Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Puzzling Dilemmas

I love puzzles. My dad’s theory was that I came that way. As a young child I remember being thrilled whenever I received puzzles for Christmas. I would spend hours piecing them together. It was also a fun holiday tradition to have a jigsaw puzzle set up somewhere in the house where we could all work together to form the complete picture. 

When I was a teenager I was excited I when my father gave me a large puzzle that he felt would be a supreme challenge. It was of fall leaves, all the same color. As he handed me the box there was a gleam in his eye as he wished me luck with that particular project.

It would take a long time to complete that puzzle. I was a busy teenager involved in a lot of activities, and I worked part-time at a local drive-in as a cook. But in-between the craziness, I persevered and was able to complete that puzzle, much to my father’s amazement. He took a picture to record that accomplishment, before the puzzle was torn apart and put away.

I still love the challenge of fitting complex pieces together to form a whimsical or scenic picture. In recent years, I have taken to preserving the puzzles I put together. They hang in varied places downstairs in our family room. It’s something I usually strive to do during the winter months when the weather is nasty. This winter has been particularly entertaining, (We currently have 3-4 feet of snow on the level) so I excitedly picked out a puzzle that I thought would be a lot of fun. It’s a puzzle that features cartoon characters that I loved as a child. I figured the bright colors and fun figures would delight my grandchildren upon its completion.

This particular puzzle has been quite a challenge—more difficult than it first appeared. It has taken me much longer than I anticipated to complete. But finally, a couple of days ago, I was coming into the home stretch. As I snapped the final pieces into place, it became clear that one piece was missing. This is a disaster for anyone who loves puzzles as I do. I have spent hours searching, moving furniture, retracing steps, all in vain. 

As I have reflected on this great crisis, several analogies have come to mind. Bear with me as I strive to piece one together. (Pun intended). In this life, we are faced with several puzzling challenges. Some make no sense whatsoever. We try to make the pieces fit, but sometimes it takes everything we can do, and then some to figure it out. Often the pieces just don’t fit the way we think they should. There are other times when we know pieces are missing, and sometimes we have to simply continue on, trusting that someday it will fall into place. 

This life is full of incomplete pictures. Perfection cannot be attained within the confines of this mortal sphere. That is something that is promised during the eternities. But it can be frustrating when we want the answers “NOW!” We currently live in a challenging time. Many are facing trials of great magnitude. There are no easy answers. But there is always hope. This is something I have learned through the years. Life may not always turn out the way I envision, but as the hymn advises: “There is hope smiling brightly before us . . .” (Hymn # 19)

Someday the pictures we are “working on” will all come together. The pieces will fall into place and we will understand why things happened the way that they did. Until then, we  have to learn to appreciate the picture as it is now, knowing someday it will reach its full potential.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Bloom Where You're Planted!

Two thoughts are going through my head and heart this morning—two separate and yet related thoughts that pretty well sum up the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. They are as follows: “Life is change!” & “Bloom where you are planted!” 

As I look back over 2016, I can see that many changes took place in my life, and in the lives of those I love. We welcomed a new little one into our family this past year, and said a temporary goodbye to those who moved on from mortal mode. I spent a goodly portion of this past year giving everything I could muster to a demanding calling, and ended the year by saying goodbye to that same calling, and accepted a new calling in a realm that is totally outside of my comfort zone. I traded the hat of serving as a counselor in our ward R.S. presidency for a cap that designates me as the new Bear Den Leader in the cub scouts—an area I’ve never served in before.

We did our best to raise a successful garden in 2016, and watched in outraged horror as most of it repeatedly froze, shriveling into a pile of dead leaves. And yet, this same pathetic garden produced the best crop of garlic and sage that I have ever grown. Quite ironic. 

My beloved mountain huckleberries suffered greatly this past year. The pickings were rather slim in comparison to other years. And yet, we harvested a bumper crop of apples from our fruit trees. 

We played host to a plethora of family gatherings and fun-filled occasions, most recently the reuniting of our immediate clan over the Christmas holiday season. It was wonderful, exhilarating, and exhausting, all rolled into one. The ecstasy of having everyone here at home was matched by the heartache of bidding them all goodbye at the end of that week. 

Before the holidays descended with a flourish, we moved my m-i-l from her home of ten years to a new location that is closer to family. With the death of her 3rd husband, yet another major change took place. We’ve spent the past few weeks helping her to get settled in new surroundings that are strange and challenging, and yet exciting and appealing.

In the midst of all of that, I was presented with a brand new insulin pump, one that has only been available since August of 2016. I have worked with other insulin pumps in the past—I’m convinced those devices have helped me remain in mortal mode. This newest technical wonder has been a supreme challenge. Instead of keeping track of one small I.V. site, I now keep tabs on a sensor that shares continuous blood sugar data, plus the I.V. site that allows insulin to drip into my system. At the moment, I’m a beeping mess—quite literally, as I learn to master the numerous bells, whistles, alarms, etc. that go along with this newest pump. And I’ve been told that I will trade up again in the spring of 2017 for a pump that will automatically punch in insulin as needed. Go team Cheri!!!

Life is indeed change. I’ve learned that lesson throughout my life—which has been one change after another. Looking back, I know that I’ve seldom been bored in mortal mode. I suspect that was the plan. Our Father knew that we wouldn’t learn anything if things always remained the same. In order to grow and develop as He intended, there must be a continuous influx of challenges, changes, and chocolate. (Okay, I through that last word in there for the alliteration, and to see if you’re paying attention.) Plus it’s true, in order to survive all of that, one needs things like chocolate. I’m just saying . . .
So the supreme challenge is to be a sport when change comes along. Learning to roll with life’s punches is part of the plan. It’s not always easy, and I’ll admit, there are days when I feel like kicking and screaming in protest, rather than rolling along, but I digress. That’s where the second saying comes into play. “Bloom where you’re planted,” is often a very hard thing to do. Sometimes it feels like one is striving to bloom among a thistle-filled bed of weeds, among rocks that bonk one’s head. There are days when all you want to do is crawl back inside of the dirt and hide. 

That said, I love playing with my flower beds. Each year I do my best to arrange beautiful flowers that will hopefully bloom with flair. It is often a challenge to keep up with the weeds, and to trim plants that tend to overgrow their intended boundaries. Some of my prettiest blossoms suffer through quite a process to reach perfection. They are often transplanted from their original location in the hopes that they will add beauty to a new realm. They are lovingly nurtured, although at first, they may not appreciate that effort. Eventually, bit by bit, they take root and begin to grow and then bloom. It’s quite a process, but one that is worth it in the end.

I suppose that’s what I’m trying to say in this meandering post. Life is change. It was meant to be that way, and the best thing we can do is strive to bloom wherever we are planted. It won’t be perfect—that promise is saved for another time. But we can learn to look for the good, and on bad days, remember that chocolate is always our friend.  ;)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Keeping up the Pace

I had an interesting dream last night. Now I realize most dreams are silly nonsense, our mind’s way of sorting through the activities of the day, etc. But I truly believe that once in a while, we can receive important messages through that format. This was one of those—at least for me. I’ve had a few like this one in my life. Some are too sacred to share. Most leave me with a deep feeling of comfort and peace. And upon awakening, the details remain intact, unlike other dreams that fade into the misty corners of my memory.

I feel impressed to share a portion of this one—I’m not sure why, other than the peace and comfort this message instilled within me may be important to pass on to those of you who are enduring a similar mindset. 

To begin, we live in a negative world. I believe I have addressed this item a couple of times in other blog posts. It’s really true, though. The news stories we see on a daily basis are enough to convince people that there is little hope in today’s world for a bright future. Combine that with how we’re often treated by others, and it’s enough to sink anyone’s boat of self-confidence. Hence this much-needed dream:

In the beginning, I was jogging. (Don’t make fun—in truth, I have never jogged. I do walk on a regular basis for exercise, but I digress . . .) I was pretty impressed with how well I was jogging along the path I had chosen to follow. As I moved forward, I passed others who were trying to make their way along this same path. Some were faster than others. Some were barely moving in place. I stopped to help a couple of these, but soon discovered there was little I could do. It was as though they had given up and were content to remain where they were.

Shrugging, I continued forward. I eventually caught up to an older woman who was in synch with the pace I was keeping. We began to visit as we jogged along. She asked me questions about who I was and what was important to me. I shared items like family, friends, the Gospel, etc. And as is the way in dreams, suddenly we were inside of an office of sorts. The older woman sat at an impressive desk and continued with our “interview.” 

“Tell me about the things you have accomplished,” she encouraged. 

Surprised by this request, I began with where I graduated from high school, where I attended college, and touched on getting married, having children, etc. Then she began digging for more information. “What has been important to you? How have you spent your time? List the things that you have achieved.”

I dug a bit deeper and told her about some of the things that I’ve attempted  through the years. Towards the end of this list, she smiled warmly and congratulated me on all that I have tried to do. It was a good reminder. “Reflect on this list when life drags you down,” she counseled. “You have accomplished much that is good—remember this.”

I woke with a deep feeling of comforting peace. And I knew I had been given a message. I reflected on a prayer I had uttered a few nights ago. It had been a particularly “bad” day, one of those when nothing seems to go right. Mentally, I began my silent prayer by beating myself up inside. “Why did I handle things that way? Why didn’t I say this instead? Why am I such an idiot—such a failure? Please help me to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing right now.”

I can look back now and know that I had taken quite a beating to my confidence level by the adversary who is an expert when it comes to tearing us down. He never plays fair and he always hits below the belt trying to get us to believe the very worst about ourselves. He translates how others perceive us and assures that our worst fears are indeed true.
It takes quite a bit to shake off that negativity, to rise above the dark thought process that tries to convince us that we are worthless. What a challenge it can be to continue to “jog” along the path of life, keeping our outlook positive as we try to help those we meet along the way. 

How important it is to heed promptings when they come to “smile at that person,” “talk to this person,” or “give that person a compliment.” Your efforts may be what that person needs to keep going. 

And on bad days when nothing seems to go right, take a moment to ponder how wonderful you truly are. You are a son or a daughter of God. You came to this world with inspiring gifts and talents. (Yep, these two things are different. One designates physical abilities like being an artist, etc, the other denotes spiritual strengths.) Use these items to make a positive difference in this troubled world. I believe that someday, we’ll be asked to give an accounting of what we did with them. Hopefully we can truthfully answer that we blocked out the “dark side” to make life more inspiring for others.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Finding Joy

I was recently asked how I’ve been able to keep smiling, even when times are hard. It’s a question I’ve been asked repeatedly in my life. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. The truth is, I don’t always smile. There have been plenty of tears—mostly in silence when no one else but God can see. Despite what some may think, I’m a very private person. I keep things that are tender close to my heart. I’ve realized lately that this isn’t always good. Sometimes it’s better to share, depending on the situation.

I learned years ago that when I’m hurting the most, the best thing I can do is to serve someone else. For instance, after the loss of my father, I stumbled onto the fact that whenever I did something for others, the pain in my heart lessened. It was a discovery that helped me survive that arduous time. The more I did for others, the better I felt inside until the overwhelming heartache was an inner sting that was easier to manage.
Writing out what I was feeling helped a ton, too. It’s something I still do. I will pour out whatever is bothering me onto the written page, and then I delete or shred those things. It’s like purging away the pain. 

Focusing on the good things that are taking place is another way to survive a challenging moment. Being grateful for the blessings and tender mercies taking place helps us realize that life isn’t as bad as we sometimes think. 

Going for a walk has always helped me clear out the mental cobwebs that sometimes take up residency. The fresh air is invigorating (unless it’s as cold as it is this morning) and being in nature inspires peace for me. Seeing the beauty that our Father created for us to enjoy is a source of comfort.

I’ve always found consolation in the scriptures. Actually, I should say that this observation didn’t really occur until I was in college. During a particularly intense trial, I felt prompted to pick up the book of scripture that was resting on my desk. I was so upset, I picked it up and threw it across the room. Thankfully a loving Father in heaven was patient with me during that time. The book of scripture opened up to a page I needed to read. When I finally felt guilty enough to walk across the room and pick my scriptures up from the floor, a passage of scripture practically leaped off the page at me. (D. & C. 121:7-8) It was exactly what I needed to see, and the immediate peace I felt was crucial. I’ve felt drawn to the scriptures ever since and I have found comfort, inspiration, and peace when I’ve needed it most.

Prayer is another lifeline. I will sometimes spend what seems like hours on my knees pleading for guidance, comfort, and peace. I have a bit of arthritis, and being on my knees is not always a fun thing. But it’s worth it when the familiar warmth penetrates my heart and I know that somehow, things will work out.

Finally, looking for the silver linings is how I survive. I’ve been blessed with an “interesting” sense of humor. It’s a gift that runs in our family. When we gather together, we often laugh over things that other people probably think are strange. For us, it’s a great way to release stress. We mostly laugh at ourselves and each other, as we remember hilarious moments that have occurred, like the time I stepped into the hem of my long, formal dress as I was walking up the stairs to the stage during a Jr. Miss competition. Let’s just say I didn’t win the award for poise and grace that night. 

Focus on the positive. Look for the good. And as one very wise man/prophet once said, “Don’t be a pickle-sucker.” (The entire quote, by President Gordon B. Hinckley is: “ . . . My dear young friends, don’t partake of the spirit of our times. Look for the good and build on it. Don’t be a ‘pickle sucker.’ There is so much of the sweet and the decent and the good to build on.” ‘Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,’ BYU Speeches, October 29, 1974)

We all have moments in life that are less than fun. Challenges and tests are part of why we’re here. Those items bring growth, maturity, and strength—if we allow them to work in the manner intended. The trick is to not get caught up in self-pity and bitterness. Find what helps you survive heart-rending trials—whether it’s helping others, developing talents, focusing on a hobby, etc. and so forth, and do it. Keep pushing forward and eventually, you will smile and mean it. Until then, never lose hope—knowing someday when this life is over, and the video of your life is being featured, you can be proud that you never gave up, despite the battle that raged.