Category Archives: Adversity

Hitting the Wall

Recently I had a crisis that almost brought me to my knees, all because I’m a single woman trying to deal with a major lawn project that was totally beyond me.

I bought a Fiskars reel mower this year – you know the kind we used in the 50’s that you just push around your yard – no motor? My idyllic vision of being a suburban farm girl took a serious blow when I realized I would have to mow in four (yeah, 4!) sections, spread out over the week, each week. This seriously crippled my time and energy to work on my first love, gardening.

As I struggled with these conflicting demands, I realized I was fighting a losing battle and something would have to give. Soon, however, a vision popped into my mind: (1) gravel in the front side yard by my drive which would provide extra parking and eventual access to utility yard behind my fence and (2) weed cloth all around the garden in back, both eliminating a lot of grass. Besides, this would reduce my weekly mowing by half – two sessions – and return me to my old Hippie dream of hanging out with herbs, butterflies, and huge squash plants.

Fast forward to the next Saturday. My darling granddaughter came over and we laboriously laid down commercial grade week cloth in the side yard and tacked it down with 100 6″ staples – a true labor of love on her part. I scheduled delivery of 3/4″ round gravel for the afternoon after the August 21 eclipse, and it showed up as promised. The very nice driver tried to honor my request to back his dump truck up to the top of the 45′ stretch of lawn so he could drop his load all along the future drive so we could have a polite volunteer party to rake it into place.

Well, the first thing that happened was one wheel started spinning and sinking about 8-10″ into the ground. I yelled, “STOP,” which he did and returned to the street but not before much of the weed cloth was pulled loose by about 2′ and dislodged many of those 100 clips!

I honestly didn’t know whether to cry or vomit . . . . I think only those women who are alone can understand how vulnerable and overwhelmed I felt. But the driver was nice and helped me re-position the weed cloth, then dumped the gravel in the middle. But now how to spread it out? Yet another crisis. Plus all those loose pins needed fixing.

The next day – Tuesday – I hit the wall. I basically had a spiritual temper tantrum. I told the Lord I was done. I could no longer stand living so close to the edge, that I needed more support, more help, and more blessings. And I needed them NOW.

Ironically, later that day I had to start a cleanse to prepare for a dreaded colonoscopy the next day. So as I purged physically, I continued to purge emotionally and spiritually. I recalled my friend Lindsey advising me once in a crisis that the first thing I needed to do was “thank the Lord for this adversity.”

Are you kidding me? Why would I do that? I could hear her voice saying, “Because that shows our faith that God will always bring about greater good than the size of the adversity.”

This thought was met with extremely wavering faith, but I believe in principle over emotion. So with rather poor grace, told the Lord I at least accepted the situation and would He please, please, please help me solve it? As I progressed forward on Wednesday, my procedure went very smoothly. I got a clean bill of health and was soon eating and feeling good.

My faith and optimism also miraculously returned: Of course great things were coming in my future. Plus insight and solutions kept coming to mind. Here’s what happened:

  • It turned out that the gravel delivery driver also had a small tractor, and he agreed to come the following week and spread  the rock for a very small fee.
  • With sudden inspiration, I asked a large family to send over a couple of teenagers, who wanted some extra money, to help put down weed cloth in the back and weed – they had four!
  • Since they came before Tractor Guy, the five of us quickly finished tacking down weed cloth more securely in front, so we were ready to spread that gravel.
  • Then all four put down 170 feet of weed cloth around the outside perimeter of my back yard, clips and all, both jobs in only 3 hours – oh glorious day!
  • The two older boys refused pay since they had jobs. The two younger girls gladly accepted it with the promise of more work to come.
  • To top this off, the oldest boy volunteered his Sunday School class to come back and spread the gravel by hand, banishing my lingering worries that a tractor would disturb my already traumatized weed cloth in front.
  • Last Wednesday, a crew of six strong guys appeared with rakes, shovels and a wheelbarrow. Within 45 minutes, gravel was nice and smooth, all as Christian service. My contribution: bottled water and cookies from the local grocery.
  • Finally, yesterday, my two young women helpers were back pulling weeds from two neglected beds. Now I can cull strawberry runners and plant them in the newly cleared old bed. I can hand water my herb garden to hit neglected spots, and I’m already planning next year’s beds with great anticipation.

Here’s how it looks:

Side Yard Before
Author’s Photo

Side Yard After
Author’s Photo

Garden Path Conquered!
Author’s Photo

Along with better balance, joy is back in full force. Not only did the Lord help me solve my problem but He used this experience to expand my faith and my spiritual tool kit for battling the darkness of our mortal limitations.

So when you find yourself stuck inside your soul, squeezed tight like a snake needing to shed its skin, remember to thank the Lord for it but also ASK for solutions, comfort, insight, and confirmation of your own plans. They will come.

 

 

Eternal Life – Part 3 – Tribes and Families United Forever

I just watched a Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast, all of which was dedicated to the music and genius of Oscar Hammerstein II. Not only was it a musical feast, but my love for the Jewish people reawakened. It’s a little known fact that most Broadway musicals were a product of two great legacies: the American struggle to create itself and the Jewish struggle to recreate themselves. Jewish songwriters, lyricists, producers and directors wrote stories of outsiders who were lost, then found – a mirror of their own struggles over the centuries. But they didn’t directly tell their own story but instead told the story of the “Gentiles” (non Jews) who founded this nation and gave birth to a vibrant new culture.

So why are Jewish people telling the Gentiles’ story? To answer that, I needed to reflect back on Biblical history:

A close reading of the Old Testament tells the story of the 12 Tribes of Israel, descendants of Abraham, his son Isaac, and grandson Jacob (spiritual name Israel) who had 12 children with multiple wives – hence the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Throughout ancient history, their fate rose and fell on the tides of righteousness versus idolatry, false values, and downright wickedness. The Tribe of Judah are the ancestors of today’s Jewish people, especially the sect known as Pharisees. They were the administrators of the Kingdom, a “chosen people” unto God, really self-chosen by their righteous living and dedication to that God. But the tribes of Israel struggled and fought with each other, ultimately dividing into the Northern Kingdom of 10 tribes and the Southern Kingdom based in Jerusalem, consisting of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. When the Northern Kingdom had “ripened in iniquity,” they were scattered by the Assyrians in the year 721 B.C. and absorbed into other cultures, and are now called The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.

The Southern Kingdom lost the way of good living, embraced sin to the degree of sacrificing their children to idols and embracing every known sin, resulting in their vulnerability to outside enemies. They were conquered by the Babylonians and carried away captive in 586 BC, as a group, for 70 years; they were then allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem and, unlike the Northern 10 tribes, were able to maintain their culture and religious identity. But since a segment of Judah (mostly Pharisees), ancestors of today’s Jewish people, crucified Christ, they and their descendants have been fated to be “scourged,” afflicted, and scattered throughout history as a way to ultimately bring them back to God. They found a refuge in Spain for centuries until the Inquisition sent them fleeing, yet again. Pogroms in Russia, the Holocaust during WWII, and persecution elsewhere finally drove many to America where they again found a safe harbor. Their business experience, intelligence, and creative talents opened doors of opportunity, especially centered on both coasts. Of course, not all Jewish people followed good paths, just as people from all religious and cultural groups spawn evil doers. But those who reached upward created much of our wonderful American culture.

This morning I’ve listened to classics from Sound of Music, Carousel, Oklahoma, and State Fair, with the spoken word given by Oscar Hammerstein III describing how his grandfather gave us such wonderful stories and lyrics through his own continual struggle and much failure. He told his sons, when playing tennis, to “always look to the next ball, not the last ball” – good advice for us all!

This wonderful legacy is detailed in the PBS Special, Broadway Musicals, A Jewish Legacy. I saw it years ago, never forgot it, and ordered my own copy recently. Who doesn’t love the music of Barbara Streisand, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, and Richard Rogers (Oscar Hammerstein’s creative partner) to name just the most famous?

Christian prophecy tells of the great restoration of the Twelve Tribes of Israel with Judah’s spiritual leadership centered in Jerusalem and “Zion” or the Tribe of Ephraim as temporal leaders centered in the “New Jerusalem.” Even though many of our struggles only result in partial victories now, we have the hope of absolute victory in Christ at His Second Coming.

Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out:
and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God,
which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God:
and I will write upon him my new name. 
(Revelation 3:12)

Last week, I spent some wonderful time in our local LDS Temple, “sealing” ancestors together as families. I could feel the spirits of those who especially wanted this work performed for them, all of which is conditional upon its acceptance by them. It’s my testimony that everyone who wants this blessing, who lives so as to qualify for it, and embraces the path to it, can bring that restoration and ultimate unity to their own family.

Gladly, we also have the promise that the family of God will be made whole. All human life on this planet has the same promise: to be restored to their original place in the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or be adopted into it; then to be taken home to the God who made us to live eternally with Him, the great patriarchs, our ancestors and families. Those who arrive there are not chosen capriciously by God, but they choose themselves through their intentions, efforts and journey towards truth.

Salvation is so much bigger than human ideas and even experience. It’s my “hope in Christ” that all those who have wandered, struggled, and felt lost will find the eternal home they’re seeking. The Jews, by telling America’s story, really tell the story of all humanity, for which we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Sealed Together for Eternity
Family Photo

The Three Pillars of Eternity: #2 The Fall

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

We’ve all grew up hearing this classic nursery rhyme and probably didn’t think a thing of it, but I’ve found a deeper personal meaning in it.

I had a nearly idyllic childhood except for one thing – my family didn’t communicate well. We talked about each other but rarely with each other. Differences often weren’t resolved, people were misjudged, then talked about with either concern or condemnation. Even worse, buried feelings smoldered and burned long afterwards, sometimes erupting without warning.

Not only did this damage our family, but it broke the fragile structure of my early self-esteem into many painful pieces that I’ve struggled to put back together most of my life. And don’t we all have broken places inside? Disappointed hopes, things we’re ashamed we did, ways we’ve been wounded, and ways we’ve wounded others?

After my marriage broke up, I had to look at those broken places and ask how they led me to marry someone who was never going to be right for the long haul. What in me brought me to this place?

I revisited family stories and family patterns. I studied psychology. I practiced better communication with my children, my friends, and at work. But I made only limited progress before I discovered God, prayer, and religion. What a great source of guidance, healing, and power beyond my own that’s been!

As stated by playwright Eugene O’Neill in my About This Blog message to the right:

Man is born broken.
He lives by mending,
And the grace of God is the glue.

That grace has led me to insight and ultimate healing, not in a single event but in round after round of growth cycles.

Scholars tell us that fairy tales, legends, and poetry often contain “archetypes” or classic themes common to many cultures throughout history. Cinderella tells a classic tale of adversity and rags to riches. The Three Little Pigs instructs us to not take short cuts to quality. But Rumpelstiltskin is the one that speaks most strongly about my path. It is a veiled tale of challenge and breakthrough as the Miller’s daughter, with magical help, spins ever larger rooms of straw into gold before she gets to marry the King. Go back and read it. Or listen to it HERE.

Each healing crisis in my journey seemed bigger than the last and more daunting, but God’s grace always appeared after I had worked hard and also sacrificed something precious to me: my pride, my laziness, my uncaring about others, etc. Marrying the King beckoned to me as symbolic of the final piece of healing that meant I could truly step out of the shadow of the past and fully turn towards a brighter future, with a healthier relationship with God and my fellow man.

This all dovetails with a symbolic dream I had soon after my divorce. I recalled it last week and shared it with my granddaughter. In this dream, I was instructed to sit in a wood straight-backed chair on the stone edge of a pool of water, with its back to it! I had to flip over backwards, chair and all, and land in the water (without the chair hitting me in the process), and then swim to the bottom of the pool to discover something that was there, waiting for me.

Being the physical coward that I am, I was very hesitant to even try. But finally, I gathered up my courage, hurled my legs up and over my head, and fell into the water well away from the falling chair. With relief, I then faced the dive, being a confident swimmer. But as I looked into the murky water, I again shrank from challenge. I dove, and my worst fears were confirmed as ominous seaweed undulated up towards me, threatening me with its slimy touch. As I swam, though, I found it couldn’t actually touch me. I kept swimming (oddly not needing a breath) until suddenly the seaweed disappeared and I only saw the off-white sandy bottom of the pool. Delicate yellow-green light wafted down. The whole scene lost its menace. It felt familiar and safe. So I swam around looking for what I was sent to find.

Very shortly I came upon a watch lying on the sand all by itself. I looked closer: It was a Mickey Mouse watch with a yellow patent leather band. I laughed at the whimsy of it, picked it up and thought, This is the gift of time!

Then I woke up. I knew it was important and contained a message I needed. I was newly divorced and just starting on my journey of self discovery and healing. A friend suggested the yellow color was important – that it was “the color of overcoming.” I decided I liked that meaning and it would be a symbolic banner to encourage me when times grew dark. But it remained only a mental image until 2004 when I went to Disneyland with my son’s family. I bought a Mickey Mouse watch to honor this dream. My ongoing quest was approaching 30 years, but oddly I didn’t wear it often. It ended up in my jewelry box, forgotten and not running.

Just lately I feel that God has put together the last of my inner child’s broken pieces. I’ve found that warm, white sand foundation in my soul, and I came across that watch. So now I’ll get a new battery and wear it with a laugh while I wait to see what the “Gift of Time” means in my life!

And isn’t Humpty Dumpty really just symbolic of mortality for every single one of us? The process of life breaks all of us in pieces, one way or another. I recently watched a PBS American Masters special celebrating the life of composer and singer Carole King (watch it HERE, only available through March 4, 2016). In it, her early talent is very evident, but she had her own “broken pieces” and attributed her success to persevering – just never giving up. She said, One day that door does open and if you don’t persevere, you won’t be there when it does – meaning the break-through into creative and personal success she achieved after many heartbreaks and setbacks.

So let’s none of us quit. Let’s push through whatever life throws at us until we “can marry the King” – whatever that means to each of us – and we can ultimately return to our heavenly King to be welcomed home forever.

Humpty Dumpty Courtesy Dreamstime.com

Humpty Dumpty
Courtesy Dreamstime.com

The Feast of Trumpets

Today, September 13, 2015, is highly significant in the Hebrew calendar.

At sundown today, the Feast of Trumpets begins. I knew very little about this until last night. I did know about Passover in the spring and how it commemorates the Israelites’ miraculous exodus from ancient Egypt, led by Moses. It’s also the day Christ was crucified, to be resurrected on the third day, he being the first fruits of the Atonement.

According to an article I read last night, The Golden Plates and the Feasts of Trumpetsthe Passover signifies the Early Harvest or the first harvest of souls at the time of Christ. The fall holy days symbolize the Later Harvest, or the harvest of souls in the Last Days – the times in which we live!

This day is part of three High Holy Days or Days of Awe:

  • The Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah – This is a day to remember how the ancient Israelites escaped from both Egypt and Babylon. In both cases, many spirituals truths and practices had been lost. So, even today, Israel remembers and begins the repentance process to become more spiritually righteous. It is also the Jewish New Year, a time for new beginnings. It is signaled by a single long note, offering God’s hope to the truly penitent.
  • The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur – This is a day of fasting, reflection and repentance, about 10 days after The Feast of Trumpets. It is signaled by a series of short trumpet notes, symbolizing man’s weeping for his sins and failings, and asking for the Lord’s forgiveness. This year it begins at sundown, September 22, and ends at nightfall on the 23rd.
  • The Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot means receiving the Lord’s forgiveness and a return to grace – a completed harvest. It is signaled by another single long sound from the trumpet. This year, it begins on Monday, September 28, and ends seven days later on Sunday, October 4.

Even though Latter-day Saints don’t officially observe Jewish holy days, I plan to use this three-week period to look within, see what I can and need to improve, and recommit myself to the Christian path. I especially want to repent of hardheartedness, my tendency to hold onto resentment, and my failure many times to love others as I should.

I also have a great love for the Jewish people as well as empathy for their long sufferings and worldwide wanderings over many centuries. It mirrors my own wanderings through a wilderness of unfulfilled hopes and some negative generational patterns that have dogged my footsteps. Plus Mormons believe that we are part of the House of Israel just as the Jews are. Some scholars believe it’s significant that the Angel Moroni delivered the Book of Mormon plates to Joseph Smith on Rosh Hashanah, September 22, 1827. It then became God’s voice of warning to all the world in our day – a trumpet in its own right.

I saw a PBS special this last year on how Broadway musicals have been mostly created by Jewish writers, composers, producers, and directors. They wrote about alienation and a desire to belong. They set their stories in the most American of settings with non Jewish characters: Oklahoma, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Carousel,  Showboat, and many more. My heart went out to them in their desire to find a home in America and a cultural identity integrated with the story of our nation. In many respects, they’ve succeeded and prospered, while adding to the greatness of our nation.

Today, I join with them in celebrating our common history, in affirming our common allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and finally in looking forward to the ultimate harvest of souls through the return of our Messiah – the ultimate new beginning.

Today is also the 29th day of Elul, the last day of the Shemitah or Sabbath year, but that will be the subject of another post.

May you all burn with a “perfect brightness of hope” that only a hope in Christ can kindle and not put out. And may we each sound a trumpet of invitation and hope to those around us.

The Angel Moroni, Raleigh NC Temple Courtesy lds.org

The Angel Moroni, Raleigh NC Temple
Courtesy lds.org

Are Miracles Real?

Last week I saw a movie with huge impact: The Cokeville Miracle about how a small elementary school coped with a mad man holding over 100 students and teachers hostage with a bomb and guns – every parents’ and teachers’ worst nightmare. It happened for real in 1986 and details of how this all played out are based on fact. This is an LDS produced movie, not widely available, but if you can find it, I highly recommend it.

In today’s world, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by bad news and anxiety about the future. It’s easy to feel small, powerless, and vulnerable in the face of big business, big government and a sense of evil growing in the world. It’s also easy to think that the only way to protect ourselves is with a similar strength and worldly power. This movie, however, suggests another way, and one rarely, if ever, talked about in mainstream media: the way of faith and spiritual protection.

Pardon the spoiler! Innocent teachers and children were protected by angelic beings, some of whom they recognized as ancestors, after uttering many simple prayers for help. The bomber’s wife accidentally triggered the bomb while the bomber was in the restroom. He shot himself when he realized his plan was failing, and she was the only other casualty. The bomb set off ammunition that shot all over the room but no one else was killed or even seriously injured. Why?

A teacher had previously taped off a line around the bomber and his wife to keep the kids at a distance. Several children reported seeing beings that looked like “light bulbs lit up” standing all along that line protecting them. Their power kept the bomb blast from radiating outwards which could have killed everyone in the room. Instead the blast only went upward through the ceiling.

What brought the angels? The whole class had been praying silently, then aloud. I believe the faith of children is especially powerful. In any case, it worked. Read an account in the Deseret News remembering the actual event:  CLICK HERE

The Book of Mormon teaches us about faith and miracles. Here’s my favorite scripture:

 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles;
and I will show unto the world that I am the same
yesterday, today, and forever;
and I 
work not among the children of men
save it be 
according
 to their faith.
(Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 27:23)

I believe we can all seek after miracles when we need them. We can exercise faith “like a little child” and, God willing, we will receive divine help. Sometimes accident, disease, and death are part of His plan for us, with all suffering and losses made up in the next life. That’s the rub, and it requires a huge amount of faith to not become bitter or depressed.

But when you’re feeling particularly powerless or vulnerable, remember the Old Testament story of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6:8-23. The vast armies of Syria gather against little Israel. The Israelite servant turns to Elisha, the prophet, in fear:  Alas, my master! how shall we do? 

Elisha replies with this famous statement: “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

The children of Cokeville saw the unseen powers of heaven marshalled in their defense. I testify that we too can call upon angels and “chariots of fire” to protect us when we need them. They are greater than any evil that surrounds us.

Elisha Calling Forth Chariots of Fire People of the Keys.com

Elisha Calling Forth Chariots of Fire
People of the Keys.com

Is Evil Real?

Last week I saw a wonderful movie, Woman in Gold, a true story about a woman trying to reclaim her family’s art that had been confiscated by the Nazis during their occupation of Austria – especially the stunning portrait of her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt, covered in gold leaf. The movie’s name is how the Nazis labeled it. At its heart, the film is about the personal journey of Maria Altmann and her attorney, but it also gives us a vivid glimpse into events most of us would label evil.

I think we would all agree that the holocaust was evil – inherently wrong at its core. And there are many, many books and movies portraying events and people participating in other horrific events in history. A prime example would be Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza, which I highly recommend.

Left to Tell Book Cover

Left to Tell Book Cover

Maria Altmann’s family were educated and cultured, living a prosperous life in Vienna in the 1930s. They were lovely people caught up in events beyond their control. I couldn’t help compare their innocent suffering with the harshness of the Nazis and the blindness of most Austrians who welcomed them.

For decades, America has lived in relative peace and prosperity. Whole generations have known little adversity. I, however, grew up in the 1950s, under the shadow of the Great Depression and World War II. News of the atomic bomb and its potential to devastate the world terrified me so much as a small child that my parents shielded me from the news and all talk of world events.

In high school and college, movies and novels portrayed this history in journalistic detail, plus I’ve experienced enough unjust adversity in my life to truly believe that there is an evil force loose in our world. But I observe that younger people today seem to think the continuum of good and evil goes from Mother Teresa’s complete altruism down through rudeness, ignorance, dysfunction, and finally mental illness, and stops there. Evil, wickedness, and sin just don’t seem to make it onto the list at all. Values are relative, and conflict is just the result of different backgrounds and perspectives, among people basically of good will.

Let me suggest that there really are people who intend to do harm, who consciously plan our enslavement and the downfall of our freedoms, just as with the Nazi regime and many others. So far, they’ve worked behind the scenes, but I believe we’ll soon see this evil emerge increasingly in national and world events.

In the movie, Maria’s uncle was not so deluded. He saw the handwriting on the wall and left Austria soon after Anschluss was announced, taking her sister to safety with him. Maria’s father, however, thought it would all blow over and life would continue unchanged, a decision that proved tragically wrong.

I believe that the eternal battle between good and evil is heating up to the final confrontation long heralded in the scriptures, under the heading “Last Days.” Traditional values are being denigrated, materialism and selfishness are rampant, and the divide between the haves and the have-nots has never been greater. Even our own government is gearing up its military to fight “domestic terrorism” (google JADE HELM 15), anticipating much civil unrest.

I believe that we need to get clear with our values and right with God. It’s time to pray and learn to discern our Heavenly Father’s answers. In the days ahead, they will be sorely needed. And may we all be decisive like Maria’s uncle, not blind like her father, when we see events advancing and follow the spiritual promptings we receive.

It’s my testimony that there is a God who loves us, who wants to “gather us as a hen gathereth her chicks” and lead us to physical and spiritual safety. But if we don’t heed the invitation, He may allow adversity to bring us back to the path of true goodness.

I also believe that when the storm of cleansing is over, all good people will be able to move forward, all scattered families reunited, and once again civilization will flourish.

"Woman in Gold" labutaca.net

“Woman in Gold” labutaca.net

40 Years in the Wilderness

I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 40 years ago as of yesterday. I consider this a huge milestone. Why? Because the ancient Israelites wandered for 40 years in the Sinai desert after miraculously escaping from 400 years of bondage in Egypt. The number 40 is very symbolic of a wilderness experience in the Hebrew culture.

So did I have a “wilderness experience” these last 40 years. You bet your boots I did! After growing up in a Midwestern university town with little exposure to religion or spirituality, I then detoured through six years as a New England hippie, glorying in the back-to-the-land culture of the late Sixties and early Seventies. Not only did that affect my lifestyle (burning wood for heat, hauling water from a well by hand, and using an outhouse for two of those years) but those lovely, silent woods awakened my soul to a profound spiritual reality. I experimented with astrology, meditation, and night walks along lonely back roads. I sensed unseen beings and a higher power.

After an amazing conversion to Christianity and then to Mormonism, I moved briefly from my little hippie house to Iowa, and then settled in Salt Lake City soon after my baptism. That began my sojourn learning how to be a good Latter-day Saint (saint meaning “follower of Christ,” not holy person). Over the ensuing years, I had to confront a multitude of faults: my unchristian resentment of those I felt had wronged me, my lack of desire to serve those around me, and coveting the blessings of others, to name a few. I needed to think before I spoke, learn the place of faith and grace in my life, how to pray and get answers, and so much more. I found an image on the front of a greeting card years ago that’s provided needed encouragement when the road seemed long. This young woman is resolute in spite of inadequate clothes and winter weather, and she’s surrounded by snowflakes representing spiritual guidance and miracles:

Winter Pilgrim, from Greeting Card

Winter Pilgrim, Publisher Unknown

As I tackled motherhood after my divorce, various jobs and church callings, each one seemed to provide tutoring along the path of discipleship. My children taught me patience and living in the moment. Difficult bosses taught me to either speak up professionally or learn charity and long suffering. Friends encouraged me and provided needed R&R. Prayer was a refuge from the storm and an anchor to my soul. While I have much to learn and master, I feel I’ve finally “caught up with myself.” The little wounded child within has been made whole by the grace of God, and my future challenges seemed designed for creativity rather than healing.

I had a dream very early on that foreshadowed my spiritual odyssey and also gave me hope: I was in the Florence, Italy train station on a balcony overlooking several tracks with trains backed up to a platform, waiting for passengers to climb aboard. I was trying to decide which train to take when I noticed a headlight burning in one of them with its engine idling. All the others were dark and still. I said to myself, “I want to get on that one.” I entered through a door at the back of the caboose and, as soon as I did, the train took off at a terrifying speed. The vibrations were so strong I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled forward with difficulty. I slowly progressed through several seemingly emtpy cars, crawling on a slightly dusty but clean linoleum floor. Finally reaching the engine, I groped my way unto the engineer’s seat and studied the complicated control panel in front of me, trying various switches to learn how to drive the train. Finally, I opened a hatch over my head and put it through a cold, dark, ominous opening. But then, amazingly, my face was struck by warm night air, I could hear the crickets along the track and see down it by the headlight. I was free, exultant, flying along, and driving my own train!

I feel I’m at the end of this journey and about to put my head through the hatch. All the threads of my spiritual and personal growth have come to a healthy place. I have great hope and expect life to open up with new creative and fulfilling opportunities. I encourage all of you to find an image or allegory that helps propel you forward and see where it takes you.

 

Trust His Heart

I struggle with faith and optimism after a lifetime of chronic opposition. Some people have mostly sunny days, some have many intense storms that make me wonder how they survive and some, like me, have long-standing but milder adversity that seems to just go on and on – but interspersed with enough real blessings to keep me trudging onward.

While it would be nice to get closer to perfection and have a quick resolution to my problems, I find that a huge push only exhausts me. So I’ve learned to pace myself and only try each day to improve in some area of my life. My standard is “just do a little better” and hope that over time that this will add up to real growth and decisive breakthroughs.

Today, my worries threatened to overwhelm my natural optimism. So reached a little higher and a little deeper for trust and hope. I remembered good advice from Oprah and others that gratitude is powerful, so I shifted my thoughts to what I’m grateful for and what I can solidly hope for. As I drove away from Albertson’s after yet another ho-hum run for empty boxes in which to pack my books, I said a silent prayer about where to look with more success. Ace Hardware just came to mind so I headed over there. The nice man at the counter said to come back in two hours and they would have lots. Thank you, Lord! That will provide the last ones I need, so I can finish sorting and packing this week.

I listen to Rejoice Broadcast Network regularly on my car radio because they have such wonderful inspirational music. One of my favorites came on as I drove home and validated my new tender hope. Here are the lyrics and a link to a YouTube performance. I hope it helps you like it helps me every time I hear it:

Trust His Heart

All things work for our good
Though sometimes we can’t see how they could.
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth.

Our Father knows what’s best for us.
His ways are not our own.
So when your pathway grows dim, and you just can’t see Him,
Remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken.
God is too good to be unkind.
So when you don’t understand,
When you don’t see His plan,
When you can’t trace His hand, 
Trust His heart.

He sees the master plan.
He holds our future in His hands.
So don’t live as those who have no hope.
All our hope is found in Him.

We see the present clearly,
But He sees the first and the last. 
And like a tapestry He’s weaving you and me to someday be just like Him

God is too wise to be mistaken.
God is too good to be unkind.
So when you don’t understand.
When you don’t see His plan,
When you can’t trace His hand, 
Trust His heart.

He alone is faithful and true.
He alone knows what is best for you.
So when you don’t understand, 
When you don’t see His plan,
When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart, . . . trust His heart.

Listen HERE.

Peace at the Heart of the Rose Courtesy Pixabay.com

Peace at the Heart of the Rose
Courtesy Pixabay.com

Taking the Stairs or the Escalator?

I watched two shows this morning on PBS, The Italian Americans, about the very real challenges Italian immigrants faced integrating into American society. The other, Instruments of Change, spotlighted Ruth Greenfield’s Fine Arts Conservatory in 1950’s Miami where she provided arts instruction to local youth, irrespective of race or economic status.

Italians are known for their wonderful cuisine and for organized crime, among other things. This program illuminated the danger of trying to climb into prosperity too quickly, via either organized crime or political radicalism. But the “silent majority” of Italian immigrants who took the slow route to acceptance and success quietly achieved it, albeit in later generations.

This reminded me of my research in Cambridge, England, on my father’s ancestors. We had already discovered that our mother descended from English and Scottish kings, and we could certainly see that heritage in her ambition and high brow tastes. My Dad was hardworking, honest and had the most perfect character of anyone I’ve ever known. I was surprised, therefore, to discover that at least this branch of his family were listed in the 1800’s census records as “farm laborers, beer sellers, blacksmiths” – clearly working class. After watching many British TV shows depicting the life of the 1800’s, I formed a composite image of the “faithful steward” who rises slowly into positions of trusted employment with the aristocratic landowners. This took generations of lowly toil, often being treated unfairly and bearing it with patience, but in the end, rising steadily. My family benefited from both heritages, and I am deeply grateful for their examples. It’s a lot to live up to.

Ruth Greenfield and her husband Arnold were severely punished for their defiance of the rules of segregation, losing their employment, their luxurious home, and ending up starting their own business in a much poorer part of town. They looked forward with hope to new opportunities rather than back in anger, self-pity, or bitterness. After Arnold’s death, Ruth continued to promote the arts, starting the Lunchtime Lively Arts concerts that started a cultural revitalization of downtown Miami. She’s now revered as a pioneer, and numerous dancers, musicians, and artists trace their success to her early encouragement and training. Many remember being told, “You are special,” and how it fueled their upward climb for years afterward. If Ruth and Arnold hadn’t persevered, their contributions would have been much smaller; but they ran the race of patience and many people won.

I think life presents us with a fundamental choice of either taking the slow but real road to progress, no matter the consequences, or trying to take the false road to “Easy Street.” The false one is like the Up Escalator that moves us along without much effort, but we’re not able to see where it’s really taking us. Or we can choose the stairs where a lot of muscle power is needed and the destination is labeled: Top Floor. We just don’t know how many flights we have to climb!

I also believe that life is designed like this for a reason. We read in the New Testament:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword,
piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow
and 
is a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

I believe that reason is to see what we will choose, all on our own. It isn’t earthly success that matters as much as character development and the heritage we leave. And, in the end, we all must face our maker, ourselves, and those we influenced, and account for our choice. I think we’ll be happier if we’ve taken the stairs and avoided shortcuts. As LDS Apostle LeGrand Richards once said (paraphrased from memory):

The wheels of justice may grind slowly, but they grind very, very fine.

I take that to mean, all good choices and the intent behind them will ultimately be fully known and rewarded, while all bad ones will lead to regret and sorrow.

Let’s look within, then, to decide which path we’re on, and be faithful stewards wherever we find ourselves. I believe we’ll end up being glad, no matter how hard the journey.

Stairway of Life, Courtesy hdwallpapers.in

Stairway of Life, Courtesy hdwallpapers.in

 

 

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 aldyreviews.net

The Saratov Approach, Courtesy aidyreviews.net

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.