Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cousin to Certitude

Often, when our family is gathered close – everyone piled in the living room watching a show, reading books, etc. – Jesse comments contentedly, “I really like our family being all together”.

Regularly  he mentions how happy he is that I didn’t make various bad choices that might have precluded me from being his mother.

“I’m glad you didn’t drink a lot of beer and alcohol and stuff so you couldn’t be my mom,” he’ll tell me as he’s eating his lunch.

“I’m glad you didn’t do bad things so you wouldn’t get to have me,” he’ll comment as I’m buckling him in his car seat.

He says these things offhandedly, and they often make me chuckle (as he details the ways I might have gone astray), but, sometimes, they strike a chord – causing me to catch and pause. Occasionally they feel . . . like his spirit remembering something that his mind has temporarily forgotten. Namely: that we’ve already endured a spell of separation; that poor life choices on my part might have altered things – might have lost me the privilege of raising him. Worries he may have actually already felt. Peace and relief in having things as he’d hoped.

The veil – that “border between mortality and eternity” (as Neal A. Maxwell calls it) does a pretty darn good job of covering our memories and shrouding us in forgetfulness. And, of course, that’s absolutely necessary. Without the veil  we could never truly learn to walk by faith; we could never experience the full power of our agency.

Still, I often feel my spirit aching and longing to remember – I feel it reaching out, grasping ahold of the things that feel the most familiar. At times, I think it almost does remember; that it recognizes truths when it hears them, that it recalls who I am now and then, that it tells my heart and mind things that, for no earthly reason, they should be able to know.

These close brushes with the veil inevitably seem to produce feelings of peace and certainty. In fact,  Neal Maxwell commented that the “inner serenity” that comes from those brushes is “cousin to certitude”.

I love that. “Cousin to certitude”. More and more of late, I’ve felt that. I’ve felt things that started as a small spark in my soul, grow and expand until . . . if they are not certainty itself, they are certainly its cousin.

Five years ago -- shortly after giving birth to my fifth child (and, while I was out for a run) --  I began to offer a prayer regarding my little family – what size it should be, how many more children I should have. That question has never been simple for me. It has never just been a question thrown into a void. Always, it has been a question with a real individual tied to the end of it. Still, friends and family were wrapping up their little families and, I wondered. . . .

But, before the question got far, and, at an exact spot about a half mile from here that I remember well, I felt an obvious, “You already know you can’t be done yet. You still have your little Summer out there.” Summer had been a name I’d considered briefly as we welcomed our other girls, but it wasn’t until that moment that I felt quite clearly that she already existed, that our “Summer” was yet to come. Only, it didn’t feel like new knowledge. It felt like . . . “Oh yah. Silly me. Why would I have even wondered if I was done.”

I didn’t feel strongly that she would be our next (and she wasn’t), and not necessarily that she would be our last, just a little . . . reminder . . . a little flicker of something not yet done, of hopes and promises not yet fulfilled.

I’ve had various other experiences (before and since) – both in regards to her and my other children that have reminded me of that Neal A. Maxwell quote I’ve shared before, “Whereas the bird is at home in the air, we are clearly not at home in time – because we belong to eternity!” – Experiences that have made me more certain that, while our mortal minds may have forgotten things, our spirits maybe never fully have; that ties and connections and feelings are too eternally a part of their makeup to be forgotten.

More and more I feel an anxiousness – almost like those last few minutes at the airport – waiting for one of my siblings returning from a mission – for Summer to be here. More and more I feel an awareness of . . . my separation from her: a desire for that separation to end. It’s as if knowledge of her coming has created a small hole that memories – no, not memories, but feelings, keep slipping through. I seem to recognizes that we’ve been apart. I have an abnormal amount of anxiety about this reunion being cut short. Almost as if, now that we are finally being reunited, I simply can’t bear another separation – such as the temporary one associated with death – for a long long time.

When I called my sister Shannon to tell her the news about Summer, the first thing I said when she answered was, “Guess who’s coming!” The feelings that I had were: excitement, yes. Anticipation, yes. But, mostly, an overwhelming relief. That word is the best I can use to describe how I’ve continued to feel. Relief that I have somehow – stumbling along, seeing things through a shroud – managed to make it to this point; that I have somehow managed to reconnect myself with the people I had to part from when I came here. And, through the sealing power available in the temple, that I’ve been able to make our connection one that is more secure, certain, and eternal than it ever was before.

I don’t know how it all works. I absolutely believe that we fully own our agency here. And, if so; if we have choice and make decisions, and follow our own paths – and others are free to as well, then painting life as some series of fated events bringing everyone and everything together in some predestined fashion is utterly false

But I also believe that coming to this earth was the bravest, hardest, scariest and most faith-filled thing we ever chose to do. And, I believe that our Heavenly Father who loves us perfectly, would certainly do everything in his power to help us carve paths that would lead us to the things we most hoped for – the things we most wanted. And what things could have been higher on that list than being bound here to those we loved and cared for the most already?

There is a quote from Thoreau that I love. What he calls “Nature”, I would argue is the Light of Christ, and, further, the whispering guidance of the Holy Ghost, but our ideas mesh. He says, “I believe there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we yield to . . . will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way. . . .

Often we don’t take that right way. Often, I’m sure, we choose wrong paths and have to wind our way back around through twists and turns and obstacles to right ones. We grasp onto the atonement and secure ourselves to its power as we try again and again. We may lose some opportunities along the way, but, I am certain a loving Father constantly provides us with new and, wherever possible, equally wonderful ones.

I still don’t understand things perfectly, but, until I do, I am going to keep noting the (as Maxwell says) “poignant and frequent reminders of the veil” that add to my sense of being “close but still outside”.


Linn said...


Just wow.

Thank you so much Nancy.

Kara said...

I have never seen anyone write or had a conversation with anyone who feels similarly. I had to stop a few times while reading this because I was just overwhelmed by heaven and spiritual things. Thank you so much for having the courage to write about this publicly. I love it all and shared with my friends. :)

Nancy said...

Thanks Linn.

And Kara, thank you for your comment. When I write things more . . . I don't know . . . from my soul, I never know if they come across right because it is trying to put feelings into words; and, the translation doesn't always work. So hearing that they did resonate -- that they sparked your own feelings of that nature makes me feel so happy. And also, just reaffirms in my mind that those feelings are true and right. I think about these things a lot. I swear I came here with a twinge of homesickness still in place for the people and places I left. I love that line from the hymn "Oh My Father" that says, "Yet oft times, a secret something whispered, 'you're a stranger here,' and I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere."

Lara Neves said...

This was so beautiful to read, and you have hit upon some things that I have definitely felt.

In my own similar prayers about whether or not my family was complete, I felt the Spirit whisper to me that it was okay for me to only have three children and that I was not expected to have more. This after several years of trying for a fourth and never being successful and feeling I had somehow disappointed my Heavenly Father by not having as many children as I had wanted.

Also, the bit about eternity. I have always understood how eternity has no end, but I could never quite wrap my mind about the no beginning part of it until I had children. Once that child is placed in your arms, you don't possibly see how you could ever have been without her. You know she has been a part of you forever. And while I still don't understand eternity, I catch glimpses in my children.

Nancy said...

Lara -- thank you for commenting. It touched me to think of Heavenly Father not just leaving you to fret and worry you'd failed somehow, but that he would care enough about you personally to let you know you were fine and this was part of your life's plan.

My sister and I were talking the other day about all the different people from different phases and places of our lives that we genuinely love. We were saying how our circle of love -- the number of people we can genuinely know and care about and love gets bigger and bigger. Thinking of that, made us realize that it really might be possible for Christ -- unlimited by our mortal restraints -- to actually really know us and love us individually and not just in some universal "love of all mankind" way.

That probably seems completely unrelated to your comment, but, somehow, your comment gave me that same feeling -- the fact that we have individual plans and answers and different stories and even numbers of people who are meant to be tied to our families is another evidence to me of the reality of all of this.

That probably made no sense, but thank you!! And yes, I totally know what you mean about eternity and your children. I remember with my last thinking, "How did I not know this child was part of me when, if he was gone now, so clearly a gaping whole would exist in my very being." I have the same feelings about this little girl coming. That we aren't just separate beings coming together by genetics and chance, but she is somehow a part of me -- that she has been, and will continue to be . . . eternally.

Katie Clark said...

Beautiful. I often believe we knew before this earth what families we had the potential to be a part of, depending on the choices of our parents-to-be. Right after my son was born (after a very difficult pregnancy) I was overwhelmed by the spirit testifying that God sends us who we need -- and at that point, although I hadn't planned on being pregnant when I was, God knew that my little Jack needed to come to our family when he did. Thank you for sharing this!

Mike said...

That's lovely Katie. And it makes sense. I knew this little girl needed to come, but planned on waiting still a bit, but I began to have this overwhelming feeling of anxiousness that it was time -- like you said, Heavenly Father knowing she needed to come to our family now (or even we needed her to come before we knew it). Cool hearing these different experiences. I love so much that we aren't just left totally to logic but that we can discover truth and certainty by the power the Holy Ghost has to speak to our hearts and souls. I think it was Hugh B. Brown who said that, just like someone living 1000 years ago wouldn't have been able to fathom powers such as electricity -- flipping a switch on a wall and a light across a room coming on; the Holy Ghost is a literal power that can actual change things in our minds in a way that it literal and more powerful than any of the powers that we are slowly coming to understand on earth.

Nancy said...

Oops -- Katie, that comment was actually from me (Nancy). I am just forever forgetting to sign out of my husband's account. ;)

Shannon said...

I am honored that I got to be mentioned in this beautiful post which should be an Ensign article in the very least, if not published in some other amazing publication. You know where I am with all of these things but you said then all so much more beautifully than I could. I used to tell I had a writing talent but more and more I feel like Moroni--i can dial by the power of my spirit but I fear that I will be mocked by my weakness when I try to share my spiritual feelings in writing. But anyway, that was just beautiful and I love Elder Maxwell. Oh, and I love YOU, too!!! And Summer!

Nancy said...

Thanks sister. I love you. I'm not convinced about your writing feelings however. I think I have simply spent more time and energy of late in writing and struggling to get down things of the spirit while your energies have been spent elsewhere (like in saving lives of children in poverty . . . small things like that ;)). BUT, yes, you are able to call down the spirit with ridiculous power not only in official speaking, but in even the slightest interaction or conversation. Like . . . almost crazily so. It is cool to see spiritual gifts more and more clearly in my loved ones. And I am more and more loving the idea of Paul's whole talk about all of us being different members of the same body -- a body which couldn't function with just mouths or loads of fingers, but one that needs every part to function well. I hope I can help my kids find what their gifts are (and develop others -- because I think some we have potential to be great with only as we put effort into them). I hope I can help them feel humbled to have their gifts rather than proud so they can truly use them with Heavenly Father's power to help others (and themselves) grow.

Marilyn said...

Yes, yes, yes. I love this so much---about the line in "O My Father," too. The question of agency vs what is "meant to happen" is such a thorny one. But sometimes, blessedly simple, as you have described. My husband and I have these talks about it all the time. How much is totally up to us? How much is blessings we can take, or choose not to? And he and I don't always have the same answers to those questions…but that's what makes it fun, I guess. :) Figuring it all out. Blundering our way through. And then after each child comes, it's like "of COURSE. You're what we've been missing." You know?

Nancy said...

Yes! Definitely so interesting to figure this all out as we "blunder" our way through. I think life is probably full of plenty of both. I imagine we'll be surprised, when we can see everything clearly, at how many things were not simply chance, but worked out in our lives because we listened to tiny whisperings from the spirit or had guardian angels doing their best to help us along. And, sadly, there may be several instances where we see good things we could have and maybe should have had but wouldn't because that path seemed hard or we weren't listening. At the same time, I think there are plenty of things where, as you said, we can maybe choose to have (or not have) certain blessings -- and it will be fine either way. When I was getting close to mission age, I was a wreck wondering if I was meant to go (but not actually really wanting to -- which made me assume I was probably supposed to). I prayed non stop for like a year. Finally, I think slightly exasperated, Heavenly Father gave me a strong answer that went something like this, "If you go, you will get blessings. You can't do service like that and not be blessed. BUT, you don't have to go. I'm certainly not making you. This is one of those things where you can work it out and make a decision. Sometimes I trust you crazy little mortals to do that, you know." ;) I OFTEN seem to get answers of the "work it out" variety -- I suppose the working it out is another important skill to learn here. But, then there are other times . . . times like with Summer, when I have no doubt that not having her would be an eternal regret and a denial of something I know the spirit has, thankfully, told me was part of my plan. Of course agency is still in play. Of course I could have chosen no. I could have made choices all along really that would have never led me to this point at all . . . and then? Well, Heavenly Father would have kept working with me and giving me opportunities from wherever I was at. Crazy, exciting business for sure!!

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