Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Twist of Spite

The past few days I’ve been thinking about a twist on a word that is unfortunately used a lot these days: “Spite.” We see it all around us—on the news, in politics, and in the way people behave. We hear things like: “Because that person did or said this, I will do that just to show them!” It’s one example of how spite works. I recently looked up the definition of “spite” and it says the following: “A malicious, usually petty desire to harm, annoy, frustrate, or humiliate another person.” Not exactly a positive approach to life. 

There is a twist to this word, however, that I think will help us succeed in life, and discover joy. At the very bottom of the definition of “spite,” it says this: “In spite of, in disregard, or defiance of, despite.” In other words, the determination to rise above a challenge, obstacle, insult, or negative mindset to accomplish something we desire. That action completely turns this word around: “I will succeed in spite of how bleak things look now!” It can be used in a variety of circumstances to convert a negative situation into a positive approach:

“I will continue to be a kind person, in spite of how I’ve been treated!”

“Despite the way I feel, I will push forward and get things done!”

“I will go forward with faith in spite of the large mountain sitting in my path!”

“Despite how dark the future seems, I will hold on to the light inside of me and shine forth!”

I think you get the idea. We can twist “spite” to work for us, instead of against us. We can use it as a way to make an important difference in this crazy world. Can you envision how wonderful life would be if everyone made this effort? If we looked at a challenging situation and strived to make it better instead of worse? If, instead of taking offense at something others said or did, we gave them the benefit of the doubt and decided to quite literally, turn the other cheek? Maybe take a step back, breathe deeply, and consider how we can proceed without spite getting in the way? 

It’s not easy. It’s human nature to want to strike back. When someone insults us, the tendency is to lash out in a similar fashion. Or we return to our homes and fume over what has taken place. The insult, intended or not, is dwelled upon until it becomes this huge thing that we can’t seem to get past. That is when spite becomes a problem. We desire to go out of our way to make that other person as miserable as we are. Pause for a moment and consider who else dwells with that same attitude on an eternal basis. Yep, the adversary. That alone, should tell us who strives to get us to use spite in a negative fashion—he is the master of that philosophy. 

It is a supreme challenge to shake off that negativity, and to turn things around. I’ll admit, it doesn’t always work the way we envision. Sometimes we return kindness for another kick to the head. Despite our best efforts, we can’t change another person’s agency, or freedom to act. That is when we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and smile anyway. We don’t have to stay there and share in that person’s misery. We rise up in spite of that attitude and try to make a positive difference somewhere else. Perhaps in time, hearts will soften, but it’s crucial that we go on, despite how others behave. 

Sometimes it’s a physical challenge that thwarts our desire to move forward. There are days when the rheumatoid arthritis that I face makes life less than pleasant. It is a difficult thing to rise up and continue to place one foot in front of the other. I force myself onward, knowing the worst thing I can do is to sit in the corner. I was told years ago that if I gave into that temptation, I would be in a wheelchair. The type of arthritis that I deal with (Ankylosing Spondylitis) tends to fuse the hips to the lower spine. I’ve strived to remain active—and it has proved to be the key to survival. In spite of this particular obstacle, I’ve pushed myself forward and was recently told by my rheumatologist that because I’ve remained active, things are not fusing together! I’m winning this particular battle, despite odds that were stacked against me!

I’ve also dealt with being a Type 1 diabetic for 36 years. In spite of that obstacle, I’ve lived a full and mostly healthy life. It hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve had more than my share of insulin reactions, and higher-than-I-would-like blood sugar levels. Recently I found out that I have a couple of food allergies that has added to the fun. Despite all of that, I’ve done my best to continue forward, knowing that one day, it will all be worth the effort. 

The list goes on and on. We all face a myriad of trials, heartaches, and disappointments. It is a supreme challenge to continue forward in spite of those things. Sorrow, despair, fear—these items are difficult to wade through. And yet, inside each one of us lives a determination to succeed despite difficulty. I suspect it’s a character trait we inherited from our heavenly parents. They knew we would need that tiny ray of hope when all around seems dark and overwhelming.

So the challenge is to keep pushing forward in spite of the obstacles that we face on a daily basis. Despite the uphill battles, we continue to climb, knowing that we’re never alone in our journey. We are watched over far more than we realize, even though each step forward is up to us. We determine the paths we take in spite of the negativity that surrounds us. And we will never regret choosing to be kind despite the opposite tendency that exists in today’s crazy world.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Father Figures

Life has been anything but dull in our neck of the woods. September was another blur in a series of blurry months. An epic 80th birthday party for my mother-in-law took center stage at the beginning of September. It was followed by a funeral a week later as my step-father-in-law slipped from this mortal realm. 

I have a difficult time preparing for moments like this. It tends to open a gaping heart-wound that will possibly never fully heal in this lifetime. Losing my own father the way that I did has left a tender hole in my well-being. Losing Kennon’s dad three years later was like dumping salt in a heartache that has never faded entirely. I was close to this man and he had assured me several times following my father’s suicide that he was my dad. Then his health went south and he quietly passed from my life.

I tried very hard not to get attached to Kennon’s first step-father, but the loving, easy-going man slipped inside my heart before I knew what was happening. He was the only grandfather our sons ever knew. Our sons all have favorite stories about how this wonderful man made them each feel important and loved. In my own case, he repeatedly placed his arm around my shoulders, and affirmed that I was one of his daughters. Losing him after he had been part of our family for 17-18 years was not an easy thing. Singing at his funeral rather ripped my heart out. 

When my mother-in-law remarried, I was not sure I liked this idea. I knew she hated to be alone and had met an awesome guy, but I wasn’t ready or willing to allow someone else into my life. It happened anyway. And before long, I found that this 4th father-figure had also slipped inside my tender heart. We both loved books, and it was something special we shared. He knew I loved art and he made certain that I received a wonderful lithograph of a work by one of his talented nieces. In short, I grew attached to this man. Losing him this past month has been a heartrending journey.

It’s not an easy thing for a daughter to lose a father. I’ve done it now, four times. With each loss, the intense pain nearly overwhelms. Peace eventually descends and life goes on, but it takes a little bit of time for me to reach that point. For a while I find that music is not my friend. I grew up in a musical family—my siblings and I sang with our father on numerous programs. Music cuts through my soul quicker than anything else. I can be sitting in a meeting totally unrelated to what I’ve been through, and a particular song will effectively dissolve the wall I’ve tried to construct around my heart. When the dam bursts, I know it’s time to leave. I hate crying in public and I will go to great lengths to avoid this scenario. So I’ve spent quite a bit of time this past month placing distance between myself and painful reminders of all that has transpired. 

There are ways to get through this grieving process. Thank heavens for Gospel teachings that assure there is life after this mortal world. That knowledge is a comfort. And the Comforter is indeed real. I will be forever grateful for the times that quiet peace has calmed an emotional storm. 

Other things seem to help. Spending time with loved ones soothes that inner pain. This past month I spent some time with my sisters. We did silly things like attend a Women’s Expo that offered several interesting booths. It was a great distraction. We visited with a favorite aunt who is undergoing cancer treatments. We went to a thrift shop and rescued books. We then went for a long walk in a beautiful area. It all eased the heartache and helped me return to a semblance of normalcy.

I also got a chance to hug my grandchildren. This is a great way to soften heart-wounds. When I returned home, I hit the ground running. I still serve in a Relief Society Presidency, and we have had a plethora of opportunities for service lately. My husband and I have also been serving at a nearby temple open house. This has kept me occupied. I’ve also scrubbed my house from top to bottom, something that helps me work through trying times. And I have been writing things out, trying to get rid of the pain in my heart. 

This blog post is a bit different from others I’ve written. I usually try to keep things upbeat. But as I look around and see how others are struggling at the moment, I figured maybe it would help to hear from someone who has had their heart repeatedly smashed that life does get better. Dark days pass, and it is possible to still find joy in this world. It takes time—heart-wounds don’t heal overnight. In some cases, they never fully heal. We just learn to go on, placing our hand inside our Father’s as we continue forward. There are days when we have to take life one minute at a time as we work through the grieving process. Hope comes in knowing that eventually it won’t hurt so much—inner peace will surface. Someday I will smile and actually mean it. Until then, I will smile and no one will know the difference but my Heavenly Father who has stayed by my side through difficult days. We are never as alone as we sometimes think we are. The veil is indeed thin and I know I have five fathers who are cheering me on every step of the way.

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.