"...but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer." 3 Nephi 22:8

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Blessing of Family

The Christmas tree is boxed up and stored away, along with its ornaments and the other decorations that change the way our home looks for a season.  The New Year is knocking on our door, soon to be let in. 

I ate too many of the holiday goodies.  I stayed up too late every night.  I spent too much money.  I made too many messes. I have too many leftovers. I also didn't clean enough.  I don't know if I gave enough hugs.  I don't know if I gave enough kind deeds or words. But all in all:

It was an amazing Christmas for me!

It was amazing to me because of my family.  I hope everyone in the world truly believes that theirs is the best family in the world.  I do!

On Christmas Eve, all of us who lives close enough to gather spent time together.  My home was bursting at the seams with love and laughter.  We visited and ate and enjoyed each other.  For me the highlight was the time we spent singing together.  We have never done enough of that.  Everyone in my family sings very well.  As I sat at the piano listening to their voices blend, I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude for my family and that choked up feeling kept me from singing with them.

What a joy to sit with so much of my family during Sacrament Meeting on Christmas Day.  Our little people choose to wait until church was over to open their gifts.  What a brave decision for ones so young, but it fit our day perfectly.  Everyone seemed to be grateful for each gift they received, right down the the socks and underwear.

Distance currently prevents us from all being together for the holidays, but the miracle of technology allows us to see each other over Skype.  For a time, we were able to share our lives with each other face to face.  Our grandchildren love to talk to each other just as much as the adults.  This blessing of being together, filled my heart.

It is easy to give if your circumstances provide you with considerably more than what your family needs.  At this season, many in our family are struggling financially and yet, my heart overflowed as I saw them give and share with each other out of their small cups in creative and wonderful ways.  There were so many gestures of goodness towards each other and so much love and concern. 

What better gift could any mother receive anytime?

I am feeling so blessed because I KNOW that I have the best family in the whole world!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

All over the world Christmas is celebrated by those who believe in the Savior Jesus Christ and His infinite and merciful Atonement. We do not all choose to celebrate this day exactly the same.  Some countries have celebrations steeped in tradition others do not.  The same applies to families.  For some it may not seem like Christmas if any one of dozens of traditions is forgotten.

I am currently hard pressed to recall many long standing, set in stone traditions for our family.  As the seasons of our lives change, so do our traditions.  As distances increase, we are able to see less of our family during the holidays.  As financial conditions fluctuate, travel, gifts, and menus will all adjust accordingly.

We do gather with as many of our family as possible.  Thanks to skype, we should at least be able to 'see' everyone over the holidays.  We eat ham for Christmas dinner, along with mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls and other delicious goodies.  Essential also are the olives.  We are no respecter of olives, we require both black and green.  We will have stockings filled and presents under the tree.  We will awaken and arise whenever little people pester us adequately.  We will read the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve.

We will also plan to do these activities:
*bake sugar cookies
*sing Christmas Carols
*take a drive to see the lights
*play games
*eat clam chowder for Christmas Eve supper
*visit Grandma Great
*not go shopping on Christmas Eve
*see lights on temple square in Salt Lake City
*read some of the wonderful Christmas stories (I love "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" - but don't have anyone at home to read it to anymore during December)
*clean the house
*put up the outside Christmas lights

Any or all of these may happen, but I don't think anyone will feel Christmas is ruined if they do not, for being together is what we really want and need.

The one tradition that is never changing is our faith and testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ and His unbounded love. Our testimonies are tried and tested all year long, yet we hold on dearly to them as we strive to become more as He is, one choice at a time. We believe in a Heavenly Father who loves us enough to let us come to the earth and learn from this great university how to become as He is. We believe He had a plan for us which we embraced with joy. We believe that His Gospel can be found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, currently led by President Thomas S. Monson, a prophet of God.  We believe He speaks for God today as did the Prophet Joseph Smith who was an instrument in restoring the Gospel as well as translating the Book of Mormon.  We believe the Book of Mormon is true and teaches us more about Christ and His mission to help rescue us all. 

We may not be totally bound up in Christmas traditions, but through the Sealing Power accessible only in Holy Temples, we are truly bound together.

What greater tradition could there be?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Lights Went Out!

My favorite Christmases as a child involved my favorite cousins. They lived in Richland, Washington which is a long drive from where we lived. For a time, we would take turns driving to each other's homes for Christmas. It was such a long drive that I am certain that our parents tired of hearing "are we there yet?" But the drive was so worth it. I loved being in their home.

Maybe part of it was that it was so totally different than my home in so many ways. They had bedrooms upstairs, we did not. I remember sliding down the steep carpeted stairs, thinking that this was way fun. Of course, if we were caught by older wiser folks, that was stopped. I didn't understand why then, but I do now. They had a big, unfinished basement where we could create and play for hours, without interference from adults. I recall more candy being available as well. But the truth was I had a grand time with my favorite cousin, Valerie.

Perhaps my most memorable Christmas with my cousins took place in our own home. It was totally unplanned and unexpected and I cherish its memory today.

As Christmas Eve approached, we were all busy doing our own thing. I suppose we were 'playing' something when the electricity went out. I don't remember that being a particularly common occurrence in our little town at that time. I do remember that we all expected that it would be for just a few minutes and we would all be able to return quickly to doing what we had been doing.

As time passed and the darkness outside deepened, our totally electric home began to take on a chill. Gathering candles and flashlights became a more immediate priority. Mother, being a very organized and prepared person, also had oil lamps burning brightly before the darkness outside was complete.

Blankets were the next order of business. The temperature dropped like a rock. We huddled together under blankets and handmade quilts on couches, chairs, and on the floor. For a brief time, contentment came as warmth returned.

But what does one do without electricity? There were no lights shining on the Christmas tree. My mothers traditional holly garland with the glowing red berries was darkened. Worse than that was there was no television, radio, or records to listen to. Suddenly this seemed like the worst possible Christmas ever!

I do not remember who it was that started the singing. I just remember our living room filling with Christmas music. We sang for hours. We began singing acapella, but soon someone was at the piano taking requests. Others took their turn at the piano as well. Our home was filled with the sweet sounds of voices joined in praises to our Heavenly Father and his Beloved Son.

We are a family who love music and there are many gifted musicians among us. Our singing that night was beautiful and harmonious, tying us together as a family, and also tying us to the Love of God.

Had the lights remained, we would not have gathered as we did. We would have carried on doing our own thing, and missed the opportunity to join forces in praise and rejoicing.

The darkness of Christmas Eve created a heavenly sounding choir that I will always treasure. It created a bond for my favorite cousins that I long to hold in my heart. It created a feeling of peace beyond measure for me. It strengthened my testimony of the real meaning of Christmas and who the Savior is and what He has done for us all. Perhaps more than any other Christmas, I learned what Christmas was really all about.

All because the lights went out!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Concert

We love music!  I believe I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my mother who provided me with opportunities for music appreciation as well as lessons to develop musical aptitude.  This may be shocking, but I didn't always appreciate those lessons and the practicing they required.  One of my piano teachers commented that I was a mighty good faker.  Not necessarily a compliment - but helpful when one accompanies other musicians.

My three month old grandson already has favorite songs including "I Love to See the Temple," "I Am a Child of God," and "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree." Another grandson, older and slightly more musically experienced just performed flawlessly at his first piano recital.

What a treat to get to hear and see our favorite USU student participate in the Christmas Concert sponsored by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Institute in Logan, Utah.  His face beamed with Joy and his smile always lurked near as he sang with his whole heart and soul.  His love for music was clearly evident through the entire program.  It was apparent to me that he had prepared well and was now giving his all as he shared his testimony of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Savior Jesus Christ through music.

I am so proud of him!

There were very few empty chairs in the venue which had been prepared by the students to accommodate about 900 attendees, which is totally amazing when you also know that a packed house was entertained the previous night.  Entertainment actually began about twenty minutes before the concert with singing, dancing, and silliness.The audience was captivated by this teaser of things to come.

The concert was a delightful mix of new and familiar songs, with touching stories of Christmas miracles and sacrifices adding to The Spirit of the evening.  Each song was performed with precision and skill. Truly the Holy Ghost was present to testify of truth and bring the Spirit of Christmas into our hearts. Each concert performer obviously gave all they had to the success of the evening. Each choir conductor earned applause and gratitude for their efforts as well.

It was a fabulous concert and a highlight of my Chirstmas season!

I am also proud of my two sons, who made the effort to bring their own sons to the concert to support their brother and uncle. I appreciate their wives and families who allowed them to come to share in the joy and accomplishment of one of their own.  It was a long drive, but these two little boys behaved themselves as a gentleman would and inspired me to be a better grandmother.  They waited patiently as the venue was dismantled by those same student hands who had so recently and carefully assembled it. 

Also lending support were one of my husband's brothers and his wife.  We were so happy that they joined us for the evening and accepted our invitation to join us for dinner afterwards as we celebrated with our favorite USU student.

Nothing could make a mother more proud than to spend an evening surrounded by such amazing people whose presence reminds me that I am so blessed!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Details

I don't really want to control the whole world, I just want to control my little corner of it. I don't really need to orchestrate what goes on if Africa, Brazil, or Mozambique. I really do care a lot about what goes on that affects my family. There are moments when things seem to spin so totally out of my control, that I can hardly figure out how to hold on until the spinning stops. It is hard to know whether one is coming or going or where one will land. How one lands may also be a minute by minute mystery.

The more people that are involved, the more complicated it may be to totally get a plan together, at least in our family. By the time the plan is created, it may have been changed and recreated innumerable times. Occasionally, the plan may be flawlessly executed. Often it is not.

Last Saturday night, our handsome son that attends Utah State University was the center of our planning. He is participating in the Institute program there sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He has been singing with the choir there for two semesters with devotion and gusto. He loves it! This opportunity has been a huge blessing to our whole family. The Institute Christmas Concert was last Friday and Saturday nights.

Our whole family would love to be in attendance at this concert, but time, distance, and funding make it impossible for many. Planning for attendance began weeks in advance. As Saturday drew near, many loose ends remained and I began to feel concerned about the outcome of support for our son, who had gone to great effort to invite and provide tickets for us. As the level of stress and concern continued to rise, I realized that I was praying for the wrong things and needed to come to understand what it was that I really should be asking Heavenly Father for. So I asked.

This wonderful son has spent hours and hours and hours sitting through plays, concerts, dance recitals, and parades as he watched and supported his siblings.  My desire for him was to feel that same measure of love and support that he so willingly and uncomplainingly gave to the rest of us.  I didn't want him to feel unimportant, unloved, or unsupported.  I wanted him to instead feel of our love and concern.  I wanted him to see us celebrate in his success with him.  I wanted him to know how important he is to our family.

When I realized that truly my goal for my USU son was to feel truly loved and supported, I knew how to change my prayers. Instead of asking for things to go my way, I asked for exactly what I think I was supposed to be asking for in the first place, that our son would feel supported. The stress level truly began to decrease, as I turned all of the other details over to Heavenly Father. 

I hope my prayers were answered for my USU son.  Someday he may tell me, yet he may not. The truth is, I felt my prayer was answered for me, and I learned another valuable lesson about Heavenly Father's love for me and the power of prayer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Heart Like His

Sister Virginia H. Pearce taught me about creating a heart more like the Savior's.  I have thought about this a lot as the Christmas season has drawn closer.  I have wondered if I am like Christ at all.  I think perhaps I have been so busy going through the motions, that I have forgotten the motivation.

What things inside my heart would be troublesome to my Savior if He came with a stethoscope to look deeply into my heart today?  What would He see that would make Him feel sad or perhaps disappointed in me?  What would be present that would offend Him or even break His own heart?  What would He see that would be embarrassing to me or cause me to shrink from His presence.

Self evaluation is not usually a time of joy and rejoicing and can leave me feeling quite disappointed in myself.  It is a necessary process for me to engage in, if I want to make the changes required to become more as the Savior Jesus Christ is.  It can be daunting to know where to begin at times, but on other occasions the starting point stares me squarely in the face.

I am a firm believer in charity!  I have always wished that I could open my front door one morning and find a beautifully wrapped package sitting on my welcome mat.  I would rush to open the gift the minute I had it inside my house.  Inside would be the gift of charity and I would embrace it with open arms.  I could then simply check charity off my list of things to work on.  I would have charity.  No more effort needed in that direction. 

Would that it were that simple. The scriptures teach that we should pray for charity with all the energy of our heart.  I have heard others say don't ever pray for charity or patience because you will receive trials that teach those principles.  Now, honestly who needs more of those kinds of trials in their life?  Those things come at you full force on any given day and in any number of ways, totally uninvited.  So, if I really need charity, and I do, what is the answer here?

I confess that I have atually prayed and asked for both charity and patience.  Does that mean that I am half a bubble off of plumb? I truly believe that those are things I need.  I haven't seen them for sale in any store or even over the internet.  How then do I acquire them?  To my knowledge, I have never seen anyone hand either charity or patience out in church meetings.  No one has every offered me a cup of charity or a pound of patience. I would have snatched both of those up in a second.  I would  gladly drink down a cup of charity or add a pound of patience.

I also struggle with this question.  Where does charity end and being someone's doormat begin?  How many times do you exercise patience while someone continues to mistreat  you before you have the right to stand up for yourself?  How do you know when someone has crossed those lines? How does one show patience and charity to oneself?  So many unanswered questions.

I would like to offer a mighty change of heart to Christ as a gift this Christmas season.  But I realize that I am far from that goal. I wonder, will I ever have my heart anywhere close to being a heart like His? 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Let Him In

It happened again!  I didn't see it coming but there it was.  I could feel the tears lurking just below the surface, almost ready to spill.  I could hear the cracks in my own voice as I spoke.  I was just on the edge of a good cry. It took me a few minutes to get myself away from the brink to figure out just what was really wrong. 

Yes, I was tired.  I knew that, but that wasn't the whole problem. I knew that I wasn't sick. No one was pushing my buttons or doing anything to provoke me in any way.  I wasn't really upset about any one thing in particular that I could think of. What was going on inside my head?  Then the light dawned and I understood.  No, it wasn't any one thing at all.  It was everything!  I had wrapped my emotions around my "to do" list. I had done it to myself again!

After all we just celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas is only a few short weeks away.  There are always a million things to be done, or at least that is the way it may seem.  But why had I done it to myself again? 

If the Savior Jesus Christ came to my home to spend some time with me,  I think that where I live and the condition of my housekeeping (or lack there of) would disturb Him far less than what is going on inside my heart and my mind.  I know that wrapping my emotions around my "to do" list in indicative of any number of things, but one thing it tells me is that my focus is out of whack and it is time to adjust my vision again.

I am no busier than anyone else and much less busy than many. The things weighing down my to do list are all important, but none of them is life threatening.  Many of the things on my list are for other people, yet I agreed to do them.  If I have chosen to do these things, why would I be upset about doing them?  Even to me, that makes little sense. 

I am truly grateful to have things to do! I don't want to sit around and read all day, even though I find reading a wonderful past time.  I love music, but I don't want to play the piano for eight hours every day.  I love movies and televsion, to a point.  There is much more personal satisfaction that comes from doing a variety of things. 

As I pondered on how I had allowed myself to get so caught up in the things waiting to be done, I also found that my scripture reading was slim to non-existent again and my personal prayer was a bit lack luster.  I had allowed myself to loose focus on some of the things that matter most and was cutting down on my spiritual nourishment.

No wonder I was out of focus!  How could I feel the Christ in Christmas if I was not letting Him in?  He will not force, manipulate, or demand that I make time for Him. He will wait to be invited.

My Christmas tree is still in the box and the same can be said of the lights and decorations.  But today my heart is at peace, because I have made the choice to invite the Savior to walk with me.

It is up to me to let Him in.

Monday, December 5, 2011

If The Savior Came to My House Today

If the Savior Jesus Christ came to my house today, there would be no Christmas lights or decorations for Him to see.  My Christmas tree lies in a box, on the top shelf of the storage room. There would be no brightly wrapped packages or stockings hung nor the smell of homemade Christmas goodies.  It is still early in the Christmas season, yet many have already enjoyed their Christmas tree and decorations for many days.

I don't suppose that would upset or offend the Savior, and perhaps it would not indicate to Him at all that I am lacking in Christmas spirit.  I hope that it would not be a thermometer of my faith and testimony to Him that I am slower than most to bring out the worldly expressions of holiday cheer.

I wonder what things He might see and hear if my home would be His visiting place today.  I wonder what things would be disappointing to Him. Would my unmade bed or my overflowing laundry hamper cause concern?  Would dirty dishes and unwashed windows bother Him?  Would my messy room of unfinished projects, unsorted papers, and other misplaced miscellanea disturb Jesus?  Would the dripping faucet or the worn out carpet or the clutter in my closets cause Him sorrow?

Somehow these things don't strike me as things that would be upsetting to the Savior either. 

Would He open my oven or my fridge to see if they had been cleaned recently?  Would He peer into my pantry and my cluttered kitchen cupboards and rebuke me for their disarray?  Would He declare my food storage to be totally inadequate? 

I don't really think so.

Would I be rebuked for the books on my shelves or the music I listen to?  I actually think I choose literature and music quite carefully.  Would my choices of decorations on my walls be of concern?  Probably not.  What I choose on the television or on the computer are probably not of huge concern either.

So what would I want to hide if the Savior was coming to my house today?  What would I not want Him to see?  What would I want to get rid of that would be offensive for Him to see inside my heart?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Friend's Miracle

Miracles, large and small are around us everywhere.  My friend shared her miracle with me. In 2003 she went to see her doctor because she had been having bad headaches for about six months.  She passed them off as 'tension' headaches until her husband insisted that she see the doctor.  She had experienced several different kinds of headaches, including one that she described as rolling from her forehead to the back of her skull. Her doctor immediately scheduled her to see a neurologist the following day.  After a myriad of questions and testing, the neurologist's diagnosis did not feel comfortable, so she scheduled herself for an MRI.  A week later, having completed the MRI, my friend returned to work, only to be called immediately to return to her new neurologist's office where she saw her tumor for the first time. On the MRI she could see a white tumor about the size of a kiwi in her brain.  The neurologist explained that the tumor was blocking almost all the spinal fluid, causing the brain to swell.  He explained the need for immediate surgery. If the tumor were to grow as little as one-one hundredth of its current size, all spinal fluid would be blocked causing coma and death.

Shock overcame my friend and her husband as they looked at the tumor and listened to the neurologist. Perhaps they needed a second opinion.  The neurologist was fine with a second opinion, but expressed concern that death could happen before a second opinion could be obtained.  Calmly my friend returned to work and explained her situation to her employer, who could not believe she had come back to work at all. 

She did not want to have the surgery!  Somehow she convinced her husband that she was ok and he let her talk him into waiting to return to the hospital for the surgery prep. She managed to convince both her husband and her busy employer to let her finish her work day.

That night my friend received a priesthood blessing through her husband's hands.  This blessing told her that it was not her time to die and that she should do all that the doctors suggested to regain her health.  My friend had resigned herself to the fact that she was going to die and had made peace with that. But when her husband told her that he could not make it through life without her, my friend decided that it was ok for her to die, but that it wasn't ok for her to not try to survive for her husband who loved and needed her so much.

The next day the preparations for surgery began. The ten hour surgery, requiring two surgeons, was scheduled for the first thing the next morning, just the third day since the tumor was discovered.  During the surgery, the tumor hemorrhaged, which would have been fatal if only one surgeon had been present.  The surgeons also learned that even just a few hours of delay would have been fatal for my dear friend.

My friend spent 6 days in the ICU following surgery, one day on the regular hospital floor and then home.  She recuperated for a week at home and returned to work.  Many concerns were expressed about the possibilities of side effect from this surgery, but they didn't arrive.

She prayed fervently during her recovery.  My friend expressed to me how grateful she is that not only did she survive this experience, none of the myriad of possible side effects complicated her life.  Yet, she wonders why she survived when so many do not. 

Recently my friend encountered another difficult health challenge.  Instead, this time her husband fell victim to the surgeon's knife.  In some ways I think this was harder for her, yet her faith did not waiver. She was willing to trust Heavenly Father totally and completely. She accepted that it would not be easy, but her faith would not fail her even if the trial carried her to the very brink of her endurance.

I am so grateful to have this friend who sets such an example for me.  I feel so blessed to watch her faithfully carry on through her trials.  I long to feel the kind of faith and trust that she has. Her life blesses and enriches mine.

We are so blessed to have a loving Heavenly Father who blesses us daily with miracles in all their varieties.  Some are large and in our faces.  Others are smaller, harder to see.  I pray each day to have my vision tuned to the right channel to witness them.