A V-formation flock of geese seems to have one member of the group as the leader, but each member takes its turn at the point of the V, leading the way as the others in the formation honk in encouragement. The geese stay together, even when one becomes sick or injured; the group stays with it until it is well enough to continue the journey at its regular pace.
Since my turn to blog falls on New Year's Day, I decided to post my blog a little early.
Each year at this time of year there is a flood of top ten
lists published; top ten movies, books, news events, etc. Once more I'm joining
in the game, listing my favorite novels of 2014.The only problem is I can't narrow my list
down to ten so I'll call it My Top Baker's Dozen.I can't place them in numerical order either
so just consider them all number one.
I read many other enjoyable books as well.This has been a great year for LDS themed
adult novels.There are a few Young
Adult novels I hope to read eventually and one Middle Grade novel, Rebel Princess, by my daughter Janice
Sperry I enjoyed.Unfortunately there
are still about a dozen adult LDS novels in my "to read" stack I
haven't gotten to yet and some of them may turn out to be favorites too.I've reviewed all of my top novels listed
above on Meridian though some of the reviews aren't out yet, but will be posted
soon. If you would like to read any of the reviews go here.
the advent of a new year, I challenge Latter-day Saints everywhere to
undertake a personal, diligent, significant quest for what I call the
abundant life—a life filled with an
abundance of success, goodness, and blessings. Just as we learned the
ABCs in school, I offer my own ABCs to help us all gain the abundant
A in my ABCs refers to attitude.
B is for believe—in yourself, in those around you, and in eternal principles.
C is for courage. Courage becomes a worthwhile and meaningful virtue
when it is regarded not so much as a willingness to die manfully but as a
determination to live decently."
He really covers a lot of area in those few sentences. Attitude: it's everything! If our attitude is in tune with the Spirit, we are ready for the world!
If we believe in our Savior and His promises and atoning sacrifice, we ought to believe in ourselves and our ability to do all He needs us to do.
If we have the courage of our convictions, the courage to speak out and invite others to Come to Christ, the courage to overcome temptations, we will certainly reap the blessings that come with those acts.
Then whatever happens, we are on the right track and I believe, as President Hinckley so often said, "It will all work out!"
Happy New Year to you all.
It is the end of Christmas day, and hubby and I are brushing our teeth and climbing into bed. There are no visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads, or sounds of reindeer on the roof. There are no carolers on the doorstep or last minute wrapping to be done--all that is finished. The family has gathered, the feast has been eaten and the presents exchanged. Now it is time for rest and reflection.
As I put my thoughts to paper, images of the past several days surface and I find myself smiling. It was a joyous few days: we went shopping with a desire for simplicity, we found most of the store clerks friendly and 95% said "Merry Christmas" as we finished our transactions, we participated in religious services which honored the Christ child, we read the scriptures with more pondering, and we turned our short comings and ill feelings over to the kind Judge of the World.
We let pestering things go. We held precious memories close. We found ways to serve. It truly was a tender Christmas. And, when we woke up to a winter wonderland on Christmas morning, we were filled with a sense of childhood wonder. It was true Christmas Magic.
I hope you had a lovely Christmas. I would love to hear some of the highlights!
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)
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.
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!
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.
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
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)