Tuesday, April 25, 2017

School of Hard Knocks

I’m going to share something this morning that many people may scoff over. It is, nevertheless, true. I was once painfully shy. I seemed to be fine around those I knew well, namely my siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, etc. But whenever I was in the presence of those I didn’t know, I remained silent. This wasn’t always a good idea. Things often happened that threatened my well-being, but instead of letting others know that I was in pain, or frightened, I silently suffered through whatever had taken place, as I did my best to blend into the woodwork, as the saying goes.

One of my earliest memories of first grade was not a pleasant event. It started out innocent enough. For a year and a half, I went to the same elementary school that my paternal grandmother had once attended. It was an old rock building full of interesting sounds. Floors creaked, pipes rattled, and the very walls seemed to echo with children’s voices from years gone by. Some of the students were convinced the school was haunted. Since I didn’t know what that word meant yet, it didn’t bother me. I was more fearful of my classmates and teacher than of items that may have happened in the past.

I had reason to feel that way. One afternoon I crossed the room to sharpen my pencil. I heard a sharp sound and glanced out of our open classroom door. Horrified, I watched as our first grade teacher broke a yardstick over the unfortunate posterior of one of my classmates. That image stayed with me for months. It explains in part why I was hesitant to tell this teacher anything. One of my goals for that year was to stay unnoticed by this person who seemed mean and oppressive. 

It didn’t help that one of my classmates happened to be this woman’s niece. This young lady was a bit spoiled and she made the most out of being related to our teacher. Her word was law. One fall day as I stood out among the giant trees in the playground behind the school, this girl decided to include me in her game of make-believe. It was a common practice to pretend that the bases of the giant trees were houses and families were made up of other students as homes were set in order. That day during lunch recess, my teacher’s niece pretended to be the mommy in our pretend family. A young boy was assigned to be the daddy. I was relegated to the role of the child. Things seemed to go along quite well for a time. Then “mommy” came up with a brilliant idea. She turned to “daddy,” and said, “Let’s help Cheri learn to hold her breath.” 

This didn’t sound good to me, but I was small for my age and unable to fight both of them as they held me down on the ground in our makeshift home. “Mommy” sat on top of me and held her hand over my mouth. She then instructed “Daddy” to pinch my nose shut. “Daddy” wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he realized this wasn’t a good idea. “She won’t be able to breathe,” he argued. “I know,” ‘mommy’ giggled. Meanwhile I tried to free myself from her grip, but remained pinned on the ground. I felt overwhelmed by a horrible feeling and I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t cry out because her hand was still over my mouth. Things grew worse as “daddy” finally gave in and pinched my nose shut.

I’m not sure how long we remained in that position. I know I struggled as I never had before, but they were too big for me to budge. I nearly lost consciousness and thought that I would perish. Before all went black, I remembered something I had learned in Primary about prayer. I knew we were supposed to pray when things weren’t going well. I silently sent a frantic prayer heavenward. As soon as I asked for help, the bell rang. My captors immediately released me and ran toward the school. I lay in the dirt and gasped for air.

When I felt like I would live, I shakily stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves from my dress. Then I walked alone toward the school since everyone else had already made it inside. Needless to say, I was tardy, but for some reason, the teacher didn’t say anything to me. She was up in front of the class reading a story to my classmates, something she did every day after the lunch break. She merely nodded at me as I quietly sat at my desk and pondered what I had just survived. I was only six years old, but I knew something significant had taken place. It was more than the brutal treatment by two of my classmates. I had felt a strong sense of comforting peace moments before the bell had rung. I knew in my tender heart that my Father in heaven had heard my prayer that day. Not only had I survived my near suffocation, but I was not out in the hallway being punished for being tardy. That in and of itself was a miracle. 

I never did tell anyone what had happened that day—but it never happened again. For a time, I was left alone, though I never felt that I was. I knew my Father in heaven was very aware of me and that He was protecting me. It was a knowledge gained at a young age, and something I treasured—most of the time. I was not a perfect child, but I did strive to make good choices. I still had a lot to learn, but that one experience shaped me in ways I would not fully understand for many years. 

There were other experiences that reinforced what I learned that fateful day behind the school house. I knew that in times of trouble, God was only a heartfelt prayer away. This knowledge has provided an important lifeline during my mortal journey. 

I mentioned in my last blog post that I would share some of the experiences that have helped shape me into who I am today. I am doing this, hoping that these items may help others who are struggling, who are seeking to find their way. Today’s lesson: Prayers are answered—immediately when the need is great, but often in ways we may never understand. We are watched over throughout our lives, even though at times we are permitted to experience pain and sorrow to fully appreciate the joy that also exists.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Plan With Hope

This past weekend marked yet another Easter celebration. Many people throughout the world commemorated it by remembering the great sacrifices made on our behalf by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For some it was a time of tradition and ceremony. For others it was a chance to gather with loved ones and do fun-filled activities that have nothing to do with the true meaning of Easter—and that’s okay. Family time is important. Gathering together to strengthen eternal ties is crucial these days. Life becomes so busy for us that it doesn’t happen near enough. Thank heavens for occasions that give us an opportunity to renew the bonds that really matter. 

Christmas is a similar holiday. At the heart of both is the reminder of what is truly important. Most reflect at some point that the true hope in this world comes from what our Elder Brother made possible. How empty life would be if the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ did not exist. If all we believed in was the here and now—if some part of us refused to acknowledge that this life serves a purpose and the choices we make do indeed count for something.

There are many who are struggling in this latter day. They are often so consumed with inner pain and turmoil that it has blocked the light that offers hope. At times they become bitter and refuse to see the beauty and joy our Father wants us to find in this life. The adversary is cunning—he has had a long time to prepare for this day and he is very good at inspiring doubt, discouragement, and despair. In my opinion, these are the three degrees of destruction. These three items have led to untold misery and violence, something we are seeing on an increased magnitude in today’s world. At the heart of it all is a form of selfishness that started long ago. 

The battle between good and evil began long before man set foot upon this planet. It started before any of us were born. This battle had its beginning when we lived together as spirit children of a loving Father in heaven. We wanted a chance to grow and become more like our heavenly parents. And so the great plan of happiness was shared. We would have a chance to come to a mortal sphere where we would be tested, and we would have the opportunity to learn to control a mortal body. We would have the freedom to choose the kind of life that we would lead, knowing that if we proved worthy, family ties could become eternal, and our joy would be complete.

In the great scheme of things, there will always be opposition. (See 2 Nephi 2:11) This did indeed take place in the great heavenly counsel as another plan was shared. (See Abraham 3:22-28) The details of this plan were simple: we would be forced to make right choices and in the end, all glory would be given to an elder brother, Lucifer, who guaranteed that not one soul would be lost. Most of us realized that this plan, although tempting, was not in our best interest. We would all make it back to our Father, but without the growth and learning we desired. An argument ensued, and a battle began that is still being waged here upon the earth. 

Lucifer and his followers lost the first round. They are now determined to win the second round here in mortal mode. And currently, during these trying latter days, they are pulling out all of the stops. You may recognize their handiwork in items that inspire doubt, discouragement, and despair. We live in a world that worships money, power, and greed. Themes of selfishness and control are rampant. Violence is touted in movies, music, video games, and books. In short, we are deluged with dark messages compliments of someone who wants us to become as miserable as he is. The great challenge of our day is to block out these dark thoughts and turn instead to the things that will enhance hope and love. It truly is the simple things that will help us survive these challenging latter days. Prayer, studying (not skimming) the scriptures, attending church meetings and truly listening to gospel teachings, heeding the warnings and advice from our church leaders, attending the temple, the list goes on and on. All of these things will help us put on the armor of God that we desperately need to survive this current battle. 

There is still hope, love, and beauty in this troubled world. All around are signs of how much our Father in heaven loves us. Good works are taking place, and loving service is being rendered by those who know and understand what is truly important.  Miracles still exist, and in the end, Lucifer and his followers will lose  . . .   again. He knows this is true, and that is why he is trying to ruin as many lives as he possibly can before his time runs out.

How do I know all of this? It is a testimony that did not come easy, nor without a price. It came after hours on my knees in prayer, after months of searching the scriptures for truth. It came line upon line, precept on precept. I did not understand the Plan of Salvation all at once. It came bit by bit as life threw one challenging trial after another into the path I have walked in this life. It has given me the hope I have needed to survive. In future posts, I may touch on some of these experiences, hoping that these items might inspire others to search for truth and light as they make their way forward along the path of life. Just remember on dark days, you are not alone. We are surrounded by those who care, often by those who are sight unseen, who want nothing more than for us to succeed and push forward to a brighter day.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Looking for Light

We all get the chance to walk through darkened tunnels in our lives. Periodically life happens and things get crazy. Trials descend without warning and it becomes difficult to continue forward. To get from where it’s dark and scary, we have to keep walking, step by step, through a shadowy maze of pain. It’s not a pleasant experience. In fact it’s often one of the most difficult challenges we will ever face. And for each one of us, it’s a different test because we have unique lessons to learn. 

At times we can catch a glimmer of light twinkling ahead—enough that it gives us hope and an idea of where we need to be. The other lesson learned is that during our darkest moments, we need to place our hand in the Savior’s to find our way. He will truly guide us through those treacherous times when nothing seems certain and the adversary would have us believe that all is lost.

I may have shared the following dream before, but I feel like I need to share it again. My hope is that it will give others who find themselves walking through a time of tribulation and pain a little glimmer of light. 

This particular dream surfaced during a challenging time in my life several years ago. I know that most dreams are silly nonsense. But I also have come to realize and know that we can receive guidance and needed counsel through that format. 

In this dream I was making my way through an extremely dark tunnel with some family members. It was dark, and scary, and the way ahead was uncertain. Together we continued to push forward, hoping to find our way out of the pain-filled maze. Eventually we came to a large opening. But as we stepped forward we saw that a steep cliff lay before us. As we peered over the ledge, our hearts filled with fear and uncertainty. It was agreed this was a dangerous route. And yet, for some reason, I knew in my heart it was the way I needed to go.

My family members did their best to talk me out of it. They assured that I would be cut to pieces if I tried to climb down, since the cliff was made of sheer glass. But I couldn’t ignore that continuing forward, despite the pain, was what I had to do. I was assured that I was less than intelligent as my family members turned to find a different way through the tunnel.

 Gathering my courage, I stepped to the edge of the glass cliff and stared down. It made no sense, and yet, I couldn’t ignore the impression that this was the way out of this tunnel. Slowly I began the descending the glass cliff, finding handholds along the way. I received a few minor cuts as I touched the glass, but nothing like everyone had feared. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom that I spotted something that wasn’t visible from above—the way out of the tunnel. The opening was visible after climbing down the glass cliff. Sunlight poured into view as I made my way out of that darkened place and was greeted by close friends who had been waiting for me there.

I’ve never forgotten that particular dream. It was so vivid and full of imagery. I’ve thought of it often during days that were less than fun. A silent mantra of “I just have to climb down the glass cliff,” will often go through my head as I face a challenging time. It gives me the courage to continue forward even when I can’t see what lies ahead.

This current time is full of uncertainty for everyone. I’m getting so I don’t even like to watch the news anymore. And my heart aches for those around me who are enduring difficult trials. But even when the skies are grey and stormy, and the way ahead is filled with challenges, I know that we’re not as alone as we sometimes think we are. Hope does smile brightly before us, as the popular hymn states. (Hymn # 19) 

This coming weekend is a chance to fill our spiritual buckets with the arrival of General Conference. I am looking forward to hearing wise and inspired counsel from the leaders of our church. The hope and light that they will extend can help us survive any darkened tunnel that lies ahead.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Time-out For This Woman

So here I am, wide awake at 5:00 a.m. with a myriad of thoughts running through my head. I have ideas on how to fix a computer glitch, a way to reorganize a room that has been bothering me, and thoughts for a blog post. Where to begin? 

I found myself in an exhausted state last night. That seems to happen on occasion when I’ve had a series of busy days in the neighborhood and my body decides it’s tired of being ignored. It voices its opinion in various unpleasant fashions to get my attention. I returned home from my current calling in the scouting organization (den leader) at 6:00 p.m. with a pounding headache and achy joints. This tells me a couple of things: there is a major pressure shift going on in our area (I was told once that arthritis patients are the best weather forecasters in the world, but I digress), and I might have overdone it a bit. I’m learning that when my body calls for a time-out, it’s best to listen. So I relaxed on the couch . . . ate very little for supper since I felt so lovely . . . and promptly fell asleep. I woke up later on and put myself to bed.

Evidently, a good night’s rest was just the thing, since I’m feeling so much better today, and I have lots of ideas about how to fix a few items I’ve been wanting to work on. Plus an idea for a blog post, which I’m sure thrills everyone out there. :D 

I think there are times in all of our lives when we need a time-out. This could be a chance to unwind and relax after being subjected to a bit of stress, a get away from the daily routine, or simply more rest. It’s important to listen to our bodies and strive to understand what they are trying to tell us. Mine was waving a white flag last night. Maybe even a white flag with bright red stripes to get my attention. It was probably muttering things like: “Hey, idiot! Yeah, you! What’s up with this tendency to run yourself into the dirt lately? In case you missed it, you are running on empty! When was the last time you relaxed? Rested? Caught up on stuff you’ve wanted to tackle? Slow down, or things won’t be very pleasant for you. Just sayin’ . . .”

I will admit, my body does indeed possess a gift when it comes to getting my attention. Last night was one example. So I’m glad I listened for once and gave in to the need for rest. (Like I had a choice in the matter.) And it worked. I can’t believe how much better I feel today, even if my body then decided, since it was in the driver’s seat for a change, that we needed to get up at an extremely early hour. The adage: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes Cheri healthy, not so much wealthy, but possibly wise(r),” was going through my head in an annoying fashion. Thank you Mr. Ben Franklin for that bit of advice. 

So, lesson learned . . . again. It seems like I have to go through this occasionally to remind myself that I do have obligations when it comes to physical maintenance. Rest, exercise, eating food that is good for me, stuff like that, appears to be important. It’s like anything else—balance in all things. I learned once that there are four areas we need to take care of to feel good: we need to nourish our spirit constantly (read scriptures, pray, etc.); do things that improve our emotional well-being (like a focus on hobbies, chatting with friends, etc.); tackle items that make us think to maintain mental acuity, (there’s your word for the day) like reading, puzzles, learning new things; and focus on our physical health. This would include getting plenty of rest (an item I apparently inhale at on occasion) exercise, etc.

I must not be doing too bad—a couple of months ago my diabetic specialist was ready to give me a gold star on the forehead. (Yes, I am bragging because it doesn’t happen very often.) But I do need to periodically take a time out to regroup and get things back on track. 

And now, I’m off to tackle the bits of inspiration that popped into existence this morning, my reward for listening to my body last night. Have a great day out there, and seriously, if you would like to follow suit, take a time-out to assess what you need. This apparently does wonders for our well-being.