Let’s Get Happy!

 

I wish I hadn’t run out of time Sunday while giving a lesson on finding joy. There are so many other things I wanted to share, things that could make a definite difference in the happiness or misery a person feels. And all are practical and easy to incorporate into one’s life.

I’ve often said that the combination of religion and psychology has saved my life many times. Plus, there is often an overlap between what psychologists have learned about being happy and what the scriptures say. The former state that there’s a correlation between mental and physical health, and Proverbs 17:22 says pretty much the same thing: “A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.”

Today there’s a movement in positive psychology that studies health, happiness, well-being, self-esteem, and a host of other issues. Its emphasis on growth and optimism rather than gloom, stagnation, and pessimism offers hope to millions, including you—and me too. Positive psychologists don’t profess to have a panacea for suffering, but they do think it’s possible to experience moments of joy and happiness regardless of the situation.

Sunday we talked about the importance of prayer, faith, hope, scripture study, and “pressing on.” We didn’t, however, talk very much about being grateful. Having an attitude of gratitude is so helpful! I recall a song whose lyrics went something like, “Standing knee-deep in a river and dying of thirst.” On my walk this morning, one of the songs I listened to was “Desperado,” and this line spoke to me: “It seems to me a lot of fine things have been placed upon your table, but you only want the ones that you can’t have.”

Speaking of my morning walk, my husband often kids me about my lack of athletic ability. When I remind him of my marathons and half-marathons (all a combination of jogging and walking), he usually says, “Anybody can walk.” My answer is, “No Dear, they can’t.” But I can, and I’m grateful that my legs, lungs, and heart work together to allow it to happen.

One of the topics of the lesson was that happiness must be earned from day to day. Just like we need to eat and rest to keep our physical selves up and running, we need to do and think certain things to keep our mental selves in good order. There are dozens of suggestions I could offer, but I’m narrowing them down to something all women can identify with: Jewelry.

Yep. That might sound strange, but I purposely wear jewelry that boosts my mood by reminding me of something or someone.

  • I wore pearls Sunday, and you can guess why—the whole sand and oyster and friction process. Just like pearls, we can use the “refiner’s fire” to make us more beautiful and whole.
  • I also wore a Lokai bracelet given to me by one of my daughters-in-law. From the website: “Each lokai is infused with elements from the highest and lowest points on Earth. The bracelet’s white bead carries water from Mt. Everest, and its black bead contains mud from the Dead Sea. These extreme elements are a reminder to the wearer to live a balanced life – staying humble during life’s peaks and hopeful during its lows.”
  • I also wear a CTR ring (Choose the Right) to remind me to make good choices. That includes not being easily offended, being kinder than necessary, refraining from gossiping, and so forth. I mention those behaviors because they’re the ones that give me the biggest challenge.

Oops, I’ve already gone over my 500-word limit. It’s not a WordPress limit, just one I’ve attempted to practice since most people don’t want to read more than that.

Must ask: What are some things you do to stay happy?

Tender Mercies

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get all-religious and start spouting off (or writng down) pious phrases. I just want to share a few thoughts I’ve had the last few days without coming across like a zealot.

Quick story. Nearly three decades ago, my father and another man were engaged in a conversation when my dad noticed the man looking at me with what seemed (to my father) to be curiosity. When Daddy looked at him inquiringly as if to say, “Why are you staring at Jayne?” the man  said, “Is she the sister that’s a Mormon?”

Daddy said he turned back and looked at me again and said, “Yep, she’s the one. But don’t worry. She’s not fanatical about it.” I wasn’t offended when my dad shared this story. I knew what he meant. I’m not going to knock someone over the head with my beliefs, especially when I’ve always known that talk is cheap. Some of the most Bible-quoting, holier than thou folks that I know are the scariest. But that’s a story for another day.

That said, I’ve been thinking of the phrase “tender mercies” and some associated incidents that I’ve observed lately.

My husband has a heartache. It’s been nearly a year since his son died of melanoma and each day is a struggle. Although he has three other wonderful children and seven precious grandchildren, that almost unbearable pain is still there. Sometimes it’s a dull ache, like a muscle that you’ve overused, and then for no apparent reason, the ache become a sharp pain that nearly cripples him.

BUT every day of his life, good things are going on. I like to call them “tender mercies.” One recent day, he got a message from his son’s first cousin letting him know that he (my husband) was in his thoughts. “Hey man, just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you. I know this time of year is rough.” A tender mercy, one that conveyed, “I care about you, and I haven’t forgotten Chris. Never will.”

He has seven healthy, beautiful, energetic, and funny grandchildren. One of them spent some time with her grandfather in a deer stand last week, just chillin’ and enjoying Mother Nature. Little Cooper, the youngest one in town, always warms his granddad’s heart when he says, “Hey PaPa” as he runs into his arms. This past weekend, my youngest grandson Ethan cried when we left Atlanta, not for me but for Otis. To me, all of these are tender mercies bestowed by a loving Heavenly Father. Some cynics might say, “If He’s so loving, why did He take Otis’ son?” I don’t know the answer to that. I’m Jayne; He’s God.

Last week as I was leaving church, a former bishop told me of the sudden death of one of his brothers-in-law. He was hit by a speeding 17-year-old and died immediately. As we talked, the grieving bishop  said, “But he wouldn’t come back even if he could.” I needed to hear that. What a true statement. Knowing what Chris is currently experiencing, I don’t think he’d want to come back now even if he could. I told his dad that, hoping to offer some solace. Was it helpful? I don’t know. I, however, see that chance conversation as a tender mercy.

This post is longer than I intended it to be so I’ll wrap it up. My thoughts on this beautiful Monday morning are not fanatical or preachy. At least I hope not. I just wanted to share my belief that there are always tender mercies around us, but we can’t always see them when we’re focusing on the sad, evil, vile, sordid, heartbreaking stuff.

As a final note, I can’t recall the moment of my sweet mother’s death without also recalling the love that surrounded her at that moment of passing. I’ll always remember the soft hymn playing in the background (at her request) and the sun dappled radiance in the room. My sibs were all there, and I know they felt those tender mercies too.

Waiting for the Rat to Die

When I was a young mother and had to miss church for some reason or another I always felt a tinge of remorse. My mother would often say, “The church isn’t going to fall down if you miss one Sunday, Jaynie.”

I knew that. And truthfully, I wasn’t worried about the church. I was worried about good old Jaynie. I needed help and guidance and support. And I needed to feel the love that was there. I didn’t want to fall down.

I remembered that conversation a week or so ago when I went to church despite being stressed out with preparation for a family reunion. Laugh if you want to, but for me, food preparation on that level is a stretch. Plus, because of the time of the reunion, I knew I’d have to leave right after Sacrament, and I found myself wondering, “Is it really worth it to get dressed and hustle to the church for only an hour?”

I went. And as soon as I walked in the back door from the parking lot, I felt peace. I slid in beside my former mother-in-law who told me she had been saving a seat for me. While that wasn’t exactly true, her statement made me feel good and happy and all of those other positive emotions. While we were singing the opening hymn, I remembered something I had read years ago.

If you make the effort to listen, the Spirit will speak to you. It might not even be about what the speaker is saying. But you’ll know it. You’ll get the message.

So we were singing “In Humility Our Savior,” and when we got to the second verse, I got choked up on these beautiful phrase “Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving, teach us tolerance and love.” Some specific situations were on my mind, and I thought “YES!” How could I convey the importance of this forgiveness, tolerance, and love to others without being a know-it-all self-righteous prig?

And then I was sitting there minding my own business when the thought “seventy times seven” popped into my head. I don’t think I’m holding on to grudges right now, but some people are. Let it go. Harboring feelings of unforgiveness and resentment are like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. I didn’t make that phrase up, but I like it.

I looked around me and saw all sorts of people. Big ones, small ones, rich ones, poor ones, black ones, white ones, brown ones, pink ones. Lots of variety. I thought of a friend who teaches at BYU-Hawaii who once mentioned that most of the women wear flip flops to church. She said many of the teachers kick them off while teaching and teach barefoot. I smiled to myself and thought, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” The whole world, not just the select few who happen to look like you and mirror your background.

That was the first Sunday in June. I’ve had a lot of interesting insights sitting in church since then too, especially about love. What about you?

Less Debate, More Love

I met Ahmed about 20 years ago. I’d never seen or known anyone like him in my entire life. Quiet and attentive, he was a student in one of my classes. One day I distributed a handout of a dozen commonly used clichés as a way of introducing the topic of the day, communication, and I was a little surprised when Ahmed didn’t get a single one right. Didn’t people from Egypt know what “as the crow flies” meant?

After graduation, Ahmed was hired by the college to work in the IT department, and one of his primary duties was to help instructors who were teaching what we called teleclasses. Since we had three campuses, this teaching format allowed us to transmit our classes from one campus to the other two, thus cutting down on travel time and allowing more student needs to be met.

That’s when I really got to know this outstanding young man. His huge brown eyes and serene demeanor were arresting, and his calm competence impressed everyone. One day as he was working with me, he seemed a little weak, and I asked if Ahmed if he wanted to break for lunch. He said no and remarked that it was Ramadan and that he had not yet become accustomed to the day long fast.

Being nosey, I had to ask what that was. I learned that Ramadan is a sacred month of the year, a period in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Fasting encourages spiritual reflection and takes the focus off of worldly activities. It also helps one develop more compassion and empathy for the less fortunate, thus increasing charity towards others.

Intrigued, I purchased The World’s Religions by Huston Smith and my awakening began.Some more serious scholars may scoff at Smith’s work, but if not for his easy-to-understand and comprehensive overview of the world’s major religions, I might still be a narrow-minded Southern gal who understood God only in the way I had been taught.

Recently I read Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being and fell in love with (talk about clichés!) her writing and perspective. Towards the end of the book, Dillard brings up an incident that involved the disappearance of a child on a school field trip. On May 4, 1995, Suri Feldman and her classmates were in a state park in CT. Suri wandered away from the group, and her absence was noticed when it was time to load the buses and leave.

Concern was especially high because of the murder of a young girl a few months prior. The missing child was Jewish, and here’s what happened. “Among the thousand volunteers searching for Suri Feldman were six hundred Hasidim, bearded men in black three-piece suits, who drove from New York, from Montreal, Boston, and Washington, D.C.” When Suri was found a few days later, thirsty but fine, “the Hasids in the woods danced.”

When the vehicle bearing her drove into the Brooklyn parking lot, it could scarcely move. Hasids filled the lot, Hasids in black coats from the eighteenth century and black beards and black hats. A local volunteer said, “I’ve never seen so many people dance in a circle.”

The LDS community is pretty tight, and yet I marvel at the concern and support for Suri and her family. Two of the tenets of our faith are family and service to others, and we earnestly strive to walk the talk. Still, what support there was for this family! To me, it’s “pure religion, undefiled.”

Hmmm. Where was I? What was the point of these stories? Truth is everywhere. Why do some people want to argue points of doctrine and berate others’ way of worshipping? It’s pointless and ineffective.

 Why can’t we just love one another?

Come Follow Me

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I’ve been thinking about my parents a lot lately. It could be the time of year. They both died in October, he in 1998 and she in 2000. Then too, they were married in November of 1947. Fall is a happening time.

For the past week or so, my thoughts have turned more to my father than my mother. Not because I loved him more but because of a family story that I’ve heard several times this month. I’ve heard this tale before, but only recently has it penetrated my consciousness and pierced my heart. The event took place when he was a small child, and I’m wondering how (or if) his life might have been different if this event had not taken place.

As the story goes, one Sunday my father went to church with his parents, sister, and probably some other family members who lived nearby. While I don’t know where the scene was, I’d like to think it was Ellenboro, NC because I’ve visited there and have a visual image of the town and nearby churches, especially Racepath. Did this happen there? I don’t know.

That Sunday, the pastor preached hellfire and brimstone and scared the dickens out of my father, a tiny little fellow who evidently thought Beelzebub was going to snatch him from below and make him one of his own. After church, the preacher came to my grandparents’ home for Sunday dinner, and my father crawled under a bed and would not budge. Too scared to face the preacher, he did without lunch.

Apparently this experience scarred him for life because he never felt comfortable in a church setting again. Lately I’ve been wondering if a different approach would have had a more positive outcome. For example, in the LDS church we don’t emphasize hell. We know it’s there, but the emphasis is on doing the right thing, being kind, and following the example of the Savior.

I think Brigham Young was onto something when he said that people couldn’t be flogged into heaven. To quote him, “A great many think that they will be able to flog people into heaven but this can never be done….people are not to be driven and you can put into a gnat’s eye all the souls of the children of men that are driven into heaven by preaching hell-fire.”

As a student of psychology I know that positive reinforcement works much better than punishment. Punishment has its place, but when people are just learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ, they need to hear the good stuff, the promises that come with the invitation to come unto Christ. “Come follow me,” is so much more appealing than, “Follow me or burn!”

It sounds as if I’m giving my dad an excuse. I’m really not. From studying psychology and observing human nature, I know that many people use their past to cripple them and/or to give them a ready excuse for not living as fully as they could.  People can change at any moment. For my father, there was no reason or incentive to change. And in my heart of hearts (whatever that expression means), I think he just wanted to be left alone about the heaven and hell issue.

Today I’m wondering why I never spoke with him about the peace and sweetness I found in the LDS church. I console myself by thinking that I didn’t have to say anything because he already knew. After all, he was my biggest supporter.

Laughter, Birds, and Appetites

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This morning I’m thinking of several individuals who are struggling with challenges, some of them physical and some of them emotional. I know that prayers are being offered on the behalf of these people, and in some cases I think the prayers are for a complete and immediate healing. We want miracles, and we want them right now!! We Americans are especially desirous of immediate gratification.

But I’m not sure that God works in the immediate way but rather on His own timetable. Maybe that’s because He sees the big picture while we see only what’s right in front of us in the here and now. I think He always answers prayers but not necessarily in the way we want them answered. Then too, I believe that He knows what we need and want, but He still likes for us to ask Him in faith.

This brings me to a recent flash of insight. In Relief Society Sunday, the teacher based her lesson on a conference address by Jeffrey R. Holland found in the May 2013 Ensign. From just a few verses of scripture (14-28) found in the 9th chapter of Mark, Elder Holland brought out several layers of meaning that I’d never really noticed, and our teacher did an excellent job of bringing our attention to them.

In the story Jesus came upon a group of people who were arguing with His disciples. When Christ asked about the cause of the conflict, a man came forth and said that he had asked the disciples for a blessing for his son, an afflicted child who was foaming from his mouth, thrashing on the ground, and gnashing his teeth. In verse 22 the distraught father begs, “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”

The lesson makes several insightful and valuable points, especially concerning faith. The father “straightway” cries out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (verse 24), and Jesus heals the boy. Note that without hesitation, the child’s father asserts his faith and then he acknowledges his limitation. Elder Holland reminds his listeners to remember the example of this man when assailed by doubt, despair, or troubles. “Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.”

I was sitting in class Sunday taking this in and pondering its truth when a member of the class said something I had missed. She said what she especially liked is when the heartsick father used the words: “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.” He doesn’t ask that his son be healed completely and immediately. He asks for a glimmer of hope, a little respite from the exhaustion of watching over the boy continually, a partial blessing, a little lifting of the burden carried by the boy’s mother…any thing.

I felt like a light bulb came on! Sometimes people turn away from God because of what they perceive to be unanswered prayers when maybe they’re asking for the wrong thing. Or maybe they aren’t noticing the many ways they’re already being blessed. In applying this lesson to the situations I was thinking about, I thought of so many applications of any thing:

  • Some discernment to figure out what’s going on.
  • Help for all of US, not just little old me with my worries and heartaches. As one of my sisters-in-law and I discussed recently, caregivers need support too, not just the patient.
  • Some compassion and caring from others. As a class member brought out, help comes from friends and other earthly sources, but it’s often orchestrated divinely. A phone call, a note, or a visit are all nice.
  • Laughter. Sometimes just thinking about the laughter of my children can lift my spirits. Hearing it up close and personal is better, of course, but sometimes I can settle for any thing.
  • Mother Nature…considering her ways and the lessons she teaches. When my mother was suffering from cancer, she took delight at watching and listening to birds, especially those who heralded the beginning of the day.
  • An appetite. This is a serious one, Folks. Anyone who’s ever been too sick to eat knows what a blessing it is to actually want to eat and to be able to. I recall my mother struggling to eat some fruit during the last week of her life and realizing then that I would never take the desire and ability to eat and gain nourishment for granted again.
  • Hope and the knowledge that things are not always going to be the way they are right now.

In the story in Mark, Jesus heals the boy. In our lives, dramatic healings of relief from sorrow, suffering, and pain aren’t usually so immediate and complete. However, I’ve changed my thinking to asking for any thing for us—some hope for tomorrow, a sweet cold Frosty, or a hug.

“Yes, June, I Have”

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I love Queen Esther. Since she’s become one of my role models, I have no problem being brave and doing what it takes to appear before the king (or anything symbolic of a king). Although I might be daunted by critical readers, difficult people, or possible rejection, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do! I just put on my equivalent of a queenly robe and whisper, “If I perish, I perish.”

There are at least half a dozen lessons I learned from Esther, and with limited success, I attempt to put them all into practice. Yesterday after my talk in church about Esther and some other women of the Bible, I learned that many of the little girls (princesses) in our ward (church) have Esther as their role model. One of them, little Tia, even drew me a picture of her that I now have on my refrigerator. I gleaned two things from that drawing: these little girls are on the right track and children listen to talks in church. About the former, if they already know about courage and loyalty and timing, what will they be able to achieve as they mature into their queenly lives?

But back to the major subject, the woman in the Bible that I have a problem emulating. It’s Hannah. Remember her? She’s the woman who wanted a child so badly that as she fervently prayed for one, Eli saw her and mistakenly thought she was drunk. Hannah assured him that she was completely sober and told him that she was praying for God to send her a male child. If that happened, she would willingly turn the child over to God.

Eli told her to go in peace and promised Hannah that her petition would be answered. Soon thereafter, Samuel was born, and when he was still a young child, Hannah brought him to Eli and left him there. According to 1 Samuel 2:19, Hannah saw her son once a year after leaving him in the temple with Eli. Can you even imagine that? It’s not as though he was an adult. He was just a little boy.

I don’t think that I’m quite as trusting, giving, or selfless as Hannah was. When my children were little, I hovered over them like a mother hen, and even now I’m aware of their goings-on, interests, friends, and activities. I think God entrusted my children to me and that He intends for me to take that trust seriously. At the same time, I’m wondering if this story of Hannah and Samuel has a latent meaning for me, for us.

Fortunately for me, my three children are all young adults with their heads on straight. They’re responsible, kind, hard working, smart, and healthy. I threw in the healthy adjective because that’s something I don’t have to worry about—at least not today. They have their “moments,” the times when they’re down, discouraged, anxious, or stressed (they are human, after all), but they know how to figure things out. They know how to ponder and pray and then press on.

Yet still, I wonder and worry. At times I recall my friend’s earnest question, “Jayne, have you turned your children over to God??”

“Yes, June, I have. And yet…”

Well, you can see what I’m getting at. I need to develop some of Hannah’s faith. What about you?