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







Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lillies

Once the ivy had been cleaned from our flower bed, it became obvious that several other flower beds also needed to be completely redone. One was so filled with morning glory, choking out all the other growth that we decided after much research to simply cover it with black plastic to block out all light for a year, hoping that it would kill the noxious weed. Another had been filled with a perennial that we have been told is called 'bishop's weed.' It used to be a beautiful plant with variegated leaves. I loved it for many years. But it changed into an ordinary looking plant with green leaves, growing better outside the flower bed than within. We attacked both these beds with a vengeance, yanking, tugging, and shoveling out the growth.

Both flower beds actually looked much better with nothing in them than they had before. What a relief to have them empty so we could start over. But with what?

We really had no idea how to begin or what to plant, but we did want to cover the beds with new bark to frost our flower beds and make them look fresh and well groomed. We were not even sure we would add plants this year at all to the two flower beds that had been spared from the morning glory. We hoped that ideas would come, in time.

Off we headed to purchase the bark. It is difficult to know how much bark to purchase. How far will it go? How much will we need. We had already purchased eight bags of bark to recover our flower bed under the front window, and used it all. The perennials in that bed are well established and only needed a minimum of spring cleaning.

After loading up the bags of bark, we headed into the store to pay for them. We walked around looking at all the plants waiting to be taken home and loved. We by passed them all. For one thing, we had already spent a large chunk of change on our yard and felt perhaps it might be time to cut the spending. I guess none of them beckoned to become part of our yard.

But then, we walked past a large display of flower bulbs. They began to call our name. We looked at each variety that had any appeal for either of us, discussing where they might work in our yard. Some bulbs like sunny spots. Some prefer shade. Other are more equal opportunity bulbs welcoming a nice mix of both. My husband had his favorites and I had mine. We looked at how tall they would grow and how much room they required. We read the planting instructions as we tried to identify our best options.

Then we decided what to buy. We purchased close to thirty bulbs of differing varieties, including several colors of lilies, caladium, ferns, and elephant ears. And we planted them all. Carefully I laid out the bulbs according to height, in what I hoped would be an attractive arrangement of color and size. We considered the light and water needs of each bulb and marked where they were planted so we could rejoice as they sprang to life. We frosted our flower beds and watered them. We looked lovingly every day at the stakes marking the resting place of each bulb, watching expectantly for new growth.

But nothing happened.

Finally one bulb came up. It was the last bulb planted and it looks really healthy, but a bit lost without its siblings. I am sad that the bulbs did not come up and wonder how many of them may have not been stored properly. I divided a day lily and transplanted it. I may do that again to help out in our somewhat empty flowerbeds.

Just when I was feeling pretty sad about our lonely single lily, I walked into the back yard to be greeted by this beautiful lily.

The picture does not do it justice!

Even though we have experienced a few failures, we have also experienced a few successes.


Life is like that sometimes, isn't it?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Battle of the Ivy

This spring we attacked our yard with gusto.There is always a lot to do in the spring to clean up the yard. Some years the fallen leaves get buried under winter's snow and must be cleaned up. Occasionally the garden has not been cleaned out before it too is buried and must also be cleaned up. There may be bunches of branches to be gathered from the lawn. Dead leaves and vines beg to be removed. Flower beds cry out for attention. The first lawn mowing may initiate spring and the freshly cut, green grass makes the world seem even more beautiful.

And so our yard work began this year as always, cleaning up the dead things to make room for new growth.

Years ago we planted ivy in several flower beds. It was small and beautiful. It grew a little bit every year, almost imperceptibly, creeping little by little into the territory of other living things. Until one year it seemed to overtake everything in its path in one of our flower beds. It had choked out almost everything else and began to climb up the house, clinging to the red bricks. Years ago my mother told me that ivy would eventually ruin bricks, allowed to climb unrestrained. True or not, I attacked that ivy cutting, pulling, and digging it from the flower bed, replacing it with new varieties of plants.

Three summers ago I realized that another flower bed had succumbed to the ivy. Lost were dozens of blooming flowers. The only flowers to survive the clutches of the ivy were a small snapdragon and a bleeding heart. Even the Quaked Aspen tree was encased in the arms of the ivy.

For two summers I hacked away at the ivy, trying to trim it back. My intent was to get in back under control so we could bring in some flowering plants. For days and weeks I worked in the flower bed using every tool at my disposal attempting to reclaim the land. I made progress each year, but not enough.

The ivy won.

This year I decided that it was not enough to control and manage the ivy. It had to be removed entirely. It had become an unwieldy and unmanageable weed. The task seemed so overwhelming to me that I really wondered if I had what it would take to fight the battle. But I began. First in one spot and then in another I began to shovel and pull and tug. It was exhausting to spend hours hacking at the ivy, but it was also exhilarating as I began to see progress. In the evening my husband joined in the fight.

And we won!

We filled our very large garbage dumpster to capacity the first day of our battle, watched it dumped early the next morning. By nightfall it was again overfilled. I have never called the city to find out how to get our garbage dumped the day after garbage day before. For me it was a first.

As I think about this battle of the ivy, I am reminded of another battle in my life that I fight every day, constantly. It is the battle for my soul against the powers of evil. Sin is a bit like the ivy. It starts out to be small and attractive and manageable. It creeps slowly into my life, almost unseen. It doesn't seem to grow very much at all until all of a sudden it feels as if it has overtaken my life, choking out the good things I am trying to do.

Then comes the process of trying to tug out the sin a little bit at a time, trying to take back a little piece of my soul  here and a little piece thee. But it grows right back faster than I can control. It becomes necessary to dig it out at the root. It must be totally eradicated, or it will take charge again.

It too is a daunting task and I wonder if I have the strength to dig down to the roots of sin. I realize that it would have been much easier to never allow the seed to sprout, but it is too late. It is painful, but I have already learned that cutting back, or tapering off is not enough. I must choose to willingly give up my sin.

Thankfully I can go to my knees as often as I need to ask for help from Heavenly Father who willingly walks beside me as I uproot my selfishness, pride, ego, vanity, etc. Thank heavens for the Atonement of Jesus Christ which gives me hope as I wonder if it is really worthwhile to dig deep. I am grateful for the encouragement that comes as I make a little progress and the kindness that comes when I falter.

Because of the great love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, in my weakness there is hope!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Proper Eternal Perspective

A good friend helped teach me something that I needed to learn during a time of trial by sharing this story shared in 1980 by John H. Groberg of The Quorum of the Seventy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It speaks for itself.
In the early 1900s, a young father and his family joined the Church in Hawaii. He was enthused about his new-found religion, and after two years of membership both he and his eldest son held the priesthood. They prospered and enjoyed the fellowship of the little branch. They anxiously looked forward to being sealed as a family for eternity in the temple soon to be completed in Laie.
Then, as so often happens, a test crossed their path. One of their daughters became ill with an unknown disease and was taken away to a strange hospital. People in Hawaii were understandably wary of unknown diseases, as such diseases had wrought so much havoc there.
The concerned family went to church the next Sunday, looking forward to the strength and understanding they would receive from their fellow members. It was a small branch. This young father and his son very often took the responsibility for blessing and passing the sacrament. This was one such Sunday. They reverently broke the bread while the congregation sang the sacrament hymn. When the hymn was finished, the young father began to kneel to offer the sacrament prayer. Suddenly the branch president, realizing who was at the sacred table, sprang to his feet. He pointed his finger and cried, “Stop. You can’t touch the sacrament. Your daughter has an unknown disease. Leave immediately while someone else fixes new sacrament bread. We can’t have you here. Go.”
How would you react? What would you do?
The stunned father slowly stood up. He searchingly looked at the branch president, then at the congregation. Then, sensing the depth of anxiety and embarrassment from all, he motioned to his family and they quietly filed out of the chapel.
Not a word was said as, with faces to the ground, they moved along the dusty trail to their small home. The young son noticed the firmness in his father’s clenched fists and the tenseness of his set jaw. When they entered their home they all sat in a circle, and the father said, “We will be silent until I am ready to speak.” All sorts of thoughts went through the mind of this young boy. He envisioned his father coming up with many novel ways of getting revenge. Would they kill the branch president’s pigs, or burn his house, or join another church? He could hardly wait to see what would happen.
Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes—not a sound. He glanced at his father. His eyes were closed, his mouth was set, his fingers clenched, but no sound. Twenty minutes, twenty-five minutes—still nothing. Then he noticed a slight relaxing of his father’s hands, a small tremor on his father’s lips, then a barely perceptible sob. He looked at his father—tears were trickling down his cheeks from closed eyes. Soon he noticed his mother was crying also, then one child, then another, and soon the whole family.
Finally, the father opened his eyes, cleared his throat, and announced, “I am now ready to speak. Listen carefully.” He slowly turned to his wife and said, meaningfully, “I love you.” Then turning to each child, he told them individually, “I love you. I love all of you and I want us to be together, forever, as a family. And the only way that can be is for all of us to be good members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and be sealed by his holy priesthood in the temple. This is not the branch president’s church. It is the Church of Jesus Christ. We will not let any man or any amount of hurt or embarrassment or pride keep us from being together forever. Next Sunday we will go back to church. We will stay by ourselves until our daughter’s sickness is known, but we will go back.”
This great man had proper eternal perspective.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Piece of Furniture

I believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is His Church. I believe that out of His love for us, He gives us opportunities to learn and grow and serve in His Church. We have no hired ministerial leaders.We have little training and often little knowledge or experience. We are imperfect human beings trying our best to figure out how to live and serve as The Savior would like us to.

Sometimes things go well. We rejoice in the success and acknowledge the help of Our Heavenly Father as He has guided, helped, and blessed us in our efforts. He can truly make more of us than we can ourselves. We can serve when we are ill, tired, disappointed, and on and on. He is there to lift and strengthen us. I have felt that. Enlightenment can pour into our minds as a pitcher of cool water pours into a glass. That too has been my experience. God has given me the right words to speak when I was speechless. He has sent me on errands to care for others in need. He has sent me angels in my time of need as well. His power is infinite. I believe that. When I am alone, Heavenly Father walks by my side. He picks me up and cradles me when I am afraid. He is merciful.

Sometimes as we serve each other, things do not go as well as we would like or in the way we had hoped. We are frustrated and disappointed. Because of our human frailties, we rub each other the wrong way. We say the wrong thing. We hurt each others feelings. We fail to perform up to our own standards. Sometimes we wonder why things went so wrong. In these moments we have the opportunity to learn other lessons. We are reminded of our own weaknesses, humbled to turn to our Father more fervently. We learn to forgive and to try again when things are hard. We may learn lessons on how to do things better the next time. We may even come out of some of these offensive moments learning to love another more. We may learn a little more about who Christ is and how He thinks.

It is easy to love those who love us. It takes no effort to be kind to someone who is kind to us. It is not a challenge to be friendly with someone who is interested in our life and pays attention to us. Not quite so easy to love the prickly pears we encounter. Not so easy to respond with kindness when rudeness is offered. The reality is that sometimes, we are all prickly pears giving and taking offense too easily.

Sometimes when we serve others, we feel unappreciated, ignored, and invisible. Our efforts are not noticed and we may feel discouraged. We may feel isolated and lonely or even friendless and wonder why we bother. It may become more of a challenge to be excited to serve when no one seems to care. If I were more Christlike, I am certain I would not have any of these feelings, because He did not serve for a pat on the back or a thank you. His desire was to glorify God.

But I am weak and at times feel very un-Christlike.

Been thinking today about an experience of another person. She played the piano and the organ in our local area for a time. She did it because she was asked, expecting nothing in return. She moved away to another part of Heavenly Father's vineyard where she again played the piano, because she was asked, expecting nothing in return. She shared that her experience was so different. She played for this ward's primary organization where children learned to sings songs and hymns of the Gospel.

"It is so different here", she said. "They don't treat me like a piece of furniture that just came with the building. The children hug me and thank me. The parents tell me how they appreciate my service at the piano. The leaders are so kind and appreciative."

I am so grateful for this person to have had such a positive experience. Today I am wondering, how often do I treat someone who serves me like a piece of furniture?


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Arlington Cemetery

On a beautiful fall afternoon we walked across the Potomac River from the National Mall to Arlington Cemetery. I have seen many pictures of the plush, green lawns and white headstones, but pictures did not prepare me for seeing the real thing. It is huge!

Arlington Cemetery is 624 acres and provides the resting place for over 400,000 American servicemen and women. There are headstones as far as the eye can see. It was truly a visual of the human cost of my freedom. Each of those headstones tells the story of someone who served our country in some way. Many died in battle, leaving behind mothers and fathers, wives and sweethearts, brothers and sisters, friends and loved ones. Each left behind a hole in someone's heart.  

Some were the breadwinner for their family. Others were mothers of little children. Each was a loss to someone.

Some of those who are buried in Arlington Cemetery did not actually die in battle. They may have been wounded. They may not have born the scars of bullets or bayonets. They may have returned home to their families carrying only the scars left by what they witnessed, endured, and survived. It may be much easier to treat the open, bleeding wounds than those hidden deep in the soul.

I learned so much during my visit to Arlington Cemetery. I was surprised to see mourners gathered for services the day we visited. Research taught me that between 27 and 30 graveside services are held six days a week.  I had no idea. I thought that it was simply an old, full, cemetery, a memorial of the dead that was not currently used anymore. I should have known better as many in my lifetime have actually been buried there.

Arlington Cemetery is fully operational and the lawns of the cemetery are maintained with care, mowed every week. Headstones are also trimmed around every week. I cannot imagine the manpower required.

Because of limited time, we actually saw very little of the cemetery. We had to severely limit the scope of what we saw. In a way, it was disappointing to see so little, but there was far more to see than any of us had anticipated.

We chose to walk to the grave of President John F. Kennedy where the eternal flame blew gently in the breeze. I remembered where I was when he was assassinated. I remembered how I felt and what I thought. I returned to a long ago time that was sad for our country. I remembered watching the funeral cortege travel the streets of Washington D.C. bearing the casket draped with a flag of The United States of America. I remembered how our nation mourned. Whether or not JFK was a good president or an honorable man may be a point of discussion for years to come. Whether there was a conspiracy or a lone shooter may also be a topic of investigation and debate for decades. But the reality is that our nation was wounded by an act of aggression and we mourned.

Arlington Cemetery is a sacred place for me. I felt the presence of The Holy Ghost there. I believe Heavenly Father honors and appreciates the sacrifices of all who have served our country and fought for our freedom. He is a God who believes in freedom and supports it with His blessing and His power.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Freedom

When the Fourth of July arrived one year, my Mom and Dad did not go to the parade held in a our community with us. My Mother loved parades and rarely missed them, so it puzzled me. They were building a new home and chose to send us youngsters off with our older siblings while they stayed home to paint walls instead. I was young enough to only see that it was a holiday and did not really grasp the meaning of being Free.

I did not understand that I lived in a country so different from the rest of the world or the depth of poverty, or the amount of control governing the everyday choices of so many people. We had a roof over our heads and food on the table. We got in a car and traveled when and where we wanted. We shopped in grocery stores where shelves laden with goods beckoned us to buy and try anything and everything.

Since that day, I have learned more about the price paid for the freedom that I take for granted. Education can be a powerful thing, if we choose to learn the lessons of the past and then remember the price that others paid for our freedom. Sometimes I forget.

I have walked along the grounds of Fort McHenry and watched as the flag was raised onto its pole. I have looked out into the bay where the battleships bombarded the Fort, trying to conquer a people that were considered unruly and needed to be controlled. I have read some of the history and felt the sacredness of what was accomplished there as throughout the night the Fort held its ground against the attack of another land.

In a sealed environment in the Smithsonian American History Museum rests the original flag that once flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the words of "The Star Spangled Banner." I gazed upon the worn and tattered, fading flag. Again, I felt that I was looking at something that was sacred. This flag inspired many to stand for the cause of freedom.

I gazed upon the Washington Monument and pondered on the great man who inspired a nation in the quest for freedom. I walked into the Lincoln Memorial, drinking in the words he spoke that changed a divided nation. These men inspired men whose hearts and convictions had failed.

The World War II Memorial is a beautiful, peaceful place. This devastating war took 291,557 lives in combat and left 670,846 wounded. We will never know what other contributions might have been made by these people to our world if there had been no war. But they sacrificed so that we might be free. It was hoped that it would be the war to end all wars. Yet, around the globe, war continues.

Freedom isn't free. It has come at a huge cost in monetary value and of human life. We all stand on the backs of those who laid down all they had for freedom. We take our freedom for granted. We often abuse and neglect our freedom by our disinterest and our apathy. We fail to pay attention to the information that is readily available to us about the condition of our government and even forget to cast our ballot in the latest election. We turn a blind eye to things that don't seem right im the lives of others and scream bloody murder the minute something in our lives seems unfair.

The freedom of this nation was granted by God to us all, as long as we choose to live righteously. Inspiration guided the founding fathers as they drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. They were extraordinary men, willing to listen to each other and work in unity to follow the will of that God who had created them. 

I wonder how these men feel as they watch us from the other side as we choose wickedness. I wonder how the men and women who shed their blood for our freedom feel as they watch us give away our freedom one piece at a time. I wonder if the God of Heaven weeps for us as we choose to place other Gods in our lives instead of Him.

If righteousness is the price we are required to pay for our freedom, are we willing to pay the bill?


Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Piece of Cake

At times we are given opportunities in life to do things that others want us to do. They may turn out to be good for us and help us grow and learn. We may discover that these opportunities are really a blessing. They may even turn out to be fun and enjoyable and we are really thankful we had the opportunity.

But sometimes we get so caught up in the way the opportunity is presented that we cannot see beyond the way it was served. Instead of presenting it in an organized or appealing way, it may actually be dished up in a very unappealing method of confusion and missing information. I believe it is helpful to know what I am getting into before hand. I think it is reasonable to ask questions, but there are no answers, no information, nothing to give me an idea of who, what, where, and when. But of course an answer is expected.

Awkward! How do I agree to something I know so little about. Should I just say no?

Having just had one of those experiences I have been reminded of an experience shared by President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints while serving as a mission president. Perhaps I needed a reminder so I could ask myself the same question President Packer asked of the missionaries about so many things in my life.

“We scheduled zone conferences. For each one, Sister Packer baked a three-tiered cake, … decorated beautifully—thick, colorful layers of frosting, trimmed beautifully, and with ‘The Gospel’ inscribed across the top. When the missionaries were assembled, with some ceremony we brought the cake in. It was something to behold!
“As we pointed out that the cake represented the gospel, we asked, ‘Who would like to have some?’ There was always a hungry elder who eagerly volunteered. We called him forward and said, ‘We will serve you first.’ I then sank my fingers into the top of the cake and tore out a large piece. I was careful to clench my fist after tearing it out so that the frosting would ooze through my fingers, and then as the elders sat in total disbelief, I threw the piece of cake to the elder, splattering some frosting down the front of his suit. ‘Would anyone else like some cake?’ I inquired. For some reason, there were no takers.
“Then we produced a crystal dish, a silver fork, a linen napkin, and a beautiful silver serving knife. With great dignity I carefully cut a slice of the cake from the other side, gently set it on the crystal dish, and asked, ‘Would anyone like a piece of cake?’
“The lesson was obvious. It was the same cake in both cases, the same flavor, the same nourishment. The manner of serving either made it inviting, even enticing, or uninviting, even revolting. The cake, we reminded the missionaries, represented the gospel. How were they serving it"
How am I serving it?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Miracles

My sister called me this week to share their miracle. It was big and had actually required a great deal from them. There had been research, paperwork, stress, and expense. In the end it worked out in their favor. They battled with a taxing entity and won. How could you not be grateful for the happy ending of this miracle that blessed them, temporally.

After we rejoiced because of their financial miracle, I thought about the recent miracles for our family. We were blessed to add another tiny person to our clan. As we expected, this tiny girl did not wait for her due date to appear. We had all hoped for at least one more day from her before she arrived, but her answer was no. Why is it that these tiny, helpless creatures so completely control our world?

It was not that we were not anxious to meet our littlest angel. It was just that the day she chose to arrive was also a very important day for her oldest sister. It was scheduled to be a baptism day. Her sister had planned this day for weeks, inviting her family members to participate and make her day memorable for her. Baptism is a big step as covenants with Heavenly Father are made. Eight years of preparation for this day has taken place. Parents have taught this child about God and His Son, Jesus Christ so that she can understand how much they love her and want her to return to live with them. They have taught her of The Aronement and repentance so she can recognize the need to change and come unto Christ. They have prepared her to receive The Gift of the Holy Ghost so she can learn to listen and obey.

All was in readiness for this big day, including her baby sister who upset the apple cart. Devastated by the middle of the night news that mom was being admitted to the hospital, this eight year old could not understand why her mother could not wait until after her baptism to have a baby. Anger and disappointment ruled for the moment, to be softened at the sight of her tiny sister.

Wise parents helped this little girl understand that her baptism would be even more special because her little sister would be there to share. They taught her that it was such an important day and experience that her baby sister just had to be there. She did not want to miss it. It would mean so much more if their whole family could attend.

A new plan was created. It could not be the same as it had been planned to be. Substitutions had to be made. But it did not really matter. The important thing is that a little girl, well taught and prepared made the choice to testify to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ that she believes and wants to follow the Plan of Salvation. She made the decision to walk, willingly, into the waters of baptism to be obedient and demonstrate her belief and her faith. Immersed in water her sins were washed away and she received a clean, fresh start. Hands were placed on her head as she was given the Gift of the Holy Ghost to guide, comfort, and bless her life. Her father, a faithful holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood was able to baptize and bless her.

What matters is that this little girl was surrounded by family, friends, teachers, and leaders who care about her and want to help her succeed in life. She has parents who love her enough to teach her truth and help her learn to choose well. They love her enough to set rules and boundaries and teach her how to work.

What matters is that her countenance radiated as she received these ordinances because she knows. She has much to learn, as do I. But in our hearts we know. She is willing to take upon her the name of Jesus Christ and walk in his footsteps. She is willing to bear the burdens, sorrows, and disappointments of those around her. She is willing to be kind and say "I'm sorry" when mistakes happen, and they will for her as they do for us all.

What matters is that she is willing to learn to be obedient. What matters is that she loves Heavenly Father and Jesus and feels their love for her.

And, that her baby sister was there to share her baptism day.