Triggers

Recently as Mothers Day was approaching, I was asked what kind of flowers I was getting for my wife. It seems like this is a question that I get around Valentine’s, anniversaries, birthdays, Columbus Day, Cinco de Mayo, Arbor Day, etc. ahhhhhhh!

Flowers for me are an interesting paradox. I love growing them in my yard, love seeing them in the mountains or deserts, in fact I even know the Latin names of many of them. Yet, something about buying them just doesn’t appeal to me. I assumed for many years that the root (no pun intended) for my flower aversion came from either a financial or a safety perspective. Financial because they are terribly overpriced right when we need them most, and they wilt and die quickly, no matter how many little powder packets are sprinkled in the water. An average bouquet costs roughly the same as a rack of ribs, a pack of steaks, or something that can cheerfully be marinated, basted, and grilled. While using a modicum of money is convenient, true value is established when compared to the currency of barbeque, and flowers wilt in comparison.

Safety, because as a product of the early 90’s, I remember the trauma of formal dances complete with cummerbunds, awkward tuxes that have too many weird snaps and buckles, and seemed to always push on my latest sports bruise or broken bone. The misery and fear only was exacerbated by an equally nervous teenage girl trying to pin on a bulky corsage. The pins on those things are huge, roughly the size and sharpness of the bangs of that era which were stiffened and sharpened to ridiculous points with cans and cans of aerosol hairspray. Dodging the bangs would usually result in a jab from a pin, or vice versa dodging a pin would get me impaled by the bangs. Navigating around other perspiring teenagers in a stuffy lunchroom or gymnasium while avoiding sharp objects, to the perpetual beat of screaming cocaine fueled screamers like Vince Neal, Axel Rose, and Bret Michaels was not a calming atmosphere. This certainly caused my discomfort with flowers to blossom.

However, in church on Sunday, one of my great friends brought up in our lesson that he had awakened to the sounds of a flock of birds outside his window that morning. When he spoke of birds in the morning, I thought immediately of fresh spring smells, bright sunshine, and morning tranquility. However, he went on to say that it brought back crushing memories of the morning more than twenty years ago that his young son was killed, and the accompanying pain. He called it a “trigger,” a psychological reminder of a past event. As he was describing it, I realized that my first memory of flowers came from my father’s funeral when I was four years old. Flowers in nature don’t have the same smell as bouquets, arrangements, and decorations. While others may enjoy the aroma of flower arrangements, for me they all smell like a funeral, they are a trigger. There is a sense linked with loss for me, not comfort as with others. They are linked to separation for me, not closeness.

My religious ontology gives me the comfort in knowing my separation is temporary, that I will see my dad again. My friend harbors the same faith and belief. However, we each have “triggers” in our lives that have associations formed from experiential learning opportunities. They are real, they make up our fabric, and they are a profound opportunity to appreciate life and living. Though painful, they humble us and make us appreciate and identify the strength within ourselves to move beyond. My flower trigger helped me appreciate Mother’s Day like never before as I spent time with my wife and my mom. Their support and love meant more to me because of a powerful trigger reminder of how the absence of support and love felt at a previous time in my life. The pain of a trigger item can in turn trigger profound gratitude, happiness, confidence, and strength as we identify and reflect. Perhaps that is what Timothy was talking about in 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Hometown Cooking

In Utah, parade season is in full bloom. Pioneer Day, Strawberry Days, Onion Days, Pony Express Days, Lamb Days, insert small town name-Days bring together locals, those with local ties who no longer reside in the area, and out of town visitors. These are a time that bring everyone together, reestablish old ties, and remind me of everything I love about American communities. My hometown of Kanosh still boasts a robust parade with the floats either sponsored by an LDS ward subgroup (primary, scouts, young women, etc.), or being comprised of livestock (horses of various sizes, mules, goats, etc.). Other livestock is available for adoption (pending your ability to capture it among many other running people in an enclosed area of the park). Lubricants of all kinds are important as greased money poles, greased pigs, hair grease for the few men still clinging to the 50’s, and something that emits large black clouds of smoke from the old time tractors either in the parade or at the kid rides. Games, music, dances, and other social events fill in the gaps between the most important events… eating. There is competitive eating, creative eating, and lots of over eating. The best ticket into these events is your name. Standard pioneer stock names of the town guarantee lifetime membership in the town. If you’re a “move in”, the title doesn’t ever expire, even if you’ve lived in the town your whole life. Some ecclesiastical callings (ie. Bishop or scoutmaster) may expedite class distinction changes from import to native, as will any Scandinavian suffix on your last name or obviously accepted names like Smith, Young, or Hinckley that are like a social acceptance fast pass in Mormondom.

Most common topics of discussion, whether in a reconnection conversation or just fitting in, will focus on number of kids, height of said kids, athletic prowess of said kids, and comparable family size to the chief progenitor of that age (generally who started their brood during the high school days under slightly scandalous conditions that resulted in one less mission-worthy representative of the community). However, to be a family size measuring stick, these individuals have overcome their “rough times” and are serving in some capacity shepherding youth away from the wiles of sin in the community today, and generally are well respected bastions of strength in the area. Other topics include weather, politics, who is ill, state of their garden, and prices of agricultural commodities. Regardless though of the topic, interest is genuine, welcoming is sincere, and memories run long as stories about ones youthful days, and youthful days of parents are shared.

Last year for the first time in the Kanosh town celebration, the city council usurped authority to provide the free town celebration lunch from the local ward. The lines are quite blurred between the two most times, and it was still a nice event. However, I was sad to see the shift that resulted when service became governed and formalized. Absent were several “family recipes” that had proudly been shared for decades, replaced with packaged items imported from Walmart or Costco. Still, all were welcomed with no questions asked or criteria to be met. The feeling of community was strong, and evidence of faith and patriotism were strong through prayers, messages, and speeches. Minus some horse races, rodeo events, and boxing matches between little kids (of which I was never a fan, especially as a participant), these town celebrations have been the same for decades. It makes me proud of my heritage, and teaches in a profound way to my children the formula of a true community. While amenities near urban centers are nice, I’ll forever appreciate and be proud of my roots in these small towns of Utah.

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is a time filled with many festivities and traditions. Some are humbling, sweet, and inspiring. Examples include caroling to the elderly, family nativity scenes, reading from Luke 2, and seeing Christmas lights. These traditions are filled with an innocence and happiness difficult to describe, yet captured in many elements of revered Christmas music. It is a tangible spiritual and physical feeling of the love Christ has for us, evidenced by the gift of His life and His gospel that He gives to us.

Others traditions profoundly confuse me as to why they started, and how they perpetuate.   Examples of these include Christmas trees, Christmas newsletters, Santa Claus, awkward gift exchanges, and fruitcake. The tradition of Christmas trees traces back into Old Testament days. In Jeremiah 10:3-4 it reads “3. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” I wish I had more detail, who decided to chop a tree, bring it in the house, and put sparkly things on it? Makes no sense to me, and though trees are undoubtedly pretty now, I still don’t get the reason behind the tradition.

Along with Christmas decorations and the tree (to which my wife is AMAZING at decorating), she also devotes a huge area in our kitchen to hanging all the Christmas newsletters. The best ones are from those we choose to stay in contact with for the other 11 months of the year. We know their trips, what sports they play, and who’s growing the most (but what does that have to do with Christmas anyway?). The humorous ones are the distant relatives and past acquaintances using this as an opportunity to perhaps preserve a fading relationship, or possibly other pure motives drive this. Facebook has turned these odd phenomena of odd pictures, family and personal insights, and occasional bragging into a yearly occurrence though. Perhaps I shouldn’t make fun of newsletters, Facebook may be pushing them way of the Twinkie and the typewriter. The only way newsletters could get more awkward is by the odd comments a lot of the outlier people continually make on every post. Gratefully, traditional newsletters didn’t allow for that. But back to the question, why the tradition? Perhaps it was spawned by from the Luke 2:3 reference of each person being taxed in his own city, an accounting if you will from each of us where we live, where we’re from, and an accountability of our possessions and activities. Thanks Mr. Augustus for your tradition of quirky dialogue and updates.

The third confusing tradition for me is Santa Claus. I know of few other ways to upset people as much as offending Santa, settle down, I’m not attacking him. I’ve seen the same shows as everyone else, and appreciated what Santa traditions add to the merriment. However, I also have curiously perused the annual pictures of screaming and terrified children sitting upon the lap of a portly elderly man tasked with the paramount duty of wrestling multiple children while trying to look merry and jolly. I watch grown adults blatantly lie to children about Santa’s existence, well knowing that if it was the kids were lying to the parents, severe punishment would result. Integrity is fudged, more money is spent to provide “Santa’s gifts” along with family gifts, and children psychologically navigate being told suddenly to sit on the lap of a bearded stranger dressed in red fuzzy clothing and tell him their deepest wishes. Certainly, the founders of this tradition outdid themselves.

I realize Christmas revelers are a devout and dedicated group, and in the blink of an eye they can change from their sparkly sweaters into the defenders of the Yuletide. I mean no offense to them, and cringe thinking of the personal attacks on my humanness and Christmas spirit that may result from my musings. I like Christmas, I really do. However, the traditions thoroughly confuse me, and probably will continue to. Yet, from my confusion, I extend a Merry Christmas to all readers, especially a sincere hope for the spirit of the reality of true Christmas, with Christ at the center.