Monday, May 26, 2014

Never Forget

From the earliest time I can remember, Memorial Day has been an important time for our family. We lived fairly close to my father's family and so we would start the weekend by helping my widowed grandmother decorate the graves of her husband and only daughter. Since my paternal grandfather had served in World War I (my father was born late in life to his parents, so we are directly tied to an older generation) I felt a certain amount of pride in seeing the small American flag that was placed by my grandfather's grave marker.

Most years we were reminded that it was my paternal grandfather who initiated the effort to beautify the Lewisville Cemetery. When a baby girl born to my grandparents died shortly after her birth, my heartbroken grandfather took one look at the barren pioneer cemetery and decided it needed some work. Weeds and brush were cleared from the area. Grass, pine trees, and beautiful flowering crab trees were planted. To this day, that small cemetery is one of the prettiest around, thanks in part to my grandfather's determination to make his daughter's final resting place a haven on earth.

Each year, after decorating the graves of family members on my father's side of the family tree, our clan then headed to Star Valley, Wyoming, to help my mother's family do the same thing. My maternal grandmother made up beautiful baskets of flowers, using varied blooms from her flower beds, and the local nursery. We then traveled to the Thayne Cemetery to honor the memory of those who had gone on before us. Included among those family members is one of my mother's brothers, who died in a tragic accident when he was seven years old.

As we worked together to place colorful flowers on each grave, stories were shared about our ancestors. It was a time of remembering and strengthening family ties as we gathered with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents to pay homage to the varied members of our family, like the courageous great-grandmother who left her home in Scotland and came to America with her daughter, seeking religious freedom. We were reminded of the great-uncle who rode with the Pony Express, and how he fought off thieves who tried to rob him. A distant cousin sacrificed his life serving his country in the military--an aunt bravely faced a turbulent battle with cancer, a loving grandmother passed quietly from this life after setting an example of quiet courage in facing life trials.

After stories were shared and the beautiful flower arrangements were in place, we then returned to our grandparent's home for a delicious picnic lunch. It was a weekend filled with tradition that I looked forward to each spring.

Shortly before my maternal grandmother passed away, my mother made a promise that she would see to it that the family graves would continue to be decorated each Memorial Day. She has kept that promise. Year after year we have made the journey we simply call, the Memorial Day Jaunt, or Loop. We travel to Lewisville, Idaho and begin by decorating the graves on my dad's side of the family. My father's grave lies near those of his parents, sister, and brother. His grandparents and aunts and uncles are also buried in this same small cemetery. We spend several minutes cleaning, decorating, and remembering beloved family members. Then we journey on to Wyoming to tackle this same task with my mother's family. It is an important tradition, and one I hope will continue.

When we remember those who have gone on before, it helps to shape our own lives. As we reflect on their sacrifices and example, though not perfect, it often inspires us to persevere and continually strive to bring honor to our family name. Though our trials differ from theirs, we remember their determination and courage, and perhaps learn from their mistakes.

These stories and traditions are crucial to pass onto future generations. It saddens me when I see a tendency for Memorial Day to become nothing more than a time of frivolous fun. When ancestors are forgotten and family stories fade from memory, we lose an important heritage. May we each make an effort to remember those who have paved the way for us--knowing their sacrifices have made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Being Positive in a Negative World

We live during a challenging time. (Something I'm sure most people have believed during every era of the world's history.) In our day, we don't have to worry about running from dinosaurs, booking passage on the Ark, surviving the Black Plague, or the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc. but we face our own set of trials. That is part of why we're here--to prove ourselves during entertaining moments.

That being said, I believe that one of our biggest obstacles is overcoming negativity. Part of the problem is it's everywhere--on the news, the internet, even in our interactions with each other. This day of instant communication is wonderful--for the most part--but it seems to be a two-edged sword. People often say whatever is on their mind and share it in a very public fashion. It makes keeping in touch easier and fun--but at times it can also be a source of discord.

I've noticed that on the news channels, for instance, 98% of the stories shared are quite depressing. There are so many murders, deaths, and heart-wrenching tales it makes you want to sit in a corner and cry. It also leaves you with the impression that only bad things are taking place. It totally makes my day when stations attempt to share at least one positive news event. It's a nice reminder that despite all of the negative items occurring, there are still good people in the world, and happy times taking place.

There are many heart-warming events being shared in public formats online. I enjoy it when people share touching stories, cool pictures, and clean, funny jokes or adventures. I don't appreciate doom and gloom comments, slams against other people, or negative rants.

I've said this before, but we've become a generation of critics. It seems that no matter what anyone does, someone is right there to offer a critique, and usually in a very public fashion. These are not self-esteem boosts. And despite what the adversary would have us believe, it doesn't serve a noble purpose to tear people down.

We are all human, and we all make mistakes. We say and do silly things on occasion. It's wonderful when others give us the benefit of the doubt and an encouraging pat on the back--not a shove into the mud.

During this crazy time we live in, there are a lot of trials taking place. Natural disasters are happening with increased frequency. The economy is anything but stable. Consumer goods are constantly going up in price while wages fail to match. There are a lot of health concerns, physical trials, and people being mean to each other. In short, most of us aren't smiling as much as we once did.

Years ago, when I was a young, silly, high school sophomore, two older girls approached me and made the comment, "You are always smiling. I'll bet you can't go five minutes without smiling." They were right. I tried really hard to frown during those five minutes, and couldn't do it. They laughed and moved on, but their observation stayed with me for many years. What they didn't know was that year was one of the most difficult I had ever faced in my young life. There weren't many reasons to smile. For starters, my father's health was a mess, and my home-life was anything but normal. Also, my maternal grandmother passed away earlier that year. I was her oldest granddaughter and we had been very close--losing her devastated me. One of my closest friends was diagnosed with lupus a couple of months later and she had been critically ill for weeks, since both kidneys were shutting down. She spent much of that year in a hospital in Salt Lake as a result. And on top of everything else, one night when I was walking across the park from my home, I was attacked. Though we never did find out who was responsible for that horrible event (the police did their best, but there wasn't enough evidence to figure things out) I did manage to get away unscathed, for the most part. To this day if I am approached from behind, I jump ten feet into the air, so there were lingering effects, and I was terrified to go anywhere by myself at night for a long time, but aside from all of that and few bruises, I escaped unharmed.

Looking back, I can see how watched over I really was. But at the time I didn't understand that concept. I actually felt quite picked on. So . . . why was I able to find reasons to smile after enduring such a tough year? It boiled down to one thing: that was also the year I gained my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A year-long quest led me to the spiritual glue that would hold me in place despite the emotional typhoon that was my life. That inner peace made all the difference in the world. Understanding that I was a child of God and that He loved me was huge. Realizing that all of the hard, horrible trials actually served a purpose was life changing. Knowing that despite everything, truth and beauty still existed inspired me to be a better person, and to strive to do good things with my life.

It began with smiling. Each day I would take a deep breath and, at times, force a smile. Though my life continued to be anything but normal, I could face each day as it came with the knowledge that my actions mattered. The choices I made were important, and it was crucial to do my best to help those around me, to follow the example set by our Elder Brother. He did His best to point the way to finding joy during times of trial. He taught us important lessons, like losing ourselves in service to other people is the best way to find true happiness.

So in this day of hurrying, frowning, meanness, and discord, I have a suggestion--reach out to others in a positive fashion. Do something nice for someone else--even if it's simply offering a sincere smile. Will it make a difference? I believe it will. We may not see in this lifetime the end result of our small acts of service, but they will inspire a ripple effect. (If you're wondering what that is, throw a small rock into a lake or pond sometime and watch what happens.) One small act of service can do more good than you will ever know. And just think--if everyone did one small act of service every day--it could eventually change the world. We can make lemons into lemonade, just as my mother taught me years ago. And to my way of thinking, lemonade is far more tasty than the bitterness of negativity soup.