Saturday, July 22, 2017

To Those Who Came Before Me

To Those Who Came Before Me

I’ve always been interested in the stories of the American pioneer, those hardy souls who hitched up bootstraps and crossed the plains. Okay, I’ve never been really clear on what a bootstrap is, exactly, but still, the idea of a whole  body of faithful people leaving all and sundry behind and striking out to a new land, warms my heart. As a child, I lapped up pioneer stories; I still do. 

Brigham Young said something to the effect of the land in the West being so inhospitable, no one else would want it, so it’s ideal for the saints of God. Not exactly self-esteem food, yet off they went.

I have driven their route in my soft, air-conditioned car with a speedometer that may or may not have stuck to the posted limits. Nebraska is mighty long, after all. I’ve seen the ruts left by pioneer wagons, ground in the rocks in eastern Oregon. As I marveled at the ruts, a herd of vicious no-see-ums feasted on my exposed skin. As if heat, dust, fatigue, insufficient food and water, and endless walking wasn’t enough to try their souls, nasty little insects with teeth added to the experience.  

Two of my grown kids live with their families in the wilds of modern Utah. I spent two weeks visiting them in July, and my take away is this: those early pioneers were tough people! They arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in July, the same time as my visit, give or take a few days. It was hot, very, very hot there, and drier than your average desert. I found myself sucking down water bottles and wondering how long a tray of cookie dough would take to bake if left in the rear window of my car.

At the Independence Day parade, a bank thermometer read 110 degrees. I’m from western Washington, and I’m pretty sure our local banks only have two digits on their thermometers; a temp of over 80 triggers Extreme Heat Warnings in the local media. 110 here...? People would die, outright.
Even with shade, a spray bottle, and a giant Slurpee, I nearly melted into a greasy spot on the pavement. The most popular floats on the parade route were the ones that sprayed the crowd with high-powered water guns. 

And I thought about those early pioneers. They were tough people, I tell you!  I was uncomfortable, just sitting around...Imagine having to build a house and plant a crop in that heat, after a 1000 mile hike? Yet, if they collapsed under a scrawny tree, there’d be no food for the winter or protection from Utah’s harsh winters just a few months down the road. We think of them being tough, invincible people, leaders all. In reality, they were mostly city-folk who suffered from culture shock --imagine, downtown London to Missouri?--who wore preposterously small shoes, if they had any at all. And the dresses! Sociologists say a more impractical outfit could not have been designed for a trek of that magnitude. Yet they pioneered on. 

We're all pioneering in our own ways, but  I honor those who went ahead of us, laying the path! We owe them a debt of gratitude bigger than the wide prairie sky.


In Church recently, the choir sang a song I hadn’t heard before. It’s beautiful!*


To Those Who Came Before Me
To those who came before me in seasons long ago
To those who are the loved-ones that I have yet to know
To those whose noble names I bear,
whose light within me burns
To them in gratitude shall my heart be turned
To those whose lives of courage prepared the way for me
Whose works became my heritage,
whose harvest I may reap
Who left for me a legacy that I have yet to earn
To them in gratitude shall my heart be turned
To those who came before me in days and years long past
To those who are the family that I shall know at last
To those who seek the blessings
of the truth that I have learned
To them in gratitude shall my heart be turned


* http://www.defordmusic.com/sheet-music/alphabetical-list/to-those-who-came-before-me/

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Reading Through the Generations

Much of my childhood was filled with books, listening to stories, telling stories, and falling asleep to stories. On trips, my parents would play children's books, narrated on colored audio cassette tapes, each tape color coded for it's respective story.  We'd spend hours in the car reading along with the lively storyteller, letting the words come to life in our minds.

Before I was old enough for school, Mother would pile four or five of us on her lap or at her feet to read a few chapters before nap time, often featuring scripture-related themes. Colorful illustrations would fill the pages for us to view while Mother spoke.

At bedtime, Dad would come home, gather us onto a bed, and proceed to tell us lively renditions of The Three Billy Goat's Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or Little Red Riding Hood.  If we were particularly lucky, he'd make up an adventure of his own.  One all-time favorite was the Green-Handed Monster From Piccolo Street. Dad would gesture, change voices, and provide lots and lots of tickling. Then he'd tuck us into bed, kiss us goodnight, and our dreams would continue where his imagination left off.

As we got older, reading became second nature.  Mom and Dad had bookcases filled with layers of books in all shapes, sizes and genres.  I remember one particular wooden book case with scroll work and doors.  I'd spend hours pulling the books out and reorganizing them by shape, name, or color - depending on my mood.  When my father passed away, that was the item I requested from his estate.

In their closet, another bookshelf filled with the paperbacks, displayed their favorite titles.  Dad had nearly every Louis L'Amour book written.  Mother preferred romances, particularly Barbara Cartland stories.  As soon as I was old enough to read, I began sneaking into their paperback stash and borrowing a book or two.

Between my library books, and the borrowed books, I was constantly reading. While some children got in trouble for causing mischief, we were scolded for staying up till three or four in the morning reading.

Now that I'm a mother, I work to find new ways to introduce the love of reading to my children. There was no Internet, cellphones, and little TV for me growing up.  Now a days, these items seem to be the babysitter, entertainer, teacher, and friends to people of all ages.

My third child is now eight.  This year she began reading chapter books and exploring independent reading.  This opened new worlds to her, especially this summer when we limited her use of electronics and television.

Now, she's started her own blog, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook Page, and Twitter Account to review each of the books she's read and to give her opinions.  I don't know where she gets her ambition from (ahem), but she seems to be thriving. She mentioned to one of the local librarians that she was starting a vlog, and now the person in charge of author spotlights for all the libraries in the county has requested an interview. My sweet little pipsqueak is loving every minute of it.

I don't know if the vlog will continue past the end of summer, but at the very least Courtney is exploring new genres, authors, and books.  Plus she gets to wear lots of different outfits when she vlogs!

If I am lucky, she will continue her love of literature into adulthood and beyond. Hopefully she will share that love with others around her, reminding them there is more to this world than smart phones, vines, and Snapchat! And she will understand that with each story she reads, entire worlds will open up to her.

What things have you done to encourage reading and literacy with your children, grandchildren, and young ones? I'd love to know!  And if you happen to be a children's author and want Courtney to review your book, drop me a line!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

There are some things I know

by Terri Wagner

I have always been so careful to say "I think" "I suspect" "I am 99% sure" rarely do I say "I know." Mostly I say I believe. Those two phrases have such different meanings. And I have particularly been careful in using "I believe" vs "I know" in my testimony of Christ (and His church). Mostly because as a historian, I realize that much of what we "know" is as Paul implied only true from a certain perspective. It has taken me many twists and turns to find that ultimate place God wants me (and all of us) to be. For lack of a better term, I simply call it living in the light. Some time ago, I was asked why I felt spiritually I was at a standstill. I related that I mostly thought of crossing up and over to a higher plane of understanding was like a door I was often brought to but never stepped through. I struggled to explain why I never would or could step through it. On some unconscious level, I feared it would require too much of me.

I don't know about many of you, but loving others has never come easy for me. I care, I serve, but really feel a deep down love....not so much. And I suspect God knew that. My childhood was military, and while that brings awesome opportunities, it also brings a sense of isolation. No one is really there long term but family; and no place is ever really home. And when my parents divorced, it only emphasized for me that I had no home. And one of the terrible consequences to the divorce was a feeling of aloneness I have never really gotten over....until now.

I was challenged by a very good friend to walk through the door and see what happened. It at once both electrifying and terrifying. I am so glad I went ahead and walked through the door and into the light. My whole world has opened up in ways I never thought I could comprehend. I really feel like a kid on a new adventure.

The very first thing that surprised me was the connection I now feel to my fellow earth travelers and to the earth itself. I always cared and served, but now I truly love. I hope this feeling never goes away. I feel connected in a way I have never felt before and eager to help everyone on their journey, where ever they are and where ever they may be traveling. And for me the best part is I don't have to worry about judging people. That's Heavenly Father's job. We live in a world where nearly every thing goes except being religious. Instead of concentrating on how "they" treat us, I am working on "how" I need to treat every fellow human being.

And so now I know!!!!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Hands

Hands



Do you ever look at the magnificent engineering at the end of your wrist? Pulleys, scaffolding, interior structure, circulation, heating and cooling systems, and strength we take for granted. I wrecked my wrist some time ago, spent four months in a brace with orders to not so much as waggle a finger until the worse of it healed. 

Mercifully, I’m extremely right-handed and this was my left, but I certainly missed being able to type two-handed, carry groceries in more than one bag at a time, fold laundry efficiently (try rolling a beach towel one-handed!), and even minor tasks like slicing a cucumber  required an awful lot of thought. Actually, I’m rather proud of that: realizing I needed the darn thing to hold still while I cut it, instead of it squirting across the itch, I rigged up a nail at the end of my cutting board –also one handedly—and simply impaled whatever I needed to chop. Not pretty, but I resented the loss of independence threatened by not being able to cook unassisted. I needed my hands.

Hands come in handy (you knew it was coming) for more things than we notice in a day. Just this morning, I stripped off wallpaper, brushed teeth, painted half of a wall, colored my hair, turned pages in a book, and here I sit typing, remembering I forgot to eat breakfast. As often as I forget to eat, I really should be a size two and the fact that I’m decidedly not is just further evidence of the universe being an unjust place. I digress.

Hands are good for waving a greeting, offering a thumb's up of encouragement, hailing a cab, stroking a baby's soft cheeks.

Hands mark different phases of our lives. When my baby granddaughter was born, her hands were tiny, seashell-shaped fists, cunningly formed, but suitable only for waving around frantically when she cried, often startling herself as they flew by her face. Now that she’s a big girl of six months, she can hold toys and suck on her hands and even pull her big brothers’ hair. She enjoys that more than they. 

I have four small grandsons whose hands are learning fast.  Big boys now of age 2, 2, 4 and 4, they can drive toy trucks and make intricate Lego layouts, eat unassisted, dress themselves, (complete with superhero capes, some days) and the older two can write their names and draw recognizable pictures, if you squint. Their cousin is seven, already writing stories and coloring within the lines when she feels like it. My oldest granddaughter is fifteen, confidently working math problems that look like Martian to me, and she can text (accurately!) with both hands in her pocket. Her hands are artistic, careful, deliberate.

My daughter’s hands are those of a young mother, in constant motion, helping a child, comforting a baby, creating another meal, teaching, nurturing, helping her little ones learn to care for themselves and others, to use their young hands for good. In her rare spare moments, her hands crochet at the speed of blur. When Daughter was twelve years old, she and I took a crocheting class together. I never quite figured out how to make my hands maintain proper tension...something to do with recalcitrant fingers, I think...while she went on to create baby dresses, little-boy sweaters, crocheted toys, slippers, shawls and scarves, designing new patterns, happily churning out gifts from her heart and her talented fingers. I never quite mastered a chain stitch.

I see a few more wrinkles in my tired hands that I’d like, but nowhere near as many as my mother, in her late 80s. She says that when she was a little girl, she’d stroke her grandmother’s hands, worn by decades of work and living, marveling at the thin blue veins just under the surface of her translucent skin. And now Mom’s hands are the same, thin and boney, the skin so smooth and soft, barely covering her insides like a cellophane-wrapped anatomy display. Her tendons ripple as she works another NY Times crossword puzzle in the too-quiet afternoons, proud of the fact she missed only one word all last year. 

I suspect they’re thin because she simply wore the skin off; I’ve never met a person who washes her hands as often as Mom. Take meatballs; hers are cleanest in seven counties, because she lathers her hands between every single one. I bought her a meatball-maker years ago, but she said she has to feel the meat in her hands to make sure each meatball is just right, then wash off the grease and goo in between. Mom’s hands are old, and no one can count the number of tasks those old hands have accomplished or how patiently she instructed her sons and daughters.

When we lost our first, second, fourth, and fifth pregnancies years ago, I sobbed in prayer, and the soft answer came, “If your arms are empty, your hands are free.” To heal my broken heart, I turned to helping others, to using my hands to serve, to aid, to teach, to uplift where I could. Sometimes, I’ve even succeeded.

I use my hands several hours a day now for writing, since my home is empty much of the time and my hands are no longer needed to raise a family.  I find pleasure in composing books, carefully crafting sentences with my mind and my hands.  

Hands are not to be taken for granted as they bear testament to the seasons of our lives. What do your hands tell about you?



Thursday, July 6, 2017

God Bless America

by Kari Diane Pike

Think of two things you would miss the most if you found yourself stranded on a deserted island, assuming you could find water, food, and shelter.

My trip to Europe last month brought a couple of seemingly small things to my attention that turned out to be kind of a big deal: ready access to free drinking water and free public toilets - even public toilets in general. Since returning home I've had a lot of time to ponder on the abundance and freedoms that I enjoy every day without giving them a second thought.

I remember an experience I had on July 4th a few years ago, as I listened to a young man home from a tour of duty in the Middle East. He shared a conversation he held with a friend he made there - a young man native to that country. He asked his friend, "If you could have one thing that the people in the U.S. have that you don't, what would it be?"

His friend didn't hesitate to answer. "I would love to have a big park with green grass and trees. I would love to have the freedom to walk through that park with my family every evening without the fear of being shot at."

The speaker continued to list things he learned to appreciate: running water twenty-four hours/day; reliable electricity all day, every day, etc.

Until then, I hadn't realized that a large percentage of countries lack the infrastructure needed to keep up with their populations demands for water and power. Communities have to take turns throughout the day to receive what most of us consider essential, basic needs.

While waiting in the dentist's office a couple of months ago, I met a dear lady who reminded me of something else for which I far too often neglect to express gratitude. I can't recall her name, but I learned she immigrated to the U.S. from the Middle East. Now a citizen of the United States, she works as a middle-grade school teacher.

During our conversation about culture and students and how things have changed over the years, she shared an experience she had in one of her classes. She noticed that a couple of her students stopped participating in the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. They also started making rude comments and acting disrespectful while the other students recited the Pledge. One morning, she had had enough. She demanded the students to stand and show respect. "You students have no idea what you are doing. You have no idea how important your freedom is. You don't know anything about it. You take everything for granted. You think everyone can walk down a street and hang out with their friends. You don't know anything!" She told me most of the students just stared at her. A couple of them laughed at her.

One young man scoffed. He looked at his classmates for support and then spoke out. "That's easy for you to say. You came here from a place that doesn't have anything. You came here so you could have more money and stuff. Everyone in this day and age has freedom to do what they want." Some of the students nodded their heads in agreement.

My new friend pointed her finger at the boy speaking, then glared at the rest of the class. "You have no idea what you are talking about. Let me tell you something. When I was growing up, my father managed an oil refinery. We had everything and anything we could want, every luxury.  I had education and learned to speak several languages. We wanted for nothing...except the one thing we didn't have. We had no freedom. That is what we wanted most of all. We gave up everything to come to the United States. My father had $50.00 in his pocket when we came here. That's all he was allowed to bring. But it was worth it. You have no idea how much your freedom cost. You will stand and show respect in my class."

Her entire class now shows respect for our nation's flag.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017, our family attended the flag raising ceremony, bike parade, and pancake breakfast held at our church building. When a couple of scouts came out with the flag all crumpled up in their arms, my heart ached. What were they doing? Hadn't anyone taught them flag etiquette? But it got worse. The boys lifted the edge of the flag up to attach it to the ropes and as it opened up I felt sick to my stomach. The flag was faded and dirty and torn into shreds on the end.

I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed. My husband joined me about then and I motioned toward the flag. "What in the world are they thinking? That flag needs to be retired. Where is the flag we usually fly?"

Doug left to search for the other flag only to discover that it was locked in an office cabinet and no one in attendance had the key. The old flag would have to do, or there would be no flag raising.

Tears blurred my vision as I listened to our nation's anthem play and watched that tattered, torn flag hang limp and wrinkled as the Scout's worked the pulleys. A couple of times the pulley got stuck and the scouts had to back it down a little before raising it again. I could almost hear that flag give a heavy sigh when it reached the top of the pole.

Everyone started to clap and cheer at the end of the anthem. A bit of wind kicked up and the breeze lifted the flag. It collapsed, then lifted again. Another gust of wind caught the flag and it flew straight and proud. Yes, it was beat up, but it flew. It flew proud. And in that moment, I remembered some history and how another battered flag flew in the glare of rockets and bombs bursting.

I couldn't help thinking how the condition of our country is kind of like that flag right now. We been bruised and frayed and torn apart by dissension. I realized even though we have taken a beating, everything is going to turn out okay. We can pause and "back up a bit" and take stock of our situation. We can correct our course and keep moving upward. It's not too late to unite our efforts to defend freedom. Our country can keep flying because it is "the land of the free because of the brave." Brave people who put their lives on the line to stand for home, family, and religion. Brave people who sacrifice everything they have in order to experience freedom. Brave people who get on their knees and pray, "God bless America!"

Life is magnificent.