Sunday, November 2, 2008

Saint Stephanie

This is an essay that I wrote for the Az Republic last week (therefore it isn't really recent), but it didn't make the cut. I thought I'd post here anyway.

We Mormons talk of sacred spaces.
Our temples, our chapels, our homes are all considered holy and we are commanded to treat them as such. As Christians, we are also taught to consecrate ground where Heaven and Earth meet. Like Moses and the Burning Bush. Or the Mount of Transfiguration. In these spots of devoted earth we reverently reflect on what Deity can do for mankind.

As Mormons we also believe that women are divine. Where a righteous woman walks there is virtue. We want to be around the angelic presence of females. We are commanded to treat our mothers, wives and sisters as holy daughters of God. We worship a Savior who teaches the sacredness of women.

In this context, Stephanie's hospital room is a sacred space.

It is decorated, of course, wallpapered with photographs of happier times. There are handwritten cards from lovely strangers. Paper fans and silhouettes of her children. Almost every inch is covered in devotion. This helps the family to feel hope and gives the medical staff an idea of who our heavily-sedated Stephanie is, and who, with their help she can be again.

When I first entered Steph's room, shortly after she was hospitalized, I noticed a quiet nurse in the corner checking the monitors. I talked to my sister through my sterile mask and I could tell the nurse was listening. I took the opportunity to introduce myself. She returned by telling me her name as well. Then I introduced my sister.

"She is a beautiful person. Gorgeous." I said desperately wanting that nurse to know that this patient was absolutely more than a human being hooked up to machines. She is a woman of goodness. A romantic. A passionate mother. A religious Madonna of blogdom. Our sweet Stephanie.

We, Stephanie's family in Utah have pilgrimaged to her room. We've driven for ten hours across the desert. Boarded stuffy airplanes with fussy babies. We've traded children so that everyone can have their turn. Christian's family has spent hours at her bedside singing and whispering to her as she sleeps. A family member told me, "It becomes an addiction, wanting to be there."

And Christian comes to her when he can, wheeled in and out by his good parents. He uses his energy to praise his wife. To remind her of who she is and who she can yet become.

In her room we find sanctuary. The men of our family bless her with strength. The women pray. There is a tangible presence of the bittersweet. We can feel her spirit and the presence of angels. Being by her bedside feels like an incredible honor, one we feel blessed to know. When we leave the hospital we are renewed in body and soul.

There is grace.
There is mercy.
There is love.

In the past two months I have read hundreds of e-mails addressed to me concerning my sister. Who is this girl who blogs about beauty? Who makes homemade pizza for her family? Who loves to be at home crafting with her children? What--the world wants to know--what makes her seem so full of happiness?

And I respond, like this:

Her life is filled with goodness because she believes in choice. She chose to make the birthday cakes from scratch. She chooses to pay a babysitter for date night every week. She has always chosen to believe in virtue, and virtue blooms into faith.

And faith, makes anyone look good.

Not that Stephanie has overcome her humanity. Not that she doesn't need more lifetime to learn. But while she sleeps to recovery, we who visit her bed notice her divine nature. Her choice to be sanctified in wifery and motherhood flows out of her soul. Even now as her body is concealed behind yards of bandages, there is our Stephanie who desires to make good with what God has blessed her. And God has blessed her. And He will continue.