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.


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.