related to how exactly a girl goes about growing facial hair. It was a bit awkward to say the least, but I think we handled it. Rex summed it up well when he said, "So it was like Debbie, in a disguise, like a Debbie disguise." Yeah, I don't even know what to do with that.

The following day, Theo, Drake, Corbin, and I got to go to the Jordan River temple with Nate to do baptisms. I couldn't believe how busy it was there! It was nice though. Even having to wait a long time, I liked having the quiet time to relax in the temple. That afternoon, Brad and Keryn came up with their brood and spent some time with us. Grandma was in and out since her mom was not doing very well. Altogether, it was a nice hang out together time.

The last thing on our agenda in Salt Lake was a visit to Temple Square to see the lights. This is something we have not done in many years. Brad and Keryn were going to come with us, but finally opted out. Luckily, it wasn't too cold, and we had a nice time cruising the grounds.

On the morning of New Years Eve, my boys loaded up and headed off to Page. I of course had to stay behind so I could catch a plane home on Sunday. I must say, I was very jealous that they were getting to go home to Page without me. I would like to say I had some great pictures that Theo took of all the merriment they made. That would work assuming Theo had taken any pictures! Oh well. The boys were able to reunite with friends and run around in their hometown.

I spent New Years Eve at Kim's with her and Steve and my parents. We played games and chatted. It was nice to be able to head to bed before midnight. I have really become fond of going to bed at an early hour. Late Sunday morning, Kim took me to the airport, and I got to fly home all by myself. It was weird getting back to our house and no one else being here.

I headed back to work Monday morning, and then later in the day I got a call from Theo. Rex and Bowen had both come down with stomach flu in the night. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say, eventually all of the boys came down with it one at a time, they fell like dominoes. I felt a little guilty that Theo was on his own to deal with the plague, but not that bad. Sadly, with all of the germs abounding, there was a bit of a damper on the merry making. The rest of the boys' visit was spent quarantined at Grandma Martin's.

By the time they rolled back into Amarillo on Wednesday night, they had all pretty much recovered. I was so glad to have them back. Peace and solitude are only nice for so long! And so, another Christmas season has passed. We were so very fortunate to have seen so many of our loved ones. Happy New Year!