Sunday, December 21, 2014

Guardian Angels

Here it is - almost Christmas and I didn't follow through with my plan to post each day this month with Christmasy thoughts. Oh well. I have had Christmasy thoughts -- just didn't get them recorded. Maybe another year.

Throughout my life, I've felt like I was in sort of a protective bubble. Yes, bad things have happened to me; I have had my share of struggles, disappointments, heartaches, etc. But all those things have always seemed a bit buffered. It has always been easy to see how difficult situations could have been much much worse.

A recent event illustrates what I mean. My husband and I were driving home from the LDS Temple near Washington DC on a recent Saturday afternoon. We were on highway 66 headed west at about 70mph. Suddenly, as they are wont to do in November and December, a deer appeared in the road from the median. I was not looking up and did not even see it. My husband, who was driving, did. Lest he cause an accident aside from possibly hitting the deer, he stayed in the lane and began to gradually slow. The deer was moving well and it looked like it would actually make it across the road OK. But, it was rainy. The road was wet. Deer hooves don't handle wet pavement terribly well. He slipped -- directly in front of our car. We hit him head-on at a good rate of speed. Needless to say, the deer did not survive the encounter. My level-headed husband kept control of the car and moved off to the shoulder. The truck behind us hit the deer again, but he had one of those monster pick-ups, and so basically went over it and drug it a bit, but did not sustain any damage. The front of our little Honda Fit was a mess. Not to bore you with details, we got a tow truck and eventually got a rental car and got home. The insurance company declared our car a total loss. As I was chatting with the claims person a day or 2 later, she asked how bad our injuries were. I told her we had no injuries - not even so much as a bruise from the seatbelts. She was amazed. She said, based on the state of the car, she expected we would have sustained injuries. We got a check from the insurance company for about 1/2 the price of replacing the car. It was a older car and had a lot of miles on it, so we weren't expecting much. Then we got our annual bonus from my husband's work -- which was enough to buy a new car. Hooray! We don't have to be a one-car family. It would have only been inconvenient to have only one car between us and we were prepared to deal with that, but now we don't need to.

Folks often ask, "Why me?" when bad things happen. Often I ask "Why me?" when it seems clear I and/or my loved ones have been spared to some degree. Yes, we lost our car and were delayed 4 hours in getting home that day. But, no other vehicles were involved, so we don't have that sort of thing weighing on us. We were not injured. And we were given the money to replace the car within 2 weeks of the accident. I'm no more deserving than the vast majority of the people I know. In many ways, I'm far worse than many many folks I know who have gone through devastating things. I often have a rotten attitude; I am not very patient with myself or others; I grumble about the things I am asked to do; I hate to move outside my comfort zone.... And yet, I have experienced many events in my life where it seems clear to me that "someone" was watching out for me and protecting me. I am clueless as to why, except that I know I am a loved daughter of an all powerful and loving divine father. And, I trust that He knows exactly what experiences I need - and don't need - in this life. And, apparently, there are still things He wants me to do and learn in life, so he's letting me hang around for a while. I am thankful for His protecting care - even though I don't understand the why of it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Isaiah 14

Isaiah seems an appropriate book to study during the Christmas season. Some of it is clearly about Christ. Some of it even causes me to burst into song (think Handel's Messiah). We are told that much of it is messianic. Sometimes I can see that; often I am just baffled.

I was reading Isaiah 14 this morning. I cannot claim that I understand all that is meant by this particular chapter, but I did get one little insight into how Isaiah could have been speaking of the atoning role of Christ in it. In the first several verses, Isaiah is talking about an oppressor and how Israel is going to be freed from said oppressor. It suddenly dawned on me as I was reading that my biggest oppressor is sin. It drags me down and holds me down.  When I think of the oppressor as sin (or Satan, if you will) and the atonement as the tool to free me of that oppressor, some of the verses in this chapter become beautifully symbolic. Starting in verse one and randomly skipping about through to verse 7:
For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob and will yet choose Israel and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them.... and they shall rule over their oppressors.... The Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.... The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers.... The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing....
 That last bit points so beautifully to the song of the angels announcing the birth of Christ: peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Decorating

I love Christmas decorations. I like the lights,the nativity sets, the candles, the tree and all the traditional items we have put out each year for many years as well as an occasional new item. But I think I tend to not decorate the way most folks do. Rather than getting everything out and assembled on one day, I like to put things out a bit at a time over the course of the month. I like to have the house gradually take on its festive Christmas appearance. It seems to fit well with the happy anticipation that goes with Christmas.

As I was looking over things and planning out my decorating approach in a new home, I thought of another place and time when there were people anticipating Christ's birth. But their anticipation was mingled with worry and fear. From 3 Nephi 1:
...there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled.... And they began to rejoice over their brethren saying.... your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain.... And the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass. But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain....
For me, the anticipation of Christmas is a happy and positive anticipation. How I admire the faith and fortitude of those folks who, in spite of fear and worry, hoped on and watched on. In the midst of it all, they held on to their faith. Not an easy thing to do during life's dark times. But far and away the best way to go through those times.

So, as I gradually decorate my house in happy anticipation, I will think of them and their watching and waiting and strive to bolster my own faith that God keeps all of his promises -- even the ones others don't believe in and the ones that seem impossible to my limited vision.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thoughts on the approaching Christmas season

Thanksgiving is past. December begins tomorrow along with the annual preparations for Christmas. For some, especially those with children at home, it is a hectic and stressful season. Too much money is spent; too much focus is put on wishing for things; folks jostle and push to get that popular item while it is still available and still on sale. And good things happen too. Lights are strung; trees are decorated; cookies are baked and shared; friendly greetings are shared; families, friends, and neighbors gather; favorite carols are sung; hearts are softened towards those in need.

With all the hurrying and buying and giving and helping and doing, we don't always keep in mind the birth in a stable that started it all.

In an effort to keep my mind focused on Christ this Christmas season, I thought I might try to post something Christmasy each day leading up to December 25.

So, to start, here is a poem I ran across in an old General Conference talk that isn't about Christmas, but touched me and seems appropriate to the season. A title was not given, but the author is Joseph Auslander:

World, O world, of muddled men ,
Seek the Peace of God again:
In the humble faith that kneels,
In the hallowed Word that heals;
In the courage of a tree,
In the rock's integrity;
In the hill that holds the sky,
The star you pull your heart up by;
In the laughter of a child,
Altogether undefiled;
In the hope that answers doubt,
Love that drives the darkness out....
Frantic, frightened, foolish men,
Take God by the hand again.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sunshine!

For 20 years our little family lived in the shadow of Lake Erie. Hence, our falls and winters tended to be overcast pretty much all the time. Recently my husband and I moved to southwest Virginia. Our home has many windows and I delight in having the sunshine pour in, especially this time of year. Lifts the spirits and brightens my day.

BUT, I also have noticed that the morning sun, in addition to brightening the home, makes surfaces that I was sure were clean suddenly look dusty and little bits of things that I was sure were not on the floor when we went to bed show glaringly. Depending on my mood and schedule on any given day, I either shrug and move on or set to work dusting and sweeping to get the surfaces truly clean.

As I was cleaning our "clean" breakfast table the other day, it dawned on me that the morning sun is another instance of how God uses nature to teach gospel principles, if we will only notice. Just as the sun shows small imperfections in my housekeeping, so too can the Holy Ghost show me those imperfections in myself. And I can choose to pay attention and take action, or shrug it off (I've done both from time to time).

And, just as I lived in the shadow of Lake Erie for 20 years, I lived the first 21 years of my life in the shadow of incomplete understanding of life's purpose and my relationship to God. When the full gospel message came to me in my 22nd year of life, it was much like moving to this light-filled house. I was both delighted with the light and more aware of my failings. And that's OK. The light feels good enough that I am willing to be shown my failings and grateful for both the opportunity to try to overcome said failings and the assurance that I am not alone in that effort. I wouldn't want to go back to the shadow, even though at first blush it seems to be a more comfortable place. I'd rather live in the sun and continue to try to improve. It feels soooo much better!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Little Things Matter

Just a quick post to note how much a small effort can matter.

I recently "celebrated" a significant birthday. As I age, those "significant" numbers are not so welcome as they are to a child. On top of that, my husband was going to have to be out of town  on my birthday and our children are too far-flung geographically to make visits for birthdays without a lot of planning. So, I was feeling sort of down.

And then the magic started! I started getting deluged by birthday cards from our 5 children! Each day more would arrive -- some were homemade, some were quite creative, many were funny, some were touching. Seems they had gotten together and decided they would each send me a dozen cards since nobody was able to get home for a visit. They made me laugh; they made me cry; they made my day.

They topped it off with a dozen roses arriving on my birthday and my marvelous husband made up for not being home on the day by taking me to the symphony 5 days later.

Still old. Still not thrilled about it. But feeling loved and that makes up for a lot!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tone deaf?

In church today, a fellow who used to be the head of the music department at the nearby university made the comment that only 1 in 10,000 people are truly tone deaf. He went on to talk about music and the value it has in worship. But I was stuck on that statement about being tone deaf.

My mind instantly swung to the years when our children were growing up. Every Christmas season, the children and I would put together a little musical play for the huge audience of Dad. It was fun creating costumes, working on the script and scenery, practicing Christmas music -- some traditional and some that we had modified. I would play the piano as we sang together. All sang with enthusiasm and 4 of the 5 kids hit the right notes. But one of the boys just could not seem to find the tunes. I'd play a note on the piano and suggest that they sing the same note. He would look puzzled , but make an enthusiastic noise -- not even close to the note played. It seemed hopeless to get him to understand how to sing. But, we didn't let it stop us from singing and he joined in in his unique way. He persisted and the rest of us didn't act as though we felt he was a hopeless case. And  over time he learned to sing -- in tune and with a beautiful voice. By the time he was a teen, he was a member of the choir and continues to have a beautiful singing voice.

What happened? Would whoever diagnoses folks as tone deaf have so designated this son? And how did he suddenly recognize notes and how to match them with his voice? Not that it matters particularly. The fact is that he learned to sing even though it looked like an impossible task.

And then my mind turned to the gospel application. I think we are all tone deaf to at least some gospel-related principles. Some struggle with faith; some with prayer; some with recognizing the voice of the Holy Ghost; some with this or that commandment. We seem tone deaf - unable to understand, to discern, to "get it." Most of us have some flaw that just seems to be part of who we are and we don't feel that we are ever likely to move past it in this life.

But I think, just as my son was able to learn to sing by not giving up and by not being discouraged by others, so we can each get over our gospel tone deafness. Of course, just as my son had to continue to sing and try, we too must apply ourselves to try to develop faith; to be honest; to learn to pray; to hear the Spirit; to obey that commandment that seems impossible for us. And, just as our son had the encouragement and acceptance of his family, we have one who is cheering us on in Christ. And, more than that, He understands perfectly. And in some way I don't pretend to understand, He can change our hearts and get us past our gospel tone deafness if we ask with sincerity and real intent. And sometimes by sudden changes and sometimes little by little over time, we lose our tone deafness and are singing in the eternal choir.

Bottom line: don't limit yourself or others -- in music or any other aspect of life. Miracles happen; changes occur; people become better than they were.