Monday, December 26, 2016

Don't Go and Box Jesus Up with the Christmas Ornaments: #LIGHTtheWORLD All Year Long

Many inches of snow fell where I live this Christmas weekend.  It was silent and perfect.  A magnificently white Christmas.  This morning the sun is melting what the snow plows left behind on the roads and the trees are sparkly and wrapped up in perfectly white fluff.  It looks exactly as the world should look on the day after Christmas.  A happy sun and a glistening earth that must be rejoicing because it by itself knows we have a Savior and a way back to God, a way to repent and be made clean again, a Heavenly Father who loves us eternally and completely.  Why wouldn't the earth rejoice when Christ Himself is the one who made it?    

The #LIGHTtheWORLD campaign has been a great experiment.  Many participated in small and large ways.  Some did it quietly and kept the exercises to themselves, while others posted on social media and shared their thoughts and experiences.  I did a little of both.  Some topics I chose to blog about, some I wanted to keep just to myself, and some I shared with my family and friends only.  

There isn't a #LIGHTtheWORLD day on the advent calendar today for December 26.  I woke up this morning a little melancholy about not having a "day" to choose an action for or come up with one of my own, but I decided I could indeed make up one of my own.  For me it will be #LIGHTtheWORLD by keeping the fire alight in your soul and in your life.  Don't let it end with the advent calendar.  Don't stop focusing on Jesus Christ just because Christmas is "over" for another year.  

I learned many things by participating in the campaign designed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It was a terrific experience for me.  I learned many new things by thinking of broader ways that the various daily themes applied to me, to our family, and to the world.  I chose to dig a little deeper and do a little stretching.  Some days I simply reflected and studied more, and other days were more of a big experience.  

Today on December 26, I am wondering if the Lighting of the World will continue.  It should.  It needs to.  Did we only participate because it was a good thing to do during Christmas?  On what level did we commit to more closely align ourselves with Christ and His teachings?  For the things that we did that were a little difficult for us, are we committed to change or will we quickly go back to our "natural man" ways?  Was our commitment to the #LIGHTtheWORLD campaign broad and inclusive to all our brothers and sisters, a.k.a, the world, or did it only apply to our small circles of family and friends?  

Personally, I noticed some things that I thought were a speck sad.  People writing about the #LIGHTtheWORLD campaign and focusing on Christ, but also refusing to say hello or be kind to certain people.  Still there were others who appeared to be using the campaign to get ahead in social circles---the 'look-at-me" mentality of "aren't I the greatest person ever born," instead of really making it about Jesus.  In recent years I've noticed a trend of the socially politicizing of Christmas gifts and Christmas cards.  There are people who send cards every year to family and loved ones and the ones who take some people off the list one year, but put them back on the list the next year.  I guess it's a good way to know where you stand with some people, whether or not you got a card that particular year.  Many people don't send cards at all anymore.  I guess it's a tradition that has become expensive and tedious and some feel it's old-fashioned.  I think it's a grand tradition that should never die and it's one of my favorite parts about the season, the getting and sending of cards.  

Most importantly, I noticed many beautiful things around me this Christmas time.  Maybe it was simply because I was consciously choosing to look for those good things.  I learned of tremendous acts of sacrifice and service at the school where my daughter teaches; things that I'm pretty sure would never have happened at the schools my own children attended.  I am grateful for the service given to my son and his new wife 1200 miles away when they needed help replacing a dead car battery and my son was sick and needed a blessing.  My own youngest sister came to my aid when I needed help running errands because I wasn't well enough to drive.  A friend in my neighborhood took me to the store and shared her time and sense of humor with me.  Many people from my church congregation offered love and support when I fell ill a few weeks ago.  And out in the world of holiday hustle and berry-colored bustle, I witnessed things by total strangers that will last in my memory for a very long time.  

I guess what's on my mind today is what will I do to continue to Light the World?  I don't ever want to fall in line with society and box Jesus up with the tree and the lights, only to pull Him out and back into my life for a few weeks again next December.  I don't want to be like the people who profess to be followers of Jesus during Christmas, but when there aren't any excuses to drop off goodies, they go back to ignorance and intolerance.  It's none of my business what you will choose to do.  I am only in charge of myself and my commitment to Christ and His Gospel.  I can only be who I am and try to become better by applying the atonement of Jesus Christ.  I can only try to have integrity by being sincere in my actions and interactions.  I guess some people might be offended by this, but I don't use Christmas to get ahead in social circles.  For me and for my family, Christmas is about Jesus.  

For me, Christmas is also about integrity.  It's about doing what you say you're going to do.  It's about not giving up when the crowds in the tall and spacious building and the devil himself are laughing at you.  It's about looking to the ultimate example of the One who finished gloriously what He started and what the Father asked Him to do.  Because They loved us and still love us, God called Jesus to perform the ultimate assignment ever given and Jesus did not shrink.  He did not let us down.  He was true to the end and He is still being true.  Some people don't believe this, but He does actually expect the same from you and me.  God expects us to be true.  He expects us to win.  He expects us to try.  And He knows we can because He has given us the Way, the Truth, and the Life in His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

My hope and prayer for myself, my family, and the world is that we will continue, or start in the first place, to focus on Jesus Christ and His gospel.  The whole point of even being here at all is not about us---it's about Him.  It's about serving Him by serving others, honoring Him by respecting and honoring others, loving Him by loving others, and repenting and seeking forgiveness and also forgiving others.  The mistake we make is judging others, their motives, and their hearts.  Nobody knows another person's heart except God and Christ.  Why are we so hard on each other then?  One wrong word said in error or in honest ignorance means a lifetime of condemnation in some circles, but God and Christ are pleading with us to repent truly and humbly and then we are forgiven freely?   No wonder the world crucified Jesus.  I used to wonder how that could happen, but the older I get, the more I see how it did.  

We choose every day which side of the fence we walk on and how closely we travel alongside that same fence.  Are we trying to straddle the line with one foot in both camps?  I personally don't believe in fence sitting and I don't much care for people who do.  I know who is the leader of fence sitting and it's not Jesus.  

On this December 26, 2016, I know that I want to continue to Light the World, even if it's in my own heart, my own home, my own marriage, and my own family.  I made a covenant when I was baptized that I would do so.  I'm not even close to being perfect and I'm grateful that perfection is not required in mortality.  But a pure heart, a soft heart, and clean hands are what are required and they're completely and totally achievable in this earthly life.  One more new year is around the corner and with the excitement and personal strength that has come to my life from #LIGHTtheWO#RLD, I will promise to keep the light afire in my heart and in my life.  And I hope you will, too.  

Monday, December 12, 2016

#LIGHTtheWORLD: With Homemade Maple Syrup

Today is about teaching others.  I can't teach you directly, but I can share another recipe.  This one is for homemade maple syrup.  It is so good and so easy, you will never buy syrup again and your family will beg you not to.

We have always made our own syrup because when I was a kid, my dad always made our syrup.  I never had store-bought syrup unless we ate breakfast at a restaurant or somebody else's house.  I didn't ever like to order pancakes out because I hated how the syrup tasted and especially how it was always cold.  It is my opinion that syrup should always be warm and preferably homemade.

Homemade Maple Syrup

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple extract

Mix the sugar and water together over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil.  Boil for 1 minute.
Remove from heat and add the vanilla and maple extracts.
Serve warm over waffles or pancakes.
Store in the refrigerator.

When you've shopped and worked and planned for Christmas and you somehow managed to forget what to make for dinner, whip up some homemade pancakes and freshly made syrup.  Served with a glass of ice cold milk, it's sure to be a winner!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

#LIGHTtheWORLD: God Won't Be Handing Out Participation Trophies

Last Christmas our family went to the assisted-living center where Grandma lives to play Christmas music with my husband's nephew and his little family.  We'd had such a good time playing bluegrass-style Christmas music and entertaining the residents that lived there.  After the music was finished we went back to her small apartment for a little visit.  Little William who was 7 then, sat studying the little figures Grandma placed underneath her TV.  William said to me, "Gina--look.  This elf isn't even trying that hard."  When he repeated to the others what he had told me, the room erupted in laughter.  The child was 7 and he knew what "not even trying very hard" looked like.  It looked like this elf.

Children might be small and young, but they want to learn and they want to be good at things.  Most want to do their best and excel in their school work, music lessons, and sports activities.  Most kids know that it takes work to be good at something, to learn the song on the piano and  play for the recital, or to score well on the math test.  Children want to be good and they crave boundaries and guidelines to help them succeed at being good.  They naturally seek limits and desire approval for a job well done.  Honest children don't want praise for something they don't deserve and they're happy to congratulate their buddies.

Somewhere along the way our society got lost on its quest to be good and succeed.  Our society has decided that winning and losing isn't fair to the ones losing and waters down the success of the winner.  Participation trophies are given out to everyone, even if nothing was done to earn it.  If everyone gets a trophy, then how does a trophy at all even mean anything to anyone?  It doesn't.  Only one team should get the winning trophy and nobody should get a trophy if they didn't help the team to win.  It's actually good because the winners offer inspiration to others.  If someone wants to win a gold medal in the Olympics, they'd better not be racking up the participation trophies.

I teach Sunday School with my daughter.  Our class is made up of 15 kids that are 14 to 15 years old.  They're really good kids.  They respect and like each other and I'm impressed with the way they really do seem to care about each other.  But, they like to talk.  A lot.  Sometimes it's hard to get them to settle down to give the lesson.  We've been offering to make homemade cinnamon rolls if they would earn them.  We've only been teaching their class for last two months and we wanted to bring them a homemade treat before the year ended, but we asked that they earn it by showing respect and really participating in the lesson.  Last week, one boy even put it in his Google Calendar on his phone that today would be "cinnamon rolls in Sunday School day."  The problem is, they didn't earn them.
Today this same boy saw us before Sunday School started.  "Did you bring the cinnamon rolls?" he wanted to know.  "I'm not coming if you didn't," he threatened.

I said, "okay, here is something for you to think about and then when you find out whether or not we brought the cinnamon rolls, maybe you'll understand.  Do you think I'm a capitalist or a socialist?  And, are you a capitalist or a socialist?"  The poor kid said, "I don't have a clue what those words even mean."

Sunday School time had come and the kids were coming into the classroom.  They wanted to know if we had the goodies.  So I asked them, "do you think I'm a capitalist or a socialist?"  They were confused.  I said, "socialists want things they didn't earn just because they want them and they make threats when they don't get their way.  Capitalists know that you only get what you earn--nothing more and nothing less, but if you work hard, you can be as successful as you like."  They had the answer.  We had not brought the treats.  "You didn't earn them," my daughter explained.  She added, "they take pretty much the whole day to make, so why would I spend my entire Saturday making something you didn't earn?  The good news is you have one more chance since next week is our last week together as a class.  Be good today and we get cinnamon rolls next week."  The class participated, they were quiet and respectful, and humble even.  It worked.  Lesson learned.

Children were and are important to Jesus.  He called for children to come and be blessed by him.  He told his disciples to "let the little children come unto me," even though He was exhausted and had been ministering all day.  I've often wondered what He might have said to those children on those occasions.  It couldn't have been blessings and prayers only.  It had to also have been positive encouragement, too.

Encouragement is part of ministering.  We wouldn't take dinner to a sick friend and tell them scary stories about other people with their illness.  No.  We would take the lovely, hot, made-with-love meal to our friend and offer encouragement and positive words, expressing our faith and offering to pray for them, telling them they're not in this alone and offering our support.

I think sometimes we miss the encouragement part of ministering, especially to children.  How many parents pay for lavish vacations and high-tech gadgets, but don't have family home evening or family prayer?  Mothers won't stop to listen to the stories their children tell after school, but they spend hours talking on the phone to their friends.  They spend hours on the PTA project, but don't read scriptures with their children.  Parents can be so caught up in their own lives and responsibilities that don't even notice when something isn't quite right with their kids.

I think when Jesus blessed the children that He also told them, "you can do it!  I believe in you!  Keep working hard!  It's good to be smart!"  Why wouldn't He tell them that?  In Section 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants it reads:  "The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth."  It also says, "But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth."

What does this mean for parents?  What it means is that parenting is not for the lazy.  It's hard work if it's done right---downright exhausting to be honest.  It means staying up all night to answer a confused child's questions if that's what is required.  It means putting spouse first and children second and friends and neighbors are way down on the list after parents and other family.  It means being an example of working hard, having worthy expectations of children, showing an outpouring of love and respect, and doing everything in our power to help children become who their Heavenly Father wants them to be.  Because they are not our children---they are His.  We have a responsibility to God for what we do with His children.

Making it back to live with God and Jesus is not impossible to do.  But it doesn't just happen.  I promise you that on Judgement Day, we will all not be rewarded with Celestial Glory as a "participation trophy" and God is not going to let us all in to the highest kingdom because He "doesn't want to hurt our feelings."  He is God.  He has laws and commandments that must be kept.  He requires us to be worthy to enter His presence.  He demands that we are clean.  He's realistic.  He knows we're not perfect and that we'll mess up and that is why He blessed the world with the gift of His Son all those many years ago on Christmas Eve, so that we could have a way to be redeemed, a way to repent, a way to be forgiven.

If we don't want to get a big, sad, sorry surprise on Judgement Day because the cinnamon rolls aren't being passed out to everyone, then we'd better start learning some hard lessons now.  We won't be able to abide a celestial law for eternity if we can't abide one now for a few hours. How can we be expected to even be comfortable in that setting if we're uncomfortable keeping the commandments now?  William knew that the little green elf wasn't trying that hard and why?  Because his parents are teaching him that he needs to work for and earn what he wants in life and that it is possible to set and achieve goals.  And it's good to be smart.  It's a righteous desire to want to be intelligent.

While we're at it, let me make one more suggestion.  We should really get rid of the term "over-achiever."  It demonizes achievement.  When was achieving anything a bad thing?  If you set a goal, work hard, and make your dream come true, how is that over achieving?  It's ACHIEVING.  I think the term came from jealous people who never achieve anything at all.  They had to find a way to make themselves feel better about all of their participation trophies so they came up with a way to shed a negative light on the hard work and sacrifice some people make to work hard to achieve great things and make their dreams come true.  Let's remember that God is not a mediocre god.  He is a god of excellence.  He glories in intelligence, excellence, and achievement.  It's the way the Gospel is set up.  To reward those who trust Him, His Son, and His Plan, and work really hard to follow Him.  It is possible.  Christ showed how it is to be done.  God doesn't play tricks.  If He says we can do something, we ought to believe Him.  The cinnamon rolls taste a whole lot better when they're earned.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

#LIGHTtheWORLD: Trust Your Guide on the Treacherous Trail

Three years ago for Christmas, our family went on an adventure to the Dominican Republic where our son had served his mission for our church.  It was an amazing, forever life-changing trip.  We saw such beautiful people and breath-taking scenery, ate such delicious food I never wanted to come home, and swam in a turquoise sea.  One of the things we did was ride horses to see a waterfall.   We needed horses and guides to take us on the treacherous trail.  The waterfall was nestled deep in the forested jungle at the end of a dangerous trail that crossed a river twice and was covered in clay and giant, slippery rocks.

It was a beautiful, sunny, Caribbean morning.  The humidity was 100% and the heat was 85 degrees.    We left the hotel and hired a little broken-down taxi to take us to where the horses were.  After seeing the horses and meeting the guides, we paid our pesos and were ready to go.  I was a little concerned because the horses were skinny, without any shoes, and only blankets tied on with ropes instead of saddles.  Our guides were small, sweet, Dominican men with big, happy smiles.  They chose the horses for each of us and who would be our guides.  Soon we were each on our horses, ready for the trail.

At first the trail was just a steady, even slope.  Quickly the terrain changed and the trail was very steep, with large and smooth stones covered in wet clay.  It was very slippery.  I was feeling terribly guilty that we were on these horses while the little guides were trudging through the slippery mud and on the clay-covered stones.  They just smiled and gently followed the horses, whistling once in a while, or swatting the horses on the backside with a bundle of grass.

We crossed the river and the horses stopped to take a long drink.  It was pleasant and cool there in the river, but soon it was time to make the ascent back up the slippery trail.  In some places the trail was almost a vertical slope, it was so steep.  Large, jagged rocks covered with sticky clay looked like a disaster to me.  The horses lunged forward to keep our weight properly balanced.  They knew the trail and exactly where to hug the edges, where to gather speed to gain momentum, and where to take it slowly and carefully.  The guides were not leading the horses.  The horses were in front with the guides behind.  The guides were simply encouraging the horses in a loving way with kissing sounds and swats on the behind with their plumes of grass.  The horses just needed the positive encouragement to get up the rough and rocky mountain.

We finally reached what appeared to be our destination, only to have the guides show us the waterfall, still off in the distance.  We were told the horses could go no further and we would have to hike the rest of the way.  When we saw the trail before us, a straight decline of very steep and muddy rocks, I started to wonder how this was going to happen.  The guides said they would go the rest of the way with us, to help us on the dangerous trail.  We were not accustomed to it, but they seemed to glide over the danger with ease.

My little guide (named Papa) was in tune with me needing some extra help.  We had been staying on the coast where the heat was not as intense and there was a steady ocean breeze, but here in the mountains, it was intensely hot with nauseating humidity.  My heart was truly pounding like it was going to jump out of my chest.  Papa held my hand the whole way down the trail.  He moved things out of my way and pointed to the safer places to put my feet.  Papa was an old man with ragged clothes, but he smiled bigger than I have ever seen and kept calling me Senorita.

We reached the waterfall at the bottom of the slope and spent some time there wading in the pools beneath it.  It was truly beautiful.  A prettier picture than I have ever seen in National Geographic.  Even the pictures we took do not do it justice.  Our guides held our shoes for us while we went wading and rested.  They knew we needed our strength to get back up the mountain.  Soon we finished our picture taking and swimming and knew it was time to start the climb.  It was hard for me, but my family was patient as I needed to stop many times to catch my breath.  John was concerned and tried to help me, but he was new to the territory and needed his own guide for help.  Papa kept stopping and forcing me to rest.  He waved leaves over me to help cool me off.  I told him in my very limited Spanish that I had a heart condition and he immediately took even more care to help me rest and wait.  Finally, we made it back to the horses and had to start the journey back the way we had come, over the slippery, steep mountains.

It was an exhilarating experience to be so close to danger.  It was both terrifying and exciting to know that if any one of us fell off our horse, we would probably be killed.  We were in a third-world country, tucked away deeply in the jungle, and hours away from Santo Domingo and any hospital.  Even though I am prone to be anxious, I never worried while on that horse.  I trusted him and I trusted Papa.  They both knew the way.  I wasn't anxious for my family because I trusted their horses and their guides.  I also trusted God.   I felt deep humility in that place, with our new friends, surrounded by the Lord's creations.  They had made me feel safe.

A lot people have helped me to walk at different times in my life.  My parents helped me when I was a baby learning to walk.  A kind land-lady helped me to the hospital when I fell and broke my arm. Whenever I've been in the hospital to have a baby or surgery, the nurses have helped me to walk.  Last year I had two hip surgeries, 3 months apart, and I needed a lot of help to walk with crutches and therapy to get well.  And no, they were not hip replacements--I'm too young for that actually.  It was reconstructive surgery for defective joints.  Worse than hip replacements.  I've had trouble with a heart problem that causes me to lose consciousness and I need help to get up and to a chair.  I've had kind strangers help me to my car when I wasn't feeling well in a public place.  Just a few days ago, my sweet husband came to my aid and helped me walk to the car to go home from church.  I'm so grateful for all the kind people in my life and that I've met through trial and hardship that have helped me to walk---both literally and figuratively.  

The One who helps me walk the most is Jesus Christ.  It is comforting to know that He knows the trails I've walked and the paths I'm walking now.  He knows about all my struggles.  He is kind to me and doesn't judge me because of any physical limitations.  Jesus gives me strength to walk the road as a Christian wife and mother in this increasingly unkind and judgmental world.  He's proud of me when I accomplish anything with eternal merit.  He's cheering me on and wants me to make it.  Like little Papa, he never leaves my side and won't, until my journey here is through.  He will see me to the end of the trail, the glorious waterfall and epic vistas.  He will carry me when I can't walk and provides the sure-footed horse for me to ride upon over the rocky and slippery slopes.  He knows the way because He has already been there before.

The most important part of this is that Jesus will never, ever drag me up or down the trail.  He will never force me to my destination.  It is up to me to choose Him.  If I accept the horse God has blessed me with, which is His perfect Plan of Salvation, and I trust the Guide behind the horse, I am destined to reach my goal safely and soundly.  If I reject the horse and the guide, I am sure to fail.  And it's not a race.  That day in the D.R., sometimes one person and their horse and guide were in front of the others and sometimes they were in the back.  We all need a little more help at times.  It only matters that we're on the right trail of making correct choices and honoring our covenants, keeping our promises we made to God and Christ before we were even born.

Little Papa helped me reach the waterfall safely.  It was a taxing and exciting journey, but we made it. Together.  And my husband and children made it, too.  We were all there together.  God cannot force us to Heaven and we can't force our families.  We can only love and honor God and His Perfect Son, keep our promises to them, and keep on working our way to them.  We have the best guide, a perfect guide.  Jesus Christ.  He won't let us fail, IF we choose Him and His gospel.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

#LIGHTtheWORLD: Corny Corn Chowder Recipe---to Die For!

Jesus indeed fed the hungry.  He did it miraculously with only a few loaves and fishes.  It's one of my very favorite bible tellings.  Food is such a beautiful metaphor.  We need it.  We crave it.  We love it or hate it.  It takes effort to prepare good and beautiful food.  It's at the center of our gatherings.  I especially look forward to lovely, warm things on cold and blustery days like we're having here in Utah.  The temperature dropped, the trees became frozen over with a little snow, and the coats came out of their plastic dry-cleaning wrappers.

I love how a simple, humble supper can warm the coldest little bodies.  When you come home from school or work or a busy day of doctor appointments, isn't it wonderful to be able to sit down to some hearty soup and good bread?  I think it's the secret of the culinary world---good soup and very good bread.  Today I want to share with you one of our family's very favorite recipes.  It's actually my very own, created by me, myself, and I.  I share it with you for this Christmas time.

Gina's Corny Corn Chowder
1 lb. bacon, fried and crumbled
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 quart chicken stock
1 can evaporated milk
5 potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cans (15-oz.) sweet corn, drained
2 cans (15-oz.) creamed corn
fresh salt and pepper
1 tsp. Frank's hot sauce
2 cups medium sharp cheddar cheese, grated

In a large dutch oven, cook the bacon until nice and crisp enough to crumble; drain.
Using the bacon drippings, cook the onion until translucent (4 or 5 minutes) and then drain.  
Remove bacon fat from dutch oven and return to the stove.
To the dutch oven add the chicken stock, canned milk, potatoes, onion, crumbled bacon, salt and pepper, and hot sauce. 
Cook on low to medium heat until potatoes are tender, stirring periodically.
Add the corn and creamed corn and hot sauce.
Add more chicken stock until the thickness is the way you like it---we like ours nice and thick.
Turn heat off and stir in the grated cheese and wait until melted.  
Scoop into bowls or even bread bowls and garnish with extra cheese and bacon.

 This is really easy to make and doesn't take very long.  I always start the bacon cooking and while it's doing its thing, I chop the onions, then the potatoes, and grate the cheese.  It seems to all come together in about 45 minutes and is worth the wait.  Your family will be glad you didn't settle for takeout!  I hope you like it!  #LIGHTtheWORLD and #MerryChristmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

#LIGHTtheWORLD: Rejoice in Christ and Keep Your Promises

My husband has some very special aunts and uncles and a particular one came to my mind today in thinking of the #LIGHTtheWORLD theme today which is, "Jesus read the scriptures and so can you."  I thought of Uncle Scott.  He has been gone for several years, but what he taught me in those short years I was acquainted with him left a lasting impact on me.  He loved the Gospel of Jesus Christ and he was converted.  He loved the Savior.  At his funeral it was shared that his favorite scripture was this one from the Book of Mormon, in the book of 2nd Nephi, Chapter 25, verse 26.  It reads:

"And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, and we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."  

I had young children when this great man named Scott passed away.  He showed so much kindness to our family and taught us so much.  He knew what was important.  He had money from a very successful business and could have had a fancier house and a nicer car.  But he drove a broken-down Chevy Suburban that had to be one of the earliest models.  It had seat belts that didn't work and even broken seats.  But in that truck he took us up rocky red cliffs and very close to careening drop-offs in San Juan County, Utah, to show us the beauties of God's magnificent creations.  He loved people.  I didn't know him that well, but I knew he loved even me.  He had lost a young little son many years ago and then many years later, his beloved wife.  Then he found himself ill with cancer.  But he was still happy.  He still wanted to serve people.  He still wanted to drive us on adventures when we came to visit.

The last time we saw him, he was thin and frail.  He still insisted on coming along to our adventure to Monument Valley.  He didn't drive this time.  He came to be our tour guide.  Oh, how I loved his stories and his impressions of that country.  It was one of the most spiritual adventures I've ever been on.  Knowing that he was so sick, but wanted to share that time with us and his sister, my husband's mother.  He had promised our young children a ride on one of his tractors before we came home, but I noticed how tired he was getting and we didn't want to say anything to remind anyone, knowing he had already given us so much of himself.

We had spent an evening up at the family cabin in the mountains surrounding Blanding, Utah.  It was a lovely time for all and I loved seeing how much compassion he had for his children and grandchildren, sisters and brothers, kin of every kind, and his friends.  He was weak and thin, but still loving and teaching.  We decided to slip out quietly, return to where we were staying and journey home the next morning.  It was starting to get dark after all.

After getting down off the mountain and back into town, we stopped at the grocery store for some snacks and breakfast items for the next morning.  When we came out of the store, who do you suppose was waiting by our car?  Uncle Scott.  He remembered he had promised to show the kids the tractor and he was a man of his word.  I couldn't believe it.  It tore me up inside.  He insisted and you always want to please Uncle Scott.

We followed Scott over to the tractors.  He picked out a nice big back-hoe that he thought the kids would like.  He insisted they get in the tractor scoop and he got behind the controls and gently lifted them up and down, slowly and gently.  A simple little ride in a tractor scoop for a few short minutes.  I could hardly keep the tears back.  I knew we would not see him again in this life.  I knew he knew it, too.  And I knew why he kept his promise.  Because a promise to ride in a tractor is a big deal to a little kid, but mostly because he was a Christ-like man.  He didn't just study about Christ or teach about Christ.  He lived like Christ.  He didn't take more than he needed and he lived freely.  He didn't lose his faith or testimony when he lost his sweet son and his beautiful wife.  And he didn't stop serving when he himself became ill.  No, Uncle Scott did all of these things, preaching of Christ, talking of Christ, but mostly rejoicing in Christ.  He knew what Christ meant to him and should mean to all of us.  Uncle Scott understood.  He knew that Christ will always keep His promises and to be like Christ, Scott was determined to keep his own promises.  Even to little children who wanted to ride a tractor.  I am sure that it will be similar, but on a much grander and fantastic scale when we come to fully and completely realize just how Jesus is really going to come through on the promises He has made to us, if we will be worthy.

The new scriptures my husband gave me for my birthday!  The others were completely worn out!

The holy scriptures speak for themselves.  I love the Bible.  I love the Book of Mormon with all my heart.  It changed my life and the lives of so many people for good.  I know it is true!  It is the word of God.  I have read and studied it many times and prayed to receive an witness from God that it is true.  My prayers were answered.  The Holy Ghost testified to me that it is indeed God's word.  It testifies of Jesus Christ and He is the prominent figure in the sacred record.  An excellent article about this is found here, Names of Christ in the Book of Mormon.

If you've never read the Book of Mormon or need to read it again, I encourage you to do so.  It's the story of all time.  It's packed with drama, war, redemption, love, brotherhood, and peace.  It will do your heart good.  It just might change your life---it could even save your life.  I know it has the power to make us happier.  Anything that gets us closer to Jesus has to be a good thing!  

If you'd like a free copy, click here to receive one, Get a free copy of the Book of Mormon!

Monday, December 5, 2016

#LIGHTtheWORLD: The Art of Medicine is the Love of Humanity

"I do hereby affirm my loyalty to the profession I am about to enter.  I will be mindful always of my great responsibility to preserve the health and the life of my patients, to retain their confidence and respect both as a physician and a friend who will guard their secrets with scrupulous honor and fidelity."
Hippocrates said:   
"Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity."   

What does it mean to be a healer?  Did you know that physician really means teacher?  It actually makes perfect sense.  Doctors spend many, many years learning and their whole careers teaching.  Some do actually teach at medical schools and other universities, but healing is actually teaching.  A doctor is teaching his or her patients all day, every day.  They're drawing the anatomy requiring surgery or other intervention.  They point to charts and models teaching patients how to manage diabetes.  A physician takes whatever is available, even a paper towel from above the sink, to draw an explanation of a problem and its solution.  They teach us what to watch out for, when to call them back, and when to go straight to the Emergency Department.  A doctor teaches us how to get and stay healthy, stop smoking, lose weight, and get a healthy blood pressure.  The best doctors are the ones that take their own advice and are the pictures of health themselves.  

Above is a picture of our son this summer, donning his short coat for the White Coat Ceremony, marking the beginning of medical school.  The long white coat is earned upon graduation.  The new medical class all stood and recited this oath, part of which I've presented here.  I thought it remarkable to ask them this early to "affirm loyalty to the profession."  If any people were in this to become wealthy, this ought to make them squirm.  Many doctors do get rich, but this is the art of healing people, loving people and respecting people and I have no doubt that many would still want to do it, even if it paid less.  Many have had experiences that have driven them to want to be healers.  It is my opinion that they will make better doctors than the ones simply in it for the prestige and paycheck.  

Let me tell you a small part of my son's story.  He had a bad accident when he was 22 months old, requiring am ambulance ride and emergency surgery.  I know he can't remember that event, but he has heard us talk about for the rest of his life and he knows the outcome he was blessed with was a miracle.  He knows personally the powers of healing.  Both from the gifted hands of the surgeon who helped him and from our loving and all-knowing Heavenly Father who granted us all a miracle that day.  He also suffered excruciating earaches and infections from infancy to toddlerhood.  You might think with all of his trips to see the people in white lab coats that he would have grown up with disdain for the doctor's office, but the opposite is true.  

Our son didn't like being the patient at all, but when he was in that setting, he was mesmerized with all of the science behind it.  He wanted to know how the stethoscope worked, how the otoscope worked, why they were taking his blood pressure, and the why of why he needed immunizations to enter public school.  He wanted to watch what the doctor was doing and look at all the gadgets and gizmos.  He dreamed of having a microscope of his own.  He started making plans as a little boy to be a heart doctor.  He poured over National Geographic about the heart and human anatomy and wanted anatomy books for Christmas.  One of his first toys as a little boy was a surgery doll where the soft doll's organs could be removed from a Velcro-closed tummy.  Even the brain was removable.  The little doll's jammies zipped back up and the doll was good as new after the surgery performed by a 3-year-old.  As he got older he read medical case histories and biographies and memoirs of renowned surgeons.  He did science fair projects and grew live Strep and Staph cultures in our home.  He did get that microscope, a gift from his good grandpa who found an excellent specimen at a surplus sale at the university where he taught.  He brought the glass slides and crystal violet to stain the bacteria samples.  This boy was in heaven.  

We all learned just how difficult it is to become a physician.  You really can't just wake up one day and decide to do it.  Well, you can, but it won't happen the next day.  It takes years of planning and preparing, service hours and service projects, leadership experience, research planning and orchestrating, writing skills, people skills, good grades, graduating college, physician shadowing, MCAT scores, interviews and more.  And then there are the decisions about where to apply and why, the financial cost, and the living arrangements.  

While we were watching this all unfold, there were some roadblocks along the way.  People telling him it was too hard.  An important university research project fell through 2 weeks before the trip to Peru.  Changing majors.  Physics.  General Chemistry.  Organic Chemistry.  Organic Chemistry again.  So many labs and credit hours in any given semester it was almost impossible to work a job other than tutoring Chemistry.  Exhaustion, self-doubt, burnout and anxiety.  All because he wanted a unique opportunity of helping people.  There were also miracles and connections and experiences to build faith all along the way.  Tender mercies like being asked to translate Spanish to English during oral surgeries performed in a third-world country while on his mission for our church.  A new and better research project literally floating down from Heaven into his lap right after the other one fell through.  Good jobs with connections working around his hectic school schedule.  Meeting amazing people on service trips that later wrote letters of recommendation.  And making real friends with doctors he shadowed who continue to support and encourage him.  

It's enough to write a whole book about.  The important thing to know is that this boy of mine has never studied on Sunday.  He has always attended Church.  He has always found time to enjoy the little things like learning new songs on the guitar or writing his own, playing basketball with friends and with strangers, and visiting with his parents and sister on the deck outside.  And he has maintained that he wanted to be a doctor.  He has been committed to his own health and wellness and encouraged it in others.  He may have needed several pep talks in order to not give up and walk away from it all, but in the end, he got himself on that road to become a physician.  And now medical school is a whole new gig.  

It's a whole new gig because of the profoundly gifted class of students he's a part of.  These are amazing people!  He's making connections and friends and has mentors everywhere.  His Church ward is supportive and a blessing.  The material he is learning is what he's passionate about.  The intensity is what makes it so worthwhile.  Anything difficult is worth doing.  And now he has a beautiful new bride to share this with him, to help him learn, to learn along side him in her own pursuits and interests, and to create a formidable team ready to serve humanity and God, together.  

To my son I say this.  You worked so hard for so long to even get a ticket to this incredible journey.  I know you're exhausted and your eyes hurt, that a week to just rest on the couch with your new bride sounds like the epitome of luxury to you right now.  That all you really want for Christmas is just time.  Time with your bride, time with your family, time with your friends, and time in Church all together as a family.  I know it's difficult to become a doctor because if it were easy, everyone would do it, and that's just not the way it's supposed to be.  Medicine demands and deserves people who want to be healers so badly that they will sacrifice sleep to study and studying to make dinner for their spouse.  Mankind needs healers who will listen and who care about people, not Porsches.  It needs family men who honor wives and children.  The world needs men who honor God and are obedient to Him.  If you continue to put God and your own wife first, school second, then every single other thing will fall into place, just like it always has.  There might be ear infections along the way or flat bike tires and dead car batteries.  But in the end, it will all work to your good. 

To your loving wife, I say this.  You are a miracle in your own right, just like you came down from Heaven on Special Delivery.  You bless our son's life every day because of your goodness, sweetness, faith, humility, charity, kindness, and loyalty to God.  What a blessing you are.  You are work so hard and you too, are a healer.  Yes, you are. You heal and strengthen others with your faith, your quiet tenderness, your grace, and your completely guileless nature.  Please never take for granted how important your role is in all of this because it is a team effort and you together with that young husband are winning every single day.  

I love how the scriptures refer to Jesus as the Master Physician because He heals us from our infirmities, saves us from physical death, restores spiritual life to us if we repent, and teaches us about God, our Eternal Father whose work He came here to do.  He always put His Father first, then other people, and never himself.  He was and is the ultimate example.  He is a teacher and an example.  He wants us to be well and safe.  

To anyone wanting to become a doctor, please go for it and don't give up!  It's hard, but that's what makes it so worthwhile.  If God planted that seed in your heart, then wouldn't it be a shame not to see it come to fruition?  You can do it.  There are so many people to help you.  

To people like me who aren't going to become doctors, we can still be healers.  We can help heal hearts by forgiving freely, by being kind, listening honestly, sacrificing some of our comforts for those of others, remembering to keep confidences that have been confided in us, and being trustworthy.  We wouldn't go to see a doctor who told everyone about our health histories; it is indeed healing behavior to keep sacred the things others share with us.  We can stop judging.  Sister Jean Bingham said that one of the highest forms of charity is simply to withhold judgement.  We can notice people and give aide when it's needed and it's something we can do.  We can pray for people.  We can fast for them and think of them kindly.  We can be patient with people and situations.  

I'm grateful my son desires to be a physician and a helper to people.  I'm grateful for his sweet companion who supports him in this.  I'm grateful for their union which will be a strong force for good in this world.  I am grateful for what they are giving up in order to help others, for their commitment to being selfless and good.  I'm likewise grateful for my doctors I've had help from over the years and especially the ones helping me now; they are amazing people and I consider them my friends and trust them implicitly.  Thank Heaven for people on a mission to help others.  It is my opinion that the most noble profession garnering a paycheck is that of teaching, followed very closely in second place by doctoring.  Motherhood is the most noble, but there is no paycheck for that, and that's a post for another day.  

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Meet my favorite teacher, who also happens to be my daughter.  She is a secondary Math teacher and she's brilliant.  She gives so much, more than she gets paid or respected for, to help her students SEE that math is important.  That understanding math concepts can be the very key to a door of an exciting life and career.  With her commute included, she's gone 12 hours every day.  She comes home exhausted, but happy.  You see, this is her dream.  Her dream of helping children.  Of making the world a better place.  She really should be wearing a cape every day because she is a hero.

When she was little she wanted to be a veterinarian because she loved animals and especially dogs.   But that ended when we had to have our dog put to sleep.  As a young girl, I don't think she could imagine adding that to her daily or weekly job description.  She then started focusing attention on ways to help others.  She entered university planning to be a social worker.  During the first introductory social work class, she decided it wasn't for her.  She loved her math classes where she excelled and had a gift for explaining difficult concepts.  In high school, she was in A.P. Calculus and her teacher mentioned one day that he thought she should consider becoming a math teacher, since she seemed to possess an inherent gift for it.  

Ultimately she realized she could help more children by being a teacher than a social worker.  Social work would take her into the worst of situations, for only a short time and no real solutions at her disposal.  She couldn't handle the idea of helping a child only to send them back into the danger they emerged from.  Teaching would give her the opportunity to have a daily, positive, encouraging, personal influence on hundreds of students.  And she really loved math.  She loves math because there is no argument or interpretation.  An equation is correct or incorrect.  She loves the absolute-ness of it.  She also knows that not succeeding at math can be a dream killer for many.  Kids that dream of being scientists, engineers, astronauts and doctors need to be good at math.

I watched her sacrifice to get her Mathematics degree.  There were 30+ people that began the program in Mathematics Secondary Education and only TWO finished--my daughter and another girl.  The program was brutal at her university.  Most dropped out and moved to other colleges where it was a lot less demanding, with a focus on only the classes they'd end up teaching  Not my daughter. She studied Euclidean Geometry, Number Theory, Analytic Algebra, Calculus I, Calculus II, Calculus III, Ordinary Differential Equations, Probability and Statistics, Modern Algebra, Foundations of Algebra, Linear Algebra, Real Analysis, Foundations of Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometry, and on and on.  And don't forget the other math classes before this like Trigonometry.  She stayed up late, very late, every night and weekends, doing math equations on a white board, sometimes even falling asleep over her books.

But here is the really impressive thing.  This girl of mine entered university as a Presidential Scholar with a full-ride academic scholarship.  The caveat to this wonderful gift she earned with blood and sweat and tears in high school, now required a 3.75 GPA to keep the scholarship.  This might have been easy to do as a social science major or an interior design major, but this little sweetie was a Math major.  For four years, with this heavy load of math classes and taking upper division English classes for fun, my hero daughter maintained a 3.8 GPA.  She kept her scholarship.  She graduated with high honors and many awards.

She was signed immediately to a teaching contract while still doing her student teaching.  She did not have to look for a job.  The school saw a treasure and they made it theirs, in writing.  She began teaching full-time, on a paid contract, immediately after the student teaching was complete, in the middle of the school year.  That's when the fun started.  The parent-teacher meetings with parents looking her over and asking how old she was.  But the students love her.  And now they're loving math.

She is helping to #LIGHTtheWORLD with knowledge and excitement for education.  She spends her own money on pencils and paper because she believes a child cannot succeed without basic school supplies.  She provides a beautiful classroom that smells nice and has inspiring quotes and pretty green plants and makes these kids feel safe.  Many students come to sit in her room before school starts just to BE.  Because they know this teacher SEES them.  They might act like squirrels and even jerks sometimes, but she still loves them.  She gives 12 hours a day for them.  So maybe they can be an astronaut if they choose, or a bridge builder, or a scientist that cures cancer.  She gets paid pennies for what she's giving.  But she does it anyway and with love in her heart.  Love for her fellowmen and for God who blessed her with special gifts.  She knows every child is a Child of God.

Dear Sissy.  This is only the beginning.  It will take years for you to see the real harvest you are planting and tilling now.  But I promise you that it will come.  The letters will come from students that say you changed the course of their lives.  Some because you helped them find excitement for doing hard things.  Others because they knew you loved them and never gave up on them.  Some will tell you that you were the only bright light in their lives at a very dark time.  Others will remember your smile and your grace and strive to be more happy and gracious.  Out of your classroom will come leaders and explorers, scientists and doctors, and more math teachers.  I know you're tired.  I know they don't pay you what you deserve to be paid.  I know that on most days you don't feel like you're getting through to anyone.  But it's all about consistency.  Every day, more drops to their lamps, more smiles and kindness for kids who might not get it at home, and more hope for a bright future.  Because you are helping them to see.  To see that problems can be solved, that our brains really do have the capacity to stretch, and that being smart is cool.

I see you.  I see what you've sacrificed and accomplished.  I see what you're giving.  I don't see you in the classroom, but I see you in your determination to serve and to guide.  I see your passion for "being the change you wish to see in the world."  You are making a difference.  I promise.  Our society doesn't see you like it should.  It pays athletes more than you will ever see in your career.  Its values are upside down.  This is how I see it.  The most noble profession where a person draws a paycheck is that of TEACHING.  Without teaching, there would be no science, no technology, no books, no art, no music, nothing beautiful.  There would be no space exploration or magnificent architecture.  And there would be no medicine, no hope for a cure of any disease.

Please see how important what you're doing is and please see the sparks of light and divinity that you are planting every single time you write on that whiteboard or create a new lesson plan.  The glory of God truly is intelligence and instilling a love for learning in children is important to God.  It's important to me.  I love you.  I wish I could be like you:  happy and gentle, hopeful and guileless, faithful and obedient, hardworking and dedicated.  I see you.  Please see yourself and all the good you're doing.  And one day the world will see what you've done and will thank you.

Friday, December 2, 2016

#LIGHTtheWORLD: My Hero, Margie

My husband's mother, Margie, is the smartest, wittiest, and most delightful woman I know.  She is 91 years old and can recite all the poetry she studied as an English Literature major at BYU back in the day.  She went to graduate school and received her Master's in Speech Pathology.  This woman has done it all, seen it all, and heard it all and she still craves learning and serving.

When I married into Margie's family, I became the richest girl on earth to have her as my mother-in-law.  She gave us our space.  She didn't put any pressure on us to have Sunday dinner every week. She was patient, loving, faithful and optimistic.  I loved driving to her home on Sunday evenings during our own graduate school years just to sit at her table and ask her counsel.  That's what is so perfect about her.  She waits for me to ask her advice.  Only when I've been in very poor spirits has she sought to give me counsel without my asking first, and what a blessing that has been.

It's been several years since we moved her from her home, into an apartment, and then to an assisted-living center near us.  Every time we've helped her move I've been taught by what she has that's truly important to her.  Shelves and shelves of books she's read and journals she's kept, family histories she has collected, and photographs organized.  And still even more shelves and filing cabinets filled with her own musings and publications.  She's 91 and she just finished her third novel published in just a few years.  She's 91 and she wrote a trilogy!  She serves the people in her care center and makes her little rounds every night, taking walks around the building, looking in on her friends who have struggles and are lonely.

Margie's vision is in serious decline due to macular degeneration and she needs hearing aides and a walker, but she doesn't give up.  Her table next to her favorite chair is still piled high with things she's reading with the help of special glasses and audio cassettes for the blind.  She studies her scriptures faithfully, every single day.  She still attends the temple with her friends.  Margie still has a church calling in her branch and speaks in Sacrament meeting when called upon.  She only recently was released as a counselor in the Relief Society presidency.  Imagine that!  

Every time we visit her, I love to study her little table and area around her chair.  She spends a lot of time in that chair, but she's productive there.  It could be considered clutter if you didn't know her, but when your mind is as active as Margie's, you require pens and scissors, tape and markers, paper clips and Post-It notes, paper and pencil, and stacks of paper and books at your immediate disposal.

I noticed many years ago that I have developed my own kind of Margie corner, too.  When there are so many projects going on all the time, it's useless to put everything away because it will just come back out again.  It makes me think about Margie and what she's working on or learning or studying.  I know for sure she's studying about the Savior on a daily basis, so I make sure I am.  I know she's trying to learn something new every day, so I try to do the same.  And I know she loves her family fiercely, which I also strive to do.  Margie desires to serve her fellow brothers and sisters and though her body limits her physical capacity to do what she once did, she still lifts and serves with her lively conversations in the dining room and when she shares time with us.  She is serving with her heart and with her soul and with her testimony.

I could right 50,000 words about Margie, but the most important thing for you to know is that she loves her Heavenly Father and her Savior, Jesus Christ.  She knows them.  She loves her family and she loves me.  She has let me be me and taken me into her heart with open and loving arms, never judging, only cherishing.  I'm grateful for her for being my husband's mother and my children's grandmother.  It is because of Margie that my children play the violin and love the written word.  I have no doubt they inherited her quick wit and her thirst for knowledge.  I love Margie's testimony.  I love Margie.

Whoever said that mother-in-laws were hard to deal with never knew Margie.  She has given me exactly what I needed, what my husband needed, and what my children needed.  I will be forever in her debt. So today I think, what is Margie doing today to serve others?  And then I know I need to get to work.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

#LIGHTtheWORLD: Prayer Lifted My Burden

It's December 1st!  Hooray!  I am so thrilled about the Christmas campaign for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, #LIGHTtheWORLD.  Today kicks off with a Worldwide Day of Service. How beautiful to all serve each other to unite in the cause of Christ.  I also want to do something every day to take one of the other challenges suggested by the campaign.  Today is "Jesus lifted others' burdens and so can I."  Today I share a simple story of how God answered my prayers and lifted one of my most difficult burdens.  It's personal, so please be kind.

I was a young mother of two children, a boy and a girl.  My husband and I had hoped for a large family.  But it didn't happen for us.  It was hard to understand why we could have two children, but not a third.  There were no discernible answers from the many doctors we sought help from.  We prayed and prayed, fasted and fasted.  Adoption was not the answer for us.  Another child of our own was also not what Heavenly Father blessed us with.

It was difficult to manage all the comments.  People suggested we were selfish to stop having children after being blessed with "one of each."  Others questioned our worthiness.  Still others pried into personal matters.  It was a difficult time.  I kept thinking that it was still going to happen, but it never did.  Every month I received the sad news that the answer to our pleadings was a "no."

One day I was so disturbed by the onslaught of comments at church that I got a babysitter and went to the temple.  There in the temple I felt so much peace.  The Spirit was so strong that I was covered in it from head to toe.  I still remember it like it was yesterday.  On the way home, I was so happy because I just knew that the peace I felt meant I was going to have another baby.  That had to be what it meant, right?

I kept my maternity clothes.  I bought dresses with pregnancy in mind, hoping I could wear the new dress even when pregnant.  But no baby came.  Our children got older.  The distance grew between our second child and a new possible baby.  Always on my mind was how far apart would they be if I got pregnant then?  I never did have another baby.

A few years later I was blessed to understand that the peace I felt in the temple that day was real.  I just misunderstood.  God truly had blessed me to have two beautiful and healthy, smart and talented children and we were immensely grateful.  I realized that the peace came because God was trying to tell me that everything was as it should be---not that I would get my way.

My children grew up and we got older.  My oldest child, a son, was on his mission when I required a hysterectomy.  It was a difficult operation and I stayed in the hospital for a while.  A few weeks later when at the doctor for a follow-up visit, he remarked to me that he'd never seen such a misshapen, malformed, ill-functioning uterus.  He couldn't believe that I had ever been pregnant once, not to mention twice.  He was nearing retirement and yet he told me he'd never seen anything like it.  Everything else was healthy, but not that.  He told me my children were medical miracles, in the truest sense of the word.

After all that time, so many years later, answers to the questions finally came.  It didn't answer the eternal question, but rather the physical one.  I felt so overwhelmed again with gratitude.  Gratitude for our two beautiful children and so much love for my Father in Heaven who knew I needed to learn some lessons.  My prayers had indeed been heard, my burdens lifted, and testimony strengthened.  I knew God didn't love me any less because I had two children instead of six.  My family was exactly as my all-knowing Father had intended it to be.  Who could complain about that?  Certainly I wasn't going to.

At this beautiful time of year, I testify that Jesus is the Christ, God's Only Begotten Son in the flesh, who willingly came to earth as a baby boy and grew to be our Lord and Savior.  In Gethsemane that day, He knew exactly how my husband and I felt.  He even knew how my children felt when they longed for a brother or sister.  He knew my infirmities.  He felt my sorrow.  He also felt my joy at being blessed to realize the miracle of being a mother, the experience so many of my sisters in Christ have not known.  He knows their pain, too.  He knows yours, whatever it may be.  How grateful I am to know that Heavenly Father loved me, and loved you, and all of us so much that He gave us the most important gift ever given, His Son, to help us return to Him if we choose to do so, because indeed it is a choice to be obedient, to follow Christ, and to love God.

I love Jesus.  He is my Lord.  I love Heavenly Father for He is my true Father.  I love my husband, my knight in shining armor.  And I love my two beloved children.  I am immensely blessed.  I am thankful for the power of prayer and for the distilling peace of the Comforter, even the Holy Ghost. May this little story mean something to someone out there who might be struggling.  God does hear our prayers and He does answer them; we just might need time to understand the answers.  Let's #LIGHTtheWORLD with faith and goodness!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Small Plates and Generous Blessings

On Thanksgiving,  I love to pull out my grandmother's pretty dishes.  They're fragile now, having seen countless meals and soapy sinks over the last 90 years.  They were made in the 1920's and I like to wonder about all the dinnertime conversations they've heard, all of the celebrations they've shared, and all of the changes they've witnessed, in people and in our culture.  Grandma's dishes are much smaller than my dishes.  The dinner plate is probably 2 inches smaller in diameter. The soup bowl is bigger though.  The cup and saucer are tiny.  Dessert dishes are petite, but bread and butter plates are larger than the salad plates.  There are plates and bowls for everything.  Serving bowls and platters galore.

I remember getting them out for suppers at my grandparents' home when I'd go stay with them.  They were created during a simpler time for simpler appetites. When people had bread and milk, fruit preserves, cheese and onion, and buttermilk for supper.  I remember those suppers.  A little fruit in a bowl, some cottage cheese in another, a slice of homemade bread with butter, a glass of milk, and a slice of onion.  Every single night.  Sunday dinners at Grandma's were always roasted chicken, a small serving bowl of potatoes, lots of vegetables, bottled fruit, and dependably pie.  One roasted chicken fed everyone.  The plates were small and the portions were small.  And nobody died.  Now our plates are large, people are larger, and attitudes enormous. My grandparents were not poor by any means, but they were educated, intelligent, God-fearing, simple, and grateful.  They lived to be in their 90's and they were happy, smart, healthy, and worthy.  Small plates worked for them.

I have learned some lessons while washing my grandma's dishes.  One is that paper plates are never right for dinner unless you're camping or Mom is in the hospital.  There's something ritualistic about getting them out of the cupboard, placing them on the table, making the table look pretty, looking at the pretty little flowers during the meal, remembering all the other meals eaten on the dishes, and then carefully washing them and gingerly putting them away until next time.  Another lesson is that small plates are good.  Nobody needs to eat as much as they want to.  Food is to keep us alive, not entertain us as a hobby.  And pretty things are important in a world that's vulgar, loud, and selfish.

I used to feel badly about myself when I'd listen to friends or family talk (or complain) about all they had to do, all their projects and responsibilities.  Some were so organized it made my head spin. Soon I was convinced that I was some sort of malfunctioning and defective woman because I wasn't tackling all that others seemed to be handling with ease.  I wasn't the PTA president while raising 14 kids, taking 12 of them to soccer and 9 to piano lessons, making dance costumes, dishing out freezer meals on paper plates, keeping an immaculate house, planning homeroom parties for 6 kids on the same day, organizing service projects for the neighborhood, singing in the choir, teaching aerobics at 4 a.m., shopping with coupons so my groceries were free at checkout, remodeling a home by myself and installing my own counter tops, working on a cure for cancer, and keeping scrapbooks current for all said children.  

I was sitting in on violin lessons for two hours every week for two children, taking them every week to the library to get their 14 books each and reading those books so many times I still have them memorized.  I was studying scriptures to learn more about God so I could teach my children both formally and when gospel metaphors arose.  I did a lot of things as a mother, but the one thing I am probably most happy about is that I dropped everything I was doing whenever my children wanted to talk to me or needed me.  I stayed up lots of nights to catch up on work that didn't get done because our conversations were long and enjoyable or long and necessary to help answer their questions about maneuvering the outside world.  I can't remember all I did because I wasn't keeping score.  I was just doing what seemed needful, necessary, and nice.

Then it hit me one day.  After everyone's children grew up the "proof was in the pudding."  Their mothers had not really been that great at mothering.  They'd been really good organizers and chauffeurs and laundresses, and super-excellent scrap-bookers, but they'd not been such good teachers, listeners or confidants.  One of my children's friends told me once that they wished their parents would just listen, or just be happy to have everyone together without over-scheduling. Another confided to me that they'd never had a gospel discussion with their parents--ever.  They'd never had a "birds and bees" discussion or been taught about handling money.  I realized that a large plate heaped with a load of food is not all it's cracked up to be---being that super-mom character is not realistic.  You cannot have it all.  You absolutely can't.  You cannot be all things to everyone and still be everything to all.  I realize that my plate is smaller than others.  But it's just as full with the few things that are important to me as the other woman's large and carefully piled plate.  My pediatrician always told me not to force my children to eat.  "They'll eat when they're hungry," he said.  It's true. When a child is hungry, they will eat.  Because food is not entertainment.  Food is life.

If my plate is smaller than yours, if I have two children and you have 24, if I can barely keep up with my household responsibilities because of chronic illness, if I'd rather read or paint than be the mom that takes the neighborhood to see Britney Spears, if my idea of Christmas vacation with my grown children is to simply sit together in the same room only looking into their faces and listening to their stories, if I'd rather cook a simple meal and think about the blessing of it than pick up takeout for the 14th time the same week, and if I'd rather have one very expensive pair of boots than 140 pairs of cheap, nondescript shoes, please don't judge me.  You might just need me to save you from your over-eating, over-indulged, over-scheduled and over-affected life when you have a nervous breakdown.

We need to stop identifying ourselves and others based on our plates and what's on them.  My plate is small.  I have physical limitations that keep me from taking a large plate and heaping it full.  Bless your soul if you have a large, piled-high plate and you can manage it well.  Please stop asking why I only have two children because I once frequently asked that same question.  It's none of your business, and you are not a better mother or woman than me just because your reproductive system is prolific.  Please don't judge my uterus or my home or what you think my bank account contains based on the overstretched limits of yours.  Please stop wondering or gossiping about how you think I look totally healthy, but I'm not. It's not for you to worry about.  You worry about your plate and I'll worry about mine.

I love my pretty flowered plate that's fragile and only holds necessary nourishment.  It's lasted and it's worked because it's been treated with respect and love and care.  It feeds my body which is a gift from God, and it feeds my soul.  With thanksgiving in my heart I express my gratitude for my beautiful, fragile, small, but infinitely important plate and all the beautiful blessings on it and that flow from it.  My plate may be small, but it is wonderful and the miracles that continue to come from it are bounteous.  Indeed, God is truly generous.  Like my grandpa used to sing: "tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free."

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fall Back, Slow Down, and Turn the Page Again

Fall is here.  The summer is fast gone and the  nights are damp and chill.  The last quarter of 2016 is almost upon us.  With our son's wedding just in front of us and all the exciting changes in our family this year, I've been thinking about some of the things I've learned.

I used to laugh when my grandparents would say, "when I was your age we had to milk the cow if we wanted milk," and things like that.  In the last few years, I've heard myself saying to my children, "when I was in college, we didn't have smartphones or Google or even a home computer--we had to go to the library and use the card catalog to look up something."  That makes me feel old.  It also makes me feel very lucky and very blessed.  Why?  Because I got to experience things at a slower pace.  Not as slow as my parents and grandparents, but slow compared to now.  And I'm grateful for it.

I still like to read real books.  I like to turn the pages and make notes in the margins.  I like how they smell when they are new and when they are old.  They can be expensive and take up shelf space.  Just ask my husband.  My biggest fantasy is bookcases covering entire walls in every room of the house, filled to the rafters with books.  As it is, we have a bevy of books and bookcases already filled.  There are books on tables and desks and everywhere you look and I think we'll have to move soon to a house more suited to all these bookcases.  We do read them, too.  We don't just look at them.  The library is my other happy place.  I ran into the former head librarian of our local library a few months ago.  She has long since retired, but she remembered me and asked about my children.  I know those women must have hated seeing us coming every week, each with our own bag filled with 15 books, there to get another 15, so 45 total.  Every week, for years.  Yes, I'm sure that's why she still knows our names.

I like to talk to people on the phone and not text.  Texting is fine for, "I'm on my way home," or "can you pick up the dry cleaning."  It's not conducive to conversation.  At least not if you want to have a healthy relationship with a person. 

I like to cook real food from scratch. I love to go out for Indian or Thai food, true, but I really like to cook.  When I'm feeling up to it, I love to get in the kitchen and make mean Italian meatballs or lasagna.  Maybe Russian meat dumplings, or Irish Shepherd's Pie with real potatoes that have been peeled and mashed with lots of butter, milk, and salt.  I love to make cherry pie with the real sour cherries and crust.  My kids have never had maple syrup from the store; I've always made it while the hotcakes are on the griddle.

I like to sit out on our deck on summer evenings and eat supper from a plate on my lap, my husband and kids around me, as we visit for hours, long after the dishes are empty.  I like to draw and paint and make things with my hands.  I love to sew when I have time and don't mind the mess for a few days.  I love to write real letters on pretty paper and send them with a stamp.  

I love the technology we have today.  It makes writing this blog possible and doing my work from home a reality.  It makes it easy to buy clothes, since I never have to go the mall.  The good stores deliver, so it's all just a click away.  Technology actually allows me more time to do the slow, old-fashioned things I prefer.  Because I don't have to commute to my job, I have more time to play the piano.  Because I can write this blog in my nightgown, in bed, it's more fun to do.  And because of the internet, I have resources right at my fingertips.  No more Dewey Decimal System, even though I do miss those cards.

Not too many years ago, I turned 50, revealing that I'm more than halfway done with my life.  I'm sure I won't make it to 100, at least I hope I won't.  I'm excited for this next phase of my journey, a right of passage and reward for all I have accomplished and survived.  I feel I've earned the right to speak my mind.  Not that I ever haven't, but maybe I hadn't earned it yet.  I think I have the right to expect certain things from certain people and situations.  I think I've learned how to listen to my heart and gut and know when something is true and when it's not.  I've learned many things and I know I'll always be learning more.

A mere handful of things I've learned so far:

1.  There are always two sides to every story.  Make sure you hear both.
2.  What goes around really does come around.  Be careful what you send around.
3.  People just want to be understood.
4.  If you're tired of getting burned, don't go near the fire.
5.  People can change, but they usually don't.
6.  When someone shows you who they really are, it's best to believe them.
7.  Forgiveness is between me and Jesus; it doesn't mean I'm OK with what happened.
8.  Difficult things happen to good and wonderful people.
9.  We all will die, it's just a matter of when.  I want to be ready.
10. People are inherently good.  We were all created in God's image.
11. Getting married and having a family is my greatest accomplishment.
12. Jesus Christ is real and He keeps His promises.

Soon it will be October and it's gorgeous outside.  Our son is coming home to be married to a beautiful girl and it's going to be spectacular!  The Halloween haunted houses and hot chocolate are calling my name.  The brief days will require soups and bread, blankets and books, and burrowing down for the dark and thoughtful winter.  I'm feeling happy and grateful.  I'm remembering all my blessings and God's wondrous goodness.  It would be dreamy if things were simpler, if the world would stay away from me and I'd like more time with my family and to think.  I have need to read good books and sleep well, and steam grapes for juice come October.  I want to remain ignorant about what's on television and who is famous.  I want to look at picture albums and make new ones.  It would be terrific to learn new music for Christmas and make a few new recipes in the slow cooker.  I want time to discern what's important for me to choose in the next scene of my story.  Autumn is my favorite season and I'm thrilled it's finally here.  I'm more than ready to turn the page again.

I hope you enjoy this song, "Turn the Page Again" by Tim O'Brien.