Roller Coaster Perspective
I love rollercoasters. I love the crazy thrill that you get as you are getting pulled up to the top, that chuck-chuck-chuck as it slowly rises above the skyline. There is always a moment of dizzy excitement for me, and I’m pretty sure I always have a moment where I think, “This was a bad choice. I’m probably going to die.”
Yet, I still love them. The ones where my feet dangle out over a hundred foot drop, the ones that spin so fast that my lunch wants to make a quick getaway, even the ones that simulate falling from a high building. You’d think, despite my terror of heights, I would learn that there really isn’t much danger involved in these thrill rides.
In order to make a good rollercoaster, hundreds of people contribute. There are the designers, the builders, the guys who crawl up every morning to grease the gears and test the speed. The thing is, I never see these guys. Sure, I know that they must exist somewhere, along with all the left socks that I can never find, but I don’t see them.
There is a point to all of this.
My life has been the most amazing rollercoaster ride, and I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was equally exhilarating and horrifying. Like with the “Tower of Terror” and “The Gravitron,” there have been exciting moments, moments of fear, and moments where I was pretty sure I was going to lose my lunch.
The Ride to the Top
Originally, I’m from Oregon. I grew up in many different places, and it always makes Kyle mad when I answer the question, “Where did you live?”
Oh, everywhere.” Is my stock response. That’s not really true, though. I still don’t know where Madras is, so obviously I’m not the Oregon afficianado that I pretend to be.
I did, however, spend my entire young life here. I was born in Medford, lived in Cottage Grove, Yoncalla, Eugene, Ashland, Grants Pass, Coos Bay, Irrigon (that’s by Hermiston and Umatilla), and now I live in Tualatin.
My family was converted into the church in 1988. I was eight and thought it was cool that my mom and dad had stopped fighting all the time. We had been going to the Mormon church, along with a few others, for about 2 years. Under some incredibly miraculous circumstances, my mother and father decided to get baptized. They gave me a choice, and I decided that I would get baptized, too.
This choice influenced my life more than any other choice I have ever made. Sure, I was only a child when I did it. But, in the moment that hands were placed on my head and I was given the gift of the Holy Ghost, I felt the weight of the spirit in my life. When I went to get my patriarchal blessing on April 30th, 1995, patriarch Merlin S. Huntsman told me this:
“I bless you that you will have the constant guidance and support of the Holy Ghost. That is the greatest gift you can receive in this life. The Holy Spirit is the perfect teacher; there is nothing He does not know. He knows the correct solution to every problem and the right thing to do in every situation. He can help you comprehend the truth wherever it is found. When you were baptized, hands were laid on your head and you were given the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the right to have Him by your side every day of your life if you honestly try to keep the Lord’s commandments.”
I could have guidance as long as I was honestly trying to keep the Lord’s commandments. What a great promise! As long as I stayed safely inside the safety harnesses of my rollercoaster life, I would be able to enjoy the ride, even if it got scary.
The problem is, I thought that the safety harnesses were lame.
Riding Without a Harness
When I was about 17, I decided that I didn’t want to be defined by my religion. My friends were talking about going to a party on the weekend, talking right over my head like I wasn’t even in the room. I said indignantly, “I didn’t get invited to a party. Why didn’t you invite me.” The answer from my chortling friend was, “I didn’t think you would go. You’re a Mormon.”
Click. That’s the sound of a teenager undoing the buckles of the safety catch on the way to the top of the ride. If you look closely, you’ll see the warning label on this one. It says, “Pride goeth before the fall.” Oh man. I should have read the directions first.
So, I spent a little time actively unrestraining myself.
The problem is, on a rollercoaster, there is always a fall. There is a reason why those safeties are in place. There is a reason why those guys come out and check the tracks, grease the gears, and design the rides the way they do. They, like our Heavenly Father, want you to have fun on the ride. But each of them knows that it is only fun because there is a real chance of danger if you fall off. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s always a possibility.
Now, there are some things I know and some things I don’t. I know that God lives. I know that he knows each of us very personally. One of the things I didn’t know then is how much God needs us, and how much we really need Him.
Closed for Repairs
In the middle of my scary downward spiral, I had a visiting teacher who came a saved my life. She brought a book one night, called “You are Special,” by Max Lucado. In it was the story of a young puppet who is not very talented, attractive, or appreciated by the rest of the puppet community. These other Wemmicks go around, giving stars to the puppets who are exceptional, dots to the ones who are not. Needless to say, Punchinello (the hero), had a lot of dots.
He meets another puppet who has no dots or stars. Punchinello is surprised by this and the girl tells him that she goes to see Eli, the puppetmaker and the dots don’t stick to her. He goes to Eli’s great workshop on the edge of town and stands in the doorway. He wants to go in, but there is a voice inside of him that tells him that his maker wouldn’t want to see a puppet like him, one that is so obviously scarred and marred.
As he turns away, Eli calls him in by name. Ashamed, Punchinello goes inside. Eli is pleased to see him, and mentions the dots that cover the little toy. Punchinello explains, “I didn’t mean to, Eli. I tried really hard.” Eli explains that he doesn’t care what the other little toys think about Punchinello. He doesn’t care that he is no good at singing, or dancing, or even that he is covered in black dots. Punchinello asks, “Why do I matter to you?”
Eli responds, “Because you’re mine. That’s why you matter to me. You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”
By the time my visiting teacher had finished the story, I was in tears. I was flawed, I had made mistakes, and I was ashamed of what my life had become. In a child’s voice, Heavenly Father had told me that I was still special, and that I was not a mistake. Through that fantastic young return missionary visiting teacher, he had told me that I was okay, and that there was always hope in finding the joy in this incredible journey of life.
I decided that I would go on a mission. I had to make significant changes in my life, and it took longer than I expected, but I went. This was the second best decision that I have ever made in my life.
Twists and Turns
I loved my mission. I loved Louisiana. I loved the hot, sweaty air in the summertime. I loved the Christmas lights all outdoing each other for attention in the winters. Most of all, I loved the people, and I loved teaching them the gospel. There are hundreds of stories I could tell you here, but I will choose just one.
One night, as we were coming home, I got a feeling that we should see an inactive member in the branch where we were teaching. My companion told me that it was not a good time, since we had to be in by 9pm and it was already 8:45. I emphasized my feelings and told her that I thought it was really important that we see her. My other companion (I was in a lot of trios on my mission, usually as the peacekeeper), also said that she had been thinking about this woman, so we decided to throw caution to the wind.
We arrived at the trailer park, and knocked on the darkened door. We had never actually met this woman before, I should tell you. Usually, we just knocked on her door and then waited, eventually leaving her a little note saying that we had come by. This night was different.
We waited for just a moment, and then, amazingly, the door opened. “Thank you for coming,” she said. There were tears on her cheeks and she was smiling. “I am in so much pain. I was praying for help, and had decided that I was going to kill myself. You saved my life.”
It would be an easy cliche to say that no, indeed, it was she who had saved my life. But that wouldn’t be honest. The truth is, it was she, along with countless others, who saved my life. I realized that God keeps us strapped into this life with love and usually it’s the people around us who are checking the harnesses.
Making Every Fall an Adventure
I have made many decisions one pure instinct. I married my husband based purely on the indistinct concept that I should. I moved my entire family to Colorado Springs based a good, lucky feeling that it was the right thing to do. I moved them all out to Portland based on the same feeling. For the most part, I have never been really afraid of ever listening to that little voice in the back of my heart/head. At least not since I realized it was trying to keep the ride fun for me.
In our last move, I was scared. We were going to travel thousands of miles, take an incredible pay decrease, and I was going to not have a full-time job for the first time since I was in college. It was an insanely scary proposition. How were we going to make everything work out?
One night, I had a dream where I jumped off the top of a tall building. There were all these voices telling me that I better start flapping my arms, because I was in some serious trouble. I knew that these were the voices of doubt, the voices that were telling me that the only way to survive such a horrible fall was to learn how to fly, and quickly.
I surprized myself by not listening.
Instead, I clasped my arms to my chest and hoped that there was someone at the bottom who was going to catch me. Miraculously, I found myself falling into my own body, and waking feeling hopeful.
The lesson I learned was this: The only difference between jumping off a building and being on a rollercoaster ride is the last 5 seconds. One ends with you doing an impression of hamburger, the other ends with you laughing and getting back into line.
As long as I know that God is there, waiting to catch me at the end of the ride, it stops being scary. Regardless of the ups and downs, plummets into the depths and dizzying heights, if I know that I am safely buckled in and that the end will be soft, there is really nothing to fear. Knowing that the safeties are in place, that the universe has greased the tracks and checked my buckles, I am really starting to enjoy the ride. Someday I will be able to ride like a pro. You’ll hear me screaming at the top of my lungs down the final descent: “Look ma! No hands!”