The Truth Seeker

Thanksgiving | Real People, Real Struggles

Provo Food and Care Coalition

“Do you think they’ll let us in?” I asked my husband.

“Of course.  It’s not like we have to show a homeless bag to prove our status.” he snickered.

We got in the soup kitchen line and received heaping masses of salad, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, ambrosia, turkey, ham, and rolls.  And man, was it all good.

We hoped to find connection here.  From past experience, we’ve learned that sometimes serving without connection isn’t very fulfilling.  So we scanned the room to find some empty seats to occupy, and break bread with the poor and transient.  What would it be like to have their experience with them, instead of lord over them, serving?

Stephen wouldn’t talk to us at first.  Just a nod here and there.  Maybe he was embarrassed.  Maybe he couldn’t hear.  Maybe he couldn’t talk.  Maybe he wanted his space to eat quietly.

It wasn’t until Keri, who smiled at us and started up a conversation, did Stephen come alive and join in.  Keri and Stephen have shared several meals together over the last year at the Food and Care Coalition.  They didn’t know each other’s names, but they knew each other’s faces.

Keri was packing up her extra food she wasn’t able to finish, and a little bit more, to take home.  “Do you have a place to go?” I asked.  “Yes.  Because we’ve been able to eat for free here the past year, I’ve been able to make our rent payment.  They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday here – no questions asked.”

She was radiant.  She was friendly.  She was grateful.  She had recently come out of chemo.  Her son, Sam, was with her.  A teenager.  By his shifting weight and rolling eyes, I could tell he was embarrassed by her telling us her story.  I can only imagine what the last year of his life must have been like.  Likely no dad around, a very sick mother facing death, absent from his life as she fought for hers, maybe not always knowing where his next meal would come from.  By her friendly and gracious spirit, Keri defied my preconceived notions of the type of person that would be in a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving.

“Can I get you anything else?” one of the volunteers asked us after our plates were empty. I forget his name, but I can still remember his face.  40’s.  Handsome.  Clean and presentable.  You could say your typical middle-income guy.  He probably owns a house in the burbs, two cars, and a family.  But he admitted that he’d been laid off several months ago, from a University job he assumed he have forever.  As he looked around, it was as if his face was revealing his fear that perhaps next year, he and his family would be here, not as volunteers, but as a family needing a warm meal.

Provo Food and Care Coalition

Marjorie was sitting clear in the front all by herself at an otherwise empty table, enjoying the entertainment on the stage (volunteer singers).  She wore a read sweater and had a red bow in her silver hair.  Age had hunched her back over.

I sheepishly pulled into the seat next to her and simply said, “hi.”  “Hi” she quietly but happily replied.  “I saw you sitting here all by yourself and thought that I’d like to get to know you.”  As her kind brown eyes flooded with tears, and then mine in like reaction, she said with a glowing smile, “Well aren’t you a sweetheart!”  Her cheeks were almost as red as the bow in her hair.  She was beautiful, and I told her so.

She was visiting from Kansas her daughter who was in the food line serving.  She wasn’t homeless, or even poor.  She was just old – which appeared to be as lonely and crippling.  She was a different kind of outcast.

Marjorie and I connected, soul to soul.  When time and space no longer separate us, I’m sure we’ll be friends.  I may have made her day by talking with her, but she made my day by asking if I was a student at the local collage.  ; )  (I had to explain that I’m much older than I look!)

I so wish I had captured Marjorie’s portrait.  But it didn’t feel right to ask.

The guy in the Lynyrd Skynyrd hat was hard-looking.  Like, Stephen, he didn’t seem to want to talk at first.  But after Daisy, the seeing-eye puppy in training, came over to visit our table, Todd opened up like a little kid with a big grin on his face.  Who doesn’t love puppies!  This Thanksgiving was not the first time Todd had been here.  Though he never said how long he’s been coming, I got this impression it had been quite awhile.  And when he told me he had no place to go to, I likewise got the feeling he had been transient for awhile, when he said, “they make it harder and harder to even sleep on the streets anymore.”

Daisy the Seeing Eye Puppy in Training

Unlike Todd, it was D’s first time.  While he was eating his feast, it was Keri who told him about all the facility offered.  In addition to meals, he could shower, get internet service, and in the summers, tend the garden and eat of its fruits.  D was thrilled… how had he never heard of this place before, he wondered.  D has lived out of his car off and on for years so he can pay child support with whatever money he does make.

While D and I were talking, a gray haired man came up to our table to sit down.  His eyes didn’t look right, he walked with a severe limp, and he was signing to us.  Not knowing sign language, I stupidly looked at him and said, “I don’t understand.”  He persisted anyways, as if he didn’t really care that I couldn’t understand.  He seemed just happy to be ‘talking’.  But suddenly, he put his hand up, as if to say, “stop”.  Then he bowed his head in prayer over his food, and dramatically began signing his prayer.  It was so very beautiful.  I wanted to take a picture so badly, and I wrestled with myself, It’s too sacred, it would be rude.  But it’s so very beautiful.  So I took the picture, for better or for worse.

sign language prayer

My take away from this day was prominent: “But by the Grace of God, there go I.”  And there go you, and your family.  Not that these people don’t enjoy God’s grace.  They surely do.  They are beautiful and warm and friendly people.  None complained – it was amazing.  Keri especially touched my heart ~ after all she had been through, she was so gracious and loving, forgetting about herself and extending herself to others.  She was a true inspiration. She understands the real value of life… people.  In a world of gross consumption and rat racing, I found a peace in many of these people that is not often found.

This experience made Thanksgiving fulfilling, in a way that doesn’t involve stressing over what food to make, getting it made in time, serving everything warm, a mess of dishes afterwards – the result of hours and hours of preparation, only to be over in 30 minutes.  No, that all came on Sunday!  With the kids and grand kids.  And that was worth every second : ).

Kemp 2012 Thanksgiving


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Raising Children, Living Well, and How to Forgive

I’m home, after another long day at BYU Education Week full of back-to-back classes – freaking a little bit inside that I have to leave again in less than seven hours.  Already feeling the lack of sleep (I’m a nine hour a night kind of gal), I had to duck out of a class today and catch some z’s on the grass…

Grass Nap

As you can see – not looking my best.  I can’t, in good conscience, sacrifice one extra minute of sleep to slab any amount of make up on my face.  I definitely value my sleep more than that!  (I should, however, touch up my roots soon…)

Here’s my view:

View from the grass

Some more brief thoughts on forgiveness, and how to help us forgive…

  • Rediscover the humanity of the person who hurt us.
  • Surrender our right to get even.
  • Revise our feelings.
  • Realize forgiving and reunion are not the same thing.
  • Realize you can love someone for their infinite worth and potential as a human being and child of God, without having them qualify for your trust or friendship.

Love that last one.  Like I’ve mentioned, I don’t really struggle with forgiveness (anymore) because of all the work I’ve done with that in the past.  I forgive easily – mostly, I don’t even need to forgive because I choose not to take offense in the first place.  However, that last bullet point speaks to me and I could use this in real life situations.  One thing I do struggle with, is boundaries when someone has abused my trust.

On raising children….

Children develop good self worth and self satisfaction when they accomplish hard things – not when they are placated with constant undue and unearned praise, which creates entitlement monsters.

So instead of throwing around praise for the simplest things, praise them for working hard and accomplishing things they didn’t think they could do.  This will teach a child to recognize the pride in working hard and accomplishment.

On living life well….

“Trials are God’s veiled angels to us.”

“What we call disappointments, are only not God’s appointments.”

– Alfred Edersheim

For reasons I can’t explain right now, I feel deeply akin to Alfred Edersheim and am thrilled to have been exposed to his life and works.

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Forgiveness Part II | Infertility | and a Jewish Scholar

Utah Landscape

Day 2:  BYU Education Week

I just got home from a long day of back-to-back classes, out the door at 7am and just home now – almost 10:30.  It was a wonderful day, but I’m so spent and my brain is mush – so all I can do is give some highlights.

* * * Forgiveness * * *

Very interesting that I posted yesterday on forgiving loved ones after my mind ran wild during a class on how to write your family history… because today, I ended up in a class called, “Finding Healthy Forgiveness”.  In order to get a free pass for the week, I chose to volunteer a little bit of my time each day by hosting a class (welcoming guests, answering questions, directing traffic, etc.), and this was the class that I was assigned to.  How apropos.

Some might think I am insensitive to those who have been victimized because of my logical ability to forgive so easily, and to encourage others to do the same.  This class reminded me of many valuable points.  But first, I want to quickly add that the reason I am probably so logical and ideal about forgiveness now, is because I used to be the chronic victim.  And I had to work through a lot issues surrounding that.  It’s easy for me to forget that and take it for granted when watching others struggle with being a victim or with forgiveness.

Some valuable points I learned (sorry to do bullets… but I’m so tired I can hardly keep my eyes open):

  • Forgiveness only works when you are safe and no longer a victim (for those truly in victimizing situations).
  • Forgiveness only works with healthy boundaries in place.
  • You must implement an exit strategy to be safe if you are in an unsafe environment.
  • You cannot grow in a constant state of survival.
  • You must take control of your situation – you cannot wait for your victimizer to ‘get it’, or wait for them to apologize.  It may never happen.  Take control and get safe.  Then you can take your power back and work on forgiveness.
  • The only people who can be chronically victimized WITHOUT CONSENT, are children.
  • Real love may require bold confrontation – not repeated abuse, apology, and forgiveness (a never-ending cycle).
  • Act for yourself – do not be acted upon.
  • Forgiving is not forgetting, it’s letting go of the hurt.

One cheesy but good quote from Dr. Phil:

“You have to forgive people, not because they deserve it, but because you deserve to be free.”

A great quote from James E. Faust, who understood that forgiveness can not be hastened in one who isn’t ready:

“Keep a place in your heart for forgiveness, and when it comes, welcome it in.”

Happy I ended up here today to bring balance to my sometimes too logical approach to forgiveness.

* * * Infertility * * *

Another amazing “accident”.  Usually I map out all of my classes that I am going to take the night before.  For this hour, I had not really looked at the schedule, because I wasn’t sure how long I might have to stay in the previous class I was hosting.  When I got out early enough, I looked at the schedule and saw the title: “Enduring Well the Journey of Infertility”.  Okay.  Wow.  On my way I rushed.

Used to classes filling up fast and sometimes not getting a seat, I rushed in the doors and walked into a virtually empty room, reminding me that I’m a minority – part of a minority’s group.  The room was quiet, awkward, and dull.  And soon to be very tearful – my own tears contributed.

The speaker was infertile for many years until finally having success with invitro fertilization.

She got us.  She got me.  She gave a poignant analogy that I cannot repeat right now – that might help one to understand what it might feel like to be infertile.  “Freak of Nature” and “Defective” are my choice words for explaining it.

In my Church it is taught that giving life is the single most virtuous and greatest thing you can do.  The first people, Adam and Eve were given their first commandment, “be fruitful and multiply”.  You can see how this can be hard on the psyche… forget about the innate urge and desire to procreate, teach and train a child, and have posterity…

Neal A. Maxwell said that some of us have trials to pass through, while others have allotments to live with.  No one escapes – no one is special.  If it’s not infertility for you – it’s something else, I know.  In a talk entitled: “Content With the Things Allotted Unto Us“, he also said that yearning childless couples have so many prickly daily reminders.

Babies and kids are everywhere.  While your friends continue to have babies through the years – you’re still fighting just to have one.  Baby showers come and go – and soon your friends kids are teenagers.  And because you haven’t had any yet – you pause for a moment thinking that is impossible, thinking you can’t be that old.  But you are.  You’re old and you have no babies.  And you cry and continue to move through life feeling insignificant and valueless, nonetheless searching for and convincing yourself you can be fulfilled, otherwise.  Hmph.

I swear my days of convincing myself that I’m at a place of being okay if I don’t end up having babies are getting more and more.  Which is a good thing, right?  But somewhere deep inside will just not be fooled.  Because I still have those moments, those unexpected moments that surprise me when that flood of emotion wells up and the tears start flowing.  I thought my tears and I made peace – but apparently not, and they seem to have the upper hand, much to my dismay.

At the risk of sounding insincere after relating all of my woes, I truly, truly trust in the Lord, His timing, and being part of a bigger plan that I cannot see.  So, while it’s still deeply painful, when all is said and done, I find peace in this.

* * * A Jewish Scholar * * *

By far, the best class I attended today.  If I could only attend one class for the rest of the week, this would be it: “Alfred Edersheim: a Jewish Scholar for the LDS community”… An orthodox Jew converted to Christianity.  He died in the late 1800’s.

Since learning about my own Jewish roots in the last year, I cannot get enough of Jewish history, culture, and religion.  I’m fascinated by it all.  And now I’m more than eager to consume all of the writings of Alfred Edersheim!!!

His works involve helping the Christian understand and appreciate Jesus the Messiah by teaching them the fullness of the Old Testament in Jewish context.

“For God to explain a trial would be to destroy its purpose, calling forth simple faith and implicit obedience.”

-Alfred Edersheim

Sorry no pictures and probably a little dry:-(  I just needed to do this brain dump and get to bed so I am well rested for tomorrow!  Hopefully I can make it back here tomorrow night.

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DiGiovanni Family Photo

front row: Vincent, Enzo, Sophia, Gianna
back row: Emily, Savannah, Brian (brother), Laura, Joshua, Chris (brother), Sue (mom), Len (dad), Jenny (sister), Todd, me, Mark (hubby)

…Family.  This shot was taken just a few days ago.  We’ve been talking about doing a family photo shoot for years now.  This was supposed to be outside, in a park full of beautiful Oak trees, with all the fall brilliant colors among us.  But it rained most of the day.  I was glued to, found a break in the rain, rescheduled the shoot.  But alas, was wrong.  Thanks to my resourceful sister and brother-in-law, they found this wine tasting room just a few minutes away, who graciously let us use their space for our hour long photo shoot!

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and as I reflect upon being grateful for my family, a few things come to mind.  Like most families, we’ve been through our ups and downs.  But what I’m grateful for is that I can always count on that upswing after hard times.  We’ve experienced challenges that would threaten the survival of any family – starting when my siblings and I were very young with my parents divorce (they remarried five years later), to only a few years ago when I converted to another religion than what I was brought up with (kind of – at least in their eyes).  It really shook my family up, and at the time, none of us knew how to handle it, and most of us handled it poorly (myself included).

After surviving my parents divorce, my sister, brothers and I were very tight growing up.  And we took that bond with us through our years of moving out and eventually getting married and starting our own families.  I took for granted a loving family, because nothing really challenged it.  So, when we were faced with this trial a few years ago, it cut deeply.  Something as personal as spirituality and religion can evoke overwhelming and often uncontrolled emotions when challenged, or when you think a loved one is headed down the wrong path.  It was a bittersweet time for me – finding my own way – but feeling cut off and misunderstood from my family.  I felt so very alone.

After a couple of years the awkwardness seemed to dissipate – something I so yearned for and welcomed.  It’s still lonely sometimes, not being able to share a sacred part of my life with the ones I entered into a familial contract with before the earth was born.  But I also believe that I signed up for this experience, to become strong and resolute.  Our families, as difficult as they may be at times, are a vital part of our personal growth in our earth school.  They are our most sacred teachers – the ones we chose to learn from and grow with.

Today, I am thankful for a family that has found its way, the best we know how.  For choosing love over our righteous positions.  For choosing a relationship over hanging on to being right.  My husband taught me, that he’d rather be friends than be right.  I love that.  And I love him for teaching me.  If being right means having a wall between us, then I don’t want to be right.  I want to be with you.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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Community Supported Agricultural Farm

CSA Farm

It was seven weeks ago that Mark and I sought out and found a Community Supported Agricultural Farm.  After becoming so disenchanted with what we’ve learned about most store bought foods, we thought, if only we could find a local farm to buy organic, in-season fruits and vegetables from. To our extreme delight, our cute little CSA Farm turned up… right up the road from us.

CSA Instruction Board

So for the past seven weeks, we’ve gone to this little farm to collect our food for the week.  When we first get there, we sign in.  You actually become a shareholder in the farm for the period that you sign up for.  And they were having a problem with outsiders dropping in, thus leaving the shareholders short of their own food.

Above the tables are white boards with instructions of what to take.  A pound of eggplant.  A head of lettuce.  A bunch of herbs.  Etc.  On our first pick-up, we had no idea what to expect.  I literally showed up in my crocks and clothes I figured would get dirty, thinking we’d be pulling our own food out of the ground or off the trees.  As fun as that would have been, that’s not the way it’s done.  It’s all picked for us and displayed on tables inside the barn.  Oh, and every week, we also got a surprise baked good.  The yummiest treat ever.

CSA Garden

CSA Greenhouse

So the summer CSA is over and now the winter one begins.  The hard part for us was that we got so much food that we weren’t accustomed to eating and did not really know what to do with – so much went to waste if not given to neighbors.  We decided not to sign up for the winter CSA, and instead scoured out all the grocery stores around us for the best organic and local options.  In a perfect world, I wish the CSA farm worked for us.  But it was too expensive to keep up, considering the amounts of foods we did not use.  The ubiquitous ‘someday’ when we have more time, perhaps we’ll be more adventurous with our foods.

CSA Farm Entrance

I’m so grateful for the experience and the joy that it was to be on this life-giving farm.  A simple kind of life that I dream about living ‘someday’.  Goodbye, for now.

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