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.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On the move again

When we moved to our lovely corner of north-west North Carolina 3 years ago, we felt sure this was our last move in mortality. We had witnessed so many miracles and strong spiritual promptings in connection with this move that we were certain this was the place God wanted us to be -- and we silly mortals assumed He wanted us to finish our lives here.

But, over the course of the past year, He has made it clear that it was time to move again. We had actually been looking for a better situation here in NC, as we consider this the most beautiful spot in the US.  (I was going to say in the world, but then recalled some breathtaking beauty we enjoyed on our visit to Taiwan.) After many many months of looking at countless homes in the area, we had concluded that what we were looking for just wasn't available here. So, we had pretty well decided to see what we could do to modify our current house to be a better place in which to grow old. Then, through a series of events, a spot in southwest Virginia came to our attention.

We visited the area and liked it. We came back to NC and pondered and prayed and continued our house hunting here. We became increasingly frustrated with our local house hunting, but felt prompted to put our house on the market and, if we couldn't find anything by the time it sold, we'd just rent and keep looking. It sold. We decided to include VA in our search and notified the nice real estate agent who had taken a day to show us around on our earlier visit. She sent us 5 listings. The first of the batch looked absolutely perfect - on paper at least. We went up. It was indeed just what we were looking for.

And so, we are moving again - not very far, but still unexpected. I don't like being a little further from my 92 year old father. Neither of us likes leaving 3000 feet of elevation and the lovely cool summers that brings. But, I don't believe in serendipity. I recognize God's hand in events from bringing our new home town to our attention, to prompting us to put our house on the market, to sending us that perfect listing. He even put the fellow we needed to talk to right beside us in Lowes so we could arrange to get some work done on the house before we  move. And most of all, He blessed us both with the peaceful feeling of certainty regarding our decision.

So, newly made friends will be left behind as we embark on our next adventure. And new friends and new opportunities for service and growth surely await us.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The never-ending pride/humility battle

Our ward Relief Society had a really thought-provoking discussion on the topic of humility today. The mark of a good lesson for me is one that pricks me and causes me to reflect on myself and repent and try to be better. Our discussion today had that affect (or is it effect? I can never remember the difference. Ah! Looked it up. Effect is the noun)

Many of the comments made were pretty standard, but one really hit me because it describes me all too well. The sister leading the discussion made the comment that too often she wants to minimize her mistakes. ZING! My heart was pricked as I recognized myself all too clearly in that description. I've been reflecting on it since and trying to discover why I am sometimes very willing to admit my failings and stupidities and errors; and other times I go to ridiculous lengths to try to cover up for myself and not let others realize where I have messed up. Here is what I have come up with so far:


In some situations I am very comfortable with the people around me and feel very secure of my personal position with them. I feel respected and valued by the group or individual or I am actually in some position of authority over them. In those situations, surprisingly enough, I am quite willing to admit my goof-ups. For instance, in my position as a FamilySearch missionary, I am greatly respected. I have served 7 years -- few have been around longer. For that reason, and because the Lord has blessed me with a pretty good mind and I have a great desire to serve effectively and to learn, I am considered something of an authority on many subjects. When I am training new knowledge authors or providing in-service lessons for my team, I will freely admit that I don't know something or that I have stated something incorrectly. No hesitation. No feeling of awkwardness. I'm secure. I know I am valued.

On the other hand, often I am not really comfortable with the people I am around or am feeling insecure or inferior in various ways. Those are the times I'm most likely to try to cover up and not admit where I have messed up. I recall an incident recently - a silly one really, but it serves to illustrate. I was helping an elderly sister in our ward get her family history on the computer so she could provide saving ordinances for her deceased husband and parents. We were in the family history center and I needed to sign in to the computer. The patron sign in was not working for me. I managed to get in as administrator and accomplished our task. No problem admitting the problems I was having to her. She loves me and was grateful for my help and we just laughed about it and moved on. But, when I got home, I mentioned the problem to my husband and he suggested that perhaps the full-time missionaries had changed the sign-in info one time when they were using the center computers. He called and asked. Both the elders and sisters said they had not changed anything. Next time I was in the center, I could sign in easily as normal.  Just fumbly fingers the other time, I suppose.

So, one would think that was the end of it. But, a few days later we were at the church and the missionaries were there too. One of the elders asked if I had been able to figure out what was wrong with the patron sign-in.Instead of laughing at myself and saying something like, "Yes, just a senior moment or something on my part. It works fine," I was embarrassed. We had some new sister missionaries and I didn't know them very well or feel comfortable with them yet. So, I walked over to the elder and told him not to worry about it. That we had gotten it fixed and all was well again. Which, of course, was side-stepping the facts to cover up for my stupidity.

How silly we mortals are! How often we do things like that in situations of little import. But, as a reflection of my character, it is not minor. It is evidence of pride. And something to be corrected. Seems that pride thing is just in the way all over the place. Wonder if I'll ever be free of it? Well, I can but try, and recognition of a problem is a good first step. Hoping to develop the courage to admit my mess-ups - regardless of the audience.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Scripture commentaries - an aide or a hindrance?

One of our sons was visiting us recently. We were talking about scripture and each of us shared times when we had read scriptures we were very familiar with and were struck with an application we had never considered before. Which led to talk of how we study scriptures.

Our discussion reminded me of a statement by Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994). He was the president and prophet of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1985-1994. Speaking of how best to benefit from scriptures, he said:


Always remember, there is no satisfactory substitute for the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. These should be your original sources. Read and ponder more what the Lord said, and less about what others have written concerning what the Lord said.
This seems to be a key to receiving personal revelation through the scriptures. There are various scripture passages which are especially powerful to me. And it's not because I learned something about them from a gifted speaker or teacher or from reading a manual or book or something on the Internet. I have learned in that way, but the learnings that have stuck and mattered came differently. They came because, as I was reading from the scriptures, I was taught by the Holy Ghost and enjoyed tremendous "aha" moments.

For instance, I could have read or listened to some wise person talk about the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as a sort of parable and been impressed. But I didn't. I read that section of the Old Testament that I have read too many times to count, and was focused and receptive and suddenly it was all new to me! I was excited about what I was learning and made copious notes and enjoyed the uplift that comes after spending time with the Holy Ghost for hours afterwards. I still get a warm feeling every time I read those particular chapters of Exodus that had been just a story to me for many years.

In this day when so much of others' thoughts are available to us through the click of a mouse, I wonder if too few of us take the time to do our own thinking and our own pondering so we can receive that wonderful, powerful, personal insight and revelation. It certainly doesn't happen every time I open scriptures -- or even most of the time. But when it does, it's amazingly wonderful!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Tyranny of the Mirror

In his January 1984 essay for the Walnut Acres catalog, Paul Keene made this statement:
The marvelous thing about growing older is the escape from the tyranny of the mirror. The wrinkles and blemishes are there, but we really don't see them. Rather than looking at our faces, we now appreciate more the feeling of life surging through us, and are thankful. There is too much to be done, too much that is wondrous to be experienced, to be held back by a mere piece of glass.
When I read that, I find myself chuckling at the thought that we probably don't notice the wrinkles and blemishes as much because eyesight is fading as for any other reason. Immediately following that thought comes the thought that it's probably the men-folk who are able to disregard the tyranny of the mirror more readily than we women are. And why is that?

For one thing, from the time I was tiny (and I think it is true of women in general - at least of my generation), approval was most often expressed by telling me I was cute or pretty or something having to do with my looks. My brothers, on the other hand, got approval for being smart or hard-working or athletic. Hopefully such things are changing, but I think there is still way too much emphasis on the appearance of girls and women - to the point that we tend to gauge our worth based on whether we are thin enough, or have a pretty face or wonderful hair, or the latest fashions.

As I am beginning to see an old woman gazing back at me in the mirror, I find I am still not immune to the mirror.  Rather than echo Keene's words, I am more likely to find myself singing along with Dave Mallett: "Sweet bird of youth, don't pass me by...."

I find myself bothered by thinning hair -- it's been white too long for that to bother me any more. I see my overweight self and feel like I don't want people to have to look at me. Maybe that comes at least partly from my intolerance of overweight people when I was young and thin - serves me right! I wear makeup more when I am going out and fuss over my hair more than I ever did when I was young. All of which is silly, of course. None of those things is going to make me lovely and young again. But Keene gives me hope that, in a few more years, I might grow accustomed to this aging body and not resentful any more. I need to find peace with the aches and pains and aggravations of growing old. I'd like to be blessed to live many more years on this earth and have continuing opportunities to grow and try to be better and to watch my much loved children as they progress through life. Guess it's time to work on learning to "escape from the tyranny of the mirror"  and to "appreciate more the feeling of life surging" through me. I am incredibly blessed with basically good health and a body that still pretty much does what I want it to do and a brain that continues to function -- most of the time. Time to set aside focus on the mirror and focus more on the gratitude for life and opportunity.