Monday, December 9, 2013

The Best Christmas Gift

As Christmas approaches, I find myself thinking about last year. I was still recovering from a minor heart procedure, too weak to attempt many of the traditional items that I normally tackle each December. That may be why my children and grandchildren decided to set up the Christmas tree for me. I sat comfortably on the couch and watched as our artificial tree was pieced together, the ornaments were located, and the boxes opened for my grandchildren to explore. At the tender ages of four and one and a half, these precious children smiled with joy at the discovery of each ornament. Carefully they placed them on the tree in a random manner that to them seemed appropriate. My granddaughter sorted colors and shapes, while her younger brother made a nest on one side of the tree and lovingly set the ornaments he treasured in that safe place. Touched by their eagerness to help, the tree was left as they had decorated it, a reminder of that magical night.

I wrote the following poem this morning as I reflected on last year's experience. May I always remember the importance of reaching out to others in love. Gifts don't need to be large or expensive, but if they come from the heart, they are truly the best gifts we can give.

The Best Christmas Gift

Can sometimes
Make us feel blue--
It’s sad to say but often true
This time of year we tend to miss
The items that bring true inner bliss
As we try to look impressive with lights and d├ęcor
Sending better Christmas cards than the year before
Tackling tasks we always think we must do this season
While we ignore the all-important behind-the-scenes reason
We celebrate this time of year—a time of hope, and love and cheer—
If we’ll reflect on what the best gift might be, an item not for sale, but given for free:
The love of our Savior—we can extend to others--the people around us, our sisters and brothers
He taught through love and the example He set, showing us it is much better to give than to get
Atoning for a world that doesn’t understand, the importance of being there for our fellow man
To emulate His life is the best gift to give, walking in His footsteps each day that we live
Reach out to those in need—lift the troubled soul
Make kindness, patience, and tolerance a goal
And in time we may begin to finally see
The path He walked in Galilee.
By: Cheri J. Crane

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mustard Seeds Matter

This past week has caused my family a bit of stress. One of my sister's daughters is currently serving a mission in the Philippines. If you've seen some of the news stories that the media has presented since Typhoon Haiyan made an appearance, you will probably understand our concern. Although we have been told comforting things like most of the missionaries serving in the Philippine Islands have been accounted for, there is still a fearful nudge that afflicts us all from time to time. We believe she is fine, but we want sure knowledge. We want to know where she is, if she's all right, and to hear her voice . . . or at least read an e-mail typed by her hand. The continued silence on her end is a source of worry.

I suspect that times like these are tests. Do we possess enough faith to continue on, even when the way isn't sure? It is a difficult trial.

Years ago, after I spoke at a fireside for a group of girls attending an annual YW girls' camp, I was presented with a necklace that contained a mustard seed encased in resin. It was the first time I had ever seen an actual mustard seed. This necklace became one of my treasures . . . a reminder that we can do great things if we possess faith the size of this very small seed.

In the New Testament, Matthew tells us the following story: a troubled man had brought his son to be healed by Christ's disciples. They tried--but were not successful. The man then approached our Savior and begged for His help. He healed this man's son in an instant. Later, when his disciples asked Him why they had not been able to heal this boy, Jesus told them it was because of their lack of faith. He went on to say,
 " . . .  if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." He then adds the following counsel: "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." (See Matt. 17:14-21) In other words, yes, if we possess a tiny bit of faith, great things are possible . . . but it requires effort on our part--belief, prayer, and fasting."

I believe this to be true. I have seen miraculous things take place when faith, prayer, and fasting are combined. I've been told as a Type 1 diabetic that fasting is not my friend, and to be honest, I don't attempt it very often, but when the need is great, and I've done everything else I can think of to make a positive difference, I fast. I go without food and water for as many hours as my body will tolerate. Eventually, my blood sugar level crashes, and I have to wrap things up fast, but to me, these sacred opportunities are great blessings in my life--a way to show my Father in heaven that I have done everything I can possibly do to survive a difficult trial, or on behalf of someone else who is suffering through a heart-rending test.

Things don't always turn out the way I hope or pray for--but I am usually blessed with the gift of peace and an assurance that while I may not understand why the outcome wasn't what I had desired--someday I will. Someday it will become clear why things happened the way that they did.

Periodically, I may still wish for a magic wand that makes everything better for everyone--but then again, perhaps that would defeat the purpose of this life. Without trials, we wouldn't grow into who our Father hopes we will someday become. And with faith, we can survive whatever this mortal journey brings our way.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Finding Peace During Troubled Times

As was mentioned repeatedly during this last session of General Conference, we live during troubled times. And as President Monson pointed out--there have always been troubled times. Since this life is basically a testing ground--a chance for us to develop our character and prove ourselves, there will be challenging trials.

I'll admit, however, that it is a bit disconcerting when one's country takes a nose-dive. These are uncertain moments and none of us quite know what to expect. When scary episodes take place during this journey we call "life," there is a formula we can follow to survive. I know this because I have survived a few perilous tests during my own mortal adventure.

Take the year, 1983. (Yes, as my children point out, I'm aging by the minute.) Several challenging events surfaced in my life. For starters, my pancreas finally gave up the ghost, and I went on insulin permanently. yay. This was a challenge, since my blood sugar levels tended to bounce everywhere but where they were supposed to be. I went from the 40 range up into the 400's at the drop of a hat, or so it seemed. (Normal people tend to bounce between about 80-120.) It didn't help that my husband and I discovered that I was expecting our first child during that tempestuous time. Needless to say, it was a challenging pregnancy--but prayers were answered and we survived. After nine challenging months, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Just as it seemed as though we had passed that life test with flying colors, I developed blood clots in the main vein in my left leg--the one that takes blood to the heart. The largest clot was the size of a golf ball. Nice. So my newborn son went home without me as I endured 10 more exciting days in the hospital. This time the challenge was to stay alive, since everyone feared that the largest clot would dislodge and hit my heart. Good times. ;)

I survived yet again, beating the odds, and I returned home on crutches. Just as I began thinking the worst was over, my father, who had been enduring health challenges of his own, took his own life. My entire world seemed to implode. It took my family many years to pick up the pieces of that heart-rending challenge.

How did we get through all of that? I can look back now and see a pattern, since it's one I have clung to during other character-building moments. The most important thing is to keep breathing. Oxygen is our friend and we need it to keep going forward. So, take a few deep breaths when disasters descend, but don't hyperventilate. ;)

Keep your spiritual batteries charged. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as: prayer, studying the scriptures, hitting the temple, and reading through the inspirational talks given by our church leaders (hint: General Conference talks especially contain the tidbits of spiritual wisdom we need to continue our mortal journey.) Find what works for you, and do it daily. This is crucial.

Write out what you're feeling. During the nights when I couldn't sleep, I felt prompted to write out what was killing me inside. Then I shredded those pages into the garbage bin. It always made me feel lighter inside, and it hooked me on writing. This led to all kinds of interesting adventures, like eventually getting published.

Learn to take life one day at a time. And, as my mother has often pointed out, sometimes you can only deal with one minute at a time. After my father's death, she would wake up each morning and think, "All I have to do is to get up and get in the shower." Then that morphed into: "All I have to do now, is get dressed." Etc. and so forth. Take life in bits and pieces for a while. Don't let the big picture scare you into a non-functioning abyss.

Vent to a good friend. Sometimes it helps to simply share the fears inside your heart. This is an important release and it helps you make sense of challenges that often don't. There are times when all we need is a listening ear to sort through tribulation.

Make time for physical activity. There were times when I simply needed to go for a brisk walk to clear my head, or to play an aggressive game of racquetball. It helped me get rid of negative emotions that were tearing me apart.

And I can't emphasize this last suggestion enough: DO ACTS OF SERVICE!!!! I found that whenever I did something for someone else, it chipped away at the pain I was carrying around inside my troubled heart. The more I did for others, the better I felt.

As you can see, these are simple things, and yet they are huge when it comes to surviving distressing times. I find that I always return to this formula when mountainous obstacles block the path of my mortal journey. We can learn to climb those mountains, one step at a time--and along the way we learn that we are never as alone as we sometimes think we are. The veil is thin and there are numerous loved ones from the other side who are constantly cheering us on our way. We are indeed children of Heavenly Parents who are also cheering for us as we move forward past stumbling blocks. With their help, we can learn to turn those blocks into stepping stones along our path.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Avoiding Whales

So there I was, minding my own business, when an irritating inner nudge began to pester. I did my best to ignore it, coming up with all kinds of reasons to reject the prompting. No one needs to hear from me today. Others will share the message that needs to be contributed. It won't come out right anyway--and then I'll be mocked.

As these thoughts and others plagued during Fast Sunday, I continued to sit on my nice, comfortable seat, squirming in place until my husband inquired if I needed to make use of the facilities down the hall. =)

I found myself thinking of others who had felt a similar way. Take Moses, for instance. He was told that he needed to journey back to Egypt and have a chat with Pharaoh. I'm sure his inner struggle went something like this:

He won't listen to me anyway. Other people could do a much better job of sharing this message. It won't come out right--and then I'll be mocked. 

Then there was Jonah: They won't listen to me anyway. Someone else could do a better job of sharing this message. It won't come out right--and then I'll be mocked. Plus, I'm a tiny bit scared of these people. 

So on and so forth. In the case of Moses, he was given the reassurance that all would be well, and he was provided with a spokes-person in the form of his brother, Aaron.

Having a gifted spokesperson would be real boon. If I had such a thing, I could merely gesture to him/her and let them take over the conversation, testimony, talk, fireside, etc. whenever things get difficult. "And now, a word or two from someone who actually makes sense . . ." The pressure to strive for perfection would fade, since my personal spokesperson would see to it that the message I desire to convey is done so in the best way possible. I would LOVE that. ;)

However . . . I'm sure there could be a downside. For instance . . . what if my spokesperson had different ideas about how to present my message . . . and what if the message changed, based on their perspective? Then it would cease to be what I felt prompted to share. Hmmmm.

Let's reflect on Jonah. Maybe he had the right idea. When in doubt, run away. =) At times, I can see when this is preferred to standing up in front of people who judge you when something is stuck between your teeth, your shirt is buttoned wrong, or you're wearing two different shoes. These occasions tend to inspire creative mockery from the audience.

Upon further reflection, it didn't do Jonah any good to run away. He nearly caused the drowning demise of an entire shipload of people, not to mention the fact that he was swallowed by a whale. I can think of more enjoyable pastimes. I suspect Jonah was so relieved to be spit up on the shore, that suddenly, talking to the scary group of people seemed to be a better option. And we all know how Jonah's story turned out--an entire city was saved because he finally found the courage to share God's message.

I guess what I am attempting to say is this . . . when we receive promptings to do something . . . and it's a good thing . . . (one has to consider where the prompting is coming from) do it. As Nephi discovered, a way is provided for us to accomplish those often overwhelming "assignments." And as Joseph Smith learned, great things can come from small and simple acts of obedience. (See D. & C. 64:33-34; Joseph Smith History 1:7-19, not to mention, D. & C. 123:16).

Did I heed the prompting I was given yesterday? Grudgingly at first . . . but, yes, I finally did. I'll admit that I dragged my feet every step of the way up to the pulpit . . . but after gathering my courage, I did my best to share what was in my heart. Did it come out perfectly? No. After I returned to my seat, I was hit with "Dang it! I meant to say, this and this and this." Sigh . . .but then a quiet sense of inner peace indicated that I had done the best that I could do and all was well.

That's all our Father expects from any of us. We are given opportunities to do good things in this troubled world. We simply need to listen to the Still Small Voice, gather our courage, and faithfully strive to do our best. We may never know why we felt prompted to do some items--but I can testify that if it's a good thing, it's important to simply do it. Do it without questioning: "Why," "How," or "Me? Really?" If we will give heed to positive promptings, we will receive the guidance and help we need, one step at a time.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Learning From & Letting Go of the Past

Well, here we are, smack dab in the middle of September. The leaves are starting to turn vivid colors in the canyons, and though the sun is shining here and there (between impressive rain storms) a drop in the temperature indicates we are shifting from summer into fall.

Life is like that--it moves incredibly fast and it is full of change. You just think you've adjusted to one season, and another clamors for attention. Sometimes, it is good to look back and remember important highlights from previous eras--it helps form balanced perspectives for future adventures.

Earlier this month I returned to the place I consider my hometown--Ashton, Idaho. (My family moved eight times while I was growing up, but we spent the four years I was in high school in Ashton.) It was an interesting visit to this beautiful small town. As I walked around, savoring the crisp fall air, I felt a familiar urge to snap a few photos. [Those who know me well are rolling their eyes, very much not surprised by this tendency. ;) ]

I took a picture that won't mean anything to most people . . . but the empty spot on the side of Main Street holds a special place in my heart--the high school I once attended used to sit in this location. All that remains are a few trees, a patch of dried grass, and an empty parking lot. The deserted area tugged at my heart-- then I reminded myself that a brand new high school, both bigger and better, now exists on the other side of town. Some changes are good . . . it's just a little heart-rending to shift gears and move on.

While I was tripping down memory lane, I asked my husband to drive by the house my family purchased while we were in Ashton. It's located about two blocks away from where the old high school used to exist. The house appeared to be in great shape, with nice siding and a new roof. A sign indicates that it's for sale yet again. As I stood there, tears made an appearance. I quietly snapped a couple of pictures, took a deep breath, and walked down the street.

Turning, I gazed at the park that stands between my old house, and where the high school used to be. Tears gave way to a sense of peace as I realized that a horrendous ordeal that occurred during my sophomore year has helped shape me into a stronger, more determined individual. It was also a reminder of the importance forgiveness plays in all of our lives.

Years ago, as I walked home through that same park during the winter of my sophomore year in high school, I was attacked by an unknown assailant. By heeding the promptings that came through the gift of the Holy Ghost, I was able to get away with my virtue intact--a handful of bruises were the only visible marks that remained of that nightmarish evening. The inner bruising, however, would take years to heal. To this day, if someone walks up behind me and I'm not aware of their presence, a brief sense of panic descends. It is so much better than it was, however--and I have the Savior to thank for that great gift. 

Several years after I was married, I experienced a healing moment in the temple that helped me understand I had to let go of the hatred I had developed for the person who attacked me. Tears flowed that day, too, as I gave my pain to the Savior, and though I still jump when someone approaches me from behind, the anger, the sorrow, and the fear have faded into peace. I no longer harbor ill will toward whoever was responsible for the assault.

I have learned that if we so choose, we can release pent-up anger, inner pain, and the sorrow others have caused us when we give those negative emotions to the Savior. He knows best how to heal our hearts--and He has already atoned for what others may say or do to hurt us. When we continue to hang onto grudges, we're basically turning our backs to our Elder Brother. We can't fully enjoy life and experience the peace of heart our Father and Savior wish for us to find until we forgive.

Though I will never know in this life who the culprit was who caused me so much pain (the police were never able to prove who it was who attacked me that night) I had to release the angry hatred I was carrying around inside--it was tearing me apart. I have discovered that the same is true for other moments in my life when I have been offended or hurt. We have to let go of the negativity to heal. We must forgive others, and we must forgive ourselves when mistakes are made.

As I walked through the park in Ashton a few days ago, I did so with total peace of heart. And later that day, I met up with beloved friends from my youth as we celebrated our friendship by eating pizza and enjoying huckleberry shakes in the pizzeria that now exists where my dad's drugstore used to be.

Life is change. That's part of why we're here. If everything remained the same and we weren't tested and tried, we would never learn the lessons our Father desires us to experience while on this earth. I know I will be forever grateful for the education I've received thus far in my mortal journey. Some courses have been more difficult than others, but each one has helped to shape me into who I am today.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Miracles Exist--If We So Choose

We live in a time of great technological wonder. There are numerous gadgets and gizmos that make our lives easier . . . and yet in one aspect, more difficult. We are becoming a generation of skeptics, hardened by the belief that we are always entitled to a smooth road, one free of briars and brambles are that are actually part of this life's test.

I will admit, when trials come (something everyone experiences), it is possible to become angry, resentful, and bitter--to believe that heaven has turned its back toward us. When this happens, we sometimes begin to think that miracles no longer exist, especially when life doesn't work out the way we desired. I have learned that prayers are indeed answered (not always in the the way we envision, but answered, nonetheless), and that faith always precedes the miracle. (See Ether 12:12).

Faith is the first principle of the gospel for a very good reason. The belief in things hoped for and not seen (see Ether 12:6) is a fragile gift that can help us cope with the difficult things in life--if we will allow it to grow within our hearts. (See Alma 32: 21; 27-43). Since this life is a test, and most trials are soul-stretching adventures, they become a vehicle that can inspire faith to flourish . . . if we choose. With the gift of agency, it is up to each one of us to decide how we will react to the challenges in our lives. 

In my own life, I have faced a myriad of tests and trials, too many to ever think I've been left on my own to flounder. With each experience, my faith and testimony have grown--I know miracles have transpired and my life has been repeatedly spared as a result. People who know me well, know that I have survived nearly burning off my face, a motorcycle incident that could've left me mangled or dead, a blood clot adventure that should've taken my life in an instant . . . but didn't, my father's suicide death, the numerous perils that often go along with Type 1 diabetes, the joy of a crippling form of rheumatoid arthritis, a semi-truck jack-knifing in front of me on a narrow canyon road--and somehow righting itself at the last possible minute before taking us both down a steep canyon drop-off, and most recently: a heart glitch. (There have been many other trials, but if I listed them all, we'd be here for hours.)

As my children have often stated, I am a walking miracle, proof that marvelous intervention from heaven does exist--if we simply believe. "For I am God, and mine arm is not shortened; and I will show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name." (D. & C. 35:8) Here's the key: "But without faith shall not anything be shown forth . . ." (D. & C. 35:11 . . . also, check out D. & C. 63:8-11).

And yet, bad things are allowed to happen, despite tremendous faith and prayer. I believe this is again, part of life's test. What will we do if we don't get the miracle we had hoped for? How will we respond if our loved one is taken away despite everything we did? Or how will we handle it if a wandering family member or friend continues to make poor choices even though we have fasted and prayed that they will find their way?

I don't pretend to understand everything that happens in this life. I've come to realize there are many items I won't comprehend until after this mortal existence is finished. I do know there are many trials that simply test our faith. Will we remain steadfast, even if we're brought to our knees in grief and pain? Will we continue to believe in God, despite the challenges we face? Those are the moments that test our mettle--and if we'll allow it, they can refine us in the way our Father desires. (See 1 Nephi 20:10).

How do I cope when bad things happen? Sometimes I throw myself, and weep and wail and slip into self-pity mode for a bit. ;) None of us are perfect, and we're all very human. We possess the tendency to resent it a lot when challenges arrive in our lives. I believe the true test lies in whether we will choose to rise above these very human emotions to put our trust in the Lord, and bend our will to His, or remain in self pity mode. It's not easy, and let's face it, bending often hurts . . . especially when one is dealing with arthritis. ;) But it's this process that refines our faith, renews hope within, and helps us to gain an eternal perspective of what is truly important.

After I've finished pouting over whatever it is I've been called upon to endure, I tend to fall back on tried and true methods to survive trials. For instance, I have a deep love of the scriptures. There are several that have brought me peace of heart and mind through the years, despite overwhelming inner pain. I have found that same peace inside the walls of the temple. There are days when I wish I could live inside of that sacred edifice--but when I finally emerge, I usually notice that my "armor" (See D. & C. 27:15-18) is in better shape. Each Sunday, as I partake of the sacrament, I feel lightened by the Spirit, another witness that we are never as alone as we sometimes believe we are when facing challenges. I also spend time in beautiful areas that renew my belief that this world was indeed created for us by a loving Father in heaven who wants us to find joy in life, despite difficult struggles. These experiences fill me with a sense of renewal.

The best way to push heartache aside will always be acts of service. Doing something for someone else, even when we're hurting, is a surefire way to feel a heavenly balm. Another key is to express gratitude for the blessings we do enjoy. Each day when I say my personal prayers, I begin by listing the blessings I'm thankful for at that time. This helps me keep in mind that good things are happening, despite the difficulties also taking place.

Push aside the gizmos, the gadgets, the social networking, etc. and get back to the basics. There is a time and season to all things, but we do need moments of peace and quiet to feel the comfort available to us from the Spirit. Also, avoid the tendency to become negative and judgmental. Realize that most people are doing the best that they can during trying circumstances--and reach out to help those who are struggling to keep their heads above water.

Again, we live in a remarkable world of technology. But it's like anything else--we need to establish a balance. Use these gizmos and gadgets to lift people up, to share positive beliefs, and don't allow them to block the quiet whisperings of the Spirit that help us to know that miracles are still very much a part of our lives, if we so choose.

Monday, July 22, 2013


The past couple of weeks have been quite tender. We gathered together for my husband's family reunion, feeling sharply the loss of his sister, Arvilla. To pay tribute to her memory, we participated in a Relay for Life walk-a-thon to raise money for cancer research. We all wore yellow shirts in her honor, since that was her favorite color, and took turns walking around the track that night. It was a time of reflection and hope for those who may still fight this battle. It also managed to reopen our heart wounds a tiny bit.

During this same time frame, the mother of one of my closest friends passed away unexpectedly. I found myself grieving for the loss of this great woman, sharing my dear friend's sorrow as she copes with this difficult time. 

I have always found that writing things out helps me deal with painful emotions. So early one morning this past week, I composed the following poem, capturing what I may not be able to share any other way:

The mosaic of my soul lies tattered
Pieces of my heart have chipped away
With each loss inner tiles drift loose
Glue dissolving on pain-filled days.

How hard to be strong for others
When inner tiles slip from my reach
Most don’t comprehend this sorrow—
Save One who tried to teach.

He, alone, understands the heartache;
Counts every teardrop shed--
He paid for the pain I suffer
In unspoken agony He bled.

One by one, we all visit that Garden
Suffering invites us to softly kneel
To place our hand within His own
As He pays the price to heal.

Only then do we discern Eternal Love
Perceive the final cost;
Rising slowly to our feet
We know that all is not lost.

The strength to continue is granted
Inner glue renewed by humble desire
Refined we forge anew
Tiles sealed by the white hot fire.

The picture of our lives is not complete
Without tiles fashioned in hottest flame
And someday when all is restored—
We’ll be called by His sacred name.

Until then we press onward
Slipping our hand inside His own
Knowing we were never meant
To walk through infernos alone.

Cheri J. Crane
July 16, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Family Comes First

Wow, is anyone else amazed that we're already at the end of June? I can't believe how fast the summer months fly by these days. I suspect it's because we're so busy running to varied events, making the most of the warmer weather (we're pretending it's warm in Bear Lake) that the days pass in a hurry.

So far this summer, we've enjoyed spending a lot of time with family members. We've already savored a couple of cookouts, a wedding, and the first in a series of reunions. This past weekend found us up in Wyoming, attending a reunion on my mother's side of the family tree. Held near Cottonwood Lake in Star Valley, it was a fun time of catching up on the latest adventures with beloved family members, sharing awesome food, and playing silly games, like guessing the number of candy pieces inside varied containers.

To me it's also a way of keeping in touch with those who should matter the most. As my mother sat posing for pictures with her siblings, it hit me how fast life tends to slip away. One of these days, these choice people will pass through to another realm and our time spent with them here in mortal mode will be over. How important it is to take the time to enjoy them while they are here.

In this world of hustle and bustle, it can become easy to get bogged down in items that don't really matter. I know in my own life I have had to re-examine priorities. I experienced a little heart glitch a few months ago and have been told to slow down. This is a challenge when life is crazy busy and you find yourself involved in numerous things that are good--but time-consuming none-the-less. So I've been trying to focus on those items that matter most, like family. This means I've had to weed out a few activities that are important, too, but not nearly as crucial as spending time with loved ones. 

When it comes down to it, is it really going to matter how many committees we served on, or how many hours we spent volunteering in the community if we ignore the people in our lives who should be first priority? Don't get me wrong, I know it's important to serve in our communities--I've done so in varied capacities, like the county diabetic support group I helped run for years. But if we're so involved in civic responsibilities that there isn't time to spend with loved ones, something is wrong--especially when time,  energy, and health are at stake.

So this summer, I choose to spend the time at weddings, reunions, cookouts, and enjoying family members while I can, savoring moments that cannot be recaptured. I suspect that when this life is over, and it's all said and done, that is what will matter most of all.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Enjoying the Journey

Yesterday I spoke in our ward with my husband.I thought for today's blog I would draw upon some of what I shared during that adventure.

After we were asked to speak, and were told that we could tackle whatever topic came to mind, I began praying to know what to touch on. I shouldn't have been surprised when I found myself wide awake early one morning with a multitude of thoughts running around inside my scrambled brain.

All of them had to do with finding joy as we journey along in this mortal life. I suspect this came to mind because so many of us are dealing with heart-wrenching trials during these interesting latter-days.

So, here's a snippet of what surfaced inside my head that morning: It is actually a commandment from our Savior to find joy in this life. In essence he has said: " . . . verily, I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst and have not forsaken you;" (D. & C. 61:36)

I was reminded that there have always been challenging times, beginning with Adam & Eve. Think about what they went through--going from a heavenly setting full of bliss and peace in the Garden of Eden, to a place where they had to work for every mouthful of food, create their own shelter, and basically, fend for themselves. It definitely could've been a time for self-pity and depression. Instead, both Adam and Eve celebrated this chance to learn and grow and have a family. (See Moses 5:10-11)

I was guided toward the wisdom of King Benjamin found in Mosiah 4:20. I found the humor in his wording of how we tend to "beg" for help when things hit the fan in our lives, and how our Father is always willing to listen to us and help us find peace and joy, regardless of what it is we're struggling through.

We've all been blessed with character-building moments--and since we're all very unique, they are all very different. These are the things that help us learn and grow, stretching us spiritually in our quest to become more like our Heavenly Parents. But it's seldom a "fun" process, gaining the education we came to find in this mortal world. And there are times when we wonder if we'll survive the curriculum. But there is always hope. I often find peace of mind by searching the scriptures.

Mosiah 7:33 basically tells us to do the following:
1-Turn to the Lord.
2-Trust in Him.
3- Serve Him--with a good attitude.
4-And if we are willing to do all of that, we will be delivered from the trial we are enduring, or receive the strength to hang in there.

Alma 36:3 states:
1-We must trust in God.
2- And if we are willing to do that, we'll be supported in our trials.

Proverbs 3:5 shares:
1- We must trust in the Lord with all of our heart (not just a tiny portion)
2- Realize that we are not always going to understand 'why' some things happen.

D. & C. 19:23 instructs:
1- We need to learn about our Savior.
2- We need to listen to His words.
3- Be meek enough to feel the Spirit.
4- We will be given peace.

So on and so forth. If you look through the topical guide under the word, "JOY," you will be amazed by how many references there are to this emotion. I was told once that if you find something mentioned in the scriptures 3 times or more, we need to pay attention. From what I have found, "JOY" is mentioned way more than 3 times. This means it's important. 

To sum things up: we're in mortal mode to learn and grow. This is not always a fun quest. We seem to grow the most from those soul-stretching adventures that come into all of our lives. Despite these challenges, we can find peace and happiness--if we'll seek a cheerful attitude. It's not easy--but things of worth seldom are.

As Lehi so eloquently phrased it: "Adam fell that men (and women) might be; and men are that they might have joy." (2 Nephi 2:24)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Never Forget

Years ago I remember gathering as a family at my paternal grandparents' abode in Idaho to prepare flowery bouquets that were then taken to a nearby cemetery over Memorial weekend. The beautiful flower arrangements were distributed among the family graves in this location. Stories were shared about these people--most of whom I had never met, like my father's sister who passed away the day she was born. I was shown the headstones of pioneer ancestors who had helped settle the area and reminded of the great sacrifices they had made to establish our family. Each year it was pointed out that my paternal grandfather had joined the cemetery board after the death of his infant daughter and how he had helped initiate the beautification of this particular cemetery, planting grass, pine trees, and flowering crab trees once the sagebrush was removed.This effort helped my grieving grandparents deal with the loss of their only daughter. Stories like these helped me gain an appreciation of who these people were and filled me with a determination to live up to their example.

When this yearly ritual was completed in Idaho, my family journeyed to Star Valley, Wyoming to do a similar thing with my mother's family. Once again we gathered at the grandparents' house to organize flowery bouquets that were then taken to another beautiful small town cemetery. We always began by decorating the tiny grave of my mother's brother who died in a tragic accident when he was seven years old. Other bouquets of flowers were then placed near the headstones of aunts and uncles, and ancestral grandparents who are buried in this location. Stories were once again shared about sacrifices made, and the courage these people possessed.

I remember asking about the small American flag that was attached to the side of one relative's grave and being informed that this member of our family had served bravely in the armed forces, fighting for our country. Shortly after this information was shared, I was taken to a special ceremony at this same cemetery where a larger flag was raised, a speech was delivered about the importance of remembering the sacrifices made by those who offered their lives to keep our nation free. And I will never forget the haunting melody of "Taps" as it was played on the trumpet by a talented musician.

Decorating graves over Memorial weekend has been a huge tradition on both sides of my family. My mother promised her mother that this would always take place each year--and each year, she has faithfully come through, despite ugly weather, health challenges, etc. As a child, I enjoyed meeting up with extended family members during this traditional holiday weekend. I loved hearing the stories about my ancestors, and I have passed these same stories on to my own children in an attempt to keep the family flame burning.

Memorial Day took on an even deeper meaning when my own father passed away several years ago. I don't think I will ever forget how hard that first Memorial weekend was as we somberly gathered around Dad's grave. The pain of that time was eased by extended family members who met up with us in Star Valley, sharing love, delicious food, and fond memories of our father.

This year as I took my mother on our annual "Memorial Loop", as we call it, we journeyed to Lewisville, Idaho to decorate the graves of my father, and his family. There we met up with cousins on that side who had come to do the same thing. It was wonderful to see them, and to spend a short heartfelt time together as we remembered those who paved the way for us.

Then it was on to Star Valley, Wyoming, where we met up with part of my mother's family and enjoyed renewing family bonds. Once again we journeyed to the cemetery where loved one are buried and set out flowers to commemorate their memory.

One thing I noticed this year . . . there weren't as many people decorating graves. We were told this by the man who owns the place where we stayed in Star Valley. He commented that during this era of busyness, people don't seem as interested in celebrating Memorial weekend in the traditional manner.

To me, this is a sad trend. I know most people celebrate this weekend--but for some it is merely the start of the summer. It's a time to go boating, fishing, camping, barbequing, etc. Those things are fine, and we've often done that ourselves . . . after paying homage to those who have gone before.

I think it's important to spend time remembering where we've come from--it helps us focus on where we need to go--a reminder that someday there will be an accounting of what we've done with our family names. Passing on family stories and examples of sacrifice and courage is important. It helps us to become less selfish as we focus on our ancestors and honor their memory during this special time of year. Taking the time to remember them is crucial--proof that we appreciate all that they have done on our behalf.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Coucher du Soleil

As I sat, absorbing yet another loss this morning, the following words came to mind. 

Coucher du Soleil

The sunset moment comes to us all

None are exempt from that setting

When mortal day is done

And we embrace peace . . . forgetting

Sorrow, pain, grief, despair

These all slip away

As we climb a golden stair

Toward a brighter day

We leave the mortal shell of life behind

Retaining memory of our time

Reuniting with loved ones lost

As we make that final climb.

Though others grieve as we depart

A brighter day will dawn

Peace will settle the anguished heart

Lending strength to carry on.

Cheri J. Crane
May 21, 2013