Monday, August 29, 2016

Promoting Faith

Yesterday I taught a lesson in Relief Society that is still lingering inside my heart. I suppose it is in part because of the turmoil that exists in today’s world. It seems like every time we turn on the news, there are more catastrophes to worry over: earthquakes, tornadoes, huge fires, and hurricanes— or acts of violence and greed. The current political battle hangs over our heads like a looming storm cloud. 

All around us locally there are several challenging trials taking place—health concerns, heart-breaking tragedies, and financial disasters. The weather has not been helpful to farmers in the area, nor with this year’s attempt at raising a garden. So far we’ve faced three bizarre frosts that have effectively eliminated tomatoes, peppers, squash etc. True, growing a garden in Bear Lake is like trying to drink out of a fire hose—we often get blasted in the process. ;) Still, we have to try. 

It also seems like lately we’re surrounded by critics who pass judgment over everything. We try to reason through the emotional barrage, saying things like, “Oh, well, they don’t really understand the situation.”  It still makes us feel poorly about ourselves. In short, the adversary is having a heyday filling our hearts with fear, doubt, and negativity.

It is time to rise above all of that and to remember who we truly are. We are sons and daughters of a loving Father in heaven who sent us down here to learn, grow, and achieve. He knew it would be a difficult journey—and He has provided tools to help us along the way. One of those tools is faith.

Faith is a key to having hope. And when we have hope, we are more charitable toward others, breaking the current trend. According to the scriptures, faith is not having certain knowledge of things (see Alma 32:21-22). It is a belief in what is good and true. It starts out as a small seed (see Matthew 17:20-21) and can grow into a large tree, if we will spend the time needed to nourish it. 

There are many ways we can develop faith, and it is often the small and simple things in life that bring us peace. For instance, turning off the media for a while and taking a walk—appreciating the beauty that surrounds us. Realizing there is still a lot of good in this world. News shows rarely show the positive things that are taking place. Sometimes we have to ignore the darkness and seek out the light.
Serving others has always filled my heart with quiet comfort, especially when I’m struggling. Forgetting my pain as I reach out to others is a great way to nourish my tiny seed of faith. 

Hearing faith-promoting experiences from others also strengthens my own belief. I’m sure we’ve all been inspired by the good-hearted example of those who refuse to give up. To quote the Bible dictionary definition of “faith” where there is . . . “true faith there are miracles, visions, dreams, healings, and all the gifts of God that He gives to His Saints.”
Prayer, scripture study, and going to church help fill our spiritual bucket—truly a needful thing in today’s crazy world. 

Being thankful is another way to nourish our faith. I try each night to list the things I’m grateful for. It’s a great reminder that despite the difficulties, there are great blessings, too. 

Surrounding ourselves with uplifting music, art, and books is also helpful in developing faith and a positive attitude.

 I come from a musical family. We performed a lot when I was growing up. This past week the lyrics from one of the songs sprang to mind as I prepared a lesson on faith. Maybe some of you will recognize these inspiring words:

“Prayer is the key to heaven, but faith unlocks the door,
Words are so easily spoken—a prayer without faith is like a boat without an oar.
Have faith when you speak to the Master, that’s all He asks you for,
Yes, prayer is the key to heaven, but faith unlocks the door.”
(Written by: Samuel Scott & Robert Sande)

So in this current time of nonstop challenges and negativity, take the time to nourish the seed of faith. It will in turn, help us find hope when all seems lost.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Primary Way to Find Peace (or The Parable of the Lunchbox)

Greetings. I realize it has been a while since I last blogged. I apologize for that—let’s just say this summer has been a bit of a blur. Family gatherings, trips, a new granddaughter, and reunions have kept us hopping.

Recently I was visiting with a family member and we were discussing the challenges of this current time—busy schedules, trials left and right, and the turmoil that exists in today’s world. We pondered what it takes to find peace in the midst of this. I suppose that’s why I began thinking of past adventures and how we survived. Bear with me as I share one of those events.

I was raised by goodly parents . . . but church attendance was not always a regular thing. I was given a certificate while quite young—something I was proud of at the time. It proclaims that I attended church 2 times that year. It was a pink color and it quickly became a treasure. I believe it was my first certificate. It didn’t dawn on me until later years that it was actually a statement of how many meetings I had missed that year. It still exists in a scrapbook of sorts that I kept. It’s a reminder of that often confusing time in my life.

My father worked most Sundays. He was a pharmacist for a drugstore chain, and they were open on Sundays. We owned one car, and since his job was 30 miles away from our home, he needed the car to go to work. We lived 5 miles from the nearest church house, so most Sundays were spent at home with our mother. My siblings and I (there were 4 of us) attended Primary on a regular basis. It was held during the week and since my younger brother & I were in grade school at the time, we rode the bus to the local church house after school. My mother served as the chorister for our ward Primary, and she often caught a ride with neighbors to attend Primary with my two younger sisters.
I loved Primary, and the feeling I experienced each time I walked into the chapel. That’s where our opening exercises were held. When we arrived from school to the church house, we would grab our coats and lunchboxes (The old school house didn’t have a lunch room. The new school we would later attend offered that novel approach to lunch) and hurry inside the church house. Then we would stand in line and wait until the chapel was opened for Primary. 

I hated standing in line. I was usually surrounded by girls my age who were quick to criticize and ask rude questions. Each week it was the same ordeal:

“Your family doesn’t come to church.”
“We come to Primary,” I would bravely answer.
“But you don’t come to church on Sunday!”
“My dad has to work on Sunday.”
“People aren’t supposed to work on Sunday. Your dad is a bad man.”
“No he’s not! He works hard.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a pharmacist,” I would bravely answer.
“Oh yeah, well my dad is a farm-er!” (Emphasis on the last syllable.)

I remember gazing at this particular girl with a look of disbelief. I was raised to treat others with kindness, and to show respect. Each week I was treated to rude comments and teasing because of my less than stellar church attendance, something that was out of my control. I was continually raked over the coals and made to feel like less than dirt because I didn’t attend church as often as these pillar of the community evidently did with their families. I’m amazed I still loved attending Primary—but I savored the peaceful feeling that filled my heart each week as I walked inside the chapel. I knew in my child’s heart that this was a sacred place and I loved that brief weekly experience that was a spiritual boost. It helped me push aside the hurtful words and actions of those who should have known better. 

One Wednesday afternoon as I stood enduring the weekly taunting outside of the chapel, the girl who usually led the verbal assaults gave me a dirty look and proclaimed loudly:

“Well, my daddy went to college. He’s really smart.”
I sighed, then bravely stated that my father had attended college, too.
“No he didn’t, he’s stupid because he doesn’t come to church on Sundays!”

I guess that was the final straw. After weeks of harassment, my tender heart had endured enough. I hurled my Snoopy lunchbox at my tormentor. I’m ashamed to admit it smacked her upside her head. I regretted that small act of violence immediately. Not only was I in trouble, but I had broken the thermos inside the lunchbox. 

My parents were dismayed over my aggressive behavior. It was the first time I had stood up for myself, and I learned quickly that my reaction was unacceptable, although that particular girl did leave me alone for awhile after that incident.  I tried explaining why I had finally snapped and thrown the lunchbox, but my parents patiently pointed out that it was better to ignore people who said mean things. 

“You know in your heart that you are a good person and what they say doesn’t matter,” my dad stressed. He then told me of times when he had been teased and made fun of because he was one of the smartest kids in school.

“Some kids are mean-spirited and do and say things we can’t take to heart,” my dad added. 

I vowed to do better and never threw my lunchbox at anyone ever again. But there were still times when I gazed at my peers who attended church on a weekly basis and questioned their theory that they were so much better than I was because they went to church each Sunday. I watched at school as these same saintly types cheated, told dirty jokes, and picked on others who were different, for whatever reason. I had a hard time understanding how people who were taught each Sunday to be like the Savior, were less than Christ-like the rest of the week. I was far from perfect myself, but I did strive to be good—most of the time.   

Fortunately, the feeling of peace I experienced each time I attended Primary helped me push past the bad example set by those my age. I began to realize that you couldn’t judge the Church by those who attended. Instead, I began learning all I could about Jesus, and why His example was important.

By the time I was a teenager, we had moved. My dad had been given a chance to manage a drugstore in this small Idaho town. After I adjusted to that change, I was filled with a desire to attend the church meetings I could, and to gain my own testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I learned the importance of ignoring those around me who chose to be less than they could be. Even in this new place there were those who were nicer than others. It all boiled down to agency. Perhaps because I’d had to work so hard to learn about the gospel, it meant more to me than to some of my peers. I was saddened by the behavior of a handful of these people when we reached college age—they had leaned on their parents’ testimonies for years and when they had a taste of freedom, some went off the deep end, ignoring important standards and commandments.

I guess what I’m trying to say in this meandering post, is that we can’t allow the example of others to influence who we’re meant to be. People are people, they make mistakes, and even those who should know better will sometimes be mean, disrespectful, and less than helpful when we’re trying to find our way in a crazy world that has always been full of turmoil. It’s important to discover for ourselves what brings us peace, comfort, and happiness. The good news is that we’re never as alone as we sometimes think we are. I can look back now and see that I was guided by promptings that came from the precious gift of the Holy Ghost. He filled my heart with peace whenever I was somewhere (like the chapel) He knew I needed to be. That feeling of peace gave me the courage to keep coming back, even when it was a less than fun process to be there.

So when life seems to bog down in the mire, and you feel like throwing your lunchbox at someone’s head, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and offer a silent prayer for help. Our Father is very aware of us and what we’re enduring. He will help us find our way out of the mire and back on the path where we need to be. We’re all children of God, and we’re all important to Him. How He must love it when we finally reach that understanding and reach out with kindness to those who may seem a little different.

Monday, May 23, 2016

"Put On a Happy Face!"

Years ago when I was a sophomore in high school, two senior girls approached me as I was grabbing books from my locker.

"You are always smiling," one of them stated.

Uncertain where this was going, I smiled and nodded.

"See, she's smiling," the same girl said.

The other girl nodded in agreement. "I'll bet you can't go five minutes without smiling," she said, challenging me.

Forcing a frown, I assured both girls that I could avoid smiling for that long. I lost the bet about 3 minutes later. I can't remember now what inspired the smile, but I do remember that I couldn't help it. It just bubbled out.

"Ha, I knew it," the first girl accused. Laughing, she and her friend went on their merry way, leaving me feeling a bit confused. Was it a bad thing to be cheerful? Shrugging, I decided not to worry about it. Those two girls didn't know me. They didn't understand the tough year I had been enduring, nor the challenges I had faced. Things were far from good at home--my father had developed some health problems and he was often irrational about silly things. It was also the year that I gained my testimony and there had been some overwhelming trials as I had journeyed down that path. I had learned along the way that I much preferred laughter over tears, and tried to surround myself with inspiring quotes, pictures, and music.

I'm still that way. I love surrounding myself with items that inspire or make me smile. Home is indeed my sanctuary--a place to recharge my batteries when life has been less than pleasant. Here I can relax and unwind, and smile. ;)

Numerous birds hang out in our trees, and I enjoy hearing them sing throughout the day. Colorful finches nibble at the seeds in our bird-feeder. Hummingbirds frequent our flowers and a special liquid feeder we've hung up just for them.

On my walls are pictures of family members and friends. Varied keepsakes line the top of my piano. Inspiring and whimsical plaques are wonderful reminders of what is important.

In short, these items bring comfort and perspective. They remind me who I am, and who I'm trying to be. And most of them inspire smiles. 

About 3-4 years ago, my husband and I met up with two of my closest friends from my high school days. We met inside what used to be the drugstore that my dad had managed in the small town of Ashton. It has since been remodeled into a charming pizzeria/sandwich shop, and the old-fashioned soda fountain has been maintained, complete with the tasty treats I used to make for customers years ago--shakes, malts, floats, etc.

We had a wonderful visit as my friends and I reminisced about our adventures years ago. What impressed my husband the most was how much we laughed as we talked. We had all been through some tough things, but we could find the humor in those experiences, and tried to focus on the positive, rather than dwell on the negative.

I suspect that is one of the great challenges of our current time--focusing on the positive things that are taking place. It's easy to get caught up in the negativity that surrounds us. Watching the news is often less than inspiring these days. I find that I have to watch an old silly comedy before I go to bed at night to shake off the gloom. I also take comfort in reading the scriptures before winding down for the night.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that it's okay to smile! It's a great thing if you can find a reason to laugh in the midst of hardship.

When we were young, my siblings and I often endured watching a silly show entitled, "Hee Haw." Our father loved it and he was trying to share his enthusiasm. It wasn't my favorite, but there were some golden moments, like this set of lyrics that we often sang later on when life was less than fun. They are as follows:

Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression,  excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me!
(written by: Buck Owens & Roy Clark)

As my siblings and I made fun of this song, it always made us smile. I'm sure our exaggerated performances were inspiring. Regardless, it was a great way to snap out of feeling sorry for ourselves. ;)

So, on days when you find yourself feeling a little down, find those things that make you smile. Realize it's better than okay to be cheerful. Be the bright spot in someone else's day. It will make all the difference in this troubled world.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Surviving Life's Storms

It has been a while since I composed a blog post. Life seemed to pick up speed with company coming, helping relatives move, and a little thing known as trigger finger. I've endured that last challenge before, and ended up having surgery on my left thumb to repair things. This time it's my right thumb that has been acting up, and since I'm right-handed, it has been less than pleasant. I've been wearing a special brace that is helping, and the swelling is diminishing, as is the tendency for the joint to lock in place. We're hoping to avoid surgery this time around--guess we'll see. Joys of diabetes combined with rheumatoid arthritis. Character building moments. ;) And all of these interesting spring storms aren't helping.

A couple of nights ago, we survived a particularly intense storm in our area. The wind picked up speed and blew in dark clouds. Rain descended in a frantic fury. It came down so hard, I was kind of glad I haven't been able to plant anything yet like flowers, garden, etc. I wasn't sure anything would've survived the impact. Suddenly the sky lit up as the storm morphed into a lightening show, complete with booming thunder. One blast hit so close, it seemed as though our entire house shook. Needless to say, I didn't fall asleep very early that night--the storm held my rapt attention.

Is it me, or have there been more than the usual amount of storms occurring lately? Watching the weather channel is transfixing these days. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many varying natural disasters compliments of Mother Nature take place in such a short period of time. It seems to go along with what is happening in our personal lives. People are being hit from every direction with all kinds of challenging moments.

It made me think of another time--a year when everything seemed to hit the fan at the same time. It was 1983, the year my first son was born. In that one year, I was placed on insulin permanently--I developed blood clots in the main vein of my left leg--and just as I was literally getting back on my feet, my father committed suicide. Although a wonderful event had occurred with the birth of our son, in many ways, it was a terrible year--one major emotional storm after another until I felt like I was drowning.

One of the things that helped me through was writing out everything I was feeling. On the nights I couldn't sleep, I filled page after page with inner pain, shredding these pages into the garbage when I was finished. I didn't realize it, but I was doing my own form of therapy. And in time, I was hooked on writing. I felt better when I wrote things out. I just wish I would've kept some of what was written. For nearly 2 years of my life, there is no written record of any kind--but maybe it's better that way.

Two years later, I began writing a story. It was in essence my story, but I changed some of the circumstances to make it easier to read and write. That was the first manuscript I ever put together. It was entitled, "Still Water Runs Deep," my first attempt at writing a novel. Eight years later my sixth attempt at composing a manuscript was published by Covenant Communications, the book that would eventually be known as "Kate's Turn."

Something good and positive came out of a situation that was devastating. It's a lesson I've tried to remember: good things can come out of difficult times. I know I was strengthened in many ways.For instance, I learned to rely on my Father in heaven as night after sleepless night I poured out my heart to Him. He alone understood the pain in my heart. Actually, there was Someone Else who understood what I was going through, my Savior, Jesus Christ. He truly has endured every pain any one of us will ever suffer. (See Alma 7:11)

But there were days when some of the self pity stuff would surface. I remember one day I was feeling quite blue about losing my dad. I picked up my guitar and began composing what I thought would be a sad song, something to express what I was feeling. To my annoyance, it morphed into an upbeat ditty about hanging in there during challenging times. (Yes, I believe our Heavenly Father possesses a sense of humor.) Regardless, that particular song became quite popular in our area. I performed it on several programs, and was later asked to record it on a cassette tape the high school music teacher put together that year with a lot of the local talent. They used the title of my song as the title of the cassette since it was the only original song performed, and we didn't have to worry about copyright adventures. ;) Ironically, it was about surviving life storms. I'll conclude this post by sharing the words to that song. And when storms descend in our lives, remember, there is always hope, no matter how dark the skies may seem:

Colors of the Rainbow

1st  Ev’ry so often, storms will come our way
Sometimes they’ll stay forever, sometimes for just a day
And when the wind is howling and the clouds block out the sun
And the crackling sound of lightening, strikes fear in ev’ry one
Hold on tight together as the rain starts pouring down
For the colors of the rainbow will soon come, shining ‘round.

2nd Ev’ry so often, trials will come our way
Sometimes they’ll stay forever, sometimes for just a day
And when your heart is breaking and the pain blocks out life’s light
And the hope for a new tomorrow, never seems in sight
Hold on to one another as the rain starts pouring down
For the colors of the rainbow will soon come, shining ‘round
(Repeat 1st verse)

Cheri J. Crane

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Are The Stars Still There?

It seems like our valley has been hit from every direction in recent days. Most people are enduring trials of some nature--heart-rending challenges that overwhelm. I woke early this morning, troubled by some of the things taking place. It doesn't help that today marks the anniversary of a tragic loss in our family. I found myself staring out the front room window at the bright stars still visible, and it triggered a memory of another time when life was less than fun. I'd like to share a journal entry I wrote then:

 November 5, 1996

". . . A few weeks ago, I had been feeling quite discouraged. I think we all experience times like that in our lives, moments when we wonder why life has to be so challenging. I don't feel that way all of the time, but for some reason, at that particular instance, despair seemed to creep inside my heart. One night when everyone else in my family had gone to bed, I wandered outside. Sometimes listening to the night sounds brings comfort and so I sat on the porch and listened for a bit. I remember silently praying, asking why I was feeling this way. The thought came to mind, "There is still beauty in the world." I agreed, but still wanted to know why things seemed so bleak. I had been having some challenging health problems and there were several trials taking place with some of my extended family members. As I wondered why everything had to be so hard, I stood and glanced up at the sky. It was one of those star-filled nights--the entire sky was lit with stars. Again the thought came to mind, "There is still beauty in the world." As I gazed at the stars, I noticed that clouds were moving in. This is something that has probably occurred millions of times, but for once, I was watching as it happened. Within minutes, every star was covered. As I stared at the sky, I was so amazed by how quickly the clouds had moved in. Another thought came to mind, "Are the stars still there?" With that thought came the peace I had been seeking. Other thoughts came, "Is the Church still true? Does your Heavenly Father love you? Did your elder Brother lay His life down for you? Are all of these things true despite the discouragement, despite the challenges, the heartaches, the pains of life? Are the stars still there?"
The lesson I was taught that night has been such a comfort. Every time I start feeling a little down, it comes to mind: "Are the stars still there?"
To make a long story short . . . [I had an impression that] I should write a song based on that theme . . .  Here are the lyrics:

                                  Are The Stars Still There?
By: Cheri J. Crane

Dark were my thoughts--all around were storms of heartache and strife
All those tests that sometimes just go with life
Mountains that seemed too steep to climb.
I walked outside--to clear my head and ask my Father, "Why?"
My inner peace had dissolved for a time
Where was the faith that was mine?

Staring at the star-filled sky--my heart revealed its inner cry
"Father, if You're listening help me know the reason why."
A thousand tiny twinkling lights were covered, hidden from
my sight
Grey clouds veiling light that once had shone so bright.
Darkness seemed to fill the night as every star was veiled
from sight
Yet peace crept in my heart and comfort eased the black despair
As the question came, "My child, my child--Are the stars still there?"

Now when dark thoughts come and some nights seem too long
I remember the words of this song
When everything seems to go wrong
The answer to my prayer--the night I struggled with despair
The night my Father heard my silent prayer
And reminded me the stars are always there.

Our Father's love is always there--through layers of grief and care
Hope is shining brightly through the clouds of dark despair
A thousand tiny twinkling lights--though covered, hidden from our sight
Grey clouds veiling light that once had shone so bright.
Though darkness seems to fill the night--And every star is veiled from sight
Peace and love seep through to ease the black despair--
Remember the question--"My child, are the stars still there?"