Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Full Bottle of Blessings

My home teacher asked me if I had a bottle of consecrated oil in my home. I knew I did. Well, I thought I did. It wasn't where I thought it was. Two weeks later, while looking for something else, I was digging through 'Roberts drawer' in the dresser I found it.

And there in Robert's writing is the date on the label: 9-09

September 2009. Robert was home from the hospital, doing Chemo. We were so full of hope. But I have forgotten about this oil....did Jeff come over and they consecrate oil together? Did they do that in a Priesthood meeting? I remember Robert had a couple of other bottles which he gave to others, but this one was ours. I remember the tender comfort I had, knowing that there was a bottle of sacred oil in the fridge, and more importantly, a Priesthood holder who was able and willing to use it by my side.

The bottle is nearly full. Not that Robert didn't give or receive blessings. He did. Some of my most sacred memories are of blessings received at his hands. There are precious few of them (how many blessings can a person have in just three years?) but he did give them. To me. To children and grandchildren. To others- we often made quick visits to hospitals and homes of friends so he could assist with blessings. But most of the blessings he received were in the hospital, using someone else's oil. So our bottle is almost full.

Full represents something else to me. Roberts favorite saying was "My half-full cup runneth over with blessings." A full bottle of oil. It is evidence that our life, his life, my life, have also been full of blessings.

And oh, the blessings we received. Not just Priesthood blessings, given by the laying on of hands. But blessing blessings. We filled journal pages listing the tender mercies of each day.  The way we met was a true tender mercy from the Lord, evidence of His design and Plan for us. And as the blessings of days together continued, he would squeeze my hand, or I his, as a silent recognition of a tender mercy unfolding before us. Even holding hands (which we always did) was a tender mercy! How have I forgotten this? But I have.

And yet this week, as I had petitioned Heaven for a return of some of that Joy, the bottle of oil appeared to remind me. It's always been there. I just lost it for awhile. A bottle full of oil for blessing others.

Oil for my lamp, and a light unto my feet.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Of Grace and the Broken Cord

I think I've always had an independent streak. When my sisters and I were very young, Dad often referred to us as "Little Miss Independence". Usually when we were asserting our right to 'do it myself'. My earliest memories are dim, but there is photographic evidence of my efforts to do more than I was capable of.

 I also remember Dad saying the same about my younger sisters. For the sake of our continued sisterhood, I won't post photographic evidence for them, but I do recall at least one sister stomping her foot, arms folded firmly, "I DO IT!" at about age three. "Ok, Miss Independence!" Dad responded and smiled as he watched her. 

As I grew older, I often preferred doing things myself over asking for help. While seven months pregnant with my oldest son, I rearranged the furniture in our apartment, lifting a heavy bookcase onto the top of a desk by myself. I'll admit to being tired afterwards, but I really thought the 'adoo' made by others over this apparently risky behavior was a little unwarranted. Arms folded stubbornly, I claimed there was nothing wrong with doing it myself.

Sometimes I lack the patience to wait until someone else is available to help. I recently undertook a project of painting my large wood entertainment center. It comes apart, the sliding center shelf is heavy, and I realized I couldn't take the thing apart by myself without risking damage to the TV underneath the shelf. I called two trusty helpers from church who lived nearby, "Hey, Home Teachers!" and they happily hurried right over to assist. 10 minutes and the shelf was dismantled. I was quickly reminded that people love to help when asked, and I was thankful they were available and most wiling to help.

When painting was complete and I was ready to reassemble it, I decided I was independent/strong/stubborn enough to put it back together without help. This involved lifting the long, heavy center shelf with loose inserts up over my head and settling it onto the four small brackets by simultaneously sliding the inserts out towards the sides. I figured the brackets would hold the shelf up until I could secure them to the shelf with screws. I lifted...the inserts both suddenly shifted...and before I knew it, the entire shelf slid down the wall and slammed to the floor behind the cabinet. I had to crawl behind the cabinet to get the shelf out, but it didn't appear there was any lasting damage other than additional distressing on the already distressed paint finish. Good enough!

But then I found damage I wasn't expecting: a broken electrical cord. I'm not sure if the shelf slamming to the floor severed the cord, or if the cord snapped from being stretched tight, but I now held in my hands two parts of the power cord for my stereo speakers. No power, no sound. I sadly realized that if I had just asked for help, the broken cord would still be whole and the speakers would still work. (The music lover in me points out this is a great loss).

What prevents me from asking for help? For me, it's most often impatience...I just want something done NOW and don't want to wait for someone to come to help. Other times, I prefer to work alone because I don't want to work someone else's plan. How stubborn is that? 
Sometimes I overestimate my own strength. I knew I could lift the shelf, I just hoped the sliding boards wouldn't shift. When they did, the shelf crashed to the floor.
And THEN I asked for help. Of course! How many times do I pray for Father to undo a mess I created? 

This is SO like my spiritual self! The Lord willingly offers all that I need and more: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." He promises that I don't have to do it all on my own. And if I ask for help, the Lord is not only eager to help, His Atonement is perfected as he does! Paul's words tumble into my heart, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." Suddenly my weakness is a happy thing, a thing that brings me closer to Christ. I need not be afraid of asking for help. I promise to work at not stamping my foot and insisting on my own way. And as I do, His Grace is sufficient for even that impetuous act. 

Looking at the severed power cord, I think that I could probably fix it myself (I've done a few things like that), but since I am practicing a better way, I unfold my stubbornly crossed arms and resist the urge to stamp my foot. In a sheepish text message, I confessed the broken cord to my son. "Can you fix this?" 
"Probably" he says. The offer of a pizza and game night sweetened the deal, so he brought his family. We played games, we talked, he fixed the cord. The symbolism is not lost on me, a son repairing that which was lost. He was happy to help, even though it caused some strain on his already tired hands. And he gave a warning...if the cord gets warm, it's best to just get a new speaker than risk a fire. Whole power cords are better than repaired ones. 

Our Savior's Love
Shines like the sun with perfect light,
As from above
It breaks thru clouds of strife.
Lighting our way,
It leads us back into his sight,
Where we may stay
To share eternal life.

I understand it now! My limitations are not something to be ashamed of, rather they are the means by which I may become a partaker of His Grace. We cannot save ourselves. And so I will most gladly glory in my infirmities. With His love, I am not afraid of letting others see my weakness. I no longer want to stomp my feet through life, my stubborn nature creating bigger struggles along the way. How much better to leave the power cords whole by asking for a couple of extra hands at times, than to insist on doing it all on my own? 

And so, this morning, I called a friend, “I need your help…..”

Friday, January 1, 2016

Packing Up Christmas

Sometimes I wonder why we do it....all this decorating and hanging of lights. This year it was hard to get started with all the decorating and hanging of lights. Some Grandchildren eager to help decorate the tree made that a happy memory and a new tradition. That started the process that for me takes days to begin. There are over 100 nativities to unpack and arrange. Even with a few that stay out all year long, it takes daayyysss. But soon all the nativites were set up, the lights strung and my heart was ready to celebrate the birth of the Savior. And it was wonderful! How I love the Christmas season. Even when difficult things arise, Christmas reminds me of THE most important and wonderful event ever! 

This year, though, it was truly an effort to put it all away. it wasn’t that I was sad to see the holiday be done (I've felt that before, too), but I just didn't want to go through the effort. For some reason I felt overwhelmed with doing it all by myself and found it difficult to find the motivation. I simply didn't want to do the work. Curling up on the sofa with a good book sounded right...not the ladder climbing, box carrying, wrapping and packing tasks that loomed before me. 

Looking at the half empty boxes of tissue paper and bubble wrap strewn about the family room, I resolved to do it anyway, and discovered a change of heart and understanding in the process. 

I began by gathering the nativities from around the four corners of the house (did I mention 100+? They are everywhere!). As I swept the surfaces of my bedroom, a painting caught my eye- "She Worketh Willingly With Her Hands" by Elspeth Young, a print I had chosen because it reminds me to do the 'work' of my life with a willing heart. I felt a little bit chastened as I realized my grudging packing away of a sacred celebration was quite far removed from willing. What had I just celebrated? honored life and sacrifice made by my Savior, the Child born in Bethlehem. Of course.

And now I felt reluctant to put away the mementos of such a celebration?! Suddenly I recognized the gratitude I felt for such beautiful things to remind me of sacred events.

As I gathered a set of camels carrying wise men, I wondered how it would have been if those scriptural sages had not put forth the effort to make the journey to honor their King? My King? Was I making a true and honest effort to honor Him?

Next I found a well beloved (read: damaged) set of wooden figures. I thought about how I would need to repair some of the damage next year (this has become an annual ritual, the Nativity repair place). But as I held the wooden manger, I thought about how the Savior heals my damage. Suddenly the damage to these few pieces became sacred...He could heal me and I looked forward to healing the carefully carved figures in remembrance. 

In the next room I found the open armed Mary from Peru, welcoming her visitors. I pondered if I was truly welcoming and open armed myself? Yet, as Mary, the Savior welcomes all with open arms and a caring heart. I carefully moved Mary to a permanent place where her loving arms could remind me of this all year long; that I want to have open arms and an open heart and not fear those who might hurt my feelings or act in ways with which I am unfamiliar. 

As I carefully wrapped and packed lovingly handmade figures, many given to me by dear friends and family, I was gently reminded not to pack away their friendships or my love for them. My relationships with those I know and love is important to me, so while I carefully pack the mementos away, I want to remember to create more memories that give these mementos greater meaning next year. I want to find greater joy as I unpack next year and place the keepsakes out for a rejoicing celebration. 

The last item to be packed each year is a large rustic manger lined with raffia hay. The manger is empty- the cloth 'baby' is packed with the nativity costumes. I considered the symbol of this empty manger, as I look forward to the Savior's return to earth again. Am I ready? What is the condition of my heart and how will I feel when He returns? These questions are part of the pondering path I have traveled in preparation for the coming new year. As I place the manger in the shed and close and lock the door, I remind myself that next year when I begin the preparation for Christmas, that empty manger will be the first thing I see. My heart is filled, my soul wants to do all I can to be ready to welcome Him...welcome Him always. 
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the Kings depart.
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
A humble and a contrite heart.

(God of Our Fathers, text by Rudyard Kipling, Hymns, 80)

My heart is lighter now, my rooms a little less crowded with animals and figures bowing in reverence. I never want to forget or pack away the reverence that I've learned and felt this day and this season. How thankful I am for His Divine Love always, and Christmas time in particular! With a humble heart, I turn the page of a New Year and a page in my hymnbook to find words for today: 

Press on, enduring in the ways of Christ.
His love proclaim through days of mortal strife.
Thus saith our God: "Ye have eternal Life!"
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

(Press Forward, Saints, text by Marvin K. Gardner, Hymns, 81)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Where the Dandelions Grow

Last weekend, I took a little break to do some traveling with dear friends. My companions were ladies of great faith and full of fun, ladies I am blessed to call my friends. We share a the common bond of widowhood, and they are each an inspiration and blessing in my life. It was not by accident that we have found each other, but that is a story for another day.

On this day, we are visiting some historic Arizona homes and some pre-historic Arizona forests (otherwise known as petrified). The perseverance of both pioneers and tall trees is amazing. I am awed and inspired thinking of the faith and fortitude of those who’ve gone before, and realize that even hard times make for beautiful people and crystal forests.

As we trekked about the northern reaches of our state, I spotted this large rock, nearly as tall as I am, in the middle of a carefully manicured lawn. The beautiful home behind it was surrounded by huge elegant hydrangeas. But for the plaque mounted upon it, this large black rock seemed out of place. And the greenery that adorned it seemed even more out of place: a lowly dandelion!

“Weeds grow anywhere!” I thought. (True, isn’t it? I’m always pulling weeds!) Then I thought of toddler hands, gathering yellow flowered dandy-lion bouquets as gifts. I looked again at this stately, fluffy headed ‘flower’, the fluff of many a child’s wishes. The rock soil of this little dandelion was strong enough to provide all that was needed for its growth and this little flower is about to explode! What can I learn from dandelions that grow in tough spots? Keep the Faith! Keep growing!

“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”(Ether 12:4)

And now, as I look over the pictures from our trip, I am reminded of dandelions and pioneers and widow ladies, all of whom have mounted rocky climes in life and bloomed beautifully!

"You have nothing to fear from the journey,
Though your way may be burdened by thorns.
For the Lord will be with you each step of the way
As you travel with faith through the storm.
And you've nothing to fear from your trials,
Though they may seem too heavy to bear.
Take His hand and He'll lead you gently along
And you'll find peace and safety there.

There is nothing to fear from the nights that are lonely,
There's nothing to fear from the cold!
and there's nothing to fear from what might be tomorrow,
For heaven is with you, And angels watch over His fold."

(You Have Nothing to Fear by Rob Gardner)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Prayers and Giggles

"Daddy, will you tuck me in?" Bedtime stories and hugs from my dad were the best, but this night I had a different plan. I think now, that if my Dad had known what trickery was in my innocent mind, he would have done things differently. My five year old heart had decided, with the added ammunition of a little book I'd received while visiting a church with our neighbors, I was going to ask my dad. It never occurred to me that Daddy probably didn't do much praying. I wanted to learn, I assumed he could show me. Don't Daddies know everything? 

"Oh?" And "Hmm" were Daddy's first responses. I showed him the little booklet of prepared prayers. There were the usual mealtime prayers everyone knew: 
God is great, God is good, 
Let us thank Him for our food.
And then there were other prayers for bedtime. Until that little book, I'd never thought of praying at night before bed. Daddy looked through the book and showed me one, "What about this one." Suddenly I was gripped with an odd thought. If I needed to read the prayer, how could I close my eyes to pray? Well, besides the fact that I couldn't read all the words yet.
"Yeah, that one!" And handing the book back to Daddy I said, "You read it" 
Daddy grunted uncomfortably, "This is your prayer, you should say it." 
"What does it say?" I asked. And as Daddy read the rhyming verse, I had another odd thought: this prayer doesn't really match what I think.  "No....I don't like that one. Can't I just say what I want? Do prayers have to be from the book?", I asked. 

Long pause. Daddy's eyes got a little moist, I could tell. "Sure" He said, "you say whatever you want. I think God listens to all prayers." 

And then suddenly, I ruined it. Yep. I got the giggles. And Daddy lost his patience. "I think you're too silly to pray," and he kissed my forehead, patting my head as he turned to leave the room. 

It was a long time before I thought about praying again. At least, in a serious way. We said 'Grace' over our meals sometimes, but otherwise prayer was rarely mentioned or discussed. Not until I was much, much older. Not until after we started going to Church and Daddy started going with us. Not until then did prayers became a little more common place around our house.

Although I'm sure I sat through many, many lessons about prayer after that, I don't think I took it too seriously until I was in my early teens. Sure, I had prayed and received answers before that. The embers of my faith were fanned into a tender flame through prayer. But it took years to learn not just how to pray, but what to ask for. The scriptures remind us to 'ask not amiss', and I learned that asking the right questions was important. I learned, after weeks of begging the Lord for miracles, that neither I nor He could interfere with the agency of others. Over the trials and tears of life, I learned that giving thanks for those trials and challenges endowed me with the ability to see the good in them. I learned that when I pleaded with the Lord to deliver me from sorrow, His promise was often not deliverance but instead it was His constant companionship. "I will be right beside you, all the way." was the constant reminder as life situations changed. I have learned that prayer is so much more than a child's poem to be recited day after day, night after night. My prayers are the sacred words of my heart on wing directly to the heart of my Heavenly Father. No worldly noise can interfere. Over and over again, prayer has been the gentle hand that opens my eyes to the beauty in the world around me. 

Abide with me; 'tis eventide, 
and lone will be the night 
If I cannot commune with thee 
nor find in thee my light.

(Abide With Me; 'Tis Eventide, Hymns, No. 165, text by M. Lowrie Hofford)

I am still learning and practicing the art of prayer. A few months after Robert passed away, I realized that because of the change in our morning routine of praying together before I said my morning prayers, and also due to the "widow's fog", I had neglected those morning prayers. A return to that routine, even though the prayers themselves were anything but routine, and the fog began to lift. It is a constant learning process, I think. And He listens to all of it. Sometimes the answers are immediate, sometimes they are not. But prayerful moments always leave me filled with peace. 

Bright and happy mornings, gratitude filled days, sorrowful sunsets and sleepless nights, I have been able to express the desires of my heart to my Heavenly Father and He has lifted me up through all of it.  I can share whatever I feel, He loves me anyway. From the morning planning meeting as I begin the day, to the evening return and report, He fills me with peace. Through prayer I am reminded that I am loved with an Infinite Love.

He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching
In my Gethsemane,
Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace He finds
For my beseeching.
Constant He is and Kind,
Love without end.

(Where Can I Turn For Peace, Hymns, No. 129, text by Emma Lou Thayne)

In time I not only heard my dad pray, but as his own faith flame grew, I saw that he too, understood the power of prayer. Now, as I look back at my first nervous, attempted prayer filled with uncontrollable giggles and I realize that Daddy's words were more true than he knew at the time, "You say whatever you want...God listens to all prayers." 

Daddies know everything.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sometimes a Mountain Gets in the Way

My granddaughter Miss Cass and I recently spent a weekend at a wonderful mountain cabin (ok, her mom and dad and brothers came along, too, along with her Aunt Jen), just for the fun of it. Miss Cass loves 'forest and trees', and time in the mountains. I noticed how happy she and her brother were to explore everything in sight, picking up rocks, pine cones, rocks, flowers and more rocks. They were blissfully unaware of the efforts of their parents to pack, plan and prepare for this wonderful weekend together. I especially loved taking little walks with them, around mountain lakes, watching as they gathered more happy memories and cool things (rocks!). Miss Cass is safe and happy because others who love her are beside her. At the water's edge we found cattails, which provoked memories of me as a tearful child when my own gathered cattail exploded in the car. I made a mental note: Sometimes, even grand mountain adventures are accompanied by disappointment. Still, Miss Cass and I both love the mountains.

Somewhere there’s a mountain
with flowers in the spring
I will take my shoes off
and wade the mountain stream.
And it’s a long, long way to walk,
but one day I’ll climb to the top.
(Somewhere There’s a Mountain, Jason Deere)

 I recalled the excitement I felt as a child when my family made the trip to my grandmother's mountain cabin. As I grew older, I became more aware of the effort it took to climb the mountain. Still, I begged my parents to make the effort, because I wanted the  gentle peace I knew I would find while I was there. I am not alone in this desire for peace-finding. My sisters and cousins also loved the sacred mountain cabin built by my grandfather. They, like prophets of old, and many others all over the world, have sought solace on the mountain tops. The Savior himself climbed rocky paths towards God.

"And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone."(Matthew 14:23)

Lately I have longed for the feeling of times past, a feeling of greater joy in climbing the mountains of life. I find too many mountainous days that are far too rugged for my weary climbing skills. When I stand at the base and look up, I am overwhelmed and wonder how I'll ever climb that far. I don't want to make the effort. I want the carefree adventure Miss Cass has, rather than the adventure in front of me, completely forgetting that Miss Cass is surrounded by peace because she knows her Dad and Mom are beside her and will help her when the climb gets rough or her gathered cat tails burst into fluff.  Then the Lord gently reminds me: I, too, am promised strength for the climb! The scriptures are filled with those promises, but the words of God to Joshua are some of my favorite, “...I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." (Joshua 1:5)

If you had the choice between walking alone or walking hand in hand with God, which would you choose? Me too.

As I daily kneel before Him, He faithfully and constantly offers His hand, and I am strengthened. Strengthened along the rocky mountain ledges, carried through thickly forested paths where the light is dim. He lifts me over huge jagged boulders with strength greater than my own. When I choose to follow Him, sacred things happen in the mountains. On this day, with children and grandchildren beside me, I am lifted by the Spirit, and the peace returns.

Joyfully, I realize that the blessing of increased faith and strength, the nearness I feel to my Savior, have all made it worth the climb.

 “I lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” 
(Psalms 121:1) 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pioneers of a Different Kind

First off, you have to know that my mother did family history work. That is almost an understatement. To say she did it is like saying streams run down mountains. My mother did rivers of family history research. To prove it, I can show you five large books that are the result of her work. A mountain of published books written by my mother about our ancestors, each one at least two inches thick!

I remember helping to search through graveyards and microfilm, looking for names, dates, birthplaces, marriages. Sometimes there was success. Mostly I was bored. Once we had a class at church about it. It seemed that my friends all had ancestors who were Pioneers. I wanted a Pioneer ancestor! I wanted ties to someone who trekked for miles with a handcart or a wagon. You know, the ones they sing songs about? I remember asking my mother, but she had not found any of those handcart folks in our ancestry. None. My youthful desire to know more was crushed.

You don't have to push a handcart,
Leave your fam'ly dear,
Or walk a thousand miles or more
To be a pioneer!

(To Be A Pioneer, text by Ruth Muir Gardner)

It has taken a trek of decades, but I have discovered pioneers of a different sort. My grandparents, my father’s parents, were modern pioneers from the midwest. They left dusty Illinois and made a trek of their own, to the clear California air (ironic, isn't it?). It is there that they made camp and where my grandfather built a large apartment complex in Inglewood and a beautiful cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains. That much I know for sure. I realized there are gaps in what I know, and I wanted to know more.

My Grandpa Fisher died when I was four years old, shortly after completing construction of that cabin in the woods. My younger sisters never knew him on this earth. On my family photo wall hangs their original wedding picture. A daily reminder of my grandmother. She was widowed fairly young..,younger than I am now. Nearly all of my memories are of her as a single woman. Just as we marvel at the strength of handcart pioneers, I have marveled at my grandmother’s strength. I wonder how she managed. I remember visiting her regularly in that Inglewood apartment which she now managed alone, my Dad working on her car, fixing this or that. I know my Aunt and Uncle helped her in the same ways. I realized how much we are alike and how much we have in common...and those are two different things. My boys, including step-sons, are always willing to help, just as my Dad helped Grandma, I am filled with a sudden deep gratitude for all of them and their service. But I wonder still, how did she do it?

My Grandma is the pioneer in my family! We are alike in that we are both gregarious people. She loved to travel, as do I. So many little things I find myself doing that I recognize as her habits. But still I wonder, did she lean on her faith? Did she struggle to adjust her cooking to just for one person? Did she find it hard to sleep sometimes? When her little poodle greeted her as she came home from work, did she wish for someone else’s greeting? How I wish she had written something…..

This will never resolve for me. Those who are gone are gone; we don’t suddenly find their thoughts written in places they did not write them.

But I can write. You can write too! Why leave our children wondering what we did to make it through? We can leave a record for our children’s children’s children (mine is this blog). A record of all of our thoughts and dreams. Our treks through mountains and along rivers, our valleys of mistakes, our triumphs on the peaks. The Joy we have in our posterity (wow…think of that, our children’s children reading about how we loved them!).

And like pioneers of old, I hope to leave a testimony of what gets me through. In every time and season, I want my beloveds to know this:
There is no experience or situation on earth that you cannot get through when you look to God. His promises are sure. He keeps his covenants, so when you keep your covenants with Him, everything will turn out for good. Even when you cannot, with your earthly eyes, see the result, I promise, it will all work out. That’s the faith of a pioneer….knowing God leads the way.