This time, there wasn't much camera drama; I went as a mother, not a leader, and I seemed to be constantly making everyone wait for me. But I am still glad I went with Haley on Saturday to the general young women's meeting. (This is a meeting that happens yearly in the LDS church, the Saturday before spring conference; the audience is the 12-18-year-old girls.) Being in the presence of so many teenagers forces me to think of my own adolescence in a different light; I am able to see what I missed and to imagine how my decisions might have been different if I had been, well, different myself. More, though: even though the talks are geared toward teenaged girls, I still listen to them as if they were directed to me.
Lately I have been grappling with an issue in my heart. We talk a lot about the purpose of trials, how they make you stronger and how they make the good times better. Opposition in all things. I understand this intimately, but I also keep wondering when, exactly, the "good times" happen. I continue to learn that they are not two different things. It isn't that you work through a challenge and then there is a period of peace. At least in my life, the challenges feel constant. I keep tracing them back, in my mind, trying to find a time when I didn't have something I was grappling with—and I cannot find it.
Take the past two years: we had Kendell's hip surgery and then his heart surgery. There is the underlying thread, constant for half a decade now, of my dad's Alzheimer's. Then, a couple of weeks ago, we discovered that Kendell's dad has terminal bone cancer. When I told a friend this news in an email, her response pointed out that we really have had a stressful few years. She is right! When I read those words I thought — wait a second. You mean everyone's life isn't like this? I had really thought that everyone faced this constant stream of trials, but maybe it is just me. I don't know.
So when I listened to President Uchtdorf's talk I wanted to weep. He spoke about fairy tales, how they start with "once upon a time" and end with "they lived happily ever after" and how the real story is what happens between those two phrases—the struggle of moving toward your own happily ever after. He told the story of courting his wife, whose affection he earned after many years of wooing. I imagine—although of course I don't know—that their marriage hasn't had the same bitter words my own has. In my notes I wrote "but when does 'happily ever after' get here?" When are the trials and the struggles enough? When will I have a feeling of peace in my heart? I have grown weary of trials and heartache.
I also wrote down this statement: "it is not the trials themselves, but how you react to them, that will define and shape the outcome of your life." Of course, I often fail at responding well to my own trials—but I do try to do the opposite. I try to learn something and to not be bitter. Slowly, as I listened and I thought, as I glanced over at my daughter who was also listening, I felt a sort of answer. Not yet a complete one. Not yet that feeling of peace. But the realization that while the fairy-tale structure makes for a great metaphor for a talk, while it builds a good story, it isn't how life works. The trials and the happily-ever-after aren't separate. They are simultaneous layers; everything happening at once. The trick—that response that can bless—is knowing how to find the peace amid the trials.
I confess that I am not good at that. It is inherent to my nature that I focus on the troubles, that I sit awake with them, worrying them, puzzling it out: why me, why now, or simply: why? And always I come back to that teenaged, angry, rebellious version of myself as the answer to the "why" question. I don't know how to let go of the feeling that the trials are a direct response to those mistakes I made. The hard things happen and I feel I deserve them, and when the happy moments come I don't trust them because I don't feel worthy of them. "Why," as I puzzle over it, always seems to have the same answer: because I am flawed.
Perhaps, though, I am asking the wrong question. Not why, but how? How do I find peace anyway? How do I let go of feeling not-good-enough? How do I learn to savor the happily-ever-after bits that are hidden within the trials? I'm not exactly sure. But there is a sense of peace, somehow, in simply changing my questions.