Friday, March 13, 2015

The View From the Shutters

Life is good.
A gift and blessing from God. A gift so great that our minds can't even comprehend it now.
Yet, there are times when life can be almost too much to bear.

Just recently, people close to my family have suffered some of the cruelest blows life ever deals.
The kind that it pains others even to hear.
My heart breaks for them.
I'd give anything to be able to ease their burdens, but it's hard to know what to say or do that will offer comfort when good people suffer so much.

For some reason my mind goes back many years to a sunny summer afternoon.

I was sitting in a comfortable chair by a large window rocking a baby.
The window was covered by two rows of wooden shutters.
Each shutter had a little slat that moved up and down to allow the sun and light coming into the room to be adjusted.
All the shutters were closed now, the room was dark and cool, and the baby I was rocking was falling asleep.

I reached over and moved the slat closest to me and the blind opened so that I could see outside.
There was the flower bed just off the front porch. I remember bees flitting around the basil that was growing like crazy there. I watched the bees for a while and then gazed past the bed and across the street to my good neighbor's yard. She was sweeping the walk.

My view was blocked any further.
But, strangely, it was as if the entire world was framed in those shutters. Everything that existed seemed to be contained in that confined space.
Because nothing else was visible.
I enjoyed what I could see and then reached over to move the little slat on the next shutter.
Suddenly a whole new world opened up to me!

There was my other neighbor's house with her lovely trees. Her little boy was just starting to climb in one. A car was pulling into the driveway.
It was amazing how different the world seemed now.
I reached over and pulled the slat on the other side.
Now I could see to the end of the block. There were many houses, people doing different things, more trees of all kinds, and a small white cat in the arms of a little girl. I could even see a plane flying off in the horizon.

It was a different universe than the one I first saw as I moved the shutter to look out on my own front porch and flower bed.

I remember still the feeling that came over me then.

What if I made my decisions in this life based only on what I could see from the first shutter? After all, what I saw then looked like all there was, from where I sat in my rocking chair.

But, that wasn't the truth.
There was infinitely more to it. There were more shutters covering that big window.
And then, the realization came, there was everything else. Everything behind, above, below and beyond my little street.
Everything on earth and everything beyond.

Here I was, sitting in my chair on this one little planet in the gigantic universe.
Looking out a shuttered window.

I would be wrong if I lived as if all that mattered was what I could see from my chair.
Because I just couldn't see everything from where I sat.

That thought has stayed with me all these years.

We can't see everything from where we are now.
Much that is vitally important is not before our eyes in this life.

But Father sees the whole picture.
And he says he loves us.  All of us.  Even the ones who must bear incredible burdens.
Maybe even especially them.
He says someday we'll see for sure that he was right about everything.
An apostle once said that someday we'll all agree that Father was perfectly loving, generous and merciful with every one of us.
Someday we'll know just how very much He loves us.

Father says trust him for now.
He knows how much it hurts and he's sending comfort.
He promises the pain won't last forever. He promises joy will replace it soon.

Just trust Him for now.
No matter how heavy your burden is now, trust Father's love.

Someday we'll see that we've been given tender mercies we never even knew were there.
Someday all the little shutters will open.

I learned something else important somewhere along the years of life.
But that learning came slowly. Sometimes one tear at a time.
It's about death.

What I learned is that we need to trust Father in matters of life and death.

Because no matter what we do we are not in charge of who is called home.

Young people may die before we think they should.
They did not die before Father thought they should.
He called them home.

I don't know why they were called home.
But Father knows.
Maybe they're exceptionally valiant spirits who came to earth only to get bodies and to become part of eternal families.
Perhaps they were able to learn all they needed to learn and complete all that was required at their hands quickly.
Perhaps they were desperately needed for eternally important missions elsewhere.

I believe life and death were both incredible blessings for them.

I believe too, that their families must be very special to have had such valiant spirits become their own forever.
They should feel blessed beyond measure.

And Father understands broken hearts. He understands sadness.
His scriptures say that we should live together in love insomuch that we should weep for them that die.
He knows.
Because tears are part of the bargain we make with life.
Russell Nelson, an apostle of the Lord, said the only way to take the tears out of death would be to take the love out of life.
And no one would want to live like that.

Father knows our loved ones will be missed until the minute they fill our arms again.
But He promised that they WILL fill our arms again!
"Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted," He said.
He knows that the only way for that to happen is for us to be together again.

Russell Nelson also said,  "That the only length of life that seems to satisfy the longings of the human heart is life everlasting."
Life everlasting.  Love everlasting.
And that's what Father promised. That's why he sent his Son.

So we're not to weep forever. And not feel despair over those we love going home.
Going home is a blessing.

Those beloved children, those valiant ones who left so soon, would not want their families to be sad for long.
It hurts them to see their loved ones suffer.
Soon they hope to see tears replaced with smiles when those tender, beautiful, memories come.

They would want their families to trust Father.
Trust in his love. Trust that he can see everything.
Trust that they are now more powerful and blessed than we can scarcely imagine.
Trust that they are happy and working and learning and helping according to Father's vision, not ours.

Trust that He knows what's best better than we do.

Trust that He loves us. Even though we must bear heavy burdens, trust in His love.

Trust that He can see farther than we can from our chairs beside the shutters.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

By Small Means Great Things Are Brought to Pass

* This is a rewrite of a post from a couple of years ago.
You see, computers don't work well for me but alas I must use them.  If I had a good, old No. 2 pencil and a yellow legal pad there wouldn't be so many errors.

By small means great things are brought to pass.

That's what the scriptures say isn't it?
Well, not long ago we were asked to do a small thing by a couple of the Lord's apostles.
Since I figured that they might know a little something about how the Lord works, I paid attention.
I mean I want "great things to come to pass" just as much as the next sister. And even I might be able to do something right if it's small enough.

Well, you know what it was? According to them, apostles of the Lord no less, it's important to eat meals regularly with our families. Especially dinner.
That does seem like a small thing doesn't it?
And considering the realities of modern life....highly impractical.
When I first heard this I wondered in my "raggedy convert" way how that could possibly be of eternal importance anyway.
I mean we're talking burgers and meatloaf here.
I was still wondering the next day when I asked my 3rd period high school class what their favorite family dinner was.
 (Hey, it was only five minutes till the bell rang and 4th period was lunch!)
There were about 12 kids, mostly seniors, all hanging in there to graduate despite their various disabilities.
One piped up right away with a mouth-watering description of his Nana's tamales and his mom's enchiladas that made us all hungry. He said they have these for every birthday, anniversary, graduation etc. when all the family gets together. (Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins etc.)
 I said, "How often does that happen and can I get invited to the next one?
He replied, "Sure Mz Dub, two or three times a month at least. I'll ask my mom." He also gave us a glowing description of his mom's spagetti, which he says they have at his house every Tuesday when it's just his family.
I heard teenaged stomachs growling and somebody threw a pencil at him.
"What about the rest of you?" I asked the class, "What's your favorite family dinner on a weeknight?"
I was very surprised that every single one of my other students said they never ate with their families during the week.
Not just seldom mind you. Never.
There were lots of reasons for this....parents worked, everybody got home at different times.... it just wasn't convenient. Most didn't eat with their family on weekends either, except on rare special occasions.
"So, what do you do for dinner?" I asked.
 Cereal, sandwich or microwave was the answer for most of them.
A heated discussion on the virtues of "hot pockets vs ramen noodles" ensued. One girl gave her recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches. (Toast two pieces of bread. Unwrap a slice of cheese. Put it between the toasts and nuke it for 30 seconds.) Those with cars said they relied heavily on the dollar menu at the fast food places. That started an argument about Jack vs Mac.
The bell rang before it was decided.
The class left and it was finally lunch.
So I unwrapped my peanut butter sandwich and thought that it was a little sad about their dinner situations.
What could you do, though? That's modern life.
I began to think about those modern lives as I chewed.

Several of my kids had family members in prison..... fathers, mothers, brothers, or cousins.
( Not the "Every Tuesday was spagetti" kid though).

In fact, a few had really close, working relationships with the juvenile justice system themselves. Complete with probation officers that I met with on a regular basis.
(Not the "spagetti" kid though)

I recalled that one boy had recently spent his entire Thanksgiving break in the Durango county jail.
He was highly incensed, not because he'd missed his family Thanksgiving, but because he'd planned to spend all four days getting wasted at parties.
None of them lived with both parents.

(Except for the Mom's spagetti and Nana's tamales kid)

One lived with his father and five brothers, each of them with different mothers. One sweet girl was pregnant but would graduate at the end of the semester before the baby was due. She lived in the projects with her mom, who worked two jobs to support them.
I began to think harder about the young man who ate spagetti every Tuesday with his family.
His life was very different from the others.
I knew this student's parents well and had even met his grandparents at one of the school games. They all were involved in this boy's life.

I knew, too, that the culture in their family had included regular dinners together for more than one generation. It was just the way they did things.
Could "small means" have made a big difference over the years?  Is there something going on at dinner that I missed?
Are we talking about more than meatloaf here?
This was still on my mind the next Sunday during Relief Society meeting.
So I asked the sisters if they'd heard this "dinner together" counsel we'd been given.
I also pointed out that I worked outside the home and that there was no possible way I had time to cook a fancy meal every night after the day I usually had! I believe I may have said, "Get real!"
The response was immediate and amazing. Some of it outraged, even. And boy, did I learn a lot!
First I learned that NOBODY has time to cook a fancy meal every day whether they work outside the home or not.
Then I learned that, "It's not about the food, stupid."

Apparently none of the apostles ever said a word about fancy meals.
They just said to eat together as a family.

One sister pointed out that nothing was mentioned against paper plates or "Taco Tuesday" from the local chain either. She says she serves said tacos with bagged carrots, sliced cucumbers and ranch dressing (which she counts as salad), and that her family looks forward to it every week.

Another sister says that any self-respecting LDS woman with half a brain could put a family meal on the table in 15 minutes anyway.
A deluge of dinner ideas followed.
I'll share, but the women who told me about them don't want their identities revealed. What people eat in the privacy of their own homes is highly personal.

None of these meals would be featured, or even admitted to, on the cooking shows. We're talking day to day, get the gang rounded up around the table, even when you just walked in the door 15 minutes ago, food. There's no arugula anywhere.
Remember there's 365 days in a year and that can be a long winding road full of potholes. Here's a couple of the things they told me.
Keep it quiet.

Ridiculously Easy Family Dinners:

Sloppy Joes  /Cottage cheese and pineapple/  Plus the no peel, raw veggie, ranch   dressing for dip, salad thing.

I learned Joes are quicker and less trouble than burgers. Brown any ground             meat, drain and mix with bottled BBQ sauce.  Onion buns are better here.           Worth the extra money. 10 minutes.

Can Can Chile and Cornbread (Boxed Crackers if the wolves are nipping at your   heels.)

Brown 1-2 lbs of any gound meat.    (Or get 1-2 lbs ground meat out of the             freezer because you forgot to do it this morning when you were rushing out             the door.  Put frozen meat in a pan with a little splash of water, put the lid on and start cooking. Every now and then turn the clunk over and break it up until all is browned. Do this any time you forgot and need browned meat. If you flatten it before freezing it'll thaw faster.
Now add 1 or 2 cans EACH of diced tomatoes,  beans (like pinto or kidney), and Hormel or other canned chile.  Mix it up.  Season with chile and garlic powders. Heat, covered, while you mix a couple of boxes of Jiffy cornbread. 2 boxes fits in a 9x13 pan. My daughter adds 1/2 can of creamed corn to each box of mix, by the way. 20 minutes for the whole dinner.  Missionaries like this.
$5 Pizza from the pizza store /  Bagged fancy salad (Alright there might be             some arugula.)  /Peach sundaes (Vanilla ice cream, topped with canned sliced       peaches and a sprinkle of brown sugar.)
Families with lots of kids really like this dinner apparently.
"Crock pot"
Put something in it before you leave home. Serve with instant salad and                   biscuits you bake from a can. 3 minutes when you get home plus baking.

**** Alert!  Big Crockpot Bonus
The crockpot will make the house smell good. One sister reports her son said that when he comes home from school or practice and smells dinner cooking, "It feels like a hug."                                                                 I've noticed that myself, come to think of it.
 ***Technology Update!!!
Several sisters said that their ovens have a "delay start" feature that makes it possible to place even frozen stuff in there and it will magically start cooking later so it will be ready at dinnertime. Comes with that "dinner smell hug" bonus too. (I looked. I think mine has it. Who knew?)

The list went on and on.

The point being that since this "small means" might end up making a big difference it's worth a little thought and planning.

Another thing. More than one woman said that presentation means a lot when serving simple dinners like these.

One smart sister bought a set of those plastic baskets at the $1 store. The ones they use at fast food places. She uses them on burger, Joe, or hot dog nights. She buys bakery buns with sesame seeds, not the cheap ones, because it doesn't take any more time and makes a big difference. She uses a red and white checked tablecloth reserved for those occasions and everybody gets a root beer on those nights.
Her six year old calls her the " best cook in the world."

Every woman there said that a well stocked pantry and freezer make ten minute meals way easier.
One smart lady says she cooks large amounts of pasta, brown rice, and dry beans on Saturdays, puts them in zip locks and keeps them in the fridge or freezer for almost instant stir frys or spagetti.
She buys big bags of frozen stir fry veggies at the big box store to avoid peeling, and lots of on sale boneless chicken to slice before freezing. She starts cooking the chicken after just a few minutes on nuke defrost.
She says you'll need those cans of fruit and cottage cheese too.

In any case, the general consensus was........ don't get caught with your pantry down.

But then I mentioned the seemingly insurmountable problem of people getting home at different times. What about that, huh? There's no dinner bell that we can clang and have everyboy run in from chores anymore.
Almost all of my students had mentioned this as a reason why they didn't have meals as a family.
Business and crazy schedules can wreck suppertime.

Someone piped up with something like, "The Lord gives no commandment save there is a way to accomplish it." Another said, "Just do it!"

Then one sister said she too was frustrated by conflicting family schedules until she took the revolutionary advice of the BYU cooking show lady. Here it is.
                         NO MATTER WHO'S AT HOME.

Forget coordinating schedules,  because chances are you can't.
Sometimes everybody will be there, sometimes not.

But whoever is there "connects."

And, no matter where they may be, the whole family knows its dinnertime and that people who love them are gathered.
That's just the way things are done at their house.
One lady said that her family always prayed for any missing persons when asking the blessing on the food.
Her teenaged son once told her that whenever he looked at the gym clock at 6 PM during practice, he knew that his family was having dinner together and that they'd just prayed for him.

That might be an important thing for a 16 year old to know don't you think?

Someone pointed out that dinner is no time for discipline either. The only question anybody should be asked is, "What's going on in your life?"

Small means. Sure.
But just burgers and meatloaf going on here? I don't think so.
Maybe it's the connections that make such a big difference.
Maybe it's the encouragement and comfort we give each other as we pass the potatoes.
Maybe it's about laughter, love, belonging and family, and about being able to count on it regularly.

I'm not sure what it is, but the brethren have me convinced that great things could come to pass when we have dinner with the people we love.
How about you?


Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Very Special Prom

Spring is just around the bend.
If you happen to be a high school teacher, the coming of the spring season means prom.
And "Prom" is a loaded word packed with a whole lot of emotional baggage. And that baggage isn't always a trendy, flight ready carry-on either. Sometimes it's a ratty old backpack filled with rocks.

It might mean the time of a very young life for some.
There might be glamorous dresses, a first tux, dinner at a fancy restaurant, or a fine ride in a rented car.
From experience I can tell you that kids invest a whole lot in planning for that one special night. Tons of teenage time, energy and angst goes into it. Not to mention often ridiculous amounts of money.
It takes a whole lot of burger flippin' to pay for glamour.

But it also might mean the pain and heartache of not being asked.
And sometimes the pain and heartache that comes from making some really wrong choices on prom night.

Yes, prom can bring joy or misery.
And no matter who you are, homecoming queen or computer geek, prom is often heavy with piles of that pesky baggage.
While it may seem to adults to be just a frivolous rite of passage for young people, I've seldom met a grown-up who doesn't remember their senior prom.
And I've yet to meet a teenager who didn't consider it a big deal in their lives. No matter what they tell you.
The memories linger for sure. And sometimes haunt.

Well, our two youngest daughters are the Junior and Senior class sponsors at their high school here in the big city. So that means they're responsible for the school prom.
This time of year they're up to their necks in venue and caterer finding,  decor planning,  musician choosing,  photographer booking,  budget squeezing, centerpiece making  and twinklelight stringing.
After prom they collapse in a heap of tired high school teacher and wonder why they chose this thankless profession.

But they also sponsor a second prom.
Many teachers, students, and parents don't know about it.
It's a little smaller in scale and this year's was held just yesterday. I talked to our daughters for just a bit after it was over.
They were exhausted, as usual, from all the prom'y' preparations and goings-on.

But this time was different.
They went home to collapse in a heap of tired high school teacher knowing exactly why they chose this thankless profession.

You see, this event is held especially for the kids in Special Ed programs.
And while the students in special ed classes are certainly invited to their regular school dances, most seldom care to go.
Because sometimes it's hard for a teenager to feel comfortable at a dance if they happen to be in a wheelchair or have cerebral palsy.

So the Student Council, also sponsored by these same teachers, has an annual Valentine's Day Prom especially for these young people.

The students are bussed in from all the high schools in the district. Wheelchair ramps get a real workout that day.

Before their arrival, young ladies with braces on their legs have had mascara and lipstick artfully applied by homcoming royalty at their home school. Hair has been glamorously coiffed by cheerleaders.
Football players and basketball jocks have taught the boys the fine art of tying a tie and the proper amount of cologne to apply.
Beautiful dresses were made available for anyone who needed a gown. Suit coats were on hand for the gentlemen.

The event is held in a lovely decorated room with a luncheon provided. This year there was a chocolate fountain and the gym had been transformed into a "Candy Wonderland." Last year they were magically taken back to the "Fifties."

Dance lessons can be seen being given by the Stu-co kids even as the music plays and the dancing begins. All of the students, regular and special ed, join in together.

Memorable things happen just as they do at any other prom.

I remember once Kelley told me about one of her cheerleaders who came back to the buffet table from the dance floor wiping her ear.
The girl explained that a boy had asked her to dance and while they were doing so proceeded to lick her ear. He immediately let her go, laughed excitedly, jumped up and down, and ran over to his teacher to tell her what he'd done.
Kelley explained that the young man had Down's syndrome and had probably been told by someone that licking ears is what boys are supposed to do with pretty girls. Maybe it was one of the student council jocks teaching more than tie tying.
All the rest of the dance that sweet boy would smile broadly and wave to the girl, who waved back nicely. But he never asked her to dance again. Mission accomplished I guess.

Another lovely student council girl shared with Beth that one of the boys had just asked her to be his girlfriend. She hadn't been a girlfriend yet because her family thought she was too young. But instead of trying to explain it to him she just said, "Yes, I'll be your girlfriend at every Valentine's dance."
It made him very happy.

So, at the end of this dance, some of the best spirits, saved for the last days, handicapped or hale and hearty, have a prom memory that will last a lifetime.

Some of the special ed kids may have been asked to dance for the first time in their lives.

Some of the regular ed kids may feel a little more grateful for blessings they've taken for granted. Things like being able to walk, see or hear. Or do algebra even.

And all of them may have made a friend or two who may be a little bit different from their other friends on the outside. But inside are very much just like anybody else.

And two tired high school teachers go home to collapse in an exhausted heap once again. But this time knowing that they just did one of the best things they do all year.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Addendum to Skippin' Rocks

My oldest daughter just called to express her displeasure at her latest portrayal in my writings. She gets portrayed a lot.
She says that I insinuated to the whole world that she's as dumb as a rock.
I assure you that she isn't. She's a college graduate even.
She says I left out the "why" of her rock collecting which is critically important.

So here's the why that I didn't remember because I was only thinking about how heavy those darn rocks were.

Seems she and I were sitting together talking on that rock beach. She was at the time going through one of the most difficult periods of her life. We chanced to admire the many beautiful, smooth, round stones on the beach. She says that I told her that they were so beautiful because they'd been polished by the tumbling over and over again in the surf and sand. It had worn the rough and sharp pieces off and left them perfect and lovely. I reminded her that life was doing that for her.

Anyway, she says she wanted to remember what I'd told her and that's why she gathered those rocks. She says that's why she lugged them all over the country. She says she remembers still when she looks at them in the basket on the floor of her family room. Those rocks are very important to her and she's not dumb.

I apologize dear daughter. You are right. You are not dumb.
I love you.
And I can't tell you how gratifying it is that that at least one child of mine remembered something I once said.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Skippin' Rocks

I'm old now. Lately I've been thinking back on some of the best things in life.
It's hard to believe but rocks are one of them.

Skipping rocks for example.
First you need a lake. There can't be people fishing because they'll object to your rock throwing for sure.  It's best if its getting on towards dusk.  Then look carefully to find just the right rocks. My favorites are oval and flattish.  Finally, with a kind of a sideways throw, send one gloriously sailing just barely on top of the water. Be sure to count as it flies out there and skips...... three, four, five, six.
My brother Mark is the best rock skipper I know. Once at Willow Springs I saw him make one go to eight or more. We couldn't see the last part in the twilight.

Rock hopping over a mountain creek is good too.
The water has to be crystal clear and icy cold.  And it should be shallow but running briskly.
Rounded stones, half submerged, mark a path across and down the creek bed. Every now and then there's a convenient boulder where you can sit and watch the little, long legged water bugs that stand right on top of the water in the still shallows. Their feet make tiny dimples on the surface. Dragonflies flit by now and then and sunlight falls in patches through the trees that line the banks. Sometimes yellow columbines, my favorite flower, grow close to the water in the shade. They grow wild among the grapevines, poison ivy and sumac.
But don't bring a little shovel to dig up those lovely columbines to take home to plant.  You'll be sorry in the morning.
And of course, there's that amazing mountain creek smell, all cool and woodsy.

And rock hunting on the beach makes for one of the best treasure hunts ever.
That's because beaches have these really cool sea stones. They're perfectly round or oval, and almost flat. Its the rolling around in the sand and surf that does it I guess. I've found these in all colors and sizes but prefer the ones about the size of a quarter, small enough to hold in my hand or sit in a little pile in a tiny bowl on my desk. I'd rather have these than diamonds for some strange reason.

It can get out of hand though. That rock collecting thing.
My daughter Kim once took a fancy to some perfectly roundish boulders the size of loaves of bread that she discovered on a beach in San Diego. She picked out a bunch in assorted colors and made her dad and me help her haul them up the steep hill to the car, one at a time because they were so heavy. It took several exhausting trips. This was years ago. Since then she's moved to Washington, Oregon and back to the desert again, each time lugging those darned rocks. Currently they sit decoratively in a heap in a large basket on the floor of her family room.
Boy, if rocks could talk.  What's that old saying about rocks being dumb?

All this beach rock talk reminds me that beaches are great for other things too. Like kite flying.  Which still eventually leads to rocks.

You see, there's always a reliable breeze at the beach. And I found a place that sells the most wonderful kites. They make huge nylon ones which last forever. And the colors and shapes are amazing. Tropical pink, purple, turquoise blue, and emerald green are my favorites. You can send parrots, frogs, pirate ships, or bunches of daffodils sailing up on the ocean winds.
I used to suspend them from my classroom ceiling when school began because they were so beautiful and reminded me of summer all year long.

Beach kite flying is ridiculously easy. Just let your line out a ways while a kid holds the kite facing the ocean breeze. Depending on the wind direction you might have to stand in the surf. Pull back and the kite goes straight up! No running needed!  Get it way, way, way, up there. Then go sit on the sand to admire the bright colors you put into that endless blue sky.
And look for rocks while you're sitting there. Or dig holes in the wet sand.
Wet sand is just millions and millions of tiny rocks you know.

Build a castle maybe. Or sculpt a dolphin.
Our daughters once made a lifesized sand dolphin on a beach in Santa Barbarba. We came back the next day to see that the tide had almost finished taking it back out to sea.
That's one of the best ways to spend an hour or two in August.
Playing in the sand.

Sitting around a campfire at night is another best thing.
Rocks again.
Because first you need to gather up a bunch of pretty fair sized boulders to make a ring for the fire. It's work, but then what are kids for anyway?
Then, when whatever busyness or frolic that went on during the day is over, and camp dishes are done, it'll be time to just sit around the fire. Prop your feet on the rocks where they'll be warm. Talk and maybe even sing. Sparks drift up into the night, logs snap and crackle, flames softly dance, smoke annoys, and embers glow.
What is it about gazing into a campfire that mesmerizes?  Life seems to slow down. Faces soften in the flickering light and even the conversation seems more relaxed.
One thing puzzles me though. Why do kids always incinerate the marshmallows for s'mores? Am I the only one who can toast one properly so that it's all melted inside and nicely browned on the outside?
It's a very important lifeskill, that.

And don't forget about moonlight.
The moon's really just a big rock sailing around the earth you know.
But there's something almost magical about it, isn't there?
My old husband still looks incredibly handsome in the moonlight even after all these years. It gets in what's left of his hair and makes his eyes sparkle.
It falls on his shoulders and then I remember things.
Things that can sometimes happen in the moonlight.

Yep, some of the best things in life are really simple.
Like rocks.
I'm grateful for them. They've added to my happiness. Rocks have.
Look around today and remember some of your best simple things.
Then thank Father.
It was Father who made them. To gladden our hearts and delight our eyes. It says so in the scriptures.
Thank you, Father. I know it was you who did that. Because you loved us.
Thank you so much for the good things.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Self-Esteem and the Broken Plug

*Another Old One That I'm Trying to Fix

Self Esteem and the Broken Plug

The new school year is starting soon. My daughters are busy getting their classrooms ready and my thoughts have turned to the many years when I was in their shoes. I miss it.  Well, most of it anyway.  Faculty meetings are one thing I don’t miss. They can become truly scary for a lot of reasons. People have actually died in faculty meetings and not been found until the janitor comes in to clean up!
But the kids, the wonderful staff, the anticipation, the new possibilities…….those things I miss.

Our daughter Kim is busy getting her 7 kids ready for the new year. In there among the backpacks and new shoes she already has a conference scheduled for her pre-schooler. 

Good old parent teacher conferences. 
I must have been part of hundreds of these.
One thing I’ve been thinking about as I look back on teaching is the concern so many parents expressed during conferences over their child’s “self esteem.” They agonized and worried that their offspring would be scarred for life by the horrific effects of low self esteem. And even though a popular movie I once saw contained the line, "Low self esteem in some cases is just good common sense," I disagree. It doesn't make sense at all.  Low self esteem is a product of not understanding the truth about who we are.  And there are things a parent can do to help. 
Let me tell you about an incident in my childhood that taught me a great lesson about feelings of self worth.

I was in fourth grade or thereabouts. I had a lamp in my bedroom that wouldn’t work because of a damaged plug. I really needed that lamp so I asked my dad if he would fix it. He said he would and that weekend bought a little plug repair kit at the local hardware store. (There were no big box stores back then.) Well, he got busy with work and such and didn’t get to fixing my lamp. So one day I went to the garage and brought the repair kit to my room. I read the directions carefully, gathered the tools it said were needed, and replaced that plug myself. When I was done the lamp worked perfectly! “Look at that! Fixed by a 4th  grade girl!’ I thought proudly.

I’m an old lady now and yet when I think of that plug repair I still feel a little more confident as a human being. I can do something useful! I may not be much as anything else but I can fix a plug if you need one! There are other little competencies I have but I’ll spare you the details. (Okay……. I can make a heart cake without special pans and I can fix your jacket zipper with a razor blade.)

The point is this. Success…….. true success…… in any area builds confidence. Success doesn’t mean lavish praise for a mediocre job, or fake celebrations for a consolation prize. Kids know. They’re not stupid. Any of them. They know when they’ve done something valuable. And when they do something of worth it builds confidence in every area of their lives.

So, here are a couple of ideas for concerned parents who have a kid who needs a confidence boost.

Quietly and without sharing with anyone in the family, invest in 3 boxes of brownie mix. (About $1 each on sale) Brownies are about the easiest baked treat on the planet. Get that 8 year old boy with no confidence and head to the kitchen. You sit in a chair ON your hands. Direct the boy in great detail in making the first box of brownies. Start with, “Get a bowl, wooden spoon, the pan we make brownies in.” Then, step by step explain how to do this while you WATCH only. Do not, under any circumstances, step in! Instead say, “Get a paper towel, wet it a little, wipe up the egg on the floor.” Continue until the brownies are done, cooled, cut, and on a plate neatly. If these are not really good looking, great tasting brownies repeat teaching procedure with boxes 2 and 3. DISCARD any inferior brownies without a comment. (It’s only a $1!) Do not give them to the family to try to be frugal! Repeat this procedure a week or so later if needed. When you are confident that this kid can be successful, casually say in front of the whole family that you are too busy to make treats for Family Home Evening but brownies will be provided. Send the kid into the kitchen by himself while you do the “busy thing.” At the appropriate time serve the treats to the wonderment of all present. After that, keep a good supply of boxed mixes on hand and sometimes “forget” baked goods that other family members need for the class party, or cub scouts, etc. Tell them to ask their brother nicely and maybe he’ll rescue them with his skills. This may take some time but you’ll see a change in his confidence level soon. This will spill over to school I promise.

Then, too, according to Kim, one of our young granddaughters who needed a boost was helped when it turned out that she could really clean a bathroom well. She was able to do this because Kim’s knee hurt and she had company coming, so she sat on the edge of the bathtub and patiently explained exactly how to do every task to this child. It was desperation not inspiration that was at work here. It took a long time but that bathroom looked good enough for company and was cleaned entirely by this small child who never seemed to be able to do much right. Well, the rest of the family was impressed! Now, when older brothers or sisters have the bathroom assigned to them, the littlest one must sign off on the quality of their work. She's even been asked to teach them how to do the job right. What a boost!

The point is that there are countless ways to help a kid who needs to believe in himself. Any success, no matter how small, as long as it’s real, will contribute to the cause. You may have to think a bit and patiently teach until true excellence is achieved but your kid is worth it, I promise. The Boy Scout manuals are full of ideas by the way. 

So teach someone you love to change a bike tire, or make a meatloaf, or paint a room. Better yet, teach her to do all three. You may soon be the parent of someone who feels that he can do things, he can contribute, he’s needed. She’s not a loser after all, because if all else fails,  at least she can fix a broken lamp plug!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Larry the Babe Magnet

Dear Readers,
Larry is doing much better! He's out of intensive care and on the mend. Thank you so much for your prayers.
I know that all of you will see many tender mercies in your life too. Among them, dear friends and family like you.

The Babe Magnet


Men and women interact with children in very different ways.  Larry's "childish ways" are a case in point.

Daddy Daycare
I remember when our middle daughter was a baby. I was teaching when she was born in February and had to finish the last few weeks of school after my month's maternity leave. Larry changed to the swing shift so he could be at home with her when I was at school.
He used the time wisely, including working on our cars to keep them on the road. One day I came home to find him on his back under the car talking softly to himself while he worked. After saying "Hey Hon, I'm home," I went in to the crib to check on what I was sure was a sleeping baby. It was empty!  Rushing back outside I frantically asked about the whereabouts of our child!
"Don't worry.  She's right here with me." He said.  I scrunched down to find her on a blanket, looking up wide eyed, at the underside of a car next to her father. He wasn't talking to himself when I first walked up. He was  explaining auto repair to a baby while he worked.
When I think back on it I'm reminded how mechanically handy she still is after all these years.

Another time, same baby, and I should have known.
I came in from work. Elizabeth was sleeping peacefully in her crib. When she woke up I fed her and then got a terrible shock when I went to change her diaper. Black and blue marks went up and down both sides of her little body from armpit to waist!!  I screamed!
Larry came rushing in. "What the heck's the matter!? he said.
"The baby's all black and blue!" I told him frantically.  "Hurry! We've got to get her to the doctor!"
He looked, sighed, and then said as he went back out through the door, "Geez, don't get all excited Hon. That's just axle grease."

The Baby Whisperer
Have you ever met an infant or toddler having a meltdown? Something has gone terribly wrong in their little lives. Too much of something for sure. Routine upset by travel maybe, or too many strange relatives holding them. Too much commotion or too few naps.  Whatever.  In any case they are off on a crying, screaming jag of epic proportions and no amount of Mommy comforting will help. Often this is done in the most public or embarrassing places, like your mother-in-law's.
At our house Larry was always the cure.
He has a really deep "man voice." I'd hand him the screamer. He'd hold said child in his big man arms and start talking really softly right in their ear. Right through the noise he'd keep whispering using those really low tones. After a bit, the kicking and screaming would start to quiet.  Then after a few more minutes of baritone whispering he'd hand back a sleeping but exhausted child. I've even seen him do this with babies that weren't ours. Their mothers were always grateful and amazed.
It never failed. What a lifesaver.

When he was younger and more spry, Larry's preferred place of relaxation after work was lying on the rug in front of the TV.  I guess this was a childhood habit. He would lie on his side with a soda in front of him close enough to reach the controls. No remotes back then you know.
At first there he'd be, all alone. In a few minutes a dog would come to lie down for petting. Then a small child to climb up on his hip to sit on top. Then another dog and another child. More children until any that were in the house showed up. All jockeying for a prime spot. He'd just lie there watching television, becoming a human monkey bars. It never failed.

I once saw this same method used to teach a lesson in Primary to a class of 8 year olds. Our Primary at the time was so huge his class was relegated to the church kitchen. It was my job to check on all the classes so I walked by and looked through the little glass window in the door.  Larry was sitting at the table, manual in front of him. The snack he always insisted on bringing was at the ready on the counter nearby. "Grasshoppers and blood" he called them.  Green, cream filled mint sandwich cookies and a jug of red fruit punch it was. After Sacrament you could count on kids in the hall asking excitedly if there would be grasshoppers and blood in class today.  Anyway, I looked in and he was reading the lesson out loud straight from the book. We'd just had a teacher meeting that talked about no snacks and not reading from the manual. Children were climbing all over him. One kid who was draped on his head reached over it to point at the lesson. "No way, Brother Wagher. See, it says so right here."  Everybody looked to see if that was right and Brother Wagher had it wrong again.
It was strange how all of them seemed to be focusing on the lesson though. Every kid was hanging on a shoulder or climbing up his back and looking at the lesson in the manual at the same time. I decided they must be getting the idea somehow and walked away shaking my head.

Sacrament meeting was always the same in that ward. We would sit down as the chapel was filling up.  A boy in Larry's class would come and stand facing him, toes to toes and almost nose to nose since Larry was sitting. He'd just stand there, inches away, staring right into Larry's face until the prelude music started. No talking or facial expression whatsoever. Then he'd go sit with his own family. It was a greeting of some sort that I never understood.
That boy grew up and served a mission though. So reading from the manual didn't mess him up too much I guess.

Another time and another kid in his class. We were in the church foyer. Larry had an eight year old slung over his hip like a sack of coal. He was feeling the wall with one hand and holding on to the kid with the other. "What are you doing?" I asked him. "Looking for a soft place in this wall to put Scotty's head through." he replied.
I guess Scotty had misbehaved in class.
Not to worry. Scotty turned out alright too.

Men sure interact with children differently than women do.
A whole lot of kids today are missing that in their lives.
That man thing.
I'm thinking it might be something important.


Friday, January 23, 2015

A Burp Can Be Forever

This is another old post I'm trying to remove the most glaring errors from. See...there's a sentence ending in a preposition again.

A Burp Can Be Forever

Even though it pains me, I have to admit that television can sometimes be a blessing. 
I usually think it’s a waste of time, at best.  But then there is Conference, with its eternal truths.  And yesterday I watched that wonderful old musical “Fiddler On the Roof.” 
You know the film……..about Tevye…….. the Jewish milkman in Russia, during the cruel days of czarist persecution. He explains how he and his people survive all their hardships through an inspiring song called “Tradition.” It reminded me of a Relief Society lesson I once taught on that same subject. The lesson urged us to develop traditions in our families so they could become ties that bind us to each other for eternity. 
I agree. I remember using a spool of thread to wind, over and over again, around the clasped hands of a sister. This was to show how something as small as a thread, if wound enough times, is as strong as any rope in holding things together.
Nowadays though, holding things together isn’t as easy as it used to be. Our lives are very different from that of a milkman living in a small village centuries ago. Not simple for sure. In fact complicated and stressed might be more accurate. Everybody in the family is on a demanding schedule, even the kids. 
What with work, school, church, sports, scouts, etc. who has time for tradition?
Well, the relief society lesson said we should make time if we want to be linked to each other forever. And with a little pondering, as the Good Book says, we can see opportunities all around us.

The key here is to think small and to remember the thread. 

It’s just not true that meaningful family traditions have to be elaborate or expensive rituals reserved for holidays or vacations. Sometimes the most everyday occasions become the most remembered.

One sister told me about a simple tradition that’s become the favorite of her whole family. 
It came about quite by accident.
It seems that one day while shopping she ran across some bright lime green plastic plates and tumblers. They were on clearance for 50 cents each. She bought a bunch of them thinking they’d be good for barbeques and picnics. Instead, it turned out that in a moment of divine inspiration, those neon green dishes were brought out one night when someone in the family did something worth a little celebration. She happened to have some root beer on hand and served it in the tumblers along with a toast to the honoree.
Well, after that, if anybody in the family won a race or earned an “A,” or got a first job or a long awaited promotion, or learned to tie their shoes, whatever……. those lime green plastic plates came out. When the family came home and saw the “green” table they knew somebody had a little victory of some kind to celebrate. This smart mom also made it a habit to keep a few bottles of root beer hidden away for just these occasions. After the family gathered and prayed, someone was chosen to lead the toast.  Well, one time, the eight year old son was to do the toasting.  He had sneaked a couple of swallows of root beer before the prayer.

So,  he made his little congratulatory speech,  stood and raised his green plastic tumbler. Just as he proudly declared, “To Sally….for finally getting an “A” in science"…..a long, loud, root beer burp came rolling out. "BRaaaaaaaaaaaack!" 

Everybody laughed of course.
But sadly for our dear sister a family tradition had been born.
Now, at every celebration, the one giving the toast says…… “To blank……..for doing a wonderful thing ........BRaaaaaaaaaaaaack!"!

The whole family always roars with laughter. The first child who went away to college said this was the thing she missed most about her family.  
Her younger brother said that whenever he hears someone burp, no matter where he is, he thinks about home and feels honored.

Traditions……ties that bind…….threads in the tapestry of family.
Sometimes the simplest things can mean the most.
Pancakes on Saturday mornings. 
Watching the college game with Dad and giving that special, goofy cheer at every touchdown. 
Notes of encouragement in a shirt pocket or backpack. 
The most recently valiant family member being given the spoon and bowl to lick after someone makes chocolate frosting.
Popcorn and a Disney flick on Friday nights. 
A special song for cheering up, reading books aloud in the car on long trips, a wife’s secret code of a handful of Starburst candies placed in a husband’s briefcase, a hundred other small, everyday traditions. 

The trick is to repeat them, like the thread, until they have the power to bind.

Traditions. A single, simple thread, wound over and over again. Strong stuff.

Who knew that a burp could be forever?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Messy Diapers

Dear Readers,
I'm revising some old posts to correct some of the many errors and typos. This is one of them.

Our oldest daughter lived for a time in the Pacific Northwest, far from her family in the desert. She had graduated from college and was starting to build a career with a large company near Seattle. Then she met her eternal companion at a singles ward volleyball game and they married, somewhat late in life by Mormon standards.  Both were anxious to have children. Our family was very grateful when they found each other. Because before they did Larry and I vividly remember frequent phone wailings from this child about ticking biological clocks and how age 29 was the end of all possibility for marriage and a posterity. Whenever the phone rang at our house in the evening Larry would say “Is it whining in Seattle?”

Well, she got her heart’s desire, and then some, concerning that posterity thing. Twins came close on the heels of a son and a daughter.
Life was quite a challenge for her in those early days of motherhood to say the least. While she was carrying the twins we did what we could to help at truly desperate times. We were 1,800 miles away but we flew in an eighteen year old sister for example, when "Whining" was too baby-big even to bend over to clean the bathrooms.
People actually pointed and stared at her when she went out in public according to her visiting sibling.
“Look at that lady’s stomach!” someone cried out before they could remember their manners.
Once, a kind woman came up to her to say knowingly, “Twins, Dear? Hang in there.”

Well, they were blessed with healthy girls. We all went to give aid and comfort right after they were born, but soon had to leave them on their own to care for themselves and four little ones under the age of five.

The dream that came true turned out to be a challenge to say the least.
One day she was feeling particularly overwhelmed. Life seemed an endless round of dirty diapers and preschooler tantrums. She began to question the choices she’d made. Whatever happened to the career she had been educated for? What happened to her body in such a short time? What about her hair? Where were her real clothes like high heels and designer suits? Who were all these little people and why didn’t they speak English? You get the picture.
It so happened that right in the midst of all this angst she began to think of the Relief Society lesson she had heard on the previous Sunday, at least what she could remember hearing of it while juggling babies on both knees. It was about the second coming of Christ. The questions asked were about personal readiness for that great future event. The teacher wanted the sisters to think about their lives and how they spent their time. “If the Savior came back today what would He find you doing?” she asked. “If He walked in on you today, unannounced, would you be okay with that?”

As she was thinking about this she gazed around the house at the mess of kids’ toys everywhere, at the graham cracker crumbs scattered from the front door to the back, and at two babies sitting in their rockers who suddenly began to smell suspicious. She went to them to check the situation and found that both of them had apparently had too much apple juice, resulting in a diaper mess of such gigantic proportions that it spilled out onto the rockers, up their backs and into their hair!

Both of these babies needed an entire bath right now, even though she’d just bathed them that morning. Diaper wipes would not be anywhere near adequate for this situation. So she carted the rockers into the bathroom, knelt down by the tub and began to bathe the babies. Her three year old followed hot on her heels to watch the show.

Tears of frustration began to well up in her eyes as she knelt there. The three year old began hopping back and forth over her legs and singing. She thought……“My house is a mess! My kids are a mess! I’m a mess! I was supposed to be doing great things with my life by now! If the Savior came back today He’d find me and my college degree in a messy house on my knees next to a bathtub washing two poopy babies with a three year old hopping back and forth over my legs singing “Mommy’s gross…Mommy’s gross!”

As she soaped the squirming twins the truth came to her, of course, and she began to cry in earnest. (I didn’t raise stupid kids you know.)
She realized that what she was doing with her life at that exact moment would be acceptable to the Savior. She even decided that He might possibly say something to her that was distinctly positive….like… “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” She felt much better about many things and said a silent thank you prayer for the Relief Society lesson.

As she finished with the last baby she turned her attention to the three year old. “Honey, why are you singing Mommy’s gross? That’s not very nice.” “Because you are gross, Mommy, he replied. “Look at your feet!” She looked. Both feet, clad in white tennis shoes were resting right in the middle of a dirty diaper.
Now she needed a bath.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Special Place in Heaven

One of my favorite high school teachers once told me about a treasured  "teaching moment."
It seems that Hector, a senior gangbanger in her 7th period class, had a problem. He was lying on the floor one day looking up at the ceiling waiting for the bell to ring. She went over to investigate.
"What's up, Hector?" she asked as she looked down at him.
"Well, Miss, I've been thinking about all the stuff you've been saying about life and s#*@.   And I don't think it'll work for me.  Because sometimes I just like to do bad things."
"I understand," she replied, nodding sympathetically.  "But Hector, don't forget about the rule."
She continued patiently, "And remember that I had nothing to do with making that rule either. It just IS.  It always has been."
"What rule?" Hector asked.
"You can't do bad things and feel good." she told him.
Hector paused for a minute and let out a long, sad, sigh.
Then he replied thoughtfully, "Damn."

That being said, I would like to express gratitude for two extraordinary women. One of them just mentioned.

They are both young teachers in their 30's, who have already given well over a decade each in service to young people. They've taught in barrio elementary schools, special education classes, and most recently as big city high school teachers. They labor tirelessly, year after year, for the welfare of hundreds, if not thousands of the rising generation. They use their amazing talents, endless love, not endless means, and every ounce of their energy to bless the lives of the young people who walk into their classrooms each day.

Beside their jobs in public school, both teach early morning seminary. They get out of bed in the wee hours before dawn to seek the truth.  They study, pray, and fast for light. They know this is a sacred call from the Lord.  They do everything in their power to help arm those most valiant spirits, the ones saved for the last days.

Their contribution to the sum total of good in this world simply cannot be measured.

I'd like to share just a bit of what I mean.

Once I ran across a little note on one of these teacher's desks and asked about it's cryptic message. In childish writing it said.
"Thank you very much for the chews." It was signed Fernando.
I asked about it and was told that the class was working on sounding out words for spelling and that's how it sounded to him.
"Okay," I said, "but what does it mean."
She reluctantly explained. "Well, you know that Track and Field Day is a big deal for the kids each spring.  The day before ours Nando was obviously sad.  I asked why. He said that when the coach was signing kids up for events he told them everybody had to wear real shoes to be in the meet. No flip flops or sandals. District insurance or something.  Nando was all excited to sign up for the 100 yard dash and the relay which he was sure he could win.  But he only had sandals. He didn't own any other shoes.  He was so disappointed.  So, that night I bought him some athletic shoes and socks. I had to guess on the size. I came to work a little early, parked on the side of the street I knew he would take to school, called him over when I spotted him, and gave him the shoes and socks. I did it on the down low so he wouldn't be embarassed. He wrote me a note. Isn't it sweet?"

I recall another time one of them was teaching a Special Ed high school class.  The kids were trying to meet the requirements for graduation.  One student needed credit for PE. The PE coach had made accomodations but a mile run was still required. This girl was often made fun of for her physical awkwardness. She'd given up the idea of being able to pass PE and graduate because she felt running a mile in the time allowed was impossible. She'd tried and there was no way it was going to happen.
Well, this teacher took the student in question and the rest of the class out to the track.
"You can do this," she told her.  "It's not impossible! You just need to work hard.  We'll all help."
At first the class sat grumbling on the bleachers and cheered halfheartedly at the teacher's insistance.
"She's a hopeless nerd," someone said.
But finally, after days of sweaty effort, the teacher, this girl, and all the other students were found back out on the track one last time. All of them were running beside and backwards in front of this young lady as she painfully plodded along.
Along the way they shouted, "You can do this! Don't you dare give up! Think about graduation! Just take one more step! One more step!  JUST ONE MORE!
And when that student finally crossed the finish line her classmates didn't need to be told to cheer. She might still be a nerd but now she was "their" nerd. And maybe even, just a little, a friend.
She did something she thought was impossible.
And everybody learned lessons that will last a lifetime.

The nightly news is full of reports of tragedies involving lost teenagers.
But I know a whole bunch of "found" teens who've accomplished some extraordinary things. Big things.
They've been taught.
For instance, some can singlehandedly organize and run a successful Red Cross blood drive. They can accomodate large organizations of  1000 people or more. I'm not kidding!  I know where to find several seventeen-year-olds who can do this. Just imagine the skill set needed to pull this off.
A lot of them can direct every detail of a large and complicated talent show, from music cues to ticket sales. They can put on homecoming rallies and events that get televised on the nightly news. Scores of them know how to organize and execute parades, proms, dances, assemblies, ceremonies of all kinds, banquets, luncheons and charitable fund raisers.
Need to raise money fast? I know of teenagers who can round up a $1000 or so for charity in a couple of weeks. Legally too. Need a nice luncheon for the emergency faculty meeting day after tomorrow? 98 people? No problem. Call the kids in Student Council. Need popcorn to sell? Hot dogs, bottled water, or nachos for hundreds?  Call the StuCo kids. The food will be there and the themed decorations will be color co-ordinated. They'll serve and clean up too if you ask them.
Do you suppose an employer might have a use for people who can do things like this?

Hundreds of these same Title I school kids also have been introduced to the doors that can open up in their lives if they attend college. They might be the first generation in their family born in this country, but somehow they now believe in amazing possibilities.  They believe that if they work hard and never quit, even they have a real shot at the American dream. And the dream might start at a university.
You see, someone lit a spark in their lives.
They were taught that poverty isn't inevitable.
And they've also been taught how to fill out and send in college applications and scholarship forms. Sometimes the first step is the hardest, you know. Many have sent them in and been accepted. Sometimes the only ones in their families ever to have done so.

This is just a hint at the good accomplished at the hands and hearts of these remarkable young women.

Both of these extraordinary people are leaving teaching at the end of this year.
At least as a profession. And at least for a time.
The loss to their schools and to the education of children in their district isn't possible to calculate.

They are leaving for a good reason though.
They plan to seek renewal and growth. To explore, recharge, and sharpen the saw. They're leaving to see what other wonderful things Heavenly Father has in mind for them. And what other contributions they might make.

Well, I for one, pray that he has joy and happiness beyond their wildest dreams in mind.
I hope they get to see the world on a magic carpet. I hope they have the "Big Year" of a lifetime!
No one I've ever met deserves it more.

And may there be a special place in heaven reserved for them later.
A long, long, time later.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Many Hearts Died, Pierced Through With Deep Wounds

I must speak boldly.
Hard words are all I have because I'm angry.
There will be nothing lighthearted in this post. So if you need a lift today don't look for it here.
Please understand.

I'm angry because of a conversation I had with a woman about pornography. She actually laughed and made light of this horrendous problem with the offhand remark, "Boys will be boys."

Well, what are boys supposed to be anyway?

For one thing I believe that boys and men are supposed to be protectors and defenders of all that have been entrusted to them.

I remember seeing an old western movie once. In it there was a scene about a never to be broken Indian creed,
"No warrior ever eats until he is certain that the pots of all the widows and orphans are full of meat."
I think of ranchers and farmers coming home after a long day,  tired and hungry. They would never dream of food and rest for themselves until the animals in their care were safe and fed.
My mind goes to the shout of a crew on a sinking ship, "To the lifeboats! Women and children first!"

Yes, men are supposed to use their strength to protect what Heavenly Father has
entrusted to them.
And men are supposed to teach their sons that this is one of the hallmarks of true manhood.

As a high school teacher I saw so many of my students, full of promise and possibility, fall victim to the lies Satan tells about pornography.
One boy actually said to me one day, "Aw, Mz Dub, lighten up. Nobody gets hurt."

Let me assure you, young man, everybody involved gets hurt.

Here's just a few TRUE things about porn.

Many of the women in this awful business were sexually abused and even raped as young girls. This was done by men who were supposed to defend and protect them from harm. Sometimes even by those who should have given their lives for them if necessary. They suffered almost indescribable pain in body and spirit. Their childhood was stolen. What should have been a time of joy and growth became a hell of fear and betrayal.
Often these men, the ones who were supposed to protect them, were involved with pornography.

When these girls became young women they sometimes tried to deal with their pain by using drugs and alcohol. I saw some of them. This led to more sexual abuse at the hands of their peers. Then they had to deal with the health issues that come with this life.  Herpes, genital warts, and syphillus, are just some of them. Seeking treatment for genital warts is something a 15 year old girl finds humiliating I can assure you. And some of them even turned to abortion.

"Aw, Mz Dub, nobody gets hurt."

Sure.  Look into the eyes and broken heart of a 15 year old who's had an abortion and tell me nobody's hurt.

The porn industry recruits from young women like this. They're an easy target because they feel worthless. They believe themselves to be objects,  "things,"  barely human, put on earth only to be used by selfish men.
Those same men who were put on earth to act as their protectors.

And make no mistake about it.

Anyone who consumes pornography in any of it's slick, disguised ugliness is one of those young girls' abusers.
He is there, standing by,  watching,  while a life is destroyed.
He makes no move to protect or defend.
He makes no move to act like a man.

If you or someone you love is involved in pornography, please know there is hope. There is forgiveness.
Christ paid the price.

But you must want to change. You must want to be free.

I leave you with this thought from one of the apostles of the Lord.

Russell Ballard said in a recent conference.

"I testify to you, that your body, mind, and spirit can be transformed, cleansed, and made whole, and you will be freed."

Also from the scriptures.
Isaiah 1:18
Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord.  Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.

I would like to recommend the Addiction Recovery website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints.

Truth is found there. It tells of the forgiveness made possible by Christ's Atonement.
Help is found there. Step by step, one day at a time help.
Please seek it if you or someone you care about suffers because of this terrible plague.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Gift From Josh

Two of my Christmas weary daughters came by early Friday morning to collapse on the couch. They were heading out into the, "it's a jungle out there," store return lines. They said they needed to rest up beforehand.

Last Friday, the evening before school vacation, they had taken the whole gang of nieces and nephews on their annual trip to the Dollar store.
"The aunts" do this after they each teach early morning seminary and seven periods of high school classes. After lunch one directs the winter pep assembly and the other one the blood drive. Then they finish up 150 report cards before last bell, and on their way home pick up a carload of kids for an evening of fun.

"The aunts" are the go-to for this yearly sibling and parent gift purchase.  It was their idea, even.  Apparently everybody looks forward to this special holiday event.  I think there's even a wrapping party held at the aunt's house afterwards.

First everyone is provided with enough money to buy a gift for everyone else in the family. Then all of them, from age six to seventeen, are turned loose in the store to buy 7 gifts each. (One sister's on a mission this Christmas so she's not on the list.) Still, that's close to 50 gifts and in many cases considerable guidance is needed.

It must be great fun and I'm very glad I'm not invited.  Glad too that I'm not shopping at the Dollar Tree when they're all in there.

Anyway, we got to talking about the just passed holiday, reliving highlights and counting many blessings. We came to the subject of gifts and one daughter said brightly, "Oh look Ma. See what we got from Josh." I could tell from her tone and expression that the gift was special to them, whatever it was. The aunts aren't usually included in the dollar store gift extravaganza since they provide the funds for it.  So Josh's gift was unexpected.
But before I can tell you about why his gift was special, I have to tell you a little about Josh.
You see, Joshua is in Jr. High.  That means he's in the 12 to 14 year old age bracket.  Boys in that group are also in a special and separate category of human being. Sometimes really special.

To give you an example, just recently these same daughters stopped by on their way home from school.  We were talking about how their days went. Sometimes I get wistful and miss it. They kindly remind me of the hard parts.

Suddenly their father emerged from his man cave to excitedly interupt us with an amazing news story he thought we just couldn't miss and wouldn't believe.
Seems there was a 13 year old boy somewhere who was locked out of his house accidentally. This boy thought it would be a good idea to climb on the roof and go down the chimney to get inside. After all, it makes sense. He got stuck, naturally, but thank goodness was able to reach the cell phone in his pocket and manage a call to the fire department. The nice firemen couldn't pull him out either from above or below so had to demolish the entire chimney to extricate him. (Try to explain that to the homeowners insurance people.)
This whole episode made a big splash on the nightly news.

"Can you believe that crazy kid?" Larry exclaimed with a shake of his head.

The three of us, all veteran Jr. High teachers with many years in combat, just looked at each other.
Finally Kelley said what we were all thinking,  "Sure Dad. We get it. What's so hard to believe?"

This made me remember a story about Christ when he was a young boy. I intended to think hard about that story someday, to search for the lesson, but I was always in the middle of dealing with some 14 year old kid when I was remembered it.  So I always put it off.  I decided to think some now.

First let me testify of a truth of which I am absolutely sure.
Christ never committed a sin.
He was blameless every day of his life.

Second, the scriptures don't say much about Christ's childhood. We do know that he waxed strong. That he grew in stature and wisdom.
We know too that as a young boy he was found in the temple, teaching those who taught.
It's this story I meant to think hard about.
I meant to think about Jesus but ended up thinking mostly about Mary and Joseph and their parenting skills.
Jesus went to the temple.  Seems his mother and earthly father didn't know this. They had been looking all over for him, sorrowing. Read Luke to get the whole story.

Well, we've been counseled to "liken the scriptures to our own lives." And I've looked for a few children myself, worried sick. After I finally found them safe and my heart settled down and my blood pressure returned to normal, boy did they get in big trouble too!  I recall shouting stuff like, "What in the world were you thinking!!??  What have you got to say for yourself, mister!!? You're not allowed outside the door for the rest of your life!!!"
Was this Mary and Joseph's response? Did Mary ever shout? It doesn't say much in the scriptures about that. But the scripture makes it seem like Mary may have been perplexed a bit about what her response should be.  I'm not sure.  Read Luke for the whole story. See what you think.
Anyway, I know that Christ never sinned. But it sounds like he might have done a kid thing.  I'm not sure again.  His explanation was that he was about his father's business and they shouldn't have worried. Read Luke for the whole story.  Does this mean something about the stuff 14 year old boys do not being sins?  Are they about their father's business?  Is growing up part of waxing strong?  Are they growing in stature and wisdom?  Should we take these things into consideration?
There's a lot to think about here. I plan to ponder.

Anyway, back to Josh's gift to his aunts. Kelley pulled 2 rumpled dollar bills from her wallet. "They're for 44 oz diet limeades at Sonic during "Happy Hour." Drinks are 89 cents then.  Josh says he knows how we count on them when things get tough.  He wanted to be sure we had the money for the next one when we needed it."

I could tell his gift truly meant a great deal to both of them. They were touched that he understood their lives and wanted to help.
Josh knew. It was one of the gifts they'll remember most this Christmas.

Do you think that boy might be gaining in wisdom as he grows in stature? Is he starting to show signs of waxing strong?  I plan to ponder.

Merry Christmas, Josh.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

One Great Big Challenge

I was in a little spell of annoyance at my eternal companion a while ago.
It was one of those days when eternity seems like a really, really, long time.
You may know the ones.

Anyway, just by accident I ran across something Dr. Gerald Lund said.
He once commented very wisely,
"Chances are you either married your biggest challenge or gave birth to it."

That made me chuckle. So I went to share with Larry who by this time needed a smile.
Well, instead of smiling, he laughed out loud. Then he quipped, "I'll bet that guy's got a wife!"
He was dead serious. And for the life of me I can't understand why.

That got me to thinking of one of my favorite books written decades ago by Robert Fulghum. At around that same time there was a popular show called "The Loveboat" on network television.
Back in the day there were only four network channels and we called that TV.  Can you imagine?

Well, this show was about a luxury oceanliner whose nickname came about because of all the perfect hair, always sunset, dozen roses romance that floated along with the ship. On every cruise.

Well, Mr. Fulghum had some wise counsel himself.
He said,  "Don't forget. The love boat always leaks."

So here's to everybody out there rowing along life's way in a leaky boat.
Keep bailing.
After 50 years of being married there's at least one thing I know.
Tomorrow is a different day and I might like him better then.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sending One Off

My oldest daughter Kim asked me the other day if having a missionary gone far away from home will get easier as the months go by.  Will that heart wrenching worry for their safety and happiness ease up some?

She says she knows people in her ward who've sent sons and daughters off around the world. When she sees them in church on Sunday she asks how everyone's doing. She says a lot of them still start sniffling even after months have gone by. One friend's son was returning soon from Chile and Kim asked her when it got easier. The sister wiped a tear away and replied bravely, "Not yet."

I only had that experience once. Sending a missionary off to serve.
It was our shy, quiet, child. The one who always had trouble being comfortable around strangers. The one who got a stomach ache if she was ever too long gone from home. She went clear across the country to live with strangers, speak only Spanish, and try to find people looking for the truth. She didn't speak Spanish before she left.

Now, our son Dane and his wife Lisa have sent our granddaughter, born and raised in the desert, off to serve in the land of blizzards and twenty-below zero wind chills.

And, just this morning, Kim and Scott put their oldest on a plane for Salt Lake and then to Brazil.

They speak Portuguese in Brazil.

They won't see her again for a year and a half.

Kim wants to know if it will get easier.

First, before I answer, I want to thank some people I've never thanked before.

Thank you to the mothers and fathers of all those young missionaries who came to our house so many long years ago. We knew nothing of the truth until a bunch of goofy teenagers brought it to us. You see, we went through about eight sets of missionaries before we were finally baptized. Most of them were teenagers. One mom and dad sent their son all the way from Samoa to talk to us. He could eat 17 tacos for supper I recall. This kid was huge, well over six feet tall, who'd helped his dad on the family pig farm in Samoa before his mission. That boy could eat. And he liked my tacos.

He left his family by the ocean and came halfway around the world to live in a desert for two years just to talk to us about the most important thing there is. Well, and to talk to a few others too. And along the way he learned that he liked tacos. He and his mom and dad had been saving for years for his mission. Now he was flipping a chart over, explaining eternal truths and wiping hot sauce off his fingers.

Well, that young man changed our lives.
For eternity.

I'm reminded about eternity when my daughter, a child of  raggedy old converts, tells me that she's had some of our ancestor's work done in the temple.  Seems that eternity goes back in time as well as forward. Missionary work goes backwards too, I guess.

So, I'd like to thank that young man from Samoa's mom and dad.
In fact, I'd like to thank all the mom's and dads of missionaries.

You loved them. You taught them the truth. You saved and sacrificed for missions. Once, many years ago, one couple sent their boy off halfway around the world. You knew you wouldn't see him for two long years. You worried about his safety and happiness. You wondered how he could possibly survive in a desert. You missed him every single day.

I want you to know that he changed our lives forever. A whole lot of lives changed it seems. Forward and back.
He brought our family the truth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And now, in part because of that young man and his parents from Samoa, we have two granddaughters off on missions. One to blizzards and one to Brazil.

And Kim wants to know if it gets any easier, having one gone on a mission. Will that wrench and worry ease up?

All I can say is that I'm eternally grateful to the parents of the ones that were sent to knock on our door, so many years ago. And I'm grateful to those goofy teenagers who came. They changed everything for our family.  Changed it for us, our ancestors and our posterity. Forever.
I hope that makes it a little easier.

I think it was Jeffrey Holland who once said something like, "The gospel of Jesus Christ is rolling forth to fill the entire earth on the shoulders of an army of teenagers." And some just barely older than that, I might add.

May Heavenly Father bless and keep that beautiful army safe and well. May he inspire them to work hard and lead them to those seeking truth. May he bless them all the rest of their lives for their missions.

And may he bless and comfort their parents too.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or treat. Smell my feet.


No matter where you live it's one of the most glorious months of the year, isn't it? Here in the Sonoran desert October not only brings relief from scorching summer heat, it begins the promise of seven months of lovely and good report.  Weather reports that is.  We don't have to go off to the beach seeking after them either.  Just open the door.
(All that's a reference to a Mormon thing which I'll explain later.)

October once brought me gold aspen leaves shimmering against a blue sky.  It's one of my most treasured mountain memories. Then too, the smell of fall in the high country woods is something I'm so grateful not to have missed in my lifetime. That mixture of cool wet earth, leaves underfoot and far off wood smoke is one of the best smells in life. Like a mountain creek in summer or the ocean any time.

That line of thinking brought my wandering mind to other good smells.  Life's full of them if you notice.   Like pine branches or any freshly cut wood.  At Christmas I always go to my local tree lot to buy or beg the trimmings from their trees to put in vases and decorate around the punch bowl. Our house is so little that the cuttings send fresh pine smell to fill even the back bedroom.

And one of the most comforting smells has to be supper cooking in the oven when you walk in the door hungry after a long day.   Especially pot roast, barbequed chicken, or baked ham.  Or loaves of bread baking. Or pans of rolls. Does anything on earth smell better than that?        Well, brownies maybe.        Or cupcakes.
No, bread wins.
Isn't it amazing how just a pot roast smell can make life seem so much better?  I remember a crockpot being a big help creating that "Welcome home, dinner's ready," smell when I was teaching.

And what about a clean baby?  My oldest daughter once took her children to a pediatrician she'll always remember fondly. She said whenever she brought a newborn in for a checkup he would never fail to sneak a sniff of the baby's head during the exam. She saw him.  Grandma's do that too.

They say that smell is one of the most powerful triggers of memories.  I think that might be true. I'm going to admit something crazy about one of my favorite smell memories. Even weird.  Don't tell anybody.

When I was 17 and dating my now husband of fifty years, I stole one of his shirts and slept with it because it smelled like him.  It was glorious.  Remember I was very young.  For some reason though, now that I'm sleeping with the actual man-- the smells have changed.  It's just not the same, I can tell you.

But other great smells come to mind.

Campfires when you're sitting around them with a stick and a burning marshmallow on the end.
Or laundry, dryer sheet fresh, warm from the dryer.  Even better, as I recall from back in the day, fresh and sun warm from a clothesline.

Soap smell on a clean fifth grader when he comes to your desk to get help with math is great. This happens only before recess. Then the clean kid smell changes to sweaty kid. Then too there's the hopeful, heady, aroma of too much aftershave on a gangly teenager.

Larry says, "A new car,"  but I think cars just smell like machines and oil.
He likes bacon frying too. Especially early in the morning if he's still in bed and someone else is cooking.  Usually he's the only early riser now.
And, I remember that he's always loved the smell of perfume on a beautiful woman. Never fails to notice and make a comment. And, if asked, he swears the smell he's looking so wistful about is me. The man may be a liar but he's not stupid.
He also recalls fondly the morning smell of coffee. That was before his Mormon days. He says he's grateful it never tasted as good as it smelled since he had to give it up when he was baptized.

Rain just as it starts to fall is glorious. And the smell of desert mesquite after one of our summer gully washers. That one's best in the cool of dawn, but it'll make you roll the car windows down no matter what the time or temperature.

Or a salty, sea-weedy ocean breeze.  Or grass being cut.

Or Larry's barbecue chicken when he's out on the patio grilling. That one can drive the whole block crazy.

Then there's popcorn popping, which always makes me want to put a Disney movie on the TV.

And come December slicing a lemon or lime fresh from our trees will fill the whole kitchen with one of my favorite smells.
If it's winter and there's snow outside you'll still think of lemonade. Cucumbers will do that too. Only then it's summer salads you'll remember.

Flowers like petunias or alyssum are winter smells down here in the lowland. Up in the mountains at that time of year I would hear people say "Smells like snow."   I never did get that.  But mint, basil, and tomatoes on the vine fill my patio pots in January if you happen to crush some leaves while watering.  And come March, orange blossoms send their sweet scent into the night on every breeze.

What are some of your favorite smells?

The Articles of Faith were written when the Prophet was asked what Mormons believe.   The last one is my favorite.   It ends with, "If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."  At the very least I think that means we should notice and appreciate them.

Well, the wonderful smells of life are lovely and of good report.  Praiseworthy too.  They make me grateful for beauty, home, comfort and family.  I think I should seek after some.

So I'm going to try to create some good smells today. Give Heavenly Father a hand so to speak. First I'll plant a patio pot with allysum and then I'll put a pot roast in the oven.

And I won't forget to thank God for blessing me with both of them.

* PS
A daughter called to say that I forgot a very important smell.

She remembers telling me once when she was young that she was embarrassed to go to church with her father because he smelled like cigarette smoke. I shared with her that a bishop once told me that tobacco smell in a Mormon church was the most beautiful scent of all. It was the smell of someone trying to repent, trying to live the truths Father taught.

If any of you are struggling to live those truths you now know, come to Sacrament meeting.  Sit by me and Larry.  It took him a while but he finally conquered a 4 pack a day habit. He hasn't smoked in nearly 40 years. But it's only been 20 years since he quit reaching up to his empty shirt pocket for a cigarette. Seems habit is a very powerful force.

After winning that valiant fight he took his family to the temple. All of his now grown children go there regularly. Two of his granddaughters are now on missions.

Hang in there. Father loves you. He'll help.