Friday, November 27, 2015

Two Hours and Elizabeth Allan

Am I the only person who always has at least one pile of little pieces of paper? I sometimes think a good portion of my life’s mission is somehow wrapped up in managing piles of paper.

Well, this morning I picked up the tiny piece of paper which has been floating around on the dressing room counter top. On it were written these words:      
         16 Aug 1752
         Allan, Elizabeth
        18 Mar 1975

This was one of many slips filled out during the years when I was able to attend the temple regularly. They represent multiple blessing opportunities.

So this morning the paper finally got connected with the computer. There she was, the oldest daughter of Malcolm ALLAN and Elizabeth ANDERSON. And there was the confirmation that I had attended the Provo Temple on 18 March 1975.

Have to confess that several subsequent questions swirled through my head. What was going on in my life at that point? A quick reference to my journal for that year brought back the memories. A brief entry—

18 Mar, Tue (Elizabeth Allan)* - Up last night with some aches. . . . Good trip to the temple with Marlene Peterson.

But surrounding that were some household challenges, the weight of a hefty calling in the branch, the pending relocation to the East Coast in less than two months, and the heartaches associated with being a single sister whose Prince Charming identification kept getting delayed.

I hope those two hours of time will have made an eternal contribution to Elizabeth’s progression as an individual and as a member of her family. I hope we have an opportunity at some point to pause and give each other a hug.

Suspect there may be a few tears shed at that point, at least by me. So I also hope there are tissues available in the spirit world!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Black holes

Earlier this week, my husband was watching a show about black holes. I was listening from the other room, so I didn't see many of the images. However, it made me remember my own personal encounter with a black hole.

I was probably a pre-teen when I asked my father one day what happens to you when you die. Looking back, it is tempting to wonder why an 11- or 12-year-old girl would be asking such a question. But for those of you who know only the adult me, it might not be such a terrific mystery.

Anyway, my father—the product of a very intellectual, humanistic home—answered the only thing he felt he knew for sure. “You just cease to exist.”

That might have been satisfying to those who dabble in esoteric philosophical pursuits. However, it wasn’t very comforting to a young girl who had had no exposure to religious concepts. In the middle of some very dark Colorado nights, I laid awake thinking about the inevitability of my ceasing to exist. And perhaps because I tend to be visual, what I saw in my head was a consuming black cloud which would eventually swallow all that was ever me. There were accompanying tears.

In the more comforting light of day, I pondered this situation a little more logically. As I viewed the complexity of my surroundings, from the majestic mountains shouldering my hometown to the family in which I was planted, it didn’t make sense. It seemed like something of a farce authored by a capricious malevolence.

So I approached my father with the question. “If what you said is true, that we just cease to be, then what is the purpose of all this? Why do we even live at all?”

His answer was not a bad one—“To leave the world a better place than when we came.” You can live a very moral life on that basis.

But for me it did not extinguish either the black-hole nights or the questioning.

In December 2001, my father was hospitalized following a stroke. According to a second-hand report, a nurse was explaining to him why a procedure was necessary. “Because if we don’t, you could die.” Inexplicably, she purportedly continued, “Are you afraid to die?”

The report I received was that he nodded his head in the affirmative. His response haunts me to this day and makes me wonder if he’d had a few encounters with his own black hole of doubt and fear.

A few years after my initial query, my black hole was transformed into a glorious avenue of golden promise because of the principles I was taught.

Hopefully, Daddy has learned some exciting new things by now as well.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Let not sorrow overwhelm us..."

You’d think the departures would become easier the more of them one goes through. And, no, this morning wasn’t as traumatic as that awful day a year and a half ago when the caravan left the driveway the first time, carrying away a daughter and her family. No, this time I made it through all the prayers without breaking down, waved them goodbye into the early-morning dark without tears, and only had to stay up an extra hour after they left so I could get good and tired. I thought I’d succeeded.

However, when I finally did wend my way upstairs, I decided to peek into that now-empty bedroom, possibly to convince myself of the transition. At the moment that thought entered my mind, a shock went through my core that felt just like someone punched me in the chest. The same panicky sensation that had so suddenly ambushed me that first time returned again. And I turned back down the hallway so I could catch my breath and wait for my heart to start beating normally again.

It seemed a good time to pray, so I did. “Please, Father, help me deal with this.” Then came the words through my mind, an extension to the prayer: “Let not sorrow overwhelm us...” But it came without music, as a simple fragment. It wasn’t until much later that my brain finally retrieved the melody, which then—after humming through the cycle—revealed the title line.

“Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer”—how grateful for the assurance that there is Someone infinite who cares that I am hurting and will send peace if requested and waited upon. It came, the pain lifted, and calm overrode the emotional chaos. But it took some self-reminders that there were still reasons to want to stay around, work to do, people to serve, things I needed to accomplish.

So tomorrow will begin again the more normal routine. I will be able to work all morning without a daughter/granddaughter break. The dishwasher will resume its twice-a-week (maybe even less frequent) running schedule. We might even lower the thermostat a degree or two since we won’t have any more “nakey babies” in the house. But even with all these changes, it will be a while before I stop wishing we had reasons not to make them.

“We are weak, but Thou art strong...” Nevertheless, sitting here waiting for the meeting to start and hearing the children’s voices as they enter the chapel, the sorrow has been put in its place one more time. We’re moving forward again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Corn on the cob

So the woman who watched tearlessly as her mother’s body was placed in the mortuary’s somber bag wept as she threw away a bag of freezer-burned corn on the cob. Perhaps it will make more sense when I explain that the bag of corn might have been one that the same deceased woman labored late into the night one year to prepare for the freezer. And that made me think of all the sacrificing she had done over the years to provide for her family.

The other connection was that both items being disposed of were kind of worn out and no longer needed. I have every confidence that Mother’s spirit had departed her body by the time she was enshrouded by the mortuary worker. And the corn might have been as much as 29 years old and would probably not have been any good even if we had used it. But still, it might have been some that Mother froze for us that summer, and so I had postponed throwing it away.

That and about two thirds of the things that were in the freezer. A few bags of shredded zucchini from 1993 (my youngest daughter who is now possibly dating her eternal companion was almost four years old at the time I stored those). Several packages of chicken that we had gotten when we thought it was time for a batch of fried chicken (a batch that somehow never got fried). A $15 package of “fixings” for paella which I remembered so fondly from my missionary days (but which turned out to be far more complicated to prepare than I imagined at the time of purchase). Ice cream container after ice cream container of stored juices—peach, apple, and even green tomato!—from canning days many, many years ago. The plan had been to can them during the winter season. But multitudes of winter seasons have come and gone and still they sat in the freezer. This afternoon they are sitting on the trailer ready to go to the dump.

This seems to be a time of kneading emotions. There was the clean-out of Mother’s home, where she would have lived for 50 years had she been able to stay until the first of November. Tons and tons of things stored against potential need, a trait that all her offspring share but one that has been carried out to the heights of accomplishment by a sister who has storage units in three different cities spanning the whole country (plus, I would feel confident, two very full apartments). I have to admit to some tears as I left the house for what I knew would be the last time, a house where I had lived as a teenager and returned to many times as an adult, a house that was somehow always just about the same but would no longer be.

Our daughter and her two daughters have been here almost a month. We have spent enough time with the two grandchildren that they know us and are comfortable around us. It will be sad to see them leave, knowing that it will be several more months before we get to see them again. Will they remember this time the next time we meet?

One of our friends has had to sell a beautiful Greene County farm due to a serious illness. His mourning over the loss brings back many of the other losses both past and pending. You don’t want to color it all brown so that the hurt is less, but remembering what was once better and now is not is so terribly hard.

I guess the secret to all of it is that we should never let anything mortal become too important to us. And sentimentality, although an evidence of a sensitive spirit, shouldn’t hold us hostage.

So now I think I’m going to go eat one of the Dove ice cream bars which were uncovered in the clean-out. We had apparently hidden them from easy view so that the kids wouldn’t consume them locust-like which would have prevented us from enjoying them for a special late-night treat. No, it’s not late night, but I did scrub out the big and little freezers, so I deserve one!

Here’s to mortality lived in the here and now. And here's to managed freezers!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pioneers and Professionals

I just got inside from what was perhaps my second or third time to mow our 1.161-acre lot. It only took about six phone calls to my husband (who is traveling) before I got the tractor to move its first inch. But then we took off.

And on my first swath around the house, I decided to do the scary part and cut the “house side” of the ditch next to the road. (Sorry, but not even the solemn reassurances of my husband that the tractor would not tip over were sufficient to make me tackle the steeper road part.) As I started down the side, I noticed that my husband had not cut all the way to the bottom of the incline. So I thought I would correct his mistake. Suddenly, the tractor and I were not going anywhere. I looked down to see the mower deck toting a little patch of grass, the last that had survived in the trench I had so neatly cut before the engine just couldn’t pull it anymore.

How embarrassing!!! There I was, right next to the road, my faithful but abused John Deere perched at an angle in front of a lawn very much needing cutting, and I was already disabled. What to do? I thought of calling our substitute home teacher (our regular ones summer in Maine). All I needed was a little more muscle, right? Of course, then in my mind’s eye I saw him coming with his 350 Ford truck and hooking it up to the tractor and yanking it out. I’d actually thought about doing it with my own car but I wouldn’t have had a clue as to which part would be safe to anchor the chain to.

What do you do in cases like this? Well, you call the nearest neighbor in the hopes that he’s working at home that day. Then you try the Relief Society president to see if her son-in-law might possibly be home. No such luck. Then I thought of the pioneer women, those whose husbands were also gone, most for a lot longer than the week and a half mine will be away. They would come up with a solution of some kind.

I think the phrase came to me after I figured it out, but I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere, “If you can’t go forward, go back.” And that is what I did. With the hope that the grill on the tractor was substantial enough to withstand my back against it, I straightened out the front wheels and pushed. After several sessions of pushing (thanks for your non-assistance, Mr. Momentum!), we got into tractionable territory and I was able to drive it out. Needless to say, the very  bottom of the rest of the ditch was left for another day.

So I tried to follow the description that my husband had shared a few weeks before of how he just went around the house and kept going around and around and around. Yeah, I got the “around” part down pretty well. But there were still the puzzlements as to how you get around the clothesline posts and what to do about that patch that I missed way back there and now if I go back and get it the pattern will be broken. I did learn that there are a lot of second chances as you make your way through the process, times when you can slip over and trim up a neglected spot.

So I kept my appointed “arounds.” The grass is shorter than it was at 12:39 this afternoon when I walked out to the shop. Therefore, it won’t qualify for the dreaded “hayfield” categorization...unless, of course, you want to talk about the little mounds of grass that decided not to disappear like they do when my husband does the job. His always looks like the golf course people had just been there by the time he finishes.

And then I wondered if perhaps this was the “professional” syndrome I’d been thinking about lately. Have you ever noticed that even if you follow your mother’s recipe, the food just doesn’t taste the same when you cook it? Another of my bugaboos is painting. I’m not very good at it, don’t enjoy it, and fear I don’t do a very good job. However, there are still some walls in the house which bear the results of my efforts, no matter how imperfect they turned out to be.

That always makes me think of the story in the Book of Mormon about when Nephi’s steel bow broke, and the bows of the rest of the hunting party lost their spring. So they all sat down and cried, right? Well, I think the brothers did become angry with their brother for the loss of his bow in particular and theirs secondarily (though why they blamed it on him still escapes me!). But Nephi didn’t give in to despair. He simply went and found a piece of wood and made another bow. Now, was it as splendid as his steel bow? No. But was it functional? Yes. Did it get the job done? Yes. Thanks for the lesson, Brother Nephi.

So as I sit here recuperating and contemplating, I have decided that the main thing is that the job is done. Is it perfect? No, absolutely not. I’m not the professional my husband is in that category. And it doesn't look too bad. Still, I really hope no roving satellites take a close-up picture of our neighborhood today since I’m sure anyone who viewed it would think that whoever created those crop circles on that lawn down there must have been a bit tipsy.

But just like the bad haircut should not be mourned too intensely, the grass will grow again (even over the new little addition to the ditch in the front). In fact, it might even need to be cut again before the master gets home. And the weird mushrooms that I was too lazy to remove before smattering them to smithereens will eventually darken and not stand out like a sore thumb against the green grass.

Although we don’t get a “go around” when it comes to life, there will still be opportunities to get it right—most while in mortality and perhaps some even after that (although I’m not sure it’s wise to put it off).

So I will keep trying to figure it out. I’ll pioneer where necessary and appreciate the touch of the professionals when it’s available. And at the end, I trust I’ll be tired (like I am now) but basically satisfied that I did the best I could. I hope that’s the case, anyway.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Do the Wasps Ever Win?

It’s a battle I’ve seen before in the arena between the window and the screen in front of which I sit for many hours a day every week. A very ordinary spider, actually rather small in stature, is energetically attaching his/her web to the various parts of a much larger wasp. The wasp has struggled valiantly, obviously trying to attack its attacker. But the battle seems to be lost. The wasp isn’t going anywhere, as far as I can tell. And although he continues to writhe periodically, he is still suspended securely in the sticky cradle the spider has created for him.

Such tiny little threads. It would seem that the wasp should be able to break free, he having so much the size advantage in this situation. And still the spider flits about the helpless insect, tying his legs just as I saw my daughter do through pictures of a recent calf branding session in Arizona. I won’t be surprised to see him dangling inertly in that place tomorrow, the fight all gone, his spirit fled.

I observed the wasp earlier this morning, kind of hanging out on the screen. Yes, there’s a hole in the screen. I don’t know if he got lost, or curious, or brazen. After all, that little speck of a spider down in the corner...what could he possibly do to interrupt my stroll through here? And so he stayed.

Now, I’m much more powerful than the spider. And if I had wanted to, I could have released his victim. But this is nature in action, and in this case I let the process go forward.

However, it has caused me to think about all the times that we loiter in the neighborhoods we shouldn’t be in, areas where annoying little dangers lurk in the corner. But obviously, they’re no match for me. I could break free any time I wanted to and leave. Right?

And then a scripture comes to mind. Second Nephi 26:22 tells us that the devil “leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.” An insidious plan indeed! Attach a little cord to my lips, when I might allow something out or something in that would defile me. Bind my hands with laziness and unwillingness to serve. Confine my heart that it can no longer feel the Spirit. And the coup de grace, inject the poison of skepticism and cynicism into my mind that all things become as brass, allowing no warmth inside.

It begins with things so small, so insignificant. It ends up in misery. In fact, while searching for the scripture I referenced above, I found an interesting quote from C. S. Lewis: “The safest road to Hell…is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (The Screwtape Letters, p. xi)

However, the good news is that we are not wasps. We are the children of a Heavenly Father who loves us and who will come to our aid. We may have to struggle for a while. We may have to develop some strength of character on our own as He watches over our development. But if we ask Him in sincere and obedient faith, He will come in a thousand ways and help us free ourselves of the strong cords as well as the flaxen ones. It’s not an easy process, but it is a possible one. It is not free, but it is provided by love and mercy to those who repent and return.

Well, it didn’t take until tomorrow morning. An hour later, the battle is done. The wasp is still; the spider sits back in his corner, triumphantly awaiting his next hapless victim. On the windowsill rest the remains of previous captures, all life drained out of them.

May we take a weekly inventory, at the least, of the flaxen cords that hinder our lives. And for those of us who feel powerless over the strong cords of addiction and dependency, I promise you there is a way to be freed. Nephi tells us how. He reassures us that the Lord (Jesus Christ) “. . . loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. . . . but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.” (2 Nephi:24-25, selections)

The road back is through a broken heart and a contrite spirit, a heart that recognizes the problems and a spirit that acknowledges its own need of outside help. Take all the baby steps on the road back until you can eventually soar. It can be done.

I don’t know if the wasps ever win in their battles with the spiders. But I do know that Heavenly Father’s children will always have a way back if they exercise faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to His commandments. It’s a process. but (to quote another wise man), “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Confucius)

Whatever that step, no matter how small, take it. Please. We love you and want you to succeed. We want to see you fly.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I learned an important lesson last Sunday. It was my week to teach, and I had felt impressed to use music in the scriptures as the underlying theme for the center section of Isaiah. (I’m looking forward to this afternoon’s wrap up of the book by the other teacher.)

Anyway, I decided we should play “Name That Tune” in order to get the class involved. It was a fun class (and I figured we needed a “fun” class for a change since Isaiah can tend to be a little heavy).

One of the most prominent repositories of Isaiah lyrics is Messiah by Handel. So a goodly number of the answers were indeed from that glorious piece of music. However, it was also kind of surprising how many times “How Firm a Foundation” appeared.

I have to confess, though, that I have a very soft spot in my musical heart for Mendelssohn’s Elijah. To my ear, the melodies are purer and not quite so frilly. (Perhaps it is because I find it impossible to sing all those strings of eighth notes whenever I have the privilege of attending the Messiah sing-in held at Cabell Hall on the University of Virginia grounds.) Whatever, there are numerous passages from that piece which speak directly to my heart.

I decided to close the class with a selection (“O come everyone that thirsteth,” from Isaiah 55:1) dedicated to a brother who had just recently decided to be baptized after forty years of marriage to one of my dear friends. As I listened to it in preparation for the class, the harmony lines floated through my mind and drew tears. They also accompanied me the rest of the morning during my church preparations.

Because I had found them so moving, I announced to the class that I would end my comments before the music given that I would probably be dissolved by the time it ended. But no tears came. Reflecting back on that experience this morning, I realized that it was because my attention was too caught up with the number of minutes left in the class, whether or not the boom box on which it was playing was allowing the words to be understood, and whether or not I should stand up and shut it off before the end had arrived.

This has served as a reminder that if we really want to experience something, we need not to be distracted. We need to give ourselves over to it completely. No nagging outside concerns to negate the influence of the Spirit.

On the other hand, as I say my prayers, I often find myself distracted. Many years ago, I discussed this problem with a wise friend. His advice was that he thought he’d follow the direction of those wandering thoughts and see if that wasn’t what was really needing to be prayed about. Yet another lesson.

May we know when to yield and when to stand firm.