Sunday, March 4, 2018

Good Luck and Be Safe!

Anne Lamott quipped in her April 2017 Ted Talk, “Every story you own is yours. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” We all laughed at that: her audience in Vancouver, and me as I listened to the recording almost a year later.  

My own story began with an angelic mother.  In kindergarten, I distinctly remember feeling empathy for my classmates, looking at each of them in genuine compassion as I realized that none of them got to go home to my mother at the end of the day. How could they face life, I wondered, without my mother behind them?

The most hurtful thing my mother ever said to me was, “Tashi, I’m just me!” after I went on and on about all the wonderful qualities I saw in her. So her worst fault was that she wasn’t big on compliments.  I share this only to illustrate how remarkably well my mother behaved to merit the accolades that follow. Ah, my dear, sweet mother. Though she wouldn’t want me “tooting her horn,” I’m going to indulge myself and sing her praises to my heart’s content.

Did I mention my mother is an angel? She passed away last April. So many beautiful moments gave us peace in her “graduation” from this life. The sacred details are recorded in my journal, which I feel is the appropriate place to leave them, rather than posting them here.

I miss her. All my sisters do. We often share with each other the sweet remembrances we have of her. As I write this, I’m taken back five decades to the time I sat with my mom on the foot of her bed. I was trying to find meaning in the sorrow overwhelming my six-year-old heart. Our beloved pet had just died and our whole family was grieving over his death.  I moaned, “I don’t want to have pets anymore if it has to hurt so much when they die.” My mother wisely comforted me saying, “Losing pets helps prepare us to deal with the pain when we lose people we love.” Somehow giving a purpose to the pain made all the difference. And I do think it helped prepare me for the pain of her passing.

What I really want to write about, though, is not about her death, but her life:

Arlene Nelson Williams
(1925 – 2017)

An Idaho-girl, Arlene was born in a farmhouse, the oldest of eleven children. She was a natural nurturer. She decided she wanted to be a nurse at the tender age of 6, and fulfilled that ambition, working in the nursing field for 45 years.

Arlene was a year and a day older than Lois, her next sibling. Lois was the more adventurous of the two. At age 3, Lois would play rambunctiously and then caution her big sister not to attempt her daring feats, warning, “Too dangelous for you, Arly!” But Lois made it look so fun that Arlene broke free of her timid nature and joined Lois in her escapades. Once they took it upon themselves to provide their family with a rare chicken dinner.  Though they grew up on a chicken farm, the chickens were reserved for customers. She and Lois (ages 5 & 6) reasoned that with all those chickens, they should be able to have one for dinner. So they each caught a chicken and took them to the chopping block. When Arlene's first blow failed to behead her chicken, Lois let hers go and held onto Arlene's chicken so the next blow finished the deed.  At this point, Arlene’s conscience got the better of her. She knew she’d done wrong by killing a chicken without her dad’s permission, so she hid the chicken in a bush.  Lois let their dad know about the chicken, all ready for dinner. Arlene's punishment was to be sent to her room while the family dined on poultry that night. Her mother later snuck her a little piece because she had worked so hard for the family’s chicken dinner; Arlene fondly remembered that one bite of chicken was delicious!

Lois and Arlene in costume (Arlene is on the right)

As a child, Arlene: 
  •  Delighted in brightening up her home with flowers.
  •  Hauled 100 wagon-loads of gravel to earn a dollar so she could buy herself a doll, and helped Lois haul another 100 loads of gravel for the same purpose.
  • Sponge-bathed her many little brothers, strategically waiting for them to fall asleep first as she discovered they were far more cooperative with being washed while slumbering.
  • Sat in her father’s chicken-coop for endless hours, tagging the best layers. She noted the chickens made a satisfied cackle when they laid their eggs, so she called eggs “cackle-berries.”
  • Felt tremendous sympathy for Lois after she was scolded by their mother for looking for the potato jackets. (When their mother told Lois to boil the potatoes in their jackets, Lois envisioned little blue jackets like Peter Rabbit’s rather than the hum-drum potato-skins.) Arlene decided then that she would never scold her own children. She did remarkably well at keeping that goal.

She met our Dad, Leslie Warren Williams, while she was in nursing school at BYU. She wrote, “I was watching this tall, handsome man and thinking, I think he’s going to be talking to me. Then the lights went out and the room became darker… I looked up and this [handsome man] was standing beside me asking me if he could stand [by] the light of my fluorescent watch.” They danced, they dated, and before long she was whisked away to California to meet his family.  Then they married and had six daughters, raising them together. Warren died three years before Arlene and she missed him very much.

Arlene with Leslie Warren Williams

As a woman, Arlene:

·         Always kept her child-like zeal for life. She especially loved nature: flowers, birds, picnics in the mountains, and picking HUCKLEBERRIES!
·         Designed and created amazing building projects. (I admit I was sometimes disappointed as a child to discover the motor I heard running wasn’t a kitchen appliance whipping up delightful treats, but the power drill.) She also designed and crafted many colorful afghans.
·         Cared for the young, the old, people & pets, showing the utmost respect to all.
·         Had a magical way of calming babies.
·         Had a goal to never get angry. She wrote how a friend told her, “when people get angry it never helps the situation … So I stay calm and things usually turn out much better.”  
·         Was a model of determination.  She never let difficulties get in the way of her completing her projects.  Whenever any of her daughters despaired of completing an assignment we were supposed to do for school, Mama would magically make it happen for us. Often we’d wake up the next morning to find she’d worked through the night to set things right for us so we could finish our task. She showed us that we can accomplish anything we set out to do. She also taught us to always fulfill our responsibilities.
·         Loved to learn her whole life long. She always took notes at meetings because she felt it helped her learn more and made it possible for her to share what she learned. She often read biographies of both great and humble people.
·         Took delight in her heritage. She raised her children on the stories of our ancestors. She recorded her own story in many memoirs. I’m so grateful!
·         She always wished us goodbye by saying, “Good luck and be safe!”

Left--Arlene in her HS graduation dress, 
Top Right--Arlene's look of hope at the thought of being with her husband in the next life 
Bottom right--Arlene with Lois playing in the sandbox (Arlene is on the right)

Arlene and Lois, a lifetime later (Arlene is on the right)
Thanks to Rachel, Lois's daughter, who took this picture and gave me permission to post it.
My sister, Velinda wrote, "This picture brings tears to my eyes. Those two sisters dearly loved each other. 
When Lois left this world, [it wasn't long before] our mother left it, too."

Since our last goodbye, I've been about the business of having "good luck" and being safe.  It definitely helps knowing I've got such a loving angel looking out for me and mine. (Thanks Mama! I love you so much and always will.)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

                      "Who sabotaged my towel?!" my dad cried out in frustrated anger. "Someone hid some pins in my towel and they scratched me all up."
                I froze in my 8-year-old tracks, hiding in silence.
                I had a rocky relationship with my dad between the ages of 8 and 18. I was a perfectionist and often felt that I did not measure up in his eyes.  I was jealous of my sisters who seemed to effortlessly win his approval.  He could be gruff at times and my super-sensitive-self would wither under a disapproving gaze.  I won't deny I could be a brat towards him. I refused to sit next to him in church, to name one example.
                And I planted the pins in his hand towel.
                I didn't do it maliciously.  They were decorative pins and I thought they looked nice there, not thinking of the possibility they could do any harm.  It took me over 40 years but I finally owned up to it, though everyone else in my family had long since forgotten the incident.   
                When I left home, I made a choice to let go of any negative feelings I had towards my dad and hang on to all of the positive ones.  It was a good choice. I grew to appreciate my dad more and more over the years.  Few people have done as much as he has to make me recognize my own worth. 
                During my dad's last months of mortality, he grew very weak.  The once-simple effort of talking grew comparable to struggling against a tidal force.  He needed help but had a hard time expressing his needs.  As I took my turn serving as his caretaker, sometimes I'd get things wrong and he'd seem a bit impatient in letting me know.  In a flash, my childhood insecurities resurfaced and I saw myself as the disfavored child.  I told myself not to take it personally, that my dad's frustration wasn't about me, but rather the exertions that were wearing him down.
                Then came his final week.  One by one, his daughters visited to tell him goodbye.   The date of March Fourth came, which my Dad always liked to say was the only day of the year that could be issued as a command.  He thought it a fitting day to March Forth to the next life, but he held on a little longer in order to say goodbye to the rest of his children. I was one of the holdouts. I couldn't believe he was really going.  On March 6, 2014, Just a few hours before he died, I was at his bedside.  I did all the talking, telling him how much I love him, how his many letters will be such a comfort, how I learned valuable lessons from him.  I promised to take care of my mom and their cats.  He seemed grateful.  His eyes took on the look of the ancients--windows into an eternal soul.  I told him when I'd seen that look before in my daughter's eyes as she was sealed to us in the temple.  He seemed amazed by that.  I told him about the walk with the Savior two of my close friends had shared with me, recalling their Near Death Experiences.  "You're about to take that walk, Dad," I cried.  Though it was beyond his strength and ability, he reached up his arm to hug me and his head to kiss me.  Finally with all the strength he could muster, he grunted his last words, "I love you." To me.  His last words were to tell the daughter who unreasonably considered herself the cast-off, "I love you."  No balm of Gilead could ever be more healing. Suddenly, there was nothing left of the feeling that my dad didn't appreciate me. Absolutely nothing.  All those decades I'd lived thinking it was healed until he was on his deathbed when it resurfaced. And then nothing but complete, heartfelt love.
                His memorial service was a year ago today.  The day after that I felt like I was trying to hold onto life over the edge of a cliff.  I prayed for comfort and received the inspiration just to let go.  So I let go of the strain and the angst and found myself floating in love.  Many times over the last year, I've had a thought to share or a question to ask him.  Then it hits me in the gut that I can't talk to him anymore, so I move my thoughts heavenward.  I miss him and I hope I never finish my conversation with him.
Leslie Warren Williams
(1922 - 2014)

He was born to a farmer and teacher, John and Elsie Williams, the youngest of four sons. He nearly drowned in a watering trough as a toddler, but his life was saved by his twin brother, who caught their father's attention by circling the trough in alarm. 

In high school he ran the mile in 4:36 which was only 10 seconds more than the California state record and 30 seconds more than the world record at the time.

                He served in the US Navy during World War II as a radar technician because of his knowledge of Ohm's Law. (This despite the fact his technical abilities were such that, years later, operating a tape recorder took considerable coaching from his teenage daughter.)

He became intrigued by how differently sandy versus clay soils behaved, so he studied soil science at Brigham Young University.  This is where he met his lifelong love, Arlene Nelson.  The power happened to go out at a dance, but not before a lovely nurse caught his eye.  When her fluorescent watch glowed in the dark, he suavely approached her and asked if they could dance by the light of her watch.  A couple of months later, he asked her out.  She wondered what took him so long and then realized he had to buy a pink car for their courtship (she still laughs about this nearly 65 years later). They were married in 1951 and became the parents of six daughters.
                He mapped three million acres of land in California and Colorado for the US Soil Conservation Service (when mapping a mere million earned a life-time recognition award).

                He delighted in teaching Sunday School, loved writing and sharing poetry, took pleasure in gardening, and enjoyed reading about numerous topics, particularly Bible studies.  He loved folk songs of all heritages. He was a lifelong learner. He had some skill as an orator which he practiced in Toastmasters and on the stage of Springville's Villa Playhouse Theatre. He had a keen intellect, crunching numbers like a calculator, rattling off World Series stats and batting line-ups. He had the reputation that whatever he said, "you could take to the bank." One of his daughters quipped, "He was PC before it was PC to be PC," due to his genuine regard for human rights.

                My dad lived by the motto, "Do the duty that lies nearest to thee, and already the rest will be clear." He followed Langston Hughes' poem "Hold fast to dreams . . ." as a life theme.  He was extremely thoughtful of others. For example, when he drove past clotheslines with wash hanging out to dry, he would always slow down so as not to kick up dust.  He had impeccable integrity and inspired others with his poet's soul.  In his final months, it was a joy to serve him as he tenderly expressed gratitude for the smallest acts of caring.

My dad loved the sentiment from a verse in the apocrypha stating, "Let us now praise famous men," because it defines "famous" as those who have done good works and have posterity, for their glory will never fade. (Ecclesiasticus 44:1 - 14)

Here's to one of  the "famousest" of men.

For more, see lessons from Dad (and Mom) in Celebrating Sixty Years

Monday, December 31, 2012

Stars in the Jaws of the Clouds

I got stuck in the sewer.  I finally gave up trying to plow through the muck and so I  set my book aside.  For months.  Which meant I was stuck in the sewer for months.

If you've read the unabridged version of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, you'll remember the frequent tangential historical backgrounds.  Although the story line gets put on hold while Hugo expounds upon Waterloo, convents, revolutionaries and the like, you appreciate a better understanding of the role they played in the history of France in general and the book's characters in specific. But the value of the sewers eluded me. 

So I avoided facing the ugly reality.

Jean Valjean and Marius, frozen in time, patiently awaited my return.  It's not like their situation became more dire, but I definitely lost all my momentum and so we all were stuck . . . until I finally resolved to get through it. 

It is ironic but all the threads of the story of Les Mis came together in the sewer.  And the sewer was the source from whence sprang the beautiful seeds of resolution, which made for such a sweet ending to the novel.  Maybe it's not so ironic when you think about the source of  fertilizer.

I love the story of Les Mis and recently barely succeeded in holding back sobs at the theater.  My streaming tears were healing when I saw myself in Jean Valjean.  It was so easy to see in him the tragedy of failing to forgive yourself.  The law, personified by Javert, had no power over Valjean because no one held him to a more stringent judgment than he himself.  In his judgment, despite the Bishop's healing gift, he believed he had never earned his way back from his role of convict. But in the end, when none were left to accuse him but himself, Jean Valjean's relationships healed him.  The angels in his life were sent to him by the only One who could rightly judge him, and He found him worthy of the tenderest loving care.

We can be okay with making mistakes by knowing we're here to learn from our experience--even if our experiences take us through the sewer.


Victor Hugo's Les Miserables

 Portrait of "Cosette" by Emile Bayard, 1862 

History is written by the victors, but Victor Hugo offers a view of life as experienced by "les miserables."  He puts before us the cause of the sufferers.  Through the words of the good Bishop of Digne, Hugo counsels, "My brethren, be compassionate; see how much suffering there is around you."   In Les Mis, we see the humanity of society's outcasts.  We find nobility of character, often where it is least expected.

Jean Valjean epitomizes all that is hardest and best in humanity.  The sewer scene exemplifies both of these aspects of his nature in their extreme. He descended below all to save another.  At the risk of losing his own life, he trudged through the mire of human waste, weighed down by the burden of the man he knew would give him his greatest grief.

Marius would take his Cosette away.  With his duty to her completed, Jean Valjean would slip back into his private horror, refusing to be the cause of his loved one needlessly associating with a convict who broke his parole. 

There was Another who descended below all to save not one soul, but all souls who would believe on Him. That One answered Jean Valjean's plea, and sent Cosette to his deathbed.  In that moment, his life was reconciled.  He recognized God's hand and understood that it meant he was forgiven. He groaned,

              "God said . . . Come, here is a poor man who has need of an angel.  And the angel comes; and I   see my Cosette again! . . .  Oh! It is good to die like this! . . .  Such are the distributions of God . . .  He knows what He does in the midst of His great stars."

From the lower realms of earth, we can gaze heavenward.  Above are the stars which appear to  be swallowed by the storm clouds rolling in. Is there no escape from life's storms? Hugo puts it into perspective:

               "Should we continue to look upwards? Is the light we can see in the sky one of those which will presently be extinguished? . . . brilliant but threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it; nevertheless, no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds."

While keeping our eyes towards heaven under God's watchful care, our souls are as distant from the realm of our troubles as "a star in the jaws of the clouds."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Divine Musings

I was a quarter-mile behind everybody else on the mountain trail, laboring under the burden of over 20 pounds of water.  Then I saw a teenage boy come running back down the hillside towards me.  He took the 3 gallon thermos and carried it up the rest of the way.  I was so grateful to him and his parents for raising a young man who could be so thoughtful. 

That's when I picked up an even heavier burden. 

Where was my son on the trail? I had asked him to carry the water, which he did for a while, but then he set it down because it was too heavy and the mountain was too steep. So I sighed and picked it up.  I wasn't doing such a stellar job as a parent.

All my life I've been thinking we need to prove our worth by being contributing members of society.  Like Martha, I thought I needed to make myself valuable by working hard to serve.  I understood only the surface meaning of Jesus' council that Mary had chosen the better part.  Sure, stop and talk to the Lord when He is present.  But what I didn't get until recently is that we don't need to do one thing to prove our value to the Lord. 

As children of God, we have a divine nature which means our value is infinite.  Any good (or bad) we do is like adding (or subtracting) one and infinity.  Though we can develop greater virtue as we live and learn, our value is forever infinite.

Back on the hillside, we didn't end up needing the water after all.  My son's contribution was to question, "Why bother with this water?" Had I listened to him, it would have saved us, and the young man who ran to the rescue, a lot of trouble. It turns out that our value doesn't always look like what society thinks value should look like. 

Dante's Divine Comedy--An Allegory of Salvation
(This is the closer study I promised on 8/28/11)

As I sit writing this, I am a man in exile wandering through a foreign land.  Though I can see my home just across the way, when I try to travel there I am threatened by sins of the flesh and sins of wrath.  I conquer these by using my intellect to balance desire and discipline.  But then I am defeated by the sins swarming around me and my generation.  My will power alone is not enough; I can't make it back home on my own.

Then the Father of Reason, Virgil, joins me.  He points back to a trail of sorrow that traverses through Hell and tells me the only way I can get back home is to journey thence.  I take up the bitter cup and follow him. We spiral downward into the abyss of the devil's domain.  At each step we see poetic justice.  People who sought to fulfill their own will become what they sought, yet are denied the satisfaction of taking any pleasure in it.  This is not a punishment from God, but rather a consequence of making gods of their desires.

The capitol of Hell is the City of Dis, which is surrounded by the gate of heresy.  All those who dwell within are there because they chose to deny God and the hope of eternal life.  Though it is a despairing place, our path lies through the heart of Hell so we must pass through the gate.  Neither Virgil nor I can open it.  We pray for Divine Aid and wait. 

At first it seems our prayers our answered by an even greater torment as the Furies descend upon us, mocking.   They threaten to call Medusa to come and turn us to stone.  The moment Virgil hears her name, he commands me to look away.  Reason alone cannot answer doubts about God's existence.  Virgil covers my eyes, saying in effect, "Just look away from the question and trust in God."

After my faith denied heresy its victory over me, our prayers for Divine help are answered.  A Heavenly Messenger opens the gate and we are allowed to pass.  If I may offer a bit of counsel, await God's grace to manifest itself in your life.  It will come no matter how threatening the Furies surrounding you.  

An oppressive weight pulls us downward in Dis until we meet the author of evil, the founder of heaviness, the devil himself.  We grapple with him and, at long last, pass from the Inferno into Purgatory.  I will pause here to observe that I've noted a certain glamorization of evil in recent decades.  Make no mistake, there is NO glamour in Hell.  Satan attracts by covering sin with a glossy sheen, like the Siren's song. But rip away the exterior and what lies beneath is hideousness and entrapment of addictions. 

Upon entering Purgatory, Virgil and I are bathed in a baptism of water that washes away the stains of Hell.  Though things are much better here than in the Inferno, I admit to being plagued by lethargy and learned that laziness leads to depression.  I was visited by the Angel of Zeal and was energized by a creative spark which propelled me forward.

At last we come within sight of Paradise, the place I had set my sights upon when Virgil first joined me.  But I am horrified to see I cannot enter Paradise unless I pass through a baptism of fire.  Virgil, my Father Reason, persuades me to trust I will find my heart's desire on the other side of the wall of fire.  I submit to the scorching pain, then emerge outside of Reason's realm.  Virgil cannot follow me here because I am now no longer limited by reason.  I am taken under the wing of Personal Revelation, who is embodied by Beatrice. 

Though I grieve over my separation from Virgil, Beatrice scolds me for looking back.  She points out that since I have been purged from the will to sin, I'm in the presence of Divine Revelation and I no longer need Virgil's Reason.  She is right to scold because looking back prevents me from making use of the great gifts I have been given.   Understanding this, I repent.  This now allows me to drink from the river Lethe, which washes away all memory of sin from my soul.  Losing this last remnant of sin, I am now purified and free to pass into Paradise.

Upon entering Paradise, I am greeted by a tremendous pageant.  The Church, the Prophets, the Bible, the Sacrament, the Gifts of the Spirit are all personified in a joyous parade.  A Griffin (half-lion, half-Eagle) symbolizes the Savior (half-human, half-Divine) and is pulling the very chariot where Beatrice is seated.   Christ is the Author of Personal Revelation.

In Paradise I visit the realms of the planets, each representing a Cardinal Virtue (Wisdom, Love, Prudence, Courage, Justice, Temperance).  I learn that Temperance is nearest God's abode because it is the contemplative life which Jesus recommended to Martha in following Mary's example.

Looking back, I see how my progress through the Inferno taught me pity, or Charity; Purgatory taught me Hope, and Paradise sealed my Faith.  Through these Three Theological Virtues, I gain unspeakable joy.  I saw in my journey that the universe is enwrapped by the Divine Will of God.  The Heavens and all nature are an expression of the Mind of God.  In order to experience pure joy, we must be capable of comprehending its existence all around us.

Since writing my Divine Comedy, some have speculated that I may have had in mind the fulfillment of Joachim Fioretti's prediction that there would be Three Ages.  The Age of the Father was the Law of the Old Testament.  The Age of the Son was established by Christ's organization of His Church in the New Testament.  The Age of the Holy Spirit is to be fulfilled when the Spirit works directly through all people by means of the Everlasting Gospel.  Finding my Beatrice seemed to me a manifestation of the Third Age.  I challenge you to find YOUR Beatrice and promise you she is there.


The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighiere

Dante and His Divine Comedy by Timothy Shutt

The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Volume 1, by Maynard Mack, & etc.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Life is Beautiful

I apologize to everyone who comes to my house after dark, but we are without a porch light. 

Early this spring, I noticed bits of glass accumulating on my porch.  The glass fixture covering our porch light had a panel broken out of it months previously.  I'd cleaned it up when it first broke so found it odd to suddenly see more glass. 

A few days later I understood where the glass was coming from.  Apparently some of the glass had landed inside the light fixture when the panel broke, and a swallow couple had cleared the objectionably sharp debris from the location they had chosen to build their nest.  Sweet as it was to see a nest in my porch light fixture, I didn't think it belonged there so I pulled the nest out. 

My heart melted to see and feel the tender nest.  It was built out of the softest twigs money can't buy and padded with downy dryer lint.  I set the nest in my flower bed and watched.  Within a short time, the nest was rebuilt in my porch light.  I removed the bulb to make more room for its occupants.  Today I noticed four tiny eggs in the center of the nest. 

I love life.

Happy Easter.

The re-birth of spring is a beautiful time to celebrate the rebirth of Christ's resurrection.  Every day is a brand new start; every bad moment can be made right thanks to God's healing power.  Life is beautiful.


The darling kits came and went while No-name grew to his full size.  People stopped and watched No-name and his buddies pile in a heap to sleep, or bound about the cage in a frolic.  Once in a while, someone would ask to hold the critters who populated his cage.  No-name watched with his probing, red eyes as his companions were lovingly toted away.  He could barely remember his life outside this tiny compartment, but he'd come across the country from the Marshall Ferret Farm.

Months passed and a mother and son came to pick out a ferret.  They held him a moment and then they chose his sable-colored cousin with the irresistible bandit-masked face, even though he heard the clerk offer to sell him at a discount.  He heard himself described as a hard-to-sell albino.  As the mother and son turned their back on him, he flopped himself on the floor of his cage, peering out of dejected eyes, his body and spirit sinking low. 

The next day, the mother and son returned; something about him called to them.  No-name was lifted out of the cage and put into a cardboard box.  He scratched like crazy to get out and after a nauseating ride he was released into a strange new world.  There was his masked cousin, now named Snickers.  He heard himself being called Sputnik, which means "Companion." 

Sputnik was determined to solve the puzzle of how to free himself from his new cage.  He clamped down on the bars and used his strong jaws to rattle them lose.  The cage could no longer retain his free spirit. 

Sputnik's exuberance quickly overpowered Snickers, so he looked to the people who shared his abode.  Whenever someone entered the room, he'd enthusiastically take up a fighting stance, challenging the person towering above him:  his playful gaze effectively saying, "Put up your dukes!"  The mother could never resist this challenge.  She'd drop down on all fours and laugh delightedly, ruffling up his white fur.  Sputnik would back away just out of reach, then lunge forward getting a belly rub, and then dive into a hiding place. 

He had so much life packed in his perky little body.  Playful as an otter, handsome as a miniature polar bear, he charmed the household.  But sometimes the people were too busy to play and he would sink onto the floor, looking up at them with a mysterious combination of bright, disappointed eyes.  

He LOVED the outdoors.  He could slide right out of the harness which seemed to be his essential outdoor gear.  His favorite time was when there was a foot of snow to play in.  He bounded over it, then he burrowed under it.  He explored the white-blanketed yard but didn't lose his harness until he hid under the shed.  At length he came out and was promptly taken back inside.  That was the last time he ever wandered freely out-of-doors.

The people seemed to be bothered by the fact he had stopped eating.  Sputnik was taken in and out of clinics; vets prodded and probed and eventually determined he had cancer.  In only a few days his body became too frail to sustain his spirit. He bounded joyfully into ferret heaven.  He watched the mother and son cry their eyes out for him.  He watched as they picked out another ferret to try to fill the huge hole in their hearts he'd left behind.  He heard the mother saying a prayer of gratitude, thanking God for letting him share his short life with them.  Funny how you can grow to love someone so much in such a short time.

"Don't cry, Mother;  don't feel sad, Son.  I just found another way to free my spirit.  Life is beautiful in every sphere. With all my love, Sputnik."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dickens' Traditions

  • Illuminated icicles dangle from our rooftop, but it has hardly snowed a flake.
  • Carolers who never ventured to our household fill our home with their yuletide melodies wafting over the airwaves. 
  • A tree never nourished by sunlight nor rainshower stands adorned with trinkets in our living room. 
Yet we welcome these artificial evolutions of Dickens’ holiday traditions, perhaps because of the genuine warmth of spirit this season brings.  The same joy that prompted hosts of angels to sing Hallelujah still radiates in our homes when we celebrate that first Christmas day.  Peter spoke to us when he wrote:

Jesus Christ:  Whom having not seen, ye love;
 . . . believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1: 7 – 8)

With each passing year, I gain a little deeper appreciation for the gift of the Savior’s life.  His gift is seen in His loving bestowal of faith, hope, and charity.  He joyfully gives inspiration so we can enjoy creations, which are especially sweet when they are produced by our own hands. His gift which I treasure for its peace is forgiveness and repentance.   Though each of these is manifested in the little things that help us through the struggles of daily life, they all witness His Divine Power and Love.
“Grinchy Claus”
The spirit of holiday giving is encapsulated in two Christmas classics. The Grinch and Scrooge are synonymous with generosity and laughter. 
I’m not kidding. 
Every year we tell their stories, starting at point A (their ugly era).  Their histories climax at point B (their transformations).  But point C is the beginning of the rest of their transformed lives. 
Of course, blissful giving is not good story-making material.  Conflict is what drives a plot so that is why their stories promptly end with barely a mention of the fruits of their transformation. 
Allow me to pick up where Dickens leaves off.  He finished A Christmas Carol with these closing paragraphs:
“A merry Christmas, Bob!'' said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. ``A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, . . . ''
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Dickens makes it pretty clear that Scrooge became a new man and the change in him stuck.  Dr. Seuss, however, leaves a little more to our imagination. (How like him.)  What we DO know, quoting the final lines of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!:
Well . . . in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
And he . . .
. . . HE HIMSELF . . . !
The Grinch carved the roast beast!

The assumption is that with his expanded heart, he is changed for good.  Maybe he treats his faithful dog, Max, better.  Maybe he moves closer to town.  Maybe he becomes chief of police with a push for better home security.  Or better yet, maybe he becomes Who-ville’s saintly Santa who is only seen at Christmastime, but whose existence prompts the children’s good behavior all year long.  I’m thinking it would be easier for him to maintain his transformed heart in the latter version.  (My dad once observed something to the effect, “I’m a really nice person when I’m by myself.”)
We have enough life experience to know that the perfected point “C” is hard to maintain.  It is far too easy to slide back into ugly point A.  But this is the beauty of the Cycle of Life I posted about on August 28, 2011 (CreationàFallàRestoration—which equates to points CàAà B) .  Christ’s role in righting our position is so vital to our happiness and why we celebrate His life.
Here’s wishing you joy at whichever point (A, B, or C) you may be.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Grateful Comments

I've been experiencing technical difficulty posting comments on my own blog.  When people post a comment I like to reply to it but haven't been able to convince the blogger network to allow me that privilege.  I'm getting feedback that I'm not the only one denied such access.

So I'm creating a "comments" post. 

Here's one for my latest post, "Heart Without Words" dated 10/30/11:

"oh my goodness, I don't know where you find these stories, both the intro and the "aftro", but they are always amazing. And this one was just what I needed to hear today. Gandhi's quote is one to live by for sure . . . thank you . . . . [vg]"

And here's another comment for "Renewal" posted 6/24/11:

"So beautiful. Thank you, THANK YOU, for sharing. You will never know how much I appreciate your wisdom and choice to have a cheerful disposition.

love you dearly,

Thanks, vg, for the comments and for going above and beyond to send them to me even when the blogger wouldn't let you post them. 
I've also had several friends tell me in person how much they appreciate my blog entries.  Thanks for your expressions of gratitude.  You mean a great deal to me. 

And here's me wishing the world a joyful Thanksgiving, because the act of giving thanks creates joy in our lives.

Betsie ten Boom
1885 - 1944

Betsie and Corrie were sisters who braved doing the right thing even when it meant risking their very lives.  They hid Jews in their home to protect them from being sent to Nazi concentration camps.  In a twist of fate, the Jews they hid were protected by their home's perfect hiding place, while they were captured and sent to a work camp. 

Their story is powerfully told in The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.  Here's just one snippet I want to share. 

Upon arriving at Ravensbruck, they were assigned to quarters that were swarming with fleas.  Now quoting from The Hiding Place:

“‘Betsie,’ [Corrie wailed,] ‘how can we live in such a place!’
‘Show us.  Show us how.’  It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying.  More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer!  Before we asked, as He always does!  In the Bible this morning.  Where was it?  Read that part again!’
                "I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch.  ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said . . . ‘Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus—’
                ‘That’s it, Corrie!  That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!”  That’s what we can do.  We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’
                "I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
                ‘Such as?’ I said.
                ‘Such as being assigned here together.’
                "I bit my lip.  ‘Oh yes. Lord Jesus!’ . . .
                ‘Yes,’ said Betsie.  ‘Thank You for the very crowding here.  Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.
                ‘Oh, all right.  Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.’
                ‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for—‘
                "The fleas! This was too much.  ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’
                ‘Give thanks in all circumstance,’ she quoted.  ‘it doesn’t say, “in pleasant circumstances.”  Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.’
                "And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas.  But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”
                Weeks passed and the sisters held Bible study and prayer services with the women in their barracks. Corrie described these meetings as “little previews of heaven . . . and I would know again that in darkness God’s truth shines most clear.”
                At first they held their services in secret, fearful that the guards would find them around the Bible and confiscate it.  Even after their gathering grew so large that they had to divide it into two sessions, and despite the heavy surveillance throughout the camp, the guards left their barracks unsupervised. 
                Corrie continues with her story:
                “One evening I got back to the barracks late. . . . Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together.  Her eyes were twinkling.
                ‘Your’e looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.
                ‘You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well—I’ve found out.’ That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
                ‘But she wouldn’t.  She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards.  And you know why?’  Bestsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas!  That’s what she said, ’That place is crawling with fleas!’
                "My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place.  I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

                Not long after this Betsie became mortally ill.  One of her last messages to Corrie was:

                ‘. . . tell people what we have learned here.  We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.  They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.’
                Thank you Betsie.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, pp. 197 - 202, 209, 217.  Bantam Books
Betsie ten Boom, Wikipedia

Betsie ten Boom

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Heart Without Words

The four of us sat with our arms folded and our eyes closed, waiting.  . . .   We were in the home of Dolores, a beautiful, eighty-year-old woman.  She had invited my two companions and me to come teach her about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we had just taught her how to pray.
We had prayed with her many times, but this time we invited her to offer the prayer.  We taught her to pray to Heavenly Father.  We taught her to thank Him for her blessings.  We taught her to ask Him for the blessings she sought. And we taught her to close in the name of Jesus Christ.  She agreed to offer the prayer, and so we all sat expectantly in a prayerful attitude.
A long, warm silence followed.
One by one, each of us peeked at Dolores, and what we saw taught us more about prayer than we had learned in a lifetime.  She sat, radiant, with tears streaming down her face.  She was moved beyond words.  Her unspoken expression of gratitude to Heavenly Father didn’t need the cumbrance of words.  Her love spoke directly to our souls.
Dolores wept because this was the first time in her long life that she felt empowered to speak the words of her heart to her Heavenly Father.  She was overwhelmed by the intimacy this created with her Creator.  Her love for Him was expressed eloquently in silence.

Prayer is not asking. 
It is a longing of the soul.
It is daily admission of one’s weakness.
 It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
Mahatma Gandhi

I’m Coming Home
The United States had just entered World War II and Gil McLean received a letter that made his heart sink.  His wife brought in the mail and silently passed an official-looking envelope to him.  They sat down at the table and opened the letter.  Their worst fear was confirmed; Gil was called up to go to war.  His wife was filled with dread.  Gil comforted her, “Don’t you worry yet.  I’m going to take this up with God.”
So Gil closeted himself in his bedroom, asking his wife not to disturb him.  He knelt down and prayed. For hours.  He pleaded with God to grant him a promise that he would return home.  His wife noted the great passage of time and prayed in her heart, too.
After a long while, Gil emerged from his room, saying, “It’s gonna be alright.  I’m coming home.  I got my promise from the Lord.  I’ll be in dangerous places, but the Lord will warn me.”  From that moment on, Gil’s faith never waivered.  He knew he was coming home.
At boot camp, the soldiers gave Gil a bad time about his habit of praying.  He always answered good-naturedly, “You can tease me all you want, but prayers are going to save my life.  God has promised me that he’ll warn me when I’m in danger, so I know I’m coming home.”
His sincerity persuaded even the cynical soldiers.  He began to have a following.   Several men began to say, “If Gil’s God has promised to send him back home to his sweetheart, we’re sticking by his side.”
Gil and his regiment were shipped overseas and entered into combat.  There he met new soldiers who took delight in teasing him about his religious ways.  By now he didn’t need to say a word in his own defense.  His team answered for him, “Sure, razz him—but it won’t change a thing.  Gil will stick to his prayers and if you’re smart, you’ll stick to him.  You see, God’s promised to send him home.” 
Well into the war, Gil’s company had fought a day under heavy shelling.  They sought refuge for the night inside an abandoned barn.  Bone-weary, they fell into an uneasy sleep.   It seemed like Gil had barely dozed off when he got the idea that he should grab his buddies and his gear and get out of the barn.  Gil wanted to ignore this prompting because he was hungry for rest.  Again the warning came but with greater urgency, “Get out of the barn, NOW!” 
In that moment, Gil remembered his promise from the Lord and realized this was the answer to his prayer.  Gil immediately shouted a warning to his companions to haul out of the barn.  Some of them joined him, diving outside without taking time to gather their supplies.  They were less than 50 feet from the barn when it received a direct hit by a bomb.  The force of the blast blew Gil and his friends into the air; some of them were caught in the branches of nearby trees.  No one in the barn survived.  Sobered but grateful for their lives, Gil and his friends reported to a nearby division. 
At the war’s end, Gil made it safely home.  Some forty years later, he sat in my friend’s home, rocking her baby daughter.  He felt a connection to the baby because he sensed her life mission would be to fight for freedom just as he had done in the war.  So through this story, he shared the secret of his success:  join ranks with the Lord.