Monday, December 22, 2014

The Prince of Peace


Christmas has always meant different things to different people. As the others have so eloquently shared who write for this blog, it is a time of sharing and making fun memories as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. Annual traditions are important, and it tickles me to see some of our family traditions being passed on in my children's families--like our much anticipated Christmas Eve dinner. A tradition that started in my maternal grandmother's family has been passed down through the generations. We fix seafood dishes, and fun finger foods for everyone to enjoy. My maternal great-grandmother was from Scotland, and a love of seafood has been passed onto her posterity. Christmas Eve became a special time of sharing food that was hard to come by in the small Wyoming farming community where my great-grandmother raised her family. She would be happy to know that this tradition is very much alive and well in our clan.

This year, however, it has been more of a struggle to feel the Christmas Spirit. So many of the people I know and love are struggling with difficult trials. My heart goes out to all of them, and I pray daily that somehow, we'll all make it through these trying latter days.

For example, tomorrow there is a funeral in my husband's family. A cousin has passed away after bravely facing a debilitating illness. We learned yesterday, that a dear friend of my mother's passed away after falling and breaking a hip. Two good friends of mine were recently released from the hospital after enduring challenging surgeries. Others are facing financial setbacks, life-threatening health issues, and all kinds of icky trials that I wouldn't wish on anyone. 

For some, it really doesn't seem like Christmas this year. And yet . . . if we understand what this time of year means, it should be a season of peace, regardless of what we're facing. (Note to self: pay attention to this message. I was feeling less than peace yesterday.)  

The birth of our Savior brought hope into the world. His arrival meant that eventually, all of us would be able to return and live with our Father in heaven--thanks to the overwhelming sacrifice our Elder Brother would be making on our behalf. He paved the way so families can be reunited when this life is through--something that can bring comfort to those who have lost loved ones.

His example showed us how we are supposed to treat each other while in mortal mode. It would truly be a much better world if we all followed the precedent He set. He also gave us the precious gift of peace. "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7) To me, this means that when we are going through heartbreaking moments, we need to remember that we're not alone. The precious gift of peace can be ours, if we so choose--a gift freely given by our Elder Brother.

In my own life, when heartache has descended, the gift of the Comforter has eased that inner pain. "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you . . .  Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:18; 27) I have found this to be very true, and inner peace is treasured gift I seek on a regular basis.

How do we discover this gift when our hearts are on the floor, feeling stomped on by life? It truly is the simple things that open the door to peace. Acts of service seem to help the most. Whenever I'm having an extremely bad day, even though I'm not in a great frame of mind, I have found that when I do something for someone else, even if it's just a phone call to check on them, it eases the pain I feel inside.

Going for a walk to clear my head is also helpful. Eventually I spot something that reminds me of the beauty of this world, and the great gift it is to us. An attitude of gratitude inspires peace.

Searching the scriptures has also brought a ton of peace into my life. I can't tell you how many times I have turned to scriptures that have given me a feeling of hope when I've needed it the most.

Prayer. Plain and simple, heartfelt prayer. I always rise from my knees feeling better than I did when I first knelt down.

Those are the main things that help me through when life throws a curve-ball at my midsection. I still get caught off guard periodically, like the inspiring song that cracked through my fragile walls of defense yesterday (music always manages to pierce through to my heart--in part because it has been such a huge part of my life) but when I follow my formula, I can usually pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue on with peace in my heart, compliments of our Savior.

So this year, as Christmas arrives, pause a moment to consider what the birth of our Savior actually means. Ponder the numerous ways our Elder Brother has touched our lives, and remember that the best gifts are those that come from the heart.

One final scripture that has inspired peace in my life: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed . . . For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts . . ." (2 Cor. 4:8-9; 6)

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!







Wednesday, December 17, 2014

MY CHRISTMAS CARD TO YOU


 
 
Part of my childhood was spent in a small mountain valley where on Sundays, special occasions, and Christmas, church bells rang out the glad news. Locked in my memories of Christmas mornings  is one when the valley was covered with a thick layer of snow.  The air was sharp with cold, and frost had turned the trees to fantasy sculptures. As I stood outside before entering the barn, I heard the bells.  The sound carried from down in the valley creating one of those perfect moments of beauty that became a piece of what Christmas means to me. 

Over the years my parents, my siblings, my husband and children, friends, teachers, co-workers, neighbors, ward or branch members, those who read my books, and even those I only know from mutual interest internet groups have woven their way into my Christmas feelings and memories. I've given and I've received.  The secret Santas, the homemade gifts, the shopping binges, the parties, concerts, and school plays have taught me the joy of giving and gracious receiving. 

A great musician learned by chance that I'm tone deaf and made it his mission to teach me to hear. Among the pieces he painstakingly helped me to differentiate the sounds from noise to music were the old Christmas carols.  Years later, working in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, the organist on the shift where I serve discovered that I can hear the melody of songs played on the chime setting of the temple organ. Since then she always adds the chimes anytime she plays the organ when I am present.  Thus music has become a deeply appreciated part of Christmas for me. 

When family or friends gather, food becomes one of those social mediums that brings us together. At no time is this more true than at Christmas.  Most of us have a favorite food we associate with Christmas.  My older brothers gave my sisters and me a box of cherry chocolates for Christmas each year when we were little.  Without cherry chocolates would it still be Christmas?  I grew up with a goose, not turkey or ham for Christmas dinner. Mama's carrot pudding, oranges, and raisin filled cookies all mean Christmas to me.  

There are those who remind us Christ wasn't really born on December twenty-fifth. Others are adamant that the gift giving and parties distract from the true meaning of Christmas. Some make a big deal over wishing someone Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.  Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't think it matters what day we celebrate as Christ's birthday; the important point is to recognize that He came and the manner of greeting matters far less than the sincere heartfelt desire to wish another a message of caring.  Giving gifts, providing comfort, warmth, and good meals for the homeless and poor, the gathering of families in love for one another are the very things He taught us. It's good to have a time to pause and reflect on our beliefs, acknowledge those who have helped us in life, join together in families and friendship, give the best gifts we can, and spread good will throughout the world.  As for me, I choose to also make Christmas a time to worship and a time to ask God's blessings on all those who have touched my life for good. It's a time to remember Jesus is the greatest gift to mankind.   

Christmas is a time to wish all of you a blessed Christmas. May this season bring you warmth, joy, peace, and the best of memories.
 
 

 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I love Christmas!!

I know I say that every year, but I really DO love Christmas. There is more love in the air, more kindness, more service to others, and more good music! I love Christmas music - not the Santa Claus songs, of course, but the classic Christmas carols. And I love decking the halls!
Here is my Christmas tree: blue and silver.
I really love all the memes and artwork that comes out at Christmas. I have a friend who does a Christmas boutique every year and I keep adding to my collection of Christ-centered things:

I love displaying all the nativity sets from all over the world my kids have brought me and that I've collected.The shelves on the right are all from different African nations and the ones on the left shelves are from Poland, Tanzania, Armenia, Portugal, New Mexico and Arizona.
 The stained glass came from Haiti, and the one in the middle from an antique store in Riverside, CA. the bottom one in the red satin box is from Hong Kong - each piece carved from a nut!

 This is from Viet Nam, made from driftwood. I put it on our entertainment center this year so it could actually be lit so I could appreciate the delicate pieces that were carved from different woods. I love how every nation depicts the Nativity in a different way.

One year we had the grand kids choose some of their favorite but not worn toys to share with the children of Tiajuana, Mexico. All of our children and their children stayed overnight in San Diego and by prearrangement with a bishop across the border, we met the missionaries at the border and delivered boxes of toys, food, clothing and other things the bishop had said they needed. My family bought me this paper mache nativity made by a master craftsman who said the art was dying out as the young people were not learning how to do it anymore. It is one of my favorites!

I've already posted my Armenian village in years past, so I won't do that one again. Needless to say, I love sharing my treasures with everyone. I love Christmas because Christ gave us a gift we needed so desperately in order to return home. My gifts this year to my family and others are given with much love and thanksgiving for that first gift our Father gave to us of His Son, and then His Son's gift of the possibility of eternal life to us. Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Just Keep Swimming


I was all set to write a blog post this morning, when the phone rang. The news was not good at all. In fact it was terrible news, and not a great way to start the day. I'm currently serving in a brand new Relief Society presidency (I taught my final teen Sunday School class last week) and we're still trying to get the hang of things. Today reminds me of a story a friend once told me about how he learned to swim. An older brother threw him into the lake and it was either sink or swim. Today is one of those days. I suddenly find myself submerged in the middle of a deep lake of emotion and I'm doing my best to attempt a weak form of dog paddle. My head is above the water--barely--but there is hope.

That is what comes to mind this morning. There is always hope, no matter how dark the storm around us might seem. I've probably touched on this theme before, but it seems to be an important thing to remember these days. I believe the adversary is pulling out all of the stops, doing his best to fill hearts with discouragement and despair. How do we counter that tendency?

This is a subject I'm all too familiar with. My entire family felt like we were dropped off in the middle of an ocean of pain when my father died. None of us knew how to swim through the intense emotions of losing a loved one to suicide, but with God's help, we all found a way to do just that.

In the beginning, we learned to take life one day at a time. Sometimes we had to break that down into smaller increments, and coped minute by minute, or hour by hour. It was a basic survival strategy, but it worked. My mother would start her day by thinking, "All I have to do right now, is to get into the shower." Then after that it was, "Now I just have to get dressed." Followed by: "I should probably eat something for breakfast," so on and so forth. And eventually, the difficult day passed by, then the difficult week, month, year, etc.

The advice a beloved bishop told us truly was a life-saver: "Keep busy!" At first, we looked at him and furrowed our collective brows, but there was wisdom in that counsel. Keeping busy helped us get through extremely difficult days. For example, my mother went back to school and earned a degree as a dental assistant. Her busy days of schooling, and then working in a dental office kept her going. We all found varying ways to follow her example.

I stumbled onto the fact that each time I did an act of service for someone else, it chipped away at the the pain I carried inside my heart. It was like a soothing balm. So on really bad days, I looked for ways to help other people, and it helped to get me through that grieving process.

And on the nights I couldn't sleep, I would grab some paper and write out everything I was feeling. Then I shredded those pages into the garbage. I didn't know it, but I found out later on that this is an important form of healing therapy. When my brother majored in psychology in college, he learned that this is a major way to work through a traumatic incident.

It also helped to get together on holidays, and keep things light. One year we basically did an impromptu karaoke concert, dressing up to make fun of the silly songs we selected. We filmed most of our performances that day and that tape has been the source of multiple laughs through the years.

We learned that there were items we had to avoid for a while. For a long time, I couldn't deal with Father's Day programs, music, or talks. The days I tried to endure such things, usually led to crying sessions in the women's restroom, and a massive headache. So on those days, we sometimes gathered as a family (there is strength in numbers) or went for a scenic drive. Eventually that day became easier to tolerate--I even spoke in church on that day a few years later and it was okay. But at first, when the emotional wounds are raw, we don't have to dump salt into them. 

I'm a water person, (ironically) and on bad days, it often helped to simply sit beside a calming creek, river, lake, waterfall, etc. and let the sound of the water soothe my inner pain. I would often make silent mental lists of the good things happening in my life to counter the ugly pain that often surfaced as I sat, doing my best to relax. This form of calming meditation always worked to help me survive.

Physical activity was also important. I would often go for long walks, or get together with a good friend to play racquetball. Activities like these helped to release the angry frustration that goes along with this healing process. I took out the anger I was feeling on that racquetball, or burned it out by walking briskly in the fresh air.It always helped to clear out the mental cobwebs that were forming.

I also had to realize that tears were another important release when dealing with an intense grieving process. I hate crying. It makes my nose run, usually gives me a headache, and makes my eyelids look all puffy. But it serves a purpose. It helps to release some of those intense emotions--it's a safety vent, like on my pressure cooker. That inner steam has to flush out to help us work through the healing process. Tears are an important part of that process. I learned the hard way that keeping everything tucked deep inside is just asking for trouble. Eventually, those tears would come, usually in a public format which was less than desirable, at least for me. I'd rather do my crying in the privacy of my home, not out in front of everybody. ;)

Something a good friend is fond of saying, also comes to mind: "Just keep swimming." Or in other words, never give up! We all have icky days on occasion. It seems to be part of the test of this life. I have found that on those really bad days, it is important to just keep pushing through, knowing that the following day will be better. Because I grew up in a musical family, songs would often pop into mind that sometimes gave me the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. One in particular, sung by Maureen McGovern, was a favorite boost (The Morning After):

There's got to be a morning after
If we can hold on through the night
We have a chance to find the sunshine
Let's keep on lookin' for the light
Oh, can't you see the morning after
It's waiting right outside the storm
Why don't we cross the bridge together
And find a place that's safe and warm
It's not too late, we should be giving
Only with love can we climb
It's not too late, not while we're living
Let's put our hands out in time
There's got to be a morning after
We're moving closer to the shore
I know we'll be there by tomorrow
And we'll escape the darkness
We won't be searchin' any more

The words to that song, and others, would often pop into my head, lending a much needed emotional balm, just when I needed it most.Was it all coincidence, I don't think so. That's something else to remember, we're never as alone as we sometimes think we are. Heavenly help is all around us, on both sides of the veil. We saw too many miracles in my family to ever think we were on our own. Too many things fell into place for us to ever doubt that we are watched over and helped when we needed it most.

So . . . when we find ourselves flung into deep water--instead of flailing about in a panicked state, or sinking to the bottom, simply take a deep breath (of air) and strive to keep swimming. Eventually we'll reach the shore of peace that we each are seeking. The important thing is to never give up.



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

THE BUSY SIDE OF THE SEASON


There are days I feel like I might meet myself going out the door as I come in.  The past couple of weeks have been like that. With four major surgeries in a little over a year and learning to deal with diabetes, there are a lot of things that didn't get done during the past two years, so I decided to tackle some major house cleaning before Thanksgiving, get my Christmas shopping done, and finish the novel I'm writing.  Then there was a Relief Society lesson to teach, a book signing, books to read for the Meridian column I write, Christmas decorating, Thanksgiving, etc., etc. 

The housecleaning exhausted me and had a bad habit of dropping my blood sugar count. I managed to get some major projects done, however not all I'd hoped to do.  Anyway by Thanksgiving the house looked pretty good. All of our children and their families were here for dinner that day.  The food was good, but just being together was even better. We had three tables and twenty-six people!  That's a lot of people in one house, but well worth it to have the people who top my list of things I'm grateful for all together. 

I did something this year I've never done before.  I managed to stay within my budget for Christmas. Shopping for twelve adults, five teenagers, five elementary age boys, two preschool girls, a husband, and a few assorted friends and neighbors takes some strategic planning and lots of lists.  There have been some great sales and when going to the stores became too exhausting, I resorted to a little online shopping. 

We were almost through decorating for Christmas except for the tree when our three-year-old granddaughter came for a quick visit before pre-school. She approved it all, especially the music boxes and the M&M Christmas tree jars.  She even had to try the Nutcracker soap dispenser in the bathroom. When it was time to leave for school, she wanted to be sure it would all still be there when she comes again. 

 

The cat who visits us every day isn't so sure he approves of our Christmas tree. It's kind of scary and too close to the back door where he likes to mooch a snack. Actually we put up two trees this year, a pre-lit artificial tree and a cute little real tree.  The pre-lit tree takes center stage in the living room and the little tree is in a big flower pot on the front porch.
 
 
Sadly I didn't get much writing done, but I'll try to do better in the next few weeks, right after one granddaughter's choir concert, another one's dance recital, a school program, the ward party, wrapping a gazillion gifts, preparing another Relief Society lesson, celebrating our wedding anniversary, and reading a few books.  (Be sure to read my Christmas Books column on Meridian Thursday, Dec. 4)
 
 

 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Always Thankful

This message was meant to be posted on Thanksgiving day, which did not happen because I was busy cooking turkey, preparing potatoes, and tidying the house for expected guests. Then, when the family arrived with their assigned offerings of stuffing, green bean casserole, and pumpkin tort, the precious minutes were filled with visiting, stories, laughter, and of course, eating. After the feast there was clean-up, more visiting, and the preparation of the turkey and fixings take-home bundles. Lastly, came the hugs and final good-byes at the door. It was a lovely day.

With quiet ringing through the house, I sank into the living room chair. There were a ton of grateful thoughts swirling in my head, but I did not have the energy to organize them, or put them down on cyber paper; I just took them with me to bed where they brightened my dreams.

I love Thanksgiving day, but I also love the thought of gratitude every day--opening our eyes to the simple and precious wonders that surround us: warm water straight from the tap, quick cook oatmeal, dogs, people who still write letters, fall colors, fleece blankets, the laughter of babies...the list goes on and on.

I agree with Edward Standford Martin, who wrote,

"Thanksgiving Day comes by statute once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Skating Around Important Decisions



This entire month my teen Sunday School class has been learning about the importance of becoming self-reliant. Yesterday's lesson was all about making important decisions--you know--those life-altering moments when we stand at the crossroads and strive to determine what is the best path. College, mission, marriage, career, family . . . little choices like that--those items that eventually determine who we will become. We all face those crossroads at multiple times in our lives. And the decisions continue. It's part of the test we call mortal life.

It's interesting how those plans change on occasion. For instance, at one point in my life, I pondered becoming a professional ice skater. One year for Christmas, my entire family received ice skates as gifts from Santa. We were thrilled. A lovely pond existed not far behind our home, and we spent many hours enjoying our new pastime. For someone who is not very gifted with grace, I found that I could balance and glide with ease with my new skates. (Amazing, eh? You would've had to see it to believe it.)  I believe I was about ten years old at the time. My parents told me I was a natural and of course my confidence grew. I practiced and watched ice skating competitions that were broadcast on TV, thinking I had found my niche in life. Then disaster struck. It happened at school one day. For some unknown reason, an ice skating pond had been developed in the middle of the school yard that year. I hadn't brought my skates to school yet, still keeping my secret new love close to my heart. That was something I enjoyed after school, when I returned home.

On the day in question, I was walking along the side of the pond, daydreaming about my future plans, when I heard a teacher holler, "Hey (I can't remember the boy's name) _______, grab Cheri's hand and swing her around on the ice." In this teacher's defense, I'm sure he thought he was doing me a huge favor by helping to pull me out of the shell of shyness that I often retreated into as a child. He meant well, but his suggestion turned into a horrific event in my life.

The boy he had hollered at obediently ran over to where I was standing in shock, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out onto the ice. I was quite small for my age and this rather tall boy was able to swing me around without any problem, until I hit a bad spot in the ice. Needless to say, because of the momentum, I went flying through the air. I'm sure it was spectacular to watch . . . until I landed hard on my face on the ice. That's all I remember. When I came to in the school infirmary, people were running and shouting, and my head felt like it had connected with a brick wall. After things came back into focus, I caught on that the blurry red stuff that was all over the place, was coming from my nose.

My mother was called, and by the time she arrived, it had pretty well been decided that my nose was broken. My new coat was ruined, and I endured a horrible headache that lasted nearly a week.

I didn't ice skate much after that incident. I tried, but memory of my very bad day at school surfaced, and the tiny bit of confidence that I had been developing, slowly faded away. Falling became an every day event on the pond, and after a while, my ice skates mostly hung in my closet, tucked out of sight.

Life is like that. We believe we have things all figured out, and then an unexpected explosion changes everything, like an unwanted health diagnosis, the death of a loved one, unemployment challenges, so on and so forth. We are left standing at the edge of an icy pond, questioning what's really important.

I think that's why it's crucial to have a sure foundation in place. That's what helps us survive  the glitches in our lives. If we've already made the decision to find out who we are, why we're here, and where we're going, we can survive those unexpected bumps in the ice, even if we feel slightly broken for a while. In time we heal, and take baby steps back out onto the ice, until we're ready to glide about with ease. The trick is to never give up, despite the difficulties that arise.

I wish now that I had persevered with the ice skating adventure. I seriously doubt that path would've eventually led to a professional career, but it might have remained a favorite pastime. The old adage, "get back in the saddle," is something to consider when dealing with unexpected challenges . . . unless it is applied to riding Shetland ponies. Then my grandfather's advice is possibly more on the mark: "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, throw a dirt clod at the naughty pony, and walk back to the house with your head held high." ;)