Tuesday, November 25, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

Well, this week it happens.  My favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, gets pushed aside for 'black Friday.'  The mass frenzy to buy things we don't even need explodes.  It suddenly becomes okay to max out the credit card because, "it's for Christmas."  What a shame.  First we toss aside Thanksgiving, and then we use the holiday to honor the birth of Jesus Christ as an excuse to go all crazy at the mall. 

I've been reflecting on what is really important.  Not just at Christmas and Thanksgiving time, but ALL the time.  What would we really grab first if our house was on fire and we had 30 seconds to get whatever we could out of the burning structure?  We all say we would get our families out, and I know that's true, but then what would come next?  And what if we were home alone when the fire started?  What then?  If we had nobody we needed to get to safety, what would we run around and grab? 

I love our home.  It's where we have made all our memories since our children were very small.  It is like your house---filled with treasures and mementos, photos, journals, furniture, clothing, electronics, and the necessities of life.  It's also filled with a lot of stuff we don't really, truly need.  For instance, we don't need the Nintendo Wii.  Nobody uses it.  It just sits there collecting dust.  Why we ever got it, I will never know.  It was my idea when the kids were out of school one summer and I thought it would be fun to get Rock Band.  We did have fun with it for about a week and then we slowly moved back into the things we were most accustomed to doing---reading, playing music, or just talking to each other.  What about the 14 million coats that I seem to have accumulated?  I really only need one or two.  

If we needed to grab and go in an emergency, do we have our most precious and important things in a place where we can access them?  Do we even know where these things are?  Are they too heavy?  Can we really get them out of the house?  

Then I think about really "going."  When it's my time to go from this life into the next I won't be able to take anything with me.  My spirit will leave my body and return to God and my body will be returned to the earth.  I will be physically unable to take anything tangible with me into the next life.  All of it will stay right exactly where it was the last time I used it, or didn't use it.  To collect dust, or be thrown away, or sold at an estate sale, or given to other people.  The point is that all of it, every single thing, even the clothes I am wearing when I die, will stay here.  Nothing, nothing at all, goes with me.  What I do take with me when my life is over is what is really important.  My spirit, my personality, my testimony, my faith, my talents, my deeds--both good and bad, my love, my relationships, my knowledge, my obedience, and my real, honest, bare-naked self.

Five and half years ago, my stepmother died of melanoma.  It originated in her eye, which she had removed to save her life 10 or 11 years prior.  Then in 2008, she had surgery to remove her gallbladder, which was thought to be the cause of her new troubles, but upon investigation during the surgery, it was discovered that the melanoma had returned and was now in her liver.  It was inoperable.  She had chemo and all kinds of other therapies, which appeared promising until the tumors started to sprout up overnight, everywhere and anywhere.  She was started on an experimental treatment, but failed to respond.  Hospice was called in and she slowly withered away.  She lost so much weight and was so frail.  She remained optimistic and fought a hard fight, but succumbed to her attacker 17 months after the metastases were found.

Watching her slowly fade from a vibrant and healthy woman to a frail, thin, and weak little creature was very difficult.  What made me just as sad was her realization that she had so much 'stuff' that she wanted to give away in order to see it go to the right people.  She began having her neighbor sort through her many, many different rooms full of things she had collected over the years.  It became a huge burden to her and my dad and it seemed to consume both of them.  She personally was able to give many, many things away, but she had so many things that it was impossible to unload them all.  

On one of my regular visits to help her, she sat down with me on the sofa and opened up a large box of jewelry that she wanted to give away.  She said I could choose a piece, but she had one piece in mind for me that she really wanted me to have, but she wanted me to choose.  It is interesting that I chose the piece she wished to give me.  A beautiful, solid silver and genuine turquoise, Squash Blossom necklace made by the Navajo.  It had been a gift from my dad on one of their many adventures.  I love that necklace and I cherish it.  I am careful when I wear it and careful how I store it.  It's one of the most beautiful things I own.  But just like she couldn't take it with her, when I die, I can't take it with me either. 

One week after her funeral, my dad's basement flooded due to a broken sprinkler.  He called all of his kids to come up and help.  We had to carry out everything in that basement so the carpet could be torn up and replaced.  I have never in my life seen so many trinkets.  Her home had been a lovely home because she had been an interior decorator before teaching biology.  She had exquisite taste.  The home looked like it was right out of Better Homes and Gardens.  But, as the years went on, the need to collect stuff grew and grew, without anywhere to put the stuff.  Slowly the house was not as attractive and seemed to overflow with the latest shopping trip's finds.  When we had to haul everything out of the basement after it flooded, it completely covered their very long and spacious driveway and filled the garage, back yard deck, and my dad's shop.  It was horrifying to look at it all.  Too many things to count still had price tags on them, set aside for future gifts or future projects.

On the day my stepmother died, my dad called all of his children to offer the sad news.   It was on a Sunday afternoon and I remember grabbing the emergency overnight bag I had packed weeks before, for this specific purpose, kissing my family goodbye, and rushing to his house.  During the seemingly endless 20-minute drive, my heart pounded hard and fast.  It had really happened.  My stepmother was now gone and I had watched her slowly wither away.  I had never seen a dead person, except at the mortuary for viewings.  Now I was approaching my dad's house and I was afraid.  I didn't want to go inside, but I didn't want my dad to be alone.  I will never forget that experience for as long as I live.  I walked inside and Dad took me to her side.  She was on the bed, looking peaceful, but so very small.  The reality of what had happened started to envelop me and I broke down.  She was perfectly still.  No more pain and no more suffering.  She was now suddenly free and happy again.  We sat with her for a long time in the quiet, just me and my dad.  Then he asked me to start calling people.  That was hard.  I had never done that before.  Her children came and her sister, and I think her mom.  I think only one of my siblings came that day; the rest chose not to for some reason.  I am so glad I was there.  It was very heartbreaking and difficult, but I learned so much. 

My dad called the mortuary.  "It's time.  You can come and get her now."  They sent an attendant in a nice, big, unmarked van.  He brought in a small stretcher with a black plastic bag on top.  After the papers were signed and we visited for a few moments, it was time to do what I will never forget.  He placed the plastic bag next to my stepmother on the bed and very professionally and gently began moving her into it.  I will never forget what she looked like, wearing a lavender t-shirt and a purple sarong tied around her waist.  My dad removed her jewelry and gently kissed her face before the bag was zipped all the way up.  Then the bag was kindly placed on the stretcher, wheeled outside to the van, and seemed to quietly disappear.

This beautiful, smart, and gifted woman who had been a mother, wife, interior decorator, artist, teacher, scientist, and world traveler, left her beautifully decorated home and took nothing with her.  I know that when she died only her spirit returned to God, but even when her body left her physical home, it took nothing.  No jewelry, no books, no photo albums of her many adventures to Africa, Peru, Thailand, Belize, the Amazon rainforest, or Australia.  No overnight bag or toothbrush.  No phone or computer.  Just her frail little body gently wrapped in a purple sarong. Later it was her family and friends that had the burden of distributing her things and putting the house back together.  It was good to look through her things in that way, to remember experiences and adventures, but it was also a somber thought, knowing it all stayed behind.  We had a large garage sale and sold most of it.  The rest went to charity shops and antique dealers to be sold to others.  She was able to give away her favorite treasures to people she cared about, in person. 

We have all heard, "you can't take it with you."  Well, it's true.  We can't and we won't.  I'm sure we won't even want to.  There is no need for those things on the other side.  I have a feeling that while we were all removing her things from the house and basement that day that my step-mom was looking on, embarrassed, apologizing profusely for creating that burden.

Whenever I buy something new or think about buying something new for me or my family, I always think, "where are we going to put that," and "do we really need that?"  I don't want my stuff to be a burden on my family when it's time for me to leave this earth and return to God.  More importantly, I don't want my existence on this earth, during this critical time of learning and developing, to become controlled by my stuff.
After Hurricane Katrina, I think most people pondered the idea of how much stuff they had and how much they really need and don't need.  It could all be taken away at any time, but we could also be taken away from it.  What is really and truly most important to us?

In the Bible, Matthew 6:21 to be exact, it says:  "for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."   I want to make sure my heart is not in my stuff---my tangible belongings, my collection of things in my house.  I want my heart to be in my God, with my Savior Jesus Christ, my marriage, my children, my family, my faith, my knowledge and wisdom, my testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, my love and kindness to others, my contribution to building the kingdom of God, my scripture study, my family history work, my service to my fellowmen, my obedience to God's commandments, my loyalty to my covenants, the submission of my will to God's. 

How do I do this, really?  It's overwhelming to think about it and try to do this all at once.  I think it's important to simply think about it.  To desire to HAVE less.  To truly desire to BECOME more.  When it is our heart's sincere desire, we will be attuned to what we need to do.  Our time won't be spent in the trivial things, but on the things that are of eternity.  We need to cherish and protect our marriages, our relationships with our children, our friendships.  We need to try hard each day to make the world a better place with a smile, a kind word, a simple gesture, or even just a happy and cheerful attitude.  When we take the time to put God first in our lives, the other worldly and trivial things will not consume us.  Maybe by the time I reach the end of my life I will have it all figured out, but for now I just have to try a little harder, every day, one day at a time, to put God first.  All things will fall into place after that. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Searching for Thanksgiving...........

I am sad.  It's Thanksgiving time, but all around me I see Christmas.  Don't get me wrong--I love Christmas.  I love it all--Easter, Valentine's Day, Halloween, the Fourth of July.  But, I truly love Thanksgiving the very most.  It's a combination of all the wonder and beauty of this time of year.  I'm lucky enough to live where we enjoy seasons and I love the changes that come.  The autumn leaves and chilly air.  Pulling out my favorite sweaters and jackets and my soft, worn-in, brown leather boots I've been rocking for more than 10 years.  How about piling blankets and quilts on the bed and washing up the homemade afghans for the sofas?  Or putting away the deck furniture because the yucky summer heat is finally over?  Making cocoa and piling it high with marshmellows.  Using the crockpot all the time because it makes dinner easy and it makes the house smell good all day long.  I love it when it gets dark earlier just because it makes us all want to hang out at home more.  Cuddling  under the afghan on the sofa with my hubby and a good book or a good movie.  Just the pure and simple smell of the air.  What about pulling out the soft woolen mittens, hats and scarves?  I love that! 

I am trying to enjoy this beautiful time of year.  I''m trying to slow down and be thoughtful about my life and my place in God's world.  Please don't bombard me with Christmas trees in Macy's and ads for Black Friday.  Please stop the psych-out threats that prices will "never be lower."  I'm not stupid.  The prices are the same on Black Friday as they were on Labor Day and they will be that low again because the stores have to sell their crap.  Please forgive me if you love Black Friday, but I don't understand the maniacal way people behave just to save a few cents on a pile of stuff they didn't know they "needed" until the ads told them that they did.   Can we agree that we shouldn't see Christmas trees until December?  It makes me sad that while there are still turkey and stuffing leftovers in the fridge and pie on the counter, people are running out like mad men looking for a pile of stuff!  We are all sleep deprived and need to slow down so why would people be so willing to give that up?  Thanksgiving has been swept aside as just a shopping day for Christmas. 

In 29 years of marriage I only remember ONE Black Friday where we participated.  And, I went alone, bright and early to Mervyn's to purchase a Seiko watch on sale, but only to replace mine because it had been stolen.  My husband saw the same watch in the ad, for a price we could afford, and sent me to the store to replace my stolen watch.  I needed a watch so I purchased a watch.  Then I came straight home and went back to bed with my good-looking husband and enjoyed the day with my young little family. 

I'm sad about what this says about our society.   Hey, I love to go shopping as much as anybody, but I don't want to fight crowds and have people mow me down at Target at 4 a.m.  I love bargains too, but I love my sleep more.  I love going Christmas shopping, but not the day after Thanksgiving.  I think it says that our society is lost.  Just a bunch of sheep following the merchandisers who tell them what to do.  Who decides what the "it" toy for the year is going to be anyway?  How would it be to have that much power?  And, don't even get me started about how now it isn't even Black Friday anymore.  Now it's Black Thanksgiving.  The stores are open ON Thanksgiving!  Why would anyone want to stuff themselves full of food and then run out to the mall?  It's that exciting that it can't wait 12 more hours?  They wouldn't rather just be in the moment on ONE single day to do a little meditating, connecting, and appreciating?  It's sad we only have one designated day of Thanksgiving, but why not honor that ONE day?  And what about the poor employees of those stores who are forced to miss Thanksgiving because they have to work?  So twisted.  So wrong.  Are we really that self-absorbed that we can't stop for one single solitary day and just give thanks and be with the people we care about the most? 

I love Thanksgiving.  Sometimes we are with a large crowd.  Sometimes it's just our little family and Grandma.  Sometimes I cook and sometimes we go to a relative's house, and sometimes we go to a grand buffet and a movie after.  It's all wonderful.  I love it all.  But one thing is for sure--we are not shopping, either in stores or on our tablets or computers.  I don't even look at the Black Friday ads because frankly I don't care.  We are just trying to enjoy one day where everyone is home and nobody has to work or go to school.

Two years ago on Thanksgiving, our son took an elbow to his eye, splitting  his top eyelid wide open while playing basketball with all his friends home from college early that morning.  Our eye doctor was so gracious.  I texted him a photo of the injury and he said, "Yep, that kid needs stitches, but don't take him to the E.R.  They won't do a good job and he will have a scar, plus you'll be there all day and miss your Thanksgiving dinner.  Meet me at my office in one hour.  I'm out on a run, but I'll go home and shower and meet you there."  Wow!  Talk about something to be grateful for.  That year dinner was at our house.  John drove our son to the kind doctor's office while I worked on dinner. They were back with a perfectly glued-shut wound in an hour and a half, with half of that time being from the drive alone.  That was such a blessing and a tender mercy.  Our son's eye itself was perfectly fine and the wound was closed and has healed without even a scar.  The doctor really acted happy to help us and actually said it was a pleasure.  How cool that he didn't resent us for disrupting his holiday.  That was a wild Thanksgiving, but we will always remember it.  The rest of the day was spent relaxing and enjoying each others' company, not planning the next day's shopping trip. 

I will get real here for a minute.  This last year has been extremely difficult.  So many challenges for each member of my family including health problems, car wrecks, college stress, extended family stress, work stress, and new responsibilities for my husband.  I'm not going to be sad to say goodbye to 2014.  It has brought me to my knees with grief, worry, and sadness, begging for help from my God.  The silver lining is that I have learned a lot.  These are a few of the things I have learned this year.

  • I have learned a lot about people, where I really stand with some of them, and who my friends really are, and learned a lot about myself in the process.
  • I have re-learned that our children are good, kind, generous, smart, and ambitious people who love God.  I am so blessed to be their mom.  I love you kids infinity.  We are forever.
  • I have learned again and again that I truly married the man of my dreams and he is the most honest, loyal, generous, kind, hard-working, selfless, and patient man that I would ever want to know.  I love you with all my heart, Hunny!  We are an eternal couple.
  • I have learned that my doctors are smart, caring, determined professionals who truly care about me.
  • I have learned again, that family is precious and we need to take care of each other because we will one day reap what we sow.  I hope the bed I am now making will be soft enough for my brittle bones in my later years. 
  • I have learned that people are inherently good and are just doing the best they can.  We all have struggles and most are not seen with the naked eye.  We need to be kind to and patient with each other.
  • I have learned again for the millionth time that my Heavenly Father loves me and he loves my family.  He watches over us every day and he is truly mindful of us and what we need.  So many tender mercies this past year.   
  • I have learned that I am stronger than I thought and I can do hard things--that I really do know that I am loved and that I have strong faith.
I mostly love the thanks giving part of Thanksgiving.  I love to really, really think about all that I've been blessed with.  My favorite way to pray is to pray and only tell God what I'm grateful for.  I can really stay on my knees until my feet and arms go numb when I offer those prayers.  Today I would like to share a few of the things I am most thankful for this year.
  • My husband, John.  He is my safety in this scary world.  He loves me and his eyes light up when he sees me.  He is my best and truest friend and my only and true love and I know I am his. 
  • My kids.  Wow! is all I can say.  God knew we could only have two, so he gave us the best girl and best boy he had ever created--for us to take care of.  I'm in awe of them and their goodness every day.
  • My Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  I have felt his forgiveness offered and granted to me through the power of his infinite atonement.  He loves me!  He wants me to make it.  He is reaching out to me every day,  and I succeed when I take his hand.  I love him.  
  • God, my Eternal Father.  He will never fail me.  He never has.  He has poured out so many blessings upon me that I cannot count them.  Some of them have come from truly hard challenges, but he knows I need to grow and so he lets me go through these things, but he is also there to help me.  He desperately wants me back home, safe and sound, and because of his plan, and his offering of his Son, Jesus Christ, I can make it, but it's up to me.  It's just comforting to know he wants me to come home and I'm welcome.
  • The people in my ward at church.  I love them.  They all have their struggles, but they love my family and I can feel their prayers for us.  
  • The lady at church who saw me sitting alone for the first time after our kids started attending their student ward.  She slipped in next to me during the opening song of Sacrament meeting and invited me to sit with her and her family.  She will never really know how much I needed that on that day.  As I sat there trying to hold back the tears, there she was with a big smile and her loving invitation. I love you, Mel.  
  • My sister, Jane.  I cannot come up with enough words to say what you mean to me.  How I love you and your beautiful and brilliant family. 
  • My  mother-in-law, Margie.  How could I ever find the words to say how much I admire, respect, and love you?  All that you have taught me, the way that you have loved me and taken me in.  I will never be able to repay you.  
  • My best friend, Bonnie.  You are my teacher, my friend, my partner in crime, my sister.  How I love you.  
  • All of our dear friends and family, too many names to mention, both near and far.  I love you all.  Thank you for your example.  I'm so glad you will be ok, JRH.
  • My kids' friends.  Thank you for your good example, for your loving kindness, for brightening their days, for making them laugh, for treating them with respect, and for supporting them in what they are trying to accomplish..  They love you and so do I.
  • My home.  It's not a big house, but it's our home.  It feels just right to me.  It's my favorite place to be, especially when my family is here.  I love all the memories here and the things that decorate it, showing where we've been, what we've done, and gifts we've been given.  
  • My trials.  They aren't fun when they're happening, but when I hold on tight to God and his promises, he leads me through them and I come out stronger and with more faith.
  • My talents and spiritual gifts.  I'm getting older, and it's hard for me to admit these to myself, but I'm learning to appreciate them and try to improve them so I won't lose them. 
  • The ability to serve God.  It makes me happy.
  • The music my family makes together.  Everyone is busier and busier each year and some things like traveling to fiddle contests are in days past, but the memories are always with me and whenever they are together and get out the guitars and fiddles, I am truly in my happy place. 
  • My testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I know he lives.  I know what he promises is true.  I know that he makes it possible for us to live with God again and to be with our families for eternity, if we are obedient and worthy. 
 I wish you all a beautiful, peaceful, family-oriented, Christ-centered Thanksgiving.  I know that no matter our circumstances, we are more blessed than we are not and have much to be grateful for.  Please pass the pecan pie!   

#Thanksgiving  #BlackFriday  #ChristmasShopping  #Mormons