Sunday, December 2, 2012

Joseph and the Lost Sheep

I have been hunting for lost sheep. And Joseph, who left his lantern sitting by the manger (he also left his beard behind, but that makes this post too funny). I don't mind, really, I don't. I have come to accept this annual rite. In fact, I think it's an important thing that I encourage the tradition. Let me explain...

Like most families, our Christmas decorations include a nativity scene. Hmmm... well, that's an understatement, but when my kids were younger, we had one that they could play with made of fabric and a few others that were placed on higher shelves (you from the toddler known as 'the climber'). The idea was to give them one they could touch, and hopefully they would leave the others alone. We even played a game with our fabric nativity. We would send a child out of the room, and then hide the Baby Jesus, then bring the child back into the room and sing songs, either softly or loudly, leading them to find the hidden Jesus. We talked about how we feel when we find Jesus and a few other 'object lesson' type ideas. And of course, we read the story of the Savior's birth. I let them play with that scene as much as they wanted. And I learned not to be irritated when the figures had to be located after someone carted them off for other purposes.

It came as no surprise then, when one day I found the figures of the nativity set on top of the piano arranged into some sort of football game, with Mary as the quarterback. Really! :) I thought it was creative- one of the wise men already had his hand in the air, as if he were about to throw a pass...what else would a sports-minded boy think of? And besides...what that really told me was that they were LOOKING at the nativity scene! (Yes, I know...sometimes I'm easily pleased) How could I complain?

Is this a serious post? Perhaps I should leave out the tale of a son and daughter-in-law swiping all the Baby Jesus' and wrapping them together for the family white elephant gift exchange? (Yes, I laughed. No, I wasn't mad. Yes, Robert picked them first so I could pick them second and keep them!)

Fast forward a decade (two?). The number of nativity scenes has grown...there are now several set out where Grandkids can play with them. I love to see what happens when they play with them... Usually the figures, previously arranged by me (artistically, I might add), have been rearranged into something more, um, real. One granddaughter, who adores animals, left her mark...the animals surrounded the Baby Jesus and the wise men were left outside the sacred circle.

Tonight, the children have been here again. I had left one scene just for them to set up. It's one of those toys with millions (I kid you not) of tiny pieces...each figure has hair, hats, cuffs, get the idea. The children shared the pieces, each making their own scene. The wise men traded hats, the cats were fought over, but overall, a good time was had by all. So after they left, I checked to see what arrangement had been settled on and discovered the missing Joseph's beard and lantern...and of course, I couldn't find the lost sheep. Four sheep, and a shorn Joseph. Hmmmm...

And so, at 11 pm, I am hunting for sheep. Let me rephrase that. I am on my hands and knees hunting for white sheep in the white deep shag rug. And it hits me...

This is what He does, isn't it? He is my Shepherd, and He looks for me when I am lost. He doesn't care what time it is or what He has to do, He rescues me. I think that Joseph doesn't need his lantern because he knows The Lord is His light. It's too serious for words. I stop and say a prayer... And when I find the sheep, and Joseph, I rejoice. How great is His joy when any of His children come unto him? And as I carefully restore Joseph and the sheep to their places, I think how wonderful it is that He restores me.

"And our eyes at last shall see Him, through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle is our Lord in Heav'n above,
And He leads His children on to the place where He is gone."
Why would I ever change such a lovely tradition? I hope the children play with the nativities more.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, November 26, 2012

Crying in Church

If you know me well, you know that I hate to cry in public. It's just something I try to avoid. Consequently grieving in public is sometimes hard. One minute you're fine, then you bump into someone you haven't seen since the funeral, and...either they cry or you do. It's unavoidable.

I expected the holidays to be a bit of a challenge this year, with Robert gone, but I also knew that nothing would lift my spirits (and perhaps prevent the dreaded public tears) more than remembering my Savior and the gift of His birth, so I jumped right in. In fact, I almost couldn't wait to get going! I started setting nativities out. I did. And the Christmas music, I started that too. And it helped... I found great peace in arranging the nativity figures, thinking about Jesus' birth and all the while planning Christmas activities with grand kids.

But, I didn't want to skip Thanksgiving, in fact I wanted to be sure I gave thanks daily and focused on my blessings. I knew that would lift my spirits as well....and it did! I found joy in thinking of the many people in my life whom I loved and loved me. I found joy in small things and big things. All of this lifted my soul. I sailed right through Thanksgiving Day without too many tears. I was pleased..."I'm doing ok," I thought.

One of my favorite songs is Grateful by John Bucchino (I have a blog post about it), I found myself singing the song over and over in my head. I realize now that I never quite made it through the line about, "I feel a Hand holding my hand, it's not a hand you can see, but on the road to the Promised Land, that hand will shepherd me." I surely have felt the Shepherd's hand...and here I am, setting up sheep in nativity sets! The scriptures teach that giving thanks for all that we do have, even in difficult times, will bring us closer to our Heavenly Father. Maybe thats what happened, maybe the tender gratefulness opened my heart, I'm not sure, but i was not prepared for what happened on Sunday.

You know how little things sometimes pile up and conspire together? That was Sunday. For the first time since the funeral, I sat in church alone. The first Sunday back to church after Robert's passing, my oldest son brought his sweet family and joined me, knowing my first meeting alone would be hard. On that Sunday he was running late, though, so I went in and saved a seat...but as soon as the singing began I sent him a text saying, "This is harder than i thought". After that first Sunday, I found people to sit with...that helped. But on this Thanksgiving Sunday, most of my friends were out of town, so I sat by myself. No biggie...I've done it before, right? And then came the talks about gratitude. The sacred words of truth fell on my heart and opened my tear ducts...and..well...I cried through the whole meeting. I found it interesting that I could smile, be thankful and then cry because Robert was gone and I missed having him beside me to share it with. They weren't tears of sadness really, they were tears of grateful feelings. Gratitude so big, I felt like singing. I have been so blessed! I give thanks, and in the process discover more blessings! More blessings, more tears. More gratitude and a renewed desire to serve others, to share His Good News. More good feelings, More tears.

On the way home, the words of another Christmas carol crept into my thoughts.

"What shall we give to the Babe in the manger, what shall we offer the child in the stall? Incense and spices and gold we've got plenty, are these the gifts for the King of us all?

"What shall we give to the boy in the temple, what shall we offer the Man by the sea? Palms at his feet and hosannas uprising, are gifts for Him who will carry the Tree.

"What shall we give to the Lamb who was offered, rising the third day and shedding His love? Tears for his mercy we'll weep at the manger, bathing the infant come down from above."

I guess crying in Church isn't such a bad thing, after all.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, November 5, 2012

The String Around My Finger

My grandma tied a string around her finger. A simple piece of twine in a nice little bow. I asked her what the bow on her finger was for and she said it was to remind her of something important she wanted to remember. I liked it. I didn’t really need to remember anything (I was 6), but I wanted a bow on my finger too, so she made one. It did remind me of something, though…that my grandma loved me and would do (almost) anything to make me happy.

My life is filled with reminders. Pictures remind me of good times and my beautiful family, of those here with me and those who’ve gone on to the next part of eternity. A beautiful wood bowl turned by my late husband reminds me of his love for nature, for his family and for me. He made gifts of some of his bowls to those who helped or served him. Those people now have symbols of his gratitude to them. We sometimes decorate our homes with symbols to remind us of things. We wear jewelry or clothing with symbols, as well. Heavenly Father loves symbols, too. Remember the rainbow? A symbol of His promise to Noah? There are symbols all around us, if we look for them. All of creation is a symbol to us of His love for us. The symbols around me strike a chord within me that helps me remember God and His love for me and to feel peace.

Sometimes I choose funny symbols. Shortly after Robert and I were married, I was with a group of women who were discussing, not in a mean way, just a gentle discussion of the things about their spouses that could become an irritation. One friend mentioned that her husband’s snoring had often driven her to another room at night. I smiled. Robert snored. It’s legendary (he would even admit to it!). You could hear him from other rooms (the nurses in the hospital kept his room door closed and they could still hear), so moving to a different room wouldn’t have made any difference. When the noise broke into my dreams at night, I would wake and think to myself, “Oh yes! I have an amazing husband who loves me very much and has answered every prayer in my heart!” Then I would smile and go back to sleep. The snoring never bothered me (police helicopters overhead of equal decibels, however, those bothered me). I said this aloud to my friends, who laughed and said, “You’re just a newlywed and ‘in love’”. That may have been true, but the snoring was a string around my finger to remind me of something beautiful and wonderful. How could I complain? It all depends on how you want to look at things.

"My life flows on in endless song, above earth's lamentation.
I catch the sweet, tho' far off hymn that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing,
It finds an echo in my soul; how can I keep from singing?"

There are sad things, hard things, that happen in life. We sometimes make symbols to help us remember those things, too. That same beautiful handmade wood bowl reminds me that Robert has moved into the next life. But because it also reminds me of his love and service, it doesn’t make me sad to look at it, rather, I feel blessed to share his journey and see his example. It inspires me. It really does depend on how you look at things, and so often that can be a choice (like the snoring?).
"What though my joys and comfort die; The Lord, my Savior, liveth!
And though the darkness gather 'round, Songs in the night He giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, While to that refuge clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?"

I met a woman a few weeks ago who was widowed two years ago. The friend who introduced us commented that we could cry together. The woman lifted her left hand to display her wedding ring and said, "I miss my husband, but every time I look at this ring on my finger, I remember how much we loved each other and how happy we were together, and it makes me smile. How can I be sad when I've had a love most people never enjoy?" I agreed with her completely! But I had to add to her comment, "This life is just for a time, I will see my sweetheart again. That knowledge gives me real joy!"

Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "With the bountiful blessings of our Heavenly Father, His generous plan of salvation, the supernal truths of the restored gospel, and the many beauties of this mortal journey, “have we not reason to rejoice?”

"I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin, I see the blue above it!
And day by day this pathway smooths since first I learned to love it.
The Peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing,
All things are mine since I am His; How can I keep from singing?"

Like the string around my grandmother's finger, I am surrounded by people and things that are daily reminders of God's love for me. I know He is real. How can I keep from singing?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, October 7, 2012

It is Wonderful!

I love hearing the Prophets and Apostles speak. I love reading the scriptures, reviewing over and over again the sacred words that bring me peace; but I especially appreciate the peace and understanding that fill my heart and soul when I hear the Prophet and Apostles speak. This has been especially true the last few weeks.

Last Saturday was especially hard. I don't know that any one thing happened to make it hard, but a cloud of silly little things just kept getting bigger and bigger...until it rained on my parade and made me cry. I had carefully planned bunches of things to do, but at every turn was confronted with some inability to complete the task, reminding me that I had been left alone, and I would think, "If Robert were here, he would've done this," or "Robert would've been able to fix this."

My large collection of Nativity sets required larger storage space in my new home than was available. I purchased a large shed and ordered the installation for Saturday morning, thinking I could move the boxes piled in the garage into the new shed by the afternoon and be able to park the car in my garage by the evening (that's a big deal!). In my mind, I pictured a beautiful building that would fit within a certain space in the side yard and would hold all of the storage boxes filled with nativity sets. But the shed installers called mid-morning saying they would be late. They finally arrived in the late afternoon, finishing their work moments before I was to have left for a meeting. They asked me to look at the shed before I signed off on the installation. I walked outside and the picture in my mind shattered with the reality of what I had asked for- a long, squat building (HOA compliant!) that took more of the side yard space than I realized and didn't even look as lovely as I had hoped. Can you say eyesore? (to be fair, it IS beautiful and had even been painted, it just wasn't lovely when compared with the rest of the beautifully landscaped yard). I immediately resented that I was having to deal with any of this...and thought if Robert was here, none of it would have happened!

As I returned to the house, I recognized the stage of grief for what it was, gathered my courage and pasted my smile on as I prepared to attend the broadcast of the General Relief Society meeting. I was excited to meet new Relief Society sisters and greet old friends, and I looked forward to hearing the speakers. I tried to forget the new reality residing in my back yard. I rejoiced in seeing my wonderful and beautiful Sisters in Christ. We gathered to listen to the Relief Society leaders and an apostle of the Lord. My smile was still glued in place. I was safe. Or so I thought.

The meeting began, the Spirit filled the room, and began to overflow my heart, filling my eyes with tears. Every single speaker spoke of someone who had lost a loved one in death and the comfort of Christ's Atonement. At first, my frustration was stuck. I knew this truth, I knew it well! But I found myself almost wanting to remain stuck in my frustration and resisted the peace that was trying to swim upstream through my tears. I found i could barely sing the intermediate hymn. During the hymn, my thoughts wandered back to an experience during the rehearsal for Savior of the World, when the actors found themselves overwhelmed with the emotion of their testimony, and as directors we would remind them to feel the emotion but to harness it as they spoke. I sang with emotion and felt my testimony stream down my cheeks. "Oh, it is wonderful! That He should care for me enough to die for me! Oh it is wonderful! Wonderful to me!" I stopped trying to dry my tears with tissues and let them flow down my cheeks freely. I was reminded then that the Sacrifice so lovingly and agonizingly made in the Garden of Gethsemane was made especially for pain and sorrow had already been suffered. I could remain upset and frustrated, or I could allow the Sacrifice to fill the empty spaces and renew my soul. And that is what I wanted... I wanted to feel joy when recalling the sacred memories of my life on earth with Robert. I knew I would be reminded daily of Robert's love and care for me, and I wanted to honor that. I no longer wanted to be upset that he was gone, because I knew and had known for years that all of this was part of the Lord's plan in our lives. And because of that understanding, I knew I would receive all the assistance I needed if I would ask in prayer.

After the singing, Elder Henry B. Eyring spoke of exactly that... his words reminded me that I had been watched over and comforted by many, many people. In the final days that Robert was here, a miniature army materialized, doing things we needed and asked for as well as many things we did not know we needed. Robert liked to say that his 'half-full cup overflowed with blessings', and that truly had happened to us! We endured the trials because of the great unmatched love of our Savior, manifested as love and service given by those around us. My testimony of the Lord's love for me personally was renewed as I thought of those many kindnesses. And, of course, the tears flowed again! So much so that my new friend, Peggy, whispered to me that she knew hearing these speakers was difficult. I responded that it was difficult but good. It is wonderful! I am amazed at the way the Lord works in my life. I am loved by many people, including my sweet husband, but most importantly, I am loved by my Heavenly Father. And it is wonderful!

"I think of His hands, pierced and bleeding to pay the debt.
Such mercy, such love and devotion, can I forget?
No, no! I will praise and adore at the mercy seat until at the glorified throne I kneel at His feet.
Oh, it is wonderful, that He should care for me enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful! Wonderful to me!"

My heart is healed, and while I will continue to miss my husband daily, even hourly, I know that I will be joyfully reunited with him again. I have all that I need. I am truly blessed. And with that peace, I desire to spend my time sharing the Love of God with all those around me. I know in Whom I trust. He will lead me along as I do.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The more things change....

Many people dislike change. Sometimes I am one of them. Change can be painful. Even when it looks good on the surface. That is the case for me this last month.

I wanted to stay right where I was. I liked my cute little house with the poppy covered mailbox and the Christmas shed built by my sweetheart. I wanted to stay near dear friends and to have everything just be the same. Except it wasn't the same. My sweetheart is not physically present and that makes a huge difference. For reasons I won't go into here, I knew there was only one choice; I couldn't stay.

Nervously, I began looking for another house. I reconsidered many times, but each time I did, something would happen to let me know I needed to move and that it was ok. True to the way Robert and I did things, the entire process moved fairly quickly once I settled into acceptance. People asked how I could leave. How could I stay? Isn't it hard to stay in the house with all those memories? It was harder to move away and be all alone. My sweetheart, confidant and caretaker was gone- unable to do things for me as he had in the past. Every move to a new home is filled with tons of little handyman projects- connect the washing machine; why isn't the hot water heater running; this needs to be mounted to the wall; this hose fitting doesn't work here; oh, that's what the AC sounds like in the middle of the night; this little thing, that little thing. The part of my life who did half of the little things wasn't present, and at every turn I was reminded of that. I would have much rather stayed right where I was and be reminded of it in familiar surroundings. As if facing hard things is easier when we are in our comfort box.

And then there are our children. They knew all the reasons, and they knew there was no choice. My kids were supportive, knowing how hard it was for everyone. His kids were supportive, even when it was hard for them. I'm sure it is and will be a bit strange to see familiar things in new surroundings. Just as it does for me, I'm sure it reminds them of the reason for the change. And it makes me want to be with them, all of them. To share happy things with them, and continue the living in the way Robert wants.

I have been so busy this week that I have not met this change with the same plan as I usually meet hard changes. As I reviewed the last couple of weeks, I recognized the hand of the Lord prominently in all that has happened. That alone gives me comfort. I've also received two blessings, one from a Priesthood leader and one from my sons which have reminded me of the need to greet the changes in my life as the next step and find joy in service and in my family. "Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal." What a gift!

And so this week I am making new plans for new traditions, new happy memories with old familiar things. My friends may live further away, but they are still here and still treasures in my life. I actually live closer to almost all of our kids (they call that Fortuosity). And as I look around me, I am looking forward to spending time with each and every one of our children and grandchildren- breakfasts, barbecues, dinners and more. I feel loved and happy and not nearly so alone. My life is rich with beautiful people. I am loved, not only by my sweetheart, but by my Heavenly Father. I am comforted by His Grace. And that has never changed.

"I love this life, even when it hurts;
Even when I'm weary from the race.
The Power of Heaven lifts me up in this day of Grace."

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

For My Children

What a time we can have with grief. I don't know about you, but for me, I want to surround myself in the comfort of familiar things, things that remind me of my sweetheart. His shoes on the closet floor, his hat on the shelf, his journal and scriptures near the bed...everything is almost the same, as if he never left. Seeing his familiar things makes the space created by his absence not quite so, um, empty. Our home is filled with a mix of things that have become 'Us'. Treasures from his time in South America and Samoa, treasures from my passion for Church History, indications of our mutual love for music, and walls filled with pictures of our families, the real treasures of our lives. Even now each day I am surrounded by sweet familiar comfort. Each morning and evening, sitting at the table he made brings me comfort too...he touched this table, therefore he is still present.
Now I do believe that he is certainly present, watching and blessing his loved ones from the other side. While I don't need the table to feel comfort, it helps. Stability in a table. :)
His children want comfort too. They want, even need to have some of his things. In the same way that I gain comfort from the sameness of having these things near me, they want and need to have reminders of his presence in their lives. This becomes problematic. There is only one table. The table is central to their memories. There were several bookcases made by him...most of which the children have put to use in their homes. But there is only one table. And his children have said they want the table, too. What to do? Hmmmmm
As usual, my answer came in a song. Neil Diamond was in town and I lucked out with an invitation to his concert from my sweet daughters-in-law. Oh, the memories! Oh the rhythmic, happy music! I was literally dancing in my seat. :) And then...well, what are the chances he would sing a rather obscure song, one that I had fallen in love with many years ago, Morningside. A song about a man who died and left a handmade treasure for his children.

"And the legs were shaped with his hands
And the top made of oaken wood
And all of the children who gathered around this great table touched it with their laughter.
Ah, and that was good...
And when he died he left a table made of nails and pride
And with his hands he carved these words inside, 'For my children'."

I sat in that concert and cried. Dumb, I know.

Now really, the song is about leaving legacies. And Robert did that. He left a lifelong example of faith, devotion and service. He loved and served everyone he met. I knew what he wanted his children to remember; he wanted them to remember to love others more than themselves, and to serve God with all their hearts. He left lasting treasures in the many friendships he created, as well as the beautiful works of his hands. Treasures from his heart. Those treasures should be quite enough for anyone to have.

He also left treasures he made with his hands. And just as having things of his that remind me of him bring me comfort, having these things he made with his hands would also bring his children comfort and hopefully remind them of the real treasures of his life, the treasures from his heart he hoped they would remember. I have loved the times with Robert, with children and grandchildren around that table. Meals, games, pumpkin carving, coloring pictures, beautiful memories have been made around that table. Those memories bring me joy. Neil Diamond reminded me of that. The table belongs to me, but it was made for his children. So in a few days, Brenda will bring her car and take away the treasure left by her father. I will miss using it daily...that will be hard. But when I do, I will think about how our grandchildren will still gather around it, and it will always be good. I will find joy in thinking about how when the children talk about Grandpa, who made the table, they will talk about all the good things he did, and how he loved God and served others, and...that will be good, too.

"And with his hands he carved these words inside, 'For my children'"

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Joy IS Full

I'm not sure I can gather my thoughts into anything useful tonight, but for me, putting things on (virtual) paper is always therapeutic, if only to get them written out so I can organize them and decide which thoughts are good. :)
C.S. Lewis said, "No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek, find." Hmmmm. I have always believed that is true, that sometimes, maybe even most of the time, joy is readily available in our lives, and sometimes we have to search to find it. Sometimes sadness or hard times obscures the light of Joy, but it is always available to us. Today, I am trying hard to find it. I am, sad. So sad. And feeling alone. My sisters have come to stay for a few days following my husband's funeral, and I still feel alone.
Pedicures today were fun, but there was no one at home to notice the new 'flowers' and pink polish. ☹
We've eaten almost nothing but salads all week, and no one complains that we need a good steak. ☹
Combing through cooking magazines is no fun- who am I going to cook for? This fresh new widow-hood makes me feel like I'm standing in mud. My feet feel squishy and if I lift one foot from the mud, the other is certain to slide away. I don't like to wallow in anything, be it mud or sadness (ok, sand on the beach is different). I am going to have to adjust, I know. I can feel my soul looking for the joy in the little things. My mind wanders the memories of happy times past...sitting on the piano bench, I remember practicing piano duets with my sweetheart and how much fun we had together. I notice the artwork on the walls of our home, nearly every piece is something we chose together, each one with a special meaning and happy experience to go with it. Even the melodic 'tuned' windchimes on the back patio evoke a special memory that lifts the corner of sadness and allows a sliver of happy light to shine through. That little glow leads me to scripture, where I have sought and received comfort many, many times before.
And it is there, in scripture that I am reminded of the one true source of Joy.
" Wherefore, fear not even unto death, for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full." D & C 101:36
In Him my joy is full.
One thing I've learned is that the language of scripture is no mistake. So I notice that the scripture says my joy IS full, not that it will be full. IS means now; currently. Not something far off, but something very now.
I also notice the familiar command, 'Fear Not'. I have learned to welcome new opportunities for growth and be unafraid. I am learning how the infinite power of my Savior's atonement enables me to do hard things. I can continue in this life, even doing the things that brought me joy before, brought us joy together. Because of that infinite atonement, I have a promise of great joy- when I am reunited with my sweetheart, yes, but also in this life. My joy IS full- in all the things that brought me joy before. My Savior's love has filled in the gaps and lifted my feet from the squishy mud. I stand on firm ground. This is a process, yes, but the sliver of light has now filled the entire window, and my joy truly is full.
"And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee, How great thou art, How great thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee,
How great thou art, How great Thou art!"
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Friday, July 27, 2012

Christmas in July

If it were up to me, I'd celebrate Christmas all year long. I mean, really, what's not to celebrate? For me, I doubt it would ever grow old. Besides, I love, love, love Christmas Music. I have always felt it is God's special way of speaking to me, of bringing peace and joy (notice the Christmas words?) to my soul.
And on this particularly hard, sad day in July, that is what has happened.
This afternoon, my eternal sweetheart passed from this life. He was the greatest, most kind, selfless man I have ever known. His final acts were of service to me and to his beloved children. Ours was a love story filled with sacred events that led us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were meant to be together in this life and in eternity. Even after his cancer diagnosis two months after our wedding, we shared a blissful life and gave thanks daily for our love and marriage.
As Robert's mortal body slowed down, we decided that home was the best place to be, so we left the hospital and went home to hospice care. The first days were miraculous as Robert spent his energy attending the wedding of his youngest son. Doctors, friends and family banded together to make it happen and it was amazing. His face beamed with joy as the sacred vows were uttered. At home again, the cancer took it's toll, and on this day, nearly two weeks later, he passed away. Once again, God's hand was evident, and peace enveloped our home in his final hours. Our children (his and mine) expressed their love for him, grief at the loss, and the Comforter was present. Sweet grandchildren sang to me via the Internet, "I Am A Child of God." Once again, friends and family gave sacred service to us in our time of need, which deepened the peace.
But that didn't make going to bed alone this night any easier. I reasoned with myself that I had slept alone in the house, our house, before during Robert's lengthy hospital stays. It didn't change the new and different alone feeling I felt. I decided some music would help my mind relax. This night I tuned my iTunes to William Joseph's newest CD, Be Still. And I cried. I cried through Be Still My Soul, and Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I counted blessings, and cried some more. I prayed, giving thanks for this beloved man who entered my life and healed my heart. I reminded myself of the Good News of the Gospel, and as the peace descended upon me once again, the piano sang the perfect answer:
"Silent Night, Holy Night! All is calm, all is bright!... Sleep in Heavenly Peace! Sleep in Heavenly Peace!" Ah, yes! The perfect reminder of the One we look to for our salvation, without whom we would have no Hope of an eternal life with those we love most; "Son of God, Love's pure Light radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming Grace. Jesus, Lord, at thy birth. Jesus, Lord, at thy birth."
Yes, I will miss my husband for the remainder of my days on this earth. But I have a certain knowledge that we will be reunited again, and I give thanks for my Savior who sacrificed to make that possible. It is His loving example that my husband followed all his life, and because of that, I have Peace and Joy.
I have always loved Christmas in July.
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Friday, June 15, 2012

Swimming in the Summertime

My grandmother owned the most awesome swimming pool. She owned an apartment complex in Inglewood, California. Her large apartment was at the front of the complex, the other apartments were near the back, and between them was a large gated garden with a patio and a pool. The patio and pool area was surrounded by large, leafy palm trees and beautiful bird of paradise flowers, and the seating area had cool pool decor, like fishing nets and buoys. When we went to visit her, I could hear people laughing and enjoying the pool. Splash, laugh, splash, laugh. It all sounded wonderful. I wanted to go swimming. I begged and begged to go.

One day, when I was about four, my parents and I were visiting Grandma. My Aunt, Uncle and cousins were visiting too and....wait for it....we were going swimming! In the pool! I was SO excited! I had my suit on and followed my Dad down the long path, through the gate to the pool area. He opened the gate, and there it was...the beautiful sparkly blue pool! I couldn't wait...I ran towards it, so excited...and jumped in! Splash! I can remember hearing yelling as I was running, 'Stop!' and, "Paul, stop her!" but...I was four. I didn't know how to swim. And now, in the water, I realized I didn't know what to do next. I'd only heard the splashing and laughter, I'd never actually watched anyone swim. So I came up to the surface and as my head popped above the water, I could hear yelling. My Grandma yelled, 'Paddle!' and I heard another splash. I tried to think, as I sunk back into the water what 'paddle' meant and tried to do it. But it wasn't helping much. And so as I bobbed back up, I realized that while splashing was fun, the whole pool thing was maybe not so fun, and As i began to sink again, I got a little scared, and just then, two big strong arms wrapped themselves around me, and my Dad lifted my head out of the water....and even though I was scared, I smiled and was happy because I could feel the safety of his arms around me,

Now I will tell you something I have learned about myself since that day. I have learned this because I have asked and my Heavenly Father has shown it to me. And I have learned from the insight. First, I learned that that entire scene had been played out before in my life. Not in my life on this earth, but in my life before I came to the earth. My pre-earth life. In our pre-earth life, we learned about the great Plan of Happiness. How we would come to earth, gain a mortal body, learn and be tested. And we learned that hopefully we would make wise choices, that would allow us to return and live with our Heavenly Father. The scriptures tell us we shouted for Joy at the thought of coming here to earth. I recall my pre-swimming pool self, and I know that my pre-earth life self was much the same...I was excited! I wanted to come here...I was eager for life on this earth. What's more, as I was surrounded by my Heavenly Father's perfect Love, I had perfect confidence in my ability to swim. I knew God loved me, and would help me and I knew I could gain instruction about what to do. And so I couldn't wait to be here on this earth.

So now, here I am in this big, glorious pool called life. Sometimes we splash and play. Life is fun, we're enjoying ourselves. We have learned to swim. I've learned to plan, to dive correctly, to be careful. Those lessons have made the experience better, more enjoyable. And other times, I discover that I'm in over our head, I don't know how to swim, my arms are growing heavy and I am sinking. But I wanted to be IN the pool! I'm almost ready to sink again. And that is when the joyous miracle happens: I have learned that when I do the best I can, and then ask for His help, my Savior makes up the difference. He brings peace to my weary soul. He lifts me up so my head is above the water and I can feel the sunshine on my face. It is at those moments, when I rely on Him most, that I feel the warmth of His arms, and it gives me Joy.

Behold the outstretched hands of Christ, Our Lord, who came to save.
Whose love and grace redeem our souls and lift us from the grave.
Though bruised and battered as we stray, His guiding hands caress.
He washes and anoints with oil,
Then in His arms we rest.

Behold His wounded hands and feet! Come touch, and see and feel
The wounds and marks that you may know His love for you is real.
Then as you fall to worship Him and wash his feet in tears,
Your Savior takes you in his arms
And quiets all your fears.

(from Behold the Wounds in Jesus Hands by John V. Pearson and David R. Naylor)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lift up the hands that hang down....

Baggage claim is probably not an unusual place to meet your future mother-in-law for the first time, but it might seem like a strange place to get a lesson in kindness and compassion. In an odd sort of way, it's an appropriate place to offer help to others ("May I help you with your bags?"), and yes, even to give comfort. I like the idea that as we claim our own 'baggage' we should lift the burdens of others.

Robert's nephew's wedding was just a few days off, and his mother and brother had come to town to attend. This would be my first time meeting them both. I was comfortable and nervous at the same time. But that's another story.

As we entered the baggage claim area, Robert's mother called our attention to a young woman waiting to claim her bags. She explained that they had sat together on the plane. The woman was returning to her home after having buried her mother, who had died of cancer. Mom said, "My heart just breaks for her, she has had to face this all alone." Then I watched Robert move to the woman's side and as he assisted her with her bags, he offered condolences, compassion and hope as he shared his cancer journey (which at that time was limited to the cancer of his late wife) and tender encouragement. The whole thing took just moments. She turned and I saw a smile on her tear-stained face. But as he turned back to me, he had a sort of sheepish look on his face. He whispered to me, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to leave you standing there, I just had to say something to her to reassure her." I assured him that it was a good thing to do and I wasn't offended in the least, in fact, I was pleased he had done so. You see, I already knew that about Robert, and it is no surprise that this has been the pattern of our lives ever since; to lift those around us and give tender love and support to others. I am certain that Robert is better at it than I am.

As my boys prepared to serve their missions, a particular song became a sort of theme song in our home. The words explain how, although sometimes we are timid about sharing the Good News of the Gospel, the Lord gives us the strength to speak, and by so doing we too are changed. The song is meant to be about missionary work, but it applies to so much more in life. As we listen to, lift and help others in their journey, the testimony we bear of truths we know become stronger and we too are lifted and strengthened as a result. Many times, a question I have faced has been answered as the Spirit gives me words to say to help someone else. It makes me want to dance for the joy I feel...that God loves me so much to guide me as I help others and by so doing help myself. I never want things to always be the same, I want to savor and enjoy every moment (every experience) that comes into my life on this earth. I want, no, I need the strength and peace that comes from lifting others and from bearing testimony of wonderful eternal truths. I find so much peaceful joy as we visit with our children and grandchildren, with our friends and even with strangers. I am certain that God loves me, that He has a plan for me and for my family. He has shown me over and over again that His plan is SO much better than anything I can imagine in my little mind, and His tender mercies remind me that I- we- are in His hands.

And so, this morning, as the phone rang and a stranger somewhere in New Jersey explained how she had gotten Robert's number from the Cancer Survivor's Network, I know it will be a joyous day, because I hear him say, "The thing that gives me the most strength is my faith in God and keeping a positive attitude." And I remembered the woman in the airport and her smiling, tear-stained face.

Lifting the hands that hang down in sorrow,
Strengthening knees that bend in despair,
Reaching the hopeless hearts who do not know His love,
Seeing their lives begin to change, I know I'll never be the same.
How can I keep this gift to myself when I can lift somebody else?
I am a witness of His miracles and His mercy.
I put my future in his hands knowing He's made me all I am.
When I put my faith in Him the truth begins to speak.
His power is real, It moves me until I will not be still.

~("I Will Not Be Still", by Tyler Castleton, Staci Peters, and Greg Simpson)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, May 7, 2012

In the Garden after Dark

I cut a hole in my garden gloves accidentally. It's what happens when you deadhead roses in the dark. Luckily my finger wasn't in the end of the glove when I cut it! I was anxious to trim the roses because, well, because I knew that doing so would bring more roses. But there's more to it than that.
My knowledge of how to care for roses could be fit into a thimble. And why learn? Robert knew everything anyone would want to know about roses. He knew how to fertilize, prune and carefully cultivate them. ‘Our’ roses, for they became mine too after our marriage, did well in the Arizona heat. The 17 plants in front of our home would produce fragrant blossoms every year. The beautiful blossoms made me smile. I love roses, and I love them without knowing a thing about how to grow them.
One Saturday in March, I asked Robert to teach me about roses. He carefully explained each process, I hoped I would remember all that he taught. Then Robert grew tired, so he went inside to rest, and I worked in the backyard garden. I sat at the edge of the garden box, forcing myself to plan the spring garden. I couldn’t concentrate, and soon my mind wandered. Wearily, I finally allowed all the fears that had been swirling about in my mind to assemble into a threatening cloud in my mind.
Robert’s cancer had returned. I knew it, he knew it. We talked of it in distant phrases, but tried to keep hope alive. We had found a new treatment that offered a tiny hope for a cure. Robert taught me to care for the roses that day, but we hoped he would continue be the one to take care of them, as always. I looked up. Dark clouds had gathered overhead, matching my mood. I began to pray. I told the Lord about my sadness while I worked. I wanted to know “What if…?” As I was whining to the Lord, I noticed that some of the tomato plants hadn't dried up and even had blossoms and fruit on them (this is a bit surprising, I'm not an expert gardener by any means), so I decided to leave the tomatoes in and see what would happen. I also noticed that the broccoli had gone to seed and wondered if I should try to glean the seeds and if I did that, would they actually grow? And all of these thoughts were included in my prayer; I decided I really needed God’s help with everything, even the garden.
Then I felt my mind being led, and I recalled the metaphor of The Gardener. I remembered similarities between this garden, pruning, weeding, pulling out the dead and withered plants; and the garden in my heart. That garden was beginning to wither too. What would the Lord do for me, I asked? What would happen to Robert and I? And what about the garden at my feet? I just wanted the garden to grow. I wanted my happy life to grow, too. I wanted everything to grow with a minimal amount of work and pain and struggle. I had no sooner thought or prayed that, when the thought was impressed upon my mind: "Your garden will be successful. Yes, it will require some work from you, but you will find peace and comfort here and when you see the beauty of it, you will be reminded how much I love you." Peace wrapped around my heart like a warm blanket. I recognized this tender mercy. Tears sprung to my eyes as I was reminded of God's great love for me.
I happily went to work, preparing the garden. I pulled the dried dead plants from the earth, and raked the soil so it was smooth and ready for new seed. I moved a reclining chair into the garden area. I hoped I wouldn’t need to retreat to the garden, but I happily prepared so that I could find peace there if I needed it.
A few weeks later the garden had been planted and was doing well. Every time I watered it, I remembered my experience. This remembering was good, because Robert was in the hospital again. He had undergone eleven hours of surgery in the hopes that all of his cancer could be removed. But it was not to be; there was more cancer than could be seen on any scan. Robert was going to die very soon. The surgeon wept as he told me, “He will probably just waste away.” I thought of the dry and withered plants in the garden and cried too. Two days later, while Robert was still recovering, infection tried to invade, and he was taken back to ICU. In the late, late hours of an endless day, I trudged to my car in the hospital parking lot. I needed to return home and sleep. Robert was to undergo yet another procedure very early the next morning. I slept for what seemed like an instant, and awoke in the dim light of dawn, to return to the hospital. I wanted to give Robert a kiss before they wheeled him down the long hallway once again. As I began to back out of our driveway, something unusual caught my eye. Roses. And not just a few roses, there were literally hundreds of them. The rose bed in front of the house had erupted into a fragrant explosion of colorful blooms. I stopped, trying to take it all in, remembering the day we spent together right there in that place. And then the words returned to my mind, "When you see the beauty of it, you will be reminded how much I love you."

And that is how I came to be in the garden after dark, deadheading the roses. The peace I received that morning was wonderful. I wanted, no, I needed more. I understood in a way I never had before, how my garden is my life; there will be withered plants, there will be thorns and noxious weeds, but after all of my meager, pleading and prayerful efforts, there will be roses. Evidence of God’s great love for me.

"Every falling tear is always understood; Life is hard, but God is good."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Even when it hurts

When I first walked in to Robert's hospital room after surgery, the first thing he said was, "I made it! I'm here, and I'm so happy to be here." Those words recalled a conversation we had had days before, when I asked (in a moment of insecurity), "If something happened during surgery, and you were given the choice, would you choose to come back or would you go on?" His answer was that he wanted to stay here on earth longer, that there was much he wanted to do and enjoy here on earth, that he wanted to spend more time with me, with his children and grandchildren. (I have to tell you that I was relieved, I wanted him to stay, too, but I also wanted for him what he wanted and what the Lord wanted, but that's another blog post.)

Our conversation reminded me of the words to a song I have sung, "I love this life, even when it hurts, even when I'm weary from the race. The power of Heaven lifts me up in this day of Grace."
Here we are on earth, with mortal bodies that, in a time before, we were excited and happy to obtain. More importantly, we chose to come and get these bodies. Now, here we are with our mortal bodies, and one of the conditions of mortality is that we will have pain. It will come- physical pain, emotional pain, all kinds of pain.

But as I write this, my mind wanders through some other pathways; we have come to earth so that we can learn and grow- to increase in intelligence. Here I am sitting in a hospital next to my sweet husband who is experiencing extreme physical pain. Doctors and nurses bring contraptions and machines, drugs and therapies to relieve his pain and hopefully restore his health. All of those treatments were developed because people wanted to learn, grow and increase in intelligence so that they could alleviate the earthly pain of others. IF there were no earthly pain, 'men' Would not have been driven to learning these things. The plan is pretty tremendous, isn't it? Give men agency and let them choose for themselves how to handle mortality. I am SO glad someone chose to discover medical treatments that help my sweetheart! I love this life! We get to learn! We might feel pain, but we can also choose to find peace and joy.

And that is the conundrum of earth life; that God created us that we might have joy, to find joy, even in the midst of pain and trials. For me, the key has been to keep an eternal perspective, to constantly remind myself that 'all these things' are for our experience, that I have been given all that is necessary for me to learn and to have joy while on this earth. I try to keep my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ—trust in His love, mercy, and power, and trust in His timing. I have learned that I have more joy when I resist thoughts of anger, bitterness, or despair, and when I act with faith in Christ to do His will, no matter what comes. I daily remind myself that the Savior sees the end from the beginning. His will is the very best thing that could ever happen.

"I love this life, even when it hurts, even when I'm weary from the race. The Power of Heaven lifts me up in this day of Grace."