Monday, May 23, 2016

"Put On a Happy Face!"



Years ago when I was a sophomore in high school, two senior girls approached me as I was grabbing books from my locker.

"You are always smiling," one of them stated.

Uncertain where this was going, I smiled and nodded.

"See, she's smiling," the same girl said.

The other girl nodded in agreement. "I'll bet you can't go five minutes without smiling," she said, challenging me.

Forcing a frown, I assured both girls that I could avoid smiling for that long. I lost the bet about 3 minutes later. I can't remember now what inspired the smile, but I do remember that I couldn't help it. It just bubbled out.

"Ha, I knew it," the first girl accused. Laughing, she and her friend went on their merry way, leaving me feeling a bit confused. Was it a bad thing to be cheerful? Shrugging, I decided not to worry about it. Those two girls didn't know me. They didn't understand the tough year I had been enduring, nor the challenges I had faced. Things were far from good at home--my father had developed some health problems and he was often irrational about silly things. It was also the year that I gained my testimony and there had been some overwhelming trials as I had journeyed down that path. I had learned along the way that I much preferred laughter over tears, and tried to surround myself with inspiring quotes, pictures, and music.

I'm still that way. I love surrounding myself with items that inspire or make me smile. Home is indeed my sanctuary--a place to recharge my batteries when life has been less than pleasant. Here I can relax and unwind, and smile. ;)

Numerous birds hang out in our trees, and I enjoy hearing them sing throughout the day. Colorful finches nibble at the seeds in our bird-feeder. Hummingbirds frequent our flowers and a special liquid feeder we've hung up just for them.

On my walls are pictures of family members and friends. Varied keepsakes line the top of my piano. Inspiring and whimsical plaques are wonderful reminders of what is important.

In short, these items bring comfort and perspective. They remind me who I am, and who I'm trying to be. And most of them inspire smiles. 

About 3-4 years ago, my husband and I met up with two of my closest friends from my high school days. We met inside what used to be the drugstore that my dad had managed in the small town of Ashton. It has since been remodeled into a charming pizzeria/sandwich shop, and the old-fashioned soda fountain has been maintained, complete with the tasty treats I used to make for customers years ago--shakes, malts, floats, etc.

We had a wonderful visit as my friends and I reminisced about our adventures years ago. What impressed my husband the most was how much we laughed as we talked. We had all been through some tough things, but we could find the humor in those experiences, and tried to focus on the positive, rather than dwell on the negative.

I suspect that is one of the great challenges of our current time--focusing on the positive things that are taking place. It's easy to get caught up in the negativity that surrounds us. Watching the news is often less than inspiring these days. I find that I have to watch an old silly comedy before I go to bed at night to shake off the gloom. I also take comfort in reading the scriptures before winding down for the night.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that it's okay to smile! It's a great thing if you can find a reason to laugh in the midst of hardship.

When we were young, my siblings and I often endured watching a silly show entitled, "Hee Haw." Our father loved it and he was trying to share his enthusiasm. It wasn't my favorite, but there were some golden moments, like this set of lyrics that we often sang later on when life was less than fun. They are as follows:

Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression,  excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me!
(written by: Buck Owens & Roy Clark)

As my siblings and I made fun of this song, it always made us smile. I'm sure our exaggerated performances were inspiring. Regardless, it was a great way to snap out of feeling sorry for ourselves. ;)

So, on days when you find yourself feeling a little down, find those things that make you smile. Realize it's better than okay to be cheerful. Be the bright spot in someone else's day. It will make all the difference in this troubled world.





Thursday, May 19, 2016

OBSERVATION AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

A few days ago I was shopping in a nearby super store that has junior size shopping carts for children to use They're perfect for those little helpers who accompany mommy or daddy shopping, but who are a little too big to be satisfied sitting in the regular carts' toddler seats. (My five-year-old granddaughter loves having her own cart to push.) I stopped behind a little girl who was helping her mom choose produce. The mother was being patient, allowing the child to select which veggies she preferred and explaining how to choose the best ones. When she realized they were blocking the aisle the mother immediately apologized and the little girl echoed the apology as they both moved out of the way. I assured them I didn't mind, finished my shopping, and took my groceries to my car. As I transferred grocery bags from my cart to my car, I observed a woman doing the same thing across from me. A small child was crying loudly inside her vehicle. The woman screamed at him to "shut-up" a couple of times, then she said, "Get out of the car. You can find your own way home. I don't want you anymore anyway." I watched to see if she really did abandon the child in a large, busy parking lot. Thankfully she didn't, but I couldn't help contrasting the two parents' I'd observed. I suspect one will grow up strong and confident with a good sense of self worth. The other will struggle with self-esteem, may bully others, and likely will never quite feel wanted.

I don't know either woman and there's nothing like a woman who has already raised her children to know what a young mother should or shouldn't do, you know those things we wish we'd known when we were raising our own children, but learned too late. The first parent-child pair left me feeling good and pleased that the little girl was learning skills that will help her all of her life. The kind, gentle relationship between the two left me with positive feelings. The other mother may have had a bad day, but even a bad day does not justify threats of abandonment. I know as well as anyone how difficult a four or five year old can be, but even a difficult child who is misbehaving should be threatened with abandonment and told he isn't wanted.

My point in relating this experience? It's two-fold. First, to other writers. This is how to make stories real. Observe and store  up incidents large and small you encounter. This is how you create realistic characters. To readers and random people everywhere, this is where writers get started with character development. Most writers could easily turn one or both of these mothers into a character in one of his/her books. Small incidents tell a great deal about a person and if you don't want to wind up the villain in someone's story try speaking and behaving like a hero or heroine. You'll be happier and so will your children.

* * *

As a side note, I've been spending as much time as possible working in my garden to make up for the neglect it received while I spent so much time in hospitals and recuperating the past few years. If you can stand more of my garden pictures, here goes:





 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Surviving Life's Storms



It has been a while since I composed a blog post. Life seemed to pick up speed with company coming, helping relatives move, and a little thing known as trigger finger. I've endured that last challenge before, and ended up having surgery on my left thumb to repair things. This time it's my right thumb that has been acting up, and since I'm right-handed, it has been less than pleasant. I've been wearing a special brace that is helping, and the swelling is diminishing, as is the tendency for the joint to lock in place. We're hoping to avoid surgery this time around--guess we'll see. Joys of diabetes combined with rheumatoid arthritis. Character building moments. ;) And all of these interesting spring storms aren't helping.

A couple of nights ago, we survived a particularly intense storm in our area. The wind picked up speed and blew in dark clouds. Rain descended in a frantic fury. It came down so hard, I was kind of glad I haven't been able to plant anything yet like flowers, garden, etc. I wasn't sure anything would've survived the impact. Suddenly the sky lit up as the storm morphed into a lightening show, complete with booming thunder. One blast hit so close, it seemed as though our entire house shook. Needless to say, I didn't fall asleep very early that night--the storm held my rapt attention.

Is it me, or have there been more than the usual amount of storms occurring lately? Watching the weather channel is transfixing these days. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many varying natural disasters compliments of Mother Nature take place in such a short period of time. It seems to go along with what is happening in our personal lives. People are being hit from every direction with all kinds of challenging moments.

It made me think of another time--a year when everything seemed to hit the fan at the same time. It was 1983, the year my first son was born. In that one year, I was placed on insulin permanently--I developed blood clots in the main vein of my left leg--and just as I was literally getting back on my feet, my father committed suicide. Although a wonderful event had occurred with the birth of our son, in many ways, it was a terrible year--one major emotional storm after another until I felt like I was drowning.

One of the things that helped me through was writing out everything I was feeling. On the nights I couldn't sleep, I filled page after page with inner pain, shredding these pages into the garbage when I was finished. I didn't realize it, but I was doing my own form of therapy. And in time, I was hooked on writing. I felt better when I wrote things out. I just wish I would've kept some of what was written. For nearly 2 years of my life, there is no written record of any kind--but maybe it's better that way.

Two years later, I began writing a story. It was in essence my story, but I changed some of the circumstances to make it easier to read and write. That was the first manuscript I ever put together. It was entitled, "Still Water Runs Deep," my first attempt at writing a novel. Eight years later my sixth attempt at composing a manuscript was published by Covenant Communications, the book that would eventually be known as "Kate's Turn."

Something good and positive came out of a situation that was devastating. It's a lesson I've tried to remember: good things can come out of difficult times. I know I was strengthened in many ways.For instance, I learned to rely on my Father in heaven as night after sleepless night I poured out my heart to Him. He alone understood the pain in my heart. Actually, there was Someone Else who understood what I was going through, my Savior, Jesus Christ. He truly has endured every pain any one of us will ever suffer. (See Alma 7:11)

But there were days when some of the self pity stuff would surface. I remember one day I was feeling quite blue about losing my dad. I picked up my guitar and began composing what I thought would be a sad song, something to express what I was feeling. To my annoyance, it morphed into an upbeat ditty about hanging in there during challenging times. (Yes, I believe our Heavenly Father possesses a sense of humor.) Regardless, that particular song became quite popular in our area. I performed it on several programs, and was later asked to record it on a cassette tape the high school music teacher put together that year with a lot of the local talent. They used the title of my song as the title of the cassette since it was the only original song performed, and we didn't have to worry about copyright adventures. ;) Ironically, it was about surviving life storms. I'll conclude this post by sharing the words to that song. And when storms descend in our lives, remember, there is always hope, no matter how dark the skies may seem:


Colors of the Rainbow

1st  Ev’ry so often, storms will come our way
Sometimes they’ll stay forever, sometimes for just a day
And when the wind is howling and the clouds block out the sun
And the crackling sound of lightening, strikes fear in ev’ry one
Hold on tight together as the rain starts pouring down
For the colors of the rainbow will soon come, shining ‘round.

2nd Ev’ry so often, trials will come our way
Sometimes they’ll stay forever, sometimes for just a day
And when your heart is breaking and the pain blocks out life’s light
And the hope for a new tomorrow, never seems in sight
Hold on to one another as the rain starts pouring down
For the colors of the rainbow will soon come, shining ‘round
(Repeat 1st verse)


Cheri J. Crane

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Merry Month of May

When we were in elementary school, the first day of May was a wonderful holiday. We dressed up more than just our everyday school clothes - though not quite in our Sunday best. During the day - I don't remember whether it was during recess or lunch hour or whether it was a special part of the program - we all went out to the playground and wrapped the May Pole.

It was really just the flag pole or the tether ball pole, but long ribbons had been attached to the top and we had to bob under and around each other to braid it beautifully all the way to the bottom. Memory can be a funny thing, and I'm really not sure if we actually had music while we did it, or if I always just have a song in my mind and bring my own accompaniment but it seems there was music.

Our seventh grade teacher was also the choir teacher and we had a little chorus that sang for special occasions. I loved Mrs. Bright. She was young and pretty and read stories to us right after lunch before we started again into classes. I would draw intricate designs in my notebook and color them while she read. That was a pleasant memory that surfaced thinking about school. Off subject.

Much later, May Day became associated with displays of military might in other countries which spoiled the beauty of the day for me. I always wanted to remember soft sunny days, warm breezes and lovely, bright colored ribbons being wound around the pole and what fun we had doing it. Life seemed much more pleasant then and certainly more simple.

 Memory softens some of the rough edges. I also remember a big sixth grader tripping me - on purpose - when I was in the third grade. I fell on my face on the front stone steps of the old two story black rock elementary school and chipped my front tooth. I was snaggle-toothed until high school when a kind dentist finally filed away part of it to help even it out. So maybe life wasn't so much more pleasant - just more simple.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Desperation can sometimes breed/bring Inspiration!

We were living in San Antonio, Texas in the early 1980's where I served as Education Counselor in the Stake Relief Society. I desperately needed a special musical number that enhanced our theme of Excellence for Stake Leadership meeting I'd been planning for weeks. There simply wasn't anything to be found that sent the message I so desperately wanted to present in a way that music can only do.

My husband needed something from Austin, up Interstate 35 about an hour. I had been praying fervently, pleading for inspiration, and I really didn't need to take these precious hours for a trip up and and back when I needed to be working on the meeting. But I went, praying all the way. Suddenly the words began coming into my mind - with a melody to go with them.

I grabbed a piece of paper and pen from my purse and scribbled frantically while I drove. I repeated them over and over and the melody just flowed. By time I returned home, I was able to go to the piano and write down the notes. But then, I am not a composer and the accompaniment was another matter.

To add to the problem, I needed an interlude between the pleading tone of the first part and the answer that came to the pleading that was a totally different tone and key. Yes, I even changed the key signature. I am a simple pianist - I never had training in all the wonderful parts of music and how they work. I simply took piano lessons as a child and then never quit practicing so I didn't lose my knowledge of how to play - I just never progressed beyond being able to play the hymns and some simple accompaniments.

This was total inspiration - revelation that came in answer to my need to serve and meet the needs of my sisters. But the heavenly help didn't stop there. A seminary and institute teacher in our ward was well versed in music and I asked him to write the interlude. He did. Then I asked another sweet member of our ward with an amazing voice to sing it and another talented sister to play for her since I was conducting the meeting.

To hear that heaven-inspired message in that meeting was something I'll never forget. It was the perfect channel through which the Holy Ghost could touch hearts and embed the message of the meeting. I know God hears and answers prayers in sometimes very unexpected ways. He can work miracles through the weakest and simplest of us when we are on His errand. The song was never performed again and I even had to dig through stacks of music to find it to be able to share the words.

Excellence

Where am I going? Why am I here?
Please won't you make all the answers more clear?
How can I be all you know I can be?
Help me, dear Father, Please help me so see.

When my world is so frantic -
When my calendar's full;
When everyone needs me
All I feel is the pull!

When there's no time for learning;
When there's no time for me
How can I be all you need me to be?

Take one step, Stretch yourself, Reach up high!
Set a goal, struggle hard, reach the sky!
Excellence! If you strive for Excellence,
A Celestial Excellence is what you'll find!

Thank you, dear Father, Now I can do
All of the things that you need me to do!
Now I can be all you know I can be!
One little word - Excellence is the key!

Thank you, Cheri, for your last post that reminded me of this totally forgotten little faith-promoting episode from decades ago. I may dust it off and give it to my talented daughter and granddaughters to perform just for me.

On a related note, because I kept practicing the hymns and never gave up playing when called upon to help with music, I was asked to be the ward organist. You've got to be kidding, I said! I was barely a qualified Relief Society pianist, hiding behind the piano so no one could see my red face when I made mistakes. I was too shocked to say no to the calling. I kept stuttering "But I'm not an organist! I don't know how to play the organ!"

Amazingly, many do not seem to know there is a world of difference between playing an organ and playing a piano. The bishop promised as I was obedient and accepted the calling, the blessings of learning to play would come. And they did. I've been ward organist for nearly 20 years - still just barely getting through the hymns each Sunday and agonizing over making mistakes that will jar the congregation from their worship, but the blessings have come. Including keeping my arthritic fingers from freezing and stopping working altogether. Obedience and prayer - and desperation definitely bring heavenly blessings.



Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Are The Stars Still There?


It seems like our valley has been hit from every direction in recent days. Most people are enduring trials of some nature--heart-rending challenges that overwhelm. I woke early this morning, troubled by some of the things taking place. It doesn't help that today marks the anniversary of a tragic loss in our family. I found myself staring out the front room window at the bright stars still visible, and it triggered a memory of another time when life was less than fun. I'd like to share a journal entry I wrote then:

 November 5, 1996



". . . A few weeks ago, I had been feeling quite discouraged. I think we all experience times like that in our lives, moments when we wonder why life has to be so challenging. I don't feel that way all of the time, but for some reason, at that particular instance, despair seemed to creep inside my heart. One night when everyone else in my family had gone to bed, I wandered outside. Sometimes listening to the night sounds brings comfort and so I sat on the porch and listened for a bit. I remember silently praying, asking why I was feeling this way. The thought came to mind, "There is still beauty in the world." I agreed, but still wanted to know why things seemed so bleak. I had been having some challenging health problems and there were several trials taking place with some of my extended family members. As I wondered why everything had to be so hard, I stood and glanced up at the sky. It was one of those star-filled nights--the entire sky was lit with stars. Again the thought came to mind, "There is still beauty in the world." As I gazed at the stars, I noticed that clouds were moving in. This is something that has probably occurred millions of times, but for once, I was watching as it happened. Within minutes, every star was covered. As I stared at the sky, I was so amazed by how quickly the clouds had moved in. Another thought came to mind, "Are the stars still there?" With that thought came the peace I had been seeking. Other thoughts came, "Is the Church still true? Does your Heavenly Father love you? Did your elder Brother lay His life down for you? Are all of these things true despite the discouragement, despite the challenges, the heartaches, the pains of life? Are the stars still there?"
The lesson I was taught that night has been such a comfort. Every time I start feeling a little down, it comes to mind: "Are the stars still there?"
To make a long story short . . . [I had an impression that] I should write a song based on that theme . . .  Here are the lyrics:

                                                         Are The Stars Still There?
By: Cheri J. Crane


1st:
Dark were my thoughts--all around were storms of heartache and strife
All those tests that sometimes just go with life
Mountains that seemed too steep to climb.
I walked outside--to clear my head and ask my Father, "Why?"
My inner peace had dissolved for a time
Where was the faith that was mine?

Chorus:
Staring at the star-filled sky--my heart revealed its inner cry
"Father, if You're listening help me know the reason why."
A thousand tiny twinkling lights were covered, hidden from
my sight
Grey clouds veiling light that once had shone so bright.
Darkness seemed to fill the night as every star was veiled
from sight
Yet peace crept in my heart and comfort eased the black despair
As the question came, "My child, my child--Are the stars still there?"

2nd:
Now when dark thoughts come and some nights seem too long
I remember the words of this song
When everything seems to go wrong
The answer to my prayer--the night I struggled with despair
The night my Father heard my silent prayer
And reminded me the stars are always there.

Chorus:
Our Father's love is always there--through layers of grief and care
Hope is shining brightly through the clouds of dark despair
A thousand tiny twinkling lights--though covered, hidden from our sight
Grey clouds veiling light that once had shone so bright.
Though darkness seems to fill the night--And every star is veiled from sight
Peace and love seep through to ease the black despair--
Remember the question--"My child, are the stars still there?"



Monday, April 4, 2016

Still cleaning out!

Every once in a while I go back to my stack of files to sift through and toss things that are no longer pertinent: sayings that touched me at one time or another; a scripture with a wonderful illuminating comment; a story that had meaning.

Today I leafed through a file and decided it was time to toss a bunch more things that are good but that can now be found on line at the click of a mouse.

Then I came across the little message below. I had included it as a President's Message one of the many times I served as a Relief Society president across the United States while we were in the Air Force. It is still pertinent today:

"If something is impossible, but if you want it bad enough, it can happen!" How do we accomplish the impossible? According to Elder Larry Lawrence, these are the steps:

1.  Choose a righteous desire (a desire is something you want with all your heart - not just a wish or a dream.)
2. Be believing - not half-heartedly hope it will happen, but have no doubt in your heart or mind that you can accomplish it with the help of the Lord.
3. Plead your case to the Lord - pray vocally, unceasingly, having the goal in mind the entire time. Think about it every minute your mind can spare to focus on it.
4. Be totally committed to the goal - preoccupied with it, with an overpowering desire to accomplish it. Commitment means to go the extra mile - maybe give up a bad habit to show that you are so totally committed to this goal that you will sacrifice something to get it.
5. Know your faith may be tried. You may taste the agony of defeat before you find the thrill of victory.
6. Expect the Lord to perform! Know that as you do your part in accomplishing this righteous desire of your heart, He will help you.

Guess it must be time to apply this to finish editing Too Many Ghosts and find a publisher. I really do want to get that done......but apparently not enough to follow the above steps.