Are Things What They Are, or What We Are?

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by MSKeller

All is quiet. Sitting, body aching, part of me crying for a hard floor while my head wished for a pillow, I mused.

My mind hungered for stimulation and my fingertips for a voice.

The possessions of accumulated ownership are strewn all about me and I reached for them one by one.

Are they what they are, or partly who I am or hope to be? I touched each thoughtfully: a tiny dried rosebud given by a child long ago; a vase filled with new carnations and baby’s breath, offered from four children, who are not perfect, but who love their imperfect mother; a headband, made of pretty peach coral that accentuates my still-long auburn hair.  Each a whispered role, bits and pieces of me in physical form.

Four mini booklets, each a whisper of interests and hopes are stacked neatly. The first is a dusty biography of Julius Caesar, acquired on a long-ago date to a used bookstore, feeding my ever growing quest to know more. The second, a tiny 3×3 collection of love poems called The Embrace: words that become living things in the soft whispers of a lover’s breath; The third, Thoreau’s Walden: nature and the details learned from encompassing oneself within, a paperback well-worn and earmarked, still smelling of the time I took it to a campfire. Last, a thesaurus. One word is never enough and a hundred miss the exact meaning I want to convey. Am I too dissatisfied in general, too curious for more?  Afraid that if I miss anything, any chance for progression I’ll fail?

Is my failure or success all up to me?

I look around at the other neighboring objects. Scriptures, well-marked and highlighted; a small oil lamp from the Holy Land; trinkets from France, gifts from friends, an antique hat pin that speaks of my love for days past; a large mirror, where I am no longer afraid to look at the woman inside judging both goodness and weaknesses.
Various family portraits, music CD’s, files and papers, cards and poems — delicate murmurs of love, support, caring — each thing a portion of what lies inside of me, yet none of them all of me.  These are all me, yet someone else too.  Someone I was; someone I’ll be.

Nearby I have a ‘treasure box.’ This box contains a few items that sometimes make my life easier: a lovely pen, a pretty box of matches, bottled water.  One of the items is a smaller box filled with chocolate covered raisins. I scooped up the very last bit of them, and popped a few in my mouth. They tasted a bit stale, but were fine.   I glanced down, because the last one sort of crunched. Raisins ought not to crunch. I saw something odd on the side, and brushed it with my fingernail. I thought it was a crumb. No. . . . it was a tiny worm. It wriggled out of the raisin, and my stomach turned. Then I smushed the next one, and it expunged two tiny white worms.  I was disgusted, and tossed out the entire handful.

Then . . . I realized that suddenly, it was more than a tiny worm. I had eaten some of them!  Not only that, but now the entire box was suspect. I had no way of knowing if it was an isolated incident, or if it was crawling with them. So I dumped it all, keeping only the things that I knew worms could not penetrate. The difficulty was, now everything that was pure and good was now suspect.

What else had been affected? Would I get sick? And on and on. . . my thoughts spilled one against the next.  Obviously my mind careened and crashed against a dozen other metaphors. That is the problem with unexpected invaders. Once trust has been breached, suddenly everything else takes on a different face. Things you never would have looked at twice are now possible villains.

Once you see that tiny worm, everything that was good and desirable, now seems different, even if in reality it is not.

Are we ever what we have? Or are we what we enjoy?  Do the tiny worms that wriggle into what we thought was good, make everything contaminated?

When my life’s most trusted and sacred hopes turned into dust after my temple marriage of 22 years crashed and burned, I tossed all of my old beliefs.  All my old hopes, practices, dreams—they all went into the it doesn’t work file.  I tried new ways, new people, and new ideas and yet, I was left equally empty.

There is a saying, “don’t toss the baby out with the bath water.”  I thought it a foolish saying until I felt intense pain, tossed out too much and new pain resulted from the new losses. I asked my visiting teachers not to give me lessons of more things I couldn’t do, when I could barely convince myself to get up and get dressed each morning.

I couldn’t read.  I hated church and detested listening to conference or reading the Ensign.  None of it spoke to me or my situation any longer.  No one understood.  I dated non-LDS men, tried bars, parties, many on-the-edge-but-not-off activities that allowed me to barely keep my temple recommend while stepping very close to the edge.  One day I realized as yet another non-LDS good man told me how hard it was to be with me.  We couldn’t do anything, go anywhere on Sunday, be intimate enough for him or relax with a glass of wine.  I was still too Mormon.  I ached to be accepted, but wasn’t in either society: LDS or non-LDS.

Like the objects of my world, some required tossing.  Some were beyond redemption, but not all.  I made the grave mistake of tossing everything I’d ever believed; not realizing the empty treasure box was just as terrible as the worm-infested one.

I am the woman who wrote about not being  good enough.  I see the flaws, the places I could and should do better.  That makes it difficult to receive compliments, and to be content with any accomplishment.

When I taught Seminary, we discussed the Sacrament.  I knew all the Sunday-school answers.  I was well aware of the Seminary answers, the lists of why and how and what.  Suddenly however, as I was reading the prayers aloud, I was struck by two words.  One – Sanctify.  Two – Willing.

Deep into my heart that first word settled.  I heard myself telling the students that sanctify meant to make holy.  I could literally hear my voice, watch my handwriting on the chalkboard and feel the word like a tangible thing settle into my soul.  I’m not in charge of sanctification!  It had nothing at all to do with me.  I’m simply a willing student, child, servant.  If I am willing, I can be sanctified—made holy.

I was not a worm to be tossed out of the kingdom, because I was only half of a couple.

The sacrament means so much more to me now.  I am still imperfect.  I rarely have a whole Sabbath where I am connected, transcended into spirit when I can respond to the Savior’s agonized request to “watch with me one hour (or ten minutes.) I struggle to keep my mind centered, my heart pure, my actions reverent.  I still find myself thinking about dinner, about my need to talk to sister-so-and-so, and these days, cuddling my grandbabies.  Yet. . . I am not in charge of the sanctification.  I am merely in charge of being willing.

Slowly, I replaced the old things.  Little by little I found joy again in scriptures, music, prayer, the sacrament, the temple.  Anger was replaced by wonder, bitterness by humility, grief by curiosity, and fear by love.

I am willing.  I received a calling that I’ve performed six other times in my life. It isn’t my preferred calling; it is physically painful, mentally frustrating, and yet, I am willing to serve.  I don’t always serve happily with the attitude I ought, and yet I serve.  As I serve, as I give my will to the Lord, I am made holy.

President Eyring said, “Submitting fully to heaven’s will, as this young mother did, is essential to removing the spiritual pavilions we sometimes put over our heads. But it does not guarantee immediate answers to our prayers.”

 I was married.  I was single.  I am married.  I tossed, I replaced, I learned.

I found worms in my faux learning, and tossed them when I understood that the blanket tossing was too vigorous.  I realized that some of my interests were good, but not sanctifying. I felt the bread of life enrich me physically as well as spiritually.  Mostly I realized that all experiences have their place.  We are not things, but the things that surround us both show us who we are and who we wish to be. We are not always promised things when we want them, in the way we want them, but they will be for our good.

Again from President Henry B. Eyring – “Although His time is not always our time, we can be sure that the Lord keeps His promises. “

Tiny bit of broken bread by tiny bit of broken bread.  Little sip of water by little sip of water. Sacrament participation by sacrament partaking.

Small services, open hearts, tears, smiles, failures and trying again, each individually turn my heart towards sanctification.  I am not perfect.  Most days I struggle for the good let alone the better or best. . . but I KNOW I am willing.  Perhaps that is what is most important. Perhaps that is what makes me holy. Perhaps I am more than I appear, even to myself.

  • How are you connecting with sanctification?
  • Where do you recognize your willingness, perhaps even not in joy?
  • What do you do to help and maintain focus on who you want to be?

About MSKeller

Marsha Steed Keller (Th'Muse) "When I get a little money, I buy books, if there is any left, I buy food and clothes." --Desiderius Erasmus. This defines a part of Marsha's psychology and intent fairly well. When she was a child she says that people asked what super-power she would desire. She replied, "To know what is true, always." It hasn't changed much since then. Marsha cares more about intent than result; more about understanding than agreement and more about good questions than finding all the answers. She defines her best blessings as people (Family and Friends), ideas and beauty. She is highly visual, teaches voice and piano and enjoys her Life/Relationship coaching immensely. She has a BA in Psychology and an AA in Ballroom Dance. Life is an adventure to be lived in the moment and shared with the world. She considers being asked to write with this amazing group a high honor.

13 Responses to Are Things What They Are, or What We Are?

  1. Paul says:

    This question speaks to me: “Where do you recognize your willingness, perhaps even not in joy?”
    It is precisely in those non-joyful moments I need to seek my willingness to submit, to search, to ponder, to pry apart, to rebuild (with help). John Donne wrote “Batter my heart thou three-personed God…” and for me it is in the battering that I recognize my weakness and my need for atonement.
    Were it all joy, I probably wouldn’t see the need for change; I wouldn’t recognize weakness in myself; I would simply be that natural man, and still be God’s enemy.
    Thanks for this lovely essay, Marsha.

    • MSKeller says:

      “IN the battering that I recognize my weakness and my need for atonement.” Something I too am in the process of learning Paul. You are such an inspiration.

      “Were it all joy, I probably wouldn’t see the need for change;” – Perhaps that is the biggest idea that we all can consider. The non-joyful moments can be our greatest teachers can’t they? . . . but then . . . when we recognize them, we find joy! Sort of Benjaminic wouldn’t you say?

  2. Bonnie says:

    This line really resonated with me: “Once you see that tiny worm, everything that was good and desirable now seems different, even if in reality it is not.” I am a creature of extremes and single focus, and this is hard for me. And I have felt exactly that level of revulsion with everything that touches something dark that has occurred, that one would feel finding one had just eaten something filthy. I love your comment that you are willing. It’s courageous, a word that God is teaching me about this year, to go back when we’ve felt revulsion and to reconsider. Sometimes willingness is the highest courage.

    • MSKeller says:

      You know Bonnie, It is said that ‘you can’t change the past’, but I think that quote says that you can. For once new information is received, what you thought, how you framed past experiences changes.

      Thank you for that. Sometimes I feel so guilty for not LOVING a calling I didn’t particularly enjoy, or dragging my feet (but doing it anyway) in other responsibilities. I sometimes feel like I am rationalizing when I lean on the “I am willing” aspect, and yet I’ve never quite felt guilty enough to think it a bad thing. We all need validation, thank you!

  3. lhamer says:

    Such an insightful post. I feel inspired and blessed today. Thank you.

    • MSKeller says:

      Thank you for commenting. Sometimes I don’t think that people who read and fear commenting realize how much an author depends on the feedback of those who read. It inspires us, encourages us when we are feeling that we simply aren’t being heard. So you have given me a gift today as well.

  4. Nameless says:

    “I couldn’t read. I hated church and detested listening to conference or
    reading the Ensign. None of it spoke to me or my situation any longer.
    No one understood.”

    Still feeling that way sometimes, a year and a half after the divorce. Thank you for the observation.

  5. Crystal says:

    Your insights are enlightening. I wish everyone could read this. I love the analogy (albeit gross… 🙂 ) of the worms – how one thing can change your entire paradigm. I love this as well… ‘not realizing the empty treasure box was just as terrible as the worm-infested one.’ What an interesting perspective… the grass isn’t always greener huh… we seem to often think that something else will be better, when in reality, once we get there, we often just want something else anyway. I found myself in tears at your realization about sanctification. What a beautiful gift we’ve been given, and I’m so grateful for your pointing it out – so easy to forget that part.

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