Dec 30, 2016

Is it 2017 Yet?

Elisha and Jason Lee, Married 12/17/16
at the Spokane, WA temple
I want to apologize for missing my last two blog posts.  I don't know about you, but these last few months have been crazy, busy for us. I came home from the NW Retreat at the end of October and kicked it into overdrive.

Somehow, I managed to find time to work, finish NaNoWriMo in November, have Thanksgiving (that's the holiday with a turkey dinner, right?), taking my daughter through the temple for the first time, plan for and have a wedding the week before Christmas, THEN have Christmas, followed by sending my husband and son off on their "Christmas gift": a trip to Denver to watch the Broncos play football.

I'm sitting in my chair, nearly comatose, my house looking like a tornado hit it, and a pile of un-finished writing assignments and tasks screaming for my attention. My neglected to-do list is pages long, and I'm ready for it to be over already.  Much like 2016.

And although 2016 had many incredible highlights, I am ready to move forward onto bigger and better things.

This year I hope to focus more on my health, strengthening my family, and carving out more time for writing.  In 2017 my youngest daughter will get baptized and my oldest son will be a senior in high school.  This will be the year I hope to have my first book published - either traditionally or independently.

When I look back on 2016, I'm tired; weary from the struggle of growth and endurance.  But when I focus on the next year, my spirit lifts, and I envision so many hopes for the future, and all it's possibilities.

I hope that as we say good-bye to the old, and usher in the new, we can take a moment to reflect on the lessons we learned, the blessings we received, and the lives that we touched.  May you find strength and peace in last year, while experiencing giddy anticipation for what lies ahead.

Happy New year everyone!  I'll see you next year!

Dec 27, 2016

Do the Actual Words Matter?

by Terri Wagner

When I am reading, I often wonder why an author used a specific word. Why that word? When it fits like a glove, I think well done; when it really does not work, I think what were you thinking. So I thought I would show an example or two of what I mean.

The Preamble to the Constitution originally reads thus:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

In your own words what might it sound like today:

We are Americans and in order to form a government, we have to establish laws and court system, peace within other countries, attack when other people defy us, provide a government and economic system to make people satisfied, and to secure freedom. We have established the Constitution of the United States.

Or maybe like this:

The citizens of the U.S.A. in order to make a better country create fair laws, make sure our country is at peace, providing military defense, make everyone happier, to have ourselves and future generations in this country be free, and legally make this Constitution for the U.S.A.

How about another country's take on a preamble like say India:

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR ,DEMOCRATIC, REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation; IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

Maybe sometimes the "old" words best convey what is actually meant.

Dec 24, 2016

Seek the Light

One of my favorite scriptures is Moses 6:63 “... and behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.”

Basically, this says the whole world is full of visual aids, things that symbolize Christ and his gospel of peace.  At this season, when the world is at its darkest, I crave light the most. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re losing seven minutes four seconds every day...not that I’m counting, mind you...and I seek light! The electric bill skyrockets, I light candles, and I seek Christmas lights wherever I can find them.

Giving and serving others in tiny ways doesn’t take much time, yet  the light it causes in your life and theirs is magnificent.

Seek the light in whatever form you can, and Merry Christmas!

Dec 22, 2016

More Christmas Memories

By Kari Diane Pike

Deb and Terri's posts stirred up all kinds of thoughts about past Christmases. I dug out a few of my journals and wandered through some of those memories. Wow. I wish I had been better about writing in my journals in my younger years. The pages that I did manage to fill over the years contain experiences that I thought I would never forget - I even state how I would never forget - and yet, I have almost no memory of  many of those events.

What I do remember about Christmas during my childhood is the anticipation. The closer the big day came, the longer time took to pass. I thought  Christmas would never arrive. Mom would tell us that the sooner we went to bed, the sooner the next day would get here. Going to bed was easy. Falling asleep, not so much.

I wanted to go to sleep. I really did. But I wasn't tired. So I threw the bed covers off and stretched out on my back. I kicked my legs as hard and fast as I could, hoping to tire myself out. Mom would hear all the activity and yell at me to settle down. I could see the Christmas tree lights glowing through the curtains hanging over the French doors that separated my bedroom from the living room, so I started counting how many times the green lights flashed, then the white ones, then the red ones. Lights turned to stars and the next thing I knew, it was Christmas morning. 

I also remember wishing that every day could be Christmas and how I expressed that thought out loud. One grown up who heard my wish crushed my heart when he told me that if every day were Christmas, then no one would care any more and then there would never be Christmas again. My adult self understands what that person tried to teach, but I still remember how sad I felt at his words.

The more mature me has learned that I can make my childhood wish come true.  Every day can be Christmas when I remember Jesus Christ and follow in His footsteps. Every day that I choose right over wrong, defend the weak, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort a weary heart, I give a gift to Christ.

Through the years, our children have asked, "Mom, what do you want for Christmas?" My number one wish has always been, "I want my children to be happy." 

3 John 1:4 - "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." 

This scripture expresses my heart's desire. When I see my children and grandchildren walk in truth and light I know that no matter what circumstances they might find themselves facing, my children can feel joy and peace in their hearts and live "after the manner of happiness." 

I know how much joy the gospel has brought to my life. It's the kind of joy that sustains me through tough times and opens my eyes to the Lord's tender mercies. The light of the gospel shows me how to truly be happy. Heavenly Father gave us His Only Begotten Son who gave us the greatest gift of all. 

Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He lived on the earth. He performed miracles. He loved. He suffered, bled and died, just for you and me. And then He rose again. He broke the bands of death so that we, too, might one day live again and return to live in our Father's presence. Gordon B. Hinckley taught, "There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter."

I hope all of you find peace and joy this Christmas and throughout the coming year. Life truly is magnificent - but we have to decide to make it that way.

Merry Christmas!

Dec 13, 2016

A Christmas Memory

by Terri Wagner

Deb started it LOL. I got to thinking about family stories and what one I would share. It did not happen to me but every time I pass a Toys for Tots I remember and add a sometimes very inexpensive gift depending on my Christmas budget. My sister's husband was transferred to Iceland. My sister had one small son. Dad as always had to go first. So she had to deal with driving from Indiana to Norfolk where happily I was living close by in Newport News and my mom drove up from Alabama to help out. We navigated the huge Navy base to get the truck to the proper port to be shipped to Iceland. We made a list and started doing everything we could think of that she might need. It was October which is a stunningly beautiful time in Virginia and I gave them the royal tour. We finally had to wave goodbye, and mom headed home.

My sister calls me in just a few weeks crying. Back at that time to get your Christmas gifts you had to order them in October when she was just getting over there. And there was nothing in Iceland that could at that time compare to what we had over here. She begged me to find stuff for a young boy and see if I could get them over to the Navy base asap. No matter what way we tried to do it, the gifts were not going to get there on time. She was devastated. Both of us were so worried about what her son would think on Christmas Day. I still do not know who tipped them off. But one day before Christmas, some very welcomed Marines showed up with gifts wrapped like a Macy's gift all for a young boy. As a family we never pass up the opportunity to pay them back even though this was over 26 years ago. Christmas was saved thanks to the Marines.

Dec 10, 2016

Best Christmas Present Ever

Best Christmas Present Ever

Our family begins asking, “What would you like for Christmas this year?” in October. Several years ago, I wanted to head them off.

Our kids were all in their twenties; students, newlyweds, one with a young child, two pregnant, busy, all underemployed in various stages of poverty, but each with a giving heart. They’d want to give me a Christmas present; gift giving is a big part of the season’s fun. Telling them, “Don’t get anything for me” would hurt their feelings. Besides, I like gifts!

I don’t need more Stuff, and at this stage of life, if I see something I’d like to have, I buy it myself. What could they give me that I’d really treasure, not tuck away on a shelf? If I could come up with a wonderful, meaningful, inexpensive gift, I’d be happy; bonus points if it was a long-term idea.
I pondered for days. 

What do I value? I value my family, the Savior, travel, conversation, and the power of Story. We’d taught our young ones to tell stories since they were tiny; it's part of the fabric of our family. Stories bind us together and set us apart as people. You don’t see raccoons sitting around telling tales, do you?

That was my answer: I wanted stories! I pondered for days, and settled on these criteria: I wanted a story from each adult and literate grandchild (one, at that stage). I clearly said, “This is not a let-the-wife-handle-it-type gift.” The story was to be non-fiction, preferably a memory from their own life, it could include me, but didn’t have to, and it was to be long enough to properly to tell the story, whether that be eight pages or six lines.

In October, I sent out a mass email to all of our children and their spouses, detailing the gift I wanted. Just think, all they had to do was write a story! It’s the perfect gift---no cost, except their time, no stress or shopping, and it’d be something I would cherish. My heart smiled as I imagined reading stories for Christmas, my birthday, Mother’s Day, and onward.

I was excited to hear their responses. Instead, my email was utterly ignored. Over the weeks approaching Christmas, my broad hints were brushed aside with a sighed, “Oh, Mom, really.” My heart sunk, resigned to another lovely throw pillow or bowl.

On Christmas morning, tears flowed, but not from disappointment. While I thought my kids were ignoring me, they were conspiring. A daughter bought plastic sheet protectors. A daughter-in-law was tasked with designing a scrap-book-type cover for the optimistic-sized loose-leaf bind my son was ordered to purchase. All of them wrote a story, just for me!

The stories gave insight into family members. I learned why a daughter-in-law’s family values education so strongly, and I could feel her shock in finding her dad’s 8th grade report card with a C+ on it, tucked in with his baseball award. Another daughter-in-law detailed the day of her engagement. I hadn’t known my son proposed to her on a cliff. As he knelt, he “accidentally” dropped the ring box into the valley a thousand feet below. As I read, I could imagine her scream echoing across the canyon, and her relief when he laughed and pulled the glittery ring from his pocket.  

My five-year-old granddaughter dictated her story, and drew a delightful, wobbly illustration of the stuffed felt chickens I had helped her sew the previous month. A son-in-law wrote of a camping trip on a sailboat in Alaska with his eleven siblings... and no running water. My daughter wrote of the things she had learned from me, her mother, and her hopes of being a good mother to her unborn child. Our son wrote of the joy he felt teaching the gospel and bolstering the sagging spirits of discouraged missionaries; in his mission, he was known as a “fixer.”

Another  son detailed memories of a family trip in which we played in the snow on a mountain, acquired sunburns in the high desert, sledded, swam, hiked through a canyon, toured an orchard and sampled new apple varieties under development, rode a ferry, visited a museum, splashed in  a waterfall, enjoyed an old-fashioned soda fountain, toured a hydroelectric dam, crossed a steel-mesh bridge on foot through an old-growth forest, climbed on a vintage train, played on a massive new playground, toured a candy factory (with samples), drove through desert, mountains, farms, forests, meadows, across rivers and valleys and canyons...all in two days. I sighed, remembering our many family vacations, most of which were just that packed. “As long as we’re nearby, we may as well see as much as we can” was an unspoken motto.

I wiped tears, I laughed, I choked up as I read each story aloud. My heartfelt response encouraged my kids: at last, they had a gift idea Mom loved! Every Christmas, birthday, and Mother’s Day since then, I’ve received a set of new stories. That optimistic-sized binder is stuffed now, as stories multiply and grandchildren grow old enough to add their own stories. On sad days, I take comfort in reading over my fat collection of stories. This truly is the best gift I could ask for.

Christmas is coming! If you love stories as much as I do, feel free to take my idea. 

Dec 8, 2016

Gratitude and Tender Mercies

By Kari Diane Pike

I have never been so grateful to be assigned to speak in church. Sounds crazy, right?!

My previous "every other Thursday" post made mention of how our bishopric called Doug and I while we were out of town and asked us to speak in Sacrament meeting - the Sunday we had planned on driving back to Arizona. I think we took about two seconds to move our travel plans up a day and agree to share some thoughts on the topic of gratitude. I've always felt strongly about supporting and sustaining our church leaders, whom I know are called to their positions by inspiration from Heavenly Father. I had no idea we would be showered with so many tender mercies and blessings of protection as a result of that simple choice.

Had we waited until Sunday to leave Provo, we would have been caught in a terrible snow storm. No snow tires and pulling a trailer in that kind of weather would have been horrendous. Saturday we had sunshine and fluffy clouds from dawn to sunset. Doug and I listened to General Conference messages (when we could get cell service) and scriptures about gratitude and discussed which aspects of gratitude each of us would include in our talks.

An hour or so after we passed through Las Vegas, the Durango's speedometer waggled back and forth, or sometimes quite working all together. At the time, we were in the middle of nowhere because we had decided to avoid the mountains to get through Kingman, Arizona and took the long route over to California and down to I-10. We pulled over a couple of times to fuel up or get something to eat and each time we started back on our journey everything worked again. Until we reached Tonopah.

An hour past sunset and just a little over eighty-four miles from home, Doug checked his rear view mirror. The lights of the car pulling up behind us revealed smoke billowing up from under our car. Doug pulled to the side of the road as quickly as he could. Holiday traffic roared past us as Doug checked under the hood and then walked around the car and trailer. He couldn't see anything wrong. We didn't see smoke any more, but the acrid smell of burning oil seeped into the car and turned my stomach.

Doug got back in the car and pulled on to the freeway. The smoke returned almost immediately. That's when we spotted the first gas station we had seen for miles and miles. And it was only about two hundred yards off the freeway. Doug drove into the parking lot and found a place where our vehicle and trailer would be out of the way. He pulled out his phone and called our insurance agent and a tow company. We both choked a little (or maybe a lot) when we heard an estimate of $600 - $800 dollars to tow us home, but somehow it didn't seem to matter. Even when the mechanic handed us the final tow bill of $1200, we shrugged our shoulders. Okay, to be completely honest, there may have been some gagging noises and a couple of Facebook rants, but neither of us felt overly upset about the situation.

Doug and I held hands as we watched the tow trucks pull away. When we turned to walk into the house, I looked up at my dear husband in amazement and grinned. "We were so focused on gratitude and recognizing all the tender mercies in this trip, we forgot to get into an argument!"

Doug laughed. We both knew that our past experiences with cars almost always resulted in some kind of disagreement. Fatigue, fear, and worries about money lead to shortened tempers and perceived offenses. But this time was different. It was different because our hearts and minds were focused on gratitude. Gratitude for not breaking down in the middle of nowhere without phone service or a safe place to park. Gratitude for the fact that even though there was smoke, there was no fire (We had burned up the rear differential so bad that the housing for the speedometer had completely melted down. Huh. No wonder the needle waggled!). Gratitude for having put aside emergency funds so that we were able to pay for the tow. Gratitude for lovely weather. And most of all, gratitude for each other.

Needless to say, we had plenty to share when we spoke in church the next day. I find it interesting that in seminary we also happened to be studying John, chapter 9, which teaches us that God can use our adversities to show forth His works and His power. And, as we exercise faith in Jesus Christ, our spiritual vision and understanding become clearer. All of these things together gave me a greater understanding of another challenge that had been plaguing me and another aspect of gratitude to share in my talk.

For the past year, I have struggled with the loss of my voice. About a year ago, I had to quit singing because of the pain it caused, not only to my throat, but to ears of those who had to listen. Even talking takes a tremendous amount of energy. For a long time I felt cheated. I also felt like my worth as a person had diminished. But this lesson in gratitude enlightened my mind and changed my heart. I remembered that as a daughter of God, my worth is inherent. Even though I will always be an "unprofitable servant", I can always be a recipient of the Savior's mercy and grace because He loves me. He knows my heart. My worth doesn't come from my abilities, but from my Father in Heaven. He created me.

After our church services ended, an elderly gentleman reached out to me and shook my hand. With tears in his eyes, he thanked me for sharing my loss and how I learned to find gratitude. He had been struggling with his own losses because of a brain tumor and he hadn't been able to understand why he had lost so much. Because I was able to share my experience he found the peace he had been seeking. Oh, how I love being a witness to how Heavenly Father used my adversity to help someone else. He truly knows us by name and knows our every need. He hears and answers prayers and sometimes we get to be part of that answer.

Life is magnificent. Share the Light!