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.





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.