Writing My Life

Now and Then

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Pure Religion Found

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. ~ James 1:27

The author of The Epistle of James is regarded to be the son of Mary, the Savior’s brother, and so few could be better prepared to share Jesus’ messages of love, compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice, mercy and more.

Today I reflected upon James’ definition of “pure religion” as G.E. and I attended church with Mom. In this senior living center, we watched two shiny young men pass the sacrament of bread and water to outstretched hands weathered by years and experience. We noticed how some frail widows pressed bread into the palms of their neighbor’s whose infirmities numbered a few more than their own.  We listened to shaky voices pray with gratitude for received blessings and plead for continued strength to serve as the Savior had served.

I thought it would depress my spirit to visit these meetings. Instead, the simplicity of the service, the expressions of love from members of this tiny congregation, and the kindnesses of the leaders reminded me of James’ admonition. And my heart was filled.

Christmas Program

One of many holiday programs for the residents at the senior living center.

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Back When I Wanted to be Catholic – and an Ice Skating Olympian

I think my fascination with Catholicism was born at St. Anthony’s Hospital where my mother gave birth to me. Somewhere in my early growing-up years, I heard rumors that before nuns brought babies to their mommies, priests baptized tiny infants. I therefore concluded that I had dual citizenship in the Catholic and the Mormon Churches. I may have even told a few people that I was Catholic.

Vern and Mary with their daughters and Penny, their Cocker Spaniel

Vern and Mary with their daughters and Penny, the Cocker Spaniel

I vaguely remember one or two neighbor children who were bona fide Catholics, but it wasn’t until 1954 when we moved across the street from Vern and Mary and their daughters Ginger, Susan, and Sharon that I learned some details of my “alter-religion”. Susan was closest to my age, and so I assume she served as my mentor in all things Catholic. While she shared some complaints about her faith, I loved everything I learned. For example, I really liked the idea of confession and the resulting absolution from sin. Yes, I know that a tenet of Mormon theology includes repentance, but when I prayed for forgiveness of what I considered many grave transgressions, I wasn’t sure I had been forgiven. I wanted somebody to make it official. Additionally, I was a repeat offender so the idea of frequent trips to the confessional bothered me not in the least. And because I thought of myself as pretty sinful, I also longed to pay penance. For example, I welcomed saying extra prayers especially if I could use a beautiful rosary to keep track of my efforts. In fact, I once bought an early treasure while vacationing at San Juan Capistrano when I was eight: a bracelet designed like a rosary, cross and all.

I really liked the idea of sacrifice, too – at least the ones my friends made. When I was young, Catholics abstained from meat every Friday, not just during Lent, and Fridays were my favorite school lunch days. Cafeteria workers at Lewis and Clark Elementary and Alameda Junior High always served fish sticks or toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup to all students, Catholic or otherwise. I even wanted to “give up” something for Lent. Susan and her sisters usually said goodbye to candy for the six weeks prior to Easter. I think I may have tried to do the same, but if I did, I doubt I lasted 6 days, let alone 40. (Recently I gave up Diet Coke. While this “abstinence” correlates with the Lenten season, it was unintentional, AND I plan to make this a permanent change. I know friends and family are snickering at this – “oh ye of little faith!”)

The biggest attraction to the Catholic faith, however, was First Communion – not because of the importance of receiving the Eucharist for the first time, but because of the beautiful little “wedding” dresses Susan and then Sharon wore. I was SO jealous. When I was baptized into the Mormon/LDS Church at age 8, I wore white knee-length bloomers and a white blouse. I didn’t get a new frock – white or otherwise – for my confirmation. No veil either. Not even white gloves. The adorable Easter dresses and bonnets Mom always bought or made for us did little to diminish my Communion-dress envy.

Looking back at that experience, I find it interesting how religion was often a topic of our childhood conversations. And while my interest in the Catholic Church was fleeting, there was a significant reason I was enamored with my Catholic friends. They were such good, good people. The family was fun and kind. Mom Mary’s wide smile invited friendships, and the girls were intelligent, talented, and beautiful. One summer Ginger kept us busy when she organized a backyard carnival. Under her tutelage, her sisters and we friends created booths by hanging blankets from their clothes line. We featured all sorts of games and prizes, and promoted the event beyond our street to nearby neighborhoods. We charged for the activities but then donated the money – which I don’t recall as being very much, maybe $12 or $15 – to a local charity. Somewhere in my archives is a newspaper photo of us presenting our profits to the organization.

Skating with Mom at Caribou Nat'l Forest rink

Skating with Mom at Caribou Nat’l Forest rink

Then there was Dad Vern; quiet and unassuming, he spent winter nights watering down their back yard to create an ice skating rink. Small at first, the rink’s popularity inspired him to enlarge the square footage until several inches of ice covered all but a tiny corner of their yard. We loved the rink and often hurried home from school to spend a couple of hours there before dinner. I remember one particularly freezing week when schools closed for fear of bursting pipes; nevertheless, the temperatures didn’t dip enough to keep us off the ice. Everyday we spent time playing Crack the Whip and other games with our friends, taking breaks now and again to thaw our toes or sip hot cocoa before resuming.

Wearing our "ice-skating dresses" with Daddy at Caribou rink a few years later

Wearing our “ice-skating dresses” with Daddy at Caribou rink a few years later  


When I think of how much time we spent there, I wonder that Vern and Mary rued the day they started that tradition. I can’t imagine how many times children rang their doorbell to ask permission to take the ice, but I don’t remember being turned away very often.

Because of this neighborhood experience, my sister Connie and I became skating devotees, and while our “expertise” did not qualify us for the 1964 Winter Olympics, Mom believed that our love of the sport warranted red corduroy skating dresses!!

The best outcome of that neighborhood skating rink, however, was the closeness we felt to our friends and neighbors. Vern and Mary created lifelong memories of a fun, happy, and safe place for all of us to enjoy regardless of our differences – religious or otherwise. I’ll never forget them!

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… Sunday reflection: “Read until you learn something” …

If you know me or have followed this blog for a while, you understand that I am an avid reader of young adult fiction, historical fiction, fiction fiction. I also like to read “trade books” about my profession – teaching and literacy. As a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons), I am admonished to read the scriptures daily. For a variety of reasons, this isn’t always easy to do.

While I won’t go into ALL the excuses I’ve used over the years to rationalize why my Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price gather dust as they sit on the book shelf or bed table, I will say that it often boils down to “mood.” These books of wisdom are NOT easy-reads! The verses, stories, and lessons require engaged thinking, reflection, and questioning. That means work, work, work.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading is because of the escape, and the idea of “getting away” is often more appealing than “getting into.” But I also LOVE learning, and that is what draws me back to these texts that teach me lessons that go beyond this worldly existence.

Because I know that readers glean more from reading if they set a purpose, I find I cannot study the scriptures just because I am supposed to. The first time I read the Book of Mormon, for example, was to learn for myself what was in it. I belong to a church that claims the book is a record of ancient peoples, and that its pages testify of Christ. So, back in 1962, I attended a seminary class in 9th grade where the teacher assigned us to read every verse, page, and chapter.

Since that time, I’ve read the Book of Mormon a few more times for several different purposes. Once I underlined every reference about Christ’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection. Another time, I studied what the Book of Mormon taught about a variety of topics: adversity, relationships, life after death, repentance, the nature of God, and the role of evil, etc.

Sometimes I study for hours – usually when preparing a church talk or lesson; sometimes I read for a few minutes and many times I don’t study at all. Because I felt guilty during those times of omission, I asked myself why I didn’t feel like diving into the body of scriptures. Realizing it was more than being too tired or busy to study for a few minutes that kept me from my reading, I experienced the aforementioned epiphany of needing a purpose. But then I struggled with finding a motivating purpose!

While mulling over all this personal struggle, I picked up my dusty Book of Mormon and pulled out a card tucked between the pages. On one side I had written these words:

Read until you learn something.

“Light bulb!” I decided that would be my purpose –  until I found something better. So far there has been nothing better than that noted advice from Andy Barlow, a near-by acquaintance. With that thought in mind, I told myself I could stop if I learned something after 5 minutes of reading.

While this happens once in a while, I find that when I learn a little here or a bit more there, I don’t WANT to stop. Interesting, isn’t it? And paradoxical. Because I give myself permission to close the book and snuggle under the covers after ingesting just one thought-provoking morsel, I feel free to continue. I’ve also found that I take greater delight in what I am learning.

... read until you learn something ...

To track these illuminations, I scrawl the “big ideas” gleaned from one or more verses in bright red ink over those printed lines of inspiration. The act of “writing to read or learn” cements thoughts more solidly in my mind and heart. And a quick look back over the pages helps me remember or review my lessons learned.

I love it, look forward to it, and grow from it.


… what I learned about the Holy Ghost today … and yes, I am a believer …

G.E. and I were sitting on our favorite padded pew on the back row – which is the last row before the folding chairs that fill up the overflow area. As usual, I was “glowing” – the euphemism for “perspiring” – which is better than saying “sweating.” At any rate, I was caught up in all three. At times like these, I wish I had a lovely folded fan from China or Japan, but I have yet to find one -which is quite unusual when you consider how many items ARE made in China. (I don’t see so many from Japan any more – other than cars, but I think Toyotas and the like are also manufactured in the good old U.S. of A.)

Enough stream of conscious writing, already.

With NO fan in sight, I snatched three stapled sheets of paper from G.E.’s pile of lesson materials. (He teaches the 16 and 17 year old boys during the priesthood hour.) The 3 papers served wonderfully as a make-shift fan, and in moments I was out of heat-stroke danger. At that point, I scanned the writing on the paper and became engrossed with the lesson about the Holy Ghost. While I have attended 100s of Sacrament meetings, Sunday School classes, and Relief Society lessons, I don’t ever remember learning parts of the doctrine I read in that lesson.

While most KNOWN readers of my blog are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I realize I have a few that drop in who are not.  Because the Tony-winning play, THE BOOK OF MORMON, parodies our religion, there are lots of wild notions out in the world concerning our beliefs. I doubt that many folks sit around the dinner table discussing what Mormons believe about the Holy Ghost, but just in case that is the case, I’ll share what I learned today by reading G.E.’s lesson.

First of all the entire lesson can be found on LDS.org – click HERE if you want to check it out. I am only going to mention my 2 “ah-hahs,” and if you want to see where the inspiration/revelation is referenced, the above hyperlink will take you where you can get that info. Now that all the prattle is out of the way, let’s get started.

  1. The Holy Ghost is the 3rd member of the Godhead, he is a spirit, but he takes the form of a man – and ONLY a man. I know the New Testament indicates that after the Savior’s baptism, the Holy

    The dove - SYMBOL of the Holy Ghost - NOT the Holy Spirit itself

    Ghost descended upon Jesus “in the form of a dove.” According to the prophet Joseph Smith the dove serves as a “sign” of the Holy Ghost and the appearance of the dove signified that the Savior received the Holy Ghost. BUT no, that third member of the Godhead does NOT transform himself into an actual bird.

  2. The Holy Ghost is not and can not be omnipresent, BUT his power and influence can. This is the analogy presented to explain this complex concept – and I love it for its clarity. Okay, we know that the sun occupies a place in the heavens, and that is the only place where our sun can be found. Nevertheless, the sun’s rays can be felt throughout our world – in many places at once – and so can the power and influence of the Holy Ghost be felt by many of God’s children at the same time.
Of course, I realize there is much more to the doctrine concerning the trinity, and  I could share additional beliefs about this interesting topic. But the final and most important tidbit is my testimony that I have felt that power and influence of the Holy Ghost many many times in my life. While some believe this doctrine flies in the face of logic and reason, but it supports and strengthens my faith in God the Father, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Faith is NOT based upon logic and reason. There is so much more to that as well. In the end, I am thankful for this knowledge and for the inspiration, revelation, and comfort I have received from this particular spiritual emissary from my Heavenly Father.


… HaPPy BiRtHDaY, dEAr ReLief SoCiEtY …

As a female member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I also belong to the largest women’s organization in the world, the Relief Society. Officially organized in March of 1842, Relief Society is “an auxiliary to the priesthood.” In its earlier beginnings, women of the church envisioned their society as a service organization, as suggested by Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball’s idea of establishing a constitution to formalize the community’s sewing circle.

Within the confines of the Mormon Church, the rest of the story is well known: Sarah’s friend Eliza R. Snow wrote the document and took it to Church President Joseph Smith who praised its contents but added that the Lord had something better in mind for the women of the church. It’s my understanding that the “better part” included organizing the women as an auxiliary to the Priesthood AND adding teaching to service; thus the sewing circle also became a learning circle.

While church leaders, including Joseph Smith and Newel K. Whitney, attended early meetings to teach “new things” to the women, the organization eventually turned to its own members to teach one another. And so it continues today.

Yesterday, March 19, 2011, the women of the Eagle Mountain Utah North Stake celebrated that occasion by meeting together at the nearby church. As women do, we adorned the “cultural hall” in springtime pastels; we sang, prayed, and lunched together, and we taught one another. As in  times gone by, a priesthood leader shared his thoughts, but it was women serving, teaching, and inspiring one another that lay at the heart of the occasion.

I know today’s Relief Society may not be my grandmother’s Relief Society – her social would have been the annual bazaar, complete with quilts and pot luck dishes instead of a celebration featuring balloons and a catered buffet – BUT it is still a most amazing organization whose past and present fascinate me.

NOW and THEN …