Monday, April 28, 2014

Truth VS. Falsehood

Yesterday in the teen Sunday School class that I teach, we discussed the importance of being able to distinguish truth from error or falsehood. I consider this an important skill to possess in today's crazy world. There are so many messages that bombard us on a daily basis from a myriad of sources: TV, newspapers, magazines, books, internet posts, social media discussions, etc. It seems like everywhere we turn, we run into opinions, conflicting information, and reports that are confusing at best, and overwhelming at worst. I suspect it has ever been the case.

We all know that there has been a battle raging from the beginning that pits good against evil. There is indeed, opposition in all things. As such, we must constantly be on guard against deceptions and lies that are spread by the adversary. Since these confusing tidbits can come in so many forms, and even from those we trust, it is crucial to develop the ability to discern the truth for ourselves.

I learned at an early age that it was important to check things out before blindly going along with the crowd. I shared two experiences with my class yesterday that convinced me that I needed to develop the ability to recognize truth--that falsehoods can lead to trouble. The experiences are as follows:

When I was about seven years old, the elementary students in our area were transferred to a brand new school. We were very excited since it was a state of the art building, complete with a wonderful playground. One of the main attractions was a large, wooden teeter-totter. It quickly became all the rage to sit on one end of this teeter-totter while fellow students ran to the other end and pushed down, raising the opposite end high into the air. After giving a signal, everyone would let go and the other end would come down with a bang, giving the lucky rider an exciting rush. I was told that it was better than riding on the back seat of a school bus, which everyone knew was an awesome experience.

 I watched this joyride take place several times, and everyone seemed to think it was a wondrous thing. Someone I considered a friend told me that I should try it. "You'll love it. It will be so fun." As I continued to watch, feeling a strange sense of unease, I decided this new-found trend wasn't for me. That was when my "friend" tried a different tactic. She called me a chicken, and not only once, but several times, effectively wounding my pride. Finally, I caved and made my way to the line of students who were eagerly waiting their turn. This was my chance to prove how brave I was. When the time came, I sat down on the end of the teeter-totter, and experienced an intense wave of unease. It just felt wrong, but before I could climb off, I was lifted high into the air by my fellow students.

When they released the teeter-totter, I plummeted down. Since I was smaller than most of the other students, I hit the ground hard, so hard that the two boards that were bolted together, came apart--just long enough to permit my small hands to slip between the boards. Without warning, I was trapped and in a lot of pain. As everyone stared, horrified at the blood that started to seep from my smashed fingers, the bell rang, and they all ran back inside the building, leaving me alone in my misery. Have you ever noticed that is how the adversary works? He entices us to go along with the crowd, to fall for the current trends, whether they are harmful or not. He doesn't care what happens to us, and he loves it when we are left in a mess, usually alone and in a lot of pain.

The truth was, the teeter-totter adventure was more dangerous than anyone thought, and I was in serious trouble. Fortunately, my teacher happened to be my aunt, and she noticed right away that I was missing. When she asked my classmates where I was, not one person revealed that I was trapped in the teeter-totter. Worried, she came looking for me, and discovered the mess I was in. After realizing she would need help to remove me from the boards of the teeter-totter, she ran back to the school and quickly located the janitor. Several minutes later, the teeter-totter was dismantled and I was freed from my wooden prison. I was lucky--the damage to my hands wasn't permanent. Miraculously, none of my fingers were broken--just cut and bruised.

Now after that experience, you would think I had learned my lesson about the danger of following the crowd, or listening to people I had assumed were my friends. It took one more painful experience for that concept to finally sink in. About a year later, the same good "friend" who had taunted me into trying the teeter-totter ride told me a beauty secret. My mother later let me know that it was probably said out of spite or jealousy. I had been born with lots of thick, dark hair, and possessed long, thick eyelashes. My "friend" possessed a pixie cut of her wispy blonde hair. One day, this friend informed me that if I pulled out all of my eyelashes, they would grow back in thicker than they were. She told me that our mothers wouldn't tell us this information since they didn't want us to be as pretty as they were. In my defense, (yes, I sponged this information) I remembered seeing my mother pluck around her eyes with tweezers. I thought that she had been pulling out her eyelashes. I should've gone home and asked her about it, and I would've learned that she had been shaping her eyebrows--that it had nothing to do with her eyelashes. Instead, I believed this friend of mine, and once again, despite the uneasy feeling I experienced, I followed her advice.

I'll never forget the horrified look on my mother's face that afternoon when I arrived home from school with bald eyes. She nearly passed out from shock. As you may have all guessed, what my friend told me was indeed a falsehood. My eyelashes were never the same. A few grew back in, but nothing like what I had possessed before.

This was a hard way to learn that not everything I would hear was truth. Until that point in time, I pretty much believed what I was told, since I trusted everyone. It's sad when that childhood trust is shattered. But I'm grateful for the lessons that I learned--that earlier pain prevented me from falling into future traps. From that point on, I carefully weighed what people told me, and also what I read. As I matured, I learned to trust in the impressions that came. Calm, peaceful feelings were to be trusted. Uneasy, confusing feelings were a warning. A warm sensation inside my heart helped me to distinguish truth from error.

I still follow this formula whenever I question something I've read or heard. It has saved me a lot of grief through the years, especially when popular opinion tries to force itself upon me. If it feels wrong--it is. It's truly as simple as that. Our Father knew we would live in a confusing time, and He has provided a way for us to travel through this mortal journey with inspired guidance, if we will only listen to that Still Small Voice. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Storymakers conference is this weekend and several other writing conferences and conventions just concluded.  Writing conferences can be found almost year around, but some of the most well known ones occur in the spring.  I'm sometimes asked if these conferences are worth the money attendees spend on them and I always say it depends on what you hope to gain from them. 

Because I've taught or "presented" at a lot of these conferences as well just attending others, I've drawn a few conclusions.  First off attendees aren't always there because of what they hope to learn.  There are those who attend just because the conferences are fun and an opportunity to meet in person some of the "stars" they admire.  Some of these fan attendees spend years hitting every conference they hear of, but never write or submit anything to a publisher.  There are some attendees who already know it all and are just there to show off their superior knowledge.  Heaven forbid they should actually learn something new.  Some are looking for a shortcut to publication and think they'll find it at a convention. 

The majority of those at the conferences I've attended are there for multiple reasons.  They enjoy the camaraderie of other writers, they hope to make it through the slush piles a little faster by meeting agents and editors, but most of all they're interested in improving their work and having better manuscripts to submit.  Many are looking for that spark that keeps them excited about writing when life has dampened their enthusiasm. 

Some presenters are better writers than teachers and some presenters do a better job presenting than they accomplish in their own writing.  That's why it's a good idea to hear from more than one writing instructor.  Some concepts like using good grammar and spelling correctly are universal; they work for everyone who employs them.  Other advice doesn't work well for everyone, but learning about other writers' techniques and methods helps new writers discover what does work for them and opens their minds to previously unconsidered options. 

Writing is usually a solitary experience, but it's more than sitting before a computer and pounding out words.  There's a side most of us never considered when we fell in love with writing.  There are book signings and other PR obligations, there's learning to do home business taxes, and there's the assumption that anyone who writes well can also do public speaking well!  Conferences usually provide some help with the non-writing side of being a writer as well as the nuts and bolts of formulating a well-crafted story. 

Are conferences worth the money they cost?  There is no definitive answer.  Some are; some aren't.  I've attended a lot of conferences; sometimes as a presenter and sometimes not, some presented by individual groups such as ANWA, League of Utah Writers, ALMA, Romance Writers of America, National Federation of Press Women, LDStorymakers, and those sponsored by colleges and universities. I've always learned something of value. Only those who actually attend can judge whether or not it was worth it.  I suspect that most of those who attend this weekend's conference will consider it money well spent.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Miracle of Easter

I've been diligently practicing the hymns for Easter Sunday. The organ in our YSA Ward isn't like the one I've been playing for 15  years in our old ward - minus the time we were in Armenia - so I'm having quite a time adjusting to not being able to control the dynamics with the foot pedal and not being able to determine which stops I want to use.

Since the Easter hymns are difficult for my arthritic fingers, I've been playing them over and over to get them perfect so when I sit down at the organ, the frustration of not being able to do what I want won't overflow into my accuracy at the keys. I don't want to set the congregations nerves on edge with glaring mistakes, especially on this special Sabbath.

While I'm playing, I sing the words - glorious words! Beautiful promises! Eternal blessings! Our sacrament hymn will be "God Loved Us So He Sent His Son." I know as you read those words your mind will fill in the rest. I'll have to remind our YSA chorister that we must sing all the verses - they are beautiful and may times forgotten as they are the bottom of the page.

I love the exclamation of He Is Risen! Yes, He is! And because of that, so can we all rise again! "Tell it out with joyful voice! He hath opened heaven's gate. We are free from sin's dark prison"....what glorious statements and promises!

"Christ the Lord is Risen Today" - sung with exultation - is a triumphant declaration we want the world to know! I love the Alleluia's - but my feet don't go quite fast enough anymore to get in all those pedals. Hopefully no one will notice as they sing these praises -"Love's redeeming work is done! Lives again our glorious King! Where O Death is now thy sting?"

I would not have thought to choose "Rejoice, the Lord is King!" but it is a perfect Easter hymn. Easter, and the miracle we celebrate, is a time of rejoicing! I love the hymns. I love the music and the messages. I love the gospel. I love my Savior!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Give me the real deal.  I'm not fond of artificial sweeteners, fake eyelashes, or phony apologies. Carob doesn't satisfy me when I want chocolate. It annoys me to pay for a product and receive a substitute in its place. This may seem like an odd analogy, but I feel the same way about those politically correct non-prayers that substitute for denominational prayers at public gatherings. 

Many years ago I attended a special service at a centuries old Catholic cathedral.  The priest, in what no doubt was an attempt not to offend the many non-Catholics attending, recited some vague bit of poetry about nature's beauties instead of offering a Catholic prayer.  I was disappointed.  I was in a Catholic church, I wanted and expected a Catholic prayer.  

I've come to very much dislike the bits of poetry, the vague references to some euphemism, random references to some force of nature, and empty moments of silence that substitute for prayer at many public gatherings.  In our zealousness to not offend anyone, we've become atheistic worshippers of a non-god, followers of a pessimistic religion of doubt. 

When visiting a synagogue, mosque, revival meeting, or Christian Sunday School, I want to hear the prayers of the people who ascribe to those faiths.  I don't want them to cater to my beliefs.  When I attend a public meeting, I want to experience the prayers that have meaning for those who attend the meeting.  I want to experience the richness of prayers given by those of other cultures and faiths. 

There are those who deem public prayers as unconstitutional.  I don't agree.  Prayers are only unconstitutional if they are mandated to be of a particular denomination.  My fifth grade teacher made each of us in her class responsible for the prayer on a rotation basis (down one row, then the next, so we each had a turn then started over.)  We could say the prayer ourselves, have clergy come, or skip the prayer for that day.  It was our call on our assigned day. As the only Mormon in the class, I found it a great opportunity to learn how others prayed and what was important to them.  When I worked for the legislature I had a similar experience when each day someone different offered the prayer and we heard from religious leaders from Reverend Francis Davis, an imam, a rabbi, LDS General Authorities, and many local protestant leaders. 

For those of faith there is something deep and meaningful in prayer.  For those who profess no belief, it is an opportunity to build group cohesiveness and discover what matters to others.  To me prayer is both of these things and I feel cheated when that opening appeal for divine guidance is skipped or a substitute is offered.  Even when a prayer feels strange and not of my choosing, I consider it an educational opportunity.  When it's an honest appeal for those of diverse beliefs to work together, there can be no substitute.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


                                      Some of the ladies of Once Upon a Mattress with Mr. Nak!

In this picture you will see me standing in a pink feathered frock (I was the bird who was to sing the princess to sleep) between two wonderful people. My friend Andree, and one of my favorite teachers of all time, Mr. Nakamoto. He was my high school drama teacher and he inspired a lot of young people. He actually set the course of my life. With the confidence he gave me, I would go on to get a Bachelors and a Masters degree in theater. I would spend many years acting, writing plays, and directing productions. I also followed in his footsteps and taught drama for several years.

Mr. Nakamoto passed away in October 2013--age 81. On March 29, in Honolulu a few of his students got together for a memorial celebration...actually a few hundred! We met in the auditorium at McKinley High School (where many of us performed) and had a huge celebration. It was most fitting.

Such good memories. Thank you Mr. Nakamoto.