Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Power of Music

Dad Making Breakfast While Listening To My Stereo
With My Headphones So He Didn't Wake Anyone Up
In the wake of finally becoming empty nesters, we are doing some major reorganizing at my house.  I'm cleaning out "kid stuff" and reclaiming my home.  The kids should all thank me for this; I could just wait until I die and let them deal with this stuff.  Somewhere in the reorganization process yesterday, I was struck by the power that music has had in my life.

My music has been in plastic bins for a couple of years.  It was necessary to put most of it away to make room for other things kid related -- you know, one kid's "independence chest" stuff, another kid's storage boxes during college and missionary years.  I've now just got one closet full of a missionary's boxes.   The rest of the house is mine, so I unpacked my music and found a more permanent place for it.

As I lovingly unpacked 45s, record albums, cassette tapes, and CDs, I was struck by the variety of music that I have listened to in my lifetime.  There's a sample of pretty much everything except hard rock.  The selection runs from The Beach Boys to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Neil Diamond, Mantovani, Patsy Cline, Bobby Sherman, Helen Reddy, Rod McKuen, Tony Orlando, Al Martino, Andy Williams, Mike Douglas, Glen Campbell, Wayne Newton, Bobby Vale, Jim Nabors, The Kingston Trio, Donny Osmond, Kenny Rodgers, Roger Whittaker, Carol Burnett, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Percy Faith, Lawrence Welk, Anita Bryant, Tex Ritter, Apollo 100, The Mills Brothers, Johnny Mathis -- and it goes on and on and on.  I have country collections, a big band of the 40s collection, a huge Christmas music collection, and a ton of Broadway musicals.

How can one person love the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Jesus Christ Superstar?  How can a person who loves Nat King Cole also love Neil Diamond and The Beach Boys?  How can I listen to traditional Irish music, Finian's Rainbow, My Fair Lady, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, and Frank Sinatra all in the course of one morning?   I'm like a 3,000-piece jigsaw puzzle waiting for the keys to be unlocked that put me together.

The amazing thing about this is that I can't carry a tune (which doesn't prevent me from singing), have never played a musical instrument, and can't even read music!  I love music.  I love how it makes me feel.  I love what it does for my life.  I remember when my kids were little and I needed to speed up the house cleaning for the day, I would put on the fastest music I could find.  Apollo 100 is good for cleaning house.  On Saturday mornings the sound of Carol Burnett singing "Saturday Morning Confusion" wafted in the air.  When the kids would finally go to bed at night, Johnny Mathis kept us remembering why we got married in the first place.  On those days when I needed peace in my life, Rod McKuen's gloriously poetic lyrics and raspy voice was there for me.

Sunday morning has always meant the Mormon Tabernacle Choir -- since I was a kid growing up in my parents' home.  Dad would set his transistor radio on the ledge of the fence and listen to "Music and the Spoken Word" while he weeded his yard with me at his knee.  Mom used to "sing" (and I use that term liberally) "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "A Big Uh-Uh Makes a Little Uh-Uh" to us when we were kids.  I have my parents to thank for my love of music.  We didn't have a radio in the car until I was in high school.  Getting in the car meant singing together.  I remember one particular trip from Reno, Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah that we decided not to sing the same song more than once.  Somewhere in the Bonneville Salt Flats we began making up our own songs (mostly about how sore our behinds were from sitting in the car).

Thanks to Brett Nordquist for the idea for this blog post.  You can read about his musical experience here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Stand for Truth and Righteousness

Several things reminded this week about an incident that happened in a pizza parlor 12 or 13 years ago, so I guess it's time to write about it.  My kids have teased me about this for years, but I still contend I did the right thing.

My family was enjoying pizza at the best pizza parlor in the Sacramento area, Roma's Pizzeria.  Suddenly, there was quite a disturbance from one of the customers.  This incredibly inebriated man was yelling at his wife.  The language was foul and abusive.  This seemingly never-ending disgusting diatribe was not stopped by the management--quite to my dismay.  This is a family restaurant, and there are always children present.  I don't know about that particular evening, but very often soccer teams and baseball teams will celebrate at Roma's, and there is usually a birthday party or two.  I know that my children were not the only children present that evening.

My husband and I hustled the kids to finish their pizza, and then we removed ourselves from the restaurant.  My family walked out ahead of me, and it was necessary to walk right past the offending party.  On my way out, I felt obligated to say something to this man (since management had failed to do so--or eject him from the restaurant).  In a calm voice, I thanked him for making my evening with my children so pleasant.  Then I walked out the door.  The man followed me and began to yell at me.  He tried to throw his beer at me, but my brawny defender husband walked out the door after paying the bill just in time to roar like a cannon as he flung himself at the beer-throwing arm, scaring the daylights out of this man (and I used the word "man" liberally).  Most of the beer was deflected, but I still had to have my coat cleaned--worth every penny.

Roma's owner and staff came out to investigate, and I gave the owner a tongue lashing for not removing this man from the restaurant.  He apologized to me profusely.  We avoided going to Roma's for two or three years after the incident, which made my children a little disgruntled, but I wanted the owner to know that we were displeased with the experience (and we had been very regular customers).  When we finally reappeared in the restaurant, we received red carpet service, and have never experienced another incident.

As I said in the beginning, I've taken quite a ribbing from my family about this, but I stand behind my actions.  The world is becoming increasingly evil.  There is right, and there is wrong.  At some point, we all need to take a stand.  We either are on the side of good, or we are on the side of evil.  There is no fence sitting.   That night I had two choices:  (1) Say and do nothing, which would have taught my daughter (8 or 9 years old at the time) that using the "F" word three times in a sentence is appropriate, and my teenage son that being abusive to your wife is acceptable; or (2) take a stand and teach my children that there are some things in life we are not obliged to tolerate, and a restaurant owner that he has a duty to protect his clientele from such abuse.

I took a risk that night that I might get hurt.  There are some risks worth taking for principle.  It saddens my heart that so many people are afraid to stand up and say enough is enough.  This is wrong, and I don't have to put up with this.  It is fine to teach children principles at home where the environment is quiet and peaceful (well, usually), but they will be out in a tumultuous world.  I wanted my children to be able to plant their feet on terra firma and say, "This is wrong, and I don't have to take this."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Daughters in My Kingdom -- Book Review

I've been waiting a full year to read Daughters in My Kingdom:  The History and Work of Relief Society.  I was very excited last year to hear Sister Julie Beck talk about it at the Relief Society General Meeting.  It sounded like it was a truly inspired book -- and the book does not disappoint.

Aside from being an absolutely beautifully designed book, with wonderful pictures and inspirational quotes from leaders, the book reaches out and touches my heart through the history of Relief Society and the wonderful heritage of the sisters in the Lord's church.

It's been almost a year since I was released as Relief Society President in my ward.  The 3 1/2 years that I spent in that calling was one of the hardest periods of my life, but one of the most fulfilling.  There is so much service that sisters do quietly behind the scenes, and so much love that is given!  It never ceased to amaze me at the goodness of some of these sisters that I served.  Daughters of My Kingdom tells the story of the service of the sisters through the years.  It brings to life that great heritage of service.  After all, the Relief Society motto is "Charity Never Faileth."

The story is told of how Relief Society was organized, and how it progressed through the years.  There are beautiful quotes from past Relief Society General Presidents, as well as modern day prophets.  As the story unfolds, we find that the sisters of Relief Society were involved in every important program of the church to some degree or another.  The sisters worked together with the priesthood in accomplishing common goals.  I found the stories inspiring, but more importantly as I read, I found in myself a new resolve to be of service to my fellow sisters.

As much as I have been amazed at the goodness of the sisters, and of the marvelous service they give, I have also found that at times some of the sisters don't understand the capacity for good that the Relief Society organization has within its grasp.  I believe that was my biggest frustration as Relief Society President.  Relief Society is not just a Sunday class.  Relief Society is sisters taking care of other sisters.  It is sisters caring for families.  It is sisters with one common goal -- to serve each other, our communities, and the Lord.

The purposes of Relief Society are to (1) "Increase faith and personal righteousness," (2) "strengthen families and homes", and (3) "seek out and help those in need."  Emma Smith told the sisters, "We are going to do something extraordinary."  As I read the history of this great organization, I became resolved to take another look at those around me.  How can I serve them?  How can I live up to the heritage I've been given as a sister in Relief Society?  Obviously, for me at least, Daughters in My Kingdom succeeded in its goal of making us more aware of our great heritage.

I not only highly recommend reading Daughters in My Kingdom, I pray that you will.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Anticipation Is Almost Over

It's finally almost here.  The day in some ways we've been waiting for our whole marriage.  Our youngest child is leaving the nest in three days.  I'm writing this on Saturday night, and she leaves early Wednesday morning.

There are a whole lot of emotions at this time.  I'm excited for her.  She is going on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  She will be serving the Lord in the country of Brasil.  There has been a boatload of preparation for this wonderful adventure.  Of course, we will miss her.  I'll do the same thing every night at bedtime that I did when the other kids served their missions.  As I lock the sliding glass door, I'll look out at the stars and the moon, wish her goodnight, and ask Heavenly Father to watch over her.  Then I'll express gratitude that she has this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

While we will miss her, there is something different this time from when the other kids left on their missions.  This time Danny and I will be empty nesters -- alone for the first time in our whole marriage.  I became pregnant with our first child two weeks after we were married -- so we've waited for the "alone time" almost 35 years.  We start our marriage anew Wednesday morning.

We will miss raising kids.  It was a fun period of our lives.  It was also hard -- very hard.  The best things in life are hard.  No one ever said raising kids is easy.  My kids may not know it yet, but we were pretty darned good parents.  We made some enormous mistakes, but we did our best.  They are terrific adults, and I'd like to think we can take credit for at least a portion of that.  I don't think I've ever said that publicly before.  People have told me over the years that we're good parents, and I shrug it off and tell them that we were blessed with good kids.  We were blessed with good kids -- but even the good ones need some direction.  So for the first time in 35 years, I'm going to forget humility and take credit for Danny and I being good parents.

It is with great anticipation that I look forward to the next chapter of our lives together.  I love being Danny's wife.  I'm going to love spending quality time with him every day.  By nature, I'm a spontaneous person.  I'm going to love waking up in the morning and being spontaneous about what the day brings.  You can't do that when you're raising children.

Danny just had his 69th birthday.  My father died when he was 64.  For about a year before Danny turned 64, I could not stop thinking about that.  It was then that I wanted to quit my job and stay home with my husband, but financially, it was not in the cards.  I'm grateful that Danny is still in good health.  I'm even more grateful that we will have this time together.  I just quit working, and I won't be 57 years old for another couple of months.  Our finances would be in better shape if I kept working a few more years, but money isn't everything.  There are some things that are just too important to wait.  At some point, I may end up working again.  As long as I can still type, I can work.  The arthritis in my fingers will just have to understand that!

I love being a granny, and Danny loves being a grandpa.  We look forward to the opportunity to be better grandparents.

Sitting in this seat tonight feels pretty good.  All is well with the world.  We're healthy, we're happy, and none of the kids are in therapy from our parenting (yet).  All five of them (my stepson included in that number) have served missions.  Three of them have marriages sealed in the temple for time and all eternity.  We have every reason to believe that my youngest will come back from her mission and find an eternal companion.  And someday, hopefully, my stepson can be sealed to his wife in the temple by proxy.  After all the years of parental worry and sleepless nights, I think we're seeing the light at the end of the temple -- and all is well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What Defines You?

Recently, I wrote a post that was very well received by my regular readers and was reposted by two people.  It was not as well written as I would have liked it to be, but it had heart.  Many people related to the post, and two people told me that it touched their hearts and made them cry.  One person, however, slapped my hands and told me that I was trying to "define" someone.

I was not offended by the criticism.  In fact, one of the purposes of this blog is to generate feedback on my writing so that I become a better writer.  I would never want to write anything hurtful, or that could be interpreted by someone as hurtful.  I'm not naive enough to think that everyone is going to like what I write, either.  The discussion did, however, make me think quite a bit about what "defines" people.  Is it possible that something I write could later have a negative impact on how another person sees himself or herself?  So how are we "defined" as people?

In discussing this with several people (I love social media), I learned that there seems to be a lot of feelings out there about what that really means.  I've heard that religion defines who we are as people.  I've heard that the decisions we make between good and bad define us.  Someone told me that what we do in the present, regardless of our past, or our thought patterns, is what defines us.  All of those are good answers.  I would add to that, imagination, determination, and spunk.  I believe that we are born with personality and character.  I've seen that in my children.  Maybe how we use that personality and character in this life defines us.

Every person who has ever been, is now, or who will live on this earth in the future has a certain amount of adversity to deal with.  I think it is how we deal with that adversity that defines us.  We need to use our character, talents, imagination, determination, spunk, religion, and a variety of other things to do what is right.  As I learned in my social media discussion, we also need to be cognizant of our thought process.  While we need to control our thoughts, we also need to understand that there is a repentance process if we mess things up a bit.  What we do today doesn't have to be based on the mistakes we made yesterday.  We need to accept who we are at this moment in time, always striving to be better.  We accomplish nothing by living in the past, or dwelling on our mistakes or our circumstances.

"Our character has been forged in the furnace of adversity.  We know what pain feels like.  We cannot change the past.  However, we can choose to use these reference points as a rich resource to assist us in better understanding and connecting with people.  When we use our life experiences in the service of others, we will finally find purpose in our suffering, joy in our journey, and much needed healing in our souls." — Dave Blanchard — (Thanks Sheila Du Bois for sharing this quote on Google+.)  Thanks also to those who shared thoughts and ideas with me on Google+.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Become As Little Children

This is a love story of sorts.  It started out as a Primary lesson.  (Primary is the equivalent of Sunday School for my readers who are not of the Mormon faith.)  I teach the 3-year-old (Sunbeam) class.  It is now September, so most (if not all) of them have turned into 4-year-olds.  The lesson I was teaching from the manual today was "I Can Love Others."  The stated purpose of the lesson is:  "To encourage each child to express love for others through kind words and deeds."

The lesson manual asked that I teach the story of the Good Samaritan, as well as teaching them about Jesus having the children come unto Him when they were being turned away.  I was also supposed to remind them about Jesus healing the blind man, and to teach them that Jesus' whole life was about being kind to others.  This lesson was a great follow-up lesson to last week's "I Can Be A Friend" lesson.

For some reason my class was smaller than usual.  I only had two children:  Caleb and Jocelyn.  I began my lesson by showing this picture of my granddaughters, Haley and Kaitlyn.

Haley (Left) and Kaitlyn (Right)

The conversation went something like this:

Me:  This is a picture of two little girls.  Do you think you could be friends with these little girls?

Caleb and Jocelyn:  Yes.

Me:  They look like nice little girls.  Do you think you could be nice to them?

Caleb and Jocelyn:  Yes.

Then I showed this picture of Haley as a baby.

Haley -- Notice the Smile -- Definitely NOT Gas

Me:  This is another picture of a little girl.  Do you think you could be friends with her?

Caleb and Jocelyn:  Yes.

Me:  That's good.  I'm so glad.  Is there something a little different about this little girl?

Caleb:  She's a baby.

Me:  That's right.  Is there anything else that you can see that's different?

Caleb:  Her nose is different.

Me:  That's right.  Her nose and her mouth are a little different.

I then placed Haley's baby picture over Kaitlyn's picture so that Haley's baby picture was next to the current picture of Haley.

Me:  I'm so glad that you could be friends with this baby, because she is my granddaughter.  And this other picture is Haley as she looks today at 5 years old.

I explained that Haley had been to the hospital a couple of times, and that the doctors had fixed her nose and mouth.  I then explained that while Haley looks more like we do now, that she still has some problems talking, and that her voice sounds a little different.  I explained that she is going to go into the hospital very soon so that the doctors can help her with that problem.  I asked the children if they could be friends with someone who talked differently, and they agreed they could do that.

We then discussed people in wheelchairs, and people who were blind or deaf.  The children agreed that they could be friends with and love those people too.

My assistant, Sister Moore, is African-American.  I took a breath and began what could have been a tricky situation.

Me:  What about someone who has skin that is a different color from yours?  Sister Moore's skin is different from yours.

At this point, Caleb and Jocelyn almost simultaneously jumped out of their chairs, threw their little arms around Sister Moore, and said, "I love you, Sister Moore."  Sister Moore was obviously quite touched, and I have to admit to a little catch in my throat, as well.

Sister Moore:  I love you too!!!

I taught this lesson on the anniversary of 9/11/01, so I had to take this one step further.  I asked if the children had heard about 9/11, and they said no.  I explained that some bad people who lived in a different country flew planes into two big buildings in New York City, and it had hurt some people.  (I avoided the word "kill" because they are very young.)  They said they had heard about that.  I asked them if they could love someone who lived in a different country, and they said they could.  I asked them if they could forgive the bad men who had done this, and they said they could.  I explained that it is important to love everyone and reminded them of a previous lesson that we need to forgive.  They said they could do that.

I then went into the meat of the lesson about the Good Samaritan, and the rest as outlined in the manual.

Since the stated purpose of the lesson was:  "To encourage each child to express love for others through kind words and deeds," I couldn't help but wonder who had taught this lesson--me, or the children.  When they threw their little arms around Sister Moore and told her that they loved her, I think I could have ended the lesson right there.

I was reminded of the Book of Mormon scripture, Mosiah 3:19:

"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."  (Emphasis added.)

It is my prayer that we all try to be more like little Caleb and Jocelyn.  The world would be a much better place.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blessings of Modern Times

Corsets are not for me.  I would never have survived them.  I doubt I would have survived a wagon train or pushing a handcart across the plains to the Great Salt Lake Valley.  I certainly would not have survived long dresses with long sleeves and petticoats in desert heat.  I appreciated drugs during childbirth, and the fact that because of modern medicine, my babies survived a variety of life-threatening events at their birth.  I believe Heavenly Father saved me for 1954 because he knew if I'd been born any earlier, it would have spelled disaster.

I feel so blessed to live in these times.  I can't imagine having to follow Moses in the desert for 40 years to hear a prophet's voice, or walk from village to village following the savior to learn about God's eternal plan.  I don't think I would have done very well camping in a tent to hear King Benjamin speak words of prophecy.

On October 1 - 2, 2011, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will hold their General Conference.  This regularly happens every six months; the first weekend in April, and the first weekend in October.  I have always been in awe of the fact that I can listen to the prophets and apostles speak from the comfort of my recliner through the miracle of television.  General Conference can now be seen via cable systems, satellite, and can be streamed via the Internet.  The printed word can be read and studied in the May and November issues of the church publication, the Ensign.

Today I read a guest blog from the prophet, Thomas S. Monson, in the Washington Post.  I find that completely amazing!  A prophet of God blogs!  How cool is that!

Now more than ever before in the history of man, we have the opportunity to hear Heavenly Father's word.  We have been given living prophets and apostles who have technology available to them to reach more people on the planet than ever before.  It makes me think that possibly it is more imperative that we hear what He has to say now.

How well do I listen?  If I lived in Noah's time, would I have jumped on the arc, or would I have played in the rain?  If I had been in Nauvoo, Illinois when the mobs came, would I have walked on the ice and snow and wallowed in the mud to Winter Quarters, or would I have cowered in a corner hoping the mobs wouldn't notice?  If I had been with my 3rd great grandmother in Denmark, would I have been willing to sail to America and push a handcart across the desert plains knowing there was a very good chance I would die in the process?

Just six months ago, I heard the words of inspiration from prophets and apostles during the April General Conference.  President Monson admonished us to attend the temple more often.  He talked about the great sacrifices that others have made to attend the temple, and reminded us how blessed we are to live in such close proximity to temples.  He asked us to be good citizens of the nations in which we live, and to reach out to others of different faiths.  He reminded us that maintaining a strong testimony and studying the scriptures would see us safely through the sin around us.  Others at April's Conference gave us so many more words of advice and good counsel.  I find it interesting to look back over the last six months and evaluate how far I've actually reached for the "arc."  Sometimes I've run up the plank, and sometimes I've clung to a tree and hoped for a life line.

October's General Conference will be exciting for me.  My husband and I are travelling to Salt Lake City to sit at the prophet's feet in the Conference Center.  This is only the second time we've been able to make the trip to Salt Lake for conference.  I pray that I'll be a sponge to soak up the inspiration that will be given.  I pray that I'll be humble and teachable enough to run up the plank to the arc in the next six months -- do not pass go; do not collect $200.  I pray that I'll take advantage of the great blessings available to me in these modern times and not waste them on worldly things.