Our Strength and Refuge

Two weeks ago I gave a sermon at noon service, a weekly interfaith gathering at HDS, which I hosted with two other Mormon students. We are a small group this year and I’m missing my three friends who graduated last year (they did the two-year MTS degree and I’m doing the three-year MDiv degree) as well as a friend who left HDS to take a job for the church. But it was a beautiful service. The choir sang “Nearer My God to Thee,” Natalie gave the welcome and scripture reading, I gave my sermon, we (the congregation) sang “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” and then Zach gave a moving sermon on forgiveness. We closed with “All Creatures of Our God and King,” followed by one of the most sincere and holy prayers I’ve heard, given by my beloved academic adviser and mentor, David Holland.

My only regret is we didn’t get a picture together after the service. Ah, well. Here I am in the beautiful Andover chapel.

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I cherished being in this space with loved ones. Many friends at HDS, of varying religious and non-religious backgrounds, came to support me. They prayed for me or sent good vibes. Some of my friends from my church congregation came, too. Being in this safe space–being able to share my faith with friends who feel like family–means everything.

Here’s the transcript of my sermon (or, as Mormons say, my “talk”):

Our Strength and Refuge

A few weeks ago I woke up at 3 a.m. in pain with a health issue that caused surgery in the past, and I worried I’d soon be back in the hospital, undergoing another surgery. To distract myself, I decided to read the news—which is probably the worst thing I could have done. I learned about the Equifax breach and that an earthquake had just hit Mexico, a place I love dearly and where nearly all of my in-laws live. Meanwhile, Irma had left a path of destruction and was on its way to Florida, the home of many loved ones and where I spent a year and a half of my life as a Mormon missionary. A cousin had died a few days prior in a car accident. Harvey had left its devastation. Meanwhile, racism and expressions of hatred abound in the world, along with politicians who divide and ban rather than unite and welcome in loving arms.

I didn’t know that soon there would be more earthquakes, another hurricane, and more shootings, including a shooting at a church.

As I sat in pain in the dark in my living room reading this news at 3 a.m., I felt struck by the limits of mortality and the immense suffering of people throughout the world. I thought of the war, famine, disasters, and hatred that devastate the lives of millions of people and touch us all as a human family.

My question today for us as a congregation and as students, staff, and faculty at the remarkable institution of HDS is: How do we find a place where we’re not overwhelmed by suffering but rather propelled and energized to fulfill our vocation?

Trauma has always existed but we feel it weigh on us like never before. Personal and collective trauma continue to build as we populate the world and became more interconnected. Because of access to each other and to information across the world, the trauma can be in our face all the time. I could be reading about it, even watching footage of it, on my smartphone 24/7. In this period of human history marked by connection, my thought today is that we must find time to disconnect from the noise and to recharge—to elevate our sights in order to receive inspiration for how we can best respond to suffering, both in ourselves and in others.

When I say disconnect and elevate our sights, I don’t mean we ignore needs. On the contrary, taking time to look up enables us to better serve because when we access righteous powers bigger than ourselves, we become the best version of ourselves and find strength to do things we haven’t previously had the strength to do.

How can we elevate our sight to do this? Consider this personally for you. If something comes to mind, jot it down. What are your sources of comfort, strength, and refuge? What do you do to disconnect from harsh noise, to make space for subtle quiet spiritual workings in yourself? To find yourself? To remember who you are? To see your potential? When things feel impossible and too big, go back to those sources.

Some of my own sources of comfort, strength, and refuge are prayer, meditation, practicing yoga, reading scripture, holding a child in my arms, journaling, walking in nature, worshiping in sacred temples. These practices connect me to Heavenly Sources. Making this space allows me to commune with God, to feel the perfect, unconditional love of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit—even to feel the love of ancestors who have gone before me and faced immense difficulty—and to feel the love of angels who surround me today, some of whom are in this room.

Who are your angels? Who ministers to you?

You have a unique calling in life that only you can fulfill. You are needed. Your passion is needed, your talents, your skills, your strengths—and even your weaknesses. The good news is: God promises that weaknesses can be made strong. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus tells a prophet:

“If men and women come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto [them] weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all…that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong” (Ether 12:27).

All of your experiences, everything that makes you the person you are, gives you a particular skill set that is needed. You serve the world in ways that other people can’t.

The problems for you to address will always be here—there will always be a need for you to address. We all have work to do. That is why we must protect a portion of our time to do what we often refer to at HDS as self-care—to fill our own cup. To be healthy both spiritually and physically so we can answer our callings in life.

We are not alone on our journey—not alone in our relationships, in our studies, in our work, in our joy and in our pain. The Lord promises: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18).

Wise words in Psalm 46 and Psalm 9 read:  “We will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake … The Lord . . . will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.” (Psalms 46:1–3; 9:9)

And as Natalie read from the Book of Mormon: “Remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds…his shafts in the whirlwind…when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down…because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men [and women] build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12).

The mighty winds and storms will prevail around us. But we can be rooted, we can stand on the rock of the Redeemer. And with this foundation, we have a promise that we cannot fall.

When our service is centered, refreshed and motivated by Divine love—and when our efforts are magnified, carried, and given by grace—we see through new eyes. We see people and situations differently. We see ourselves differently. Our work is infused with innovation, humility, energy, charity, patience, and forgiveness—not just forgiveness of others but forgiveness of ourselves and our own weaknesses as human beings. We can be sustained and held up by loving hands—hands that know our worth, goodness, light, divinity and ability.

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101 Things <3

A few thoughts on marriage as I write this post about our third anniversary:

-Love is indeed a choice.

-There might be bad days, bad weeks, and even bad years. But there are good days, good weeks, and good years, too 😉 (I read a great article about this in the New York Times back in 2014 but I can’t seem to find it–bummer!)

-While reflecting on the hard times, I recently wrote: There’s virtue in trying, and in trying again, when two people are willing–willing to change when we need to change or stand our ground when it’s better to do that.

-I also wrote, I can’t really make sense of any of this. 😀 Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of love, marriage, relationships in general…

-But I do believe: Marriage is worth it.

I’ve read marriage advice by some very wise people, but the following thoughts from Michael Novak, Catholic theologian, may be my very favorite, and help explain what I’m talking about (this was published in Harper’s in 1976 and I found it in Eugene England’s perfect essay on the LDS Church, of all things):

“Marriage is an assault upon the lonely, atomic ego. Marriage is a threat to the solitary indi­vidual. Marriage does impose grueling, humbling, baf­fling, and frustrating responsibilities. Yet if one sup­poses that precisely such things are the preconditions for all true liberation, marriage is not the enemy of moral development in adults. Quite the opposite.

Being married and having children has impressed on my mind certain lessons, for whose learning I cannot help being grateful. Most are lessons of difficulty and duress. Most of what I am forced to learn about myself is not pleasant…My dignity as a human being depends perhaps more on what sort of husband and parent I am, than on any professional work I am called on to do. My bonds to my family hold me back (and my wife even more) from many sorts of opportunities. And yet these do not feel like bonds. They are, I know, my liberation. They force me to be a different sort of human being, in a way in which I want and need to be forced.” 

!!!

I can’t say it more beautifully than that, so on to the rest of my post:

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I arrived home to Boston on Friday at 6 a.m. on a redeye in time to celebrate Waldir’s and my third anniversary. I surprised him with a little book I made, “101 Things I Love About You,” in which I listed 101 things I love about him and pasted photos.

I’m normally not cutesy with gifts but I wanted to up my game this year and do something to show my love better. I think it was a success, and it was fun to put together. When I got to #101, I wanted to keep going, which is also a success. Thanks, Waldir, for giving me a lot of goodness to love.

I realized while doing this that the practice of writing down what we love about others–whether romantic others or friends or even people we find difficult to love–is transformative. I recommend it.

Waldir took me to Alma Nove, an Italian-Mediterranean waterfront restaurant founded by Paul, Donnie, and Mark Wahlberg, and named after their mother, Alma, who had nine (nove) children. With full and happy stomachs, we headed to the Boston Opera House to see Broadway’s “Finding Neverland,” which was delightful, inspiring, and touching.

Celebrations continued Saturday when we—Waldir exhausted from working and traveling and me from traveling and not sleeping well—stayed in bed half the day. Eventually I journeyed into the sunshine to practice yoga under a tree by the Harvard soccer field. This was blissful for a half hour until the team showed up and blasted hip hop from the loud speakers. 😀 But I didn’t mind the interruption too much–it’s their field anyway, and it’s fun to live so close to all of the action.

Later, Waldir and I attended the temple, which was beautiful. Attending the temple on or right after our wedding date is a tradition we’ve established. After we married, before we honeymooned in Mexico, we stayed in Salt Lake two nights and enjoyed attending the temple. I remember seeing David Archuleta there, which was funny because he and I had been in the Mormon Missionary Training Center (MTC) at the same time. Some fellow sister missionaries swooned over him in the MTC but I mostly noticed how short he is (no offense intended). Speaking of short: my mom, who is 6 feet tall, teases my sisters and I for marrying and dating short men (my sisters are both taller than me and mom expected them especially to marry tall men). “You married short men!” she says. Kaitlin and I sure did. Shalane hasn’t yet married, but we’ll see. It will be interesting to see if our kids get the tall Carson genes or the Scavo and Alatriste genes.

After the temple Saturday night, Waldir and I ate at a Thai restaurant we frequent, and then went home and played a card game, listened to music (including “Singin’ in the Rain,” of course), and talked. I woke up realizing I had food poisoning, which wasn’t too fun. Waldir, on the other hand, has immunity to everything. I’ve gotten food poisoning multiple times throughout our marriage, but him? Never. Today I said, “Your stomach is a rock” and he responded, “This is why our kids need to go to Mexico and eat everything.” I think he’s right.

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Yellowstone

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On Friday we went to Yellowstone, a two-hour drive from where my parents live. As a family we visited Yellowstone every summer growing up, and I’ve got many happy memories in and around this place. My Grandma and Grandpa Carson used to own a cabin in Island Park, about 30 minutes outside of Yellowstone, and we stayed there for family vacations. I remember reading books on the porch in the sunshine, going on morning or evening runs in crisp air and smelling pine everywhere, seeing a baby bear in a nearby tree, going to nearby lakes to canoe or take a pedal boat and laugh because the wind was so strong we couldn’t get anywhere, hiking on the Continental Divide, and taking sunset walks outside the cabin, where we would see moose roaming around. Sometimes the moose would come right up to the cabin and we would watch them out the windows. These trips planted a deep love of nature in me.

This time, our visit to Yellowstone was a day trip. We left around 6 am and arrived home around 1 am the next morning. My favorite thing to do in Yellowstone is take a short hike to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, photos above, where the falls are breathtaking.

I didn’t take many photos this trip, but I did get some nice shots of the Grand Prismatic Spring, which I can’t stop thinking about. Here are a few more photos of our day.

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My sisters and I always have so much fun being silly together. I love these two so much!

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After our day in the park, we went to the PlayMill Theater and laughed through a delightfully performed “Singing in the Rain.” We’ve seen a lot of great musicals and plays at the West Yellowstone Playmill, but “Singing in the Rain” now ranks among my favorites because the cast was so good. I thought the actors playing Cosmo, Kathy, and Don sang and danced even better than those in the movie. I’ve happily had “Make ‘em Laugh,” “Good Morning,” and “Singing in the Rain” stuck in my head since, and I can’t get Cosmo’s hilarious expressions and stunts out of my mind either. Also, until this performance, a musical had never given me the urge to take a tap dance class, but I’ve got an itch now…

Orange

One of the reasons I love Yellowstone so much (apart from my opinion that it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth) is that the colors and textures constantly change. The paint pots, geysers, and springs look different every visit, depending on the weather, the lighting, and the time of year you visit, and also due to the simple fact that nature is in constant motion.

These beauties bellow are photos of the Grand Prismatic Spring during a family trip to Yellowstone last week. The vivid oranges stood out to me and looked different from every angle. The more we walked, the more the colors changed, and I had a hard time pulling myself away from this place even though there was a storm rolling in.

Then again, sometimes the minutes right before the storm are the most magical. The moment felt sort of eerie but in the best way.  And the orange! I’ve never seen such orange.

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P.S. Fun fact: The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the U.S. and the third largest in the world. 🙂

Table Rock

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Hello from Idaho, or affectionately, “Idahome”—the place I called home from age 12 to 18. I’m visiting my parents who live here and my sisters who are in town from Salt Lake and Los Angeles.

I’m taking a break from posting about our Europe trip to show you these beautiful photos from Table Mountain, which I’ve been wanting to hike again for years (it’s been around 10 years since I last hiked it). I convinced my sister and her boyfriend to come along, and even though it’s a tough hike, they agreed it’s worth it!

Bluebells, Indian Paintbrush, Sunflowers, and other wildflowers line the trail called “Huckleberry.” Once you reach the ridge you see fields of wildflowers in each direction; then you cross a field of rocks and climb Table Mountain or rather, as we called it growing up, “Table Rock,” which provides an unbeatable view of the Tetons. It’s heaven on Earth and one of my favorite places. Living on the east coast, I sure miss these mountains. ❤

Florence

We had 1.5 jam-packed days in Florence and soaked up every moment! We enjoyed Renaissance masterpieces in the Uffizi Gallery, which houses Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and da Vinci’s “Annunciation,” and we visited the Galleria dell’Accademia, where we saw Michelangelo’s “David.” We also enjoyed visiting the incredible Duomo with its famous dome designed by Brunelleschi. And we met up with my lovely friend, Sasha, who took us to her favorite gelatería in the city. I think it was by far the best gelato we had in Italy. We walked to the beautiful Ponte Vecchio bridge as the sun set, and Sasha pointed out various historical highlights as we walked. Spending time with Sasha was a treat! Florence is a dream and we could have spent much more time here.

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Tuscan Countryside

 

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Ah, dreamy Tuscany! During most of our trip in Italy we used trains to get around, but we wanted a car to explore the Tuscan countryside, so in Florence we picked up a rental and spent a few days driving around and exploring towns. We stayed in an agriturismo, which was fun. Some favorite moments in Tuscany:

-visiting an ancient fortress.

-stopping at a cheese shop in Pienza and meeting the owner and her son. She was wonderful to talk with (we mostly spoke Spanish with a few Italian words thrown in there, and she only spoke Italian, so we used lots of gestures and it was fun because she really made an effort to communicate). She offered us cheese samples with bread and olive oil, which made a nice lunch since the restaurant we had planned to eat at was closed. (Note: although I eat a mostly vegan diet, I do eat cheese when traveling in Europe.)

-stumbling upon a luxury car show. I’m not a car fan, but Waldir likes nice cars, and I liked seeing Waldir enjoy that. 🙂

-doing yoga at the agriturismo, overlooking the countryside as the sun set. ❤

-I also liked the cats at the agriturismo. 😉

-eating at a michelin restaurant.