Category Archives: Gratitude

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!

 

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

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

 

 

 

An Unfair Life?

Do you feel lucky, especially compared to other people? I mean in the sense of being fortunate.

Overall, the deficiencies of my life have cast a long shadow over very real and substantial blessings, in spite of my best efforts to be positive. I often have to work to rise above self-pity and then I don’t always succeed.

Recently, I visited in depth with a friend who acknowledges not having big problems: professionally successful, a happy family, good health, a satisfying church affiliation, and many friends. As we discussed issues of inner faith, I realized I had a blessing this friend, by his own admission, didn’t have: a living, one-on-one connection with God. And it has utterly transformed my life and view of the future.

Suddenly, I felt really lucky, and I realized I wouldn’t trade that precious relationship for a larger bank account nor even an intact, functional marriage. Can’t most of us see those gaping holes in our own lives? There certainly are people living what I call a “white-picket-fence lifestyle” and who would agree they’ve had very little adversity. But I think many more people could report very daunting challenges (dysfunctional family, divorce, health problems, struggling kids or no kids, financial reversals, etc.) which cast a big shadow over their happiness too.

So how do we regard these apparent inequities? Isn’t this blatantly unfair? Christianity gives us some answers:

  1. God doesn’t play favorites: Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:34-5) So I have to believe that all will be tested, one way or another, and all will be blessed.
  2. There has to be a good reason behind all our circumstances, even if we can’t see what it is: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) About this point, I have to remind myself that my desires too often lean toward comfort and happiness, not growth nor service!
  3. When our focus is spiritual, the circumstances of life will eventually catch up, in this life or the next: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)
  4. Some adversity is a test, but all our losses will be made up in this life or the next. See the story of Job in the Old Testament – God allowed Satan to test his righteousness with terrible adversity, but afterwards God blessed Job: . . . the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. . . . So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. (Job 42:10, 12)
  5. God will heal our sorrows: And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
  6. I’ll paraphrase one of my church leaders who explained differences this way: We are living in Act Two of a three-act play. We’ve lost our memory of premortal life (Act One) preparing to come here, nor can we see what will come after (Act Three) when all will be made up to us. We can’t truly understand our life’s path until we see the whole picture.

All these things comfort me, but nothing was quite so dramatic as this sudden paradigm shift. I really wouldn’t trade my education, my family heritage, and especially not my knowledge of God for the things I’m missing. And I know that if I stay on the path like Job, my latter end will be more than my beginning and that God will wipe away all tears.  May you find peace and thanksgiving in your life as well.

God the Father, by Cima da Conegliano Courtesy Wikipedia.org

God the Father, by Cima da Conegliano, 1515 AD
Courtesy Wikipedia.org

A Deeper Surrender

40 years ago I had a profound spiritual experience with God’s spirit and became a Christian. As I studied the promises contained in scripture, I found a totally different way of life: serve God first, work hard, and then we may “stand still and watch the salvation of the Lord” operating to bless us.

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power;
and then may we 
stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God,
and for his arm to be revealed.      
(LDS Doctrine and Covenants 123:17)

I’ve seen this principle work many, many times and expressed in many different ways:

        • What goes around, comes around. 
        • Virtue is its own reward.
  • What you send out comes back multiplied.
  • What you focus on increases (good or bad).

Recently, however, I found myself in a spiritual “log jam” and struggling to muster the faith to break out of it. I hit a wall with my health and energy levels, my prospecting efforts in real estate weren’t bearing fruit so my bank balance was operating on fumes, and I was finding very little time for other writing. After some deep thought and hearing about how people near me were getting great breakthroughs of energy through serving God and other people, I decided I needed to give more, trust more, and ask for more divine help.

Immediately I ran up against human resistance: laziness, procrastination, the “I’m too tired” syndrome, and just plain lack of faith that the Lord would keep His promises. However, I knew I was really stuck at a set level of contribution, happiness and success. I knew there was more to be had, and that I had extra reserves of dedication and effort within. Remembering another scripture, I decided to “experiment upon the word”:

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Book of Mormon, Alma 32:27)

Moreover, I knew that experiment needed to include actually stepping out and living my faith before I could see results, and frankly I found this scary. I already felt stretched thin, tired and overwhelmed, so this required a pretty big leap of faith. But I was determined. I pictured the figurehead of a ship and set my face into the wind to forge ahead.

 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (New Testament, John 7:17)

Ship's Figurehead Courtesy Andrea Malz, Wikipedia.org

Ship’s Figurehead
Courtesy Andrea Malz, Wikipedia.org

So how did my experiment turn out?

I actively sought opportunities to serve my friends, neighbors and fellow church members, I dug into some daunting family history challenges, and I worked “harder and smarter” each day. This still seemed like only a token effort – sincere but minimal. However, the results were amazing!

I was thrust into a new level of energy, connection with the universe, and success. I felt currents of love around me and through me. A For Sale By Owner property turned into a listing. Another agent paid me in advance for marketing work. Happy interactions just sprang up seemingly out of nowhere. And a spiritual healer brought welcome release from energy stuck in the past, as well as advising me to increase my salt intake for my adrenals, which worked dramatically. It was a stunning validation of the principles of faith and sacrifice. “The laborer is worthy of his hire” was utterly fulfilled, far beyond my puny efforts. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 106:3)

I hope I can maintain this vision and level of effort – please keep me accountable. Try it, you’ll like it, as the song goes, and let us know what you learn.

Silent Mountains

In 2001, I went on a student tour of Europe. While in Italy, I wandered out to the balcony of our hotel room late one night to just sit and let my thoughts wander over the amazing experiences we were having. Gradually, I noticed some very large, dark shapes on the skyline and quickly realized they were mountains with not a light showing on any of them. They seemed to ring the city like silent sentinels from the past. I imagined they were symbolic of the dead civilizations of Europe whose remains we were viewing on this trip:  Greek, Roman, and Etruscan. All were gone but they cast long shadows, still influence our lives today, and provided the foundations of Western Civilization. I wondered if we, with all our modern ways and seeming cultural security, will ever suffer the same fate: Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes, as the saying goes. But no matter, I’ll celebrate what we’ve achieved over the last 1500 or more years. My thoughts then turned to other mountains of influence in my life: The University of Iowa where my father and grandfather both spent their entire working lives, along with the dads of almost all my friends. I attended a University “lab school” where professors’ kids were taught by the brightest and best graduate students and senior faculty. The entire weight and majesty of Western Civilization gradually unfolded before my initially reluctant eyes, but that reluctance turned pretty quickly to a love affair with history, music, and art. Try visiting Mozart’s birthplace in Salzburg with his glorious arias piped into every room – it’s enough to melt the hardest heart. Or view Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in Rome and try to hold back the tears.

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini Courtesy I. Sailko, Wikipedia

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Courtesy I. Sailko, Wikipedia

I attended college classes in four ancient granite buildings that surrounded the “Old Capitol” building, set in the center of what we called The Pentacrest, five buildings that were the heart of the College of Liberal Arts at the University. The photo below was taken by my father on a cold winter day which I prize above all my memories of the sunny spring days I spent there because so much of my education was gained by not only braving the elements (I walked or took the bus to classes in all weather), but by braving the wilderness within – my life was forever changed. From that foundation, all the subsequent learning in my life found a harmonious home. What a heritage and how grateful I am to those who made it possible. Other personal mountains that surrounded me were the standards of hard work and honesty I found all around me – my own family and others who dedicated themselves to something good and greater than their own self-interest. And I’m grateful for the example of neighborliness of my parents, especially my mother who took special care of Frank and Cenie next door and Mrs. B on the other side. I didn’t have the same inclinations, focusing more on my life and friends, but that example now informs my current efforts to provide some service to my friends and neighbors.

What are your silent mountains? Maybe take some time now to contemplate them and pay a little homage.

Old Capitol, Iowa City Family Photo, All Rights Reserved

Old Capitol, Iowa City
Family Photo, All Rights Reserved