It all began in a public restroom.
When I was a young single adult I spent my summers as a Youth Counselor for the church summer camp "Especially For Youth". This was actually a dream come true for me. Ever since I fell in love with my own Counselors, as a teenager, I wanted to be one. I had no idea what I was in for.
I loved it. But it was much harder than I ever anticipated.
We spent our summers living out of our suitcases, traveling from one college campus to the next. Each week we would be assigned a new group of youth- whose parents had paid a lot of money for them to come to this camp. Each week we would spend our time getting to know the youth, and teaching them the Gospel and the standards of the Church in a fun and spiritual atmosphere. We laughed, we cried, we prayed, we ate pizza- it was good. But it was hard.
It was hard to know that some parents had sacrificed a lot to pay for the camp, and that they put a lot of faith in us to care for and love their children. It was hard to hear some of the difficulties these young people faced at home and at school. It was hard to try to give them as much love and attention and direction as we could in one short week before we would start all over with a new group of youth.
One week- that began rough (with me sleeping through my alarm clock before the big Monday Morning Kick Off Meeting for all of the counselors- and running across campus while spitting my toothpaste into the bushes at BYU-Idaho, having no time to comb my hair and walking into the meeting very late with some insane bed head and toothpaste dried to my cheek... not my best first impression), I found myself in the bathroom (probably attempting to tame the bed head) a few minutes before the youth would start to arrive. In walked a woman. A mother of one of the youth participants that would be arriving with the other 900 kids that afternoon, who looked as exhausted as I felt. She saw me, wearing my bright EFY T-shirt and counselor name tag, and began to cry. She hugged me and told me about her daughter that she was bringing to the camp. She told me of her daughter's serious struggles and her deep concern for the child. (it is humbling to be thrown into a Mother's deepest personal concerns with hardly an introduction) She knew that with 900 kids attending that week, it was unlikely that I would be her daughter's counselor, but she begged me to do my best for whomever my kids would be. To love them, to pray hard and work hard for them. "Hundreds of parents are praying for you and depending on you this week" she said. I had always known that what we did was important (besides incredibly fun) but the depth of it had never hit me like that. I can't imagine exactly how those parents felt, I hope I never do. But I did feel the weight of my assignment - like a ton of bricks. Forget the bad hair day, the toothpaste stain on my shirt, and the reprimand in front of my peers for being late to the meeting- this was serious.
I let myself into one of the stalls, sat down, and wept. (You should know I don't like the word "wept", it feels extremely old fashioned, kind of corny, and for some reason makes me think of a sad old man which makes me feel very uncomfortable- so I have rarely used that word- but it is the only word that describes how I cried) And then I prayed. Just like all of those parents. I prayed for strength, and courage, and guidance, and for the toothpaste on my shirt to disappear. That wasn't the first time that I prayed in a bathroom stall. But it was the moment that I realized that that is what I do. I am a Bathroom Prayer. (definition: One who prays in bathrooms) I have done it ever since. (It was more difficult on my mission in Madagascar when occasionally bathrooms were scarce...) I even do it as a Mom. And much like a public bathroom- my master bath has a lock, and is a quiet place where I can hide for a minute of solitude. And unlike a public bathroom- I don't have to hover over the seat.
Recently I have added a new addition to my title of being a Bathroom Prayer.
This new habit formed a few months ago when a friend of mine lost her husband. I thought I was handling it well. Until one shopping trip to Fred Meyers. My kids were happily coloring in the Kids Club (which they love, and I love Fred Meyer for having one!) and I was getting some grocery shopping done, when it hit me: Mortality. For some reason at that moment in Fred Meyer it all became very real to me. I sensed my own aliveness. (how is that a real word?) I felt the fear of how one could be on the cereal isle one minute and at "home" with their Maker the next. I felt guilty for doing something as ordinary and mundane as shopping when a friend of mine was mourning. And soon I found myself crying. In Fred Meyer. I couldn't figure out how to get out of there fast enough. Do I simply turn from my cart and run out of the store? Or do I brave the check out line, tears streaming down my face? And were other people wondering what it was about the picnic isle that was causing this outburst of emotion? I could hardly get through my list before I left and buried my head on my steering wheel sobbing. Poor Riley and Blake in the back seat in total shock. (The only reason I finished my list is because the idea of returning to the grocery store two days in a row is traumatic for me.)
I thought this was a fluke. Just a really bad day.
But then this week I found myself back in Fred Meyer. Kids happily coloring in the Kids Club, and the weight of my world crumbling down on me. We just got the final numbers back from the University of Washington on the amount of student loans we are allowed to take out for P.A. school. The meager amount of money we can borrow launches us below the Poverty Line. How is it possible that they will not allow us to borrow enough money to live on? (I am not asking for comfortable, I am just asking for above the poverty line - Ok, but comfortable sounds nice too...) As I stood there, staring at the Cream Cheese asking myself if I can justify spending the money on cream cheese to make JT's 30th Birthday Cupcakes- knowing that these are the kinds of overwhelming decisions I will have to make for the next two years, I began to cry. (And the cream cheese isle is so much busier than the picnic isle!) Again, I was faced with the decision to abandon my cart and flee to the parking lot or struggle through the rest of my list. This is when it hit me. Last time wasn't a fluke.
This is the new me. Someone who prays in bathroom stalls and cries in grocery stores.
I am not sure what it is about these places that incurs such strange habits. There is something peaceful, or at least private about closing yourself into a bathroom stall. There is also an abundance of toilet paper in case your prayers get teary. And having a place where you can usually be left alone is always a good place to pray. Then with the grocery store- is it the few quiet moments with out my kids, where the reality of our decisions can truly sink in? Or the fact that I spend most of my money (the temporary bane of my existence) at Fred Meyer? Or is it simply that choosing between cream cheese frosting and plain butter cream is just too much for me?
So if you see my feet under the stall in a restroom, don't knock on the door, don't ask if that is me in there- because I am probably deep in conversation. (Or possibly peeing, and in that case I like my privacy also.)
And if you come across me standing in the frozen foods section with tears streaming down my face- don't offer me your solution or tips on couponing. Please don't give me advice on the part-time job I should get, or belittle my emotions by telling me about the time you supported your 14 kids on $50 a month "and if I can do it, anyone can do it", or judge the 4 cartons of comfort ice cream filling my cart. If you want to help, please just pick out the cheaper of whatever two items I am crying over, place it in my cart, maybe give me a hug if you are not a stranger, and walk away. Just know that I am a Grocery Store Crier. It is who I am.