Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Dubious Achievement

I have a guilty secret to confess. I play Free Cell on my laptop during my down time: watching the local news, mulling over a thorny problem, etc. For those of you who’ve never played this game, I apologize. In a nutshell, it’s a form of solitaire where you try to get all 52 cards in order on their respective aces, with four free spaces to park cards while you rearrange cards in seven lines. You can back up the game to the beginning or any intermediate point if you get stuck, so you can have a high percentage of winning games.

Originally I took pride in having over 90% wins, then above 95%, finally striving to stay at 97+%. I would reset the stats the computer was tracking after each 1,000 games, which took 2-3 months. I honed my skill and speed and soon was reaching my goal, staying at 97-98% wins.

But this week I hit 1,000 games won out of 1,000 games played! Here’s the proof:

Free Cell Stats, Author's Photo

Free Cell Stats, Author’s Photo

What was my secret? Much as I’d like to think it was skill, I really just refused to quit. I backed up the game as often and as far as I needed to in order to eventually win. The longest game was almost 20 minutes. Considering that the average win takes less than 1 1/2 minutes, that’s an eternity and a lot of do-overs. Previously, I would have just accepted a Loss when the going got hard and moved on to an easier game.

There are a handful of games that can’t be won, per the internet, so the other variable is just plain dumb luck. I was stubborn and lucky. That’s a far cry from skilled, superior, talented, or what-have-you. It only took me 12 years to learn this!

And isn’t life in general like that also? Most of the time, I struggle with holes in my self-esteem like most people. But occasionally I pat myself on the back for the good things I sometimes manage to do, thinking things like: “Aren’t I something now?” or “Score one for me. . . .”

Yesterday, I had my annual long, meandering chat with a friend from my New England hippie days. We caught up with the year’s news, renewed our deep soul connection, and walked down memory lane, sharing a time that was magical in both our lives. Epiphany: those values were an earlier foundation for my current Christian values: non-materialism, living close to the Spirit behind nature, contributing to the  larger community.

As I looked back on my zig zag path from Midwestern school girl to New England Hippie to Utah Mormon, I suddenly realized that the path God had charted for my life had everything to do with any small successes I might have had – my own talents took a distant second place. What appeared to be “dumb luck” was really divine providence, and what looked like skill was often just following my own desire for change and adventure, with a little blind reaching for greater light and knowledge.

All I really bring to the party is my willingness and diligence to pursue the good things that beckon on the horizon. It’s a choice, not a skill. And if I had to grade my lifetime level of diligence, it would not get an A. But I can change that in the future. A coworker, while discussing dieting, once described the “bell that rings in her head” when she’s full and it’s time to quit eating. I find that there’s also a bell that rings in my head each day (usually around 5 pm) that signals the end of productive work – if I’ve been diligent about tackling the hard things as efficiently as possible. I can then, with full assurance that I’m not missing real opportunities, set down my burden and turn my attention to study, rest, relaxation – and a little Free Cell!

Where does all this end? With gratitude for a wonderful Heavenly Father who subtly creates opportunities and sets a beacon for me to follow, as I choose to or not. But since doing so only leads to greater happiness and success, I can take no credit at all and can only regret the times I don’t make full use of these chances.

We’re all really just “bozos on the bus” bumping along together – let’s enjoy the journey and make the most of it!

Hippie Van, Courtesy

Hippie Van, Courtesy




The Prayer of Relinquishment

Yesterday I heard an interesting story/allegory in church:

A woman dreamed for many years of going to Italy. She studied guide books, learned some Italian phrases, even ate authentic Italian food. Finally the day came when she actually went, nervous and excited at the same time. When the plane landed, she was greeted by the words, “Welcome to Holland.” Stunned, she asked the stewardess what happened and was told, “Your destination has changed. You are in Holland.” No explanation and clearly no way to change course.

Over time, the woman discovered many great things about Holland: windmills, canals, tulips and, of course, wonderful art by Rembrandt. Periodically, she met people either going to or returning from Italy with exciting stories of their time there, which brought back her long-denied dream with sharp pain. Somehow she knew she would eventually get there too, but she just had no idea how or when.

Don’t we all have hopes and dreams that have been derailed along the unexpected roads life brings us? What do we do with those dreams? Let them shrivel up into dry piles of hopelessness? Keep them alive, but do nothing to help them come true? Or worse, turn bitter and destructive to self and others?

I’ve had a life-long dream of establishing a home with a loving, committed husband on a solid financial footing – a safe nest for my children and grandchildren and a springboard for lasting happiness. I’ve worked to become the kind of partner I want to find. I’ve been steadily employed as a secretary, teacher, and finally realtor my whole adult life, but those two blessings have eluded me. My family are all doing well, but I still sorrow for what we’ve missed, even as I rejoice in what we’ve had.

Over the years, I’ve asked the Lord politely for these blessings. I’ve cried my sorrows out to Him, I’ve pleaded, I’ve tried to bargain, I’ve gotten mad, and none of it has produced anything but the continued whisperings of the Spirit to keep moving forward and keep hope alive. I’ve had many spiritual assurances that those blessings are still coming to me, just not when.

This week I read a story by Catherine Marshall in the January issue of Guideposts magazine, originally published in 1960. She was married to the famous Presbyterian minister, Peter Marshall, and had a small son when she was diagnosed with a non-communicable form of tuberculosis. She remained bedridden for many months, rest being the only cure. She went through the same sequence of spiritual gymnastics I have, seeking healing and a return to normal life. Nothing worked. Finally, she read a story about “a missionary who had been an invalid for eight years. She had prayed that God would make her well, so that she might do his work. Finally, worn out with futile petition, she prayed, All right. I give up. If you want me to be an invalid, that’s your business. Anyway, I want you even more than I want health. You decide. In two weeks the woman was out of bed, completely well.” Catherine tried the same thing, the Prayer of Relinquishment, sincerely. From that day her recovery began.

I decided to try it too. So with trepidation, I told the Lord that if He wanted me to continue to bump along with my small emergency fund and no husband, I’d accept it and do my best to serve Him with what I did have. It wasn’t easy giving up the last crumb of my will, but I looked inside and not only did I want God more than my own desires, I finally could trust that what He wanted really would turn out to be best for me and my family in the long run, not just those I might serve.

Well, I’ve had a great week putting together a class presentation, Healthy Food vs Test Tube Food, totally focused, not worried about the future, and feeling more peace than I can remember. Oh, and a neighbor stopped by to discuss listing her town home for sale. I knew I could help her have a good result, building on our long-standing rapport over feeding the birds and our mutual love of gardening. Not wealth, but a nice addition to my emergency fund in the offing, while also doing some good.

Someone once told me that the choirs of angels in heaven singing praises to God are actually expressing their boundless gratitude for the trials they experienced in mortal life, the same trials that refined them and brought them back to God’s presence. True or not, I can now imagine it.

Then I saw the move, The Saratov Approach, a true story of two Mormon missionaries kidnapped in Russia and how they responded when faced with a life-or-death challenge to their faith in God. It’s available on Netflix and elsewhere. Well worth viewing: TRAILER.

The Saratov Approach Courtesy

The Saratov Approach, Courtesy

The Prayer of Relinquishment doesn’t always give us the result we seek. Some people do stay invalids, stay single, live perpetually on tight budgets, or even die violent deaths after they give their will over to God. But even when it does bring our desired blessing, we don’t know why it worked. Either way, it always, always brings peace. And we do know that someday, somehow, He will make up all our losses one hundred-fold:

And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. (LDS Doctrine & Covenants 78:19; see also Job 42:12)

I believe the “all things” part includes the unwelcome ones: adversities, losses, griefs, frights. I’m a whiner and a coward, so I have a lot of work to do here. But I was richly repaid for my small sacrifice this week and that adds to my hope.


Life’s Whirlpools

Yesterday I had a big, big breakthrough – I finished a month of filing! You’re probably thinking, “I knew she was nuts, but I didn’t know she was this nuts!” Well, think about it, doesn’t everyone hate and actually loathe dealing with paper? Papers seem perfectly innocent but they’re actually like rabbits on crack. They reproduce at terrifying speed and soon every drawer, corner, and flat surface is stuffed full of things to read, bills to pay, ads you want to keep, and forms to fill out.

I’ve been experimenting with different filing systems for years: subject, chronological, a mix. I was stuck in the file folder, file cabinet rut for decades – what a black hole. Nothing ever saw the light of day again. Finally, in the 1990’s when I was teaching and had those lovely summers off, I had a brain storm: empty the file folders into three ring binders by topic. Dividers within would be subtopics: HEALTH could have Prevention, Diseases, Metabolic, Sleep, and for me, Thyroid. These lived on shelves, slid easily into my hand, and I could actually find something again. Over two summers, I emptied two 4-drawer cabinets into a couple dozen notebooks and whole garbage bags for recycling. When I moved, I gave the cabinets to the movers for $50 off my bill – liberation!

Well, 10 years later, I still used and liked my notebooks, but had started up a parallel set of files, telling myself they were quicker and easier than walking across the room to put something in a notebook. Even easier, I also had piles in baskets loosely by topic (Spiritual, To Do, Family History). When I wanted to find a memorable handout on a topic for a class or writing project, I lost my mind find trying to find it. So I decided in December I had to have one system now and forever, and the notebooks won.

It took days, then weeks, and many, many hours but I finally did it, leaving only a few files for Current Financial and immediate writing projects, plus two baskets (Family History and To Do). Yesterday, in the last week, I was in my office by 7:30 a.m. and didn’t leave, except for lunch, until 4:15. Singing along to every Broadway musical I own, I immersed myself in folders to empty, notebook divider tabs, and two kinds of hole punch. Hundreds of papers filled 1″ binders, sometimes progressing to a 2″, and even a 3″ as they grew like teenagers on steroids.

Finally, it was done. My office was clean and quiet. I’d only been out of the house once in five days. I’d lived and slept in two sets of sweats and barely combed my hair. I headed to the Post Office to get a huge stack of mail and then to Albertson’s for whatever gluten free chocolate treats were on offer – mini brownies, as it turned out. I devoured them with my fresh-from-the-farm, ice-cold milk and sat in a daze as every muscle in my body ached from the tsunami of stored ideas bombarding my aging brain.

All this insanity reminded me of an experience during my time teaching high school special ed students at Kearns High in Utah. One spring our principal surprisingly let us take a bus load of students river rafting on the Green River, wide with no rapids to speak of. Each teacher had a raft of 4-6 kids and we started out, being advised to just stick to the main current down the center of the river. Naturally, we didn’t follow that advice being attracted to the sights along the widely spaced banks.

Big mistake. We found ourselves going in circles around a large, almost invisible whirlpool, 30′ across, near one bank. It was pleasant gliding under willows and back out towards the middle of the river until we came around a second, then a third time and we realized what had happened. As we came around the fourth time and headed back out, I screamed, “Row like Hell!” – breaking our class rule about appropriate language. The kids laid into it and we broke out of the circular current just in time to rejoin the other rafts. All’s well that ends well, as they say, and we didn’t need rescuing.

For too long, I’d been shuffling piles of documents too precious to throw away. Waterloo finally came – it was either “Row like Hell” or stay stuck in a giant, almost invisible whirlpool of procrastination, rationalization, and denial, with a black hole looming – threatening to drown me in a sea of paper!

I’ve rowed my way out of other whirlpools before and it had always taken all my faculties to pull out. There were brownies, new books, and rest at the end of this one, and I realized there always is a reward for every tough challenge conquered. It’s comforting to remember that when a new whirlpool threatens to keep us stuck and we cling fearfully to patterns from the past.

Whirlpool Courtesy ByShurtinc.Wikepedia Commons

Courtesy ByShurtinc.Wikepedia Commons

What I Know For Sure

Oprah used this phrase a lot during the time I watched her shows in the late 90’s, and it’s stuck with me. Usually I make one or two New Year’s resolutions but today I’m reflecting on all the upheaval in our world and “what I know for sure.”

More and more, I live modern life like running the bases in baseball. Each one is a safe touch point and helps restore my inner peace when the going gets tough:

  • Home Plate: I know there is a God, loving and powerful, and we will live forever through Christ’s Atonement.
  • First Base: I know most people are good and that goodness will triumph in the end.
  • Second Base: I know I must reach out for new challenges and new connections to be happy.
  • Third Base: I know I must develop the divine within to progress eternally.

What do you know for sure? What bases do you touch when anxiety or adversity strikes? This is a good time to put those things front and center and give them new life.

I’m knee-deep in a major purge of my files, and I’m finding gems I forgot I had. Here’s a quote I just found (from Gail Godwin’s novel, The Finishing School) that may speak to you as it does to me:

There are two kinds of people . . . One kind, you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keeps moving, changing. With these people, you can never say, “X stops here,” or “Now I know all there is to know about Y.” That doesn’t mean they’re unstable. Ah, no, far from it. They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive.

We all let fear and habit slow us down, but that keeps us from those “new trysts with life” that not only surprise our friends but they also surprise ourselves. C. H. Lewis wrote a book called Surprised By Joy. Let’s all be surprised by joy this year and spread it around.

City Park, Author's Photo

City Park, Author’s Photo