The Music of the Gospel

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/dancing
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/dancing

Years ago I listened to a radio interview of a young doctor who worked in a hospital in the Navajo Nation. He told of an experience he had one night when an old Native American man with long braided hair came into the emergency room. The young doctor took his clipboard, approached the man, and said, “How can I help you?” The old man looked straight ahead and said nothing. The doctor, feeling somewhat impatient, tried again. “I cannot help you if you don’t speak to me,” he said. “Tell me why you have come to the hospital.”

The old man then looked at him and said, “Do you dance?” As the young doctor pondered the strange question, it occurred to him that perhaps his patient was a tribal medicine man who, according to ancient tribal customs, sought to heal the sick through song and dance rather than through prescribing medication.

“No,” said the doctor, “I don’t dance. Do you dance?” The old man nodded yes. Then the doctor asked, “Could you teach me to dance?”

The old man’s response has for many years caused me much reflection. “I can teach you to dance,” he said, “but you have to hear the music.”

Sometimes in our homes, we successfully teach the dance steps but are not as successful in helping our family members to hear the music. And as the old medicine man well knew, it is hard to dance without music. Dancing without music is awkward and unfulfilling—even embarrassing. Have you ever tried it?

In section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord taught Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart”. We learn the dance steps with our minds, but we hear the music with our hearts. The dance steps of the gospel are the things we do; the music of the gospel is the joyful spiritual feeling that comes from the Holy Ghost. It brings a change of heart and is the source of all righteous desires. The dance steps require discipline, but the joy of the dance will be experienced only when we come to hear the music.

There are those who ridicule members of the Church for the things we do. That is understandable. Those who dance often appear strange or awkward or, to use a scriptural term, “peculiar” (1 Peter 2:9) to those who cannot hear the music. Have you ever stopped your car at a stoplight next to a car where the driver was dancing and singing at the top of his lungs—but you couldn’t hear a sound because your windows were rolled up? Didn’t he look a little peculiar? If our children learn the dance steps without learning to hear and to feel the beautiful music of the gospel, they will over time become uncomfortable with the dance and will either quit dancing or, almost as bad, keep dancing only because of the pressure they feel from others who are dancing around them.

The challenge for all of us who seek to teach the gospel is to expand the curriculum beyond just the dance steps. Our children’s happiness depends on their ability to hear and love the beautiful music of the gospel. How do we do it?

First, we must keep our own lives attuned to the correct spiritual frequency. Back in the olden days, before the digital age, we found our favorite radio station by carefully turning the radio dial until it lined up perfectly with the station’s frequency. As we approached the number, we could hear only static. But when we finally made the precise alignment, our favorite music could be heard clearly. In our lives, we have to align with the correct frequency in order to hear the music of the Spirit.

When we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism, we are filled with the heavenly music that accompanies conversion. Our hearts are changed, and we “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). But the Spirit will not endure unkindness or pride or envy. If we lose that delicate influence in our lives, the rich harmonies of the gospel can quickly become dissonant and can ultimately be silenced. Alma asked the poignant question: “If ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).

Parents, if our lives are out of tune with the music of the gospel, we need to tune them up. As President Thomas S. Monson taught us last October, we must ponder the path of our feet (see “Ponder the Path of Thy Feet,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 86–88). We know how to do it. We must walk the same path that we walked when we first heard the heavenly strains of gospel music. We exercise faith in Christ, repent, and take the sacrament; we feel more strongly the influence of the Holy Ghost; and the music of the gospel begins to play again in our lives.

Second, when we can hear the music ourselves, we must try our best to perform it in our homes. It is not something that can be forced or compelled. “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood”—or by virtue of being the dad or the mom or the biggest or the loudest—“only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, … by love unfeigned; [and] by kindness” (D&C 121:41–42).

Why would these attributes lead to increasing power and influence in a home? Because they are the attributes that invite the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. They are the attributes that tune our hearts to the music of the gospel. When they are present, the dance steps will be performed more naturally and joyfully by all of the dancers in the family, without the need for threats or intimidation or compulsion.

When our children are little, we can sing them the lullaby of love unfeigned, and when they are obstinate and refuse to go to sleep at night, we might need to sing the lullaby of long-suffering. When they are teenagers, we can tune out the cacophony of arguments and threats and, instead, perform the beautiful music of persuasion—and perhaps sing the second verse of the lullaby of long-suffering. Parents can perform in perfect harmony the tandem attributes of gentleness and meekness. We can invite our children to sing along with us in unison as we practice kindness toward a neighbor who is in need.

It won’t come all at once. As every accomplished musician knows, it takes diligent practice to perform beautiful music. If early efforts at making music seem dissonant and discordant, remember that dissonance cannot be corrected by criticism. Dissonance in the home is like darkness in a room. It does little good to scold the darkness. We must displace the darkness by introducing light.

So if the basses in your family choir are too loud and overbearing, or if the string section in your family orchestra is a little too shrill or a little bit sharp, or if those impetuous piccolos are out of tune or out of control, be patient. If you’re not hearing the music of the gospel in your home, please remember these two words: keep practicing. With God’s help, the day will come when the music of the gospel will fill your home with unspeakable joy.

Even when performed well, the music will not solve all of our problems. There will still be crescendos and decrescendos in our lives, staccatos and legatos. Such is the nature of life on planet earth.

But when we add music to the dance steps, the sometimes complicated rhythms of marriage and family life tend to move toward a harmonious balance. Even our most difficult challenges will add rich plaintive tones and moving motifs. The doctrines of the priesthood will begin to distill upon our souls as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost will be our constant companion, and our scepter—a clear reference to power and influence—will be an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth. And our dominion will be an everlasting dominion. And without compulsory means it will flow unto us forever and ever (see D&C 121:45–46).

Word Power

Photo courtesy of fickr.com/Caro Wallis
Photo courtesy of fickr.com/Caro Wallis

I am convinced that we are placed here on earth, engaged in a journey towards character. A high adventure. A swashbuckling story. We begin our story at different points, in comparison to others and we move at differing speeds. Some of us walk confidently in the right direction while others huddle fearfully near the beginning of the road. Others walk backwards and believe they are not.

For me, the path we travel is one that changes us from selfish, self-centered creatures into angels that consider and value others. I use the word angels deliberately, for that is exactly who I think they are.

If we learn nothing else from our life in mortality, this lesson, this shift in perspective, makes it worth all the effort God puts into sustaining us out on this beautiful globe hanging ever so precariously in the heavens.

For those of you who have made the heart-wrenching shift from looking at everything through the lens of ‘self’, to seeing the impact of life on others, bravo! For those of us who catch glimpses of it all but have a hard time making the change, keep working at it and praying for heaven’s help.

If you want to see for yourself the impact we have on each other, here is a simple yet profound example. The power of words combined with the beauty of an unselfish soul, what comes of it will have majesty and the effects will live on forever.

My favorite quote from the video, ‘Hate is a learned behavior, love is natural.’

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Photo courtesy of flickr.com/mariusz kluzniak

A Glittering Little Mystery

My Wife by Robert Louis Stevenson

Trusty, dusky, vivid, true,
With eyes of gold and bramble-dew,
Steel true and blade straight
The great Artificer made my mate.

Honor, anger, valor, fire,
A love that life could never tire,
Death quench, or evil stir,
The mighty Master gave to her.

Teacher, tender comrade, wife,
A fellow-farer true through life,
Heart-whole and soul-free,
The August Father gave to me.

What is it about us that longs to be loved? We mortals are not designed to do well in mortality alone, so we depend on others to treat us kindly on our journey towards God and heaven.

Think, for a moment, about the faith it took for us to come to this mortal sphere packaged in an infant state. Helpless, dependent on our parents to meet our every need. We had to trust that someone would feed us, clothe us, sooth us and smile when they saw us. That first experience with love shapes us into much of who we are and how we view others. How grateful we should feel towards parents who, however imperfectly, worked at meeting our needs as infants and through childhood.

As our lives progress we experience life in relation to other people. Friendship, jealousy, competition, bullies, acquaintances, professionals. People become the way we learn and grow as they touch us in gentle or selfish ways. These people color our view of love.

Whatever our beginning, whatever the path our education in love takes, we can learn from the tutoring hand of man if we turn to God for understanding. It is possible to learn from the good as well as evil, kindness as contrasted with selfishness. We are in the process of creating an adult that is capable of giving and receiving love. We are essential in the creation of our character and in the way we view the world and our place in that world.

Do the words of Robert Lewis Stephenson stir you like they do me? They seem to challenge me to become a woman of strength and purpose, a loyal and tireless partner to the man I chose to marry and build a life with.

I fell in love with someone I had been friends with for years and over time that beginning has been proven to be a great strength. It seems logical that love should be built like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid can be called friendship, the ascending layers built of elements such as time, understanding, respect, patience, and restraint.

At the top of the pyramid is a glittering little mystery called romance. Upheld and supported by the layers and layers of strengths beneath it. And we determine the strength or weakness of the foundation upon which we build. After we build the foundation we attain the true pinnacle called romance or true love.

Are we willing to pay the price for the glittering little mystery? Go read the poem again and I am sure you will decide it is would be worth whatever it cost to have someone think those kinds of thoughts about you!

Beautifully Quirky Words We Can’t Say In English

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/son / iDJ Photography
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/son / iDJ Photography

I am a word connoisseur, I collect them, relish them and use them. I try to be precise and descriptive and above all, to tell the truth with them. Some of my favorite include: melancholy, sneakers and the newly remembered, disinclination. Here are some non-English words that make me wish I knew more than one language:

Mangata (Swedish): The road-like reflection of the moon in the water

Mangata (Swedish): The road-like reflection of the moon in the waterElla Frances Sanders
Perhaps people don’t notice these glimmering, lyrical moments enough anymore, but the way the moon reflects and leaps across the black water of the ocean at night is surely a sight to behold.

Akihi (Hawaiian): Listening to directions and then walking off and promptly forgetting them

Akihi (Hawaiian): Listening to directions and then walking off and promptly forgetting themElla Frances Sanders
When they explained how to get there, their directions all made perfect sense, €”you nodded and looked back with clear understanding. Then you parted ways, and now you can’t remember whether to take a left or a right.

Commuovere (Italian): To be moved in a heartwarming way, usually related to a story that moved you to tears

Commuovere (Italian): To be moved in a heartwarming way, usually related to a story that moved you to tearsElla Frances Sanders
Maybe you had a single tear rolling down your cheek, maybe you were crying for days afterward. Touching and powerful stories hit you in the most inexplicable, unexpected, and undeniably human ways.

Komorebi (Japanese): The sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees

Komorebi (Japanese): The sunlight that filters through the leaves of the treesElla Frances Sanders
It may be temporarily blinding, but it’s most definitely beautiful. There is something wonderfully evocative and uniquely magical about sunlight filtered through green foliage.

Glas wen (Welsh): A “blue smile,” one that is sarcastic or mocking

Glas wen (Welsh): A "blue smile," one that is sarcastic or mockingElla Frances Sanders
Those sarcastic smiles are not so easy to escape. They make you squirm a little and leave you wishing that you could just slip away without having to return an awkward half-smile.

Kilig (Tagalog): The feeling of butterflies in your stomach, usually when something romantic or cute takes place

Kilig (Tagalog): The feeling of butterflies in your stomach, usually when something romantic or cute takes placeElla Frances Sanders
You know exactly what this is. Once it’s taken hold, there’s no stopping that can’t-think-straight, smiling-for-no-reason, spine-tingling feeling that starts somewhere deep inside the walls of your stomach.

Luftmensch (Yiddish): Refers to someone who is a bit of a dreamer; literally means “air person”

Luftmensch (Yiddish): Refers to someone who is a bit of a dreamer; literally means "air person"Ella Frances Sanders
Your head is in the clouds and you aren’t coming down anytime soon. You’re living in a dream world, €”the 9-to-5 has no place here and paperwork doesn’t exist at this attitude. So it’s out with reality and in with the impractical.

Tretar (Swedish): A second refill of coffee, or a “threefill”

Tretar (Swedish): A second refill of coffee, or a "threefill"Ella Frances Sanders
Whether you read this and think, “Only three cups?” or you don’t understand how it’s possible to stomach even one cup of coffee, let alone three, you have to admit that this is a very logical and efficient word.

Tsundoku (Japanese): Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books

Tsundoku (Japanese): Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread booksElla Frances Sanders
The tsundoku scale can range from just one unread book to a serious hoard, so you are most likely guilty of it. As intellectual as you may look tripping over an unread copy of Great Expectations on your way to the front door, those pages probably deserve to see the daylight.

Lost in Translation

Lost in TranslationElla Frances Sanders
The charming book Lost in Translation shows you the poetry and beauty of the world’s languages, with illustrated definitions of more than 50 words that do not have direct English translations.

Unto The Least Of These

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/grendelkhan
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/grendelkhan

“Good morning”, said a woman as she walked up to a man sitting on a bench across the street from the White House. The man slowly looked up. His first thought was that she wanted to make fun of him, like so many others had done before “Leave me alone,” he growled. To his amazement, the woman continued standing.

She was smiling, “Are you hungry?” she asked.

“No,” he answered sarcastically. “I’ve just come from dining with the president. Now go away.”

The woman’s smile became even broader. Suddenly the man felt a gentle hand under his arm. “What are you doing, lady?” the man asked angrily. “I said to leave me alone.

Just then a policeman came up. “Is there any problem, ma’am?” he asked..

“No problem here, officer,” the woman answered. “I’m just trying to get this man to his feet. Will you help me?”

The officer scratched his head. “That’s old Jack. He’s been a fixture around here for a couple of years. What do you want with him?”

“See that cafeteria over there?” she asked. “I’m going to get him something to eat and get him out of the cold for awhile.”

“Are you crazy, lady?” the homeless man resisted. “I don’t want to go in there!” Then he felt strong hands grab his other arm and lift him up. “Let me go, officer. I didn’t do anything.”

“This is a good deal for you, Jack” the officer answered. “Don’t blow it..”

Finally, and with some difficulty, the woman and the police officer got Jack into the cafeteria and sat him at a table in a remote corner. It was the middle of the morning, so most of the breakfast crowd had already left and the lunch bunch had not yet arrived.

The manager strode across the cafeteria and stood by his table. “What’s going on here, officer?” he asked. “What is all this, is this man in trouble?”

“This lady brought this man in here to be fed,” the policeman answered.

“Not in here!” the manager replied angrily. “Having a person like that here is bad for business.”

Old Jack smiled a toothless grin. “See, lady. I told you so. Now if you’ll let me go. I didn’t want to come here in the first place.”

The woman turned to the cafeteria manager and smiled… “Sir, are you familiar with Eddy and Associates, the banking firm down the street?”

“Of course I am,” the manager answered impatiently. “They hold their weekly meetings in one of my banquet rooms.”

“And do you make a goodly amount of money providing food at these weekly meetings?”

“What business is that of yours?”

“I, sir, am Penelope Eddy, president and CEO of the company.”

“Oh.”

The woman smiled again. “I thought that might make a difference.” She glanced at the cop who was busy stifling a giggle. “Would you like to join us in a cup of coffee and a meal, officer?”

“No thanks, ma’am,” the officer replied. “I’m on duty.”

“Then, perhaps, a cup of coffee to go?”

“Yes, ma’am. That would be very nice.”

The cafeteria manager turned on his heel, “I’ll get your coffee for you right away, officer.”

The officer watched him walk away. “You certainly put him in his place,” he said.

“That was not my intent. Believe it or not, I have a reason for all this.”

She sat down at the table across from her amazed dinner guest. She stared at him intently. “Jack, do you remember me?”

Old Jack searched her face with his old, rheumy eyes. “I think so – I mean you do look familiar.”

“I’m a little older perhaps,” she said. “Maybe I’ve even filled out more than in my younger days when you worked here, and I came through that very door, cold and hungry.”

“Ma’am?” the officer said questioningly. He couldn’t believe that such a woman could ever have been hungry.

“I was just out of college,” the woman began. “I had come to the city looking for a job, but I couldn’t find anything. Finally I was down to my last few cents and had been kicked out of my apartment. I walked the streets for days. It was February and I was cold and nearly starving. I saw this place and walked in on the off-chance that I could get something to eat.”

Jack lit up with a smile. “Now I remember,” he said, “I was behind the serving counter. You came up and asked me if you could work for something to eat. I said that it was against company policy.”

“I know,” the woman continued. “Then you made me the biggest roast beef sandwich that I had ever seen, gave me a cup of coffee, and told me to go over to a corner table and enjoy it. I was afraid that you would get into trouble. Then, when I looked over and saw you put the price of my food in the cash register, I knew then that everything would be all right.”

“So you started your own business?” Old Jack said.

“I got a job that very afternoon. I worked my way up. Eventually I started my business that, with the help of God, prospered.” She opened her purse and pulled out a business card. “When you are finished here, I want you to pay a visit to a Mr. Lyons. He’s the personnel director of my company. I’ll go talk to him now and I’m certain he’ll find something for you to do around the office.” She smiled. “I think he might even find the funds to give you a little advance so that you can buy some clothes and get a place to live until you get on your feet. If you ever need anything, my door is always open to you.”

There were tears in the old man’s eyes. “How can I ever thank you?” he said.

“Don’t thank me,” the woman answered. “To God goes the glory. Thank Jesus. He led me to you.”

Outside the cafeteria, the officer and the woman paused at the entrance before going their separate ways.

“Thank you for all your help, officer,” she said.

“On the contrary, Ms. Eddy,” he answered. “Thank you. I saw a miracle today, something that I will never forget.”

I ask you this, ‘have miracles ceased? or has the day of miracles ceased?” (Moro. 7:27, 35.)

“I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men nor will they, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved.” (Moro. 7:29, 36.)

And we can act as God’s hands, His eyes, His heart in watching and loving those people who stand in need of our succor. We just need to open our eyes.

 

The Greatest Decision

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Flood G.
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Flood G.

Benjamin Landart was 15 years old in 1888. He was an accomplished violinist and living on a farm in northern Utah with his mother and seven brothers and sisters was sometimes a challenge to Benjamin, as he never had enough time to play his violin. Occasionally his mother would lock up the violin until he had his farm chores done.

In 1892 Benjamin traveled to Salt Lake to audition for the territorial orchestra. It was a dream come true, the conductor told Benjamin he was the most accomplished violinist he had heard west of Denver. He was asked to report to Denver for rehearsals in the fall.

A week after Benjamin received the good news, however, his bishop called him into his office and asked if he couldn’t put off playing with the orchestra for a couple of years. He reminded Benjamin that there was something he owed the Lord and he asked Benjamin to accept a mission call.

Giving up his chance to play in the orchestra would be hard, but he also knew what his decision should be. He told the bishop that if there were any way to raise the money, he would accept the call.

When Benjamin told his mother about the call she was overjoyed. His father had always wanted to serve a mission but had died before he had the opportunity. His mother talked of selling some of their land, but Benjamin wouldn’t hear of it and decided to finance his mission by selling his precious violin.

On March 23, 1893, Benjamin wrote in his journal: “I awoke this morning and took my violin from its case. All day long I played the music I love. In the evening when the light grew dim and I could see to play no longer, I placed the instrument in its case. It will be enough. Tomorrow I leave for my mission.”

Forty-five years later, Benjamin wrote this powerful statement in his journal: “The greatest decision I ever made in my life was to give up something I dearly loved to the God I loved even more. He has never forgotten me for it.”

Each of us will be given the chance to make a decision like this. Abraham chose God over the life of his son. Daniel chose prayer over the commands of his king. Paul chose Christ and truth over dearly held traditions.

Will we recognize the significance of the moment as we choose? Will we have the courage to leave behind what we love, for something that proclaims our love for God?

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

The Still, Small Voice

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Miguel Vieira
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Miguel Vieira

We have been promised heaven’s help as we travel on the path of life. ‘God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost.’ We are not alone.

I don’t know if stories mean as much to you as they do to me but if you teach me something by telling me a story I hang on to it. This is a story about listening.

Pinnacles National Park is just outside of San Jose, California. The mountainous area is a popular place for camping and hiking. But that hot summer afternoon no one was there except me, my wife and four children. It was as if the rest of the world was quiet and still; like all the elements – earth, water, metal, wood and fire – were balanced and singing in silent harmony.

My family, on the other hand, was loud and active. We were celebrating my daughter Sabreena’s last few days at home before she left for college. She was 18, happy and dressed like the rest of us – t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops. None of us had water or a flashlight as we walked along the hiking path leading to the park’s most famous cave.

As we left the bright clearing of the picnic area into the cool shade of the ancient oaks, California condors, a kind of vulture, soared above us. I remember the sound of my children’s laughter bouncing off the trees and rocks as they raced ahead, my wife chasing after them.

And then Sabreena vanished.

A scream and the sounds of rock falling into space.

My baby girl, my eldest daughter, had somehow slipped into a talus cave, an opening between two giant boulders. Each boulder was as tall as a 10-storey building!

With my wife and other children out of sight and no longer within earshot, it was just me and my daughter and the gnawing anxiety that what was happening was about to get much, much worse.

Sabreena was sobbing and begging that I not leave her. Pebbles and gravel rolled out from under her. I never heard one of those rocks hit the cave floor.

If Sabreena fell, how far would she fall?

I anchored my feet and body so I could pull her up with all my might. I’m a strong guy and pulling my 110-lb daughter to safety was not going to be a problem.

“If you pull her, she will fall.”

A crystal clear voice from within guided me to choose peaceful intuition over brute-force instinct.

“If you pull her, she will fall.

Let Sabreena find her footing.”

Imagine your most joyful moment, best meditation, prettiest sunset. Now imagine feeling those positive emotions while watching your child dangle from a cliff’s edge. Seems wrong, doesn’t it? Yet in the moment my daughter needed me most – she needed me to save her life – I was fully present and peaceful.

I knew that if Sabreena fell, I would fall with her. There was no way my daughter was going to fall from that height alone.

Crawling along that jagged ledge with vultures above me and Sabreena’s whimpered cries below me, I was in the most peaceful place I could ever imagine. Dying—or living—didn’t matter; I could accept whatever happened. From that pure peaceful place came the wisdom to act effectively and without panic.

I reached down, Sabreena grabbed my arm and started regaining her footing. She was literally walking up the side of the boulder.

Every time I was tempted to rush the process and pull her up, my inner voice warned, “This looks like the way, but it is not the way.”

“If you pull her, she will fall.”

After what seemed like an eternity, Sabreena was safe and above ground.

“I almost died down there, didn’t I?” she asked in a quiet, startled voice.

A day that started out as a celebration of Sabreena’s new life at college ended as a near-death experience for both of us.

What could have been a tragic and brutal accident was in fact a blessing that continues to enrich and shape my life. My relationship with my daughter was transformed; today we both know what unconditional love feels like.

The indescribable peace of pure surrender, pure acceptance has stayed with me.

Most of my readers will be thinking, ‘I could never do that’, but I assure you that you can, you will, respond when the spirit speaks to you. We can practice, we can wonder, but in the moment it will be crystal clear and you will not hesitate.

It will be your story.

 

 

The Mom Business

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/urs/ula dee
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/urs/ula dee

Mitt and my marriage has always been a partnership: His job was putting money in the bank; I was a full-time mother. Being Mom was my job: I cooked every meal, I was the taxi service for five active boys, I cleaned the house. Baseball season was especially tough on our dinner routine; we ate a lot of boy-friendly meals, a lot of spaghetti, tacos, and chicken fajitas. Food has always been the glue in our family; after all, our meals were one of the rare times when we could all be together.

InThisTogetherjacketWhile I felt completely fulfilled personally, I also knew that there were some who judged women who had chosen my path. Mitt was at Harvard Business School, surrounded by type-A personalities chasing success, while I was a stay- at-home mother during the day and attending Harvard extension at night. Mitt and I got married young, but I promised my father I would graduate from college. I knew that those who judged my choices had different priorities from mine; that their happiness came from following a different path. Most important, I knew Mitt completely understood I was working just as hard as he was, but in a different way, and that he valued my contribution to our family. It wasn’t just lip service. In every way, he truly considered me as an equal partner.

I so wanted to speak out for other stay-at-home moms, but I just didn’t know how to do that. I got that opportunity in the mid-1970s, when the Harvard Business School invited Mitt and me to join several other people speaking about our career choices. Career choices? I had never actually seen it that way. I understood why Mitt had been invited. He was on the path to great success. He was a relatively young vice president of a respected management consulting firm. Only a few years earlier he had sat in that same auditorium as a student and could offer some valuable real-world advice. But me? I had spent those same years changing diapers, burping babies, and making sure our kids got to school on time.

At the time we were asked to speak, we were living near Cambridge, where the feminist movement was in full bloom and motherhood was going out of fashion. There were many people in academia who believed the role of stay-at-home mother, my job, was no longer a viable option for young women. While I had agreed to speak, I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was going to say. I would be speaking to students at one of the best business schools in the world, and I knew for certain they weren’t spending so many thousands of dollars on tuition so that, one day, they could drive a station wagon and watchSesame Street. Years later, Mitt would describe me as “chief family officer.” That was clever, but it certainly wasn’t a title that these people were pursuing.

As the day of my speech got closer, rather than being anxious, I became more resolute. Rather than preparing my speech, I decided to be bold; I was going to speak from my heart and talk about the profession I had chosen. Somehow I had to justify the fact that while so many of my contemporaries were shattering the glass ceiling, I was home scraping Marshmallow Fluff off our boys. As I sat on that stage next to Mitt, watching students stroll into the auditorium, I honestly expected to be booed.

I was the last person scheduled to speak. As the five people who spoke before me explained how and why they had chosen their high-paying occupations, I didn’t move. When Mitt finished, the audience applauded politely. Then it was my turn.

“I could have done a lot of different things,” I began. “But I didn’t. Instead I became a wife and a mother.” I turned and pointed at Mitt. “And, by the way, my job’s more important than his, because what I’m doing lasts a lot longer than what he’s doing.” I channeled all my energy into that speech. I hadn’t realized just how long I’d been waiting to say these things, and they flowed out of me.

Being a wife and a mother is a complex and physically challenging job, I said. Not only that, it’s a lot more difficult than an office job, because it consumes twenty-four hours of every day with no time off. Once I got rolling I didn’t hold back. Every child is unique, I continued. Every child is his or her own person, with needs and wants, and no handbook could possibly provide all the information and advice I needed to be a doctor and a nurse, a psychologist, a teacher and a speech therapist, a consultant, a coach, a caregiver, sometimes a boss, and always a friend. I spoke for about ten minutes, which might have been the longest I had ever spoken to an audience.

Finally I concluded: “Mitt and I both know how important his job is. He’s the provider, and it’s challenging and he’s good at it, but we both know that our most important job is raising our kids, and that a lot of that responsibility is mine. And I am fortunate to have a partner that values me as much as Mitt does.”

My goal hadn’t been to change anybody’s mind about their own future; I just wanted a little more respect for women who had made the same choice I had. And whether the audience at Harvard liked it not, I had finally gotten to say it.

As I gathered up my note cards, the applause began— and it grew into a standing ovation. I wasn’t used to anything like that, and I probably turned a little bit red. Yet I couldn’t spend too much time basking in the recognition — I had to pick up one of our boys to take him to a basketball game and then go home to get dinner ready.


From IN THIS TOGETHER: My Story by Ann Romney. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission

Delta Flight 15

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Cliff

The general ‘goodness’ of the people sometimes surprises me. It isn’t that I expect people to be self-absorbed or thoughtless, but the best part of each of us is unique and so it is manifest differently by each one of God’s children. That is one of the reasons I had so many children, each one of them is like a jewel. And as a one of a kind gem we are treasured as much for our flaws as well as our brilliance and luster.

This story captures a moment when a group of ordinary people decided to live up to the potential of our race.

And the moment lives on.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, we were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt, flying over the North Atlantic. All of a sudden the curtains parted and I was told to go to the cockpit, immediately, to see the captain.

As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had that “All Business” look on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message. It was from Delta’s main office in Atlanta and simply read, “All airways over the Continental United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land ASAP at the nearest airport. Advise your destination.”

While the flight crew prepared the airplane for landing, another message arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York area. A few minutes later word came in about the hijackings. Forty minutes later, we landed in Gander. Local time at Gander was 12:30 PM …. that’s 11:00 AM EST.

There were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world that had taken this detour on their way to the US.

The Canadian Government was in charge of our situation and no one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near any of the aircraft. Only airport police would come around periodically, look us over and go on to the next airplane.

In the next hour or so more planes landed and Gander ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the world, 27 of which were US commercial jets. Meanwhile, bits of news started to come in over the aircraft radio and for the first time we learned that airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York and into the Pentagon in DC. At 6 PM, Gander airport told us that our turn to deplane would be 11 am the next morning.

About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th a convoy of school buses showed up. We got off the plane and were taken to the terminal where we went through Immigration and Customs and then had to register with the Red Cross.

We learned from the Red Cross that the town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people and they had about 10,500 passengers to take care of from all the airplanes that were forced into Gander!

Gander and all the surrounding communities had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas for all the stranded travelers. Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows setup.

Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 kilometers from Gander where they were put up in a high school. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were taken to private homes.

Phone calls and emails to the U.S. and around the world were available to everyone once a day. During the day, passengers were offered “Excursion” trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went for hikes in the local forests. Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the guests.

Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools. People were driven to restaurants of their choice and offered wonderful meals. Everyone was given tokens for local laundry mats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft.

In other words, every single need was met for those stranded travelers.

Finally, when they were told that U.S. airports had reopened, they were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single passenger missing or late. The local Red Cross had all the information about the whereabouts of each passenger and knew which plane they needed to be on and when all the planes were leaving. They coordinated everything beautifully.

It was absolutely incredible.

When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everyone knew each other by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had the better time.

Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered party flight. The crew just stayed out of their way. It was mind-boggling. Passengers had totally bonded and were calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses.

One of our passengers approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never, ever allow that. But this time was different. I said “of course” and handed him the mike. He picked up the PA and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days.

He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of Lewisporte.

“He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund is to provide college scholarships for the high school students of Lewisporte.

He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, the total was for more than $14,000!

“The gentleman, a MD from Virginia , promised to match the donations and to start the administrative work on the scholarship. He also said that he would forward this proposal to Delta Corporate and ask them to donate as well. As I write this account, the trust fund is at more than $1.5 million and has assisted 134 students in college education.

For me, the beauty of this story is in the way each one of the people involved did their part. The people of Gander served the stranded travelers. The people who were diverted to Gander accepted their help with humility and gratitude.

Part of life is figuring out the balance between giving of ourselves and taking care of ourselves. In a world filled with selfishness, I am grateful to know that there are occasions we forget about ourselves and focus on others who need us.

It’s Not You, It’s Them

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Angela Vincent
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Angela Vincent

This is an epic rant and 100% true, you can find the original post here and it is worth reading just for the comments section. The only reason we survived our rather large family was because our nursery door weighed about 100 pounds and even with my ear pressed to it I couldn’t hear a thing that was going on on the other side. My kids are great sleepers, all of them – in fact, they are known for sleeping through an earthquake. Sleep makes all the difference!

Kay. At 2 am Child 3 shook me awake from a dead sleep to report with terror that: MOMMY! I JUST OPENED MY EYES AND IT WAS ALL DARK AND I WAS ALONE IN MY BED!! Once again, I explained that this was not a description of some shocking, unique horror but THE NORMAL PROCESS OF SLEEPING. “That’s just SLEEPING,” I said to my girl as she stared at me with a face that asked: “what is this “sleeping” of which you speak???? Is this something people DO?”

At 9 am I sat across the kitchen table, bleary-eyed, listening to Child 1 present a serious case for why he should get PAID by ME for, basically, breathing. Just breathing is what I gathered from him. Existing. Something about human rights. I don’t even know. I don’t know. What I do know is that I was so freaking tired from Child 3’s Breaking Sleeping News that I just picked up my coffee and said: “I need you to stop talking. Just stop talking. Now, please.”

At 10 am I took Child 2 with me to the store. There was a bird in a cage at the store. Child 2 spent ninety seconds with this bird. Upon leaving the store, Child 2 looked at me and said, “Mom, instead of buying me a horse, I’d like you to buy me a bird.” I stared at Child 2 and eventually said, “WHAT THE? I am not buying you a horse, or a bird, or even a popsicle. WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, child? Get in the car.” It has been one full hour and Child 2 has not stopped talking about this bird. Apparently, I have ruined her life because — and I quote: “You say you value family, Mom. That bird was my family.”

I do not know. I just do not know.

Listen to me. Every time I go to speak somewhere — tired, worn out, wild-eyed mamas raise their tired hands and say to me, “Glennon, I feel like I’m losing it at home. I feel CRAZY.”

HOLD. UP. Okay: for obvious reasons, I am no parenting expert. But I know a helluva lot about crazy. And I want you to trust me on this one. I want you to write this down and put it on your fridge for me:

IT’S NOT YOU. IT’S THEM.

IT’S THEM.

Listen: I spent time in a mental hospital and I am here to report that everyone, every single one of the beautiful folks I lived in there with was more reasonable than the small people I live with now. All of them.

YOU ARE GOOD AND NORMAL AND REASONABLE. IT’S THEM. The crazy is not in your head. It’s IN YOUR HOUSE. We have to wait them out.  We just have to smile and wait them out. We have fought too hard for our sanity to lose it now.

Repeat after me: It’s not me. It’s THEM.

I love you. 10 hours till bedtime. Godspeed.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Kevin Baird

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Another epic obituary! I am much more boring than this, but this inspires me to become a happier, exuberant woman. Watch out kids!

Richard (Rick) Rice (59) walked with God Saturday August 15th, 2015. Rick died from complications resulting from being stubborn, refusing to go to the doctor, and raising hell for nearly six decades. A pulmonary embolism also played a minor role in his demise.

Rick was born and raised in Yakima, WA and spent over 40 years here in the valley before moving to Cincinnati, OH, Bakersfield, CA and eventually settling in Edgerton, WI.

Rick was widely recognized as the leader in his industry but his MOST cherished accomplishment was by far his three daughters, his “girls” Jeni Rice of Yakima, Diedre Twitty of Stanwood, and Shayla Cox of Renton. His girls were his whole world.

Rick never let an opportunity to laugh slip by. His witty humor greased his way through many a sticky situation. Oh the stories he had to tell! He orchestrated a truly legendary life. Never a dull moment with that man. Always dreaming. Dreaming of the future, dreaming of his next project, the wheels in his visionary mind never came to a stop. From his trips through the Amazon jungles searching for new super fruits to his endless lifetime of shenanigans – well everywhere he went. He lived his life to the fullest and he did it HIS way. With style and class baby!

Rick had IT. He exuded charisma, charm and style. Women noticed. Rick was married to Tea Rose (Rice) in 1977 and spent the next 25 years in a whirlwind love affair.

He was an avid competitor, earning a Golden Glove in boxing, black belt karate instructor for the police departments, received a wrestling scholarship to South West Oregon Community College and spent over 30+ years playing basketball at the YMCA. He was known by “Coach” Rice to some as he started his own youth wrestling team at Washington Middle School in the late 90’s and took his team to state.

His generous spirit knew no bounds.

Rick was survived in death by his three daughters, Jeni, Diedre, and Shayla, current wife Lynn Rice of Edgerton, WI, five grandchildren, brother Jerry Rice of El Segundo, CA, and sister Betty Rosencranz of Green Valley, AZ. Rick is reunited with his parents Sidney and Ella along with his bother Jim.

In lieu of flowers, Rick would be honored if you would do the unexpected and unsolicited act of kindness for someone else today in his name.

There will be no viewing since his family refuses to honor his request to have him standing in the corner of the room with a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand so he would appear natural to visitors.

Services will be held Saturday at August 29th at the Seasons Performance hall at 2 pm; he would be delighted if you come and share a story. A celebration of his life will follow.

Rick would like you to remember him in all his glory, drinking Grey Goose, laughing and telling lies. His larger-than-life persona and trademark jack-assery will not be forgotten.

THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND. YOU ARE OUR WORLD AND WILL BE MISSED MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE. LOVE YOU DAD

Best Line Ever ‘She is Off Waterskiing Today’

Amanda is my niece and she was only two when they found a tumor in her leg. This is how they saved her life.
This is the first in a series of video stories about Amanda Merrell done by children’s miracle network.  The network supports children’s hospitals in all 50 states and each province of Canada.  Amanda is the face of their fundraising efforts supported through the videos and in-person appearances.  This is the first and I thought I would share with you all.
Amanda hasn’t even seen it yet.   She is off waterskiing today.

The Cool Aunt Knows This:

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Steve Alexander
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Steve Alexander

I tried, but I couldn’t improve on this list!

How to Be The Cool Aunt:

1. Buy them their first pair of cowboy boots and they will love you forever!

2. When you go on vacation, send them a postcard.

3. Take them to sporting events. Let them order nachos, candy, and a coke.

4. Sit at the kid’s table during the holidays.

5. And talk to them like they are adults.

6. Tell them all the cool stories about their mom or dad.

7. Take the girls for manis and pedis.

8. Give them gifts that are just a smidge above their age. (Just a smidge, you want your siblings to speak to you at Christmas!)

9. When Thanksgiving gets boring, take them to a movie or better yet, play Just Dance with them.

10. Take them trick-or-treating, while dressed up.

11. Pick them up from school unannounced (with parents permission, of course!) and take them to Sonic for a cherry limeade.

12. Intervene when grandma tries to buy them matching outfits.

13. Give them your old purses and costume jewelry to play with.

14. Bring them cool gifts back when you go on vacation.

15. Text them or call them just because.

16. Refrain (and encourage other family members to do the same) from posting on their social media.

17. But keep up with their social media.

18. Offer to help hide the body of the boy/girl who broke their heart.

19. Not really hide the body, but let them know you’ve got their back.

20. Let them talk to you about things they could never talk to their parents about.

21. Let them sit on the front row at the movies.

22. Take them to the drive-in. Take lots of snacks and let them dive in.

23. When it snows, play outside with them.

24. Let them listen to the radio station they want to listen to. Sing along with them at the top of your voice and dance!

25. Take them to get ice cream as often as you can.

26. Love them.

It Gets Better

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mark Zilberman
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mark Zilberman

Dear Sir in the cemetery,

I saw you last Sunday.

I was driving home from a church in the northern part of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

You were visiting a different kind of church. Wearing a dark suit, you stood at the foot of what appeared to be a fresh grave in a quiet, sunny cemetery. You looked younger than me, but your face and posture breathed experience.

You were alone.

I admit that my heart suggested I slam on the brakes and approach you. But my mind argued otherwise. Yes, I did pull into the cemetery’s side entrance, but I observed from a safe distance and did not leave my car.

As I sat, I reminisced about my own graveside visits to those I’ve loved and lost. And I lingered on three words heaven has whispered to me over and over again.

It gets better.

Obviously, I do not know the circumstances of your loss, your relationship or your grief. You might have been there to mourn a mother who lived to 82, a brother who perished at 52 or a wife who passed at 32.

Or, perhaps most tragically, a toddler taken at just 2.

As an adult, you probably already know that the grief for every kind of death is distinct, like crayons in a box that are all the same size and shape, but when streaked across the paper are unique.

But perhaps in the postscript of a funeral, you don’t yet know that those three words are as real as the pain you feel.

It gets better.

I’m almost certain people who’ve been there surround you on all sides. Maybe not living the exact same shades of grief, but they’ve likely lost someone they loved more than anyone or anything. When you wonder about tomorrow, you wonder if they believe in those three words, too.

If my assumptions are correct and your own loss is recent, the grief might feel like a bright billboard that no matter where you turn or how fast you drive, is always right in front of you. It seems inescapable. Even when you close your eyes, even when you dream, your personalized shade of sadness finds you.

That’s part of the plan. Though today it may sound out of tune, grief is good. It means they lived, it means you loved, it means they left behind a piece of their soul inside yours.

Many years ago I invited one of my brothers to visit my father’s grave with me. Unlike the grave you watered with tears last week, our dad’s has seen only rain and sprinklers for a long time. My brother smiled and reminded me what I already knew. “He’s not there.”

I realized that day that for my brother, it got better. And, eventually, it got better for me, too. We miss him, of course, but our grief has turned into brighter shades of memories: the cheesy T-shirts, the bad jokes and a thousand lessons learned.

During this Holy Week, the days that lead to the victory of Easter morning, I’m reminded again of the many visits to gravesites that tugged at my heartstrings. I remember how cemeteries can be peaceful, healing settings and I don’t regret a single second spent there.

I also remember the billboard I couldn’t escape. I recall the pain that waited for me each morning like uncomfortable shoes at the side of my bed.

Perhaps like you, I wondered if the sun would ever rise again.

In time, I learned the most foundational and fundamental truth of eternal life.

The sun will rise again, because the Son rose.

Friends come and go, families grow, relationships end and 101 hearts are broken and healed every second of every day. But this Easter truth is constant.

He is Risen.

Just like Mary who sat outside an empty tomb, the graves we visit are simply symbols. The only life there is our own. The ones we mourn, the one you miss, is not there.

No, they’re not yet risen. But they will be!

Because he was.

And even though I don’t know you, because he is risen, I know these other three words are also true.

It gets better.

Understanding or Not

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Steve Rhodes
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Steve Rhodes

I grew up reading The Washington Post and was just barely 11 when the Pentagon Papers were published and the fall of President Nixon began. In an article written this last June the son of  Daniel Ellsberg, Michael Ellsberg, wrote a stunning essay about finally understanding his parents. You can find the article here. It gives me hope as a parent and a child, and convinces me that compassion is rarely misplaced.

A huge piece of my emotional puzzle fell into place last week. For years, I had a story in my mind that my dad did not pay much attention to me when I was growing up. There was a lot of evidence I could marshal in support of this story. After he released the Pentagon Papers to many newspapers, including this one, in 1971, he devoted himself full-time to activism. By the time I came around, in 1977, he was immersed in the global movement for nuclear disarmament. He was often away for long stretches of time, and we didn’t spend a lot of time together during my childhood.

One of my clearest memories as a boy was waiting for dad to walk through the door after a long trip, off saving the world. He would always bring me a stuffed animal, which made me ecstatic. I was proud of what I saw as his heroism. And I was proud to have the greatest stuffed animal collection of any of my friends. Yet there was a bittersweetness to this delight: Why did I have so many of them?

Over the years, I had come to my own peace with his choices about where his focus went. As an adult, I greatly respect the work he did throughout my childhood. Even then, though I only had a child’s understanding of it, I had the sense he was up to big and important things. I was proud of daddy. But as a young boy, I longed for time with and attention from him as well.

At lunch with my father last week, he shared information with me that changed my understanding of that time. My parents have been married almost 45 years, and from my vantage point, it has always looked like a happy marriage.

At that lunch, he told me that, despite loving each other deeply, they had a very challenging marriage for about the first 15 years of my life. They managed to keep this hidden from me. He said there were times when he just couldn’t take any more of the challenges, and was ready to leave.

But he stayed, because he just couldn’t bear hurting me by leaving. He had already divorced once in his life, with two children, and he didn’t want to cause that pain again. They went on, after that period, to have decades more of a wonderful marriage, and they’re still happily married today.

I started crying when he told me this. It just blew my mind and my heart open that a man would stay in a difficult marriage for 15 years in large part to avoid my suffering. That’s more than twice as long as my six-year relationship with my ex-wife — and most of our marriage was quite happy, until the end. I could not believe the generosity of his heart. All my stories about him not caring, or not being there for me, instantly vanished in one conversation.

It got me thinking about the stories and interpretations we come up with and fix upon as adults, often based on emotional reactions we have as young children, based on not knowing the full story.

I say this not to shame anyone for divorcing with children. (As a divorcee myself, that would be rather lame of me, wouldn’t it?) Though I don’t have children, it is clear to me that sometimes divorce can be the most compassionate and loving act for children as well as parents.

Rather, I say this to share that, often our parents express their love in ways we didn’t realize when we were children. I am flabbergasted at the dedication and sacrifice my father showed to avoid my suffering. I cannot imagine enduring 15 years of a difficult marriage. I feel a bit silly at the stories I created about him in my head.

At the same meal, my father apologized for not being more present during my boyhood. He even said that, looking back, he felt he hadn’t been a great father to me. Even a day earlier, I would have relished this apology and recognition. Finally, that thing I had longed for out loud during so many therapy sessions!

But after hearing of my father’s stubborn resolve to keep in the marriage for my sake, suddenly his apology felt unnecessary — and his sense of failing as father felt like an insult to his caring heart.

As I assured him that his apology was unnecessary, I listed all the ways he had been a great father. It was the first time I had made such a list in my mind, let alone shared it with him.

I went on to tell him:

Dad, there is no way I’d be able to take the creative risks I take now, as an artist and entrepreneur, without your example of standing up for what you believe in, and speaking truth no matter what the consequences. I wade into some very controversial territories in my work, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without your example. I always come back to my own moral compass in deciding what to put out in the public, and I learned that from you. I also learned how to open my heart, from you and mom together. That is the greatest thing you could have taught me. I hope you never, ever feel bad about the way you raised me. You were the perfect father for me to become who I am today. I will always be grateful.

When I’m Gone

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Beverley Goodwin
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Beverley Goodwin

When I’m Gone 

via this site

Death is always a surprise. No one expects it. Not even terminal patients think they are going to die in a day or two. In a week, maybe. But never this week.

It was no different with my father. He was gone at age 27. He was young. Way too young. I was 8 and half, old enough to miss him for a lifetime. Had he died before, I wouldn’t have memories. I would feel no pain. But I wouldn’t have a father in my life. And I had a father.

I had a father who was both firm and fun. Someone who would tell a joke before grounding me. That way, I wouldn’t feel so bad. Someone who kissed me on the forehead before I went to sleep. A habit which I passed on to my children. Someone who forced me to support the same football team he supported, and who explained things better than my mother. Do you know what I mean? A father like that is someone to be missed.

He never told me he was going to die. Even when he was lying on a hospital bed with tubes all over him, he didn’t say a word. My father made plans for the next year even though he knew he wouldn’t be around in the next month. Next year, we would go fishing, we would travel, we would visit places we’ve never been. Next year would be an amazing year. We lived the same dream.

I believe — actually I’m sure — he thought this would bring luck. He was a superstitious man. Thinking about the future was the way he found to keep hope alive. He made me laugh until the very end. He knew about it. He didn’t tell me. He didn’t see me crying.

And suddenly, the next year was over before it even started.

My mother picked me up at school and we went to the hospital. The doctor told the news and my mother cried. She did have a tiny bit of hope. As I said before, everyone does. I felt the blow. What does it mean? Wasn’t it just a regular disease, the kind of disease doctors heal with a shot? I hated you, dad. I felt betrayed. I screamed with anger in the hospital, until I realized my father was not around to ground me. I cried.

Then, my father was once again a father to me. With a shoebox under her arm, a nurse came by to comfort me. The box was full of sealed envelopes, with sentences where the address should be. I couldn’t understand exactly what was going on. The nurse then handed me a letter. The only letter that was out of the box.

“Your dad asked me to give you this letter. He spent the whole week writing these, and he wants you read it. Be strong.” the nurse said, holding me.

The envelope read WHEN I’M GONE. I opened it.

Son,

If you’re reading this, I’m dead. I’m sorry. I knew I was going to die.

I didn’t want to tell you what was going to happen, I didn’t want to see you crying. Well, it looks like I’ve made it. I think that a man who’s about to die has the right to act a little bit selfish.

Well, as you can see, I still have a lot to teach you. After all, you don’t know crap about anything. So I wrote these letters for you. You must not open them before the right moment, OK? This is our deal.

I love you. Take care of your mom. You’re the man of the house now.

Love, dad.

PS: I didn’t write letters to your mom. She’s got my car.

He made me stop crying with his bad handwriting. Printing was not easy back then. His ugly writing, which I barely understood, made me feel calm. It made me smile. That’s how my father did things. Like the joke before the grounding.

That box became the most important thing in the world for me. I told my mother not to open it. Those letters were mine and no one else could read them. I knew all the life moments written on the envelopes by heart. But it took a while for these moments to happen.

My teenage years and my mother’s new boyfriend triggered what my father had anticipated a long time before. My mother had several boyfriends, and I always understood it. She never married again. I don’t know why, but I like to believe that my father had been the love of her life. This boyfriend, however, was worthless. I thought she was humiliating herself by dating him. He had no respect for her. She deserved something a lot better than a guy she met at a bar.

I still remember the slap she gave me after I pronounced the word “bar”. I’ll admit that I deserved it. I learned that over the years. At the time, when my skin was still burning from the slap, I remembered the box and the letters. I remembered a specific letter, which read “WHEN YOU HAVE THE WORST FIGHT EVER WITH YOUR MOM”.

I ransacked my bedroom looking for it and finally found it inside a suitcase on top of the wardrobe. I looked through the letters, and realized that I had forgotten to open WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR FIRST KISS. I hated myself for doing that, and I decided that would be the next letter I’d open. Eventually I found what I was looking for.

Now apologize to her.

I don’t know why you’re fighting and I don’t know who’s right. But I know your mother. So a humble apology is the best way to get over this. I’m talking about a down-on-your-knees apology.

She’s your mother, kid. She loves you more than anything in this world. Do you know that she went through natural birth because someone told her that it would be the best for you? Have you ever seen a woman giving birth? Do you need a bigger proof of love than that?

Apologize. She’ll forgive you.

Love, dad.

My father was not a great writer, he was just a bank clerk. But his words had a great impact on me. They were words that carried more wisdom than all of my 14 years of age at the time. (That wasn’t very hard to achieve, though).

I rushed to my mother’s room and opened the door. I was crying when she turned her head to look me in the eyes. She was also crying. I don’t remember what she yelled at me. Probably something like “What do you want?” What I do remember is that I walked towards her holding the letter my father wrote. I held her in my arms, while my hands crumpled the old paper. She hugged me, and we both stood in silence.

My father’s letter made her laugh a few minutes later. We made peace and talked a little about him. She told me about some of his most eccentric habits, such as eating salami with strawberries. Somehow, I felt he was sitting right next to us. Me, my mother and a piece of my father, a piece he left for us, on a piece of paper. It felt good.

My father followed me through my entire life. He was with me, even though he was not near me. His words did what no one else could: they gave me strength to overcome countless challenging moments in my life. He would always find a way to put a smile on my face when things looked grim, or clear my mind during those angry moments.

WHEN YOU GET MARRIED made me feel very emotional. But not so much as WHEN YOU BECOME A FATHER.

Now you’ll understand what real love is, son. You’ll realize how much you love her, but real love is something you’ll feel for this little thing over there. I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. I’m just a corpse, I’m not a fortune teller.

Have fun. It’s a great thing. Time is gonna fly now, so make sure you’ll be around. Never miss a moment, they never come back. Change diapers, bathe the baby, be a role model to this child. I think you have what it takes to be an amazing father, just like me.

The most painful letter I read in my entire life was also the shortest letter my father wrote. While he wrote those four words, I believe he suffered just as much as I did living through that moment. It took a while, but eventually I had to open WHEN YOUR MOTHER IS GONE.

She is mine now.

A joke. A sad clown hiding his sadness with a smile on his makeup. It was the only letter that didn’t make me smile, but I could see the reason.

I always kept the deal I had made with my father. I never read letters before their time. With the exception of WHEN YOU REALIZE YOU’RE GAY. Since I never thought I’d have to open this one, I decided to read it. It was one of the funniest letters, by the way.

What can I say? I’m glad I’m dead.

Now, all joking aside, being half-dead made me realize that we care too much about things that don’t matter much. Do you think that changes anything, son?

Don’t be silly. Be happy.

I would always wait for the next moment, the next letter. The next lesson my father would teach me. It’s amazing what a 27 year old man can teach to an 85 year old senior like me.

Now that I am lying on a hospital bed, with tubes in my nose and my throat thanks to this damn cancer, I run my fingers on the faded paper of the only letter I didn’t open. The sentence WHEN YOUR TIME COMES is barely visible on the envelope.

I don’t want to open it. I’m scared. I don’t want to believe that my time is near. It’s a matter of hope, you know? No one believes they’re gonna die.

I take a deep breath, opening the envelope.

Hello, son. I hope you’re an old man now.

You know, this letter was the easiest to write, and the first I wrote. It was the letter that set me free from the pain of losing you. I think your mind becomes clearer when you’re this close to the end. It’s easier to talk about it.

In my last days here I thought about the life I had. I had a brief life, but a very happy one. I was your father and the husband of your mother. What else could I ask for? It gave me peace of mind. Now you do the same.

My advice for you: you don’t have to be afraid

PS: I miss you

Life Rules For Dudes

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/David Goehring
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/David Goehring

Stumbled across this list from an old high school year book. These words of wisdom were written by a retiring teacher, in a section of the year book dedicated to life rules. Pretty classy advice.

1.) There are plenty of ways to enter a pool. The stairs is not one of them.

2.) Never cancel dinner plans by text message.

3.) Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.

4.) If a street performer makes you stop walking, you owe him a buck.

5.) Always use ‘we’ when referring to your home team or your government.

6.) When entrusted with a secret, keep it.

7.) Don’t underestimate free throws in a game of HORSE.

8.) Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

9.) Don’t dumb it down.

10.) You only get one chance to notice a new haircut.

11.) If you’re staying more than one night, unpack.

12.) Never park in front of a bar.

13.) Expect the seat in front of you to recline. Prepare accordingly.

14.) Keep a picture of your first fish, first car, and first girlfriend.

15.) Hold your heroes to a high standard.

16.) A suntan is earned, not bought.

17.) Never lie to your doctor.

18.) All guns are loaded.

19.) Don’t mention sunburns. Believe me, they know.

20.) The best way to show thanks is to wear it. Even if it’s only once.

21.) Take a vacation from your cell phone, internet, and TV once a year.

22.) Don’t fill up on bread, no matter how good.

23.) A handshake beats an autograph.

24.) Don’t linger in the doorway. In or out.

25.) If you choose to go in drag, don’t sell yourself short.

26.) If you want to know what makes you unique, sit for a caricature.

27.) Never get your hair cut the day of a special event.

28.) Be mindful of what comes between you and the Earth. Always buy good shoes, tires, and sheets.

29.) Never eat lunch at your desk if you can avoid it.

30.) When you’re with new friends, don’t just talk about old friends.

31.) Eat lunch with the new kids.

32.) When traveling, keep your wits about you.

33.) It’s never too late for an apology.

34.) Don’t pose with booze.

35.) If you have the right of way, take it.

36.) You don’t get to choose your own nickname.

37.) When you marry someone, remember you marry their entire family.

38.) Never push someone off a dock.

39.) Under no circumstances should you ask a woman if she’s pregnant.

40.) It’s not enough to be proud of your ancestry; live up to it.

41.) Don’t make a scene.

42.) When giving a thank you speech, short and sweet is best.

43.) Know when to ignore the camera.

44.) Never gloat.

45.) Invest in good luggage.

46.) Make time for your mom on your birthday. It’s her special day, too.

47.) When opening presents, no one likes a good guesser.

48.) Sympathy is a crutch, never fake a limp.

49.) Give credit. Take blame.

50.) Suck it up every now and again.

51.) Never be the last one in the pool.

52.) Don’t stare.

53.) Address everyone that carries a firearm professionally.

54.) Stand up to bullies. You’ll only have to do it once.

55.) If you’ve made your point, stop talking.

56.) Admit it when you’re wrong.

57.) If you offer to help don’t quit until the job is done.

58.) Look people in the eye when you thank them.

59.) Thank the bus driver.

60.) Never answer the phone at the dinner table.

61.) Forgive yourself for your mistakes.

62.) Know at least one good joke.

63.) Don’t boo. Even the ref is somebody’s son.

64.) Know how to cook one good meal.

65.) Learn to drive a stick shift.

66.) Be cool to younger kids. Reputations are built over a lifetime.

67.) It’s okay to go to the movies by yourself.

68.) Dance with your mother/father.

69.) Don’t lose your cool. Especially at work.

70.) Always thank the host.

71.) If you don’t understand, ask before it’s too late.

72.) Know the size of your girlfriend’s clothes.

73.) There is nothing wrong with a plain t-shirt.

74.) Be a good listener. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.

75.) Keep your word.

76.) In college, always sit in the front. You’ll stand out immediately.

77.) Carry your mother’s bags. She carried you for nine months.

78.) Be patient with airport security. They’re just doing their jobs.

79.) Don’t be the talker in a movie.

80.) The opposite sex likes people who shower.

81.) You are what you do, not what you say.

82.) Learn to change a tire.

83.) Be kind. Everyone has a hard fight ahead of them.

84.) An hour with grandparents is time well spent. Ask for advice when you need it.

85.) Don’t litter.

86.) If you have a sister, get to know her boyfriend. Your opinion is important.

87.) You won’t always be the strongest or the fastest. But you can be the toughest.

88.) Never call someone before 9am or after 9pm.

89.) Buy the orange properties in Monopoly.

90.) Make the little things count.

91.) Always dress well for work.

92.) Tip well.

93.) You’re never too old to need your mom.

94.) Always hold the door open for a lady.

95.) Know the words to your national anthem.

96.) Your dance moves might not be the best, but I promise making a fool of yourself is more fun then sitting on the bench alone.

97.) Smile at strangers.

98.) Make goals.

99.) Being old is not dictated by your bedtime.

100.) If you have to fight, punch first and punch hard.

Student Rights

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/JJ Losier
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/JJ Losier

In September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a History teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock , did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks in her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.

‘Ms. Cothren, where are our desks?’

She replied, ‘You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.’ They thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s our grades.’ ‘No,’ she said. ‘Maybe it’s our behavior.’ She told them, ‘No, it’s not even your behavior.’

And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom. Kids called their parents to tell them what was happening and by early afternoon television news crews had started gathering at the school to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.

The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk-less classroom. Martha Cothren said, ‘Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.’

At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven U.S. Veterans, all in uniform, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand along the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.

Martha said, ‘You didn’t earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. They went halfway around the world, giving up their education and interrupting their careers and families so you could have the freedom you have. Now, it’s up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don’t ever forget it.’

By the way, this is a true story. And this teacher was awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year for the Arkansas in 2006. She is the daughter of a WWII POW.

A Song For My Book ‘The Throne of David’

The words to this Irish hymn are pure religion, pure prayer and supplication. My book, ‘The Throne of David is all about the history of Britain, Ireland and Scotland. It tells a tale of where they came from and what they are destined to become. How it is foretold that they will keep a man on the throne of David until the Savior returns to reign on the earth.

When they make a movie of my book, IF it is ever made, this is the song I want playing in the background to make it important. Because music speaks to our souls and this song speaks to mine.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle shield, sword for the fight;
Be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight;
Thou my soul’s shelter, Thou my high tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.

The Art of Being On Time

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Carol Von Canon
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Carol Von Canon

My grandfather was a stickler about being on time. Once when visiting them for the summer we all woke up late on a Sunday morning and everyone was frantically trying to get ready for church. We were just passing the point of no return – the point at which we couldn’t possibly be on time – when my grandfather made the announcement that he was not going to church if we were late.

My father shooed us into the waiting car in spite of all the hair brushing that still needed to be done and we tore out of the driveway behind my grandfathers car. That made an impression on me and his example helped make showing up on time a priority.

When our first child was born I had to re-adjust everything to keep timeliness as an important part of my life with kids. And then adjust again and again and again. If I hadn’t already decided that being on time was important it would have been easy to let it slip.

Now, I am not holding this up as the most important of the virtues, but I do think that showing up on time is a politeness to others. And it has to be a priority to happen.

Greg Savage, posted this no-holds-barred post about the importance of showing up on time. It may offend some, but take a breath and think about it for a minute. Think about it as a way to be thoughtful of others.

Here goes!

This post may offend some readers. But only because it’s going to cut close to the bone for many.

I don’t care if I sound old-fashioned, because actually it’s nothing to do with ‘fashion’ or ‘generation’. It’s got everything to do with basic good manners and respect for other people.

So here goes… How did it get to be “OK” for people to be late for everything?

Because as far as I am concerned, it’s not OK.

In recent years it seems that a meeting set to start at 9 am, for some people means in the general vicinity of any time which starts with the numeral ‘9’. Like 9.30 for example.

People drift in at 9.10 or 9.20, or even later. And they smile warmly at the waiting group, as they unwrap their bacon sandwich, apparently totally unconcerned that others have been there since five to nine, prepared and ready to start.

10 people kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, while some selfish pratt who idles his way via the coffee shop, is actually 20 minutes times 10, which is 200 minutes wasted – while you keep us waiting because you did not catch the earlier bus. That is over 3 hours wasted. By you! How much has that cost the business? Shall I send you an invoice?

And an arrangement to meet someone for a business meeting at a coffee shop at 3 pm, more often than not means at 3.10 you get a text saying ‘I am five minutes away’ which inevitably means 10 minutes, and so you wait for 15 or 20 minutes, kicking your heels in frustration.

And often these ‘latecomers’ are people who have requested the meeting in the first place, are asking for your help, or are selling something. Fat chance, mate!

And it’s not only business.

Why do people, invited for a dinner party at 7.30, think its cool to arrive at 8.30? It’s rude. It’s inconsiderate. And it’s selfish, as I witnessed in a coffee shop near my home one weekend. Three “ladies who lunch” (a species not confined to, but heavily represented on, the lower North Shore of Sydney) were chatting loudly at the table next to me. One inquired what time the ‘drinks do’ was that night. The reply for all the world to hear was ‘Oh 7.30, but we won’t get there till 9 because by then it will have warmed up and all the interesting people will have arrived’. Nice. Imagine if everyone took that view. Cocktail parties would start at 3 am eventually.

Or a dinner at a restaurant where I was meeting two other couples. My wife was away, so I was flying solo. I arrived at two minutes to eight for an eight o’clock booking. At 8.20, I was into my second glass of Pinot and at half-past I got a text saying ‘on the way’. We finally were all seated at 8.45. There were not even attempted excuses from either of the two couples, who seemed oblivious to the fact I might actually have got there at the agreed time. Meanwhile I had put a huge dent in the bottle of Pinot, and was ready to go home.

And it is not that we lead ‘busy lives’. That’s a given, we all do, and it’s a cop out to use that as an excuse. It’s simply that some people no longer even pretend that they think your time is as important as theirs. And technology makes it worse. It seems texting or emailing that you are late somehow means you are no longer late.

Rubbish.

You are rude. And inconsiderate.

And I act on it, too. My dentist kept me waiting 50 minutes not long ago. She has done it for years and years. But enough! I walked out, past a literally open-mouthed receptionist who had never seen a patient act on their frustration, only to get a frantic call from the dentist herself as I got into my car.

Sure she was “busy”, another patient took longer than she expected, blah blah.

But hold on, I am busy too! I would not keep her waiting 45 minutes if she came to see me as a candidate. And yet I am HER customer. I told her I have been coming to you for 15 years but don’t take me for granted. See fewer patients in a day if you have to, but see me on time or close to it. She has never kept me waiting again.

Me? Am I ever late? Sure, sometimes. That’s inevitable even with the best intentions. But I never plan to be late. I never ‘let time slide’ because my stuff is more important than yours.

I am not talking about the odd occasion of lateness. I am talking about people who are routinely late. In fact, never on time. You know who I am talking about!

And certainly I consider serial lateness a character flaw which I take into account when working out who to promote, who to hire and who to count among my real friends.

It’s that important.

Can Broken Be Better Than Whole?

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/Mike Kamerman
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/Mike Kamerman

I bought my best dishes at an estate sale, they are creamy and simple and old and the tall stack of dinner plates matched my goal of someday having a large family all gathered around our table.  As the years have passed it is obvious that a few of these dishes have been broken and repaired.  The glue used to fix the plates wasn’t noticeable in the early years but has turned a darker color over time and now there are small seams of glue running through a few of the dishes.  The cracks bothered me until I read about a practice of repair that originated over a thousand years ago in Japan.  It is called Kintsugi.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold two
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold two

Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken or chipped pottery and ceramics by repairing each crack and filling the voids with a resin containing gold, silver or platinum dust. Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally accentuated by the precious metals.  The break is illuminated!  It is an art that takes a broken object and gives it new life, some would say that the repair lifts it into the sublime.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold

When someone mended my china, they tried to repair it as seamlessly as possible, hoping that the dish would look like it had never been broken. But the art of Kintsugi strives to do the exact opposite. It acknowledges the brokenness and actually ends up highlighting the break. Through the gold veins, the vessel regains its original purpose but in a more beautiful way, more beautiful than the potter’s original idea or intention.

So, the next time you feel regret over mistakes you or others have made, remember these broken vessels. The imperfections to which all humans are prone, are made clearer through the cracks, the chips, and the breaks which, in the hands of an artist, become more beautiful than before they were broken.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold three
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/japanese gold three

Please don’t be discouraged by your own imperfections and, just as importantly, don’t worry about the flaws that are so visible in others placed about you.  Instead, give yourself, symbolized by the broken vessel, into the hands of God who created you and included every imperfection.

Hiding the broken cup, throwing it away or trying to mend it on our own will never bring into being the beauty that God can forge.  Realize that He uses our weaknesses as the raw materials in creating a work of art!

Let our Savior mend the broken you and create a receptacle of beauty and practicality.

 

A Workout for the Brain

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Anonymous Account
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Anonymous Account

It has been my experience that the best solutions for problems tend to be simple. Simple equates to elegant, workable and effective. Not always, but generally. That said, when I read this article about depression and sadness it struck a cord within me and I knew I had to share it. Can something this simple work? I have no doubt.

I have been treating patients for almost 15 years, and one of the most successful exercises I use is so simple I am still struck by how effective it is.

The difficult part of this therapy is not doing the activity. It is making yourself believe that enough to put forth the effort to do it.

Often when I give this assignment to patients, they come back for two or three weeks afterward, still not having tried it. It seems too simple.  But once they are convinced of the benefits of shifting their attention and thinking and understand how thoughts relate to brain function, they are more willing to try this simple bedtime ritual.

So what is the exercise?

  • Keep a pad of paper next to your bed and every night before you go to sleep, write down three things you liked about yourself that day.
  • In the morning, read the list before you get out of bed.
  • Do this everyday for 30 days.

These don’t have to be big things, they can be simple, such as I like that I held the door for my co-worker, or I like that I didn’t lose my temper in traffic today, or I like that I am making the effort to try this exercise even if I’m not sure it will work.

For someone who is depressed, this activity feels like a lot of effort. Why?  Essentially, people with depression generally spend a good deal of time thinking about what they don’t like about themselves—and they have a hard time stopping.

The more time you spend thinking about something, the stronger it becomes in your mental space—and the easier it becomes to access. The more you think of something, the more it primes your brain to keep looking for similar things in your environment, it actually causes you to distort information in a way that matches up with your dominant thoughts.

Someone with depression who goes to a party might get ten compliments, but if one of the comments mentions his ‘interesting’ shirt it can cause the patient to fixate on the ambiguous comment and turn it into a stream of thinking like this: I wonder what was wrong with my shirt, I probably looked silly in it, I bet they all thought I looked like an idiot. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I ever get anything right? This is so humiliating. The rest of the compliments have long been forgotten.

So how does the exercise help?

This simple exercise builds the strength to disengage from negative thoughts. It helps you redirect attention to positive aspects of yourself; and retrains what your brain pays attention to.

As you do this, you not only start to become aware of more of your positive attributes, they become more available to you as you interpret events around you. Compliments become something you can hear and accept because they are more consistent with how you think of yourself. You start to interpret events in a less critical way. As you continue identifying what you like about yourself it will elevate your sense of self-worth and eventually, change how you see those around you as well.

But remember: Just as there is no physical benefit from understanding how to use a treadmill, there is no benefit in understanding how the exercise works. The benefit comes from actually doing the work.

Her Son Went to Harvard and Duke and Penn

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Derek Bruff
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Derek Bruff

This is so precious! No one asked us if we wanted to donate organs when our son died, and I don’t know how I would have felt about it then. But after reading this I know how I feel now. Isn’t it amazing how much we can learn from each other? Thank you Sarah.

When she found out early in her pregnancy that one of her identical twins would die at birth, Sarah Gray began a five-year journey that culminated last week in Philadelphia.

She had to carry the sick baby to term in order to protect his healthy twin. And she also looked into organ and tissue donation.

 “Instead of thinking of our son as a victim,” she said, “I started thinking of him as a contributor to research, to science.”

On March 23, 2010, Thomas and Callum Gray were born at Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. Callum, perfect, was five pounds, 10 ounces. Thomas, four pounds, was born without part of his brain. His mother nursed him, diapered him, cradled him.

He died after six days – five years ago on Sunday. Within hours of Thomas’ death, his eyes and liver were recovered and sent – along with umbilical cord blood from him and his brother – to researchers.

But that wasn’t the end of it for Sarah Gray.

She often wondered – what became of his eyes, his blood, his liver?

The Grays had received a thank-you letter from the Washington regional transplant organization, telling them their son’s corneas had been sent to the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, and his liver and the cord blood to Duke University in North Carolina.

Two years later, on a business trip to Boston, Sarah Gray called the eye institute, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.

“I donated my son’s eyes to your lab,” she said on the phone. “Can I come by for a tour?”

The receptionist said she had never had such a request. “I’m not sure who to transfer you to,” she said, “but don’t hang up!”

The next day, Gray met James Zieske, the institute’s senior scientist, who told her “infant eyes are worth their weight in gold,” because, being so young, they have great regenerative properties. Thomas’ corneas were used in a study that could one day help cure corneal blindness.

Thirteen more studies had cited that study. Gray felt a new emotion: pride.

Before leaving, she bought a Harvard T-shirt for Callum, and decided she was going to go with the whole family to North Carolina, where Thomas’ liver and the cord blood had been sent.

Zieske also wrote her: “Your visit helped to remind me that all the eyes we receive are an incredibly generous gift from someone who loved and cared about the person who provided the eyes. I thank you for reminding me of this.”

A few months later in 2012, the Grays went to the Duke Center for Human Genetics in Durham, N.C., where even though the twins were identical, scientists found epigenetic differences in their cord blood, research that could one day help prevent Thomas’ fatal defect, anencephaly.

Sarah Gray bought Callum a Duke T-shirt.

The couple then drove down to the road to visit Cytonet, a biotech company that had used their baby’s liver in a trial to determine the best temperature to freeze liver tissue.

Already in the nonprofit public relations field, Sarah Gray became director of marketing for the American Association of Tissue Banks.

Her mantra has become donate, donate, donate, and not just for transplant, but also for research. Even if nobody asks you – doctors are often uncomfortable when a child is dying – bring it up yourself, she says.

At a conference last summer, by coincidence, Gray learned that the Old Dominion Eye Bank in North Chesterfield, Va., had shipped Thomas’ retinas to Philadelphia.

She couldn’t believe she’d never known this. She immediately wrote to the researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who used the donation in her efforts to cure retinoblastoma, the most common form of eye cancer in children.

Two days later, Gray got a reply from Arupa Ganguly, who runs the lab and is a genetics professor at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“It is almost impossible to obtain normal retina from a child,” Ganguly wrote. “The sample from Thomas is extremely precious for us.”

Ganguly sent Callum a Penn T-shirt.

They arranged to meet last Monday.

First, Sarah, Ross, and Callum Gray went to the National Disease Research Interchange in Center City, which Sarah Gray calls “the Match.com of science.” The interchange connects hospitals that supply organs and tissue with researchers who request it.

“This seems to have brought you a lot of peace and joy,” Bill Leinweber, the interchange’s president and CEO, told Sarah. “You’ve been such a strong advocate for research and such an eloquent spokesperson for the value of research.”

After a visit there, the Gray family went to Penn to meet Ganguly and tour her lab.

Sarah Gray saw the marbled composition book in which the receipt of retinas was logged on March 30, 2010, the 360th specimen to be received. They became “RES 360,” short for Research 360.

“Is this the log book?” she asked. “Oh, my gosh.”

Gray ran her index finger over the cursive of Jennifer Yutz, the lab manager who recorded the entry.

“Ross, look at this! Med 360!”

Her husband took a look. Callum, then 4, hugged an inflatable Godzilla as tall as he is, a gift from Ganguly, bouncing it on the lab floor.

“Wow,” Sarah Gray continued. “Can I Xerox this?”

“We have a copy for you,” Ganguly said.

Penn also gave the Grays a copy of the Fed Ex packing slip confirming arrival, which Sarah Gray said she would “treasure like a war medal.”

Thomas’ retina tissue is so rare, so precious, Ganguly and her team are still saving some of it for future research. Ganguly’s staff led Sarah Gray into the hallway, where a refrigerator, innocuous and ordinary, stood across from student lockers. Yutz unlocked it.

Inside were hundreds of 1.5 milliliter tubes – smaller than cigarette filters.

Yutz pointed to two.

“There it is,” Yutz said.

“Oh my gosh!” Gray said. She couldn’t touch them. The tubes were frozen at minus-80 degrees centigrade (minus-112 Fahrenheit).

“It’s the RNA isolated from the retina tissue,” Yutz said.

Call it what you will, that was a piece of Thomas Gray, her son.

Ross Gray has long supported his wife’s journey.

“It helped her get over the loss,” he said. “It was part of the healing process, seeing that there’s still research going on five years after. His life was worthwhile. He’s brought a lot of good to the world.”

“The way I see it,” Sarah Gray said, “our son got into Harvard, Duke, and Penn. He has a job. He is relevant to the world. I only hope my life can be as relevant.”

True Love

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Frass 333
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Frass 333

What is love? This….

Without safety ropes, harnesses, or climbing gear of any kind, two brothers—Jimmy, age 14, and John, age 19 attempted to scale a sheer canyon wall in Snow Canyon State Park in southern Utah. Near the top of their laborious climb, they discovered that a protruding ledge denied them their final few feet of ascent. They could not get over it, but neither could they now retreat from it. They were stranded. After careful maneuvering, John found enough footing to boost his younger brother to safety on top of the ledge. But there was no way to lift himself. The more he strained to find finger or foot leverage, the more his muscles began to cramp. Panic started to sweep over him, and he began to fear for his life.

Unable to hold on much longer, John decided his only option was to try to jump vertically in an effort to grab the top of the overhanging ledge. If successful, he might, by his considerable arm strength, pull himself to safety.

In his own words, he said:

“Prior to my jump I told Jimmy to go search for a tree branch strong enough to extend down to me, although I knew there was nothing of the kind on this rocky summit. It was only a desperate ruse. If my jump failed, the least I could do was make certain my little brother did not see me falling to my death.

“Giving him enough time to be out of sight, I said my last prayer—that I wanted my family to know I loved them and that Jimmy could make it home safely on his own—then I leapt. There was enough adrenaline in my spring that the jump extended my arms above the ledge almost to my elbows. But as I slapped my hands down on the surface, I felt nothing but loose sand on flat stone. I can still remember the gritty sensation of hanging there with nothing to hold on to—no lip, no ridge, nothing to grab or grasp. I felt my fingers begin to recede slowly over the sandy surface. I knew my life was over.

“But then suddenly, like a lightning strike in a summer storm, two hands shot out from somewhere above the edge of the cliff, grabbing my wrists with a strength and determination that belied their size. My faithful little brother had not gone looking for any fictitious tree branch. Guessing exactly what I was planning to do, he had never moved an inch. He had simply waited—silently, almost breathlessly—knowing full well I would be foolish enough to try to make that jump. When I did, he grabbed me, held me, and refused to let me fall. Those strong brotherly arms saved my life that day as I dangled helplessly above what would surely have been certain death.”

Is there someone who needs your arms to hold onto? Someone who needs your friendship and acceptance? We have the power to show forth the love of our Savior and by so doing save them as surely as the young boy in the story of the rock climbers saved his older brother. We have the power to give unselfishly to those we love like the older brother did.

The power of true love is limitless and eternal.

Spiderman Obituary – How Will You Be Remembered?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Movement Six
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Movement Six

People like to send me obituaries – I suppose it is my fault because of what I named my blog. Reading them always causes me to reflect on the uniqueness of each one of us. In the grand scheme of things we could feel small and unimportant but the dignity of love and life rubs off on our lives. Makes each individual of infinite worth. Especially people who live and die like this:

Purmort, Aaron Joseph age 35, died peacefully at home on November 25 after complications from a radioactive spider bite that led to years of crime-fighting and a years long battle with a nefarious criminal named Cancer, who has plagued our society for far too long. Civilians will recognize him best as Spider-Man, and thank him for his many years of service protecting our city. His family knew him only as a kind and mild-mannered Art Director, a designer of websites and t-shirts, and concert posters who always had the right cardigan and the right thing to say (even if it was wildly inappropriate). Aaron was known for his long, entertaining stories, which he loved to repeat often. In high school, he was in the band The Asparagus Children, which reached critical acclaim in the northern suburbs. As an adult, he graduated from the College of Visual Arts (which also died an untimely death recently) and worked in several agencies around Minneapolis, settling in as an Interactive Associate Creative Director at Colle + McVoy. Aaron was a comic book aficionado, a pop-culture encyclopedia and always the most fun person at any party. He is survived by… first wife Gwen Stefani, current wife Nora and their son Ralph, who will grow up to avenge his father’s untimely death.

I am sure that this little boy will grow up knowing that his father loved him, that he took the time to say goodbye in a way that also said ‘this is who I am’.

This man was not overly concerned with himself and his death, but rather, he seems to have been able to shift into a sublime unselfishness and concern for others. On another level, I doubt his wife will be able to top this guy as a husband. I hope she has a group of friends that figure out how to cushion the blow of his death with their love and companionship.

Not all of us are given the gift of knowing that the end is coming. So, we will just have to figure out how to live so that our loved ones will truly miss us when we go.

What will your obituary say?

The truth is, you are writing it in the hearts of your loved ones now.

Saving Marriage

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/LollyKnit
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/LollyKnit

Marriage, like parenting, has to be experienced to be understood. Most people default to preparing for the wedding since it is a once in a lifetime celebration, and hope for the best afterward.

How should we prepare for marriage? Is it possible to prepare?

I have found that when both parties come to marriage with an understanding that it will take work to succeed, it helps.

When both are poised to both forgive and repent of weaknesses and mistakes, love can flourish.

When the couple leans on God and His understanding and patience, their faith in God can support the marriage until they have roots deep enough to feed the marriage as well.

In any case, we can plead for the guidance of the spirit of the Lord to forgive wrongs, overcome faults and to strengthen relationships. Over and over and over, until weak things become strong and we find ourselves more in love than when we began our journey together.

Unselfishness, commitment and faith are the bedrock principles solid enough to support the structure of a great marriage. No matter how you begin the adventure of marriage, returning to these principles again and again will bear the fruit of happiness and love.

A Record of Your Life in 52 Weeks

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/theunquietlibrarian
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/theunquietlibrarian

We all have a story to tell, the story of our life. All that we have experienced, all that we have learned and everyone we have loved – the knowledge we have gained will be lost if we don’t leave some sort of record.

But, we are not all writers and we do not all have the time (or inclination) to craft a story to share.  What if you could write your story in a methodical way, over the course of a year?

Someone has come up with 52 great questions that will, when answered, be a comprehensive and interesting, record of your life.

Each week for a year, answer one of these questions. Write a little, write a lot. Don’t worry about how much you write, just write something. The questions do not need to be answered in any particular order.

Come with me on a year-long writing journey. Your children and grand-children will know you. It will be a valuable legacy and a gift that will bind you to them.

I am starting this project on June 1st, why don’t you come along with me? I have made a promise to my grand-children that I will spend an hour every Sunday afternoon making a record of my life and hope that they will be able to learn from my experiences. That they will see who their grandmother was and improve on what I have begun.

What is your full name? Explain why your parents gave you that name.
When and where were you born? Describe your home, your neighborhood, and the town you grew up in.
What memories do you have of your father (his name, birth date, birthplace, parents, etc.)?
What memories do you have of your mother (her name, birth date, birthplace, parents, etc.)?
What kind of work did your parents do (farmer, salesman, manager, seamstress, nurse, stay-at-home mom, professional, laborer, and so on)?
Have any of your family members died? If so, explain what they died from and what you remember of their death; the circumstances of their death.
What kind of hardships or tragedies did your family experience while you were growing up?
Are there any obvious or unusual genetic traits that run in your family line?
What are the names of your brothers and sisters? Describe traits and memories that stand out in your mind about each of your siblings.
What are some of your family traditions that you remember?
Did your family have special ways of celebrating specific holidays?
Share some memories of your grandparents.
Did your grandparents live close by? If so, describe how they were involved in your life. If they lived far away share some memories of visiting them or of them traveling to visit you.
Who were your aunts and uncles? Write about any of your aunts or uncles who really stand out in your mind. Give some details about them (names, personalities, events that you remember doing with them, and so on).
Where did you go to school? Give some details about what was school like for you and some of your memorable experiences.
What were your favorite subjects in school? Explain why.
What subjects did you like the least? Explain why.
Who were some of your friends in school? Explain what your friends were like and what they are doing today if you know that.
If you went to college or a vocational school, what school did you attend? Describe what memories you have of those years and what subjects you studied.
What do you see as your greatest strengths?
What were some of the challenges you have had to deal with in your life?
What medical issues have you had to deal with throughout your life?
Was religion an important for you and your family? If so, explain what religion your family practiced and what it meant to you. Explain if it is or is not an important part of your life today.
What foods do you like and dislike? Describe any food allergies you or other family members had.
Were there two or three food dishes your mother or father made that were especially memorable?
How did you meet your spouse?
What was your courtship like? Describe your marriage day.
Share some stories about your spouse.
How many children do you have? List their names and share a few memories about each one.
Describe some of the major community, national, and world events you lived through. How did these events change your life?
What are some of your life philosophies or life views that you would share with others?
What are some of the personal values that are very important to you? Share some examples of what have you done and what are you doing now to teach these values to your children, grandchildren and others.
List at least five people who have had a memorable influence on your life. What did they do that had such an influence on you?
What are 20 things about yourself that make you uniquely you.
What are 50 things that you are grateful for.
What is your philosophy on money.
If you could spend a day with any famous person in the world, who would it be, and what would you do during your day with him or her?
What scares you?
What makes you stop and go “Wow!”?
What are some of the things you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
If you could go back in time and spend an hour visiting with yourself at age 15, what would you tell your younger self?
What are some of your talents? Explain how you discovered them and what you have done to cultivate and improve them. Describe how your talents have they affected your life.
What did you do for a career? Explain how you chose that career.
What were some of the jobs you had throughout your life and what were some of the memorable experiences you had with these jobs?
What are 5 significant events or experiences in your life, and explain what effects they have had on you.
What are some of the life lessons that you have learned and would like to pass on to your descendants?
In how many places have you lived during your lifetime? Provide a brief description of each place you’ve lived, why you lived there, and why you moved.
If someone gave you $10,000 and told you that you could NOT give it to any of your friends, family members or use it for yourself, what would you do with it?
If you could go back in time and do things over again, what would you change?
When all is said and done, what do you want to be remembered for? Write about what you are doing now to create a legacy worthy of remembering.
If you were to leave 5 different bits of advice for your future posterity, what would they be?
Have you traveled to any place outside of your home country? If so, explain the reasons for your trip(s) and what memorable things happened on some of those trips.
If a newspaper wanted to do a story about you, what would the story be about?
What were some of the popular fads you experienced during your life?
How did you spend your summers?
What were some of your more memorable vacations?
Did you ever have pets? If so, tell us about them.
List 20 things you think the world would be better off without.

The Power of Example

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Brian (Ziggy) Liloia
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Brian (Ziggy) Liloia

Story number one.

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago . Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was Capone’s lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time.

To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends as well. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block.

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him.

Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object.

And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son; he couldn’t pass on a good name or a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done.

He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scarface” Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. So, he testified.

Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine.

The poem read:

“The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still.”

Story number two.

World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare.

He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific.

One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank.

He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship.

His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As he was returning to the mother ship, he saw something that turned his blood cold; a squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding its way toward the American fleet.

The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn’t reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet.

Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber’s blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent.

Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible, rendering them unfit to fly.

Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction.

Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier.

Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft
This took place on February 20, 1942 , and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Medal of Honor.

A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man.

So, the next time you find yourself at O’Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It’s located between Terminals 1 and 2.

So,what do these two stories have to do with each other?

Butch O’Hare was “Easy Eddie’s” son.

Grand gestures and tiny decisions, sometimes it is just a matter of asking ourselves – what is the right thing to do? Once that question is asked, it cannot be unasked.

I think it is really that simple!

Teaching Children About Death

It has been my experience that we do not know how to talk about death and because of that lack, our children suffer. How we address the experience of one of life’s dark moments is central to what we believe and the highlights the health of our faith. I wrote a little book on death last year, my attempt to help parents as they answer questions children naturally ask. I wrote it because I couldn’t find another book of quality, one that addressed death in a way that meshed with my beliefs. But, I have since found this book –  The Heart and the Bottle by author Oliver Jeffers. It is a minimalist work of art.

The book tells the story of a little girl, we meet her and learn about her as we watch her read books with her dad.

We as we turn pages we are taken along on the father/daughter adventures until we finally turn a page and find the father gone. His chair is empty and the little girl is alone.

The little girl’s world turns dark, and the author doesn’t waste words explaining things to us. We are just caught up in his artwork and the emotions of the little girl.

The little girl solves the problem of her grief by trying to protect her heart against future hurt.

She puts her heart into a bottle.

We watch as the little girl soon finds out that protecting her heart limits her ability to love and feel alive.

She stopped wondering about the world around her. Stopped noticing the beauties of the stars and the ocean. She locked away her curiosity.

One day, when the little girl had grown up she was walking on the beach again and found herself watching another little girl. One who was still filled with childish curiosity.

She finally decides to take her heart out of the bottle, but she cannot get it out.

 

She threw it off a wall and it bounced down to the beach, right to a little girl that figured out how to set the heart free.

 

The heart got back to where it belonged and the woman learned to be open to love and the world again.

This book belongs on every book shelf. And, it not only belongs on the shelf it needs to be read again and again. Celebrated and embraced. This is my new go-to gift for those who are experiencing grief and pain. Beautiful!

Death Is Really Nothing At All

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/My Wave Pictures
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/My Wave Pictures

With every breath, every beat of my heart, every fiber of my being, I believe that death is nothing. Getting there might be scary and heartbreaking, but death is just like walking through a door, from one room to another. We are still the same, we do laugh at all the same jokes. Just because we are out of sight doesn’t mean that we are out of mind.

I used to believe that but since our little son died I know it. It is not a matter of faith for me any more. There are times I feel Dale close to me, watching over me. There are times when I feel his love for me tremble on the air. There are days I hear whispers of ‘mother’ all around me.

Those who have preceded us in death watch over us, pray for us, laugh at us and grieve with us. Nothing has changed except the space we inhabit.

Death Is Nothing At All – All is well

Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Whatever we were to each other, we still are.
Please, call me by my old familiar name.
Speak of me in the same easy way you always did.
Laugh, as we always laughed, at the little jokes we shared together.
Think of me and smile.
Let my name be the household name it always was,
Spoken without the shadow of a ghost in it.
Life means all it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
Death is inevitable, so why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, – for an interval very near.
Nothing is past or lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before,
Only better and happier.
Together forever.
All is well.

Henry Scott Holland

This is Life Eternal

Photo coutesy of flickr.com/dutchbaby
Photo coutesy of flickr.com/dutchbaby

 

Most of us tend to define life in terms of our mortal, physical bodies. However, when we stop and think about it shouldn’t life really be seen in a big picture kind of way? Our spirits, our souls, existed before we were born and are an eternal creation. We will continue to live even after our bodies have died.

Audrey Curtis, a urogynecological surgeon, explains why she believes.

“When you ask people about the most amazing or memorable experience they’ve had in life, many will point to the birth of a child. Regardless of culture or religion, birth is universally a magical, spiritual experience.

As a urogynecological surgeon, I have seen the entry into life many times. It is a feeling like nothing else. But I also continue to see women through all phases of their lives. I’ve seen many through their pregnancies, through a time they’ve lost a child, or through a time later in life when they’ve lost a spouse. It’s the inevitable course of life.

Sometimes, too, I have the responsibility to deliver a message about them—that this is it. It’s a diagnosis that will mean the end of their life. And you know what? People don’t start talking about how “I never went to Europe” or “I didn’t get to buy the bigger house.”

They talk about experiences that are fairly universal: personal setbacks, hard things in their lives, changes they didn’t necessarily want. But there’s also a flip side, things that bring joy: a trip with a spouse, a week spent with grandchildren, a grown child’s success. Those are the things that light up people the most. Invariably, when my patients are faced with their own impending death, they talk about a relationship with someone they love.

When I share the belief that “one day, you will be able to see those people again, and it will be an incredibly joyful reunion,” there are only a handful of people who don’t accept that. I think there is a universal human desire to hope. I think it’s part of our divine makeup that we feel there’s something more.

It seems to me that during that moment when someone is passing, a door opens for just a brief moment for that person to go, and we who remain can sense a connection with something greater. I find that many people experience a sense of hope along with the loss.

It’s my profession to bring life into this world and prolong it while we are here. But when a treatment is not successful, when the medicine is not working, the only thing I have left to give is my voice of encouragement. Some physicians I know choose to disengage with patients, I suppose because it is difficult to come to grips with death and pain. But having perspective on the purpose of this life helps me. When someone gets a bad diagnosis, it is all part of the plan. Death is necessary, but it is not the end.

I have no doubt about where I’m going after life. And I feel comfort that when we die, yes, we’ll be saying good-bye to some for a short time, but we’ll also be saying hello again to others. I will be returning to people who I will be thrilled to see again. This life is simply part of a journey, and that journey doesn’t end.”

It is so hard sometimes to miss those who have preceded us in death and I wonder if they miss us as much as we miss them. Or are they watching over us and rooting for us as we navigate this obstacle course called life.

My belief in the reality of heaven and understanding that Dale is still a part of my life helps me to be brave in the face of danger or heartache, helps me to remember who I am and why I am here and ultimately, helps me to be the best person know how to be.

This life will seem like a small moment someday, when we have fought a good fight and finished our course. Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Just for today, let us live as if this were our last day on the earth. With joy, forgiveness and peace.

Consolation

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Yellowstone National Park
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Yellowstone National Park

“Death is a mere comma, not an exclamation point. Since this life is such a brief experience, there must be regular exit routes. Some easy, some hard, some sudden, others lingering. Therefore, we can’t presume, even by faith, to block all these exits all the time, and for all people. Nor if possessed of full eternal perspective, would we desire to do so.”

“Patience is tied very closely to faith in our Heavenly Father. Actually, when we are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we know what is best—better than does God. Or, at least, we are asserting that our timetable is better than His. We can grow in faith only if we are willing to wait patiently for God’s purposes and patterns to unfold in our lives, on His timetable.”

“Faith in God includes Faith in God’s timing.”

“To be cheerful when others are in despair, to keep the faith when others falter, to be true even when we feel forsaken—all of these are deeply desired outcomes during the deliberate, divine tutorials which God gives to us—because He loves us. These learning experiences must not be misread as divine indifference. Instead, such tutorials are a part of the divine unfolding.”

“If we are serious about our discipleship, Jesus will eventually request each of us to do those very things which are most difficult for us to do.”

“Coming unto the Lord is not a negotiation, but a surrender.”

These quotes, from Neal A. Maxwell, stand as sentinels over my thoughts. Words can be very powerful when combined with an open heart. They can be even more compelling when combined with action.

I know that there are those who need encouragement this day, take heart! The Lord is on your side.

When You Don’t Know What To Say

150506_EYE_EmpathyCards4

Emily McDowell was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age the tender age of 24. She spent nine months fighting it with chemo and radiation, her cancer is now in remission.

“The most difficult part of my illness wasn’t losing my hair, or being called ‘sir’ by a Starbucks barista, or even the sickness from chemo,” McDowell writes. “It was the loneliness and isolation I felt when many of my close friends and family members disappeared because they didn’t know what to say, or said the absolute wrong thing without realizing it.”

The emotional impact of the experience simmered and finally inspired her to design a series of Empathy Cards—flat out blunt cards that say the everything she wished someone would have said when she was so sick.

150506_EYE_EmpathyCards2

She and I both hope that her cards will provide “better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness and suffering” between patients and friends and loved ones suffering illness of any kind. They are earnest and funny, without a single word of false cheer.

150506_EYE_EmpathyCards5

‘Get well soon’ cards can feel like a slap in the face when you seriously might not get well at all, and cards that contain black humor really aren’t funny when you are walking the lonely path of illness.

150506_EYE_EmpathyCards7

As she was designing these empathy cards, her goal was to help people connect through truth and insight. She wants the recipients of the cards to feel seen, understood and loved.

150506_EYE_EmpathyCards8

It is hard to know what to say to someone who is in anguish, and although I should know better I still find myself saying stupid, thoughtless things and regretting it later. How I love these cards, these sentiments! When I am suffering, please honor my distress with a card expressing your love and understanding. And don’t forget the hug….you can find the cards by Emily McDowell here.

150506_EYE_EmpathyCards1

 

Prayers Desperately Needed

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/James
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/James

Andrew White lives in Baghdad and serves as the vicar of St George’s Church. He has been dubbed “Vicar of Baghdad”, because his church is the only remaining Anglican church in Iraq. His people refer to him as their Aboona or father.  His main aim to gain the trust of key religious leaders on both sides in various conflicts in the area.

Lately though, his role has been as witness the killing of Christians in the middle east.

He is not immune to danger, having been hijacked, kidnapped, locked up in rooms with bits of fingers and toes. He has been held at gunpoint, been attacked. Many of his staff have been kidnapped or killed, with 11 of his staff murdered in a single year.

He has 35 armed guards assigned to protect him.

Five days ago he reported that ISIS is less than two miles away from the Christian community he is protecting. Here is what he reported.

“The Islamist group (ISIS) just took over Quaragosh, the biggest Christian city in Iraq. There are hundreds of men, women and children that are being beheaded. The people of Quaragosh are asking for prayers to be made on their behalf concerning the ongoing atrocity in their country. Please take one minute to pray for them. Pass the message across to all your contacts so that the prayer chain will not be broken. They asked for this special prayer. Please, ensure you pass across the prayer request to the body of Christ for fervent prayers offered on behalf of the brothers, sisters and children in Iraq. This is an urgent SOS. May God bless you. From Andrew White the Vicar of Baghdad.”

He later reported that he “has lost count of the number of church members I have lost” to ISIS. “We are talking about thousands of people,” he said. “They kill children as well. They turned up to one of our church members and said if he did not agree to convert to Islam they would kill his five children.”

The father of these children phoned the vicar asking if God would forgive him for advising his children to convert to Islam to save their lives. The next day ISIS knocked on his door and didn’t ask the father, but asked each child if they would follow Mohammed. Each of them replied ‘never’ and the men shot them all dead.

I think of my children, still sleeping in our peaceful home. I think of what I am going to do today – buy our yearly pool passes, go to the grocery store and the library.

But before I do all that I will kneel before our maker and pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are dying because they will not deny their faith. There is no way for us to reach out and help them from here, but we can care, we can pray and we can strengthen our resolve to keep the faith ourselves.

And, I will tell their story to my children and help them to understand the perils and glories of living in the last days.

Will you join me in prayer for these people today?

The Etiquette of a Funeral Procession

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/MarineCorps NewYork
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/MarineCorps NewYork

I grew up in Maryland, which, although they fought for the North in the Civil War, was in no way, shape or form a Northern state. There are many Southern customs I have embraced regarding death and funerals, but I understand that not everyone was taught how to act during times of grief. One of these little understood traditions is the funeral procession.

For some reason a funeral brings out the best in Southerners. It showcases their commitment to family, no matter how long it’s been since they’ve seen each other, and it demonstrates their loyalty to friends when there is a need for sympathy and kindness. Although it is tough to experience the loss of a loved one, it is the support of family and friends left behind that makes it just a little easier to bear.

Perhaps the most famous historical story involving Southern funeral etiquette involves a Civil War General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston had surrendered to General Sherman at the end of the war and had been so impressed with Sherman’s magnanimity that he would not allow an unkind thing to be said about his former enemy for the rest of his life.

When Sherman died, Johnston was asked to be a pallbearer in the General’s funeral. As is common for a public figure, Sherman’s funeral procession proceeded through the streets of New York City. Johnston walked along the casket with his hat in his hand. The freezing temperatures and rain caused fellow mourners to advise Johnston to wear his hat. Johnston replied, “If I were in his place and he standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” He ended up coming down with pneumonia and died several weeks later.

Johnson’s refusal to wear his hat was a symbol of his deep respect for his friend and mere convenience was not a good enough reason to put his hat on during the funeral procession.

Pulling your car over to the side of the road when you see a funeral procession is a sign of respect. You can tell who was brought up in the South when a funeral procession passes by, those raised in the south pull their car over to the side of the road. Some get out and stand respectfully as the cars pass.

Someday, we’ll all be a part of a funeral procession. Here is what you should know about that event.

After the funeral, everyone will get in their cars and proceed as a group to the cemetery. The cars will follow behind the hearse. Turn on your headlights and emergency blinkers and closely follow the car in front of you. The procession will drive slower than the speed limit. If the procession starts through a light while it’s green and it turns red by the time you get to it, keep on going. State laws allow funeral processions to drive through red lights and stop signs.

As a normal driver, when you come upon a funeral procession, do your best to let them pass and stay together. Do not try to cut into the procession. If safe, pull to the side of the road and let the line keep going. In the old days, men got out of their cars and doffed their hats while the procession passed. That is probably too dangerous on our modern roads, but it is a nice thought.

Never race to get in front of a procession, or break into the line of cars to make a turn. Cars in the procession usually have their lights on and a small sign in the front window indicating they are traveling together.

It is easy to understand how these traditions never took hold in large cities or in the North, there are just too many cars and too little space in New York, for instance, for people to pull over to the side of the road every time a funeral procession passes by. No matter where we live, or how we were raised, we can show our respect for those traveling to the cemetery in a funeral procession. Like the general, we can offer our good manners as a sign of our respect for those who are grieving a death.

Praying for America

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Catholic Church England and Wales
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Catholic Church England and Wales

As I look at the world around me, both in St. Louis and farther abroad, I see commotion and uncertainty and a lack of love. I can’t help but wonder what I can do about it, what we can do about it. I have come to the conclusion that what I can do is pray. In Australia, a team of leaders are calling on the nations of the world to fast and pray for the United States. This period of prayer will begin on April 30 and will continue through May 6, 2015.

April 30 is America’s Day of Repentance, and May 7 is the National Day of Prayer. April 30 is the 226th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as president and the 152nd anniversary of Lincoln’s Day of ‘Humiliation, Prayer and Fasting’ held during the Civil War.

The theme for the National Day of Prayer on 7 May, 2015 ‘Lord Hear Our Cry’ and is taken from 1 Kings 8:28: ‘Give attention to your servant’s prayer and his pleas for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.’

“We in Australia believe it is our turn to bless the nation of America and pray for healing for the USA through prayer and fasting. We in Australia are grateful for the protection that America gave Australia and the nations of the free world during World War II. The 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea, led by the USA, was the turning point in the Second World War for Australia.”

“We are calling the nations of the world to join in prayer and fasting with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are hoping for over 100 nations to join us in prayer and fasting.”

“There is a fight for the destiny of the USA now. The destiny of America hangs in the balance. The Lord is calling His people to arise and pray for the United States of America. It is time to contend.”

I hope that there are millions of us, here in America, that will join with the people of Australia in dedicating themselves to fasting and prayer this next week.

There is power in faith and prayer and the Lord looks upon the sacrifice of fasting with compassion and love. It is not weakness when we turn to the Lord. I pray that we might find answers to the perplexing problems of the world, peace in the midst of unrest and increased love for our fellowmen as we humble ourselves in prayer.

Thank you Australia, for turning to God at this time and uniting your prayers in our behalf!

Advice From Grandma

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Brian McCormick
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Brian McCormick

I have never had a problem with aging, I was too busy to stop and hang on to youth. Now that I have hit the halfway mark I look in the mirror and see my mother and know exactly what is coming down the pike. It won’t be long before I look in the mirror and see my grandmother! Today I am celebrating growing older. I recently read an article by a 90-year-old woman about the 42 lessons life teaches and thought I would share it.

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short – enjoy it.

4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don’t have to win every argument.

7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

9. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

10. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

11. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.

12. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

13. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it…

14 Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

15. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful. Clutter weighs you down in many ways.

16. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.

17. It’s never too late to be happy. But it’s all up to you and no one else.

18. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.

19. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

20. Over prepare, then go with the flow.

21. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.

22. The most important sex organ is the brain.

23. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

24. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’

25. Always choose life.

26. Forgive but don’t forget.

27. What other people think of you is none of your business.

28. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

29. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

30. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

31. Believe in miracles.

32. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

33. Growing old beats the alternative — dying young.

34. Your children get only one childhood.

35. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

36. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

37. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab our own back.

38. Envy is a waste of time. Accept what you already have not what you need.

39. The best is yet to come…

40. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

41. Yield.

42. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

You can find this lady on Facebook – here.

Never Again

What you are seeing in this video is the annual mid-morning siren on the Jewish Day of Remembrance, during which all activity in all of Israel stops for a full two minutes. It is an act of respect, for the victims and the heroes and witnesses of the Holocaust. It is a display of duty. There is something much more than just a passive remembrance happening for people as they stop their cars in the street, get out, and stand in silence.

April 16 was the Day of Remembrance in 2015. There were documentaries about the holocaust on television, and there were many official ceremonies. But perhaps the most remarkable event of all is this remembrance. That at a certain time, sirens sounded everywhere, and an entire nation came to a standstill.

Workers stopped working. Pedestrians stopped where they were and most bowed their heads in remembrance. Cars and buses pulled over, and their drivers and passengers got out. As one, they all bowed their heads for two minutes in remembrance of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II.

In Israel, the phrase “Never again” is not just a political slogan. It’s a personal pledge, both to those who were slaughtered and to their own children and grandchildren. The pledge they confirm by repeating ‘Never again’ is why Israel will stand alone if need be to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, in the face of the world’s condemnation. They say ‘Never again’ because they have lived through this before. And they remember that six million of their people did not.

It has happened to other people since WWII, it is happening now to Christians in the middle east. And it is evident that just saying the words ‘never again’ is not enough.

I believe, and I believe it with all of my heart, that these days have been foretold by prophets. That our days are truly ‘the last days’. That Christ will return to the earth, in power and glory and that peace will reign with him as he sits upon the throne of David. Until then, it has been prophesied that our times will be filled with contention and strife.

What can we do?

It is important to remember. To be an example of a believer. To stand for right. To preach peace. To share with the poor and to lift the poor in spirit.

I, personally, have pledged to re-read the commandments that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai today. To seek to re-enthrone the values found in those commandments in my life and to call upon God to remember us, as we remember Him. With God, and only as we stand with Him, will right prevail!

What We Regret

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Thomas Hawk
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Thomas Hawk

When our son died in 1986 it was sudden, one minute he was laughing and calling me ‘Ann’ and the next he was cold and still and irretrievably gone. For a long time I clung to the thought that it would have all been easier to bear if he had gotten sick and sicker, if we had been given time to say goodbye. Watching other parents go through a long, drawn out process of watching their children die, I learned better.

The lessons we learned from his death are innumerable, Dale had nothing to learn and so it was good, in every way, that the process was quick.

I recently read a book by Bronnie Ware, she writes about the many years she worked in palliative care. Her patients were those who had gone home to die. She shared some solemn days with her patients and was with them for the last weeks of their lives. She learned that people grow in incredible ways when they are faced with their own mortality.

Bronnie grew a lot as well and learned never to underestimate the innate human capacity for growth, some changes she witnessed were phenomenal. Each patient experienced a variety of emotions and every single patient found peace before they departed, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try to honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what  others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

You have been given the great gift of another day on this earth. Go and live today doing the most important things and making memories that will last forever!

The Fallacy of Being the Perfect Mother

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Michael Zeising
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Michael Zeising

We all come to motherhood with an ideal in our minds, determined we will walk a certain path in a very particular way. Many of us have decide to improve on our childhood, we know what we don’t want to do. Others of us have this specific ideal we are certain we can reach, we want to raise the bar of motherhood, so to speak. I am not advocating mediocrity and I do believe we should have high ideals to strive for, but some of what we think is best is just a load of bunk.

Most of you know that our son died when he was two and, as you can imagine, it changed most of what I believe about motherhood. Looking into the abyss truly can change your perspective, and this experience changed mine. Reflecting back on Dale’s life the weeks and months after his death taught me what it was that I missed. What I would change and what I would keep just the same. I’m not saying that I never get caught up in crazy, useless kid drama, but it was easier to take a step back occasionally and reflect on what is most important – and easier to pitch some things out of my life forever.

I love this mother’s perspective and I hope that my younger friends will be able to see something that will help you as you parse the needs of your children, the needs of your husband and realize that you have needs as well. A list of things she is not going to do anymore!

1. Bathe the kids every day. Children, unless they’ve been rolling in the mud, do not need a bath every day. In the summer I rinse off sand, sweat and sunscreen pretty much daily, but in the winter it just makes their skin dry and rashy. Twice-a-week baths are fine and save me the soggy wrestling match that is washing a screaming toddler and preschooler.

Aside from Ann: I loved bathing my little ones, we have an old house and so the tub is huge enough to fit several children and the water can get deep enough to have fun. I have spent many evenings supervising my kids as they play in the tub. However, when I had Peter I had to stop. I just didn’t have the ability to do it all anymore and I was blessed to realize it early and not beat myself up because I had to change things up!

2. Do an elaborate bedtime routine. Literally everyone told us we needed to do a bedtime routine. Bath, infant massage, dim lights while nursing — this was bad enough and clocked in at about an hour. Now, with our 4-year-old, more rituals have crept in, like: 1) sing a song; 2) read three books; 3) listen to Freight Train Boogie; 4) dance; 5) play a game he and daddy made up, called “crashies,” in which I always get injured; 6) a good-night “wrestle” with his brother; 7) tooth-brushing; 8) a game called “burrito” in which he is rolled in a blanket, then unrolled like Cleopatra at Caesar’s feet; 9) prayers; 10) a dozen good-night hugs and kisses in a specific order and if we mess up we have to start over; 11) one more drink of water; 12) one more pee; 13) one more drink of water.

The bedtime routine starts at 3:45. In the interest of recapturing those hours, I’m eliminating all but tooth-brushing and prayers, which, mumbled at high speed while inching towards the cocktail cabinet, are more true to my Episcopalian faith anyway.

Another aside: Our bedtime routine could have been crazy. My ears actually hurt as bedtime approached! I tried to love each one just a bit before sending them off to bed and we were always trying to make sure that we had family prayer, but seriously, how could I possibly supervise even just the teeth brushing of so many children? Our best routine became putting the little ones down early and the rest of us spending a quiet, peaceful evening being grateful for our alone time. We were all tiptoeing around the house, closing doors quietly, hoping to keep them asleep. The thing is, my kids were always so extraordinarily happy to see me the next morning, they loved me and I loved them. Something was working!

3. Buy organic. I’ve spent the last five years standing in the fruit aisle debating whether to spend $2 for an organic apple or 50 cents for a regular one, and then, confused, I buy no apple at all. I am just not going to worry about it anymore. It’s better that they eat fruits and vegetables than not, and we can’t spend $200 a week on apples.

Aside: I bring home the best food I can find, prepare it the best I can, pray over it with as much faith as I can muster and leave the rest up to God. This is not something I give my life to.

4. Force my kids to eat vegetables. With my first child, we forced him to eat a certain number of bites of his dinner to get dessert. This resulted in bargains and negotiations and debates over exactly how much food on the fork counted as a “bite.” (It was a little like arguing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.) By the time my second arrived, we started following Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility, which makes meals a lot more peaceful. I mean, mostly. My son sat down at the table the other night, looked at what I’d made, and said, “This looks like an old head.” So yeah, it’s not all wine and roses, but at least I’m not squabbling about whether gently touching your tongue to a piece of broccoli counts as a bite.

One more aside: Meal time should be sweet, not time to go to war with a two-year-old, who will win eventually if you turn it into a fight. I do try to make our meals delicious and when the little one watches dad reaching first for the asparagus they want some of whatever that is. If I am going to serve something the kids might not particularly love I make rolls so they can try the grown up dinner but have something to fill up on if they don’t love it yet. I do not feed them junk just to get them to eat something though – it is a balancing act!

5. Be eternally patient. I try so, so hard to control my temper. But sometimes, one child is repeatedly pressing the “Oh Susannah” button on his music machine, the phone is ringing and I can’t find it, the oatmeal is burning, and the other child is experimenting with asking questions in a barely audible voice. (Remember the scene in The Office when Michael Scott negotiates for a raise by speaking very softly? This is what my son is doing.) And then sometimes I lose my temper. But the thing is — it’s not good for children to have infinitely patient, saintly mothers, because the world is not infinitely patient and saintly. Normal people lose their mind at too much loud-noise stimulus and burgeoning stove fires and a child requesting a cheese stick without moving his lips. It’s good for kids to recognize the incipient stages of someone losing their temper. This will serve them well in the world.

One more opinion: Yes! Be the mom.

6. Have a perfectly clean house. A friend recently said, “I wish I had known that motherhood is really just becoming a cleaning lady.” And it’s true. I clean the kitchen four times a day. I scrape things off the floor with my fingernails. I pick up so many little balled-up socks. But now — partly because I hate to clean, and partly because I think kids, especially boys, shouldn’t think that someone is always going to pick up after them — I’ve started a gentle insistence that they put their clothes in the hamper with no intermediate stop on the floor, that they return their bath toys to the basket, and that they help out with weekly dusting and vacuuming. It would be quicker to do it myself, and the house isn’t especially clean, but I hate feeling like a martyr. I’d rather have a slightly dirty house than be a servant, and eventually they’ll learn that small daily efforts are better for housekeeping than quarterly fumigations.

Most important aside: My husband once asked me if I wanted grandchildren, he said that our daughters shouldn’t feel like motherhood is the equivalent of slavery, but is a creative, enjoyable way to live! I like to have my house clean once a day. Not ‘you can eat off the floor’ clean, but picked up and neat, once a day. I love having company because that becomes our excuse to go a little deeper, but spotlessly clean is impossible if you are going to have a real family. And you do want your children to have fond memories of home, don’t you? They don’t get all the fuss about cleanliness and making everyone miserable isn’t worth the admiration of your neighbors. If you can keep this one in perspective you will be doing well.

7. Spend all weekend with my kids. The No. 1 thing I miss about singledom is time alone at home, to non-productively putter. So we’re starting a half-day-off policy; like the servants in Downton Abbey, we each get from 8 a.m. to noon, once a week, with no kids, work, or chores responsibilities. The other parent takes the kids out of the house. I am going to put spare change in the change jar and corral all my hair elastics and stack random pieces of paper on my desk. It’s going to be glorious.

To sum up: Happiness is contagious and striving for joy is what we are here on this earth to do. Freeing ourselves from the bonds of unreal expectations and impossible goals can be a defining moment in life. It might come down to making a whole new ‘to do’ list. Make sure you include all the things you love, things that bring you happiness and peace.

Going Through The Refiners Fire

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mike
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mike

The art of refining silver is exacting and personal. The refiner must sit close to the furnace, feeling the blast of the brutal heat along with the material being purified.

The timing of the refining is unique to each measure of silver or gold. Depending upon the heat of the furnace and the amount of dross to be burned away.

With eyes steadily fixed on the furnace, the silver is carefully watched. Time in the furnace must be calculated moment by moment. If left in too long the silver will be injured. If taken out too early, it won’t be purified.

One refiner of silver commented. “When the silver is in the fire, I focus. I don’t let anything distract me. I watch the silver, carefully waiting for the right moment to take it out.”

“When is the right moment?”

“I know it is pure when I see my face reflected in the silver.”

It is important that we, as children of God, understand the purpose of life. When we have the right perception of the nature of God and our relationship to Him, we will have a greater understanding of God’s workings among us.

At times, when caught up in the sorrows and tribulations of life, we reach out to God and pray for deliverance, for relief. We say, in essence, ‘Help me, heal me, rescue me!’ We turn to God, as we should.

Some of the sweetest moments in life happen as a result of those pleading prayers, but sometimes He doesn’t seem to hear. He doesn’t come and doesn’t work miracles.

When we experience times of trouble and feel we are alone, I hope that we can remember the words of Malachi. ‘And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver.’ Malachi 3:3.

The Lord is the great silversmith, an eternal purifier of silver. When you feel the heat of the furnace, try to imagine our Savior as He watches and carefully considers the purity of the silver, of us.

His job isn’t to always rescue us. His job is to purify. He holds us to the heat until just the right moment. His understanding is vast. His love is eternal and his vision for us is magnificent. When times of trial come be still and know that God is watching over you, waiting to see a reflection of His very own countenance.

It won’t be easy, but then what else but extreme heat will purify gold or silver? Trust in God and there will come a time that you will understand why the heat was necessary.

 

Writing Your Own Obituary

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Rockin'Rita
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Rockin’Rita

After Emily Phillips was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she decided she wasn’t going to let anyone else have the last say. Penning your own obituary is a brilliant move.

I don’t want to do this yet, knock on wood, but I hope to do the same when it is my time to go. Here are Emily’s last words:

This might be a good time to mend fences.

I apologize for making sweet Bonnie wear No Frills jeans when she was little and for “red-shirting” Scott in kindergarten. Apparently each of these things was humiliating to them but both were able to rise above their shame and become very successful adults. I’d also like to apologize to Mary Ann for tearing up her paper dolls and to Betsy for dating a guy she had a crush on.

Just when I thought I was too old to fall in love again, I became a grandmother, and my five grand-angels stole not only my heart, but also spent most of my money.

Sydney Elizabeth, Jacob McKay, and Emma Grace have enriched my life more than words can say. Sydney’s “one more, no more” when she asked for a cookie; Jake saying he was “sick as a cat” when I’d said that someone else was sick as a dog; and Emma cutting her beautiful long hair and then proceeding to shave off one of her eyebrows…Yes, these are a few of my favorite things. They’re treasures that are irreplaceable and will go with me wherever my journey takes me.

I’ve always maintained that my greatest treasures call me Nana. That’s not exactly true. You see, the youngest of my grand-angels, William Fisher and Charlie Jackson call me “Nana Banana”. (Thank you Chris and Scott for having such spunky children.) These two are also apt to insist that I “get their hiney” whenever I visit, and since I’m quite skilled in that area , I’ve always been able to oblige. (I actually hold the World’s Record for “Hiney Getting,” a title that I wear with pride.)

Speaking of titles…I’ve held a few in my day. I’ve been a devoted daughter, an energetic teenager, a WCU graduate (summa cum laude), a loving wife, a comforting mother, a dedicated teacher, a true and loyal friend, and a spoiling grandmother. And if you don’t believe it, just ask me. Oh wait, I’m afraid it’s too late for questions. Sorry.

So…I was born; I blinked; and it was over. No buildings named after me; no monuments erected in my honor.

But I DID have the chance to know and love each and every friend as well as all my family members. How much more blessed can a person be?

So in the end, remember…do your best, follow your arrow, and make something amazing out of your life. Oh, and never stop smiling.

If you want to, you can look for me in the evening sunset or with the earliest spring daffodils or amongst the flitting and fluttering butterflies. You know I’ll be there in one form or another. Of course that will probably comfort some while antagonizing others, but you know me…it’s what I do.

I’ll leave you with this…please don’t cry because I’m gone; instead be happy that I was here. (Or maybe you can cry a little bit. After all, I have passed away).

Today I am happy and I am dancing. Probably naked.

Love you forever. Emily.

I wish I could have known her!

To Truly Remember Easter

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Nana B Agyei
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Nana B Agyei

Many of us sense that Easter is important. More important than bunnies and chocolate and even a ham dinner, but don’t quite know how to shed tradition and embrace reverence instead.

The term Easter only appears once in the King James Bible. In Acts 12:4, where it could also be translated as ‘Passover’. And nowhere in the scriptures are we encouraged to celebrate the birth, death, or resurrection of Jesus as holidays, rather, we are commanded to remember as we partake of the sacrament. In a sense, every Sunday is Easter. Every day we remember the birth of our Savior.
Many Christians celebrate Palm Sunday and the week before Easter. And much of the Christian world enters into a period of reflection and celebration known as Holy Week. Each of the events commemorated during this week highlights Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God, and reviewing them deepens the faith of believers. While my religion does not formally observe Holy Week, the time from Palm Sunday to Easter morning can be a wonderful opportunity for all of us to use the scriptures to remember the last days of Christ’s ministry.
It can be useful to remember holidays, to use them to focus our attention and our thoughts and to celebrate significant religious events. For some years now, our family has benefited in many ways by using gospel accounts of the Savior’s last week as the focus of our family and personal scripture study. It is a significant way to celebrate the sublime season of Easter.
Here are some ideas for remembering each of the days leading up to Easter Sunday:
  • Palm Sunday: The Triumphal Entry; the Cleansing of the Temple
  • Monday:  The Cleansing of the Temple; Teachings in the Temple
  • Tuesday: More Teachings in the Temple; the Olivet Discourse
  • “Spy” Wednesday: The Anointing in Mark and Matthew; Judas agrees to betray Jesus
  • Holy Thursday: The Last Supper; Farewell Discourses; Gethsemane; Before the Jewish Authorities
  • Good Friday: Jesus in the Hands of the Romans; the Crucifixion; the Burial
  • Saturday: Jesus in the Spirit World
  • Easter Sunday: The Resurrection

 

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Andrew Mace

Choosing Our Ancestors

My kids are related to some really cool people. One of our family branches connects with Abraham Lincoln, and one line goes straight back through to the royalty of the Scots. We can claim German peasants, English Lords, southern gentlemen and western adventurers. Even ancestors that met and tangled with Mexican bandits and an inventor who invented the television.

While it might feel good to claim these people as our own, I hesitate to focus on their accomplishments. The question is, ‘what have they to do with us?’ Instead of working so hard to enjoy the reflected and distant warmth of our ancestors undertakings, we need to realize that we have nothing to do with them, no part in their achievements.  I can, realistically, be proud of my child if I didn’t ruin him or her, but our ancestors are the sole possessors of their glory and we need to work at making our own.

And work, as well, at not ruining our own children.

I submit that, at least in one context, we can choose our ancestors. There is a term for this in anthropology and that is ‘mythical ancestors’. We can create spiritual and mental ancestors, they are not our literal, biological ancestors, but they can be terribly important.

I am talking about the models that we, as humans, choose to work from.  That we choose to look up to and emulate and follow.

It is impossible to imagine anyone choosing Hitler as an ancestor, for example. Or Judas. The people we choose to look up to, to follow, reveal exactly what our dreams are, and every one of us lives and dies by our dreams.

So, our ancestry isn’t only a function of genealogy. We can’t choose our genetic ancestors, but we can choose and construct our own intellectual and creative family. An ideological lineage.

We can create a type of spiritual and intellectual parenting for ourselves. I made a note once of a phrase I loved, without writing down the source, ‘we are constantly creating our own cultural star-dust.’

So, who are our hero’s?

Who do you look up to?

At the end of your life, what do you want to have become?

Mother? Father? Saint? Artist? Cook? Super Hero? Friend? Prophet? Famous? Profound? Fun?

Can you make a list of people to include in your cultural and spiritual lineage? My list includes Abraham and Sarah, Mary, the mother of Christ, Adam and Eve, Joseph, Stephen the martyr, Marjorie Hinckley, Mother Teresa and some men and women I wouldn’t want to embarrass if I included them in such a public space.

As for me, I desire to be among women who value motherhood, kindness and humility. I hope to be included with women who figured out how to lift others. At the end, I want to be worthy to be called ‘friend’ by my Savior.

Let’s get busy considering, recording our lineage. And then spending a life time making it our own.