Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fifty Years and Friendships

This week I turned 50!!!  Wow.

 It was a lovely day, with a little bit of clouds, and cool and then plenty of warmth and blue sky... pretty much like my life... a bit of trouble now and then, but nothing too severe or life shattering, and mostly pretty terrific.  It was also a day of work, enjoyment, time at home with my husband and best friend,(who took me on a bike ride, fixed me up a cute, and super fun hand-me-down e-bike, and also cooked Mongolian for me in our back yard!)  calls, texts and phone messages and songs from far away loved ones who remember me even if they can't be with me.  It too was like my life, filled to overflowing with things that matter most but without the exotic.  No cruises, foreign travels, or expensive jewelry.  Happily, I'm good with that.  I'll keep what I have and everything else will be icing.

  I have attended an aqua (water) exercise class quite regularly for much of the last 5 years.  I am pretty sure I am among the youngest if not the youngest class member but began attending due to a knee and foot injury that was preventing from me from doing other activities.  When I started, I had nearly all our children still living at home,  but in that five years time, all graduated from college, got married and have begun to have children of their own.  I have tried other exercises and other classes since my injuries healed, but I always come back to this one because of the class members.  How I enjoy and admire them!

Many are widowed, most retired, some have health challenges that provide excuse for minimal activity, yet, most are so consistent in doing this good thing for their mental and physical health and much more as well.   They are so welcoming, inclusive, humorous and fun!  I loved just eavesdropping in on their conversations for many months at first.  Their playful banter and jokes among each other drew me in.  I enjoyed the witty, teasing these ladies gave to one of their friends, Leah (in her 70s) as she began dating and becoming more serious with a man she had met through  another friend.  They all told her they would come and be her "brides maids"... or "brides -widow's" at her wedding, they quipped.  They also added that likely they'd all have to come dressed in swim suits or no-one would recognize each other in real clothes out side of swim class!  When Leah did in fact become engaged, they held a large and really fun bridal shower for her.  Truly, their cheer and mutual support and other examples of community service, involvement and activity whether in golfing, caring for aging parents, library volunteering, or reading with underprivileged elementary school children was and has been a source of inspiration to me.  Their inclusion of me as well has been an answer my prayers.  They have been my "mothers", sisters, and friends.  Today they met me for lunch at a local diner to celebrate my birthday and presented me with cards, and small gifts.  But I wished they could know that it is their friendship and influence that is the dearest gift to me.

Leah and I have become close friends.  We share the same church and our paths have crossed outside of class over the years.  How I love her.   Tomorrow she will also become my piano teacher!  I am thrilled and excited and hope she will become proud of me!  (That is the best motivator for practice, I believe.) Today at Leah's suggestion, they each shared what they were doing 50 years ago.  One was 15, and being a challenging teenager... I'm not surprised.  She's still a bit of a spunky spitfire! All the others were between early 20's and mid 30's, beginning life, starting college, or as young mothers, young wives.  Several were brand new to the  Tri-cities; one was new to the country itself having just moved to Pittsburg US from Germany after the war.  She intended to stay in the US only one year, 7 years later she was still here, met her husband and then stayed for good.   One was living in the Middle East running a bowling alley of all things!  Their stories were fascinating and inspiring.   Even my own mother is younger than most of them, yet I feel no unpleasant "generation gap".

I wish these dear gals could know what their friendship has meant to me, the hole it has filled as my own mother and sisters live far away busy lives, and our children left home and moved away.  They are reminders to me that we really all are "family", brothers and sisters of Heavenly Parents and He wants us to include and care about one another, and to seek to meet each others needs.  These women (and a few brave men in the class too!) care for one another by driving to doctors appointments, helping move and clean during divorces, or other challenging times, even aiding during and after surgeries and recoveries.  What a support system they are... from a gym class!

Thank you for accepting even embracing me in the arms of your friendship ladies!  How I hope I may do the same for some other "young" gals through the coming years, and that there will be others like you to do similarly for my son, daughters and daughter-in-law wherever they may be.

Much love, and Happy 50 to Me!


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fresh Courage Take and Carry On, Carry on CARRY ON!

Come, COME ye saints… fresh courage take… …. Carry on, carry on, CARRY ON!

Jeff and I recently returned from a two week road trip, during which time we saw and personally visited with every living parent, sibling, child and grandchild in our large circle, except for two; Jeff's brother living in New Jersey, and my brother in Alabama whom we visited earlier this year in February.  With 12 siblings, 5 children and currently 3 grandchildren, this was a remarkable feat.  It was refreshing and encouraging renewing acquaintances and making memories and sharing happy events.  As we traveled, we attended church meetings in various states, and every time, I felt uplifted and edified by the spirit and the messages.  The hymns in particular seemed to remain with me.  On this beautiful fall day, the first day of school here, I have several of them running through my head.  You may have noticed the heading, which combines two.

We used our many hours in the car driving from the Northwest to Southern Utah, to read our love letters from over 30 years ago, written during the beginning of our courtship while Jeff was away working in Alaska and I continued nursing school and worked in a nursing home.  Later the letters resumed during our engagement, when Jeff graduated from the college I still attended in Idaho and transferred to continue his Engineering degree at BYU in Utah, leaving me to graduate for another semester.  Our letters prompted much discussion for many hours.  They were immature in many ways, silly, and shallow, but they were also filled with commitment, insight, occasionally great wisdom and often a value of one another's characteristics, that perhaps we have come to under-appreciate, through years  of familiarity.  It was good to remind ourselves of the  perception and perspective we had of one another then and to discuss how it has altered.  We considered the hope we had for the future, our fears and concerns and discussed how those hopes and fears have worked themselves out… We have in fact had trials, and challenges, yet, feel over 30 years to be on the whole, remarkably blessed.

On the way home by contrast, we read a book filled with hardship and suffering about a Muslim man, converted to Christianity, and particularly the LDS Church.  This too, prompted discussion of how blessed we are, and how our fears for life and the future thus far, have been so small compared to the hardships of many in the world, and of our own heritage.  My nephew Landon Winegar spoke of a few of our common ancestors at his mission farewell we attended 3 weeks ago, and truly, their faithful endurance of hardship in many ways, has made possible so much I now hold dear today.  

The circumstances of our world, with it's increasing persecution of Christians throughout the world, and certainly the rejection of moral, and Godly values, and the tremulous resulting conditions for families and our youth around us, is a source of great worry, concern, even fear for me.  My heart is regularly burdened with these fears for our children, grandchildren, and for our siblings, nieces and nephews as each use the precious gift of agency to makes his or her way in life.  Thankfully, I have yet around me, many of those same family members, and dear friends, who buoy me up when needed and remind me to "hush my fears" and focus on Christ, and His goal for each of us, and me personally.  I had that happen today during my exercise with just such a friend.  We discussed a variety of things in our lives and then this friend shared with me a talk she gave this summer based on Elder Bednars April Conference Talk, "They did Hush Their fears", on page 46 of the May 2015  Ensign.  I highly recommend you review it.  As we talked, I was reminded of an experience I had earlier this summer and in my mind it suddenly became a personal parable.  

Our daughter Whitney was having her first baby in July, right at the time they planned to be preparing for her husband to take medical boards, and move.  She lived in LA and I expected to fly there to help them during this time of many transitions.  I live in a small town, I generally avoid driving in large cities, and unfamiliar places, and I feel challenged by weak dusk/night vision.   However, I still planned to go and to do what was needed to the best of my ability.  I was concerned… even a bit afraid, but I knew I was going anyway and chose not to dwell on the fearful, too much.  

I went, and in fact circumstances required me to drive right at dusk, from a large hospital in Pasadena, in an unfamiliar car, alone, an hour a way in heavy 6 lane California traffic, the very first night; then to stay alone in an unfamiliar house, navigate shopping, and picking up prescriptions, and then do the long drive back to the hospital in heavier daytime traffic the next day.  I really had NO clue where I was, except that I knew I was in Pasadena, and I was going to Claremont… but those were really names only… a starting place and ending place.  But I also had a GPS. It was well lit and I had made myself familiar with it over months and even years of use in the past.  I trusted it.  I placed it clearly in my window view on the first night with a prayer that it would verbally warn me in time to change lanes or take exits early enough in the heavy traffic and falling night.  I felt an almost humorous sensation that all of this was very scary…… yet, I was NOT afraid.  Things went remarkable smoothly, over all.  On the return trip I am quite sure at one point I missed an exit…. but the GPS adjusted nearly seamlessly, and in fact with out knowing at all how it happened, I ended up back at the hospital, from a totally different direction, and being amazed (and grateful!)  that there it was!  And even sooner than I expected.  

Our earth life is much like this.  We come to earth, an adventure and experience we knew was necessary, even though it contained much that is concerning, worrisome even fearful of some us.  But we came.  Fortunately,… I know where I am starting….. sort of…... in a family who loves me, and I also know generally where I am headed….I want to return to my Heavenly Father.  I really can't tell you where each of those are specifically, nor how long exactly the journey will take or exactly what I will experience on the way.  BUT, I do have a GPS of sorts, that is very reliable, even if I really can't explain how it works. I strive regularly, some times better and more consistently than others, to be familiar with it and to use it so I can trust it.   I have the spiritual GPS of the scriptures, prayer and the Spirit. Together they really do guide, and navigate me through most of the pitfalls of this journey.  Yes, like any real memorable and meaningful journey, there will be construction on the road, (growing experience that challenge but can improve), tedious slow downs, detours, even accidents.  Sometimes I only observe, or hear about the accident and pray mightily for those involved and other times I am IN the accident, and sometimes my choices create the detours, which may be long and dangerous.  But there is always available to me a way back, if I will patiently follow it, even through the dark when I do not see any way, nor do I understand at all where I am or how to move forward on my own.  The Spirit, like my GPS can guide me safely through the dark and unknown.  

I know that when we are striving to be where we need to be, doing what we are needed to do, whether nurture children, provide for families, serve in church callings or be a friend to the lonely, infirm or afraid, we will have the ability to do fearful things without being overcome by the fear we acknowledge. By feasting on scriptures daily, applying them to our own lives, and praying with faith, trusting in a mighty and Loving God to guide and aid us through the storms, and unknown paths of this life, we will receive the peace we need even crave,  and courage to hush our fears and move forward in faith.  

With the foundation of overcoming and persevering from our Pioneer heritage, or the examples of persecuted Christians throughout the world, "Why should we think to earn a great reward if WE now, shun the fight?"…. yes, I can now "gird up (my) loins, fresh courage take, (knowing that my) God will never us forsake"  

I cling to the examples of the past, (hymn 36, They the builders of the Nation second verse), ….." Courage their unfailing beacon, radiating near and far.  Every day some burden lifted, Every day some heart to cheer, Every day some hope the brighter, blessed honored pioneer."  I want to be like those then and now, who  (hymn 35, second verse) "  at the hand of foul oppressors,   have born and suffered long; thou has been our help in weakness, and thy power hath made us strong.  Amid ruthless foes outnumbered, in weariness we trod …We are watchers of a beacon, whose light must never die; we are guardians of an altar Midst the silence of the sky.  Here the rocks yield founts of courage, struck forth as by the rod;  For the strength of hills we bless thee, our God, our fathers,' God.."

Most of all, I find myself craving, drawn with a mighty thirst to the songs with messages of hope, power unity and joy;  songs like Hymn 251, Behold a Royal Army, and I want to BE one of those " soldiers, bold and strong.  Who follow their Commander, and sing their joyful song. " The song made joyful because we KNOW victory has already been assured, "through Him that redeemed us!"

Through my savior and your savior, even Jesus Christ our Lord, and only through him, I can be as hymn 255 "Firm as the mountains around us, stalwart and brave…" others before and around me, have "raised His banner triumphant".   I will now strive to  help you hold it high during your times of fear and weakness and I trust many of you will help me hold it up when I also, feel weak or afraid. 

 Thus, together, we can be for this generation "the Youth of the noble birthright", and Carry on, Carry on, CARRY ON!