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.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Valiant Young Heroes

I have a niece who inspires me with her courage to stand up for what is right in difficult circumstances.  I asked her permission to share one of her experiences.  She graciously not only gave me permission, but also wrote up her account.  So here, in her own words, is one of her stories:

I stared at the yellow hardwood floor, my back pressed against the brick.  I forget why I wasn’t exercising, usually I made an effort to at least walk around the gym, I didn’t like playing sports.  Lauren was sitting nearby; her glasses perched upon her nose, her curly hair scrunched up in a ponytail.  I didn’t know how to make friends with her, wasn’t even sure that I wanted to.  I think everyone knew she was different, mentally handicapped.  I sighed, feeling guilty that I felt that way; it wasn’t like I had anything to lose by being her friend. 
            I glanced up as a group of kids I didn’t know very well came over and sat by Lauren.  I went back to gazing around the court.  Then, they started asking Lauren questions, I tried not to listen and my ears burned as she gave an indelicate response to a question that was itself inappropriate.  She probably doesn’t know what she’s saying, I thought, angry that they had even asked such a question.  I hoped she didn’t know what she was saying, I only half understood it myself. 
            It got worse, they started saying things like “Lauren, make a sound like an elephant, make a sound like a dog…”  She happily obliged, thinking it all a fun game.  I started thinking of what I should say to them and my body shook with the injustice of it all.  Tears leaked out of my eyes as I wondered if I would have the courage to speak up, even if one of them didn’t notice me. I wondered if they would notice me, I wondered… One of the girls noticed, “Hey, what’s wrong?”  She asked.  I felt awful, here was this girl, who at the same time was being nice by asking me what was wrong, was about to be reprimanded by me.  I couldn’t stop myself.
            “How dare you?  How dare you use her for your own entertainment?  Just because she’s different from you and maybe doesn’t even realize what you’re doing doesn’t mean you should treat her like she’s some pet you can just play with.  She’s another human being who doesn’t deserve to be used for your entertainment.” 
 My niece, Lauren and the group of kids all learned something very valuable in that moment.

Two Rooms in Berlin
Had the man been out in public, rather than sitting at his heavy oak desk, he would have been surrounded by cheering crowds.  He brought hope to a people burdened under the Treaty of Versailles.  He had a superb gift of oral persuasion.  As he used it, his circle of influence expanded to the tens of millions. 

He had a file in his desk that he pulled out whenever he had a chance to ponder his dream. Germania was the civilization he envisioned.  It would last for a thousand years, populated by the Aryan race.  Such a civilization deserved a glorious infrastructure.  He pulled out the folder and thumbed through his plans to build structures that would rival those of the ancient pharaohs.  It pleased him to think that, being the founder of this great nation, monuments to him would be scattered across his homeland. 
You can imagine that a man of his importance wouldn’t have much time to sit and dream about his utopia.  He was far too busy pushing his plans through to make them reality. And if the challenge of world conquest wasn’t enough, he had to deal with the occasional detractors among his own people that needed to be rooted out.
Speaking of which, a request for clemency had sifted its way to the top of his stack.  Ah, yes.  This was the boy whose anti-Nazi tracts were so professionally done that no one could believe they weren’t written by a team of adults.  The Gestapo had spent hours torturing people acquainted with this youth to find out who was responsible.  Finally they concluded their mastermind was a mere 16-year-old.  And this was the young man who was requesting his mercy.  Hitler would not need much time to deliberate over this request.  If the boy was going to play in the political arena of the adults, he could be punished as an adult.
“DENIED” he scrawled in angry letters across the clemency request and handed it to his clerk, activating the countdown of a young man’s final hours of mortal life. 
In another room, Helmuth Huebener was handed the three sheets of paper he was granted as his final wish.  His swollen fingers awkwardly gripped the pen. It was good, though, to see his thoughts once again flow onto paper.   So greatly did he value the freedom to communicate that he had risked his life to print the words which had landed him in this cell. 
He had seen through Hitler’s propaganda and endeavored tirelessly to let his fellow Germans know the truth.  He had listened nightly to the BBC and then printed and distributed flyers carrying the real news.   His only remorse was imperiling his two loyal friends, Rudi and Karl-Heinz, who had helped him distribute the flyers.
 For months since he’d been sentenced by the Nazi Blood Tribunal, he hadn’t known if his execution would be carried out in a day, a week or another month.  The suspense was almost worse than the sentence itself.  But evidently the request for clemency had been denied (as he had expected) and he was now near the end. 
Helmuth remembered the moment he was sentenced.  He stood before his accusers and boldly stated, “You kill me for no reason at all.  I haven’t committed any crime.  All I’ve done is tell the truth.  Now it’s my turn—but your turn will come!”  The stunned assembly was too shocked to silence him.  His words turned out to be prophetic.
Helmuth wrote three letters, only one of which survives.  (His letter home was destroyed in the bombing raid that killed his family nine months later.)  He wrote to his close friends:
“Dear Sister Sommerfeldt and Family,
When you receive this letter I will be dead.  . . .
I am very thankful to my Heavenly Father . . . I know that God lives and He will be the proper judge of this matter. 
Until our happy reunion in that better world I remain,
Your friend and brother in the Gospel,
There are no monuments to Hitler in Germany.  You will not find one street nor park that carries his name.  But if you travel to Hamburg, you will find a park, a street and a monument to young Helmuth Huebener. 
Helmuth’s two friends, Rudi Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe were sentenced to years of hard labor, but they lived and moved to the USA after WW II.  One day not long ago, Karl-Heinz was visiting Helmuth’s memorial in Hamburg where a group of students were learning about “the Heubener Group.”  A traveling companion pointed out Karl-Heinz and told them he was part of the group.  He was quickly surrounded by the youth, eager to hear the story of how, when he was their age, he had the pleasure to work with a valiant young hero.

Helmuth Hubener

Truth & Conviction [DVD] by Matt Whitaker
The Price by Karl-Heinz Schnibbe
Three Against Hitler by Rudi Wobbe
Hubener vs. Hitler by Richard Lloyd Dewey

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Waiting in the Wings

My high school chemistry teacher stepped out of the lab for only a few minutes.  That was all it took.  He returned to an exuberant bunch of juniors spraying water on each other in grand style.  Mr. Caesar (yes, that was his name) yelled at us and quickly regained control of his lab.
“Who started this water fight?!” Mr. Caesar demanded.
Knowing that he’d never believe it, my friends pointed to me.  I had the reputation of being the model kid in the school.  I was both studious and well-mannered.  Not only that, I was downright shy and seldom called attention to myself.
My classmates were right; Mr. Caesar didn’t believe them.  It was a safe bet.  No one got in trouble for the water fight.
Oh, and there was one other reason why they all pointed to me.  I was, in fact, the one who started the water fight.
While all the fingers pointed at me, I neither denied nor admitted anything.   I didn’t need to.  I just smiled angelically at my teacher and my reputation spoke for itself.
In this incident, my reputation worked in my favor.  But most of the time, I didn’t like being type-cast as the shy, studious type.  I wanted to step outside the role I’d created for myself and be a greater person.
I heard about a school where the culture is to keep an open mind about fellow classmates.  In a school like that, I couldn’t have gotten away with starting a water fight.  But maybe in a school like that, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to live up to my potential of not only studying well, but living well.  Every day great things are expected from each other, despite any evidence of “low achievements” in the past.  Every day is a new opportunity to take that monumental step to being the person we were born to become. 

Ten years ago today, Todd Beamer made that monumental step when he said, “Let’s roll” and prevented hijackers from flying Flight 93 into their intended target, thus saving countless lives. This post is dedicated to him and other heroes, who while “waiting in the wings” walk/ed among us as ordinary people.

Hero Aboard the Oryoku Maru
December 1944
The survivors of the Bataan Death March were desperately hoping they would be liberated from their POW camp in the Philippines.  They could see more and more American planes flying overhead and they believed that meant the Allies were winning World War II.  Their greatest fear was that their captors would carry them off before they could be rescued.  For 1600 men—roughly three-fourths of the group—that fear was realized.  The Japanese squeezed as many men as was physically possible inside the cargo hold of the cruise liner, Oryoku Maru. 
Let me introduce a few of the POW passengers:  Chaplain Robert Taylor, who had the reputation for being the only man in the starving camp who could be trusted to deliver food untouched to a dying soldier; Henry Lee, an amiable poet; “Manny” Lawton, a well-regarded captain; and Frank Bridget, who was described as “nervous, intense, over-eager and often rubbed people the wrong way.”
Inside the cargo hold of the ship, it was dark and hellishly hot. The little air that vented through the open hatch provided next to no circulation.  This caused more than a deficiency in comfort; it was a matter of survival.  The men in the corners of the hold were already beginning to pass-out from suffocation when the ship set sail.  The hope that ventilation would increase when the vessel began to move was dashed when they were overcome by nausea instead of air.
The prisoners cried out for help.  Their guard’s response was to threaten, "Shut up or I'll close the hatch.  You're disturbing the passengers!"  (There were 1,900 Japanese passengers.)  The POWs answered him with more pleading and he made good his threat.  As the hatch door slammed shut, pandemonium erupted.  The panicking men shrieked in terror.
Above the hysteria, a man climbed up the ladder to the hatch and spoke in a commanding voice, “We are all going to calm down, every one of us, and work together!”  The voice belonged to Frank Bridget, the man least expected to remain calm in an emergency.  Immediately, the prisoners silenced themselves as Bridget explained how panic only uses more precious oxygen.  He instructed the men to take off their shirts and fan the air towards the men in the corners.  This improved the stifling heat and air circulation immensely.  Bridget didn’t stop at that.  He braved confronting the guard and persuaded him to allow the men who had passed out to be carried out of the hold and revived.  He also insisted the hatch door stay open and that water be brought to the POWs.
Two days after they set sail, US pilots bombed the Oryoku Maru, not knowing American POWs were onboard.  It says a lot of the prisoners to mention they were cheering for the Allies to hit their mark, even though they knew it could mean their own deaths. 
Only 400 of the 1600 POWs survived long enough to be rescued.  Frank Bridget was not one of them.  (Chaplain Taylor lived, and though poet Henry Lee died, his poetry lives on.)  Manny Lawton credited his survival in large part to Bridget.  Lawton admittedly despised Frank Bridget before this event, but he said, “Sometimes people rise to greatness and you never can predict who will . . . Bridget was waiting in the wings and he took responsibility.  I don’t know where he found the calmness.  He saved us with his voice.”
Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides.
Oryoku Maru Roster

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cycle of Life

I woke up yesterday rejoicing in my open agenda.  It was the first day all summer that my schedule wasn’t maxed-out to the last minute.  For weeks I’ve been longing to have some time to exercise my creative muscle.  I planned to accomplish this with a long-anticipated writing session—just as soon as I started a load of laundry.

Armed with my laundry basket, my senses were assaulted as I stepped into my basement.  A strong, musty odor about knocked me over.  It seemingly bellowed, You’ve got unwanted water on the premises!

Upon exploration, I quickly discovered I no longer had an open agenda.  I had to deal with rescuing my carpet—and teaching my kids how to feel the burden of responsibility.  I wasn’t in the mood to make things fun for them, so I was just one whip short of being a regular slave-driver.

“Can’t you guys see we’ve got a crisis in the basement?” I hollered.  “Dad is away so I really need your help!” 

My creative juices were simmering while I hauled storage boxes out of the flooded room.  I reflected upon the topic I’ve been wanting to write about, along with how it had a lot to do with the disaster at hand.  My topic: the universal cycle of
“Creation à Fall à Restoration.”    
This cycle began with the dawn of time and has continued on down to the present moment.  I woke up to the middle stroke of the cycle and spent all day dealing with the third.

Creation is the art of crafting something with your resources, made even more joyful when aided by inspiration.  The Fall is the natural deterioration that comes with the mortal experience.  The Restoration has everything to do with God’s power to make things right.  Even with my carpet, I may have cleared the room, but the Lord helped me fix my family relations that went sour when I lost my cool.

My crazy, hectic summer felt like a “Fall” because, with my gazillion responsibilities, I had so many opportunities to mess things up.  I had a painful stretch of time when every single thing I did went wrong.  What, I wondered, am I supposed to learn from all this?

The answer came to me a few weeks ago as I listened to a commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy.  That’s when I remembered the “Creation, Fall, Restoration” cycle.  This flash of inspiration put my difficulties into perspective and gave me the answer I needed to set things right:  allow the Lord to help me restore my sense of purpose and begin anew to create.

Dante Alighieri
(1265 – 1321)

Dante was a member of Florence, Italy’s “People’s Council” and then was elevated to the office of magistrate in 1300.  It was not a good time to stand at the head of his political party.  In 1302, the opposing party came to power and banished Dante from Florence, with a decree that he would be executed by fire if he should ever return.  So Dante lived the last twenty years of his life in exile.  During these years, he wrote his Divine Comedy, finishing it the year of his death.

He created drama and conflict at the opening of the Inferno, which builds as he descends into the depths of the devil’s domain.  It is a guided tour in which he learns how the seven deadly sins cause despair.

Dante’s tour of the after-life continues as he moves on to Purgatory.  Here he learns that Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice are the highest ideals mankind can attain without divine revelation.  To move beyond this point into Paradise, he must accept correction and purification through God’s messengers.  By means of his trials and submission to God’s will, Dante grows to become one with God and learns that, ultimately, God is a God of Love.  This lesson was the point of his long and arduous journey.

Dante’s rich poetry and symbolism make it arguably one of the best creative works of all time.  It deserves a closer study which I'll look forward to doing on another post.

Post-Script:  I made that promised post of a closer study on May 28, 2012.

Friday, June 24, 2011


After tucking my daughter into bed, I turned around and saw a note taped to the wall saying, “Mad at Mom.”
I asked her, “What is this about?”
She replied, “Every time I go to bed mad at you, when I wake up the next morning I forget about it.  So I’m leaving myself a reminder.”
I laughed and shared with her how one of my favorite things about morning is the fresh start it gives you in life.  It is a gift to have the troubles of the previous night no longer pressing on your mind.
We took the “mad” sign off the wall.  The next morning she hugged me and said in effect that she was glad to dump her anger from the night before and not feel like she needed to pick it back up again the next day.

Another day, my daughter and I were working together and she wasn't happy with the way things were going.  She exclaimed, "My whole day is ruined now!"

I told her, "Flush."

"What for?"

I explained, "Just because you're having a yucky moment doesn't mean you have to carry the yuck around with you all day.  Just flush and be done with it."

She laughed at the idea of carrying garbage around all day instead of discarding it at the first possible moment.  She agreed to "flush" and was amazed at the power that gave her to choose how she responded to life's misadventures.

Since that day some four years ago, whenever we get upset about something, we remind each other to flush.  Since most of the time what we're upset about is not having our way with the other, this has helped our relationship IMMENSELY. 

I had these conversations with my daughter because her emotions are right on the surface, making it very apparent that they need to be dealt with.  Others I deeply love are of a milder disposition.  I'm learning the exterior calm can sometimes hide inner turmoil, giving the illusion that all is well.  Years later, the power of packed-away-anger resurfaces in all its angst. 

It's hard just to say "flush" at that point.  But there is help and hope through love and forgiveness.

The Garden

There is a Garden.  It is a very beautiful and healing place.  I love to go there in my mind as I begin each day.  Though I reflect upon it mentally, it is as real and timeless as anything can be.  The grounds are Eden-like with trees and blossoms and meadows with flowing brooks.
 At the heart of the Garden is a Fountain of Living Water.  Dip under the flow and note how it creates a refreshing cleansing that heals from the inside out. 
The Fountain flows into a pool of liquid Light.  You are invited to step into the pool.  Immerse yourself.  If you come prepared to release your burdens, they will either be lifted or you will be made strong enough to bear them.  . . .

. . . Because there was another Garden.  

In Gethsemane, the Savior of the World took upon Himself the iniquities and inequities of all mankind. 
We can confidently cast our cares upon the Lord because, through the agonizing events of Gethsemane and Calvary, atoning Jesus is already familiar with our sins, sicknesses, and sorrows. He can carry them now because He has successfully carried them before!  (Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Yet Thou Art There’,” Ensign, Nov 1987, p. 30)

He reaches out and beckons, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;” (Matthew 11:29)  Which means He is willing to pull the lion’s share of our burdens with all His Power and Perspective.

The Savior’s atonement in the garden and on the cross is intimate as well as infinite. Infinite in that it spans the eternities. Intimate in that the Savior felt each person’s pains, sufferings, and sicknesses. Consequently, . . . we might be healed from within.  (Merrill J. Bateman, “The Power to Heal from Within,” Ensign, May 1995, p. 14)

 There is no truer Friend.  He sees our anguish, whether outwardly expressed or privately packed inside.  He invites us to forgive, whether it be ourselves or another.  He has already paid the price; our task is simply to accept.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Celebrating Sixty Years

“Mama, you paid that kid way too much for mowing our lawn!” my oldest sister complained. 
This topic was revisited forty-something years after the event.  On the occasion of our parents’ 60th Wedding Anniversary, my sisters reminisced about Mom & Dad's parenting techniques.
My sister continued, “Mom answered, ‘How much do you think I should have paid him?’”
“One dollar.”
“‘Alright, you’re hired.  I’ll pay you one dollar for mowing our lawn.’”
“So for the rest of . . . forever, I had to mow our lawn for just a dollar.  Take into consideration that the neighbor kid got to use a power mower and ours was just a push mower.”
“Don’t forget the hill!” my next-oldest-sister chimed in. “It was fine going down but then you had to DRAG it back up.”
“And the grass had no respect for the push mower,” my oldest sister was on a roll.  “For the power mower, the grass stood stiff at attention to get its buzz-cut.  But for ME, the lawn was like an unruly mob doing the wave, bowing down before the blades and thumbing its nose as it sprung back up behind me.”
We all laughed at my sister’s imitation of the rebellious laugh the grass seemingly bellowed as it taunted her efforts to tame it.
The value of the shaggy-trimmed-lawn-job was way more than a dollar. 

There were a lot of lessons we learned from our parents over the years—some of which we even valued at the time we learned them.

Warren & Arlene
May 1951

A few of the lessons we learned from our parents:
“Do the duty that lies nearest to you and already the rest will seem clear. ”
“Let’s fight the war from here.”
“Don’t shame the family.”
Responsibility—if you sign up to take cookies to an event, you take the cookies even if something comes up that prevents you from attending the event.
Respect others—no matter how young or how different, whether people or pets
Keep in touch through letters
Cultural heritage: listening to folk songs; attending cultural events and then talking about it over ice cream.
The value of well-prepared and presented talks
Watching and listening to, and then discussing movies, plays and books
Appreciation of the arts, music and theater
Creativity—turning a squiggly line into a picture, drawing, writing, painting
Loving life-long learning—the kind of education that feeds your soul
Colorful meals with table topics
Hard work
Principle of the pentagonal man who firmly maintains the five strengths: emotional, social, intellectual, physical, & spiritual
Autumn colors and fallen leaves
Enjoying the outdoors and instilling a love of nature
Teaching how to wash dishes— if the dishes weren’t washed properly, the child who had done a sloppy job found the soiled dishes at her place setting—and next time she did a better job 
Projects—even after things fall apart, they can be pieced back together again
Examples of selflessness,  love, courage, resourcefulness, and perspective
Being there
The value of family heritage through telling our own and our ancestors’ stories
Creating beautiful and useful things with material:  wood, cloth, yarn
No matter how overwhelming life feels, we can pull through to the end
Thanks Dad & Mom.  I love you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Cultivate Our Garden"

My mother’s cure-all for her children’s complaints of boredom was to tell us to go out and weed the garden.  Suddenly we were always able to discover a way to occupy ourselves without resorting to such drastic measures.  Though we weren’t too fond of the hoe, we loved going out to harvest my grandpa’s raspberry patch. 
We spent our summers on our grandfather’s farm.  He had an apple orchard, a barn with cows to milk, a chicken coop, rows of neatly tended garden produce, 
And a raspberry patch.
It was so satisfying to slide the red, ripe raspberries off their stems and plop them into the large can that hung from a string around our necks.  Of course, a lot of the berries never made it to the can.  We’d stand in the tall bushes for what seemed like hours, the prickly limbs scratched our arms as we reached for the berries.  The patch was big enough that we could stake out our territory, moving from one rich clump of fruit to the next without running into anyone else’s claim. As the sun settled into the west,  we’d emerge from the patch, hot and sticky. With our pink-stained fingers, we’d dump out our can of berries and look forward to seeing them again at the end of the day.  Our dessert was always raspberries and cream, sprinkled with a little sugar.
                A generation later, I can hear myself telling my kids to weed the yard when they’re bored.  Though they don’t relish the work any more than I did in my youth, my kids and their cousins take great pleasure in harvesting raspberries.  The problem is we don’t go to my grandpa’s little farm nearly often enough. I have a tiny raspberry patch in my own garden that we greatly enjoy.  It takes us all of ten minutes to pick the berries, but that—and the strawberry patch—is the one place my kids volunteer to work in the yard.
Now I enjoy going out to weed my flower beds. It is my reward for when I get all my household chores and community responsibilities completed.  Hey, I just realized—I finally learned to cure my own boredom with working in my yard (although I haven’t thought to call those rare moments without a pressing need boredom for quite some time).  My mom was right all along.

Voltaire’s Candide

Voltaire’s protagonist, Candide, was raised in the “best of all possible worlds.”  He was blessed with both a gentle disposition and sound judgment.  He loved a lovely young lady named Cunegonde.
Then Candide came of age in tragic circumstances.  He was severed from his loved ones and seized as a soldier.  There follows a long train of outrageously unlikely predicaments:  shipwreck, earthquake, inquisition, murder in self-defense, and a visit to the utopian city of Eldorado (where the streets are paved with gold) which he abandons to seek his beloved Cunegonde.  
Along the way he meets a philosopher who insists that no one can be truly happy.  To validate his claim, this philosopher introduces Candide to not only victims of abuse, but a man who has everything but values nothing, great kings in exile, and even his long-lost Cunegonde who by then had lost her lovely bloom of youth and transformed into a complainer.
Candide married Cunegonde and their troublesome travels were replaced by tedium.  Cunegonde grew shrewish.  Her lady-companion speculated that her life may have been better as a slave on a pirate’s ship.  The philosopher friend observed, “that man was born to spend his life alternately a prey to the throes of anxiety and the lethargy of boredom.”  Though Candide disagreed, he could not assert otherwise, lacking sufficient evidence. 
Then they met the farmer and everything changed for the better.
Candide and company marveled at the wealth and good-will of the farmer, assuming he must be in possession of a huge fortune.  The farmer replied, “I have but twenty acres, . . . I cultivate them with my children.  Work keeps us from three great evils:  boredom, vice, and need.”
As Candide and his friends returned home, they realized that Adam and Eve were placed in the garden of Eden to work.  They resolved to cultivate a garden of their own, which they did.  They developed talents and enjoyed the satisfaction that comes from harvesting the fruits of their own labors. One of Candide’s friends gratefully reflected on the painful road they traveled to reach their “garden of Eden.” 
“‘That is well put,’ replied Candid, ‘but we must cultivate our garden.’”
There is more than one type of seed and more than one way to plant it.  I planted the seed of this story a couple of days ago, yet managed to wake up feeling depleted this morning.  I was determined to post this blog entry so I got to work, tending the seed, and now that it has blossomed into a blog post, I feel energized and ready to take on the day’s challenges.
Cultivate your garden, whether it is in the soil or in your soul.