Friday, December 28, 2012

The Duarte Stories: Blood in the Streets

In 1910 a man named Vitoriano Huerta seized the Mexican presidency to the outrage of Pancho Villa, Alvaro Obregon and others, which sparked the Mexican Revolution.  Uneasy laid the head that wore the crown, and fighting ensued for years.  Then one sweltering hot day in June of 1914 the forces of Huerta faced the combined strength of all those who opposed him in the small railroad town of Zacatecas.  It seemed at first that Huerta would win the day in this, the bloodiest and most gruesome battle of the revolution.  And then a strange thing happened.

A colonel under Alvaro Obregon fell wounded in the middle of the battlefield.  A solitary soldier without even enough money to ride a horse, saw his leader fall and at the risk of his own life ran with his donkey into the fray.  Pulling the wounded colonel onto his donkey's back, he sent his only means of travel out of the danger zone.  As the donkey fled, it stomped on this selfless warrior's foot.   Then with bullets flying with wild abandon around him, he knelt on the battlefield and prayed that God would give his side the victory.  He promised that if God gave them the victory of this battle he would take his comrades and make an immediate pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Virgin de Guadalupe in Mexico City as an expression of gratitude. 

The battle immediately shifted and from that moment the forces of Huerta began to give way.  History records this battle as the turning point of the Mexican Revolution when Huerta failed and his legacy began to fall.  Over 6, 000 men had been massacred in this action and blood ran like rivers in the streets. And the soldier?  True to his word, this soldier informed Obregon of his prayer and the immediate result and the company boarded a train to Mexico City where they gave thanks at the Cathedral of the Virgin.  His name was Jose Vasquez, and he is my great grandfather.  His foot never properly healed and years later when my grandmother was a child of eight years old infection set in and took his life. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Know That My Redeemer Lives!

I know for a surety that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the World, the Holy One.  I know for a fact that He lives, that He is our personal Savior and Redeemer and that He has overcome the world.  I know perfectly in a manner that transcends the five senses that God loves us, He knows us, and that He is aware of every moment and aspect of our lives.  I know for a fact that He wants us to be happy and be with Him forever.

I know the Lord Jesus Christ.  I do not merely know of Him; I know Him.  I understand to some degree, doubtless minor to Him but profound by typical standards His perspective, emotions and motivation.  I do not merely know of Him, but I know Him personally myself independent of any other person.  I look upon His pain not as a distant worshiper once a week but as the very personal injury of a dearest Friend.  I weep for His pain almost as though it were my own. 

I witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I know perfectly that the babe of Bethlehem was and is our Savior, Lord, and rightful King.  My soul joys in Him, yearns toward Him, and worships Him with as much faithfulness as all the strength of my soul, will and love can maintain.  I know for a fact that He loves you and so do I. 

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Social Climbing

I have been reading a masterful book entitled Vanity Fair by Thackeray, which discusses in great measure the art of social climbing and the natural consequences of various personalities and behavior in society.  It has greatly influenced my thinking as we wade through the exceedingly social month of December.  In every handful of people you will find the honest, goodhearted disciples of God; you will also find those who use religion to condemn others until they get their way, and those who worship social climbing for the honors of the world.  It is regarding the last group that I intended to write.

If you are at all like me you can probably point out a few people on your holiday list that you know are not going to respond kindly to gestures of good will.  Their pride and haughtiness often lead them to shun gifts unless they are from the "right" people or from the "right" stores or are something highly in vogue.  You know who I mean - you know people of that description too.  In my Christmas efforts I have already met with one who worships the birth of Christ in that line and know that there is another upcoming.  Upon my presentation of honest, genuine kindness to the first she completely shunned me.  Absolute cold shoulder.  Not surprising.  I expected it.  One may ask "Then why do it?"

That is my ultimate point.  If you want to wisely climb a social ladder you have to step back and look at the entire picture.  I acted as I did in good desires to treat all people as God would see fit.  I didn't do it to be seen of others, but others did in fact see it and also her behavior.  In the long run, who won?  Are most people going to say "how dare Michelle behave so kindly?" Well, some may pity my apparent ignorance but it will not be in harsh judgment.  How many people do you think would see that and say "What a snob (the other girl) is!"  Their littleness does not degrade me; it merely illustrates their spiritual and emotional poverty.  When we are kind to others without reservation we ultimately rise in the opinion of God and all those around us.  When we insist in gratifying our ungrateful pride, we ultimately sink.  Truthfully, I cannot as an honest person help but pity those who employ the holidays for holding to the more shallow things of this world.  Pray for those who knowingly offend you for if they cannot put their pride away during the warmest and kindest portion of the year, how much joy could they possibly have in their lives? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Inspired Outside the Box

When I was studying music in my younger years I found myself in a rather bizarre situation.  I only had the opportunity to play piano, which held little charm for me, and the attitude of those in authority around me informed me that the point of my learning to play was to be able to play hymns from a proscribed hymnbook.  This, they wisely declared, was the end and purpose of my education, and by the way, I had to practice those songs they chose and in the manner they dictated.  You may well imagine I didn't learn piano very well.  As an adolescent I blamed myself incessantly, believing that I simply had not the intelligence and would burn in hell as it were for not forcing myself to learn to play as instructed.  I gave up on piano entirely.

Some months ago I came back to the idea and felt an indescribable urge to learn to play.  It had frustrated me that I could not do so.  Again I had people tell me that hymns were the highest and best and only thing I could and ought to play.  I failed.  But then I took the matter to God on my knees.  I told Him that I didn't want to be disrespectful but could not do what I was told I should do in this matter.  I felt His approval of this plan.  I further prayed that He help me learn to play.  Sitting down at the keyboard once again I felt my fingers loosen like never before and I sight read perfectly, albeit rather slowly, a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach.  I never in my wildest dreams would have believed I could had played anything by such a master.  I also have been playing Beethoven, Mozart, and others.  I have high respect for church hymns out of the proscribed green book I have but I don't think anyone in their right mind would argue that musically speaking, they are more inspired than something like Handel's Messiah.  They have a certain use and purpose but they don't encompass everything. 

Sometimes in life I think we expect ourselves or others to follow a certain path with the surety within our own understandings that it is the right one.  But God is not something we can fit into a box.  It is, I feel, of vast and extreme importance to follow the commands of God but the manner in which we do so may be a little unexpected.  Do not be upset if someone you love is not behaving exactly in the manner you see fit.  It may be and probably is, that God has a greater plan in mind than our tiny little comprehensions can conceive.  Never mind our own expectations.  Humbly, carefully, and honestly following God's personal instruction is higher and truthfully, much safer. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Art of Venting

I would like to pose a question to my readers and friends.  When is the last time you really, honestly, heard me vent in frustration?  (And here we insert a recording of crickets chirping.)  Yeah.  I don't often do it.  Is that because life has given me not much reason to vent?  Those who know me best definitely know better than that.  Is it because I am just one of those who magically never has to vent?  That definitely isn't it, either.  Then when do I do it? 

I am a realist.  I realize that there is a very limited amount of things human beings can do to soothe my soul when it is angered or frustrated.  Having had life threatening seizures for years that doctors could not fix or lessen, along with other very extreme trials, I have learned that there is much in this world that mortals cannot change and it seems a frustrating waste of time to ask them to make better what is outside their capabilities of altering.  It only makes the people around you frustrated.  But I vent continually to my best friend.  God is my best friend.  I imagine that the angels of heaven roll their eyes a bit when they find me on my knees, and say "There's Michelle at it again."  But who else is capable of changing situations that are too hard for us to bear, or who can build us up to carry the burdens upon our shoulders?  Human beings are wonderful, but God understands each of us perfectly, not only as we are now but as we have been and knows who we will be.  His insight proves far greater and His purpose is always for our own good and happiness.  He has a perspective free of weakness, littleness, and personal agenda.  He seems to me the most logical choice for a friend. 

One may think "But that is disrespectful.  One should be careful in what one says in prayer.  This is God you are talking to."  True.  It's God.  It is the same God who gave us the trials we have and knows how much we can take.  When people upset us, God allowed it, and we have every right in the world to ask "Why?  What now?"  I hold Him personally responsible for everything that happens to me, because I know that nothing good or ill or indifferent could happen to me without His approval and for a purpose.  And when a problem arises, my Best Friend and I get through it together.

Monday, December 10, 2012

God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

I recently watched an excellent video of a Mormon apostle, Jeffrey R. Holland, in a question and answer session.  One point he made frequently seemed of particular interest to me, and I have long believed it to be an eternal truth.  He said "God will give you what you want, or something better."  Often we feel that God has not answered our prayers, listened to our pleading, and we may in fact feel completely forgotten and forsaken.  We may do all we can to follow the guidance of holy writ, pray, listen to our own consciences and still we feel that God has left us alone and forgotten us.

My friends, I witness that this is not the case.  I know with a perfect surety that God does not forget or forsake any one of us.   I know with a perfect surety that when it seems He has walked away, His attention is just as fixed upon us as it was before - indeed, it may in fact be even more so.  I know with a perfect surety that there is not one human being so insignificant as to be beyond the reach of His almighty love.  I know for a fact that when He allows us to feel that He has forgotten us, He does so deliberately and for our ultimate good.  Remember in the times you feel discouraged, that He sees and loves your potential more perfectly than you do and He knows what you need at every moment to channel that potential and make a greater person of you than you ever dreamed possible. 

May I take a moment and share a personal but not a doctrinally binding belief?  I believe that when God sees fit to let you feel momentarily that you are alone, it is a bitter pill for Him to watch you struggle.   I believe the God of the universe, in His infinite love, tenderness, and compassion upon humankind weeps when He has no choice but to let us feel that way and that nothing but His foreknowledge, love for us and interest in our eternal good would induce Him to ever allow us to feel that He has left us.  So when you feel alone, lift up your head and smile toward heaven, because God is still there, watching over you with all the tenderness of a perfectly loving Parent.  Difficult as it feels, I promise that it will pass, and that the emptiness you feel is a manifestation of His perfect and unending love for you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Trials During the Christmas Season

I have a confession.  I have been rather remote and remiss of late in many quarters.  Some of the reason is because there is a trial I have been undergoing, coming on gradually for weeks but which came to full fruition now, just weeks before Christmas.  And while I have silently shed tears when alone over this, it does not behoove me to discuss the matter with anyone save God.  It is, in essence, that something on which I have spent the blood, sweat, tears, and prayers of countless hours, weeks, months, and even years attempting to accomplish just came tumbling down in one great crash.  The anguish has certainly been more than I have felt capable of bearing.  One might say, "Oh no!  And right before Christmas!  That makes it worse!"

I must respectfully disagree.  I thank God that this miserable trial came to a head at this of all times of the year.  I am grateful that I have the opportunity to feel in some small measure the pain that others often feel at having difficulties strike at this time.  Perhaps I might be able to use this experience to better understand and thus help them later.  And this is the best time of year to have a massive trial on one's hands.  Why?  When else are we so consumed with the spirit of remembering Jesus Christ, who can heal all wounds?  When else do we have so many opportunities immediately before us to forget our own troubles in the service of others?  When else do we have continually before us the fact that we have a Savior of the world to succor and save us?

I am grateful for this Christmas trial.  I am grateful that the mercy and power of God can melt away the anguish of this frustrating situation.  I am grateful to know that we are all children of God with a loving and omnipotent Heavenly Father at the helm.  Though I do  not know the reasons of this or other trials, I do know that there is one, and in this knowledge comfort replaces pain, gratitude replaces disappointment and happiness overcomes grief.  I witness that there is a Savior, that He is the might Jesus Christ, and that all things can be made right through His infinite atonement for mankind.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reading Dickens by the Fire

Ah!  Here we are in what many people find the most magical time of the year!  It is a time to reflect and spend our efforts on what is really most important.  Faith, family, and of course, 'tis the season to read Charles Dickens! (Fa la la la, la la la la!)  Anyone who knows me decently knows I am a devout Dickens fan.  I have read every novel his genius penned and have studied his life with the wild passion of one who has found a sparkling gem in the coal dust of ordinary life.   So who was this man I so much admire, the famed author of A Christmas Carol?

We all know about Tiny Tim, but what of tiny Charles?  He lived a rough young life, working long hours under despicable circumstances for his meagre bread while his entire family save himself rotted in the Marshalsea debtor's prison.  This is probably where he got the idea for Tiny Tim's character, because to some extent he saw in it a shadow of himself.  In every book he writes, there is always an orphan or injured child.  He protected them with a pity that inflamed the British people into action.  He fought for the rights of the poor, working man, pitied and aided the fallen woman, and sneered at the selfish, worldly rich.  He believed in the possibility that we could all be one great human family and in the deepest sense of love he had, he showed society its flaws and taught beautiful lessons like the one in Scrooge's adventures in every book he wrote. 

He never discussed his own testimony of Jesus Christ or his own religious views.  He held them very closely, and with good reason.  England was in constant turmoil of religious factions and he didn't want any part in the fight.  His work was influential in society, parliment, and the course of England, and he wanted the flexibility to get things done without being pegged as part of this or that sect.  One of his greatest works, Barnaby Rudge, addresses the fact that it really doesn't matter whether we are Protestant or Catholic; the thing that matters more is that we live the religion of decency and kindness.  He knew and loved the teachings in the New Testament so much that it coursed through his veins and poured into everything he wrote, taught and did.  He wrote other short Christmas works including Cricket on the Hearth and The Chimes, both of which are well worth the reading. 

I hope you enjoy this season and that that it is "the best of times" for you and yours.  "God bless us, every one!"

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Peronal Gift to Jesus

If giving Jesus a heartfelt gift is the essence of Christmas, I actually do carry the spirit of it with me constantly.  It seems a logical thing to me that there is only one thing I can give Him, for He has given me so much and without Him I am nothing.  Many years ago I came to a conclusion of how I ought to feel toward my Savior. 

I know that He suffered and died and the anguish of that knowledge all but paralyzes me.  That One would suffer anything at all in my behalf, let alone pay for all my misdeeds and sins, horrifies me to the fullest degree. I cannot, indeed, stare that idea in the face.  I crumble.  It is too great a gift and I know not how to bear it.  Perhaps I am wrong in this emotion, but it is not that I reject the sacrifice or make light of it, but that I feel it so keenly that it brings me continually to my knees in tears.  So what can anyone possibly give Him in return?

Every day, every hour, I give my all to live as fully according to His commands as I can.  I cannot be perfect, but I would not for all the world or anything beyond make Him suffer more for my sake than was absolutely necessary.  I am far from perfect, but I can answer honestly before God that it isn't for lack of trying.  I stumble, I fall, I sin, I transgress, but I give my all to learn from my experiences and those of others to learn and progress as quickly as possible, pray for guidance continually, and act deliberately in all things by spiritual promptings to save Him as much pain as it is in my pathetic power to save Him.  It isn't something that begins or ends in December, but a philosophy on life that I employ every hour of every day.  Does that sound exhausting?  It is.  But when Jesus was in His agony He didn't say "It is too much.  I won't do anymore."  Have I any right to say otherwise? 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Madness We Call Love

I have a wonderful critic named Mark who reads my posts, reviews my photography, listens to my singing et cetera and reports back to me his excellent thoughts on the matter, encouraging me in some aspects and correcting me kindly in others.  Recently he told me that he believes that the idea of romance is one of my favorites.  True.  And there is a reason for my constant interest in this theme, besides the obvious one, which is that it is among the highest emotions humans beings can harbor. 

It is a strange thing to relate but while historically guys have not asked me out on wild dates of a Saturday evening, I have throughout my life almost incessantly found myself with marriage proposals beckoning at my door.   In college I had a father and son mutually decide that they wanted me to live in their home, not as an ordinary harlot as one might expect but as a homemaker, friend, and yes, the rest as well.  They were not attempting to be filthy in their own perspectives; they were both simply of the opinion that this would prove beneficial to their happiness and didn't want to be without me.  Bizarre as this sounds, it is not the most bizarre offer I have had.  This has made me very seriously consider the question: What is love?  Both men likely believed they had found it.

I am a believer in soul mates.  I cannot believe that God is a God of chaos and that partners of an eternal journey can just be randomly thrown together in pure and perfect love.  God is a God of order and certainly there must be order in this most precious of human relationships.  So I would invite you to ask yourself when faced with the idea that you are in love, "how do I know that this is right?" Both father and son in this situation could not have been right, and if there have been a great deal of men thinking I was their soul mate, surely a great deal of men must have been wrong if I do not reciprocate it.  I wish the world would just stop and pray more, placing their own agenda and ideas aside and ask "is this right?  Is this the right thing to pursue and how far ought I to pursue it?"  I truly believe following this course would save most of the broken hearts of the world.

I cannot help but believe that there is a kind of platonic friendship so deep, so powerful, and so moving that human minds have a difficult time comprehending it.  It is a kind of friendship meant for the eternities and finite understandings have no other way to digest the emotion that washes over them so they determine it must be romantic love.  Take time to slow down and turn to God.  If it was meant to be, then at the end of all things it will happen and if not, enjoy what you can learn and appreciate from that person and let God take the reins in the direction He will.