Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Four Days of Thanksgiving – Day 4 – A Thanksgiving Prayer

How Excellent Is Thy Name
c2003 by Susan Noyes Anderson

We gather now before thee, Lord, united by our humble hearts
and bow our heads in gratitude for every gift that thou imparts
How excellent is thy name in all the earth

For life and breath, for water clear, for fruit and grain in rich supply
For light of day and dark of night, for sun and moon and stars on high
How excellent is thy name in all the earth

For splendor in the seasons, for the majesty of nature's power
For beauty and serenity surrounding us in every hour
How excellent is thy name in all the earth

For health and strength and work to do; for home and family, friends and love
For this great nation and her freedoms, sacred blessings from above
How excellent is thy name in all the earth

For eyes to see and ears to hear, for hearts to feel and minds to learn
For all the gifts of joy and sorrow and the wisdom that they earn
How excellent is thy name in all the earth

For challenges and obstacles, for rugged mountains to ascend
For courage in the face of strife, for truth and honor to defend
How excellent is thy name in all the earth

For hope in times of weakness and abiding faith to make us strong
For goodness and its heritage: upholding right, forsaking wrong
How excellent is thy name in all the earth.

For knowledge of thy presence, Lord; for things to come and things before
We thank thee, God, for lovingkindness, and we praise thee evermore
How excellent is thy name in all the earth

"O Lord, our Lord–How excellent is thy name in all the earth: Who has set thy glory above the heavens...When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visiteth him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet" (Psalms 8:1-9).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Four Days of Thanksgiving – Day 3 – My Wonderful Grandma Johnson

I'm baaaa-aaack. Yes, with my annoying Four Days of Thanksgiving song. Brace yourselves, now...

"On the Third Day of Thanksgiving, my blog friend gave to me
a piece of her family history."

My Grandma Johnson really "got it" about gratitude. She knew how to find beauty in the simplest things. Maybe this is because she worked so hard as a young girl and woman. Let me share a few words from her journal:

"When I was 14, my hours were from 5:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night working for a widow with six boys and two young men boarding there who were working in my employer's General Merchandise Store. The reason for my early morning hours was that I had to make breakfast for one of those young clerks so he could go to the store and open up for the sheep men who came early to get their supplies. In the spring of the year there were many shearing camps in Soda Springs, and they had a great amount of trade from these shearing corrals. Besides the housework and cooking, I had all the washing and ironing to do for the six boys. I usually did my ironing after dinner at night and would iron until 11:00. I was paid for this work $2.00 per week, but my father took all my wages out in flour. "

This was just one of the jobs my grandmother did as a young girl. When she was finished with this particular one, she was so run down and worn out that her father had to come and get her. Her mother put her to bed and doctored her back to health.

It's a wonder they were able to survive, really. Listen to her description of their water in the fall:

"In the fall of the year, when the water was turned off, there would be some standing water in the holes in the canal. It was stagnant and full of bugs and wigglers. My mother would send me with a pail and a tin cup and a dishtowel cloth. I would tie the dish towel over the bucket and strain the wigglers out of the water. Of course, this water was then boiled, but I often wonder how we kept as healthy and free from typhoid fever. Our Heavenly Father was surely blessing those few pioneers."

Grandma Johnson always felt blessed, no matter what the conditions were. You felt it in her presence. Everything around her was a source of appreciation, and I hope I can be more like her.

A talk I gave a couple of Thanksgivings ago was largely inspired by my grandmother. Here is an excerpt:

"How often do we stop and appreciate not just colors of the sunrise but the fact that the sun rises at all? When we raise our hands to flick away an annoying insect, are we even aware of the complex neurological ballet taking place in our bodies? Does it ever occur to us to be thankful for the ability to make those intricate connections? Probably not, until something comes along to deprive us of that blessing. Christopher Reeve, once a great athlete, certainly came to appreciate the freedom of movement most of us take for granted. Shortly before his death, I watched an interview where he was speaking with heartfelt gratitude and obvious joy of a recently acquired ability, after eight years of intensive work, to move...ever so slightly...his finger. He humbled me that day.

"Acknowledging and appreciating the things we have makes sense. It also makes sense to spend some time thinking about the things we don't have. I guess this would be the 'cup-half-full' approach to gratitude. For example, rather than be sorry for ourselves because we have diabetes, we can give thanks that we don't have leukemia as well. When struggling with financial problems, we can appreciate the fact that we are not struggling with joblessness. If joblessness does become an issue...[as it certainly could in this economy]...we can be grateful that we do not, at least, have a condition or disability which precludes our ability to work at all. Anyway, you get the idea. This way of viewing problems, which I like to call the 'Survivor of the Great Depression' strategy, was used by my indomitable Grandma Johnson, an eternal optimist and one of the most grateful people I've ever met. By the way, my personal variation on Grandma's strategy is this: 'If you can't be grateful for what you have, be grateful for what you have left!'"

Grandma Johnson was one smart cookie, and I am thankful to be her granddaughter.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Four Days of Thanksgiving: Day 2 – A Harvest Poem

Welcome to the Second Day of Thanksgiving! Watch out, because I'm going to sing to you again!

(If this is too painful, plugging your ears is definitely an option...)

"On the Second Day of Thanksgiving, my blog friend gave away 
a verse that hails and honors yesterday."

I've always felt that the harvest is a perfect symbol of the Lord's bounteous gifts to us...a reminder of the gratitude we owe him. I actually wrote this poem for a harvest-themed Young Women in Excellence program. (For those who are not members of my church, Young Women is the organization for female youth, aged 12-18.) 

c1993, Susan Noyes Anderson

Our great grandparents knew about the harvest:
the months of labor gathered in with care,
the gratitude for every hard-earned blessing,
the love for home and hearth, the need to share.
They somehow understood, with true thanksgiving,
the beauty in the sowing they had done;
and when the season ended, in their reaping,
they sensed another cycle had begun.
For growing is the purpose of creation;
we are but branches on our Savior's vine.
The choice is ours; His table's set before us.
What will we offer Him, come harvest time?

I hope all of us can offer Him our gratitude. President Faust once said that "a grateful heart is the beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being." But we must use it, or lose it. "Think to thank," suggests President Monson, for "he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious, and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundredfold, yea more" (D&C 78:19). Now THAT would be a bounteous harvest!

May we strive to enjoy the process of receiving eternal glory, and may we never be guilty of saying, "What a wonderful life I've had: I only wish I'd realized it sooner" (Collette).

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Four Days of Thanksgiving: Day 1 – An Inspiring Story

My first guests will be arriving later today, which means that Thanksgiving week has officially begun! With that in mind, I am kicking off my latest invention: The Four Days of Thanksgiving.

In the tradition of the Christmas song that inspired it, I will sing it to you...(well, cyber-sing, anyway):

On the First Day of Thanksgiving, my blog friend gave to me, a truly inspiring story.

Albert Schweitzer once said, "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

On this "First Day of Thanksgiving," I think with deep gratitude of brave forebears who paved the way for all of us. They were valiant men and women for whom hardship and thanksgiving were a way of life. Reflecting upon their courage never fails to light a flame within me, and I hope I am never so careless as to take them for granted. While it is cannot be easy to appreciate trials and tribulation, their legacy proves to me that it is always possible.

Elder Steven Snow of the Seventy related this story in his October 2001 conference talk entitled "Gratitude."

"In October of 1879, a group of 237 Latter-day Saints from several small southwestern Utah settlements was called to blaze a new route and colonize what is today known as San Juan County in southeastern Utah. The journey was to have taken six weeks but instead took nearly six months. Their struggles and heroics are well documented, particularly their seemingly impossible task of crossing the Colorado River at a place called Hole-in-the-Rock. Those who have visited this place marvel that wagons and teams could have been lowered through this narrow crack in the red rock canyon walls to reach the Colorado River far below. Once the Colorado was crossed, however, many other severe tests awaited them on the trail to San Juan County. Tired and completely worn out, early in April 1880, they faced their final obstacle, Comb Ridge. The Comb is a ridge of solid sandstone forming a steep wall nearly 1,000 feet high.

"One hundred and twenty years later," Elder Snow told the conference, "[my own] family climbed Comb Ridge on a bright spring day. The ridge is steep and treacherous. It was difficult to imagine that wagons, teams, men, women, and children could make such an ascent. But beneath our feet were the scars from the wagon wheels, left as evidence of their struggles so long ago. How did they feel after enduring so much? Were they bitter after the many months of toil and privation? Did they criticize their leaders for sending them on such an arduous journey, asking them to give up so much? Our questions were answered as we reached the top of Comb Ridge. There, inscribed in the red sandstone so long ago, were the words, "We thank thee, O God."

Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
in Whom His world rejoices;
Who, from our mothers' arms,
hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
 - Martin Rinkart

Thanking God is appropriate, in good times and in bad times. He is steadfastly on our side, reaching out always to heal and bless us. Nonetheless, the Savior, who is always a Giver, is too seldom a Receiver of our gratitude, and that has been true from the beginning of His earthly mission and ministry. Remember the story of the ten lepers? Only one of them came back to thank Him.

On this "First Day of Thanksgiving," my prayer for all of us is that we may be like the one...and not the nine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Go, Utes!

I thought I'd give a shout out today to my alma mater, the University of Utah, for beating BYU handily, too. After the game, my husband was feeling pretty sassy about the whole thing, as was my son. In fact, both are anxiously awaiting church this morning, where they will be sporting their red U of U ties. Fortunately, I did manage to talk my husband out of the baseball cap he wanted to wear on the stand. (The one with the logo shown above.)

Of course, I was excited about the victory too, though I was never in danger of levitating or anything. In fact, I didn't even get to see the game, which wasn't televised on any of our cable stations. My husband and son did get to see it, because they called every sports bar in town until they finally found one that was playing the big game (annoyingly called a "Holy War" by the media).

Be that as it may, we're now hoping the U gets into a BCS bowl like the 2004-5 team did. That Utah team, if you remember, was the first ever from a non-BCS league to go to a BCS bowl game. The Utes defeated Pittsburgh (in the Fiesta Bowl) by three touchdowns or so, but ended up ranked only 4th...with an undefeated season...because they didn't get to play the team that would have proven something. (Waaaay TMI, I know, but I remember this vividly because my husband and our three sons were NOT happy.)

Did you know this little factlet about the U? In 2005 it was the only school ever to produce the top draft picks for both the NFL and the NBA in the same year. (Alex Smith for the SF 49ers and Andrew Bogut for the Milwaukee Bucks.) Pretty cool, huh?

No wonder my husband will always answer the query, "Who am I, sir?" with "A Utah man am I!" (Not that anyone ever queries him about that...)

PS. If you are a BYU fan, I want to take this opportunity to extend the olive branch of friendship by saying "better luck next year"! 

With every team but the Utes, of course!   =)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Confession: I Hate Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

It's true. I hate cooking Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, I don't like cooking anything, but today I want to focus specifically on turkey, dressing, candied yams, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Fortunately, I don't have to focus on the Parker House rolls or pumpkin pie because my mom makes those. However, much as I love eating her pie and rolls, I don't exactly relish her cooking of them, as she must accomplish this feat at my severely baking-challenged home, where she inevitably battles with my oven, my poorly conceived utensils, or both. (Amazingly, she still manages to make all of her creations taste delicious, but the process ain't always pretty.)

It's not just the baking I detest, by the way. I also don't like making Susie's Favorite Jello (my signature dish from childhood, consisting of two-layered strawberry jello with sour cream in the middle and pineapple, berries, and bananas inside). Even worse, I can't seem to let go of producing it every year, despite assurances from my family that they'd be entirely cool with it if I stopped altogether. But what would Thanksgiving be without Susie's Favorite Jello? I shudder to think!

I also make a fruit and whipped cream salad that I dislike putting together because it's so darned difficult to get the fruit drained adequately. If you leave too much juice, the whole thing turns out goopy instead of fluffy. *sigh*

But the worst...the very worst thing of all is the traditional appetizer my family refuses to give up. Each year, they beg me to mass produce it, not just for Thanksgiving, but for Christmas as well. What is this essential holiday fare? The Grapefruit Stuff (an inheritance from my mother-in-law). I must admit it was an easy recipe to make in the good old days, when they had such things as unsweetened grapefruit available in cans. Now the elusive unsweetened wedges are nearly impossible to find; and I end up having to peel a fresh grapefruit, cut it up, get the seeds out, then try to make it sour enough by adding just the right amount of unsweetened grapefruit juice to mimic what I used to be able to buy in a soup-sized can. Following that lovely task, I have to dice maraschino cherries into little tiny bits, turning my hands red all the way up to my elbows (okay, I'm a messy cutter) and creating such a sticky mess that it takes several days for my kitchen work space to recover. Believe me when I say that these cherries feel icky, icky, icky on your skin, and they stain anything and everything they touch. Not good.

Throw in the responsibility for making the tables look lovely, warm, and inviting when I am not crafty AT ALL, and you will have a pretty good picture of my Thanksgiving cooking experience. (A friend down the street used to help me out with the decorating part, but she moved several years ago. Can you believe she left me in the lurch just so her husband could have a job?)

Anyway, here's the kicker. I still love Thanksgiving. I guess the upside (my whole family being here and the sharing-type program afterwards that I actually enjoy preparing) tips the scales in Thanksgiving's favor. Well, more than tips the scales, actually. Makes it one of the best days of the year.

Hopefully I can remember that when I'm fishing slimy giblets out of my turkey this Thursday.  =)

Dancing with the Stars: Say What?

Okay, I'm just going to lay it on the line here. The Dancing with the Stars results this week were a travesty! Can anyone out in blog land explain to me how Warren was in any way better than Cody? And while you're in the explaining mode, what exactly is it about Warren that makes the judges show him such favoritism? Sure, he's a great guy, and I agree that it's kinda cute the way he dances with so much enthusiasm, but let's get real. The guy moves his feet like two lead bricks.

Is it a personality thing? Because if it's personality they're judging these days on DWTS, Cody seems like a pretty nice kid himself. What's more, his little puppy dog face is every bit as "cute" as Warren's wide-eyed charm (not that I am particularly fond of either, by the way). Having said that, I AM particularly fond of this idea: How about judging the competition on the merit of the dances? What a concept!

Here's my take on it. Cody and Julianne did two top-notch performances Monday night (including their paso doble, by the way, which I completely loved and the judges even more completely hated). So what's the deal with these judges, anyhoo? Are they: 
(1) significantly impaired? (2) incredibly biased? (3) on the take?

If Warren wins the final next week, I'll be putting my money on number 3.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Moment on the Lips...

A couple of weeks ago, I took the bit in my teeth (and the cookie out of my mouth) and joined Weight Watchers. On my first trip around this particular block, I was pregnant with my one and only daughter. I'm happy to report that we joined as a team this time as well, with the marked difference being that she is no longer in utero...for which we are both grateful.

In the interim period between my Weight Watchers memberships, I did manage to lose every single extra pound several times with Jenny Craig. Good ole Jenny's a great friend in the short run, but she can't seem to come through for me in the long haul. I mean, how many meat loaf dinners and salisbury steaks can a person eat, especially when they're served up on a tiny piece of black plastic masquerading as a plate? At some point, a woman's just gotta learn to feed herself!

Of course, I did feed myself when I was counting (and avoiding) carbs. The problem is that the feeding experience itself wasn't all that enjoyable. Again, how man turkey patties and chicken breasts can one carbohydrate-craving gal swallow?

The Zone? Not exactly a touchdown for me either. It did make me feel balanced, virtuous, and healthy...even somewhat satisfied! It didn't, unfortunately, make me thinner. In fact, I lost nary an ounce.

So here's my hypothesis. There has to be a way to lose the surplus pounds and never, ever find them again. I'm talking now about a game plan I could actually incorporate into my life without wanting to commit hari-kari...or murder. And that, my friends (I seem to be channeling John McCain now), is the goal I am pursuing.

I chose Weight Watchers because the flexible point system seems to be better than anything else I've tried. (Besides, I have a friend at church who has lost weight slowly but surely and seems to be keeping it off.) Unbeknownst to her, she has now become my prototype. Hi, Sheila.

The first week, I lost four pounds. (Salute me.) The second week? Zip. Zero. (Shoot me.) 


But wait! Hold your fire!...This isn't a diet; it's a live-it. And besides, nothing tastes as good as being thin feels. Nothing.

Terrific. Now I'm channeling my Weight Watchers leader. (Anybody got a rotten tomato?)


c1992, by Susan Noyes Anderson, Infinity Limited

They tell me
that I'm getting
"Dwindling away to
was the phrase.
Naturally, I love it
and it's going
to my head.
I get off on all the
second looks and
There's just
that mars my course.
I'm so
I could easily eat
a horse.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Blue Beanie Birthday Boys

November's always been a good month for me. I think I've already established here, probably ad nauseum, that Fall is my seasonal dream come true, and Thanksgiving happens to be my second favorite holiday. Getting the family together and sitting down for a turkey dinner is my idea of heaven, though cooking that dinner points a little more the other direction for me. All in all, however, November has treated yours truly pretty well.

Seven years ago last Monday, November got a whole lot better when my first grandchild, Jeremiah, hit the world. I think you can see for yourself that he is practically perfect in every way. Even his phenomenally few flaws are fabulous! (Hope you appreciate the alliteration, J!)

As if that weren't enough, six years later Bryce came along, a beautiful bundle of ball-bouncing baby boy who has made all of our lives a little brighter. (No favorites here, B. Alliteration all around!)

Literary devices aside, I am one proud grandma, and I just wanted to take this Sunday minute for a bevy of birthday bragging, boasting, and being blissful beyond belief that these two young men came my way. (Oops, eight more "B's.") The urge to alliterate and the urge to appreciate (grandkids) must be closely related.

I love you, guys!

And I love you, too, Carli. It's hard to be the unbirthday girl, but July is only a hop, skip, and a jump away.  :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Prop 8 and the Right to Vote Your Conscience

Here's a no-brainer: The people who voted in support of Prop 8 and the people who voted in opposition to it disagree.

Here's a partial-brainer: Both sides who are party to this disagreement are convinced that their inalienable rights are or would be violated in the event the other side prevails.

Here's a full-brainer: This disagreement extends beyond what is inherent in the proposition itself to what either side subjectively believes will happen if their side does not prevail.

Here's an open-brainer: Both sides are fully convicted in their positions because those positions spring from deeply held, core beliefs. Personal identity issues are involved in both sides, and neither side has a monopoly on being right. The only thing people on either side have a monopoly on is being right according to their own value system.

Democracy isn't perfect, but it does provide a process for resolution in situations where two parties (both endowed with inalienable rights) hold positions so diametrically opposed to one another that mutal agreement or some form of compromise cannot be reached. That time-honored process, known as "free elections," affords every American citizen the right to vote his or her conscience.

I realize that many gay people view same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue, and I respect their position. I would simply ask and expect that gay people respect my belief in return, as well as my right to hold it. Such respect for others is what living in a free country is all about, and my religion is no less intrinsically a part of my core identity than sexual preference is theirs. Any perceived violation of my rights is no less a civil rights issue than perceived violation of theirs.

Here is the definition of civil rights, as taken from Webster's dictionary: "the nonpolitical rights of a citizen; especially: the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to United States citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments of the Constitution and by acts of Congress."

The following is a more detailed definition borrowed from a web site for state attorneys: "A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another, gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, assembly, the right to vote, freedom from involuntary servitude, and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class [author's note: whether Gay or Mormon]. Statutes have been enacted to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin and in some instances, sexual preference."

My point? Religion and the unencumbered practice of it are protected under civil rights law, too. Honorable people on both sides of this issue feel that their vote on Proposition 8 is a vote to protect their civil rights. Both sides deserve respect, whether or not they agree with one another. Both sides deserve the right to vote their conscience, without fear of retribution.

Do we really want a country where voters are threatened and intimidated to the extent that they do not feel free to exercise their right to vote with equanimity and without reprisal? Should people's livelihood be threatened because of the way they voted on a controversial issue? Should their sacred places of worship be violated? Should their names be blacklisted? If such things are condoned, are we not all demeaned by their acceptance? What group or group of voters will be next? Can democracy ultimately survive such actions taken against citizens exercising their right to vote? The answer, to any fair-minded person, is clear. Both sides should have the grace to abide by the election results, and if they disagree with them, they have every right to use the democratic process to address their concerns.

We are Americans, every one of us, and the level of freedom we enjoy is a blessing we sometimes take for granted. Will we live up to our privileges? I hope and believe that the answer is yes. When we disagree, as we inevitably will, surely our charge as free citizens of a great democratic nation is to respect the process...and the people participating in matter what their vote. No one's civil right should, in and of itself, trump another's. In cases where such conflict is unavoidable, the only fair compromise is the historic one: Let the majority rule.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dancing with the Stars: Julianne Hough, a Guilty Pleasure

I never thought I would admit this to anyone besides my mother, but I've been watching Dancing with the Stars. That's right; you heard me. I watch it. Well, actually, I DVR it. Yours truly, the original, died-in-the-wool So You Think You Can Dance fan, has been consorting with the enemy.

Why am I willingly subjecting myself to Len and Bruno and Carrie Ann Inaba? (Even more concerning, why do I actually know their names?) Well, I have a confession to make. I am a Julianne Hough fan. Derek too, I guess, but mainly Julianne because boy, can that girl dance! She even looks good in a piano skirt...

Let's face it, Julianne and Derek were stellar this week, and that's no exaggeration. Even Nigel from SYTYCD would have to agree that the two of 'em rocked it.

Still, the thing I liked best about her was the ridiculously corny quasi-therapy session with Dr. Drew. It had to be the lamest idea for a segment ever, and I was happily mocking the whole concept until she and her tweenish partner actually had a genuine, bona fide "moment." I was shocked. Moved. I may have even shed a little tear.

Don't get me wrong. There is every reason to hold out hope for my eventual return to sanity. I can state affirmatively, right here and right now, that I have not purchased her country western CD.

(Okay, just one song from iTunes, but I haven't burned it to a disk or anything...)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Back from Iraq: Friend's Son Returns to Hero's Welcome

My friend's son came home from Iraq Sunday, and the whole experience is well worth writing about. Greeting him was a little bit of Americana so nostalgic and reminiscent of an earlier, more innocent time that I just have to put it down.

Apparently, the vision she had of his homecoming included friends, lots of friends, lining the entire cul de sac where they live, waving flags and shouting a heartfelt welcome. I'm happy to say that her faithful ward, neighbors, and relatives happily complied with both the flags and the shouting. (Flashlights and fireworks were added too, since his arrival was delayed until after dark, largely because he was giving interviews to the news crews who were there to meet him.)

I don't know much about the armed services, but this kid is a force recon marine. From what I can gather, force recon is the most elite unit in the marines, sort of like navy seals is for the navy. Seeing this tall, lean guy in camouflage and army boots was pretty awesome, and I've never been a pushover for a uniform, by the way. The thing is, he really does appear larger than life. Just looking at him makes you proud.

But I was even more proud to be a witness to the "entourage" that surrounded him with love and support Sunday night. A big crowd came out to assume their requested "cul-de-sac-lining" positions about half an hour before he was scheduled to arrive. It was a cold, autumn night, but parents brought even their youngest children to share in the experience of honoring a young man who had put his life on the line for our country. There was much joy and anticipation at the prospect of seeing him again, and a fever pitch of excitement electrified the air. As the lead car (yes, he even had a one-car escort!) turned the corner, flashlights went on and sparklers were lit as everyone began shouting and whistling and waving flags. (Though my friend had provided small flags for everyone, many had brought full-sized ones from their homes and were waving them in the wind.) I want you to know that being there was just spectacular. An honor. 

Suddenly, the car that held him stopped for a moment at the very head of the cul de sac. We all laughed and cheered as he came up through the sunroof to sit on the car and wave at everyone. In the glow of the flashlights, you could clearly see that he was both surprised and delighted. As he passed by, people greeting him on the sidelines would close ranks behind the SUV and follow it slowly toward the house. Because I was at the mouth of the cul de sac, I was walking right behind the SUV most of the time, watching the "parade" from the back. I had a great view, because shortly after he took his place on the roof of my friend's car, someone started shooting off fireworks, one at a time. The first one soared over his head like a comet and burst in the sky. Then another was let fly, and another, until the night air was thick with smoke. My throat was thick too, with (sort of) unshed tears. After all, I was trying to greet our hero with a smile on my face.

It was a spectacular sight, like a 4th of July parade in the pitch dark of a small town in the 1940's. I felt like I had stepped into the best, warmest and fuzziest movie I had every seen...complete with Jimmy Stewart and Donna say nothing of Mom and Dad and apple pie. Frank Capra could have directed it himself.

Even better, Frank Capra didn't direct it! Love did. Love of friends and love of country. Tried and true values that are still alive today, even with all the trials and troubles we're experiencing.

And so, I'm grateful to report here for all of you that this wasn't a movie. It was real. My friend's son was home at last. He was safe and sound, and she was beaming so brightly she didn't even need a flashlight. When we all went up to hug her, she told us that this was the happiest day of her entire life, even better than the day he was born.

It was a happy day for all of us, one we will long remember. America is alive and well and doing fine in small town California, along with one of our native sons. Welcome home, Garrett. You make us proud.

And you remind us that we are all patriots. Still.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

If the Savior Stood Beside Me

Elder Cordova of the Seventy visited our stake conference this weekend, and we had a wonderful experience with him. All of his talks were exceptional, but his words this morning touched me as much as any I've heard. He began by greeting us, of course, and expressed his love for the people of our stake. He then asked all of the Primary children to stand up. After they had done so, he encouraged them to move out into the aisles so that we could see them. This was quite a departure from the norm, and I was expecting to hear lots of noise and confusion. Amazingly, the children were reverent, as if they sensed the sacred nature of what was to come.  

Once they were in the aisles, and remember, this is every aisle in the chapel and cultural hall, Elder Cordova invited them to walk up toward him. Before long, all of these lovely children were gathered together in the center aisles, filling about the front 3/4 of the chapel. It was quite a sight. One little girl in particular touched me because she was holding her little sister in her arms. I have to tell you that the entire scene brought tears to my eyes, but as it happens, that was just the beginning. 

Elder Cordova then asked the children if they would do him a favor and sing a song for him. The song he requested was "If the Savior Stood Beside Me," one that was presented this year in the ward Primary programs. I'll share the words with you, in case you haven't heard or can't remember them:

If the Savior stood beside me, would I do the things I do?
Would I think of His commandments and try harder to be true?
Would I follow His example? Would I live more righteously,
if I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?

If the Savior stood beside me, would I say the things I say?
Would my words be true and kind if He were never far away?
Would I try to share the gospel? Would I speak more reverently
if I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?

He is always near me, though I do not see him there;
and because he loves me dearly, I am in His watchful care.
So I'll be the kind of person that I know I'd like to be
if I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me.
                                                                       -by Sally DeFord

I cannot adequately express to you how touching it was to see these children called up unexpectedly from the audience in such numbers. To hear their high, clear voices spontaneously singing this lilting, innocent melody for the entire congregation was a gift to everyone in attendance. Let's just say that I was not the only person in the building with tears streaming down my face. 

After they had returned to their seats, Elder Cordova smiled gently and said, "It's all worth it, isn't it?"

I wish every one of you could have been there. This was such a rare moment, the kind you know you will call up again and again to savor in sweet memory. It's like having a brand new penny in my pocket, one which I can pull out and enjoy the brightness of any time I want to feel the Spirit more abundantly.

Alma definitely knew what he was talking about when he said, " small and simple things are great things brought to pass..." (Alma 37:6). I am grateful I was privileged to witness this small, simple, great thing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Love Thy Temple-picketing, Anti-Prop 8 Neighbors?

Yesterday the Los Angeles temple was picketed by a large number of people who oppose Proposition 8. Looking at pictures of that event, I was deeply troubled to see derogatory signs with ugly words hanging on the gates surrounding that sacred building. (I have chosen not to post those pictures due to the fact that they are inflammatory.)

On the internet, I have seen many LDS people respond to this and other hostility directed at us with fear and indignation. While both feelings are understandable, it is my sincere belief that neither will serve us well as we go forward. It is important that those who stand for truth and righteousness exhibit righteousness in their defense of truth. One woman I know pointed out that the Savior showed righteous anger in clearing the money changers from the temple. Perhaps that is true (He did overturn the tables), but I would add to that observation the fact that He, as a perfect Being, was able to bless and heal the blind and lame immediately afterward, indicating that the Spirit (as always) continued with Him. We are imperfect beings, and with our core beliefs so deeply involved, the task of keeping whatever anger we feel "righteous" may prove difficult. On that basis, I am convinced that we would do better not to entertain anger at all. Today, I am actively pursuing that goal, and I am having to work hard at it. I know I will prevail because I am determined to do so, with the Lord's help.

Anger is a reactive emotion, and no one is free from experiencing it. Choosing to entertain it, however, is a different matter. Justifying our angry responses so that we can invite them into our hearts to stay is not Christ-like and never will be. If our intent is to serve the Lord well, we need to be careful to emulate Him in our service. That old question, "What would Jesus do?" is an appropriate guide for us in navigating this difficult and painful circumstance. We are more likely to act as He would have us act if we remind ourselves that those who profess and exhibit animosity toward the Church and its members because of their stance on Proposition 8 are being deceived by an adversary so devious and insidious that every man, woman, and child on earth falls prey to his efforts at one time or another. We are not immune, and empathy for brothers and sisters who have lost their bearings on this issue is appropriate.

Does this mean that we fight any less hard for the preservation of marriage as ordained by God? No. It simply means that we fight the good fight, the worthy fight, the fight in which we are fighting for ALL of Father's children, even and especially those on the other side. Such an action on our parts requires both love and compassion. In that spirit, we leave the judgment to God, who does not see through a glass darkly (as we do) but knows the end from the beginning. Only He can be trusted to judge fairly, and that is why we, and the entire universe, trust Him.

Let us strive to be disciples of Christ by disciplining ourselves. There is a reason those two words have the same root, a reason we should take to heart. We have much work to do in building up and preserving the Kingdom, and we need to be above reproach in our efforts. Prop 8 has passed in California, but that passage is already being appealed by detractors on the basis that it supposedly violates existing constitutional law and must therefore be termed a "revision" rather than a proposition. Unlike an amendment, a revision requires a 2/3 vote in order to be incorporated into the constitution. In other words, this movement to define marriage as between a man and a woman is far from over. Even if this appeal fails, there will be others, and we must stand ready...and fight.

"Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest, let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever. Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good..." (Alma 37:36-7).

PS. On a completely different note, I just saw that the post I sent in about my "favorite NieNie post" is featured on NieNie Dialogues today! Read it here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Music: The Magic Carpet of Moodelicious Mediums

I used to think magic carpet rides were the stuff of fairy tales (or Steppenwolf), but today I have seen the light! Life experience, as it so often does, has proven me wrong.

Magic carpet rides not only exist, but they are readily available––any time, any day, any place––in the form of music, or more specifically, songs. These melodic, lyrical, and (don't forget!) time-traveling vehicles come in an endless variety of shades, shapes and textures, and the particular one you choose determines your destination. (In light of this new awareness, song selection takes on a whole new meaning!)

"How'd ya figure this out?" you may well ask. (Okay, you didn't ask, but humor me a minute, even if you don't give a rat's rear.)

For several days now, I've been trying to churn out two things: (1) the Christmas program for my ward (congregation) and (2) the annual Christmas Eve story for my family. There have been many stops and starts...well, actually, one stop for every start. In other words, no progress at all. Oh sure, I've got some good notes...some basic ideas...but absolutely no mojo. None. No "magic" of any kind, in fact, and that's a definite no-go. Because Christmas is all about magic.

The dumb part is that I already know exactly what the problem is. I can't seem to get myself in quite the right mood...the right "place." I know the solution, too––a magic (melodic) carpet ride––but I haven't been willing to admit that I need one. Why not? First, because I feel like I should be able to transport myself without assistance to whatever writing "place" I need to visit; and second, because I haven't been willing to play Christmas music to get there. This is not so much a matter of pride, by the way, as it is a wanting to save the joy of Christmas and its carols for December. It's simple. If you start too early, you don't get the same bang for your "songs of Noel" buck. And I selfishly want all the yuletide bang I can get. (Somehow that didn't come out quite right...sorry.)

Anyway, here's the all-too-telling truth. I'm going to have to give in and hitch a ride on (listen to) Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella. And if Jeanette doesn't quite get me there, I guess I'm willing to hop aboard the Coventry Carol...or catch a flight on the Wassail Song. A writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do, right?

The real deal, putting all my "not-wanting-to-rush-Christmas-song-listening" angst aside, is this: Musical magic carpets and the wild, wacky, wondrous, wistful rides they take us on are the greatest! I even have some favorites. Grazin' in the Grass, for instance, transports me in one, smooth flight to my first year in college, my first real love (now my husband), and Spring. (Resulting mood: elation). I can also ride Love Can Make You Happy or Crystal Blue Persuasion to the same place. (Oddly, Hey Jude, from the identical era, doesn't quite make the trip for me, even though I love that song.)

Oh, shoot. Who am I kidding with my second-string carols playlist? JeanetteCoventry?? Wassail??? Those songs ain't gonna *fly*(Agreed, the magic carpet analogy is getting cumbersome; time to sign off.)

Sufficeth to say that I'll probably have to pull out the big guns to get the job done: Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, AND The First Noel. I may even have to jump on Away in a Manger. But I'm not touching O Holy Night with a ten-foot pole until November 28th. End of discussion.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Moroni and Prop 8: Raising the Title of Liberty

A friend sent me this poster by e-mail recently. I like it because it happens to be a visual depiction of the exact symbolism that came to my mind early last month while conversing with my husband about Prop 8. We were both lamenting the fact that so many people oppose the proposition, and I said that while I wasn't at all confident it would pass, the important thing for us to do as individuals and members of the Church was to hold up the standard of liberty, as Moroni did. Like him, we had a responsibility to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places, and if we failed to do all we could to share our beliefs about Prop 8, we would be held accountable.

We're told that the war in heaven is now being fought on earth. I don't know if we will win or lose this particular skirmish; that's in the Lord's hands. What I do know is that God's plan includes ultimate victory, and those who have sacrificed their time and energy expressing their support of marriage between a man and a woman will be blessed for their efforts in defending the faith.

"And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it––In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children––and he fastened it upon the end of a pole" (Alma 46:12).

"And he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty)..." (Alma 46:13).

"And it came to pass also, that he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites; and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Lamanites" (Alma 46:36).

In the weeks, months and years ahead, may we resolve to do no less.