Thursday, September 29, 2016

Father Figures

Life has been anything but dull in our neck of the woods. September was another blur in a series of blurry months. An epic 80th birthday party for my mother-in-law took center stage at the beginning of September. It was followed by a funeral a week later as my step-father-in-law slipped from this mortal realm. 

I have a difficult time preparing for moments like this. It tends to open a gaping heart-wound that will possibly never fully heal in this lifetime. Losing my own father the way that I did has left a tender hole in my well-being. Losing Kennon’s dad three years later was like dumping salt in a heartache that has never faded entirely. I was close to this man and he had assured me several times following my father’s suicide that he was my dad. Then his health went south and he quietly passed from my life.

I tried very hard not to get attached to Kennon’s first step-father, but the loving, easy-going man slipped inside my heart before I knew what was happening. He was the only grandfather our sons ever knew. Our sons all have favorite stories about how this wonderful man made them each feel important and loved. In my own case, he repeatedly placed his arm around my shoulders, and affirmed that I was one of his daughters. Losing him after he had been part of our family for 17-18 years was not an easy thing. Singing at his funeral rather ripped my heart out. 

When my mother-in-law remarried, I was not sure I liked this idea. I knew she hated to be alone and had met an awesome guy, but I wasn’t ready or willing to allow someone else into my life. It happened anyway. And before long, I found that this 4th father-figure had also slipped inside my tender heart. We both loved books, and it was something special we shared. He knew I loved art and he made certain that I received a wonderful lithograph of a work by one of his talented nieces. In short, I grew attached to this man. Losing him this past month has been a heartrending journey.

It’s not an easy thing for a daughter to lose a father. I’ve done it now, four times. With each loss, the intense pain nearly overwhelms. Peace eventually descends and life goes on, but it takes a little bit of time for me to reach that point. For a while I find that music is not my friend. I grew up in a musical family—my siblings and I sang with our father on numerous programs. Music cuts through my soul quicker than anything else. I can be sitting in a meeting totally unrelated to what I’ve been through, and a particular song will effectively dissolve the wall I’ve tried to construct around my heart. When the dam bursts, I know it’s time to leave. I hate crying in public and I will go to great lengths to avoid this scenario. So I’ve spent quite a bit of time this past month placing distance between myself and painful reminders of all that has transpired. 

There are ways to get through this grieving process. Thank heavens for Gospel teachings that assure there is life after this mortal world. That knowledge is a comfort. And the Comforter is indeed real. I will be forever grateful for the times that quiet peace has calmed an emotional storm. 

Other things seem to help. Spending time with loved ones soothes that inner pain. This past month I spent some time with my sisters. We did silly things like attend a Women’s Expo that offered several interesting booths. It was a great distraction. We visited with a favorite aunt who is undergoing cancer treatments. We went to a thrift shop and rescued books. We then went for a long walk in a beautiful area. It all eased the heartache and helped me return to a semblance of normalcy.

I also got a chance to hug my grandchildren. This is a great way to soften heart-wounds. When I returned home, I hit the ground running. I still serve in a Relief Society Presidency, and we have had a plethora of opportunities for service lately. My husband and I have also been serving at a nearby temple open house. This has kept me occupied. I’ve also scrubbed my house from top to bottom, something that helps me work through trying times. And I have been writing things out, trying to get rid of the pain in my heart. 

This blog post is a bit different from others I’ve written. I usually try to keep things upbeat. But as I look around and see how others are struggling at the moment, I figured maybe it would help to hear from someone who has had their heart repeatedly smashed that life does get better. Dark days pass, and it is possible to still find joy in this world. It takes time—heart-wounds don’t heal overnight. In some cases, they never fully heal. We just learn to go on, placing our hand inside our Father’s as we continue forward. There are days when we have to take life one minute at a time as we work through the grieving process. Hope comes in knowing that eventually it won’t hurt so much—inner peace will surface. Someday I will smile and actually mean it. Until then, I will smile and no one will know the difference but my Heavenly Father who has stayed by my side through difficult days. We are never as alone as we sometimes think we are. The veil is indeed thin and I know I have five fathers who are cheering me on every step of the way.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Where did the summer go!

I'm always grateful my turn to blog is on  a Friday because that gives me time if I don't get to it on Friday to do it on Saturday or Sunday. But my last post was in June! What happened to July and August!

Actually, we had a glorious family reunion in July in Yellowstone Park so that wiped out two weeks - since it takes a two days to get there and two days to return and we got to see both of my Idaho sisters as well as hubby's reunion. We drove through the Park which was our old stomping grounds - we lived so close growing up that a couple of times a month in the summer our family would drive through just on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon between Sunday School in the morning and Sacrament meeting in the evening. Saw lots of wildlife - elk, deer, bison - and our kids saw some bears and a wolf! Count a week to get ready to go and a week to get caught up from being gone and that solves the problem of the disappearing days in July.

Probably my favorite part of the reunion was sitting in a large circle on lawn chairs drawing from a jar a question about some memory of  family life on the farm or of grandparents or parents now deceased. So fun to remember those we loved so much.

In August we met our good friends and former mission president and his wife, the Beckstrands.  We served with them on our mission in Armenia. Can't believe it has been 14 years since we've returned! Every year we meet in Cedar City for the Shakespeare Festival and also go to St. George to a performance at Tuacahn at their incredible red stone amphitheater. This year's presentation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was amazing! They are wonderful friends and we enjoyed sharing memories of our struggles and triumphs in helping set up the Church in Armenia.

Times sharing memories with family and friends are treasures.

Now I'm literally going through many memories. We're replacing our carpets throughout the house with ceramic tile. That entails removing everything from each room. We have lived in this house for 31 years. I do family history. I have one entire corner devoted to family history files on bookcases and in plastic containers. I have years worth of research from writing books. I have thousands of photographs from that research and of family. There are old manuscripts - the first three or four drafts of Emeralds and Espionage which prove how I finally learned to write a book instead of just tell a story.

What do I do with all of that! How do I part with those old things that will not mean anything at all to those who will have to sort through them when I die? I just found my bandelow from when I was first in Young Women's - and the scrapbook I kept of the work I did to earn each merit badge - the precursor to today's Personal Progress. We spent some fun time yesterday with a daughter and granddaughters looking over my projects. What do I do with that! No one will want it when I die.

But I cannot move it back into this room when the tile is finished and I put my study back together. I cannot put off the inevitable. Everything has to be sorted and disposed of or saved to its proper place. I have one week to accomplish the impossible! Guess I'd better get back to my sorting.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Promoting Faith

Yesterday I taught a lesson in Relief Society that is still lingering inside my heart. I suppose it is in part because of the turmoil that exists in today’s world. It seems like every time we turn on the news, there are more catastrophes to worry over: earthquakes, tornadoes, huge fires, and hurricanes— or acts of violence and greed. The current political battle hangs over our heads like a looming storm cloud. 

All around us locally there are several challenging trials taking place—health concerns, heart-breaking tragedies, and financial disasters. The weather has not been helpful to farmers in the area, nor with this year’s attempt at raising a garden. So far we’ve faced three bizarre frosts that have effectively eliminated tomatoes, peppers, squash etc. True, growing a garden in Bear Lake is like trying to drink out of a fire hose—we often get blasted in the process. ;) Still, we have to try. 

It also seems like lately we’re surrounded by critics who pass judgment over everything. We try to reason through the emotional barrage, saying things like, “Oh, well, they don’t really understand the situation.”  It still makes us feel poorly about ourselves. In short, the adversary is having a heyday filling our hearts with fear, doubt, and negativity.

It is time to rise above all of that and to remember who we truly are. We are sons and daughters of a loving Father in heaven who sent us down here to learn, grow, and achieve. He knew it would be a difficult journey—and He has provided tools to help us along the way. One of those tools is faith.

Faith is a key to having hope. And when we have hope, we are more charitable toward others, breaking the current trend. According to the scriptures, faith is not having certain knowledge of things (see Alma 32:21-22). It is a belief in what is good and true. It starts out as a small seed (see Matthew 17:20-21) and can grow into a large tree, if we will spend the time needed to nourish it. 

There are many ways we can develop faith, and it is often the small and simple things in life that bring us peace. For instance, turning off the media for a while and taking a walk—appreciating the beauty that surrounds us. Realizing there is still a lot of good in this world. News shows rarely show the positive things that are taking place. Sometimes we have to ignore the darkness and seek out the light.
Serving others has always filled my heart with quiet comfort, especially when I’m struggling. Forgetting my pain as I reach out to others is a great way to nourish my tiny seed of faith. 

Hearing faith-promoting experiences from others also strengthens my own belief. I’m sure we’ve all been inspired by the good-hearted example of those who refuse to give up. To quote the Bible dictionary definition of “faith” where there is . . . “true faith there are miracles, visions, dreams, healings, and all the gifts of God that He gives to His Saints.”
Prayer, scripture study, and going to church help fill our spiritual bucket—truly a needful thing in today’s crazy world. 

Being thankful is another way to nourish our faith. I try each night to list the things I’m grateful for. It’s a great reminder that despite the difficulties, there are great blessings, too. 

Surrounding ourselves with uplifting music, art, and books is also helpful in developing faith and a positive attitude.

 I come from a musical family. We performed a lot when I was growing up. This past week the lyrics from one of the songs sprang to mind as I prepared a lesson on faith. Maybe some of you will recognize these inspiring words:

“Prayer is the key to heaven, but faith unlocks the door,
Words are so easily spoken—a prayer without faith is like a boat without an oar.
Have faith when you speak to the Master, that’s all He asks you for,
Yes, prayer is the key to heaven, but faith unlocks the door.”
(Written by: Samuel Scott & Robert Sande)

So in this current time of nonstop challenges and negativity, take the time to nourish the seed of faith. It will in turn, help us find hope when all seems lost.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Primary Way to Find Peace (or the Parable of the Lunchbox)

Greetings. I realize it has been a while since I last blogged. I apologize for that—let’s just say this summer has been a bit of a blur. Family gatherings, trips, a new granddaughter, and reunions have kept us hopping.

Recently I was visiting with a family member and we were discussing the challenges of this current time—busy schedules, trials left and right, and the turmoil that exists in today’s world. We pondered what it takes to find peace in the midst of this. I suppose that’s why I began thinking of past adventures and how we survived. Bear with me as I share one of those events.

I was raised by goodly parents . . . but church attendance was not always a regular thing. I was given a certificate while quite young—something I was proud of at the time. It proclaims that I attended church 2 times that year. It was a pink color and it quickly became a treasure. I believe it was my first certificate. It didn’t dawn on me until later years that it was actually a statement of how many meetings I had missed that year. It still exists in a scrapbook of sorts that I kept. It’s a reminder of that often confusing time in my life.

My father worked most Sundays. He was a pharmacist for a drugstore chain, and they were open on Sundays. We owned one car, and since his job was 30 miles away from our home, he needed the car to go to work. We lived 5 miles from the nearest church house, so most Sundays were spent at home with our mother. My siblings and I (there were 4 of us) attended Primary on a regular basis. It was held during the week and since my younger brother & I were in grade school at the time, we rode the bus to the local church house after school. My mother served as the chorister for our ward Primary, and she often caught a ride with neighbors to attend Primary with my two younger sisters.
I loved Primary, and the feeling I experienced each time I walked into the chapel. That’s where our opening exercises were held. When we arrived from school to the church house, we would grab our coats and lunchboxes (The old school house didn’t have a lunch room. The new school we would later attend offered that novel approach to lunch) and hurry inside the church house. Then we would stand in line and wait until the chapel was opened for Primary. 

I hated standing in line. I was usually surrounded by girls my age who were quick to criticize and ask rude questions. Each week it was the same ordeal:

“Your family doesn’t come to church.”
“We come to Primary,” I would bravely answer.
“But you don’t come to church on Sunday!”
“My dad has to work on Sunday.”
“People aren’t supposed to work on Sunday. Your dad is a bad man.”
“No he’s not! He works hard.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a pharmacist,” I would bravely answer.
“Oh yeah, well my dad is a farm-er!” (Emphasis on the last syllable.)

I remember gazing at this particular girl with a look of disbelief. I was raised to treat others with kindness, and to show respect. Each week I was treated to rude comments and teasing because of my less than stellar church attendance, something that was out of my control. I was continually raked over the coals and made to feel like less than dirt because I didn’t attend church as often as these pillar of the community evidently did with their families. I’m amazed I still loved attending Primary—but I savored the peaceful feeling that filled my heart each week as I walked inside the chapel. I knew in my child’s heart that this was a sacred place and I loved that brief weekly experience that was a spiritual boost. It helped me push aside the hurtful words and actions of those who should have known better. 

One Wednesday afternoon as I stood enduring the weekly taunting outside of the chapel, the girl who usually led the verbal assaults gave me a dirty look and proclaimed loudly:

“Well, my daddy went to college. He’s really smart.”
I sighed, then bravely stated that my father had attended college, too.
“No he didn’t, he’s stupid because he doesn’t come to church on Sundays!”

I guess that was the final straw. After weeks of harassment, my tender heart had endured enough. I hurled my Snoopy lunchbox at my tormentor. I’m ashamed to admit it smacked her upside her head. I regretted that small act of violence immediately. Not only was I in trouble, but I had broken the thermos inside the lunchbox. 

My parents were dismayed over my aggressive behavior. It was the first time I had stood up for myself, and I learned quickly that my reaction was unacceptable, although that particular girl did leave me alone for awhile after that incident.  I tried explaining why I had finally snapped and thrown the lunchbox, but my parents patiently pointed out that it was better to ignore people who said mean things. 

“You know in your heart that you are a good person and what they say doesn’t matter,” my dad stressed. He then told me of times when he had been teased and made fun of because he was one of the smartest kids in school.

“Some kids are mean-spirited and do and say things we can’t take to heart,” my dad added. 

I vowed to do better and never threw my lunchbox at anyone ever again. But there were still times when I gazed at my peers who attended church on a weekly basis and questioned their theory that they were so much better than I was because they went to church each Sunday. I watched at school as these same saintly types cheated, told dirty jokes, and picked on others who were different, for whatever reason. I had a hard time understanding how people who were taught each Sunday to be like the Savior, were less than Christ-like the rest of the week. I was far from perfect myself, but I did strive to be good—most of the time.   

Fortunately, the feeling of peace I experienced each time I attended Primary helped me push past the bad example set by those my age. I began to realize that you couldn’t judge the Church by those who attended. Instead, I began learning all I could about Jesus, and why His example was important.

By the time I was a teenager, we had moved. My dad had been given a chance to manage a drugstore in this small Idaho town. After I adjusted to that change, I was filled with a desire to attend the church meetings I could, and to gain my own testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I learned the importance of ignoring those around me who chose to be less than they could be. Even in this new place there were those who were nicer than others. It all boiled down to agency. Perhaps because I’d had to work so hard to learn about the gospel, it meant more to me than to some of my peers. I was saddened by the behavior of a handful of these people when we reached college age—they had leaned on their parents’ testimonies for years and when they had a taste of freedom, some went off the deep end, ignoring important standards and commandments.

I guess what I’m trying to say in this meandering post, is that we can’t allow the example of others to influence who we’re meant to be. People are people, they make mistakes, and even those who should know better will sometimes be mean, disrespectful, and less than helpful when we’re trying to find our way in a crazy world that has always been full of turmoil. It’s important to discover for ourselves what brings us peace, comfort, and happiness. The good news is that we’re never as alone as we sometimes think we are. I can look back now and see that I was guided by promptings that came from the precious gift of the Holy Ghost. He filled my heart with peace whenever I was somewhere (like the chapel) He knew I needed to be. That feeling of peace gave me the courage to keep coming back, even when it was a less than fun process to be there.

So when life seems to bog down in the mire, and you feel like throwing your lunchbox at someone’s head, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and offer a silent prayer for help. Our Father is very aware of us and what we’re enduring. He will help us find our way out of the mire and back on the path where we need to be. We’re all children of God, and we’re all important to Him. How He must love it when we finally reach that understanding and reach out with kindness to those who may seem a little different.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summertime and the Livin' is Easy.....or is it?

I've always loved summer - remembering, probably incorrectly, peaceful, quiet summer days when a good book beckoned and schedules weren't so cram-packed full of activities. There is always that inevitable to-do list, but there usually seemed time to just relax and enjoy life a little more.

Enter grandchildren. Love them to death, but they do banish solitude and peace and quiet! I've just had my two youngest for a few days and we packed those hours full of activities till I was exhausted when they left.  Fortunately, recovery is quick and I was able to get ready for the next small crew.

Two teen-age granddaughters needed to be packed off to girl's camp while their parents delivered their older brother to the MTC where he will study for 8 weeks before leaving for his France, Paris mission for two years. The girls were basically ready - they just had to be delivered on different days to the meeting point for camp. But in the hours between, we needed to work on dresses, aprons, bonnets and pantaloons for the pioneer trek in July. Mission accomplished in getting them off - still have some sewing to do when they return as they both needed two of each item.

Had two days reprieve to gather my wits and put my house back in order before I collect my youngest grandson tomorrow to stay for nine days. This visit will be different. This seven year old has never come alone. His sister, three years older, has always been with him. I'm afraid we are going to have a bit of a time keeping him entertained so he doesn't miss her too much.

I  compiled a list of activities, gathered books, made menus with his favorite foods and was thinking about other fun things we could do when I started cleaning off my desk. I ran across a "Gem" from Boyd K. Packer that struck me as pertinent to the world today and how we do try to cram too much into our lives - to everyone's detriment.

"Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings. Such words as quiet, still, peaceable, Comforter abound in the scriptures.  The world grows increasingly noisy. Clothing and grooming and conduct are looser and sloppier and more disheveled. Raucous music, with obscene lyrics blasted through amplifiers while lights flash psychedelic colors, characterizes the drug culture. Variations of these things are gaining wide acceptance and influence over our youth . . . .

This trend to more noise, more excitement, more contention, less restraint, less dignity, less formality is not coincidental nor innocent nor harmless.

The first order issued by a commander mounting a military invasion is the jamming of the channels of  communication of those he intends to conquer.

Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit. . . .

No one of us can survive in the world of today, much less in what it soon will become, without personal inspiration. The spirit of reverence can and should be evident . . . . in the lives of every member."  Boyd K. Packer, "Reverence Invites Revelation," General Conference October 1991

Guess I'll plan a few more peaceful, quiet activities and forego some of the noisier ones so the inspiration will more readily flow as to what his needs really are. I definitely need all inspiration I can get - and I enjoy reading to a grandchild as much as losing myself in a good book!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Decoration Day

At least, that's what we called it growing up. Now it's Memorial Day. Memorial Day is much more appropriate for me because I'm in a state far away from those family graves we used to so lovingly decorate. All the aunts and uncles and cousins would gather at our house,  pool all the flowers we had gathered and form them into bouquets, then trundle off to the cemetery to decorate grandma and grandpa graves, and my brother who was killed when he was 12 years old. Anyone and everyone who was even distantly related was remembered and we'd stand over the graves and talk about them and remember fun stories, or sad stories, especially of the little ones who never grew up. Then everyone went back to our home and it was a day of fun and food and family.

Here's a little history for you: Memorial Day is a United States Federal Holiday observed on the last  Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U. S. soldiers who died while in the military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the Civil War,) it was expanded after World War I.

By 1865 the practice of decorating soldiers' graves had become widespread in the North. General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic - the society of Union Army veterans - called for all GAR posts to celebrate a "Decoration Day" on May 30, 1868. There were events in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday; Michigan made "Decoration Day" an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890 every northern state followed suit.  The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women's Relief Corps, with 100,000 members.

By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been buried in 73 national cemeteries, located mostly in the South near battlefields. The most famous are the Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and the Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.

The Memorial Day speech became an occasion for veterans, politicians and ministers to commemorate the war - and at first to rehearse the atrocities of the enemy. They mixed religion and celebratory nationalism and provided a means for the people to make sense of their history in terms of sacrifice for a better nation, one closer to God. People of all religious beliefs joined together, and the point was often made that the Germans and Irish soldiers had become true Americans in the "baptism of blood" on the battle field. By the end of the 1970s the rancor was gone and the speeches praised the brave soldiers both Blue and Gary. By the 1950s, the theme was American exceptionalism and duty to uphold freedom in the world.

I'm so grateful for all those who gave their lives that we might enjoy our freedoms in this glorious country.

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.