Tuesday, March 31, 2009

You'll Never Know Just How Much [He Loves] You

Shortly after I created this blog last August, a close friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. Being deeply affected by her situation, I wrote this post. Since that time, she has been through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and her cancer treatment concludes this week. 

It has been a long and difficult road, but she has traveled it with equal amounts of courage and grace. Most notable has been her determination to continue serving others, even in the midst of her own struggle. At those times when she was too ill for physical activity, she would often go online to her Caringbridge web site and post an uplifting message for all of the "angels" (as she called us) who visited there regularly to support her. The minute she could stand on her own two feet long enough, she baked me a cake and brought it over to my house. Just the other day, despite the fact that these last couple of weeks of radiation have been pretty rough, she left flowers on her visiting teacher's doorstep. I think you get the picture. This woman is one of those who always sees and serves the need, and it wasn't in her paradigm to let a little chemotherapy and radiation stop her. I think you can imagine what a wonderful friend she is, and our entire ward loves her.

The Lord loves her, too, and she knows it. I wish every one of you could have seen the light in my friend's eyes at church Sunday, when she whispered to me that she had awakened with a song in her heart (one she hadn't thought of for years), and that she knew exactly from Whom it came. 

It's an old standard, so you'll probably recognize the words: 

You'll never know just how much I [love] you.
You'll never know just how much I care.
And if I tried,
I still couldn't hide
My love for you,
You ought to know,
For haven't I told you so,
A million or more times?

God speaks to His children in many ways, and I'm glad this musical love note to my friend came wrapped in such a sweet, sentimental package. Perhaps a hymn might have been expected in this context, but this tender song from a more innocent time seems in keeping, somehow, with the Spring that must be brimming in her heart. This week, my friend will bid the winter of cancer treatment farewell and gratefully welcome in the new beginning of a treatment-free life. Surely the hum of day-to-day living is far sweeter when its rhythm has been disrupted by a long and debilitating illness. The dawn shines more brightly after the storm, and I suspect the world will never look or feel quite the same to this wonderful woman. Perhaps that is the one gift cancer gives. 

My friend almost got up to bear her testimony about this unexpected gift of song and spirit, this reminder that we will never know just how much He loves us. In the end, she decided not to stand, as she felt she had shared her testimony "too much" recently. (The truth is, she could bear her testimony every Sunday, twice, and no one would be sorry!) But true to form, she yielded to the needs of others, and perhaps she chose the better part. The two people who spoke (after she decided not to) did have unique experiences to share, strong witnesses to the truthfulness of the gospel. And after the final testimony, she expressed her satisfaction that she had left the time to them, for they had used it well.

Having missed telling it to the congregation, my friend then related her story to me. This morning and with her permission, I am sharing it here, for we all need to be reminded not only how much He loves us, but how often He is willing to remind us of that..."a million or more times." If we will keep our hearts, minds, and spiritual ears open, He will whisper His song of redeeming love to each one of us. And oh, how we will be blessed.

"For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

(For M.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

When Storm Clouds Threaten

A lot of the people I know and love are struggling these days. The times we live in are difficult at best, with morality on the wane, economic woes on the rise, and too many consciences stuck in neutral. Sometimes our hearts and homes seem besieged by clouds...looming over the horizon and threatening to destroy our peace.

I've had numerous calls lately from family and friends who are being assailed by forces beyond their control, and the news is pretty daunting. As pictured above, lately I've felt the storm clouds pressing in on my own space, too, though I am doing my best to visualize them as white and fluffy, with a few breaks of blue. Still, I am more aware than ever of my need for guidance and support from a loving Father in Heaven, who knows and understands my needs. I am also grateful for a Savior whose ability to lift me up is infinite, if I am willing to call upon it. In his conference talk, "Jesus Christ: Our Savior and Redeemer," Ezra Taft Benson reminds us that "Because He descended below all things (see D&C 122:8), He knows how to help us rise above our daily difficulties. Indeed, there is no human condition––be it suffering, incapacity, inadequacy, mental deficiency or sin--which He cannot comprehend or for which His love will not reach out to the individual."

I know these inspired (and inspiring) words are true, but occasionally I get so busy coping, in the moment, that I neglect to call upon the divine assistance I need. I guess you could say I fail to "see the Light." The following story is one example. 

Many years ago, I got into an elevator at my daughter's orthodontist. As the door closed, I realized there was no light. We would be making the ride in pitch blackness. gulp I was immediately uncomfortable, anxious, and a little bit claustrophobic. It was the slowest ride I've ever taken...and it happened to be in one of those old, creaky, groaning models that take forever and basically make you fear for your life. Believe me, I would have been open to anyone or anything that could have changed or improved my situation. Of course, the funniest (and most telling) part of the story is that when we got to our floor, and after I had finished complaining to my daughter about how much I didn't like the experience, she simply reached over my head, turned on the elevator's light switch, and said in a patient but long-suffering voice, "All you have to do is flip it on, Mom."

It had never even occurred to me that there was such an obvious solution! Like the followers of Moses who were beset by serpents, I had only to look up, but I did not. It was too easy, too simple an answer to a problem that appeared insurmountable (see 1 Nephi 17:41, Alma 37:46). The Psalmist tells us, "For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light" (Psalms 36:9). And we will see light, but we do need to look for its source––and sometimes, to exercise patience. Neal A. Maxwell said patience is "a willingness, in a sense, to watch the unfolding purposes of God with a sense of wonder and awe, rather than pacing up and down in the cell of our circumstances." I certainly paced up and down in the cell of my elevator, and I want you to know it wasn't a bit helpful!

"Wonder and awe" is appropriate, even when looking at storm clouds, because we are never alone in our trials, not ever. He is always there to lead, guide and walk beside us, yet sometimes we struggle without a sense of purpose and direction. Have you ever seen a beetle turned on its back? It may struggle for hours in an attempt to right itself. A lot of activity and movement is taking place, but little of it is fruitful. While we could turn the bug over with one nudge, it has no awareness or ability to call us over for help. It either gives up entirely or continues to struggle futilely, often expiring in the effort. When we are struggling, do we remind ourselves that Someone is standing by to help us? Do we avail ourselves of that ability to request and receive help?

The choice is ours. We can either "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and all men" (2 Nephi 31:20), or we can "stress forward," feeling very little hope or love at all. Fortunately, we need never yield to such a condition. As children of God, hope and love are always available to us, at His hand. No matter what storm clouds may threaten, His Light will always prevail. 

The Promise

©1999 by Susan Noyes Anderson, Awaken Your Spiritual Power

The sun will rise each day, and night will fall.
We here can only wait, and watch, and see.
It is not ours to tamper with the flow
Of nature, nor mistrust her majesty.
'Twas other hands, not ours, whose heavenly light
Kindled eternal splendor in the skies;
Another whispers peace unto our minds
When darkness looms before our faltering eyes.
And listening, we somehow come to know
That in the midst of darkness, even then,
He sends the moon and stars to light our way,
And promises the sun will rise again.

"Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended." Isaiah 60:20

Sunday, March 29, 2009

There Is No Frigate Like A Book

Like my little grandson here, the love of books was instilled in me at a young age. My parents were avid readers, and I was an equally eager observer. One had only to look at the books in their hands and see the intensity on their faces to know they were being introduced to people and places that captured their imagination. I wanted to be a part of that.

My mom and dad read with me...and before long, I was reading to myself. Constantly. At night. Under the covers. In the day. Hiding in corners. Concealed in closets. Anywhere and everywhere. Endlessly. Voraciously. Ecstatically.

I read Uncle Remus, Dr. Seuss (and Doolittle), Mother Goose, Hans Christian Andersen, Grimms Fairy Tales, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Carbonel: King of the Cats, Black Beauty, The Call of the Wild, Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, Heidi, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, The Little Prince, and whatever else I could get my hands on. (And I got my hands on plenty!)

No wonder I love to look at this little guy, his chubby hands clenched on that book he's holding. Once again, a reader is born; and it brings me joy to know the torch has been passed.

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

~Emily Dickinson

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Embracing the Mother Part

A couple of weeks ago, a post at
Segullah (this one by a guest blogger, Annette Lyon) piqued my interest. It is called "Beyond Mommy: Knowing Who I Am," and it discusses the age-old issue about "losing" ourselves to motherhood and whether that is a good thing or not. What exactly does the Lord mean when He asks us to "lose ourselves" in the service of others? There's a lot of room for interpretation there.

Below, in red, is my response to Annette's post, which I wanted to share with you.

"I always kept active with my interests, even as a young mother. I never stopped writing something or other, and my children were well aware of my passion for many subjects and pursuits besides mothering. My talents found numerous outlets at church, in the community, and (once my children were all in school) in a master’s program in counseling. Having said that, being my children’s mother was and continues to be my favorite pursuit. Nothing else fills me as much…not writing a play, directing a program, or publishing a book.

"I mention this because something happened to me when my children left the nest that I did not expect. I thought I would feel a lovely, yet slightly bittersweet, 'release'…a liberating feeling that now I could spend as much time with my writing and other interests as I wanted. My friends all agreed with me that, because I was so active in my pursuing my individual interests and developing my talents while I was raising my children, I would reap the benefits as an empty nester in that I wouldn’t go through all that sadness, longing, and sense of being 'lost.' What a shock it was to me when I did go through exactly those feelings…in spades!

"What I realized was that my personal pursuits and interests didn’t fill the same place in my heart that mothering my children did. Yes, my heart had many mansions, but one of them (apparently, the main one) was standing empty after they left home, and boy, did I feel it! As if a central molar had been extracted from my mouth, I experienced the hole that was left as a gaping void, my tongue constantly going back to 'check' the vacant space as if doing so would somehow speed the healing. I even tried to replace the 'molar' with various implants, but nothing else I implanted seemed to fill the space. Instead, I had to go through a complicated adjustment to becoming a different incarnation of 'mother' and make peace with that. As one of my friends once said, 'It’s hard to be the hub of a wheel and suddenly become one of the spokes…or even the rim.' (So true, Lynna.)

"I’ve made the adjustment now. My youngest is 26. But I will never stop missing those days when all of my children were together, in my home, and I was the center of their 'wheels.' What an opportunity for creative expression it was! I was blessed with the opportunity, as all mothers can be, to create the entire atmosphere of that home as if it were a blank page…or a piece of canvas, and my little audience was mine to captivate. What a fun job I had, despite the sacrifices. After all, true art involves sacrifice, right? And mothering is definitely an art. In fact, it remains the most satisfying medium I’ve ever worked in, though it is considerably more enjoyable once you tame the inner critic."

[I closed my comment with a quote I've already shared with you recently, in this post.] 

“The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself…the ones who express the inexpressible without brush, hammer, clay, or guitar. They neither paint nor sculpt—their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They see and don’t have to draw. They are the artists of being alive” (Jane Stone).

Okay, that was my comment on Segullah, but I'm revisiting the subject here because I kept mulling it over. Some of the comments made in response to Annette's post intrigued me. A few women seemed to view the "mothering" role as something separate and apart from the role of being one's "self." I, on the other hand, see my mothering as one of (and inseparable from) the many parts that comprise my "self" and make me the person I am. To use the "artist of life" analogy, motherhood is an integral color in the palette I use to create my life every day, my favorite color, by the way. However, it cannot overwhelm the other shades of me unless I ignore them, which I do not.

Here's my concern. Are we headed down some kind of slippery slope that leads to throwing the baby out with the bath water where motherhood is concerned? Is Satan pulling the old twisteroo on us again by encouraging us to look at "mother" as a job description rather than a divine, eternal identity? Oh, don't misunderstand me...No one is more in favor than I am of women owning and developing every spiritual gift, talent, and innate ability they possess and sharing these both in and outside of their wards and families. I would never want any woman to subjugate her every need to her children or arrive at the lamentable place where she can't even voice an opinion about what she would like to do or see or be. That, arguably, would be sinful. It would surely be pitiful, and Women of God are hardly that. But should fear that we cannot somehow find the strength and/or resources to keep ourselves from such an ignominious fate prompt us to, almost for our own protection, separate our mothering from our concept of "who we are" as individual women and personalities? As we strive not to "lose" our "selves" to motherhood, are we losing the opportunity to "find ourselves in the service of others?"

I don't have all the answers, but the questions interest me. One thing I know for certain. Being a mother needn't stop us from becoming "artists of being alive." It just offers another medium with which to create the evolving masterpiece that is us. Surely we can recognize, exercise, and appreciate all the parts of ourselves without having to choose one over the other. It doesn't have to be an either/or situation, and it is hoped that in trying to be "who we are," we don't forget that the most celestial feature of a daughter of God's divine self is that part which creates and nurtures...the "mother" part.

JMHO, of course.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Do You Measure Up?

My mom called me yesterday just to read the following poem:

by Martin Buxbaum

You can use most any measure
when you're speaking of success.
You can measure it in fancy home,
expensive car or dress.

But the measure of your real success
is the one you cannot spend.
It's the way your kids describe you
when they're talking to a friend.

Sounds right to me!


PS. I suppose bribery would be inappropriate?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nobility Is My Middle Name

I drive a Honda Pilot. Or at least, I used to. These days I am the proud operator of a 2001 Honda Civic, with a stick shift. Why have I made what could arguably be considered a downgrade? Not because the gas mileage is so good, though it certainly is. Not because I gave up being comfortable in my car for Lent, though my motivation is definitely sacrificial in nature. You see, I am driving a Honda Civic...(here comes the sacrificial part)...STICK SHIFT, every day, for this reason.

Yes, my friends. In a show of kindness and generosity that astonishes even me, I arm and leg wrestle an aging, contrary (finicky in first and stubborn in second) stick/clutch every day so that my son, who is still recovering from ankle surgery, can drive my husband's (automatic) Honda Accord while said husband drives my (also automatic) Pilot. It's a game of musical cars, and I have a growing suspicion that I'm the loser.

But it's all good, because nobility is my middle name.

insert long-suffering sigh here 

(Okay...maybe it's just a nickname.)


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stepping into History: Brett Dennen at the Fillmore

Saturday night at the Fillmore in San Francisco was anything but disappointing. Angus and Julia Stone opened well for Brett Dennen, who gave a very cool show. Even cooler was the venue itself. Pretty impressive. You could almost feel the history, as if Jimi Hendrix or the Jefferson Airplane might have walked in at any minute. The sound was great, too, although I needed earplugs. (Ah, the indignities of getting older...)

The balcony is lined with posters of past acts, and we were given a poster ourselves on the way out. It was raining, but my son put ours under his coat so they wouldn't get ruined. I haven't figured out what to do with mine, but I'll do something. (Too bad I'm not in school. It would have made the perfect book cover back in the day.)

Both of the Stone siblings were talented and original. Julia seemed to play every instrument known to man, and Angus (her brother) was pretty solid on the guitar, too. They took turns singing lead vocals, but Julia's voice was better for me, with a unique tone and texture. I enjoyed their funky, folky sound.

But Brett Dennen was beyond enjoyable. He sang for the shortest hour-and-a-half ever, and it was mesmerizing. The guy is definitely quirky, and his moves up there are kinda strange; but his lyrics and delivery are first class, and the slightly reggae flavor really works. There's just no one like him around, and I have a feeling he will be around for a long time to come.


P.S. He opened with "Just Like the Moon" and closed with "Blessed." I hope you click on both and have a listen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In Which Life is Good and Gratitude Abounds

I am in a pensive and peaceful mood today...a grateful and hopeful one. In large part, these feelings have been inspired by a blogging friend named Molly. What a lovely and valiant person she is, and I have grown to care for her. Thank you, Molly, for the things you are teaching me.

Thanks to Chris Gardner, too, from Digital Flower Pictures, for allowing me to share this great shot of a Japanese maple and birch trees against a blue sky.

And now for the poem it calls to mind. (No, you can't escape the poetry...)

Untitled, for the moment
©2003 by Susan Noyes Anderson

Beauty cannot enter where we do not leave a friendly space.
Poems began as empty pages, masterpieces as a trace.

Every note must stand alone before it makes a lullabye.
Every tree has greater stature viewed against a naked sky.

Life is simple; letting go creates a place for hopes and dreams.
Barren walls and open floors make room for ever-changing themes.

The title of this poem is actually Chair, Dresser, Mirror, and it appears in the book, His Children (copies of which have just been mailed to the winners of last week's 150th post contest). So keep your eyes open for it, ladies!

Below is the original photograph that inspired the poem. It belongs to Anita Schiller (©2003), the talented photographer whose body of work demanded a book in the first place. I am grateful that my own body of work has been supplemented by the poetry she asked me to contribute. Thanks, Anita.

Today, I am grateful.

Today, life is good.

(And yes, the two are inseparably connected.)


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Becoming an Artist of Life

Today I had some thoughts about this video, put together by lds.org and based upon President Uchtdorf's General Relief Society conference talk entitled Happiness, Your Heritage.

The Church has done a beautiful job here, but I like Elder Uchtdorf's original talk even better, partly because it takes me down a pathway I've always loved to travel, one I explored in my second book, Awaken Your Spiritual Power. Nearly an entire chapter is devoted to the topic of creation; and a section of that chapter, entitled Becoming an Artist of Life, can be read at Deseret Book's LDS Living.

Here are three brief excerpts from the chapter in question:

"The ability to give birth to something that begins as an idea or thought is a sacred inheritance. Creating is what our Father in Heaven does, and we are here on the earth to practice and eventually perfect that skill. How and whether we choose to do that is up to us."

"The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself...the ones who express the inexpressible without brush, hammer, clay, or guitar. They neither paint nor sculpt—their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They see and don't have to draw. They are the artists of being alive" (Jane Stone).  I love this.

"Though creative expression through the fine arts is uplifting, energizing, and important, most of us will have our peak creative experiences being artists of life. As children of God, every single one of us is an artist of life."

Of course, those of you who frequent my blog know that I am a big supporter of creating tangible art. Writing happens to be my favorite medium, and I love it. Having said that, I love even more the concept of becoming an artist of life

Elder Bednar touches on this idea in his conference talk about prayer, where he reminds us that we are, in a sense, the creators of each day, just as our Heavenly Father is the creator of this world. He explains how we can use prayer to facilitate that process:

"The patterns used by God in creating the earth are instructive in helping us understand how to make prayer meaningful. In the third chapter of the book of Moses we learn that all things were created spiritually before they were naturally upon the earth."

"And now, behold, I say unto you, that these are the generations of the heaven and of the earth, when they were created, in the day that I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth,

And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth' (Moses 3:4–5)."

Elder Bednar goes on to say, "We learn from these verses that the spiritual creation preceded the temporal creation. In a similar way, meaningful morning prayer is an important element in the spiritual creation of each day—and precedes the temporal creation or the actual execution of the day. Just as the temporal creation was linked to and a continuation of the spiritual creation, so meaningful morning and evening prayers are linked to and are a continuation of each other."

In other words, we use our spiritual gifts as artists of life to create each day spiritually first, seeking divine inspiration through prayer...and then temporally, through acting upon the inspiration we receive. At the close of day, we again access the spiritual by using prayer to offer what we have wrought to the Lord, repent where necessary, and receive either His blessing or His forgiveness/suggestions for improvement. The temporal enters the equation as we move forward by acting upon the further guidance and personal revelation we receive from Him. 

Of course, we can apply this creative process to everything we undertake in life, using prayer (in the manner taught by Elder Bednar) as both the power source and the template. If we are able to create (invent, refine, act upon, etc.) specific aspects of our lives in the same way Elder Bednar suggests we create each day, then we will open the doors for God's grace in allowing us to become as He is, creators in every sense of the word, in every arena. Is this not our purpose on earth? No wonder honoring that purpose gives life meaning, for the divine inheritance known as our creative process can be called upon to create whatever is needful: tangible works of art, eternal character traits, loving home environments, joy for ourselves and others...and beauty, in all its forms and presentations. The sky really is the limit here, because the Lord's ability and willingness to bless us knows no limits. 

Quite a concept, isn't it? Becoming an artist of life. And eternal life.

I love it....and the One who makes it possible.

C atch the Vision
R equest the Spirit
E xperiment with ideas (prepare)
A ccept inspiration
T ake courage (trust your gift)
E xpress your divinity

"There are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God" (D&C 46:11).
"Neglect not the gift that is in thee..." (1 Timothy 4:14).

Boyd K. Packer:  "Oh, if I could only convince you that you are a daughter of the Almighty God. You have a righteous, spiritual power...an inheritance you have hardly touched."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

From One "Treasure" to Another

This is a photo of my grandmother, Eva Anderson Noyes, whom I portrayed more fully in an earlier post. She was an amazing individual who managed to be both elegant and quirky at the same time (quite a feat, I believe), the very person you could easily imagine seeing portrayed in that old Reader's Digest feature "My Most Unforgettable Character." Hands down, she fills that niche for me. No contest.

Grandma Noyes is pictured here holding my baby self in her arms. She told me I was Funny. Smart. Special. She told me I would marry my husband the first time she met him. She told me fascinating true stories and some that were (perhaps) not true*. She didn't let being Old stop her from hiking down the canyon. She told me I was a "treasure."

I guess it takes one to know one.


*Grandma insisted there was an oft-married woman in her home town whose name was "France Anner Deemer Dommer Applegate McCurdy Wing Williams." I remain skeptical.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Loungers and Tables and Chairs, Oh My!

I know it's shocking to our family and friends, but after 20+ years of faded chairs, sagging lounges and chipped tables, we have officially upgraded. Yes, pool partiers, we are now the proud owners of bona fide patio furniture...the kind with actual cushions and a coffee table!

What prompted us to make this daring move, you ask? Perhaps a latent, mid-life-crisis-oriented longing for luxury? (Naw, we're well beyond the mid-life crisis stage.) A newly-discovered ambition to keep up with the Joneses? (Not a chance. Our neighbors have more toys/vehicles at this moment than we will own in a lifetime.)

In fact, our acquisition of brand new stuff has no connection whatsoever to feathering our own nest. None at all. Instead, our newfound materialism has everything to do with making others happy and comfortable: the young people who will be visiting from my husband's singles ward, for instance...or our grateful relatives (surely they will be grateful?) who visit occasionally...or even the various "regulars" who frequent our pool in the summer. 

insert saintly, sacrificial sigh here

It's about them, not us.    

Because we care.

(We're even willing to keep the seats warm.)


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We Can Do ALL Things Through Christ

This is my last post of those inspired by the ward conference to end all ward conferences. The second speaker moved me deeply...and not just because we're friends, either. I had always respected this man, but after years of fairly consistent interaction at various levels, I saw something in him that I had never seen before, not even when he was my bishop. Isn't it amazing how people can still surprise us after we've known them a long time? I left the meeting completely in awe of his spiritual resilience and dedication to the gospel.

This good man is a counselor in our stake presidency, and his talk was a strong reminder that the Lord will see us through whatever comes if we are willing to exercise our faith, reach out in humility, and accept his help. The example he gave, taken from his own life, nearly knocked me off my seat. (I already knew his family well when these events happened, so I recognized some of the circumstances, but I had been completely unaware of additional challenges that had occurred simultaneously.) Perhaps this is because he handled his struggles with such grace. And he clearly relied on grace, the Lord's grace, to get through them.

It's important to note that this essentially private man isn't big on self-disclosure, which is partly why his talk affected me as it did. I was touched that he was willing to share personal details and feelings so generously in order to help us understand his message. After testifying of our ability to withstand adversity by relying upon our Heavenly Father, he quietly related his experience of going through an extremely difficult period in his life several years ago, including betrayal by a business partner, the agonizing final months of his mother's slow decline from Altzheimer's disease, his father's heart attack brought on by the strain of caring for an invalid wife, the loss of a beloved nephew in a police shooting, a cancer diagnosis for his youngest daughter and more. All of these things occurred within the space of a month or two, and needless to say, it was a time of unparalleled struggle and grief for him. The culminating event, incredibly, was his receipt (while in the hospital attending to his daughter) of that phone call no one particularly longs to get, the one that set the wheels in motion for him to be at our meeting that day as a speaker. Yes, during the worst time of trial in his life, this faithful man was called to be in the stake presidency!

Can you imagine what fortitude it took to heed the Lord's call? A daughter just beginning cancer treatment. Parents struggling for survival and needing support. Family and extended family grieving for a loved one shot in the line of duty. Your own mind and finances reeling from the hurtful choices of a former partner and friend. I can almost feel the weight of it, and I'm not sure I could come up with that amount of strength...or willingness

It all comes down to willingness, doesn't it? Every time. If we are willing to place ourselves in the Lord's hands through every phase of our journey, entrusting ourselves to His care, we will prevail. 

That's it. Pure and not so simple. 

No setback will stop us. No trial will topple us. 

If we are willing.

And that's why I'm working on humility. Again.

Did you know that St. Patrick was carried off into captivity by Irish marauders at the age of 16 and sold into slavery? It was during his six years as a slave that he prayed many times a day, placing himself and his safety in God's hands. Here is an excerpt from his "Confessio":  "and His fear increased in me more and more, and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer and felt no hurt...whether there was snow or ice or rain; nor was there any slothfulness in me...because the spirit was then fervent within me." 

You know what? He prevailed.

(And not due to of the luck o' the Irish, either...)   

And the top o' the mornin' to ye, as well.


Monday, March 16, 2009

HIS CHILDREN: A Big, Beautiful Book Giveaway

Today marks my 148th post, which means, taking into consideration my current level of blogomania, that I should hit 150 before the end of the week. In fact, I will probably write the 150th post on Wednesday, but I will be giving you until Friday night at 11:59 PM Pacific time to respond before the contest closes.

The prize is a brand new copy of His Children, a beautiful, award-winning art book that I collaborated on with photographer Anita Schiller. Anita is a gifted artist who served as the still photographer for The Other Side of Heaven, produced by Gerald Molen (of Schindler's List fame) and based upon John Groberg's account of his (Tongan) mission, entitled In the Eye of the Storm. In other words, her photos are exquisite, and the ones in His Children are particularly compelling.

Which is why I agreed, when Anita approached me, to write a poem for every photograph that would be included in the book. This turned out to be a rather more difficult assignment than I had anticipated. Never having written a poem to fit certain parameters before, even those established by an intriguing image, I found the process somewhat constraining. Happily, this initial discomfort soon gave way to pure enjoyment as I responded to Anita's photographic glimpses of the human spirit in all its myriad shades and textures. Eventually, a book emerged, and I hope all of you winners will enjoy it.

Yes, I did say winners, because there will be ten of you! That's right...TEN. And all you have to do to win is tell me which of my soon-to-be-150 posts is your favorite.

The first ten people to respond will get a book in the mail, and I will send these books out on Monday, a week from today. I will even autograph them, how's that for a deal? LOL.

Feel free to comment on this post, the 149th post, or the 150th post...but remember, only the first ten of you will receive a book. So, hurry!

And happy 150th post-day!

NOTE: We've got ten winners. Congratulations to all of you! I'll send the books on Monday. Be sure to use my email (in my profile) to send me your mailing addresses. =)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Gift

Sorry I've been hibernating while I worked on the Relief Society lesson I'll be giving this morning. Actually, I had to give two lessons combined, so it took me a little extra effort to prepare. (These are pretty meaty lessons even when you only have to give one of them, let alone two at the same time.) Quite a task!

I hope you enjoy this heartwarming video/story as much as I do. Be sure to scroll down and click off my playlist music before you listen.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Parable of the Lemon Tree: A True Story




When my husband and I bought our home in Northern California, almost two decades ago, a number of trees in the area had succumbed to an unusually cold winter. A few were still struggling to survive, and the lemon tree pictured here was one of them.

The fact that it was a fairly young and not particularly well established tree did not improve its prognosis. The ice and freezing temperatures had dealt it a pretty severe blow, and the small bearer of fruit was clearly struggling. When spring came, few lemons adorned its branches, and those that could be seen were undersized and discolored. Even in the warm sun and gentle showers of April, the tree was not thriving; and I was convinced that it would fail to survive.

As you can see, the tree still bears the marks of that difficult winter. Its shape is a bit asymmetrical, and one side is considerably less impressive than the other. It's weakened trunk is propped up with pieces of wood, and the branches on the stunted side shed their leaves prematurely. But just look at the fruit. It is large and luscious and lovely.

The gifts this tree has given us are many: sunny globes of yellow to brighten a kitchen table; tart, juicy slices of zesty flavor for our succulent salmon dishes; tall, cool glasses of lemonade to quench a thirsty garden worker, and more. Not only does our valiant tree serve up these delights, but it provides them (incredibly) all year long...even in the cold of winter. Perhaps, in the very act of survival, it learned how to store up water and light and energy in sufficient supply to weather the storms of life, no matter how cold or fierce they might be.

Today, I feel a kinship with this tree. I, too, was struggling to survive 20 years ago...the limitations of a newly diagnosed chronic illness, the effects of an unfortunate car crash, the aftermath of a surgery gone wrong. I, too, gathered my resources and withstood the storm. And just like my lemon-laden friend, I carry the marks of that difficult season.

But my branches still bear fruit. And winter doesn't stop me.

Philippians 4

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

(As you can see, Friday the 13th frequently finds me feeling far more fortunate and philosophical than fearful. And yes, all annoying attempts at alliteration are avidly and artfully arranged by the author.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Amazing Discovery Brings Fame to Stay-at-Home Mom

My daughter-in-law has a BA in Child Development, and we are VERY proud of her! Prior to her recent discovery, she had been working with special needs children, most notably teaching sign language to autistic children as a means of communication. She has had some great success with that, but her career is taking a whole new direction now. What's more, all of this has unfolded while she is a stay-at-home mom! Frankly, it's thrilling to watch...which is why I had to share her news.

Always a creative thinker, she has recently devised a groundbreaking test procedure for measuring childhood resiliency. Once the level of resilience has been assessed, Heather provides an experiential learning program for each child, using behavioral modification and desensitization to enhance the ability to function under stress. Her thesis includes creating unique circumstances wherein every child can obtain, through active learning, the coping skills necessary to withstand childhood traumas by developing adaptive behaviors at an earlier phase of emotional development than would occur within the range of normal experience.

In other words, she tortures them! (See below.)

Okay, okay, she doesn't really torture her children, and little Bryce is the one who actually let these balloons go, but now they are up so high nobody can get them down, and the poor kid is suffering! I mean, this is enough to cause permanent damage, no? Or at least deep scarring of the psyche. And what's worse is that this has gone on for almost two weeks! (Couldn't the parents get a pellet gun and shoot them suckers down or something?)

Seriously, can you believe how funny and cute this picture is? Thanks, Heather, for supplying the great pic and for having a sense of humor about the first two paragraphs of this post.  heehee  (Actually, the part about her degree in child development and teaching sign language to autistic children is for real.)

Anyway, ROCK ON, you guys. Both of you are the greatest parents ever, and thanks again for making my day with this particular set of photos.

Hug the kids for me.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Promise for Eternity: My Mother

This is a picture of my mother and me. I'm posting it because I had a dream about my mother last night. In the dream I was a little girl, and when I walked past the family photo wall in my bedroom this morning, this one kind of jumped out at me. 

At first I thought I would wait until her birthday to post it, but then it occurred to me that maybe I was supposed to put it up today...that maybe she needed to hear about it right now, for some reason. No time like the present, right? Especially when it comes to telling our moms how much we love them.

Look at her. Isn't she beautiful? And can you see the happy grin on my own face?? Even then, I knew I was loved "fiercely" (her favorite word to describe a deep and powerful way of loving). In fact, my mom thought I was the best thing on two legs...well, besides my other siblings, that is! In fact, those of you who know me personally will no doubt laugh with me at the news that she still thinks I walk on water. Her unflinching, unfailing love and support have informed my life, to a great extent. Any child's self esteem blossoms under such unconditional positive regard, and the need to be heard that caused me to become a writer is probably a direct result of my mother thinking that every word I had to say was worth hearing.

I'd tell you the "rest of the story," but I'll save that for her birthday in April. I just wanted to take the opportunity, Mom, to say on this Wednesday morning that I love you fiercely and am grateful for all the love you've invested in me through the years. Of all the mothers since time began and those who will come after, Heavenly Father knew you were the one for me. And, of course, He was right.

A Promise for Eternity

©2003 by Susan Noyes Anderson, His Children, Vantage-Point Press

I do believe that long ago in the eternities,
I was a bosom friend to you and you a friend to me.
We shared a bond, an understanding that was quick and sure.
I wonder if we knew that it would deepen and endure.
The tie between us had to be the everlasting kind;
for even in this earthly life our paths have intertwined.
We were sisters, bound by a love so meaningful and rare,
that we must have had an inkling of the destiny we’d share.
And once prepared to leave the Father we had always known,
surely we joined hands and vowed to help each other home.
Now that we find ourselves mother and daughter on this earth,
please don’t forget the vow we made and its inherent worth.
For though I know that in this life the burden rests with me,
the promise those two sisters made was for eternity.

PS. Mom's name is Grace Darlene, but she goes by "Darlene."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

One More Shiny Nugget of Truth

I hope you won't mind my sharing one more shiny nugget of truth from ward conference. The following story was used to set the stage for a talk about adversity and perspective, topics I love separately but appreciate even more as a pair. There is no doubt that our point of view can make all the difference in the outlook we have on life. 

It's the story of a young girl who had taken her lamb to auction. As the bidding began, she looked pretty resigned to the situation, but when a $5.00 bid was received by the auctioneer, tears filled her eyes. As the bidding reached $10.00, a few of these tears spilled down the child's face, and her arm tightened reflexively around the lamb's neck. The bidding continued, passing $100.00 and ending rather definitively as a wealthy gentlemen announced his bid for $1,000.00 in a clear, decisive tone that closed the deal. As reality set in, the young girl's face crumpled, and she began sobbing. The buyer then walked over to the little girl, handed her his handkerchief, and told her that the lamb was a gift...to her. She would be taking her lamb home again.

A few years passed. In a neighboring town, an English professor who had been in attendance at the auction that day was surprised to come across a college essay that recounted the exact same story. Its writer had been in attendance at the auction and was, in fact, the very little girl who had raised the valuable lamb and taken it to be sold. Of course, the now fully-grown young woman recounted the story from her own perspective, and this is what she shared...

At the beginning of the auction, this girl had known exactly what to expect. Still, when a bid of $5.00 was offered, she couldn't help feeling proud and happy. Money had been tight that year, and she had been hoping to boost the family funds with the sale of her lamb. By the time $10.00 was bid, she gave in to her feelings and began crying a little. The bidding was going well, and clearly, her expectations were about to be realized. Her gratitude continued to mount as the price for her lamb rose. At the incredible final bid of $1,000.00 from a wealthy gentleman, she could no longer hold back her feelings and dissolved in tears of joy. Her heart, filled with happiness, appreciation, and relief at the sum she and her family would receive, simply flowed over.

The young woman finished her paper by explaining that the conclusion of her tale was a bit of a mystery. She went on to describe the bewilderment she had felt when the nice gentleman walked over and presented her with the lamb as a gift. More than once, she had asked herself what prompted him to do so.

Then, with a mental shrug of her shoulders that the reader could almost feel, the writer told the rest of the story. That evening, her family went home and celebrated their good fortune with a wonderful party. Turns out they were lucky to have the lamb because there were a lot of friends and neighbors there, and they needed it for the BBQ. She remembered, with gratitude, that no lamb had ever tasted better.

Perspective. Point of view. These do change things, don't they? The mental or physical place from which we observe can literally change night to day. This is a good lesson for us as we go through adversity, because changing our paradigm can indeed make all the difference.

What "place" are we in? What are we doing to make sure that we are viewing life from our best vantage point?

These excerpts from a talk given in 1993 to a group of young adults by a former leader of my church, President Howard W. Hunter, provide some wise counsel. His words are proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same..."Life has a fair number of challenges in it, and that’s true of life in the 1990s. Indeed, you may be feeling that you have more than your share of problems. These concerns may be global difficulties, such as the devastating famine we see in Somalia and other places in the world, or the incessant sounds of war in the former Yugoslavia, or the Middle East, or India, or Ireland, or so many other locations round the world.

"Unfortunately, some of these wars have religious or ethnic overtones, and that makes them even more tragic, if that is possible. These last few years, we have seen our fair share of economic difficulties and recession in every nation. Sometimes those economic challenges get translated into very immediate problems for college students and those trying to earn a living, and perhaps start a family, in their early adult years...

"I am just a couple of years older than most of you, and in those few extra months I have seen a bit more of life than you have. I want you to know that there have always been some difficulties in mortal life, and there always will be. But knowing what we know, and living as we are supposed to live, there really is no place, no excuse, for pessimism and despair.

"In my lifetime I have seen two world wars, plus Korea, plus Vietnam and all that you are currently witnessing. I have worked my way through the Depression and managed to go to law school while starting a young family at the same time. I have seen stock markets and world economics go crazy, and I have seen a few despots and tyrants go crazy, all of which caused quite a bit of trouble around the world in the process.

"So I hope you won’t believe all the world’s difficulties have been wedged into your decade, or that things have never been worse than they are for you personally, or that they will never get better. I reassure you that things have been worse and they will always get better. They always do—especially when we live and love the gospel of Jesus Christ and give it a chance to flourish in our lives."

"Things have been worse, and they will always get better." My life experience tells me that this is true, and my spiritual experience tells me the reason...because the Lord is in charge and can be trusted.

That's my point of view, and I'm sticking by it.