Writing My Life

Now and Then


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Dr.CrazyLove: Or How I Learned to Stop Apologizing and Love the FaceBook

Renae FB

I know there are scores of reasons to dislike this social medium; nevertheless, millions of folks hang out there anyway. We post what we are thinking, doing, eating, seeing, etc. We rant and rave, curse and criticize, stalk and gawk, brag and validate ourselves and others, all the while claiming to hate FaceBook. And I was among those until recently.

I know browsing can suck the time out of a day quicker than we can click “Like”, but sometimes, a few minutes (or hours) is just what we need to buoy our spirits, pat our backs, pinch our cheeks, or cheer us onward. Let me give you an example.

Recently, my sister and I made the VERY painful decision to move our aging mother to a senior living center in order to provide the increasing care she needs. This meant giving away her two darling puppies who provided hours of emotional comfort, but little in the way of physical care. Even Connie and I could not keep up with her minute to minute needs.

Of course, this broke her heart as well as Connie’s and mine. Then my sister posted the story of our experience on FaceBook, and so much love, understanding, support, and virtual hugs poured in from cousins, aunts, friends, neighbors, former school mates and colleagues,  as well as a gentleman whose last name we share who thinks we may be distant relatives, but we don’t know for sure!

Probably the sweetest gift we received from this strange source is the reconnection to a dear old friend and neighbor from our childhoods. I have written about Susan and her family before, and it was such a delight when she found Connie on the “Remember Pocatello” FB page.

Besides remembering days gone by, Susan has also shared her journey of caring for her darling 90-year-old mother Mary, whom Connie, Mom, and I also love and admire. Susan has given us helpful ideas in caring for Mom in her new home, and she has posted photos of the Jones family that we have shown to Mom. And then we talk of our good times in that neighborhood and of the lovely people we enjoyed there.

The point is that I don’t know if Connie and I would have found or felt so much kindness if we were not a part of the FaceBook community. So while there is still much that I ignore or sometimes block when I visit FB Land, there is also much that I savor.

Thank you people who use this social medium to lift the spirits of your FaceBook buddies!


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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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When Life Turns on a Dime

Last Sunday started like the Sunday before that and the Sunday before that. G.E. and I slept in. Upon waking, I wrapped up in my favorite robe and he dressed in his comfy sweats, or “daytime jammies” as I call them. Next I stirred around in the kitchen while he sat at the bar and poured over the Sunday paper, and then the phone rang.

Before picking up the receiver, I predicted that a member of our church congregation was on the other end in search of a Sunday School or Primary substitute. I was wrong. Before picking up the receiver, all was right with the morning. That’s when life turned on a dime.

Within a few minutes we learned that a loved member of G.E.’s extended family had received a life-threatening medical diagnosis and was scheduled for surgery within hours. We quickly cleaned up and headed to the hospital where we greeted many family members who had gathered together in love and support. The well-wishers filled the room and spilled into the hallway. Smiles and laughter intermingled with tears and hugs. It was a warm sight and an even warmer feeling.

Everyone stayed in the waiting room while our loved one was in surgery, and so we were there to hear the surgeon report the results. They were pretty much what he predicted they would be. Silence descended and quiet tears, followed by hugs and more hugs.

And now the trials of faith. Prayers will ask Heavenly Father for a miracle, for our family member to beat the odds, for “the cup to be lifted”. We know those things could happen. But we also know the miracles could take other forms as in added grace. Our Father in Heaven did not intervene in Gethsemane, but He sent an angel to comfort the Savior, and so we’ll look for the attendance of angels and increased love flowing from family and friends in heaven and on earth to buoy up that dear family.

As for the extended family, I am very grateful that G.E.’s siblings have met for dinner several times a year for nearly a decade to strengthen ties. We’ve held yearly reunions to include children and grandchildren for the past 3 years. Those traditions made it natural and comfortable to rally together during this time of need. We are not strangers to one another. When life turns on a dime as it did this weekend, that is a wonderful comfort.


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Kind Acts That Pick Us Up, Warm Our Hearts, or Make Us Smile

0121_HeartwatchesthenewsTo counteract disturbing and depressing news that produces angst in my psyche, I look for heartwarming stories of kindnesses often found in media. I am constantly amazed at the lengths people go to to help others, but I am also touched by the stories of smalls acts of tenderness and giving.

About a month ago, I asked Facebook friends and family the following question: “What little acts of kindness have come your way that picked you up, warmed your heart, or made you smile?”

I really enjoyed reading the dozen-plus responses over the next few days and decided it is fitting during this month of valentines to summarize some observations that help our hearts.

Big or little, kind experiences are memorable. My cousin Julie and an old friend Liz will never forget the Christmas generosity of neighbors during dark days when their husbands left them and their children. Kristine is still grateful for dear friends who cleaned her house and left dinner on the table while she was busy taking care of funeral arrangements for her mother. Friends Christine, Debbie, and Kathy remember strangers in check-out lanes who paid for their purchases that ranged from a soda to a bouquet of flowers to 30 boxes of crayons for the teacher’s classroom!

Good turns perpetuate more good turns. Many who responded to my question passed along the kindnesses because of what they had experienced. Liz, who received “12 days of Christmas” from neighbors, said, “My girls and I ‘paid it forward’ and we did the same for one friend or neighbor every Christmas for about 10 years.” Jan’s extended family honored her mother-in-law, who was respected as an wonderful example of giving, by performing 92 acts of kindness in her memory. They set up a private Facebook page to list the wide and varied experiences of giving, and they drew much joy from performing the good deeds and from reading about them.

Families are hotbeds of giving and receiving.  Not really a shocking revelation, but it was fun to read about husbands who hold hands, open doors, and shower their wives with kisses and hugs. My cousins Bonnie and Linda appreciate their spouses who bring tea or coffee to them while they wake up. Linda’s hubby then reads scriptures and inspirational writings plus more – “Big hugs and praise God every morning”, she writes. My sister Connie remembers when she was “a cranky needy teenager [and] our dear Mom [sewed] new clothes for her. She held down a full time job so the only time to sew was after work late into the night.” Tiffany’s mantra of “doing a good deed daily” passes down to her family where dinner conversation centers around “what did you do for someone else today?” Tara wrote of a sweet little girl, about 6 or 7, who not only provided directions out of the complicated ropes course at the Museum of Natural Curiosity, she escorted Tara and her children out of there! She commented, “Such a polite and considerate thing for such a young person. I was really touched.” Her parents had taught her well.

Even when people are “assigned” to give, recipients are still appreciative. Latter-day Saint (Mormon) women participate in visiting teaching where two “sisters” are expected to visit other sisters in the congregation once a month. Dee wrote of visiting teachers who bring “needed messages from Heavenly Father and that leaves [her] better than they found [her]!” And Karen remembers a visiting teacher who made her a birthday cake and another who listened to what she really needed when recovering from a stroke: “a Bear Creek soup and a loaf of French bread so [she] could still be independent but … choose to use it when [she] wanted.”

It is not hard to extend kindnesses. Several respondents to my Facebook query shared their gratitude for the simplest expressions of thoughtfulness. My sister-in-law Debi loves spontaneous hugs; neighbor Mike appreciates smiles; and Lindsey is grateful for people’s patience, compliments, and thank yous. Although another neighbor Scott did not comment upon my post, he wrote that he was touched when old friends “liked” his Facebook posts and shared kind comments and reflections about what he wrote. While FB is often derided for being the opposite of Scott’s observation, it can be a source of connectedness with people we love and admire whose posts make us smile.

Acts of kindness bring joy to the giver. During a Sunday discussion at church, the sweet teacher spoke briefly about some struggles she contends with. Her counselor suggested a line of defense is to move the focus from one’s own problems to providing some service to others who need help. I know several friends who have adopted the same philosophy to battle depression and other debilitating issues. While it doesn’t “cure” the problems, it helps keep them in check and brings a measure of happiness into their lives.

So, during this Valentine month, I look to this cute advent calendar my granddaughter made to remind me that the world is not lost as long as there are so many people involved in the avocation of giving to others. (If you want to read all the replies in detail, click HERE to be uplifted.)

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Monday Morning Quarterback: Reflections Upon Sunday’s Lessons

We are studying the New Testament in Sunday School this year, and I love what I am learning through my personal study as well as my preparations to teach the lesson every other Sunday. Because we never have time to cover all the wonderful messages, I decided that I want to record some highlights of what I discover.

48_jesus-acclaims-john-the-baptist-come-unto-me_1800x1200_300dpi_2Yesterday’s lesson was about John the Baptist and the Savior’s baptism, and the following is a list of new insights and/or messages that touched my heart.

  • John the Baptist, “a child of promise” was the “last” and the “first” – last of the Old Testament prophets and first of the New Testament prophets. (See Bible Dictionary, a resource found in the King James Version used by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons.)
  • Baptizing the Savior was not the only way John prepared the way for Christ’s teachings as he taught the higher law that was to replace the Law of Moses:
    • Repent and be baptized to gain a remission of sins versus offering sacrifices upon altars.
    • Repent means to change, and so in Luke 3: 10-14, John answers the honest queries of those who asked “what shall we do” to change?
      • To those who have “enough and to spare”, exercise charity by giving raiment and food to those who have none.
      • Just as he challenged the tax collectors who also asked the question, exercise charity in your work by not exacting more of people than you should.
      • In a day when soldiers suffered from “blood lust” and felt the “ends justified the means” and gathered the “spoils of war” because it was their right, John asked the soldiers to abandon those practices: don’t be violent; don’t falsely blame others to justify your actions, and be content with what you earn or what you have rather than to take what isn’t yours to take.
        • John’s reply applies to us, too. In charity, we should resist being cruel or unkind or accusatory to others, plus we need to appreciate what we have and not be unethical in pursuing more and more.
  • Although he acknowledged Jesus was sinless and not in need of baptism, John did not realize the man was the Messiah until he and the Savior both saw the Holy Ghost in the sign of the dove light upon Christ, and heard God the Father confirm that Jesus was His Son and that the Savior had pleased Him. (See John 1: 29-34.)
    • While reading these verses, I received the impression that John and Jesus were the only two who witnessed that miraculous confirmation of the Savior’s divinity.
    • Having been foretold that he would recognize the Christ by this “sign”, John testified from that time forth that Jesus was the Messiah especially when he uttered the powerful and beautiful words, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
    • I also learned that Matthew 3:17 records Heavenly Father’s confirmation of the Savior by saying “THIS is my beloved Son …”; but Mark 1:11 and Luke 3: 22 reports the voice from heaven said “THOU art my beloved Son …”.
      • To me the significance of this difference is that God the Father “considered the audience” as the message was not meant to testify to John only, but to His Son as well.
      • Luke 4:1 says that Jesus was full of the Holy Ghost and the spirit directed Him to the wilderness to fast and pray and learn – just as many holy men had done before. But the Savior had much more to contemplate than most men. And it was here, as He fought to understand who He was and what His mission was that Satan delivered his three temptations.
        • James E. Talmage, former apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and author of Jesus the Christ maintains that among Lucifer’s purposes in tempting the Savior was to plant doubts about the words He had just heard: “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”

The few who may read this post may not find anything new or startling or amazing in what I’ve written, but I recorded this for myself. At age 66, I am still working on my testimony of the Savior and His gospel, and I want to look back and remember what I learned and felt. Through my recent scripture studies, I not only want to better know and follow Christ, I want to better know and learn from those who were with Him – men like John the Baptist.


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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.