Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Stolen Memories

Precious memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul.

The police officer looked me with a straight face, "Who do you know who wants to take all your stuff?" I stared back at her. Names and faces ran through my mind, but I quickly sent them away. Who indeed? Who would take things that have great meaning for me personally?  Who would want the silver rings and pins made by my grandparents? Who would gain enjoyment from wearing jewelry my mother wore? Who would want a box full of well worn and loved pocketknives belonging to Robert, set aside to give to our grandsons?

But someone did want, and so they entered my home while I was away and took them. They stole my memories. They took precious gifts from my husband, things saved for later, things beloved by my mother and grandmother. They dumped drawers on floors, emptied closet shelves and looked through boxes and cases, scattering the contents about, leaving only a portion of what was there before. Now part of me was missing. Gone.

I remember the next morning, December 23rd, weeping again, as I realized just how much my things were a part of me. As I dressed for work, the ring once belonging to my grandmother- gone. The necklace, given to me by Robert- gone. I looked around. No silent reminders of family or love or anything. It felt as if Robert had left again, I missed him. Intensely. I try not to be a 'thing' oriented person, so I was surprised by this. But his things were gone. "Robert's love is eternal," I reminded myself. I didn't feel frightened. In fact, I felt complete comfort. I felt enveloped in peace and during that day, even though the confusion of loss remained, I knew and recognized the Divine Signatures of the Lord as the day unfolded. "They are only things," I reminded myself. Although the stolen things could never be replaced, I was thankful that at least that I was ok. My family was ok. My little dog was ok. Still, I ordered an alarm system.

And then, as if taking a few things wasn't enough and before the alarm system arrived, the robbers returned a week later and took even more. I stared at the dining room floor where silver knives lay, the silverware drawer empty, handmade Irish lace linens tossed aside (at least they didn't take those!). My grandmother's silverware gone. Who does this? And I cried. Too much of me was missing now. Not just when I dressed for the day, but now the things I used and loved in daily life.

Then the next wave of unwanted feelings arrived: I trusted no one. I began to feel afraid. Everyone was suspect. "This is not me," I think as I close every blind in the house, shutting out the sunlit back yard view and the purple Ruella blossoms. As I prepared to leave for work, I did more than a routine check. Locks that weren't usually locked were checked and locked. I took special note of where and how I left things. Who will try to steal my life while I am gone? And as the fears began to race through my mind, I prayed that God would help me lose the fear. 

And He did. He changed my heart. Now I felt concern. Not for me. Concern for a thief. I wondered what kind of person would have such a need that they could violate someone else's space in such a way? "They [thieves] don't think like you and me." the police officer had said. I knew that was true! (C'mon, you know I have to laugh, right?)  I knew I wanted to forgive that person. What if I met them? How would I feel? What would I say? We think of people like this as poor in Spirit, as needful, and we assume they feel remorse. It's easy to forgive remorse. What if there is no remorse? What if they cruelly melted my grandmother's sterling jewelry without a thought for the care and love she poured into it? Then how would I feel? I know what I WANT to feel. I want to feel charity. I want to forgive as I have been forgiven. I don't want fear, alone-ness or mis-trust to invade my life, and for that reason, I needed to forgive. 

How do I forgive someone who has taken parts of me away? It's easy to find comfort in THINGS, isn't it? I miss Robert, but I still have his wedding ring. Wait! It's gone! What will remind me now? Again, the distinct Divine Signatures of the Lord arrived. As I juggled demands of work, holidays, insurance adjusters, and life in general, things slipped into place in amazing ways. There were moments that worked out miraculously and as they did, I felt the impression from the Spirit, "I am aware of you! I know what your TRUE needs are, and I will give them to you as you need them! You need only to remember Me!" 

"Always remember Him" is the sacred promise I renew each week. When I do that, I feel charity toward those who have stolen from me. When I remember Him, no one can take His love away. No one can take Robert's love away. I need not fear, for I am always in His care. No one will steal my peace or my joy, for they are given by One who knows and loves all. And that's enough.

" Fear not, little children, for you are mine, 
and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost....
Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. 
He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.
And the day cometh that you shall hear my voice and see me, and know that I am.
Watch, therefore, that ye may be ready."
(Doctrine and Covenants 50: 41-46)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Baby Brings So Much Hope

Years ago, my friend Sally and her family found themselves in a hard situation. Their joint business venture with another family had failed, they lost their large lovely home and as they tried to repay creditors and investors, they became financially strapped. They moved to a much older and much smaller home. But before they could begin this process, Sally gave birth to another beautiful baby. I asked her if she felt as if the baby added to the stress of the situation. “Oh no!” she replied, “It was the perfect message from Heavenly Father, a reminder that even when we had lost so much, we still had what was most important, each other. A baby brings so much hope!"

“Come, Lord Jesus, to the Manger;
May we see thy tender face?
Great Creator, here a stranger,
Infant in this humble place."

Many of us find ourselves beset with sadness at this Christmas season. For a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, we sometimes find it difficult to reconcile the happiness of the season with the sadness that surrounds us. Not so long ago, I found myself wondering the same thing. I wondered if I would ever feel the deep joy that comes when my heart is full of purpose. In my head I knew the answer; I knew what things were most important, but my heart just wasn’t feeling it.

I decided a purposeful study of Scripture was needed. What better way to feel the answers I needed than by reading the words of the prophets? I knew myself and my hectic schedule needed a little prodding, so I signed up for a class. I knew the requirement to daily ‘dig deeper’ would force me to take time to ponder, not just to read, but to read long enough to feel. 

Darkness scatter, Morning swell;
Come, dear Lord, Immanuel;

As part of the class, we were to choose an attribute, something we wanted to develop. And so the adventure began, as I studied and planned and, eventually, I noticed some progress in my feelings. I re-learned that faith is an action word, that to daily feel of God’s love I needed to also act. I prayed for, looked for and found ways to serve, often anonymously, that I might act on the faith I needed and felt. Sometimes the acts were small. And often, so was my progress.

October flew past, November began, I recognized that gratitude was also essential to warming my heart. As I recognized the many blessings in my life, my eyes were opened to more and my heart once again began to feel a deeper joy. And then, as if to test my resolve, a grandson arrived six weeks early. While his mother and father stayed in the hospital with him, two sweet siblings stayed with me. As the two kiddles and I snuggled together on the sofa one evening, we read a Christmas story. I remembered my friend’s words, “A baby brings so much hope!”. There it was…even while one baby struggled for life, we all had hope. Then I was reminded of A BABY who came to ensure that all would go well for all of us forever!

A few days later, a newly widowed friend said to me, “I just can’t be happy at Christmas. I have lost so much, I will never be happy again.” As I wrapped my arms around her in a hug, I knew the answer: A baby. A Holy Baby, the Savior of the World. Together we wept, but these words brought us peace, “…And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictionsand temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7: 11-12) 

Come in glory to the earth,
Come to us to rule and reign,
Ready us to kneel and greet thee,
Come, Lord Jesus, Come! 

I will always celebrate Christmas! This season is the season of Joy! Even the saddest, most heart wrenching things can become a path to know of God’s love for us in a greater, deeper way. I know of pain and heartache. I know of loss. I know there is One who heals all wounds, binds up our broken hearts and fills them with joy. He gives us peace, love and purpose! How can we turn away from celebrating Christ, who gave us everything? The baby who brought so much hope to the world! 

"Without Christ, there would be no Christmas. Without Christ, there can be no fulness of joy. Without His birth and His Atonement, we would have no Intercessor, no Advocate with the Father, and no Mediator who makes it possible for us to return to the presence of our loving Heavenly Father and live together as eternal families.” Bishop Gary M. Stevenson, Liahona, December 2014, The Reality of Christmas.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Each Word Chosen Carefully

But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren. (Words of Mormon 1:6)

Grandma Zehrbach always told the best bedtime stories. On warm summer nights when I couldn’t quite settle into sleep, Grandma would lay beside me in the twin bed that used to be my mothers, and tell me stories about little girls quite like myself. The crickets outside the window sang and garden scents floated into the room, as the princesses in my dreams climbed trees just like I did and had grand adventures just like mine. The little girls in Grandma's stories were always smart and wise and kind, just like me. Oh how I loved her bedtime stories! 

My Dad told stories too. His were true- about his childhood. I laughed so hard I cried when Dad told about chasing a greased pig as a boy, slipping and sliding around the pasture (Ew!). And the time Grandma put a pot roast on to cook while everyone went to church. Everyone, that is, except for Uncle Bill, who was working on the railroad. He arrived home shortly before everyone else returned and finding a delicious pot roast on the stove, sat down and ate the entire thing! I never met Uncle Bill, but I think his appetite was carried on to my sons. 

I love scripture stories, too. I always have. I am filled with courage when I read of Daniel in the lion’s den, courage to do what was right even if it is scary. When I read of the young boy Jesus teaching in the temple, I recognized that sometimes children go to church when their parents don’t. And so I did. Soon enough my parents joined me, but those first years of church attendance were fueled by an understanding based on scripture. 

I am a child of the modern age,
I am a son of the present hour.
What can these words from so long ago
Mean to me now?

The Scriptures exist today because someone (actually, several someones) bothered to write them down. How beautiful are their words! Their voices speak peace to my heart and mind, and because of sacred words, we are all instructed in the ways of the Lord. 

We are the prophets, years gone by.
We spent our days, we gave our lives
For a record which was written not for us,
But for you. And every word is true.

Thankfully, someone wrote my Dad’s stories down (most likely Mom), as well as the stories of many other ancestors. Dad’s stories provided a foundation of love and acceptance for others that has continued in my heart ever since.  The longer I live, the more precious their words become to me. Yet, there is a small thing missing- the stories of their struggles and trials. My grandmother was widowed at a young age…how I wish she had recorded her thoughts and feelings. I have only her living example witnessed through youthful eyes to help me understand how to go on. Those stories, written and un-written have inspired me as I continue writing memories and testimonies of my own- for my children and grandchildren.

Ancient prophets like Isaiah, Paul and Mormon wrote not just to make a record, but to specifically make a record of their testimonies for future generations. Isaiah looked into our time and made a record of his warnings. My faith is stronger because of their words. I am lifted to a place of understanding as I read and, like Mormon, the words are choice unto me!

Each word chosen prayerfully,
Laid down carefully in its place.
For here, from so far away,
We have seen your day
And we pray;
Hear what we have to say!

(What Can They Have to Say? - Steven Kapp Perry)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Endure to the End

The nice looking business man in the airplane seat next to me said, “Yes, I was saved a few years ago when I became a Christian. I’m always learning new things about what that means, and how to have faith.” We talked about faith as something that grows as we use it, but sometimes using faith is hard. Later I thought about his comment about being ‘Saved’. 

So often people believe that being saved is a single act; words spoken as the Spirit moves our hearts, and that’s all that is needed. But being saved involves so much more than just saying so. We know that His Grace is sufficient for everyone. But truly being saved involves acting on our faith daily. It involves remaining to committed to His gospel through thick and thin, and by following His example. 

"And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.

And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved."
(2 Nephi 31:15 -16)

One of my dear friends was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis while in her 30’s. From the very beginning, she has displayed such a cheerful attitude and has been faithful in enduring. She enjoyed a short reprieve from the effects of her disease for a time, during which she had two beautiful children. But soon, she began to lose strength and agility in her legs. Before long she was walking with the aid of crutches. Yet she remained positive and cheerful. She is known by many as one with a delightful sense of humor. One day I bumped into her in the grocery store, she was using a motorized scooter. But the light in her eyes was unmistakeable. She was not only enduring, she was improving spiritually. Several months later she called to let me know that her family was going to be sealed in the temple. I was thrilled for her, but I was also greatly impressed with her joyful determination to endure to the end. She is an example to me of someone who could easily say, “I’ve been saved, and my life is hard, so I’ll just sit right here and do nothing more.” but she has instead continued to serve others, serve her family and love and serve the Lord. And she does so joyfully. To me, she is a happy example of Enduring to the End.

The very word ‘endure’ implies some kind of hardship, or resistance. Even so, I don’t believe our enduring has to be mournful or sad. What is the point of enduring if we cannot feel joy at knowing the source of our endurance, the Savior’s Atonement? I love the simple reminder in Nephi’s words, 

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."
(2 Nephi 31:20)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Mountain of the Lord

2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.

3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
2 Nephi 12:2-3 (See also Isaiah 2:2-3)

My grandfather built a cabin on a mountain. Not just a little scrub cabin, a big beautiful cabin with many rooms and a giant (well, it seemed to my six-year-old self giant) stone fireplace. Nestled in the tall pines of Twin Peaks, California, the cabin was my favorite place to go for most of my younger life. Grandfather died shortly after it was completed, but my grandmother kept it for many more years. Years that were filled with family gatherings, happy dinners around the huge round table, toboggan runs with my cousins, building snowmen with my dad, beloved memories with my sisters and so much more. The Cabin (for it truly deserves the honor of capitalization) was also a place of peace. The porch swing on the deck became holy ground as I made my first foray into a true study of the scriptures. Holy words, read in such a peaceful place created holy ground for me. The cabin, in my youth, was truly the Mountain of the Lord’s House. 

Years later, I came to understand the deeper meaning of Nephi’s words, and Isaiah's intent when speaking of the Mountain of the Lord’s House. He was referring to the House of the Lord. Now I know you’re thinking this refers to the beautiful churches that can be found in nearly any city or town in nearly every nation. And I have thought so too, they are beautiful, sacred edifices where we go to worship. We, of our many varied faiths, worship weekly in sacred holy places. And it is beautiful and glorious.

But as I have grown older, I have come to learn of a singular Mountain, a uniquely beautiful place of Holiness to the Lord, and that is His Holy Temple. Temples have been a place of worship since biblical times. From the portable tabernacle of the Israelites to Solomon’s temple of old, people have entered the Lord’s House to worship. And temples exist today, indeed they dot the earth. These temples are my new sacred ground, the place I go for un-interruped peace. In the shattered moments of grief and trial, I have entered the temple to receive a renewal to my spirit, to feel closer to God than I feel in any other place. I have found answers and solutions to many things as I have learned of His ways and as I feel His Spirit speak to mine. The temple is a place of Joy, where families are united eternally. My beautiful family has gathered here for sacred moments shared. It is a place where the veil between Heaven and Earth is very thin. I feel closer to God in THIS Holy House than on any mountaintop. Just as The Cabin became sacred ground because of the sacred learning I experienced there, the Mountain of the Lord is also sacred ground. Oh, how I love the feelings of peace that are felt in this sacred place!
We love thy house, O God,
Wherein thine honor dwells.
The joy of thine abode
All earthly joy excels.

A new temple was recently built near my home (only ten minutes away, yay!). The Phoenix Temple has been completed and the public has been invited to tour the building before the dedication, after which it will be open only to faithful Latter-day Saints. I have witnessed many people from many faiths, who, upon entering the sacred and beautiful rooms have been moved to tears at the peace they feel. I have heard many say, “There is such a peaceful, spiritual feeling here!” as they view the exquisite paintings and furnishings. We dedicate our finest things to the Lord and He returns to us eternal peace. We enter His Holy House and come away strengthened and edified. Renewed. 

The Cabin on the Mountain still exists, despite fires and calamities. For decades now it has been owned by someone else and our family has not set foot inside.We have been shut out, as it were. We can recreate our family gatherings in other places. We can play in the snow, and have happy days and nights together. The beauty of the mountains can bring a peaceful feeling for anyone who pauses long enough to feel it. But I have learned that no mountain on earth, no place of gathering, will ever match the peace and safety we feel in the Mountain of the Lord’s House. 

We love the word of life,
The word that tells of peace,
Of comfort in the strife,
Of joys that never cease. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Looking for the Land Bountiful

1 Nephi 17:3 ...And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthenthem, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; 

I’ll be happy as soon as….
How often do we struggle through a trial or a hard thing, and when we finally reach the end, and are ready to have a break, something else happens, almost as if the Lord is saying, “You’re not done yet.” You know what I’m talking about- those times when you’ve been planning “as soon as [insert nearly any life event here], I’m going to finally have some time to [insert some relaxing, self-indulgent project here]….” and then something happens to change the plan. Drastically. As in you KNOW that self-indulgent project will never happen.

I’ve seen it a million times (you’d think I’d learn!). 

As a younger mom, I made a routine of walking daily with some friends for a little exercise. One friend often commented, “As soon as this child learns to walk, things will be easier” or or “It will get better when all my children are in school all day” or “If my oldest could just pass her driver’s test, things will start sailing along!” Finally she figured out that there was always something on the horizon, some big accomplishment or challenge, but as soon as that hill had been crested, another hill came into view. It was a learning point for me, as well- I could wish away the hours with my family waiting for the next big event, but I might miss some beautiful moments if I did that. Far better to keep climbing the mountain and enjoying the view as much as possible.

We can spend our time hoping the mountain will change, or we can look to the Source of help. When we prayerfully take the first step up the hill, His light illuminates the places we have not seen, points the way and gives us strength to continue. As we are near the top, we might look forward to the return descent that we miss the vistas below. We may also think that, having completed the climb, we are deserving of a long rest, of not having to do more. But that is not His way. Without constant growth, we cannot become our best selves and we will not learn to walk by faith.

The prophet Nephi knew this well. After escaping the destruction in Jerusalem, Nephi’s family journeyed for ‘many years’ in the wilderness, finally arriving in the land they called “Bountiful”,which was overflowing with milk and honey and much fruit. There they settled, rejoicing after having endured many hard things, that they had finally arrived. But before long, the Lord commands Nephi to build a ship and flee once again.  Hardship- rest- hardship. Do you see a pattern here? That’s right, God did not let Nephi’s family rest for long, He continued to challenge their growth. What’s more, He continued to light their path. Nephi says he prayed often, and despite some pretty stiff opposition, he remained faithful. 

My own testimony of faithful enduring is this: When I turn to my Savior, when I do my best to serve Him, that is when His love carries me, His Peace fills my heart. That is when there is joy in my journey. The most sacred experiences of my life have been a result of faithfully continuing the journey back to Him. It is then that I find the Bountiful blessings in the land I am in. 

There is a promise in all of this dream dashing, a great and everlasting one. And this is it: If we, ‘the children of men’, are faithful in keeping commandments, whatever the opposition or hardship, God blesses us, gives us strength, encouragement, peace and yes, even joy, in our journey. The reward is everlasting!

"And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.

"Yea, and the Lord said also that: After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem." (1 Nephi 17: 13-14)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Born of Goodly Parents

"I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents” (1 Nephi 1:1) 

I’ve read those words a thousand times. I have to admit I have sometimes had a difficult time relating this particular scripture verse to myself. I mean, my father wasn’t a prophet like Nephi’s father, Lehi. Yet, when I stop and ponder this idea of a goodly parent, I recognize myself very well. Or, more accurately, I recognized my Dad. 

As a small child, I thought my dad was perfect. I loved spending time with him, going to hardware stores, fishing (well, once or twice, anyway), fixing things (well...sort of...I think I was more of a nuisance than a help). I wanted to do anything with my dad. As I grew older, my teenage angst stretched his patience, I’m sure. 

But as an adult, I recognized the gentle treasure that he was. My mother was painfully shy, and despite her many talents and intelligence, she often found it difficult to make friends. Enter my Dad, who would ask her about people she admired in their circle or friends. Then, he would carefully cultivate friendships with the husbands of the women my mother admired, initiating double dates and family get-togethers, so my mother could socialize and make friends in a comfortable way. 

This goodly parent is one of the two images of my Dad that remain clearly in my mind. It goes with this picture of my dad, with cigar clenched in his teeth. The picture reminds me that even when our parents aren’t perfect, they are still goodly.

My Dad took his goodly part and added to it. In the same way he served my mother, he served others. I remember accompanying him as he delivered a repaired television set to friends, repaired because he knew how, “I just thought I could help." He allowed God to make him a better man.

40 years later, I found myself a parent of six rambunctious boys and an adorable daughter. We packed our seven children into our fifth wheel, drove from Arizona to Washington for a one week visit with my parents. My children filled my parents home with noise and laughter (and a little bit of mess making…ok, maybe a little bit more than a little). One morning, I awoke early to take care of a little one's needs. As I crept quietly to the kitchen and back to our room, I passed the front room and noticed my dad, scriptures open on his lap, hands folded in prayer. 

"Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.” (1 Nephi 1:5)

This is the the second and final image of my dad in my mind. The man who loved, served and prayed. Three weeks later, Dad died suddenly of a heart attack, while making his weekly delivery of food to the needy near his home, an act of service he had performed faithfully every Friday for eight years. God made him better, and he passed it on.

I recognize my weaknesses a parent, just as my Dad had weaknesses. My hope and prayer is that my children will recognize the goodly part of me, but will also understand that there will be things I did not teach them well, but that goodly part of them that came from my dad will help them have a desire to be better, despite my mistakes. Now I clearly know the goodly parents I had, evidenced by a lifetime of service. And I think to myself, “I, Kathleen, having been born of goodly parents…” 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

These Stars

I knew, I just tried to ignore it. And it worked….for a couple of hours. It worked until I browsed through Sam’s Club and saw a shirt like one I bought for Robert. Dang! Tears fell and I gave up and let them. By 8 am, the journey of this day was set…two years today my beloved husband left this realm for another. Apparently, ignoring such anniversaries doesn’t work. 

So I buried myself in things to do..things to distract me. I picked up my vacationing neighbors mail, joined my daughter for lunch, mailed cards and letters, launched a paint the kitchen project....that should work, right? Well, until I found the little cutting brush Robert bought me for our first house painting project together. Sigh....

The tears were gone when I climbed the ladder, but came again when I found a Christmas star on top of the kitchen cabinet...I have NO idea how it got there. (I put nativities up there, but not stars). I wondered who might have put it there, and remembered a conversation with a friend. 

We were discussing ways we knew God was aware of us. Robert and I called them Tender Mercies and we kept a list of them. I explained how I often like to marvel over the idea that the same Creator who placed the stars in the Heavens knew the end from the beginning. As He created the sun and moon, he also planned the miraculous light that would announce Christ's birth. He set the stars and constellations that explained the Plan and He did it knowing we would look up and see them. He did it to remind us. In the same way that shirts and paintbrushes remind me of Robert, the sun, the moon and stars remind me of Him, and He planned it that way, a tender mercy of the greatest magnitude. "...and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years." (Genesis 1:14) In my limited understanding, I am thankful for One who loves me that much. It's amazing to me. 

"When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained. What is man, that thou art mindful of him?...O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" (Psalms 8:3-4, 9)

So on this long, lonely day when I tried to forget, I am thankful for the chance to remember. I am thankful for the stars.

"These stars
They're more than beauty or for romance in the night
These stars are mine, as you are too.
And there is nothing I would rather see or do
Than to lead you on in darkness,
Give you hope when none seems there.
When sunlight fades, when night falls hard,
Remember Me
And these stars"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Song of the Snapdragon

My Uncle Van was a farmer, my Aunt Freda a gardner. They lived in a large farmhouse in the middle of acres and acres of almond and avocado trees in the fertile mid-section of California. Before you could even enter Freda and Van’s house, you had to walk past Freda's large (well…it seemed large to 4 year old me) flower garden. I always had to linger, I was just all enough to peek over the low white picket fence surrounding the garden area. And how could you walk past without admiring the vivid red and yellow tulips and the bright purple iris? But my favorite flowers stood in tall stalks at the back of the garden. After asking permission, I would carefully walk past the rows of lower, lesser blooms to the tall, willowy stalks of Snapdragons. Their red and yellow mouths had begun calling to me as soon as we drove down the lane toward Freda and Van’s home. Perhaps it was because they were the only flowers that I was allowed to pick. Perhaps it was their tender smiling faces or perhaps it was their sweet songs of happiness, sung to me at dusk in Freda’s garden. Snapdragons became forevermore my favorite flower. Freda grew a wide variety…bearded ones with gaping, toothless smiles; taller stalks with faces that peered into mine, supported by strings of cotton twine; shorter multi-colored ones, I loved them all. 

All of that Snapdragon love has not given me green thumbs, that is certain. Every year, I faithfully plant them…every year they grow…but none of my cultivating skills have produced the fabulous display like Freda’s garden. 

My snapdragons have, however, produced some memorable moments. One spring I planted some shorter stalks in a pot just outside the sliding glass door. I thought they would provide sweet music to me as I adjusted to single life (this was before I met and married Robert). I came home from work one day to find that grandchildren had visited while I was away….the flower pot was empty and all of the snapdragons were strewn about the uneven brick patio and dried to perfection in the Arizona sun. I stopped short of being mad- reminding myself that my grandchildren who were a part of me loved the flowers I loved. A few weeks later, after several days of rain, I discovered tiny green snapdragon stalks growing up from between the bricks of the patio. A gentle reminder that even on hard days, God will send Snapdragons to sing to me. 

Now I am adjusting again to the new and singular life of widowhood. The new yard and garden are a work in progress. Mostly, they’re a work. Lots of it. "The snapdragons can wait until it’s complete", I think, "the crowning touch". There are oleanders and ruella to trim. And weeds to pull. Ugg. Lots of weeds. I did the front yard…HOA, you know. But the back yard I left for another day. Most days are too busy. Some too hard. And some days I just don’t like doing more hard things like pulling weeds. But weeds grow anyway (why, weeds, why?). And hard things have to be done. So on a Friday afternoon, driving home from work, I made myself a promise that I would do that hard thing and pull the back yard weeds. And pull them I did. Thorns poked my fingers through my leather gloves, one weed was so thick and tall I nearly fell over as I pulled it loose from the ground. I think the weeds nearly won…I weeded one section, turned around to survey my work and discovered that more had grown where I had just been (really! I think that happened!). But as I worked my way around to the fence, I heard a familiar song. There, in the sharp rock along the fence grew a fat Snapdragon plant, the deep pink blossoms (my favorite shade of pink, too!) calling my name and cheering me on. I know where they came from. There were planted by a Miracle…because He knew that amid all the hard things in life, Snapdragons would sing songs of happiness and make me smile. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Leaving Nauvoo

It was sunny and foggy as I stood at the end of Parley Street, watching the Mississippi River move along. Two of my children stood beside me. We were leaving Nauvoo, after having spent two glorious, spiritually lifting weeks performing in the Nauvoo Pageant. We sang and danced and celebrated the story of the early Mormon settlers of Nauvoo, Illinois. To say it was a joyful experience would not say enough.

I cried as I thought about leaving this beautiful place. It was almost frightening to think about leaving the peace and love we had felt here and return to our lives at home. But we could no longer stay, and so we stood at the end of Parley street, like modern day pioneers, bidding goodbye to the beautiful place where our hearts had been changed, hoping we would still find peace and love as we journeyed forward. We were leaving Nauvoo.

I turned around to look back at the beautiful temple set on a knoll overlooking the river, and pondered how those Mornon settlers must have felt. 

Farewell, dearest city, farewell for a time,
We're now called to leave thee for a distant clime.
Fair city of Joseph, we bid you adieu,
Farewell for a season, our own loved Nauvoo

How did they feel, these settlers who built Nauvoo, the City Beautiful, from a swamp. Who toiled to make their homes a place of peace and beauty, and who, in their poverty, had built the beautiful temple where they could worship and serve God. Who were then driven from their homes by angry men who murdered their leaders, burned their homes and threatened to murder those who remained. With heavy hearts, these faithful pioneers packed only the most necessary items in handcarts and wagons and, walking to the end of Parley street, crossed the mighty Mississippi River, headed to an unknown place, hoping, believing they would once again find peace and love and the ability to worship unmolested. 

Lucretia Hupper was one of those faithful ones who left Nauvoo. She penned several verses describing the feelings of many as they left their beautiful to city and journeyed west. 

Farewell to the temple, where oft we have heard
The precept of life and salvation declared.
Dear House of our God, we thy memory will love;
Although in a far distant country we move.
(Lucretia Hupper, “Farewell Nauvoo”)

The pioneers had a difficult journey, many did not survive the trek west. Many more did. They pushed handcarts, pulled wagons and walked. They dealt with hunger, sickness and heartache as they crossed the treacherous, snow covered Wasatch mountains and descended to the Salt Lake Valley where they began again to build lives filled with peace and love.

I reflected on the root of their strength as they undertook such a challenging journey. What gave them the ability to leave their homes and all they had known, to travel the rocky path over the mountains to someplace strange and unknown, and start anew? And of course, I knew the answer; Faith.
Pure faith in God. Faith in His purposes, in His designs and in His love for each of us.

Though deep'ning trials throng your way,
Press on, press on, ye Saints of God!
Ere long the resurrection day
Will spread its life and truth abroad,
Will spread its life and truth abroad.

We have all had similar experiences. Most of us have left a Nauvoo at least once in our lives. We have left home and family for new jobs, new adventures. Some of us have been forced to leave, through death or divorce or life changes. Others of us choose to leave for the thrill of adventure. Sometimes we plan our changes, as we plan for retirement. Sometimes the change is made behind our backs and we are left to either adapt or start over. In all of these journeys, faith is what carries us. 

As I stood at the end of Parley street that day, I took courage from the sweet peace I had felt in Nauvoo, knowing God was at work in my life, just as He worked in the lives of those pioneers. I couldn’t see ahead enough to know exactly what would happen, but I knew I would find peace and strength in God, and that was enough.

Though outward ills await us here,
The time, at longest, is not long
Ere Jesus Christ will reappear,
Surrounded by a glorious throng,
Surrounded by a glorious throng.

As it turns out, I've 'left Nauvoo' again and again, leaving the scenes and places of peace and safety to try new paths. Always, always I have felt God's guiding hand and known of His love for me. His love has carried me over mountains, through heartache and has buoyed my spirits when I stand at the edge of a swift moving river wondering what lies on the other side. In all things, I have found the peace of God is present, even after I've left Nauvoo.

Lift up your hearts in praise to God;
Let your rejoicings never cease.
Though tribulations rage abroad,
Christ says, "In me ye shall have peace."
Christ says, "In me ye shall have peace.
~Eliza R. Snow, “Though Deepening Trials"

Friday, January 31, 2014

That's Entertainment?

I have reached a terrible conclusion…I have become my grandmother.

As a young woman, my grandmother worked as a script girl at MGM studios. This was in the 1930s and 40s, when the likes of Lionel Barrymore and Shirley Temple were in their prime. I once told Grandma that I had thought it would be a fun and exciting job, but she quickly burst my bubble. She recalled an experience where a famous male star called for her and when she entered the room where he was, he exposed himself to her. To be fair, my grandmother was probably the MOST proper and, um, private person you’ll ever know. And she was deeply offended. She had seen the seemy underbelly of Hollywood. She said that said she could never respect an industry so full of filthy people. 

As a teenager, the magnificence of the epic masterpiece The Ten Commandments was ruined for me when Grandma proceeded to explain sets and trick photography. Of course I knew it wasn’t real, but…she really spoiled the magic! I promised myself I would never let such things get in the way of enjoying good entertainment.

Fast forward to just a couple of years ago, when we were in the hospital (wow, I say that like I was there, which I was…but it was Robert who was IN the hospital, not me, although I was right by his side nearly 24/7), we sort of got out of the habit of watching TV. I know…it sounds crazy, right?  I mean, what is there to do when you sit in a hospital room for 43 days in a row? Well, we just didn’t watch TV much. It was probably a combination of a desire to spend our last moments on earth together differently and the fact that high levels of pain meds made it difficult for Robert to concentrate for very long. Then again, we both had a different attitude about the meaning of life and most TV shows we could find on the hospital network didn’t really contribute to feeling peace and comfort. At any rate, we didn’t watch TV much at all during that time.

And after he was gone, I didn’t have much time or desire to watch TV either. So many other things to do, and I wanted things to keep my mind and heart at peace. Activities with family and friends seemed to be much more exciting, so the TV stayed off (we’ve not had cable or satellite for years). Mostly off, that is, until about two weeks ago. 

I wanted to watch a fun show that Robert and I had enjoyed before, The Sing Off. The singing, the talent…that was incredible. I LOVE good music! But I couldn’t watch…. I wondered if the suggestive dancing and lyrics full of innuendo were present when we watched it before? Because the way some of the beautiful young people moved their bodies was certainly suggestive. Then one of the judges opened her mouth….and…well, I was a bit surprised to hear a talented and beautiful woman speak so coarsely and use words that made me glad there were no tender ears nearby to hear. I turned it off….I was sad. I wondered what had happened.

A few days later I tried again…this time a program that I had enjoyed watching on the iPad while Robert slept, a popular period drama from Britain on PBS. PBS is good, right? I was disappointed in the way the storyline had moved away from showing the class struggles with real problems to a program so full of (oh my, what word works here?) salacious plot twists it became a completely unbelievable. As in, unreal. I don’t know, maybe my life has been so full of drama that I can call a fake plot twist from a mile away. Or maybe the show was just unreal. I recalled an evening when Robert had awakened by my side while I was watching that show years before and said, in a weakened voice, “Turn it off, it’s nothing more than a soap opera”, and now I realized he was right. 

I flipped channels…dark dramas, evil supernatural creatures, murder, rape, crime, cheating spouses, random violence, you name it, it seemed like every show had it. I almost wondered if the news and the TV shows had gotten confused. Oh wait, it had. I mean..what passes for news? Someone’s barely adult son got a DUI and it was news because he has a CD (or two) out? It’s sad is what it is, it’s not news. A bunch of impressionable young women think he’s cool, but if he were to date your daughter, would YOU think it was cool? When did we become so confused? When did we start thinking that watching TV shows about a woman who has been cheated on by her politically motivated husband but then becomes unfaithful to him herself with co-workers is a valuable way to spend our time? What is right or good or even glamorous about that? Why are we sickened and saddened at news stories about bombings and  school shootings but then hail as artistic or entertaining the TV shows depicting the same things?

The Apostle Paul counseled the people of his day, but I believe it applies to us here and now, "whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovelywhatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Phillipians 4:8 

I love good entertainment. I love good music. Beautiful music and art bring me peace and fill my senses with joy. But there is no joy for me in watching people portray wickedness as acceptable or normal.  I cannot feel peace or happiness either. I choose not to seek after these things. Somoene I knew said, "TV is the medium by which we invite characters into our homes with whom we would never associate in real life."

Grandmother was right. There is nothing to respect about an industry that glorifies evil.

And that is why my TV remains dark most nights. Sometimes on a Friday evening my kids bring grandkids and we watch a movie, but they are movies about goodness, families and learning to make good choices. They are movies where wrong is wrong and right always wins. There is so much good in the world, we choose to seek after those things and to feel peace. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Age of Discontent

In the story Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, the main character, a poor village milk man, sings of having material wealth. Tevye has already told us that he is a man of faith and has a desire also to be learned. But in this moment of dreaming of the things material wealth could buy for his family (and yes, maybe a moment of jealousy), he asks, 

“Lord, who made the lion and the lamb, 
You decreed I should be what I am, 
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan 
If I were a wealthy man?”

I have felt discontent. We all have at one time or another. My discontent has not been with things, mind you, but with situations. It has been disappointing to have my life plan change unalterably before my eyes more than once. I have felt stymied in my hopes and dreams on occasion. The grand plans of serving the Lord with my sweetheart by my side, traveling the world, of happy family gatherings with him….all of those plans have been disrupted. I have wondered, ‘what good is it to have hopes and dreams when they get interrupted so rudely?’ I have watched friends who are similarly stymied with life situations that are less than they ever hoped or dreamed. They may have had college plans that were sidelined by illness or finances, children who go fall into extreme addiction, children with severe illnesses that ravage their bodies and tax their families, spouses who suddenly and rudely decide not to be a spouse, careers that do not play out as hoped, or yes, spouses taken away in the prime of life. All of these and a host of other monkey wrenches can appear to ruin our well laid plans for life. 

I have wondered how to reconcile the wrenched life with the life I am in. I have poured out my tears in prayer. These disrupted plans are not wicked schemes, they are wholesome and righteous plans. Why can’t the Lord just give me what I want and plan? I have felt to ask, as Tevye, ‘would it spoil some vast eternal plan’ if my life just played out like I planned it?

Alma, a prophet of old, also had grand desires in his heart. 

“O, that I were an angel and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!”

What could be more noble and righteous than that? He desired to serve the Lord in a glorious way.

But Alma’s next words are also instructive; “…I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.”

Boy, does that thought dash grand plans! But as I have pondered this statement, I have found comfort. 

THIS life, the one I am in, is the life that my loving Father in Heaven planned for me. It is the one He knows will teach me the most and allow me the greatest path to learning. Through God’s grace and continual tender mercies, of which I have received many, I know that I am loved and all of these situations are for my personal benefit and growth. 

In this age of discontent, I am happy now to keep walking forward in the direction I am headed, knowing that Christ has overcome the world and that through His Atoning Grace, I can continue to learn and grow. I have not given up dreams of earthly happiness, I have come to see that a desire for eternal happiness with my sweetheart is something that I build here and now. That even though Robert is not physically present, we are working together on THAT vast eternal plan, and that there is much to be content with. There is much to do here and now. I am learning to trust that God’s plan, His Grace, is sufficient for me, and that gives me not only contentment, but Joy.

The answer to Tevye’s query is, “Yes! If I give you all that you want, YOU will be spoiled. You will not learn to trust me as you need to. This path you are on is where I know you can BE good, become better and also DO good!”

How much more can we be joyful
When there’s really something

To be joyful for!