Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lessons

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.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Financial regulation

Every time I see a price for buying a new car, my mind flashes back to when my husband and I were first married. We started out in a mobile home before deciding to undertake the impossible project of building a house. It took two years of diligent, difficult, after-hours labor, but we finally moved in two weeks after our second child was born.

One day not too long after inhabiting our new home, we meandered into a furniture store. I saw a living room suite which reminded me of a friend’s home’s decor. It seemed perfect for our new residence, and I looked pleadingly at my husband. He wisely did not burst either into raucous laughter or incredulous exclamations. Instead, he suggested we sit down and take a look at our finances.

Oh rats, no spontaneity in this relationship! After a very, very brief review of our income and outflow (we were both self-employed at the time), it was obvious that, even with the most liberal payment plan, there was no way we could fit that additional expense into our “budget.”

Sure, I was disappointed for a moment...maybe for a few moments. But now, looking back from a multi-decade perspective, I realize how wise my husband was to suggest the evaluation and how smart I was to listen to reason.

Even now, as we enter the “golden years” of retirement, the flashing “$699/mo. payment” remains out of reach. And that’s totally OK. I don’t even need to ask my sweetheart if it would be possible.

New cars, dream cruises, designer clothing—none of that speaks to me. And when my husband advises me about the spontaneous purchases which still tempt me (usually books), I have learned to pay attention (well, most of the time).

Wish we could distill my husband’s wisdom and share it with some others who have financial decisions to make on a much larger scale. The talking heads we just saw discussing the country’s monetary situation seemed to need a healthy dose!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Irreplaceable treasure

It was Labor Day probably about 1986. I’m pretty certain of the year because I think Anna was getting ready to start school. We had borrowed a video camera from a friend. The setting was the family room, complete with the yellow fold-out seat and other long-gone furniture. The kids were hopping around trying to see in the camera lens, and Johnie was fussing at them about getting in the way. When he interviewed me, his question was, “And what are you doing on Labor Day?”

My genius response was, “Laboring.” I was trying to mend a hand-me-down dress that we so desperately needed to help clothe our burgeoning brood.

I thought of that again today as I was outside laboring in the relative comfort of an early fall day. Almost a quarter of a century has passed since we made that video (which desperately needs to be transferred to a DVD!). What happened to all those years? It wasn’t that long ago in my memory. Yet all these adults around me testify otherwise.

In fact, this morning Randi came upstairs and joined us in our room while Johnie and I were still discussing getting up. That also reminded me of the typical invasion of the troops every morning back in the old days. As soon as the little ones were conscious enough to be mobile, they would wander into our room and crawl into bed with us. Randi remembered that the space at the foot of the bed was the prime spot. She also remembered feigning sleep at night so that her daddy would carry her to bed.

It kind of made me wonder what treasures of other memories are locked away in the deep recesses of all of our brains. And what makes it more intriguing is that, although we may all remember a particular event in our family, we all remember it in slightly different ways.

So the invitation is out. Share those memories with those who made them with you. Actually, if you want to, share some with this blog. Especially appreciated are the ones that make us smile.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Inspiration! Disillusionment!


Yesterday (28 Aug 2010) I rode the bus up to Washington, DC, to participate in the Restoring Honor Rally. The bus unloaded at RFK Stadium. Three other women and I decided we would rather walk the distance to the Mall than stand in a line for the Metro. As Uncle Dale is reported to say frequently, “At least we were moving!”

Well, we made it, and only about 15 minutes late (which unfortunately had us miss all but the last strains of Sarah Palin’s remarks). All expectations for a huge crowd were realized. In fact, we were very near the Washington Monument and could barely see the Lincoln Memorial.

For a while, I sat with my new friends, trying to maneuver my red plastic purse under me against the ground damp. However, as much as I sit at my desk, I wasn’t finding sitting on the ground very comfortable. Besides, I couldn’t hear or even see the monitor, thanks in part to a group from Orange County who had thoughtlessly decided to stand right in front of a couple who had placed their chairs in that particular location long before O.C. arrived. I boldly (and probably foolishly) decided to go point out to them that the couple was having a hard time seeing through them, got a slightly sarcastic response as my reward, and decided at that point that I wanted to check out another neighborhood.

So I walked down to see if I could see more of what was going on closer to the center of action. Getting to the “center of action” would have been absolutely impossible. I’ll post some pictures so you might get an idea of what it was like.



Stood under a tree until the program was almost over. Then I walked back up to my friends. We decided we just weren’t up to another hike back to RFK. So we stood in the line for the Smithsonian Metro stop forever. I was beginning to regret seriously not having better prepared my water supplies. However, I am happy to report that we made it onto the train, off the train, to the stadium, and onto the bus.

That’s the front story. Here’s the “back”:

I’ve always figured that if necessary I’d walk to wherever Heavenly Father told us to go. With my trusty, comfortable tennis shoes swaddling my feet, I’d take off and go. Well, looking on a map this morning, I saw that the distance we walked yesterday should have been 3.43 miles. I say “should have been” because by following the other walkers, we somehow ended up on North Carolina Avenue. It appears that we got off track at Lincoln Park. My feet for a GPS!

But even with that diversion, we still probably totaled only around four miles. What did the pioneers do in a day? Fifteen? Around four times what we walked? Hm-m-m-m.

By the time we got back to the bus, I was wondering if I was going to need help getting up the five or so steps. My back hurt, my feet hurt, I was tired, my shoulders ached (not being accustomed to carrying anything but my organizer). I was thirsty and had already consumed the gift bottle of water proffered graciously by a fellow stander-in-line for the Metro who overheard me tell Johnie that I really needed some water. I wish I could tell him how much that meant to me.

I tried to knit on the bus on the way home. It was difficult finding even the energy for that. Sometimes I just leaned my head against the seat in front of me, wishing I could lie down, wishing my shoulders would stop hurting, wishing my trouble foot would ease up a little bit.

We finally made it back to the parking lot in Charlottesville where my sweet husband was waiting for me. He wanted to go out to eat. And I dutifully accompanied him. But as I shuffled wearily through the restaurant, I decided this was no longer the portrait of the stoic pioneer I had always imagined.

And I suddenly had more compassion—for those who remained in Nauvoo, even at the terrible price many of them eventually paid; for the brother who comes to church every Sunday in spite of the effects of childhood polio and advanced age; for the hidden adversities so many of our fellow travelers carry with them every day.

So what to make of this “revolting development,” as I think George Goebel* used to say. I suppose the first message would be that I need to get in shape. One of the women who walked with us appeared to be maybe even a decade or so older than I was, and she kept right in there with us—even carrying her folding chair. Maybe I should use her as my goal...to be able to make that walk again in ten years, and maybe even back (although she did say that she didn’t think she could have done the return trip).

As already mentioned, I need to have less optimism about my own performance and more compassion for that of others.

However, I think I need to be grateful to have made it at all—weakness, weariness, and woes aside. I’m grateful to have been able to go. I’m grateful that the rather cynical comment made by a policeman whom we passed on our way in as he was explaining what was happening (“Well, it’s been peaceful so far”) turned out to be nothing but skepticism on his part. I’ve never seen such a peaceful, accommodating group. I suspect even the slightly unpleasant incident with the O.C. group was uncharacteristic! The protest groups walked through the crowd and got nothing but a glance from the participants.

I’m grateful that so many people were there. I’m grateful that they may have heard (and maybe even felt) the message that I think was trying to be portrayed...that we as Americans need to clean up our own lives in order to merit the blessings of heaven so we can hopefully preserve our country. Another big message (from what I was able to hear) seemed to be that we can choose to focus on the scars of what has been wrong, or we can work to make it better in the future.

And to those who had their signs demeaning the efforts of the day, I feel sorry for you. You simply must not have been listening. I suspect you didn’t want to hear.


*For those of you under 50, he was a very funny comedian back in the stone age of television.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How things change!

Two short months ago, our Sundays were hectically busy. We came home from church and helped feed, care for, and play with two young children. We made sure that their mother was also fed and cared for as much as she needed. Our single son would drop in and spend some time with his brother and whoever else was home (usually before heading off to take care of home responsibilities before the next day’s work). Oldest and youngest daughters were usually in some state of presence, the former usually out with friends, the younger usually asleep in preparation for her early morning shift at the airport.

Those busy Sabbath days, I would sometimes long for a little free time to work on my family history research. As my husband often says, be careful what you wish for as today it appears to have come to pass. Youngest son is at work. Youngest daughter is asleep. Oldest daughter is doing a short shift after an exciting day at church. Oldest son and wife were here when I got home. We had a nice lunch and visit before they also left for pre-Monday preparations. Husband will not be home for some time yet due to church responsibilities. Daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren are missed every day, but especially today!

So I think I’ll go get a little snack before I begin my family history. Let’s see if I can connect with that crowd of family that is a little harder to see but may be even more engaged in my efforts than some of the living!

Friday, July 30, 2010

To all the cars we've loved before



The old engine roared to life as I turned the key. Then it died and needed to be restarted. And thus we began our last journey together, the old ‘89 Oldsmobile and I.

The computer had flashed me a cheerful “Good Morning.” I thought how ironic it was that on this last day, this last trip, it would be off schedule. It was 12:15 and afternoon. But that brought another wave of sadness over this parting. Perhaps it was wishing it was morning again, maybe morning in terms of being a younger and more reliable vehicle so that this trip wouldn’t be necessary.

I had already started getting nostalgic as I cleaned it out. I was remembering how it got its reputation for being a drifter. Bobby Snow didn’t believe that it would drift all the way from the end of his road to his house, but he was proven wrong.

Cameron had hit a deer not too long after he had started driving, so there were major repairs required. The grill was from another model car, and the major front pieces never again fit quite as well as they had before.

The hood ornament kept falling off, so Johnie bolted on a rather plain metal drawer pull. The harness on the left turn signal had been broken, so you had to remember to push it up after every left turn (a subject of some frustration when wives tried to remind husbands so that fellow travelers on the road wouldn’t become confused).

The front passenger side window didn’t lower or raise anymore. I guess a more accurate description would be that if you made the mistake of lowering it (which it might accomplish), the raising would either not happen or would be completed only with the utmost outside assistance.

There were miscellaneous wires in the trunk and under the dash from the sound system and other electronics that Cameron had installed in his late teenage years. (Am I remembering blue undercarriage lights at one time???) Sadly, there must have been some bumping of the radio in the process because it never sounded very good in its latter days.

I cleaned out the candy wrappers, one of Johnie’s time cards (since he had been the primary driver recently), shells of sunflower seeds which had probably been consumed by one of the ballplayers in the family (Paul was a likely candidate), and just enough coins to make the clean-out additionally rewarding.

I recalled that during Randi’s tenure, the car had received its name (Gary) and had safely transported her to and from school for a goodly number of her high school days. Although I had forgotten until today, the girls' naming of cars was but a revival of the tradition their mother had started (see below). Kaylyn’s Corolla was Zingy. Randi’s 4-Runner is Moby (I’ll give you three guesses as to the color and the first two don’t count!). The 1995 Oldsmobile was Jerry.

So across town we went to the vehicle retirement and recycling center (I don't like the word "junk") where our ailing 1993 Buick had also ended its existence a couple of years ago. But Gary was behaving so beautifully. His engine was smooth and responsive. He didn’t even cut off on me once as we traveled (he had twice for Johnie yesterday). This did nothing to counteract my suspicions that maybe I was Gary's favorite.

The odometer stood tantalizingly at over 294,000 miles. How I had wanted to see that 299,999 become 300,000. I remember that our red Astro van had turned 100,000 the day Bill Clinton was first elected. (What a sad thing to remember him by...the car, not Clinton!) I remember driving that van around offering prayers of thanksgiving that we had enough room so that our five children could spread out over the three rows of seats. Plus, I was into classical music at the time and loved listening in my own private concert hall.

As much as my heart tried to find a way to justify refurbishing Gary, rationality insisted that it was time to cut him loose. Just as I had rationally realized about three years after we got married and started having our children that I couldn’t hold on to Alice anymore. Alice was a “Mountain Laurel” pink-and-white 1957 Cadillac which my parents had bequeathed to me before my 1975 trip across the country. Her back seat and trunk were packed solid with all my belongings. The front seat was empty. And on one particular occasion, when there were no available motels in rural Iowa, I pulled into a wide space in the road beside a cornfield, locked all the doors, and spread out as well as I could across that front seat. As large as it was, that was not
a comfortable sleep—aggravated, of course, by the huge steering wheel.
Not Alice, but like her

But about eight years later Alice was sitting in the driveway of our under-construction home. Johnie kept reasoning with me that we just couldn’t afford to keep her running. Not only did the water pump need to be replaced, but the flashy and plentiful chrome was beginning to suffer from Virginia’s humidity. Plus, we were clay poor (we don’t have dirt per se in Albemarle County) and we had someone interested in buying her. It took me a while to reassure myself that my social standing didn’t really depend on my reputation as the owner of the pink-and-white Cadillac after all. (For better or worse, that has now been replaced by the title of genealogy freak, but that’s another story.)

A thousand dollars later, Alice was towed out of our lives forever. I had wanted to use the money to buy something specific that we could remember her by. But I’m pretty sure we couldn’t afford that sentimental luxury right then. I still think of her every time I see a restored ‘57 Caddy and wonder if that might be her. Plus, she’ll always be a good historical marker since I’ll never forget that the gas in her tank (probably filled sometime in 1978) had cost 55 cents per gallon.

So farewell, Gary. You served us well, and we are appreciative. More appreciative than our abandonment might indicate. Perhaps the tears I shed as I waited for my visiting teacher to pick me up and take me home will attest to that. I’m getting a little weepy again thinking that the computer had probably figured out the timing error when the new owner started him up after I left.

But you will live on in our hearts. We’ll think of you every time we see one of your siblings. And maybe this time we will be able to use the money we got for you in a memorable way.

Rest well, faithful servant.

P.S. For his part, Johnie denies any shred of sentimentality in this matter. Oh well, one of us has to have a heart!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Luck’s not a lady...but it is a temptress!

The grocery store clerk handed me the three cards at the end of our transaction. There was a promotion of some kind. Nine shielded circles, three of which could be scratched off. And only three. If you got three matching, you won a prize.

Hm-m-m, interesting the memories that aroused. One of an Avon meeting where one of the door prizes was a raffle ticket. Being quite unacquainted with the process, I asked my friend next to me to do whatever was supposed to be done. There is no memory of having won anything, though.

So there I sat, late at night---me with my three cards. I had thought I would have Johnie do one or two, that perhaps his luck would be better than mine. Then I figured he had enough to do trying to salvage his aching back, so I scratched off the first three on the first card. No match. Then two on each of the other two cards. After all, if those didn’t match, what use to do the third? (And yes, I did go back later and scratch them all off just to prove to myself that there actually were matches there.)

Three matches out of nine. I’m not sure statistically what the chances are. But when I hear on the radio of one in three hundred plus thousand or even a million something, I’m pretty sure mine were better with those cards. Not quite so good, the possibilities of winning a community raffle. Amazing that even of a relatively limited number of entries rolling around in the bin, the host never selected mine. One early morning, he did call the name of a friend. So I called her to let her know, and she won!

But the other more poignant memory is of the time when the children were young and our finances so strained that they were causing sleeplessness. Grandma and Grandpa had gifted us with a subscription to The Reader’s Digest. Still on our bookshelves are several volumes purchased in a vain effort to qualify more fully for the grand prize. Vain, vain, but oh what a treasured prospect—--something, anything that could suddenly change our straitened circumstances into at least solvency...never mind the mind-boggling riches!

And when no one appeared on our doorstep with an over-sized check or slipped us a quiet fortune in an anonymous envelope, we got up the next morning and continued our daily labors. Up hill and down. Richer and poorer, relatively speaking. But somehow we always made it, though not without help from both the seen and the Unseen.

How grateful I am to look back now on those years and be able to be thankful for the journey. Not that we’ve reached our destination, but at least we have courage for the voyage. As Mother entitled her personal history, it takes “Lots of Work and Luck.” I’d add blessings to the equation, but would never deny the necessity of the hard work.

Besides, as my dad used to say, “The lottery can’t possibly be good for you. After all, look at what it does to your heart when you simply imagine winning!”

Work to make your dreams come true, and then look for the miracles along the way. But don’t put too much stock in Lady Luck.

P.S. The fellow bagging my groceries that day said that he had won half a million dollars once, in Florida. He apparently did a lot of good things with the money, including putting his daughter through school. But, ironically, there he was, bagging groceries!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

To dizzidaisy23 . . . a new(?) friend

I was startled to see you as a follower, but very grateful as well. Not just for me, but for poor Anna who has been my sole follower on this site since the beginning. I'm sure she'll be delighted to have a companion!

Anyway, I just wanted to welcome you and hope that your having added this site to your list will be a happy thing for you...despite the fact that several of my recent posts seem not to have been of the cheerful variety.

If I know you (but not your screen name), would love to have you contact me. If I don't know you, would love to add you to my list of friends as well as followers!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The warning

He should have known it was coming, that spider in the corner. After all, he had to have heard the deafening whine of the vacuum cleaner as it got closer and closer. But still he sat, unheeding.

So he got sucked up. Destroyed. Buried in the collected dust and grime of past cleanings.

However, he was warned, was he not? He should have run. He should have taken shelter in a crevice somewhere. I might not have pursued him too far, being in a hurry to finish my appointed tasks.

And as I see the results of the noisy machine that is currently steamrolling through our liberties, I think to myself, “Well, we were warned, were we not?” And with the same nonchalance with which I destroyed the spider, our country’s leaders are destroying over 200 years of constitutional government.

No, they’re not the first to infringe on those hard-won freedoms. But the speed with which they are wiping out the rest truly frightens me.

I think it’s time to find that crevice. Maybe even prepare to run!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Announcing

I shall be brief (those of you who know me may be navigating their tongues slowly over to their cheeks at that comment). But I needed to document the most recent event in our family.

Paul Samuel Quillon and Elizabeth Rebecca Stone were married in the Washington DC Temple at about 1:00 on the afternoon of July 9. Liz’s company included her parents Kent and Martha, a brother John, her sister Emily, and a cousin Meredith. A very special friend, a former Young Women's leader, was also able to come. All of Paul’s siblings were also present, including his Meador brother-in-law Derek and nieces Corin and Kendall.

We had a lovely reception on Saturday night. Liz and her mother had worked very hard on the preparations, which was remarkable given the long-distance requirement.

Some observations: It will be a while before red velvet cake is terribly appealing, especially to Kaylyn who successfully managed nine complete layers of it. It will also be a little while, at least, before Randi will feel like taking another plane trip (having driven halfway across the country with Liz as she relocated as well as making double trips to help the Meadors fly from Arizona to Virginia and then back again.)

We are grateful to have gotten to know Liz’s parents and brother and cousin and are happy to add them to our extended family. We are especially thankful that Paul found someone who makes him smile.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

...because of the color of the wheat fields

It was probably around January 1968, in a little house up on the Avenues of Provo, Utah. My roommate had been a stranger to me before she moved in the previous fall.

We had gotten along pretty well. I did get annoyed once in a while that she seemed to have a habit of leaving the lidless mayonnaise jar on the counter.

Then she met her eternal companion and abandoned me for him. In the sad silence of that little house, realizing I was all alone in the world again, the mayonnaise issue didn’t seem like such a big deal.

This morning, we watched our second oldest daughter drive away with her two little daughters. They have been with us for over a month while her husband was out in Arizona job hunting.

We’ve all been dreading this event. If she weren’t coming back in a couple of weeks to attend her brother’s wedding, it might have been just about as unbearable as that moment when they used to have the missionaries walk out of one door and the parents out of another.

At that time, my husband had said I was the only one hardhearted enough to accompany our son through that process. I’m sure he didn’t mean I was really hardhearted...probably just a degree or two tougher than his tender heart.

The missionary send-off was accomplished, despite the banked tears that threatened to overflow. However, my husband's figuring I could be voice for family prayer this morning might have been a slight over-estimation. The tears flowed, but we made it through that, too.

The dialogue of the prince and the fox in St. ExupĂ©ry’s The Little Prince comes to mind:

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near—

“Ah,” said the fox. “I shall cry.”

“It is your own fault,’ said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“Then it has done you no good at all!”

“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.” [which reminded him of the color of the little prince’s hair]


I made the mistake of allowing my granddaughter to tame me. I had foolishly encouraged her to help me feed the cat. We started with the night feeding, but within the past few days I included her in the morning feeding also.

So this morning, as I performed the morning ritual by myself, I realized that I would forever hear “Feed Toby. Dry food. Wet food” in my memory ear as I fulfilled both chores. After a while, it won’t be painful. For now, the wound is yet raw.

And if the pain is this searing at a mere departure, I can only imagine what it would be like if the separation were to be longer. So, once again, I thank my Father in Heaven for the potential of eternal families through the blessings of priesthood ordinances in holy temples.

I’m grateful for the love whose ties can cover the thousands of miles that will exist between us (in addition to electronic impulses that travel very quickly across those same expanses). Most of all, I rely on the unfailing comfort of an invisible but very present Companion who can ease the hurt.

In Missouri, another family faces the same prospect of letting go. A beloved daughter will soon come to be part of our family, while her family will miss her immediate presence. The cycle repeats over and over, with varying degrees of finality.

Love you always, Kaylyn, Derek, Rinny, and DeeDoo. Safe journey! Happy new beginnings.

And who knows. Maybe at some point, mayonnaise will stop playing a part in these proceedings! (Inside joke!!!)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

An hundredth part . . .

[This is a duplicate post to the one entered at PastProtectors.blogspot.com. Hope you enjoy it.]

I’m nearing the end of this reading of the Old Testament. Arrived in Zechariah this morning and was interested to see that (though not uncommon) it included a genealogy for Zechariah.

But what really caught my attention was that his grandfather, Iddo, was a prophet. I guess I had missed his name in previous readings, because upon looking him up just now I found several references. And some of them give more insight into things he did (if there was indeed only one prophet named Iddo...and somehow I can’t imagine too many parents bestowing that name on their sons).

He apparently lived at the time of Rehoboam. Because his writings are lost, we know virtually nothing of his life. Given that the lives of prophets, especially Old Testament ones, are not generally pleasant, we can make some assumptions along that line. But we know very little about his experiences, his relationships with God and his fellow men.

Is it that way for us? As we associate with friends and acquaintances, how much do we really know about them—about the internal struggles they’ve had, the triumphs they’ve achieved, the lessons they’ve learned? Are their books “missing” for us as well?

How about our own stories? Will there be anything available when our children really want to know more about us? If the past is any indication, that condition won’t arise until we’re gone and unable to make a record. So wouldn’t it be wise if we left them a little something...just in case?

My own personal history basically stalled at the point where I got married. My excuse is that things got too hectic after that. However, I know it’s important that I finish it. So I will add the recording of that forward record to the goal of organizing all my notes about already-dead people.

I would encourage anyone who may stumble across this writing to do the same. It doesn’t have to be long. Each of my grandmothers wrote about three pages. And one of my fondest dreams is to find a letter, no matter how long, written by my third great-grandfather just so I could see a snapshot of his mind on that one day.

Please let those who follow you know what your life was like. Let them see and understand your dreams and your devastations, your difficulties and your delights. It really will matter...someday.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

He, watching over Israel...

Probably my favorite piece of music is Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.” Of course, Elijah’s being my favorite Biblical character doesn’t hurt that rating. But the music itself is so rich that my spirit feasts every time I hear it.

One of the pieces has the line “He, watching over Israel, slumbers not, nor sleeps. Shouldst thou, walking in grief, languish, He will quicken thee.” The magic of Mendelssohn’s genius is such that as I read those words, I hear the melody clearly in my mind.

However, the inspiration for this sharing is not related to my love for the oratorio. It does have everything to do with the text.

It came back to me as my husband commented on my recitation of the blog I just shared with you about tithing. He reflected back to the time when, as a single parent, he faced the daunting prospect of supporting his son on his mission. Having the responsibility to support two other teenage children still at home, the finances just weren’t there. And so, although I wasn’t privy to private details of his life at that time, I’m sure he made that a matter of fervent prayer.

In accordance with the principle that faith precedes the miracle, the missionary was launched. A month or two afterward, out of the blue, the manager of a local department store contacted Johnie’s good friend and cousin to ask if he knew anyone who washed windows. Bobby referred him to Johnie. Never having washed a single commercial window in his life, he researched the service and made an offer. The offer was accepted and for the next two years, in most frigid cold or sultry heat, the windows were washed once a month, inside and out.

Robin returned home. By that time, Johnie and I were married and almost ready to deliver our first child. Still the window washing job continued. But a few months before Robin came home, Johnie had received the impression that the job would not last much longer. Sure enough, before summer arrived again, the kind manager informed him that the store staff was taking over that task.

There, in the middle of Central Virginia in the year 1978, a faithful father struggled to support his family. Someone watching over Israel saw the struggle and provided a blessing. According to subsequent calculations, the window-washing proceeds covered Robin's mission expenses almost to the penny.

As with all things spiritual, that is not an isolated incident.

“Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” – Psalm 121:4

Prove me now herewith...

Yesterday, I ran a marathon. No, not a “real” one (though I admire those of you who are dedicated runners), but a day-long production effort.

This year has been a year of blessings, and it has brought a lot of earning opportunities. And this is important to me. I have long hoped that my home business could be substantial enough to provide sufficient income to allow my husband to retire completely if he so desired, or so that he needn’t worry if he could no longer work for some reason.

When I first began Specialty Arts, my desire was that it serve the family history community by helping people preserve and publish their research. Over the years, I have been privileged to assist several authors with their publications, in addition to preparing five books of my own. That is a tremendous satisfaction.

And although there is currently some family history-related work waiting for free time, demands from another source are keeping me fully occupied at the present. So I get up every day knowing that I have work to do. In these lean times, isn’t that a tremendous blessing?

I have also been very diligent (and honest) in paying our tithing. I have no hesitation about attributing the bulk of these blessings to that single practice.

Back when I first plunged into that scary realm of self-employment, the middle of the month would roll around and I would begin reminding Heavenly Father that next month’s rent was going to be due, along with the payment on the loan I took out to buy the typewriter. (No, you read that right...typewriter. That was 1977; the computer arrived in 1986.) I promised that I would work hard if only He would bless me with opportunities.

I made that same petition just a few months ago when expenses had wiped out a good deal of our reserves. And now this overflowing. Ah yes, the windows of heaven truly do open!

May I do a little tithing promotional here? Heavenly Father is the best business associate you could have. His contract is pretty simple. He only asks that we do the things that will naturally bless our lives anyway. Plus that tithing clause, which is the only return He requires from us.

Believe me, I gained a new perspective on tithing several years ago. I had just spent untold hours preparing my first book for publication. The contract with the publishing company provided me a royalty of 10%. Interesting how minimal that appears from the receiver’s side of the deal!

If there is one principal that I would encourage everyone to follow, it would be the payment of a full and honest (and regular) tithe. Through the mouth of the prophet Malachi, our Father in Heaven promised us a flood of blessings so great that we couldn’t contain them. My current workload is ample witness that He will keep His end of the bargain.

Could this be a blip on the screen? Of course. Will I continue to pay tithing even if the reversals come? Of course. Why would I risk losing the “Partner” whose main concern is my welfare? Even in stringent times, what a comfort it is to know that we have been obedient and thereby qualified ourselves for His assistance...in all things.

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” -- Malachi 3:10

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Attack!

There they stood, tall and defiant. Probably the most successful crop of skunk cabbage I’d seen in years. You may have a different name for them where you live. Actually I think they may even be called something different here. But in Colorado, we called them skunk cabbage, a tall, leafy plant with horrendous stickers all up their stems and on the backs of their leaves.

They had chosen a less monitored spot of ground—the “berry patch” (a rather elegant name for the row of blackberry bushes a friend had gifted me with several years ago)—as their growing place. And they had apparently taken full advantage of the layer of goat leavings which lay composting there along the side of the house.

My husband had decreed that they were my problem. I needed to get out and take care of them. (In fairness, he’d never wanted the berry patch in the first place. Neither does he particularly care for the flower beds in front of the house, also not as manicured as he would like. And he does take immaculate care of the lawn and as much of the other outside work as he can manage on his schedule.) For several weeks following the commission, I had walked past them with my head hung in silent shame. No time, no time, not enough time to do that.

So this morning, after grubbing out some squirrel-donated trees from the flower beds, I decided to tackle the skunk cabbages. I tried to grab them as low as I could on the stalk in order to avoid the more mature, more threatening stickers. Their shallow root system made pulling them a breeze, and they were soon dispatched to the “compost pile” (another misnomer for a heap of dirt beside our metal storage building which I have tried in years past to tend with mixed success).

My gardening gloves having disappeared long ago, it was with bare hands that I attacked my enemies. The tallying of injuries stands at one verified sticker in the heel of my hand and a suspected one on one of my fingertips. Not bad considering the weeds’ intimidating appearance.

So in the future, perhaps I will remember the lesson of the skunk cabbages. No matter how lousy and uncomfortable the job, there will come a day when it has to be done. And perhaps most jobs are similar in that the major obstacle is the getting started. Isn’t there a saying, “Once begun, the job’s half done,” or something of that nature?

Lorraine - 1, skunk cabbages - 0. I like that score!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Long-awaited blossoms/blessings


Growing up, one of the earliest things I remember about Mother’s flowers was the hoya carnosa vine. To most of you, that will be a completely foreign term, one that sounds slightly threatening. But it was one of the “solids” in my youth.

Every once in a while, bunches of flowers appeared, looking much like a down-shooting fireworks display. The flowers are amazing, having faintly pink velvety petals, waxy little red stars in the middle with (as I recall) another white star in the middle of that, and a fragrance that fills the room. [NOTE: This description was written before the flowers on my vine opened.]

When I moved away, I tried several times to take a cutting of the vine. I remember that one attempt failed when the hot summer sun scorched the leaves of the poor little plant sitting in the back of the car as we drove across the country.

This last cutting survived, but barely. Our home doesn’t have a lot of window sill space, so it struggled along with only a few leaves. Once the children got old enough that I could put a plant on a low window sill, it put out some new growth.

When my husband renovated a corner of the basement for my office, he blessed me with a deep sill for the window right in front of my computer. So I brought my plant down and put it there, right where I can see it every day.

My mother’s plants (hers has multiplied also) continued to flourish and bloom. The cuttings my siblings had started did the same, producing blossoms so consistently that they didn’t even bother to mention it in family e-mails.

Meanwhile, it was enough of a subconscious concern to me that I had dreams about my plant’s blooming. One dream in particular said that there were two sets of flowers.

Although my vine was surviving and sending out runners every spring, there was still nothing resembling a flower. In consultation with the other family experts, the diagnosis was a probable lack of light. Indeed, this window has a northwest exposure, which is not ideal. However, it does get a little dose of sun from the east early in the morning.

Then last year something unusual appeared on one of the vines. I thought it looked a lot like the stalk from which the blossoms grow. Although I watched it very closely, nothing more happened last year.

This past spring, another stalk appeared on this year’s vine. But it was even smaller than last year’s. Still, a few weeks ago the little bud stems started to grow on last year's, and then on this year's. You can imagine my excitement at that development.

But you can possibly also imagine my surprise when another stalk appeared on a vine end that I assumed was dead. That stalk developed almost overnight and almost immediately started sending out the bud stems.

This morning, as I survey the progress, I see that the last group of blooms is very close to opening. Right behind it is the group on last year’s stalk. And still moving along but way behind is the stalk that appeared earlier this spring.

As I thought about this situation this morning, before beginning another day of steady work, I thought that my plant might be trying to teach me some lessons. The first is that the deadest looking wood may still be viable. The second is that seniority may have nothing to do with maturity. And the third is that dreams do indeed come true, if we have patience and hold out hope long enough.

So whatever long-held dreams are fueling your progress through life, grasp them tightly. If they are worthy of Heavenly Father’s sanction, they will come about someday. I have an undying assurance of that, which I would like to share with you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gathering in


My current scripture study is in the Old Testament chapters where many prophets describe the challenges of the latter days prior to the Second Coming. Much of it, of course, I don’t understand completely. But the general message is one of pending difficulty.

Our children are now grown. Our time for preparing them against those times of sifting (some of which are undoubtedly already upon us) is probably just about past. Now they have to go out and fend for themselves—battle their own battles and deal with both victory and defeat.

Our second child is already married and has begun the raising of the next generation. Her next-youngest sibling will be married in a little over a month. The rest are in various stages of preparation.

My impression this morning was to petition Heavenly Father (as I have often done previously) to send strong spirits to be companions for these souls who are so precious to us. The one we already have qualifies; the one we are soon to have join us does as well. May they all be strengthened from outside and recommitted from within to face the battles that will continue to escalate until the One who is worthy to rule will calm the strife.

And for however long I get to accompany them, may my voice be one of encouragement. May they know that, even after I have left this mortal realm, I will be just out of sight cheering them on.

Random thoughts

One of the most interesting experiences of raising children for me was to try to teach them the concepts of “you” and “me.” Somehow, that gets terribly confusing. Unlike a table or a door, you can’t put a label on yourself and say “This is me,” because for the child observer it is really “You.” And you can’t put the “me” on the child and the “you” on yourself because then it is no longer true for you.

Is this one of the first “relative” concepts a child learns? Isn’t it essential that the sense of self be internalized before it makes sense? And the self has to be seen as separate from Mom or Dad or sibling?

Which brings back another memory from what were probably my early teen years (because my late teen years were so consumed by thoughts of boys and future that the time for introspection was generally squeezed out). Long before I knew anything about the dual nature of mortal beings, I remember looking in the mirror and being kind of freaked out that the “me” that was looking back was somehow something more than the face that was being viewed. There was something behind the eyes that was thinking about seeing those eyes. It suddenly became logical after the explanation arrived!

Now years later, although the aging process has been relatively kind to me so far, I can project myself into the future and imagine the day when the physical body becomes a torture chamber or a prison. Not a terrible positive thought except for the fact that eventually—inevitably—the spirit will be released and allowed unfettered movement again for a time. And then, when the physical body is retrieved in the resurrection, a marvelous renovation will take place which will turn that body into a magnificent and compliant tabernacle.

So maybe these thoughts are not so random after all. Just as the child needs to begin to see him/herself separate and distinct from all other entities in his/her world, so too do we need to see ourselves as an infinite being (who had a past even before being born), as part of the great human race that has populated this Earth (many noble ones among them whom we would be proud to claim as kin), and as one of Heavenly Father’s precious children for whom He would do almost anything (except violate law) to help to return home to Him at the end of the process.

But too many in our day have been encouraged to view themselves more on the mortal plane, descending closer and closer to the animal realm all the time. (In saying that, I unintentionally denigrate those animals who show a greater devotion and commitment to partner than many humans!)

And perhaps those of us who understand that dual nature, that ultimate destiny of the human soul (paired as it will be with a perfected body), should be a little more diligent about petitioning for opportunities to share that expansive eternal panorama.

Most of the world probably isn’t ready to hear it, but some might be. May we be sensitive to potential.

Friday, May 14, 2010

One last parting shot

before I finally get to bed!

Having successfully repaired my husband's watch, I've decided that while duct tape is the fix-it choice for many, mine is the paper clip. Amazing what can be done with a little wire and a couple of needle-nosed pliers!

They liked my macaroni and cheese...they REALLY liked my macaroni and cheese!

Made a second batch of a new recipe I created for macaroni and cheese since that was the menu item requested by the birthday boy. In the past, they've always loved their dad's creations so much that he was constantly asked to make his version. But tonight, they said they really liked this one.

And, as if that weren't enough, they also liked (and raved about) the dessert I so carefully chose at Sam's Club. I'd never seen it before and there was only one left. It seemed like it was meant to be. And it was pretty durned good.

So nice to hear positive reviews floating around the table!

I yelled at my daughter today

It was one of those tense moments when you just lose your mind. Our 22-month old granddaughter had climbed up on the bench in the nook by herself. I was busy preparing a birthday dinner and kind of half realized that she was probably doing exactly that. When I asked Grandpa to check on her, he had barely made it around the counter before she took her nose dive.

Somehow, I flashed back on all the times the kids have made fun of me for being a worry-wart. And here was evidence that my anxieties were justified. Oh, and there are so many anxieties!

Every time someone goes down the basement stairs, it's a breath stopper for me (with memories of my own rolling trip down those same stairs a couple of weeks before child #4 was born). Edges of high places drive me crazy for myself (being just clumsy enough to imagine falling off for no reason at all), but especially for children (who don't realize the danger). Our family's last visit to the Luray Caverns terrified me at one point where there was a terrible drop and only a double-pipe handrail to keep people safe. And I've seen too many kids tumble off those kitchen benches in a split second to be comfortable when a little one is sitting on them.

To her credit, my daughter didn't respond in kind, though she could have. Her youngest sister came and explained why my behavior wasn't helpful (in the tone of voice she will probably use one day when my mind is gone for good).

But when I apologized for my outburst, my daughter said it was OK. (I don't think it was in "that" tone of voice!) She explained that her take on things is simply that those kinds of bumps are part of life and her daughter's going to be having her share of them. She doesn't want her to be afraid to explore and to try new things.

So where did THAT wisdom come from? Certainly not from her maternal genes. I am at least a second-generation fretter.

But she's probably right. Perhaps we parents try too hard to prevent all the hurts and wind up buffering too much. If we look back in our own lives, sometimes the lesson's not learned until there is enough pain that alternative choices become enticing.

Oh well, as I remind myself very often these days, we all probably do the best we understand to do and pray that our efforts will be good enough. Perhaps someday they will have been. In the meantime, we all keep learning and keep climbing.

And I promise to try to do better the next time there are bumps and tears.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thank you, Mr. R.

As a result of Mother's Day, I found myself remembering what it was like "in the beginning."

My oldest daughter was probably less than a year old, but I had already bumped into enough inadequacies that I was feeling pretty fragile.

This particular morning, we had turned the television on to watch Mr. Rogers. I was only half listening as I tried to get some work done. But all of a sudden, my attention was fully riveted to the screen as he looked earnestly into the camera and said, "I like you just the way you are." That seemed like such an unlikelihood right then that I promptly burst into tears.

After the kids got a little older (and a lot more "sophisticated"), they would laugh about Mr. Rogers and make fun of him. I always remembered that moment and felt more to thank him for a moment or two of comfort in a difficult time.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

In honor of Mother's Day

This is a talk which I presented a couple of years ago on Mother's Day. (I still say that one of the biggest challenges is to ask a woman to speak on Mother's Day, but I'm sure it will continue to happen.)

* * *

I suspected I was in trouble the other night when I walked in the house only to hear my husband telling someone on the phone, “Yes, I’ll have her call you as soon as she gets in.” May I ask you sisters if it is typical that around the middle of April we all begin wondering who will have to endure the experience of being called upon to give a talk on Mother’s Day? Well, my fears were confirmed when Johnie told me what the phone call had been about, and the rest of you sisters are safe for another year. Any pity will be appreciated!

[In presenting the talk, I actually used another introduction. Johnie had read me a story from The Reader’s Digest about a mother of three small children who was having a really bad day. She said that even counting to 10 wasn’t working. So she decided that she would go in her closet and scream until she felt better. It seemed to help . . . until she opened the closet door and saw all three children standing there with fearful faces. Then her five-year-old son said, “Mom, I kept trying to tell you there was a monster in there!” Told the congregation they were free to make any comparison they wished between that story and Brother Cooper’s asking me to speak on Mother’s Day.]

I sometimes think that Mother’s Day from a mother’s perspective is somewhat like being forced to sit at the front of the chapel for your own funeral. People are saying really nice things, and you see your children and other close friends looking at each other as if to say, “Are we at the right funeral?”

Latter-day Saint funerals are a little better than others, and many of us were privileged a few weeks ago to attend Sister Mary Harman’s funeral. And there we learned that even that sister, who seemed to me to approach the epitome of great motherhood, also had a difficult time getting through Mother’s Day.

I’m sure the woman who founded Mother’s Day didn’t intend for it to be an ordeal. I’m sure President Lincoln didn’t wish his tribute to his mother to become a phrase that echoed through the minds of countless women who don’t really see themselves in the angelic role. Actually, I’m sure there must be mothers out there somewhere who deserve the tributes and really are so close to perfection that we would add our standing ovation to the applause.

However, I also wonder, as she stood in the spotlight of attention and adulation, if each of those women wouldn’t also have been uncomfortable with our praise. Even Mother Theresa, everyone’s example of honorable self-sacrifice, may have had her doubt-filled darker side.

Well, as I pondered what I might say on this most anguishing of days for those of us who struggle with our “mother image,” I began to wonder what it was that makes it so difficult for some of us to get through Mother’s Day. And in my wondering, I began hearing phrases, scriptural phrases. And I went looking. I found them in Jacob’s allegory of the wild and tame olive trees.

The Master of the vineyard is wrestling with nature. He and his faithful Servant are trying to get nature to do “the right things,” “the best things,” the things that will be most advantageous for him and the most healthy for the vineyard. Even as the chapter opens, the beloved tree has already grown old. I think it is safe to assume that the Master has not been an absentee caretaker during all of that preceding time.

Then we have a record of four additional visits to the vineyard, during which the Master makes at least six references to the length of time he has been caring for his vineyard. In verse 12, the Servant is admonished to watch the tree and nourish it, even in the absence of the Master. I suspect that even though this is the only reference we have to that kind of a directive, it was not the only time the charge was given.

We know from King Benjamin’s teachings that anything in its natural state is an enemy to God. And the vineyard is no exception. In spite of the care the tree and its offspring are given, it doesn’t turn out well very often.

And in the responses of the Master of the vineyard to this disappointment, we see into his very soul. Seven times in 77 verses, he repeats the plaintive phrase, “It grieveth me.” During one particularly difficult time, his cry is the cry of all parents who watch a loved one suffer for poor decisions: What could I have done more for my vineyard?

We see this anguish again in the conversation Enoch has with the Father in the Book of Moses. (7:32-37).

So, brothers and sisters, this is parenthood. This is parenthood for the most perfect, the most intelligent, the most powerful Being we know! Not a terribly pretty picture, is it? Maybe that’s why we sometimes feel a little ambivalent as we congratulate those who have just learned that they are going to become parents. It’s kind of a mixed bag of experiences.

But maybe it also gives us a little hope as we struggle with our own internal natural man and woman, as we struggle to help our children overcome the natural boy and the natural girl they each have to learn to conquer.

In the continuation of that interview with Enoch, we get an insight into the relationship of the Master with his Servant. Think back to Jacob’s allegory for a minute. Have you ever noticed that the Servant plays the role of petitioner in behalf of mercy? In the record, the Master initiates most of the conversations. However, five times we have the phrase “the servant said.” Four out of those five times, the Master is ready to give up, to destroy the unsuccessful vineyard. The Servant suggests new horticultural methods, begging the Master to spare the tree a little longer. In Moses 7:39, the Father tells us that “That which I have chosen hath pled before my face.”

Did you notice that the one thing the Master and the Servant did not do was give up? Even when the Master expressed feelings of discouragement and yes—even anger, he and his Servant eventually went back to tending the vineyard. Even when it became necessary for the Master to destroy all but eight of his creations, yet he spared those eight and did everything he could to give them a new start. And if we begin to see the dysfunctional branches of the tree not as decayed cellulose but as beloved offspring, we begin to know how painful that destruction was for him.

So back to Mother’s Day... For myself, part of the discomfort of the accolades is that I know how imperfect I am. I have vividly before my face the recollections of the hurtful things I’ve said and done to my children, most of them completely unintentional. I remember as if it were yesterday losing my temper multiple times, many of them with one particular child who knew exactly how to cultivate that response. Unlike the Master of the vineyard, I can easily enumerate the things we “could have done more” as parents.

And yet we have the promises. Even in Jacob the tide turns, the perspective changes, as they labor for the last time before the end comes. The Master has instructed the Servant to go out and gather other laborers so they can do everything possible to help the vineyard be productive before the harvest comes. (71-72).

Finally, note that in most of Jacob’s allegory, the Master refers to the object of his affections as “this tree.” But beginning in Jacob 5:54, it changes. He begins to call it the “mother tree.”

And what is most significant about this mother tree? That its roots are good, strong, healthy, nourishing. In addition to the regular processes of absorption and transmission of nutrients for that which is part of its normal system, it is asked to undergo the process of grafting. In that process (as far as I understand it), a cut is made into the main trunk of the tree and an adopted branch is secured in that wound. If it is successful, the adopted branch is also nourished by the mother tree and becomes a part of it. I suspect that is not a painless process for the mother tree.

A side note: that grafting in of the wild branches preserved and strengthened the roots. I’ll let you ponder on that for a while.

So what are the principles?

■ Agency is essential

■ The natural being is the most frequent result of agency

■ The love and mercy of the Father as manifested in the atonement of Jesus Christ and the mission of the Holy Ghost is the only way to lift mankind out of that natural state

And what are the lessons?

● Parenting is not painless, even for perfect parents

● Our role—whether natural parents or those who serve in the role of parent through their stewardships—is threefold:

○ to nourish our own roots so they are strong

○ to provide nourishment for whomever the Father sees fit to include in our stewardship system

○ and NEVER, NEVER, NEVER stop doing that until the final harvest is over and the last possible soul has been saved.

I plead with us all, brothers and sisters, no matter what our past performances, no matter how flawed our record, KEEP LABORING, KEEP OBEYING, KEEP TRYING. Most of us will not achieve perfection here. But we will keep our covenants if we keep trying, if we never give up.

After all, we have the promise that “the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them.”

We have the assurance that He loves us beyond anything we can comprehend. And the Servant of the Master, that beloved Advocate and Initiator of mercy, has not ceased to plead for us as individuals, for us as parents, or for our children—no matter how far down the wrong roads we or they may have traveled.

I think Heavenly Father has great confidence in and hope for the mothers of His children, for their parents in general. And I pray that He will bless us all that we may keep our own roots strong and continue to nourish whatever branches He entrusts to us.