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.

Gliding Along

I saw something Saturday afternoon that defies description. Sounds like a hackneyed phrase, but still…it was awesome.

Stressed to the max, I escaped to the beach for about an hour. Why stressed? The end of the semester with six classes (make that seven when you add the online one from another college), Elizabeth’s house closing and all the puzzle pieces that went into that, and then learning that my beautiful young niece had being stricken with spinal meningitis. We didn’t know whether it was bacterial or viral at the time; we just knew that she was in excruciating pain and running a high fever. There were other issues going on too, stuff I’d rather not go into at the moment. I needed my mama to talk to! So what did I do? I went to the strand to walk and think and pray until I regained my usual optimistic perspective. Surely I’d find some solace there.

I walked for a while and then sat in my trusty beach chair to read. After a few moments, I closed my eyes and enjoyed seeing the vibrant oranges and reds and pinks, a regular light show going on behind my eyelids. I don’t how the retina’s cones provided that, but the show was magnificent. Eyes still shut, I became more aware of the squawking seabirds, the laughter of playing children, the roar of the ocean, and the muted, constant hum of nearby conversations.

Leaning back, I opened my eyes and saw a breathtaking sight, four pelicans gracefully gliding above me. Between me and a cloud, their movements seemed almost languid, and yet they were moving along at quite a clip (compared to humans). As the one in front lifted its wings, then the one behind followed, and the one behind, and then….you get the picture. It was a beautiful sight and one I’ll never forget.

Even this morning, as I think of their unity as they moved gracefully across the sky, I feel peace. I could take a lesson: Stay together, be cool, move at a decent (not unduly rushed) state, and glide…just glide. Things will work out. Sarah Beth is on the mend, Elizabeth moved in her new home over the weekend, and well, things are moving steadily forward with my end of semester stuff. I’m gliding along.

Insight on the Beach

I’m teaching a lesson on prayer in a little while, and preparing for it has reminded me of the power and necessity of prayer. In the words of Marianne Williamson, prayer “gives inner peace in ways that neither intellectual understanding, credentials, money, sex, drugs, houses, clothes, nor any other gifts of the world can.”

We can pray about any and everything. If we have something to say, God is ready to listen. If we’re awake, then He’s awake. We are His children, and He’s always standing at the door (in a manner of speaking) ready to let us in. In fact, sometimes I think our desire to pray is the result of His call to prayer because there’s something He wants us to know. Our responsibility is to ask for guidance, inspiration, help, strength, or enlightenment and THEN LISTEN to what He has to say.

Recently, I was “laid low” by some remarks of one of my children. My heart was broken, and I was besieged by deep sadness and a literal aching in my chest. How could this have happened between us? How could she have said these things to and about me? For the first time, I realized how easy it is to take good relationships for granted. I went for a walk on the beach and had another talk with God. I didn’t have to get on my knees or use any fancy language. All I had to do is walk and talk silently. “Thank you. Help me, please. What am I not seeing? I need Thy wisdom and enlightenment, and I need it now.” Here’s what happened. Even as I was having this inner conversation, I thought, “She thinks ….” Yes, I could have thought it on my own, but I’m convinced that those words were sent right from God.

After my walk, I wrote my daughter and told her that if that’s what she thought, it was surely not the case. Soon, she replied and affirmed my suspicions. There’s more to the story than this, but we’re working our way back to each other. I’ve asked that Heavenly Father infuse this and all other situations in my life with His light and understanding. I’m listening, and I know He’ll make it clear.

One of the many blessings in my life is that my children also understand the power of prayer. I love being able to remind them to “pray about it,” regardless of what “it” might be. There’s nothing too little or too big that we can’t take it to our Maker in prayer. “Have you inquired of the Lord?” is another one of my favorite questions, and I love being able to ask it without any of them looking at me as if I’d flipped my lid.

 This post could go on and on, but I’m going to bring it to a close with part of a prayer that comes from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Send me the right thought, word, or action. Show me what my next step should be. In times of doubt and indecision, please send Your inspiration and guidance.” Beautiful, huh? I’m just wondering why we don’t do it more often. But then, that’s a topic for another day.

A Closer Walk

Yesterday’s worship service was a bit unconventional in that I didn’t actually get dressed in my Sunday best, drive to church, and enjoy talks, hymns, prayers with others. Nope. I needed a “closer walk” yesterday so I went to the seashore and saw God everywhere.

He was in the roar of the ocean, the seabirds gently floating on the water, the small white birds looking out to sea, the people collecting shells, the sun on the horizon,  the sea oats, the sun glinting on the wave tips…and so on. The birds flying overhead in V-formation were awesome too. I walked (more like sauntered) along and thought for the umpteenth time of what a beautiful world our Creator designed for us.

 I also thought of those verses in Psalms where we’re told that we can never go from His spirit or flee from His presence…not even in the uttermost parts of the sea.  He always knows where we are and what we’re up to. I thought of how fortunate I was to have legs, lungs, and a heart that allowed me to stroll along and enjoy the majesty of the morning. I thought of how angry the sea can be at times and how Christ, the Master of earth, ocean, and sky, calmed it so many times. I also thought of how much Christ apparently loved the seashore as much as I do because he sure spent a lot of time there.

Refreshed and calm, I left the strand and headed home.  Today I’m looking at the tiny shells I collected and remembering the peaceful, yet almost joyous, feeling I had when I picked them up, still wet and fresh from the sea.

A Larger Universe

When my sister Ann called last night, she could tell that I was in a zone somewhere because she said, “What are you doing? You sound funny.”

“Just thinking,” I replied. She chuckled a little and then asked, “About what?”

I told her that I was thinking about blogs and books and teaching and retirement and children and friends and religion. She’s a smart girl, that Annie, and she quickly turned my (our) focus to religious topics. She said that her pastor had begun a study entitled  HABIT, an acronym for five words that the members were to try to incorporate into their lives. The H stands for HANG, as in hanging with God.

To hang with Him really translates to hang out with Him, to find some quiet meditative time each day to better commune with Him. It could be reading and pondering the scriptures or some other inspirational books, or it could be quietly reflecting on the beauties of Mother Nature. Prayer too is a vital part of this hanging out process.

When she had explained the HABIT practice a little more fully, I asked Ann if she remembered that quietude was my word of the year. Not the month, but the entire year of 2010. Yes, she remembered.

“Well,” I said,  “This hanging out concept fits right into my word.”

“Are you going to write about it?” she asked.

“Maybe. Probably. In fact, definitely.”

There’s so much to be said for spending a few minutes at the beginning of each day to get ourselves focused and calmed and ready for whatever the day might bring. My husband used to gently kid me about my obsession for solitude and once asked what he was supposed to say if someone needed to talk to me when I was getting my soul together. “Just tell them that,” I said. I think the idea scared him a little, but he’d be the first to attest to the fact that I’m a much, much happier person to live with if I can just have a little HANG time in the morning.

Back to Ann. As she was whizzing down the highway with her beloved Allen on the way home from Hartsville last night, I read her a quote by Sue Bender from “A Lesson in Prayer” that sums up my feelings on the subject. She liked it, and I hope you will too.

After writing that her day begins as early as 4:30 or 5:00 a.m., Ms. Bender  continues, “I read one page in each of the small inspirational books. The books change, but they are always ones that remind me that I am not alone, that a spirit larger than myself is at work, a universe larger than my immediate self-interest and concerns. For that I am endlessly grateful.”

Natural Consequences

For the past several months, I’ve been getting a daily installment of scriptures on hotmail, and it’s been awesome. Since I could custom order what I wanted, I decided to start with Psalms and Proverbs, and then I backtracked to Genesis through Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch. Then, since we’ve been studying the Doctrine and Covenants in Sunday school this year, I opted to receive a daily dose of that. It’s been fantastic, especially since I finally figured out how to access hotmail on my Blackberry. So if anyone sees me checking out my phone, I might be checking for missed calls or for FB posts, but it’s also quite likely that I’m reading the scriptures. How handy is that?

Today I’m thinking of a verse from D & C 82:10:  “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” As I read this passage on my phone, I remembered some comments made by a former bishop. Frequently, people “lost and weary” and troubled in heart and soul sought him out. And then sometimes they looked to him for helpful advice on everyday issues related to marriage, finances, employment, and prodigal children.  This particular bishop said he always asks his advice seekers some basic questions pertaining to living the gospel of Christ.

  • Do you show love to others, even those nearest and dearest to you? I mention that question because sometimes people find it easier to write big checks to a favorite charity than spend an hour with a child or spouse.
  • Do you pray often, both alone and as a family or couple? Do you thank the Lord for His tender mercies and ask for His guidance in matters great and small?
  • Do you attend church meetings and fulfill all callings (or church positions) to the best of your ability?
  • Do you read and study the scriptures?
  • Are you living the commandments, especially the first and greatest of them all?
  • Do you pay a full tithe?
  • Are you keeping the Sabbath holy?

Interestingly but not surprisingly, the answers are often no, no, no, and no again. Hey, I’m not a perfect person and have been known to slip and fall more times than I can count. At the same time, I KNOW from experience and observation that obedience brings more peace and solace than disobedience does.  Sometimes walking a straight path is more challenging than taking fun side trips, and yet the consequences are better…especially in the long run.

The more I think about this principle of obedience, the more I realize that it’s just like real life. There are always consequences for our behavior. If you don’t practice the piano, you’ll be mediocre at best, and the same goes for sports. If you give your work “a lick and a promise,” you’ll soon earn the reputation of being a so-so employee. If you have hissy-fits to get your way, you might find yourself without friends. If you keep smoking, you might find yourself walking about with an oxygen pack. The odd part is that people don’t necessarily see their own part in these unfortunate consequences.

Funny how the messages in the scriptures apply to so many aspects of our lives isn’t it? Whether temporal or spiritual, there are always consequences, and I want all the good ones I can get.

Be the Change

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The picture of the above sign says it all…or rather, it’s the theme of what I want to write about today. Along with a beautiful book of photographs of beach houses and decorating tips, my friend Connie gave it to me for my birthday/housewarming. That very weekend I placed it in the kitchen window of my little beach bungalow so that I could be reminded of Gandhi’s words. (Later, I’m going to blog about the importance of having like-minded friends who can bring out the best of you).

Back to the plaque. A few months ago at church, someone mentioned that instead of just asking God to be with the “sick and afflicted,” the widows, the poor, etc., that maybe we should DO something to help. It’s easy to pray but not so easy to actually do one’s part to bring about positive change. Although I haven’t actually done much for the poor and needy and sick, I’ve been pondering more of how to help and what to do. Yes, I know that talk is cheap, but I am committed to doing something even if it’s just to write a check or work in a soup kitchen.

What I’d like is for the world I inhabit to be a kinder, gentler place. What am I doing to “be the change?”  I can’t change the mindset of the world leaders, single-handedly stop crime, or halt the horrific abuse of children and women, but I can make some changes in my little corner of the world. I can keep annoyance and anger out of my voice. I can do as the Talmud advises and “Be kinder than necessary.” I can give someone the benefit of the doubt. I can smile more often. I can give more hugs…when appropriate.

My aunt and I were chatting the other evening, and she was telling me about a doctor’s office she had visited. Impressed with the personnel and the treatment, she says she’ll be going back there. One big factor was the gentle hug she got from the nurse practitioner.  That one act on the part of this employee made a huge impact on my aunt and influenced her decision of where to go for medical help. I think concern and warmth can positively affect the healing process too. The bottom line here is that if this nurse practitioner can “be the change” in her sphere. So can I. And so can you.

Beach Day

  

Confession. Katherine, Elizabeth, and I didn’t go to church last Sunday, at least not in the traditional sense. Together at the beach on the day before school officially began for all of us on Monday, we decided to visit the strand itself. We told ourselves that we were going worship the Creator in one of His most beautiful and soul stirring “cathedrals,” the beach.

That’s what we did too. To assuage my conscience, I stuck two church magazines in my bag and read one of them cover to cover. As we traipsed along the boardwalk, Katherine suggested that we talk about how grateful we were for all of our many blessings, and right away we began enumerating them: the ocean, the sea birds, the sun, the pretty flowers along the sandy path, family, friends, sisterhood, jobs that we enjoy, energy to do our jobs, the laughter of children, health, the sound of music, their granny (my mother), laughter, and a long list of other things that we thought of. We also discussed how memory itself can be a blessing (depending on what you’re remembering), and we decided to store up the memories of our time together to take out and savor at a later time…when we were feeling stressed or sad.

After about an hour, I decided to go for a walk, and along the way I saw a couple of interesting sights that are still strong images in my mind. First, I spied a young pregnant woman wearing a white bikini. Yes, it was a bikini. What attracted my attention was her calm demeanor and the way she was sitting, almost in what I’d call a yoga position. Then she did the unthinkable. She lifted a cigarette to her lips and inhaled! Gee whiz. What was she thinking??? Doesn’t she realize that when she takes a little puff her baby does too? Feeling perturbed, I looked towards the ocean and saw another mother, this one middle aged. She was standing a few inches in the ocean holding the hand of her teenage son. As I got closer, I could see that he had some challenges, and her obvious love for him touched my heart.

Soon I turned back towards our chairs, and as I glanced to my right, I saw my niece Katherine. Walking briskly, she seemed so determined and intense that I almost hesitated to interrupt her. When I called her name, she turned to me with a relieved, grateful look and said, “Oh Aunt Jayne, I’ve been looking for you. I went walking to clear my mind, and I have no idea where I am.” She had asked two lifeguards and the cute Lemon Quench guy for help but was still “lost.” Finally, she’d prayed that she’d see me, and almost right away, she heard me call her name. Okay, I know some of you skeptics out there might say it was a lucky coincidence. Katherine and I know different.

Walking together, we spied Elizabeth calmly reading, unaware of the drama that had taken place. The three of us munched on Red Delicious apples and drank some cool, clear water as we chatted about the new beginnings all of us had in store the next day. Then reluctantly we packed up our stuff and left for home.  It’s not the way we usually spend our Sundays, but the three of us feel fine about it. More keenly aware of our blessings and of the power of prayer, we’re glad we spent our day at the beach cathedral.

Change of Perspective

First there was Michael. Then Farrah. Or do I have it reversed? Well, it doesn’t really matter. They’re both gone, from Earth at least. So are Robert McNamara, Walter Cronkite, and Ed McMahon, and a host of other dearly departed. What these five have in common is that they all contributed a lot to the world. All were stars who shone brightly in their respective fields. Even now I can see Michael moon dancing across a stage and Farrah flashing her beautiful smile.

But now they’re gone “the way of all flesh.” Thinking about them reminds me of a conversation I had with Shirley, my college roommate who now lives in Montana. Recently we spent a weekend together, and one of our many, many topics included life after death. Shirley commented that she had begun to realize the importance of living one’s life with an eternal perspective. The so-called “getting and spending” and striving and climbing and jockeying for position came to naught if a person failed to live a life dedicated to serving God and all of His creations.

I agree with Shirley, as anyone who regularly reads my blog would guess. However, what interests me about our conversation and this way of thinking is that while most people can see that what they do today affects tomorrow in “real life,” they don’t so often think about their “after life.” For instance, smoking is linked to lung cancer, chronic lung disease, and heart disease; excessive sun bathing can lead to skin cancer; too many sweets can contribute to diabetes, not to mention obesity. Speaking of obesity, it’s linked to a myriad of diseases and disorders. Whatever we do or don’t do is going to show up later in life. Along these same lines, exercise (what my students call the E-word) can help a person in every single area of her life, even the spiritual one.

So why is it that a person (me, for instance) might walk six days a week, drink water instead of tea or soft drinks, avoid excessive calories and fat grams, and yet neglect scripture reading or prayer? Why will a person turn her nose up at tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, and yet fail to follow the commandment to love one another?

Hmmm. I don’t know the answers to those questions. It’s just that lately I’ve been thinking of just how much longer I want to live and of just what I need to do to get there. Maybe I should start thinking more about eternity instead. It’s going to last FOREVER.

Thinking and Doing

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My three children have been on my mind all day today. Ever had a day like that? A day when something or someone just stays in your thoughts and heart hour after hour? I think what started it all was a photograph I found of Paul as a cute, smiling little kindergartner. Since it was already framed, I set it on a dresser in the guest room, and I enjoyed looking at it while ironing some work duds this morning. On the refrigerator, I have two photographs of my lovely daughters when they were about 8 and 5. They’re so adorable!! Really, they are. They’re standing in front of a table at their grandmother’s house in  their “jelly shoes” and fancy Easter dresses.

These images of the children when they were small reminded me yet again of the fleeting passage of time and of how dear they are to me. The fact that we don’t talk or see each other every day doesn’t diminish the deep love I feel for them, and for some reason(s), I just felt like reminding them.

One day many moons ago I came across a little prayer in a book by Marian Edelman entitled Guide My Feet. I’m paraphrasing so I might get it a little wrong, but the sentiment is there. “Lord, Thank you for the blessing of these children. Please bless them in their coming and going and thinking and doing.” In the past, I’d often say, “Coming and going and thinking and doing,” and they’d know immediately what I meant. I don’t say it to them so often these days, but those words and others are my constant prayer.

Since I’ve probably already embarrassed the heck out of them, I might as well go ahead and tell them what marvelous human beings they are and how proud I am of their many talents, perseverance, integrity, sense of responsibility, and good choices. They all “have their heads on straight,” and they all know where to go for guidance and answers to life’s questions.

Want specifics? I’ll leave that for another day. For now, I’ll just say I love the responsible and righteous way they’re living their lives. Carrie has her hands and heart full as a young mother, Elizabeth is busy with teaching and completing the final courses towards her Master’s, and Paul is adjusting to life as a husband, graduate student, and juggler of two jobs.

Hey, you three: coming and going and thinking and doing.