Thursday, March 29, 2018

Words Matter (And Feathers Are Messy)

There are many critics in today’s world. Some even hold the esteemed position of being a professional reviewer. These people let us know what is or isn’t acceptable, delicious, or appealing, whether it’s art, movies, books, food, etc. 

And in this day and age of social media, most of us at one time or another have posted a viewpoint concerning something we feel strongly about. I do this quite often in the form of a blog post. I begin pondering something that is bothering me, or items on the other end of the scale that I consider important or worth touting, and before long, I’m typing away, expressing my opinion.

Bottom line, that’s all any critic is doing: expressing their opinion. I may or may not agree with what is being raked over the coals, that is my choice. Their opinions are based on their experience or lack thereof, and so are mine. 

Here’s what I don’t like: the tendency to believe whatever is shared, whether it’s a critique of a fancy restaurant, a movie or book review, or local gossip. What if the restaurant in question is having a bad day when the critic arrives to sample? What if normally, that restaurant serves amazing food, but the critic arrives the one time the soup is scorched, or a waitress trips after working a double-shift and happens to spill everything on a tray that is in reality, much too heavy for one person to carry. The headlines the next day read: “Terrible food and service. Avoid this eatery!” And the damage is done. Because of what one person has said, others believe the review, and suddenly, a really good restaurant is going out of business because of an opinion.

We’ve all heard the analogy of the blind men who are all trying to describe an elephant. Every person comes up with a different description, based on the limited experience they have had with the subject matter. To my way of thinking, this applies to life in general. We all bring differing opinions and experiences to the table, and then insist that everyone else needs to believe what we have to say about things. Perhaps instead, we need to refrain from judging, and look for the good in each situation.

When my mother was a young teen, she was asked to prepare a talk for church based on the negative effects of gossip. She was quite close to her father, and one day while they were outside doing chores (she grew up on a Wyoming ranch) she spoke with him about this talk she had to give in church that Sunday. He gave her an idea to use as an object lesson, and she eagerly agreed.

The day for the talk finally arrived. Clutching a paper bag, my mother stood at the pulpit and declared how harmful gossip could be. She then opened the paper bag, and shook it out into the chapel. It was full of the feathers she had gathered that week, and they went everywhere throughout the large room. She then made a profound analogy, declaring that sharing gossip was like emptying a bag of feathers into a room—there was no way you could possibly gather up what had been scattered in all directions. 

It was a very effective object lesson, but my grandmother was appalled. And my mother spent the rest of the day cleaning up the feather mess, aided by her father.

I’ve reflected on that story quite often. It usually makes me smile—my grandfather possessed a great sense of humor, and I’ll bet he absolutely loved it when my mother released the contents of her paper bag. Even though it proved to be a messy adventure, an important point was made: when we share a juicy tidbit that we’ve learned, overheard, misinterpreted, etc. with someone else, we have no control over how far or wide that tidbit will travel. And details are usually added along the way that make it even more interesting. It’s called human nature.

How wonderful it would be if we refrained from sharing negative items. There is an argument that criticism makes us strive for perfection. To my way of thinking, most of the time, criticism actually has the opposite effect. How many times have we been personally deflated by a negative opinion? 

Years ago, I was asked to perform on a talent show that featured teens from the area. The problem was, it was to take place the same night as a high school girls’ basketball game. Since I was a member of said team, my attendance was mandatory at that event. I figured I could still make it on time to perform at the talent show, and I agreed to try. 

It ended up being a very intense game and I played during a goodly portion of it. I quickly showered, changed, and my parents drove me across town for the talent show. I arrived minutes before I was supposed to perform. I had been asked to do a song that I had written, and I accompanied myself on the guitar. The problem was, I was exhausted, out of breath, and hadn’t had a chance to warm up my vocal chords. I may have also been a little hoarse from cheering for our team here and there. Just sayin’. Anyway, when it was time for my number, I walked out onto the stage and did the best that I could under the circumstances. I knew it wasn’t my finest performance, but I really tried. 

When the show was over and I picked up my guitar case to leave, someone I considered to be a good friend marched up to me and said: “I don’t know why you think you can sing! That was awful!” Then she whirled around and left. I was crushed. In that moment, I silently vowed that I would never sing again.

Fortunately, one of my YW leaders had also been the crowd that night. She had overheard the snide remark that had been made, and she led me to a private corner of the room where we had a little chat. Her soothing words more than made up for the caustic criticism that had been cast my way. She made me promise that I would not turn my back on a talent she encouraged me to pursue, and she pointed out that my so-called friend, was being critical because of jealousy. This girl also did a bit of singing, and she had not been asked to perform on that particular show. 

I’ve pondered that experience quite often. The criticism, which may or may not have been deserved, was so devastating—it nearly discouraged me from ever trying something like that again. It was only because of the positive comments from my YW leader that I pushed past that very bad night. And a couple of years later, I was asked to write and perform a song the night of our high school graduation. During my college years, I was asked to write and perform songs for various occasions, including the theme song for a formal dance, a song for the opening assembly that welcomed incoming freshmen, etc. In short, positive feedback encouraged me to continue forward, developing a talent that was almost stifled. 

Moral of the story: words matter. Use them carefully. I truly think it’s the bridge builders who make the most difference in a world that is focused on tearing things down.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Building Blocks

It has been my observation that things of worth begin with a solid foundation. The great structures of the world demonstrate the importance of this truth. If the foundation is rock solid, then no matter what storm may erupt to batter and pummel, this structure remains standing, firm, solid, undefeated. 

As a child, I quickly caught on while playing with blocks, plastic bricks, etc. that the foundation was the most important part of whatever it was I was trying to construct. And sometimes, when what I was building didn’t turn out as planned, it was sometimes necessary to tear things back down to that foundation and start again.

You can probably guess where this particular blog post is going. Constructing a solid foundation is crucial in this life. It is necessary to have a strong sense of who we are, why we’re here, and where we’re going to survive when the storms of life come crashing down upon us. 

“What storms?” some of you may ask. Trust me, they come. They sometimes come in the form of physical health problems. At times they surface with the loss of a loved one. Other sources: financial difficulties, emotional and mental challenges, and in many instances, they appear at the hands of someone else.

Regardless of how they arrive in our lives, at one time or another, we will all face trials of some nature. As I’ve mentioned before in other blog posts, that is part of why we’re here. Tribulations often reveal what we’re made of. However, it can be a difficult thing to remember that we each possess a spark of divinity when our hearts are shattered and all seems lost. 

For the record, we are indeed the spirit sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to succeed in this mortal life. He wants us to learn and grow and to appreciate the importance of faith, hope, and charity. Both He and our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, understand how difficult life can be. Both are there for us if we will only trust in Them and ask Them for help.

I began that arduous journey at the age of 15. At that time in my life I was questioning everything. Life wasn’t great at home, compliments of my dad’s deteriorating physical and mental health. It was often a great challenge for me to attend church meetings because of this. My biggest arguments with my father were over whether or not I was going to attend church on Sunday, or mutual on Tuesday nights. Though it wasn’t always easy for me to be there, I knew I was learning important doctrine that would affect me the rest of my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these teachings became crucial building blocks for the testimony I would strive to gain later that same year.

Maybe because I had to fight so hard to secure the testimony that I desired, I have always treasured it. It came during a time when everything around me seemed to crumble in a painful fashion. 

One example: for the first time ever, my father gathered my siblings and I together for a unique family prayer. My maternal grandmother was fighting for her life in a far away hospital and things weren’t looking good. So we knelt together in prayer and my father begged for her life to be spared. When it wasn’t, he told me that prayers weren’t answered. It was a painful, confusing time. 

Shortly after this event, I began my spiritual quest in earnest. I needed to know for myself what was true, and what was not. I remember attending a testimony meeting one night (back then, Sacrament meeting was held on Sunday night) and feeling like my heart was on fire when a girl in our ward who was a few years older than me, bravely shared her testimony. Her words ignited a burning desire within me to know for myself the truth of what she had shared. 

It would take months for me to gain this knowledge. And it required a tremendous effort on my part. When I asked a close friend how to begin this process, she assured that I would receive the answers I was seeking if I would sincerely read and study the Book of Mormon, and then pray about it. I remember thinking, “Could it be that simple?” It wasn’t.

As I have shared before, that year became a year of challenges. Trials rose before me that threatened my tender heart and physical well-being. I will just state for the record that the adversary will not stand idly by when good things are about to take place. He hits below the belt whenever possible to discourage us and to fill us with doubt and despair.

What I learned through that painful process was that if we will persevere, and rise above whatever obstacles may come our way, we can secure the knowledge that we desire.

I will never forget the strong witness that burned inside my heart the night my testimony finally surfaced. It took place at a testimony meeting held at a special youth conference in West Yellowstone. The youth of three stakes had been gathered together for this event. And after my year of trials that had nearly torn me apart, it provided the healing balm I desperately needed. A calming peace filled me as I stood and for the first time in my life, shared what was in my heart. I felt the truthfulness of every word as I stated that I knew I was a daughter of God, that the gospel of Jesus Christ was true, that the LDS Church was true, and the Book of Mormon was true. These items burned within, and later that same night, I was filled with a sense of supreme joy that I had never experienced before. 

Those were my building blocks. I used them to construct a sense of who I was, why I was here, and where I was going. They have influenced my life repeatedly and given me hope when all seemed lost.

The trials in my life didn’t stop after I gained that all-important testimony. They have continued in a myriad of different ways. I call them character-building moments. When they arrive, I still sometimes throw myself, but when the dust settles, I reflect upon what I know to be true, and strive to conduct myself accordingly. It isn’t always easy—again, things of worth never are. But I can testify that it is possible to find peace, hope, and joy when we push past the pain and allow ourselves to feel what is true.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


Change is part of life. The End. (Shortest blog post ever.) Kidding. For some reason this morning, that theme seems to be running through my head. Life is change. If it wasn’t, there would not really be a reason to exist. In a nutshell, without change, there would be no growth. And as we all know, that is a big part of why we’re here in mortal mode. (Ponder Adam & Eve and the Garden of Eden.) We are here to learn, to grow, and to change. 

That being said . . . change is a hard thing. Again, consider the plight of Adam and Eve. They start out in a garden where everything grows without effort. It’s a beautiful place to live and there are no trials. Every day is the same—eat yummy food that grows like crazy on trees, plants, etc. Play with the cute animals, who are all tame and well behaved. Drink water that is pure. Sleep when tired, and start over. There are no illnesses, no bumps or bruises, it truly is a paradise. And everything stays the same. Continually. There is no change, no learning, no growth.

Enter satan. (I purposely don’t capitalize his name.) He stirred things up nicely. And suddenly, there was change. And with it came growth and learning. But it was a hard thing. 

I can’t even imagine how difficult it was for Adam and Eve who were brave enough to decide that change was good. They went from having everything handed to them, to growing it all themselves. If they wanted to eat, drink, or sleep, they had to find a way to make that happen. The animals were no longer in nice mode. I’m sure that was a factor as well as some of them developed a real attitude problem. But in way of good news, each day was different.

Light speed to our day. Life is definitely in change mode—everywhere we look. So that must mean that we’re being given vast opportunities for growth and learning, right?! The problem is, sometimes I think we get a little overwhelmed by all of the changes that are taking place. There are days when we want to hide in a corner and dream of Eden.

Change is hard. I learned that principle at the ripe age of three when my parents brought home an interesting bundle of joy wrapped in a blue blanket. The arrival of my little brother shifted my world in an instant. I don’t remember much about all of that, but I was told that for a while, I pouted. I went from being an only child to becoming an older sister. It was an abrupt transformation that took a few months to absorb. But it was totally worth it! And I will be eternally grateful for the siblings I’ve been blessed with.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of being the youngest Primary President our ward had ever seen to that point in time. (This did not fill hearts with rapture. Most thought the bishop had lost his mind.) We saw a lot of change during the five years I served in that capacity. Among other things, I was the last Primary President to serve in the old, white church house that once existed in our small farming community. I was the first to serve in the new brick church building that we still use. It was a time of adjustment, growth, and learning. Times were changing and as my counselors and I did our best to make decisions that we felt would improve life in Primary land, we had numerous critics who pointed out that we were changing things . . . a lot. One of the changes came after an edict arrived from Salt Lake. We were to do away with the beloved Cub Scout Rodeo, a staple in our ward since the beginning of time. This did not go over well at all with the local population. The reason for the change was valid—liability was factored into the decision. Cub Scouts were getting injured periodically from this activity. So we were to discontinue this practice immediately, and promote a Cub Scout Carnival in its place. Can I just say that this announcement went over like a lead balloon?!
Feeling rather frustrated, I penned the following poem later on:

Make the Wind a Friend
“Change, change is not for me!”
Said an oak with dignity.
“Why it’s an outrage to even contemplate
“Thoughts of change that irritate!”
And so he thought and said each day,
Refusing to bend when the wind blew his way.

A young willow, observing the strain
Thought the oak was in great pain.
 “Please, sir, but it seems to me
“That you are not a happy tree.
“Perhaps if you would try to bend,
“The wind could become a treasured friend.
“Offering a breeze when the day is warm . . .”

The oak tree bellowed with disgust
Thinking that his rage was just.

Ignoring the willow, he defied the wind
Never willing to rescind.
In time, the wind destroyed the tree,
A fierce gale turning it into debris.
Pride and fear inhibited the growth that might have been,
If the oak had welcomed the wind as his friend.
Cheri J. Crane

Ironically, I now find myself to be an oak—with the mindset of a willow. Interesting combination.  For the most part, I like change. I know it’s essential to life, and yet I find myself dragging my feet somewhat when faced with changes that aren’t very fun. For instance, it’s a difficult thing to watch your parent age. You want things to go back to when they were active, enjoying life, and in good health. And yet, somehow you know that particular ship has sailed. 

I absolutely love being a grandmother, but I find myself worrying over items like the kind of world my grandchildren are inheriting. I gape at fashions and trends that seem a bit over the top, and long for the days when leggings were called tights and they were worn under dresses and such. On the other hand, I seem to recall a time in history when leggings were all the rage, worn under tunics as swords were strapped to the side. So I guess it is true, if you wait long enough, different fashion statements become popular again.

Back to the topic at hand: Change! It is part of life. What we do with it is up to us, part of the agency thing. I do think it’s important to weigh each decision and ponder whether the change in question is a good thing for us, if there is a choice in the matter. At times, though, change is frequently forced upon us without our consent. Trials, health traumas, or loss arrive without warning, much like the small earthquake we experienced in our realm the other night. Sometimes things just happen and we have to decide how we will respond. And that often determines the kind of person we will become. (No pressure.) 

So I guess what I’m trying to say in a rambling fashion is that change is part of why we’re here, and though sometimes that process isn’t very fun, in the long run, it does give us a chance to prove what we’re made of. (Is this when I drop the mike?)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Speaking of Avalanche Mode

So it has been a while since I’ve written anything. The holidays happened with gusto . . . and lots of family and fun. Then our clan was blitzed by the raging flu bug that is unfortunately going around. My mother was hit very hard by that particular bug. One night she got up, was extremely dizzy, and began to fall. She tried to stop herself by grabbing onto a small chest of drawers located in her bathroom, and pulled it on top of herself. She lay on the bathroom floor for a good 30-40 minutes before she was able to finally pull her herself out from under all of that.

My mom lives by herself in a cute apartment not far from where I dwell, but I had no idea she was in trouble until I called to check on her the next morning. When she told me what had happened, I knew we needed to take her in to see a doctor. So my oldest son and I hurried into town. (We live about 4 miles outside of the local village.) Since it was January 1st, we knew none of the local clinics would be open, so we took her to ER.

Luckily, Mom hadn’t broken anything, but she was covered in bumps and bruises. She also tested positive for the flu. She was placed on Tamiflu, and her doctor (who happened to be on call that day) insisted that we needed to look into a medical alert system for her to prevent this kind of situation from happening again.

We were just starting to get on top of things after all of that, and our ward suffered the loss of two beloved members—in the same week. Both deaths tore at the heart strings. One was expected, the other was not. And as luck would have it, my husband and I had been assigned church cleaning duty the first two weeks of January. Let’s just say we weren’t bored for those two weeks.

Thus far, the new year has been a bit of a blur. I haven’t even had time to ponder life-changing resolutions. Free time has been nil. (This means there hasn’t been any.) Between all of the adventures mentioned above, plus little things like helping my husband with the local meals on wheels program available in our area, Cub Scout adventures, etc. I do my best to swamp out our abode, and keep up with things like laundry, meals, so on and so forth. 

I barely had time to acknowledge and ponder the loss of our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. A lot of things have slipped to the way side, including blog posts. I apologize for that, but am happy to report that despite everything, I am somehow managing to keep my nose a bit above the turbulent waters that currently surround us.

That’s kind of how life is for a lot of us. I’ve talked to other family members and friends, and though their life adventures differ, they all appear to be in the same boat. LIFE IS CRAZY!!!  (Emphasis on “crazy.”)

I remember years ago hearing a seminary teacher state that in the latter days, church members will be kept so busy, they won’t have time to worry about all of the intense events that will be taking place in the world. At the time, I thought that was rather silly. I have lived to a point in my life where I take back what I once thought. We are seeing it. We are living it. It is happening. Just sayin’ . . .

I am realizing that it is crucial these days to make the time for items like personal prayer, scripture study, and however we manage to fill our personal buckets. For me it’s a combination of things, like the two items I already mentioned, and hot baths, going for a walk with a good friend, taking pictures, writing, strumming my guitar, etc. I find that life seems to go better when I can work that stuff in . . . but in light of the crazy times . . . it doesn’t always happen. And a price is paid. Peace of heart and mind seems to fade as we flop into Chicken Little mode.

So we take a step back, take a deep breath, and try again, knowing we must work in the things that will inspire the peace of heart and mind that we desperately need these days.

A writer writes. I’ve heard that saying repeated countless times . . . but it is true. And sometimes we take a lot of notes. I’ve been accused of that on family trips, during General Conference season, etc. So it may not be a surprise to my close family members and friends that I took a few notes the day our new prophet was announced. The ones that stand out are as follows:

“Keep on the covenant path!” President Russell M. Nelson

“The best is yet to come!” President Henry B. Eyring

“Maintain faith in the Lord!” President Eyring

“Wake, eager to face the day’s adventures!” President Russell M. Nelson

“(The Savior) will guide and bless each one of us!” President Dallin H. Oaks

“Face the future with optimism and joy with faith in the Lord!” President Russell M. Nelson
“See the Church as it really is!” President Henry B. Eyring  (I took this one to mean that we need to ignore the small stuff and to quit judging each other!)

It’s looking like our new Church Presidency is trying to tell us that despite all of the craziness taking place in today’s world, we need to focus on the good things. We need to shrug off the negative vibes and actively pursue those items that bring us happiness. It won’t be easy, things of worth seldom are, but I have decided that despite the avalanche of life that mowed over the top of us at the beginning of this new year, it will be possible to find joy. I am determined to make 2018 a year to remember, one that is filled with positive events and peace. 

Only we can change our mind set. Only we can pull ourselves out from under whatever has fallen on top of us thus far this year, and be as my mother has been, determined to survive! 

With that said, I realize it will be a challenge. It will take everything we have to offer and then some to heed the advice from our church leaders. I am determined to try. And if other avalanches come along in our lives, let’s help each other dig out!