Category Archives: Creativity

Like a River

This morning’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast was an Independence Day Special with crashing patriotic numbers – of the goose bump variety. But then Stephen Paulus’ Hymn for America came on with a quietly reverent, but powerful beginning:

We have loved you for your rivers,
We have loved you for your shores . . .

I immediately burst into tears as my feelings for our native land spilled over. I have always related deeply to nature around me, especially the huge City Park across the street from my house growing up in Iowa City. It had towering trees, scampering squirrels, even peacocks’ screams that punctuated our nights – all of which was surrounded by the wide, silent Iowa River that enfolded the lower part of the park with a tender embrace.

I crossed that river daily on my way to and from school. Its varying moods and silent power provided a stable setting for a childhood privileged in many, many ways. Here’s a wonderful photo. The green bridge in the middle is the Foot Bridge linking the Student Union and main campus with the west side of town, Art Building and Hancher Auditorium. I stood there and watched otters darting in and out of moonbeams after a night of study at the University library, and as a high school senior floated daringly past my PE class, practicing golf swings by hitting heads off dandelions!

Iowa River
Courtesy breac.nd.edu

And just as nature, embodied by the Iowa River, underpins all our physical existence, this nation with its gloriously inspired constitutional government and long heritage of freedom underpins our current quality of life. We are privileged to live in the most prosperous, most democratic country in the history of the world. And even though that heritage and those freedoms are under extreme attack, we have God’s solemn promise that those who live His commandments will be protected and ultimately return to Him. This country is a Land of Promise for those who live the laws of life.

But for now, I want to celebrate the greatness that God’s creation and our free country has spawned. All I have to do is watch PBS to see the many and often unsung heroes featured there, and whose creativity and ingenuity have created our wonderful way of life and capped Western Civilization with sparkling achievement. Here are just a few:

  • Mark Twain and his biting wit
  • All the Broadway musicals, like Oklahoma,  that capture and even helped create our country’s personality and identity
  • Cutting edge novels – where would we be without Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Poe?
  • Riveting film like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Psycho. And anything with Jimmy Stewart – the original American “boy next door.”
  • TV that set the bar high: I grew up with Gunsmoke and The Honeymooners. My kids grew up with the Donny and Marie Show , The Love Boat, and Hill Street Blues.
  • Finally, a land dotted with churches and amazing spiritual leaders, like Norman Vincent Peale, Peter Marshall, and Joseph Smith.

Christian prophets have long foretold of a thousand years of peace and plenty, after the return of Jesus in glory. I believe, like Anne Frank, that most people are basically good and that life, like a river, is taking us to that distant shore of peace, fulfillment, and glory. We just need to stay in the boat, on the wide river of life.

 

Happy Mother’s Day

My youngest brother texted me a nice message this morning as I was waking up, and I’ve received generous gifts from both my children. But the gift “that keeps on giving” is watching their lives unfold in good and sometimes unexpected ways – a true fountain of continual joy!

They turned out well thanks mostly to good genes and their own efforts, only minimally from my halting but committed efforts to raise them with good values and healthy self esteem. Here’s one of my favorite photos when Peter was 3 and Amanda 5:

Precious Blessings!
Author’s Photo

Amanda used to make up poems and songs and loved to draw. She’s an accomplished writer and gifted artist today. Peter was very creative and always building complicated structures from blocks, Legos, sticks, even paper grocery bags. Now he works in construction sales. His room showed military order, while Amanda focused on creating beauty in hers. Both have happy marriages to wonderful people. I can take absolutely no credit for any of this. I believe their own choices in our pre-mortal existence set their path early. Mostly I tried to get out of their way and only wish I could have provided more creative opportunities for them.

My two grandchildren continue the magic. Alex is a deep soul, loves stories, good conversation, playing the guitar and singing in a college group. Taylor has her Dad’s easy going personality, with the work ethic of both her parents. She loves nature, is a good student, and is discovering a real talent for art. She gave me this wonderful pen-and-ink drawing for my birthday last month:

Butterflies Set Free
Author’s Photo

Families are a “slow tango” to borrow a phrase from movie critics – a long period of cultivation but bringing a rich harvest, one I expect to keep reaping throughout this life and the one to come.

Here are my “kids” all grown up:

Amanda and Peter
Author’s Photo

Whether or not you have children, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day. After all, we all had a mother and can nurture the children around us, as well as the child within ourselves. Take a walk through your album of blessings, and I think you’ll agree we all have much to celebrate!

 

28 Months

Today marks 28 months since I first conceived the idea of doing a deeper organization of my home and possessions. I started with possibly the most un-fun job – dejunking my files! Who likes paperwork, now I ask you? But I decided that it was time to marry an old system of putting documents in 3-ring binders by topic with the file folders in drawers, which were quicker but less usable. I started in December 2014 and it took me into January, about five weeks of chaining myself to my desk singing along to Broadway musicals, like Oklahoma and Showboat.

Then I tackled my cramped kitchen, finding yet more alternate pantry space, then my linen closet turned household supply cupboard. After an inspirational spiritual preparedness fair in March 2015 and praying earnestly for goal-setting guidance, I had a vision of a large storage unit stocked with bins and books for the future. Three months later, reality matched the vision. Then in quick succession I worked with rural buyers, researched a home to rent for myself in the rural areas west of me, found a home to buy instead, listed my current rental for my landlord, moved, put in a large garden, found renters for my bonus room, settled in, redid my legal paperwork and battled a second bout of Epstein Barr virus (chronic fatigue) all winter. By New Year’s, I felt like I was in “House Jail” and I wanted out!

Elderberry syrup quickly banished the virus, spring banished the blues, and as I emerged from those 27 months, I found I needed to banish lingering personal doubts and fears about my future – I still wasn’t done. Did I deserve prosperity and higher levels of success and creativity? So I’ve spent an additional month working through this last obstacle – the 28th month! I listened to countless Tabernacle Choir broadcasts, Vocal Pointe’s Christmas concert, and meditated on God’s many invitations throughout the scriptures to trust Him and to trust in His promises to bless our efforts, however imperfect. And I’m making headway – I truly feel “a perfect brightness of hope” as many of my insecurities are healed. (1 Nephi 31:20, Book of Mormon)

I may be just like the plant below, emerging out into the sunshine through hardened layers of habit, doubt and fear.

Breaking Through Obstacles
Courtesy Pixabay.com Image 1147803

Why was I doing this? To create an expanded future, with more time for family and friends, for inspirational writing, for community and church service, and I now have time and energy for them. I feel like a kid on the last day of school facing a long, wonderful summer – whoopie!

This 28-month trek was like the last room in the fairy tale, Rumpelstitskin, where the miller boasted to the king that his daughter could spin straw into gold, but she was in trouble when the king put her to the test! She was promised she could marry him if she would actually spin a room of straw into gold. You all know what happened:  a funny little man showed up and magically did the work for her in exchange for her ring. The king, seeing a bonanza, delayed fulfilling his promise and gave her a bigger room of straw. Her mysterious friend rescued her once again in exchange for her necklace. A final challenge, however, found her with the biggest room of straw yet and nothing with which to pay this funny little man. He suggested she give him her first born child and, thinking she would never have to actually do it, she agreed. The straw was turned to gold, the king finally kept his promise and, in due time, the miller’s daughter had a beautiful child. When the funny little man showed up demanding payment, she was stuck unless she could guess his name. Numerous failures ensued, but finally one of her huntsmen overheard a funny little man dancing around a fire chanting a rhyme that contained his name. Appearing one last time before the young queen, he was flabbergasted when she pronounced his name, Rumpelstitskin, and he dissolved, screaming, into ash.

I believe this, like all fairy tales, is an allegory about life. When we face “impossible” tasks, something or someone magical shows up to help us but it costs us something (faith, courage, work, time, etc.). When our usual talents and resources aren’t enough, the largest challenges require extra brilliance, inspiration, and help from the unseen spiritual forces around all of us.

Willow Cathedral
Courtesy Pixabay.com Image 90987

But the good news is that, because there is goodness in the universe that ultimately rewards effort and sacrifice, we get to “marry the king” and break through into a newness of life. As I emerge from my latest cocoon of struggle (larger than all past ones), new horizons beckon me like the tunnel above. They’re green, inviting, and exciting – far from the drudgery of the past. And I have hope this truly was the last room before greater support systems show up and allow me a more “normal” pace of life and expanded effectiveness. Stay tuned for updates….

In one of those serendipitous happenings, I just finished reading a Maisie Dobbs mystery where our likable British “Investigator and Psychologist” comes to a major crossroads in Leaving Everything Most Loved, to travel into adventure. Her fears were soothed by a wise Indian woman who reassured her with these words:

I’ll tell you this. Leaving that which you love breaks your heart open. But you will find a jewel inside, and this precious jewel is the opening of your heart to all that is new and all that is different, and it will be the making of you – if you allow it to be.

These words reflected my experience leaving my marriage, leaving New Hampshire where I spent the happiest six years of my life, leaving Eagle last year and many well-loved friends. But each move has brought new adventures and new friends, making their own memories. The rewards have been worth the pain of change.

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 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

My Daily Bread

My prayer project this last month has been nothing short of amazing. I was given clear direction to radically dejunk my house and could see it freeing me creatively. I quickly outlined a detailed plan, singing the Hallelujah Chorus in my head.

The first three weeks went well with an increasing sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I was on a roll – or so I thought. Then a week ago, it all came crashing down. I lost my drive and only wanted out from under this big, crushing project.

I had lots of schedule conflicts until that Friday – then I had to face my long to-do list. So I grit my teeth and plunged in. Normally, my enthusiasm returns once I start moving. Not this day. I grumbled and resented every minute. Finally I sat in my living room and just cried in misery and frustration. But my determination was stronger, so Saturday I trudged grimly on. Finally, late in the day, satisfaction returned. Not only had I conquered several projects, I had conquered my own resistance.

What happened? I’m not entirely sure, but I think energy cycles just have a natural rhythm, and I had expected mine to just keep peaking, ignoring real needs for rest and relaxation. I’m also an Aries sun sign. We like to start things but lose interest more quickly than others do. Plus the sheer size of this project really hit home. I felt like the Miller’s daughter in Rumplestiltskin facing the largest room of straw needing to be spun into gold – utterly hopeless!

So what did I learn?

  • I was prompted to alternate heavy work days (Mon, Wed, Fri) with “catch-up days,” pacing myself. This last week brought sanity and joy back into my life, instead of endless pressure, as well as solid progress. Thank you, Lord!
  • I learned that while there are big, over-arching revelations that help us see the big picture and make plans, most of the time we just need to focus on today. So each morning I hold the possible tasks before me “up to the light” of higher wisdom. The ones that the Spirit lights up with enthusiasm stay on the list. I then remembered the Israelites leaving ancient Egypt for their exodus to the Promised Land. They wandered in the Sinai Desert for 40 years, miraculously finding water and eating Manna from heaven that appeared every morning. When they tried to save it for the next day, fearfully doubting a continuous supply, it spoiled and wouldn’t keep. Maggots developed and made it inedible. However, on the day before their Sabbath, Manna would keep for two days so they could honor the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, free for worship and rest.
  • I also learned to keep the day flexible. I was all set yesterday to finish copying precious ancestral documents from 80-100 years ago (left partly done from the day before) when I had a sudden lack of interest wash over me. Something in me said, “No, clean out your linen closet and pack up all your extra cleaning supplies and paper products.” So I dug in, and by day’s end my linen closet was transformed. I had a car load for storage, and I felt great about it. The documents were handled another day, and with more enthusiasm! Then I remembered the advice Corrie ten Boom’s father gave her, recorded in her book The Hiding Place. She had asked him as a child about the details of an upcoming train trip. He gave her a brief answer and asked her when she would be given her ticket. She answered, “Right before I get on the train.” He said, “That’s when you’ll know all the details. You don’t need to know everything until then. You can trust that I am handling them now.” Isn’t life often like that? Ancient hippie maxim: Just go with the flow!

Our spiritual “bread” that feeds and powers us forward is like that. Most of the time, we pick it up in the morning and it is only good for that day. Those answers won’t work or be right for the next day – they will “spoil” and may even bog you down in murky paths. There’s a difference between absolute right and wrong – principles that need to guide our big decisions – and  the “good, better, best” of daily living.

“Meaningful morning prayer is an important element in the spiritual creation of each day
and precedes the temporal creation of the actual execution of the day.”
(Elder David A. Bednar, LDS Apostle)

God will lend us His vision if we but ask and then listen to it.

From The Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo da Vinci The National Gallery, London, public domain image

From The Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo da Vinci
The National Gallery, London, public domain image

 

 

 

The Power of Positive Thinking

I recently attended an amazing conference entitled Whole Person Preparedness. I was especially interested in spiritually preparing for the events of the Last Days and came away so inspired, I’ll be sharing what I learned in the next few posts.

Today, I want to quote Kirk Duncan, the Keynote Speaker. He emphasized positive thinking, faith over fear, and taking our lives to a higher level of vibrationHere’s what I learned.

He described a study about the effects of music on the structure of water molecules and crystals. One container of distilled water was placed in a room where beautiful classical music played all day. In another room, a similar container of water was exposed to heavy metal rock music. Then two identical plants were watered with this water. The one watered with classical music water flourished and grew. The other plant watered with heavy metal water died! Then a sample of each water was frozen and the resulting crystals observed: the classical music created a beautiful snowflake pattern, while the heavy metal created an ugly, chaotic mess! Watch a video about a similar experiment by Dr. Masaru Emoto. Here are some of his photos:

LOVE and APPRECIATION, Courtesy highexistence.com

HITLER, Courtesy highexistence.com

YOU MAKE ME SICK, I WILL KILL YOU, Courtesy highexistence.com

#1 is LOVE AND APPRECIATION, #2 is HITLER, #3 is YOU MAKE ME SICK, I WILL KILL YOU
All photos courtesy of highexistence.com.

Since our bodies are 60-80% water, we might want to consider what our thoughts are doing to our health and to others! For further inspiration, read the classic The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.

His next point made me squirm as I’m totally guilty of this one: Beware of becoming a “gloom and doom” messenger about the times we live in. Feeling and communicating fear doesn’t inspire action in ourselves and others, but tends to paralyze instead, sending us back to our comfort zone. I’ve been guilty for too long of being another Chicken Little, running around and saying, The sky is falling, the sky is falling! So my apologies to one and all.

I’m changing my message. Malachi 4:5-6 can be read two ways:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

It’s either a GREAT day or a DREADFUL day. Those of us trying to live good lives can anticipate these times as great, not dreadful. The scriptures are full of these promises; go dig them out. Here’s a good place to START.

My message is that, in the words of Dickens, this is the best of times, not just the worst of times. Great light and knowledge, great love and goodness abound. God is pouring out knowledge, comfort, and inspiration to all who seek it. As it says in Jeremiah 16:14-15:

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

In other words, the events of our time will be so amazing, we will no longer talk about the Exodus from Egypt led by Moses, but will celebrate the many miracles of deliverance in our day.

Finally, Mr. Duncan described how to rise to a higher level of challenge without becoming overwhelmed. He quoted scientist Nikola Tesla, If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration. Raising your own vibration level will help you create new patterns of order in your life and lift you to a higher level of energy and achievement than you imagine possible. Watch this DEMONSTRATION with a vibrating metal plate and simple grains of salt.

So how do we raise our energy level? Here are some ideas – you may well come up with more:

  • Pray and ask for inspiration.
  • Brainstorm new ways to do things.
  • Purge out the old and unnecessary.
  • Think and speak positively.
  • Watch for inspiration and support to show up.
  • Act decisively and with commitment on your new plan.
  • Thank the Lord and the universe for supporting you.
  • Serve and inspire others.

I’d love to hear your comments on any of these ideas and what manifests in your life. New patterns are already showing up in mine – it’s a great day!

 

 

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 blingcheese.com

Hippie Van, Courtesy blingcheese.com

 

 

 

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

Whirlpool
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