Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Day I Challenged the Lord

I was a seasoned, philosophical woman about the age of four or five when my family visited the seaside and I found myself surrounded by the blissful roar of waves.  I could feel the spiritual beauty of the place and communing with my own soul on the nearly empty beach at sunset I felt strong, powerful, and much as the goddess I was meant to become.  I remember wading among the splashing waves, feeling the water lap against my skin and gazing across the westward horizon where the fiery sun touched lightly the edge of the visible earth.  I could feel the salty air invigorate me and as I braved the oncoming waves I felt that I could take on anything.  I felt passion pouring through my veins, defiance and fearlessness enveloping my body and I dared the whole ocean to try to overcome my own personal majesty.  Never, I thought, could all the pounding of the sea lower me or overpower me even an inch.  I was too strong.  My mind continued vaguely in this direction and I cringe horribly to remember briefly the thought that I could even take on God Himself and prevail.

That was dumb.  

The next instant a mighty wave broke over my suddenly small and fragile five year old self, catching me up in a swirling torrent and throwing me head over heals, again and again, through the implacable Pacific current.  I hadn't had time to fill my lungs before I found myself taken captive by the water and I remember scrambling, fighting as hard as my young arms and legs could thrash to regain footing and catch breath.  I could feel my body completely devoid of air now and found my chest and stomach embracing sand, still thoroughly immersed but now under calm, shallow and easily mastered water.  I remember feeling overwhelmingly happy because surely this was the end of the tumult and I was about to inhale pure air again to ease my desperately needy and almost panicky lungs. As I lifted myself up the barest inch a second unseen wave smashed down mercilessly directly onto the back of my head and at last I emerged, exhausted, tumbled and unalterably beaten with a mouthful of wet sand. 

Yeah.  I laugh about it too now.  

I'm grateful for that day.  I am grateful that I have a Heavenly Father who loved me enough to shove me under the water and force my arrogant little head into the dirt.  I learned my lesson at that point in my earthly experience.  I learned who was in charge and in many ways have never forgotten it.  Although I sometimes still need a tender hug from the Almighty as it were when things are going badly and I need to remember that He has a plan, but never since then have I thought myself greater than my God.  Never have I felt myself safe in the idea of cursing my Maker.  I have heard others curse the Lord in their anger and it seems strange to me that He answered me so completely at so young an age when first I stepped across the line.  I am not sure what the difference is except that we all learn differently and we learn different things at varying points in our lives.  Perhaps those people know truths I have yet to discover.  But I am grateful to know that God was paying attention to my obnoxious five year old self and cared enough about me to cultivate His relationship with me.  Maybe when we feel God is punishing us for our misdeeds He is merely letting us know He is there and loves us enough to keep us from straying too far away.

The Bridegroom

Thousands of years ago, recorded for our day in the Old Testament, prophets foretold a time of chaos in which good would be called evil and evil good, when the child would behave proudly toward the parent, and the lies of the destroyer would run rampant throughout the earth.  I look at the moral state of this society and find echoes of those prophecies in living reality all around us.  Confusion reigns, homes become broken in alarming statistics, and gender roles find themselves horribly mangled.  Today society would also teach us that men are unimportant both to a woman's happiness and a child's upbringing.  Media would indoctrinate that a woman can get along perfectly well without a stable patriarch in the home and in this uproar of false doctrine, coupled with the severe attack upon marriage as a holy institution, what is a single woman to do?  
I have long meant to write this post, especially since I visited the temple some weeks ago and felt much impressed to focus upon this subject.  Firstly, let me unequivocally state that men prove exceedingly necessary in a home.  The man is not complete without the woman, nor the woman without the man and in a situation in which children exist the need for stable masculinity proves especially dire.  Secondly, as I sat in the temple I felt a strong reminder of something I have known for a very long time.  Having a patriarch in the home is of such vital importance that God would not have any righteous woman to be without the influence of one.  As we find many righteous women who through no fault of their own prove single, how can the Lord see to it that all are protected with this quite necessary masculine influence?  The answer kept repeating itself in my mind throughout my time within the sacred temple walls.  The Savior Jesus Christ is known by many names throughout the Bible, including the sacred calling known as the Bridegroom.  The light and influence of Jesus Christ can and does reside in those homes of righteous, valiant women who have no other masculine counterpart. 

I love the many references in the Bible, all of them tender and loving in nature, that describes the importance of Christ as the Bridegroom.  His influence bridges gaps in our spiritual understandings, corrects misguided ideas, and exalts the woman who falls under the shadow of His compassionate patriarchal mantle.  The Atonement and His perfection can make up for what a righteous woman loses in her lack of having a stable and righteous man in her life.  I have known many situations in which a woman in fact is married, but is married to a man who in some manner or other proves himself dishonorable or wicked, and I have heard the ladies' testimonies that they could feel the influence of the Lord acting as the Bridegroom to lend them peace and create a much calmer, sweeter atmosphere in the home than she could have possibly created alone.  We were meant to work together, man and woman.  Both prove necessary and valuable in their differing capacities, whatever this wicked world may attempt to teach. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

If the Hair Ain't Flyin'

I have often received various compliments on the dance floor from my lady friends (to say nothing of guys I try to ignore), to the point of one telling me that she and some of her buddies find me intimidating because, as she put it, I proved rather intensely sexy.  Today I received perhaps the strangest...compliment...if I can call it that, in which a lady approached me as I warmed up before class with the following commentary, "I am straight and you are making me hot."  I laughed it off before I realized by the look on her face that she was not altogether joking.  Incidentally, if any of my gentle readers knows a good bodyguard, I might be interested in hiring one from here on out....

But my point of this post is not to share my disturbing experiences.  It is to throw out a few dance tips to anyone out there who may want to step up their game a bit, gain a little more confidence on the floor, or get the courage to step forward away from the rest of the wallflowers for the first time.  While there are many different and vastly different types of dance with different rules, one rule that applies for stepping out of the shadows toward the dance floor is that there are no rules.  I used to be terrified of dancing in public and one good day when I found myself at a party at the tender age of fifteen with none of my friends around I ventured out, thinking that if I made a complete fool of myself, at least no one around me knew who I was.  Apparently I didn't make a fool of myself and there were far too many individuals of the opposite gender who recognized it.  The rest is history. 

My years of practice since then taught me a few things about rockin' out on the floor.  Firstly, it isn't so much about how you look as it is about how you feel.  Close your eyes and connect to the music.  Move however the music tells you to move.  There is no right or wrong when you are engaged in this way.  Don't be afraid.  This is your time, your expression, and your body.  Secondly, for those who are a bit more advanced on this journey, make those movements pronounced.  Don't be shy in any way.  Express yourself to the fullest.  Thirdly (and my personal favorite), dance isn't about your feet alone.  It isn't about your legs alone.  It isn't about your arms alone.  Dance incorporates every shred, inch and particle of your person including the mind, heart, eyes, wrists, facial expression, and my favorites, the fingertips and hair.  Bring that expression down through your arms, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and let it flow straight out your fingers.  Your fingers are exceedingly important, because they prove a powerful detail that has the potential to speak volumes.  Is the music communicating a softness to your heart?  Soften your fingers.  Are you feeling graceful?  Let your fingers express it. Is this a low, gritty, grimy hip hop moment?  Show it in your hands.  And ladies, never ever be afraid to flip that hair!  I tend to be rather distinctive on the dance floor partly because my hair is dancing along with the rest of my body.  Much of the time it is covering half my face.  I enjoy the shadows it casts across my expression.  In slower, flamenco type songs, let it gently frame your face and use it to create a mood and expression all your own.  Rockin' booty kicking songs often find me looking something akin to cousin It at times because my hair is so much a part of the overall expression that it is hard to distinguish my face.  Let it get messy, because in a fast paced funk atmosphere, if the hair ain't flyin' are you really having fun?  For those of my lovely readers who have very little or no hair, no worries! Embrace it, enjoy it and make it a part of the overall expression that is beautifully, individually, exquisitely you.  And smile!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Financial Worth of a Mother

Eight years old found me an entrepreneur of sorts.  I conducted a sophisticated business of buying old and worn toys cheaply, fixing them and selling them at a much higher price at yard sales.  They went like hotcakes and I remember strolling back through the front door happily counting a fistful of well earned green.  As my mother also stands at the head of a very lucrative business I have from an exceedingly young age thought of a mother as a multitasking working mother.  She proves so excellent with financial matters and placed me as financial executive in my early twenties that I probably unconsciously thought of motherhood as something tied to money and earning a living.  The idea of quitting my job to stay home all the time frankly never quite dawned on me in full reality and I considered my work as part of taking care of my children since it helped pay the bills to support them. 
I have of late considered more deeply my feelings regarding finances and motherhood.  I confess when I look deeply I find I have in some manner pondered what the worth of a mother might be with some trepidation.  Some moments in my personal history have had me wondering, in fact, if we women really are weak and kept at home because we are fit for nothing better.  Perhaps my efforts at raising my children were not as glorious and important as I would like to believe.  But God saw fit to show me a bit more of life than I perhaps wanted to see and it changed my perspective dramatically. 
I saw in other people's lives children being yelled at incessantly.  I saw children wanting desperately to give affection to their parents and being denied and degraded in return.  I saw homes that reeked of continual, unruly contention not only between children but between husband and wife, parent and child.  I saw the injury in these poor children's eyes and I wanted nothing more than to hold them close and wipe away their tears.  And then it dawned on me.  What is the worth of a mother?  What is the worth of a real mother who speaks gently, loves tenderly, reproves only for the child's own good and not out of her own uncontrolled temper?  What is the worth of a mother who puts her own agenda and her own pride aside and really listens to what her child says?  What is the worth of a mother who gives her children rules and sticks to them even when her children become angry and throw fits?  What is the worth of a mother who leads by example in Christlike kindness and service to others?  What is the worth of a mother who respects her body, strengthens it by exercise, eats healthy food and teaches her children to do the same?  What is the worth of a mother who pays attention to the ills of the world and instills in her children the self respect and strength to overcome the trials that await them?  What is the worth of a mother who often kneels in prayer and faithfully does her best to serve the Lord under all circumstances?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

So You Want to Build a Custom Home?

As I ponder the job related work of my life I can't help but lean my chair backward, kick up my feet and grin.  I can easily conjecture the stage a house development literally blindfolded, as each stage in construction has its own smell that I have learned by heart from my infancy.  I recall walking to college one day and stopping short, sniffing the air and exclaiming, "There is a very large building in the framing stage around here somewhere!"  I proceeded to follow my nose, which led me, sure enough, to an apartment building under construction in the framing stage.  I am profoundly well acquainted with many of the ins and outs of custom construction and have a few friendly words for anyone who would like to build their dream house.

Firstly, as I have often told clients and prospective clients, you will need two things in order to build a custom home.  You will need a good contractor and you will also need a good shrink.  They laugh when I say this.  How little they know!  Before you begin to build your mansion, let me give you a few points to bear in mind.  The first is that your builder may not be as insane as you think.  I can speak at least for Golden Star Properties, Macoyosh Builders and Sanctuary Custom Homes, all of which find their field of work in Southern Arizona,  Secondly, you may say that you have built a semi custom home or other type of home.  My friend, that isn't a custom home.  Typical homes are made, as we have a tendency to say in this industry, with Legos.  Neighborhoods where you find the same house built multiple times over are nothing close to neighborhoods that exclusively allow custom homes.  Those repeatedly built houses have pieces as it were that snap together like jigsaw puzzles and the workmen can build the same house over and over in their sleep.  A custom home, however, is a new and exciting piece of livable art.  Never before has anyone built your dream house and never has anyone built on your special, perfect, individualized piece of ground.  Feel free to hold your breath in awe as our master specialists and craftsmen take your ideas and desires and get to work.  It may not move smoothly; there may be bumps and twists - that is fairly normal.  It isn't easy to build a custom home.  If it were, everyone would do it.

We often say that building a home is the test of a marriage.  I have seen so many fits of yelling, arguing, and even eventual divorce because two people can't get it together enough to agree on all the nitty gritty details of their home.  We allow our clients to customize everything from flooring to doorknobs to green building and more, which prospect can prove pretty dizzying to those who have never done it. Even with my background I confess I was nervous when I built my own house.  There were two moments specifically that had me cringing with fear.  The first was when I saw my walls.  At first glance, I swear that wasn't the color I picked.  It grew on me and now I enjoy it but when I first saw it the sheen was more than my eyes could handle.  It was indeed what I picked but color swatches are different from a whole room and it came as a quick, initial shock.  The other moment was when the cabinets were delivered and I received an overwhelming terrorizing idea that they were going to clash with the imported travertine I had ordered for my floor, even though I had compared the two and they worked perfectly well together.  But when I saw the knotty alder cabinets finally in the house all was well - they were beautiful.  

So kick back, buy some sedatives for you will need them, enjoy the ride, and delight in your new, personalized, gorgeous custom home! 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Divorce, Adultery and God's Plan

My earliest memories bring along with them a great love and compassion for a certain family member who, when I was quite young, committed adultery and plunged into the emotionally near suicidal depths of tragic and heart rending divorce.  Another of my very beloved relatives also broke many laws of God, which eventually landed her a single mother.  Both these people hold a very tender place in my heart and I have seen the painful road of repentance and remorse in both of them.  Both eventually became more spiritually enlightened and closer to God than their ex spouses, and yet both carry the scar of a broken home with injured children.  I cannot help, in my love for them to plead heavenward for understanding of how this could be healed, how God could let it happen, and how the Atonement could possibly work to make everything well in their lives.  Surely one cannot be punished forever because of a few difficult temptations in a wild time in their lives.  Surely God is loving enough, merciful enough and powerful enough to make things right in some manner or other.  Surely the Atonement of Jesus Christ is strong enough to somehow heal what seems to us as completely shattered.  

I often pray as I go about my daily tasks and a few days ago, while pleading to heaven for some kind of understanding, the answer flashed quickly across my mind.  It was only a brief moment but it was enough.  I felt the impression that the answer lay in the story of Joseph of Egypt.  Reviewing the idea in my mind it started to come together.  When we sin in tremendously powerful ways as did Joseph's brothers, to the extent that we simply cannot see a way of undoing the effects of our actions, God has another extraordinary plan up His sleeve.  Joseph's brothers could repent, they could change their ways and seek eventually to protect their youngest brother Benjamin from slavery, but they had not the power to change what they did.  God, however, can turn all things to our good.  His hand proved much greater than those of Joseph's brothers and with it He exalted Joseph, and even not only blessed but saved the older brothers and their families from starvation.  In fact, had they not treated Joseph so badly, many thousands of people may have starved to death.  Perhaps in their remorse and in Jacob's sorrow, they would have given anything to have Joseph back, living in his father's tent, even if it meant they starved to death together.  God restored their mutual society but it wasn't in a humble wanderer's tent with minimal food.  It was in the court of Pharaoh's palace with all the luxuries in the known world.  Perhaps their vision was for Joseph to be restored to his rightful share of his father's flocks.  But God gave him dominion as the second most powerful man in the world.  Perhaps had Joseph stayed with his brothers he would have remained an annoyance to them and it strikes me as interesting that their relationship was not restored as it was before, just as in a divorce associations often do not repair themselves as they were before.  Instead of being an annoyance he became their superior in every way and they found themselves much wealthier and more powerful than they had been before.  

I have endured hearing much talk of these my relatives and suffered through listening to the condemning venom with which many have spoken of them.  True it is that the situation was bad, but we as onlookers have a right and responsibility to look to the good and help them see God's hand in mending their broken lives.  Let us harbor in our hearts more love than blame, more faith than fear, and more surety that God can and will turn all things to the good of him who repents, recognizing that His hand is stronger than ours and that He can turn things to the benefit of His children in ways that transcend our poor understanding. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

In Our Afflictions

This sacred Sabbath day I come to this blank page with humble soul in response to a passage I read recently from The Book of Mormon.  Deep within its pages we find an account of a group of people who turned their lives to Jesus and consequently had to flee their angry, wicked king.  Upon reaching safety they set up a new city but soon thereafter are overtaken and forced into bondage by another group of people called Lamanites, who pass a law forbidding this group to pray aloud.  They continued, however, to pray in their hearts and the Lord answers them, not by immediately freeing them from bondage, but by making their burdens feel so light that they could not feel them upon their backs.  The Lord says He did this so that they might testify to all the world that God visits His people in their afflictions.  

So it is with me and I feel to bear testimony that God does in fact visit His people in their afflictions.  I have wrestled with post traumatic stress for many years, daily pleading with heaven to rescue me and subdue forever the convulsive seizures that hold me bound.  It has been a difficult road that to me has often felt like bondage and cruel servitude to the relentless taskmaster of trauma. But God has visited me.  There have been times when, though my body thrashed uncontrollably, my mind and heart felt sheltered and protected.  There have been times that God has given me strength beyond my own to pick myself up and stay the course.  I even recall a few times that I point blank knew that death yawned before me and through some miracle known only to God I have literally felt my life stretched unnaturally that I might feel and experience more pain than it would have been possible to feel except it be unto death.  That may sound torturous but through all of it, God has been at my side, crowning my head with peace and promise, and leading me every single step of the way.  Every pain He has allowed me to feel has been to give me a stronger relationship with Him and to understand in some small, pitiful measure a fraction of the agony the Savior felt.  It has forged a relationship between myself and the Lord Jesus Christ that I feel will extend throughout my life and into eternity.  Though it has been anguish fit to wrack my imagination, the Lord has repeatedly assured me and proven that someday it will be seem insignificant in the face of the glory He has the power to bestow upon me that blows any and all human imagination into oblivion.   

Later in the story, this stalwart group of Christians escapes the oppressors by direct intervention from heaven and led to a place of safety where the inhabitants love, revere and protect them.  May it be so for all of us when we bear our afflictions with an eye single to the glory of God.  Inasmuch as I would give my utmost to escape from trauma and post traumatic stress, I feel to do my part in proclaiming as far and fully as I have strength that indeed, God does visit His people in their afflictions.  He has walked the entire way through mine.  And He will help you stand tall and walk with strength through yours.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Divorce and Remarriage

I feel very humbled in discussing one of the topics that has been much on my mind of late and to find a light of hope and positive energy in a situation which often seems so bleak.  I have seen many of my friends and family face the very difficult crossroads of life that include remarriage and I recognize that divorce is one of the hardest things in life to endure - not just the realization that a marriage is falling apart, not just the stress of the actual filing, not just the lifestyle change necessary at that time but the constant ongoing compromising thereafter when the two parties have children to share between them.  It is unsettling.  It is difficult.  But there is good news.

Often in divorce we find quite a lot of blaming, hurt feelings and the like, and it may seem that a massive conflagration of negativity scorches through our lives.  But wherever you see ashes, look for the rising phoenix.  I believe that when we have given their all to be a good, morally upstanding person, there is no real failure for us - just necessary transitions.  Giving one's all is a success in and of itself.  I know, as well as many of my wonderful readers, that there is a plan and that God has all of us in hand.  He knew divorce would happen before it did and though it may seem all existence is over, yet the soul is eternal and clinging to the Lord, we can find the strength to get out of bed and keep going each day. 

I have seen some of my friends with children remarry other people who have also had children in a previous marriage.  There must needs be a great deal of forgiveness on many sides - compromising with ex wife and ex husband, children learning to get along with step siblings, the relationship between step parent and child, and a great deal of necessary kindness, understanding, and respect for personal space on every single side of the coin, some of which you didn't know existed.  But truly, God is still at the helm and I often think that those who end up in these "mixed families," as I have heard it called, are sometimes those people who have the most valiant of spirits.  They are those who prove so strong, so courageous, so powerfully inclined to peace and love that God knew that the best way they could grow was to give them something particularly difficult.  Perhaps they were too strong to have a mild, typical marriage.  Perhaps God knew that they had it in them to take something of particular difficulty and meet it head on with those Christlike attributes necessary to turn it into a heaven on earth.  Perhaps the Lord allows certain people to endure trials of that nature because He knows their souls are strong enough to reach out to all, however remotely involved and call them family.  Perhaps He knows the merit of a person's souls and wants to give them a chance to shine more powerfully than they could otherwise, proving that kindness is more powerful than grudge, reaching out with patience and kindness in spite of difficulty and gracing everyone involved with light and warmth, even as the golden rays of the rising sun.  Maybe He has enough faith in those people involved to know that they are particularly capable to turning blackened difficulty into brilliant opportunity.  My prayers and respect to all who find themselves in those circumstances and my faith in your ability to let your light shine more exquisitely through the would be darkness.

Lord, Is it I?

I never thought to describe this in earlier posts simply because to me it is so much a part of a habit of second nature that it never dawned on me to look at it objectively and share it.  But I do so now because upon contemplating a religious address with the above title rendered by one of my favorite international leaders, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, I see that there may in fact be some merit in describing what often happens automatically inside my head. His discourse was to draw our attention to the apostles during the last supper.  When informed that one would betray the Christ, there arose no accusations against others.  Importantly and beautifully in its humility, each of the apostles immediately took an inward inventory and instead of blaming someone else, responded with, "Is it I?"
I have always been interested in religion and more particularly, in striving to become a morally upstanding person.  I have long striven to improve my behavior and in high school I recall reading an address given by an LDS prophet, Harold B. Lee, which described the Beatitudes as a "constitution for a perfect life."  This pronouncement hit me like a ton of bricks and I proceeded to pull something of a Benjamin Franklin type of program for self improvement.  Every day I pored over the first few scriptures of Matthew chapter five, analyzing the Beatitudes, studying them, memorizing them and applying them to myself and my behavior.  I honestly evaluated myself and realized which of the "Blessed are the" statements proved my strong points and which were those aspects of my character that could stand improving.  I highly suggest this exercise, by the way, for anyone seeking to find spiritual knowledge, come nearer to the Lord, strengthen their testimony or improve themselves in any way at all.  It is one of the most powerful morally strengthening exercises I know.  Each day I would work on those that proved my weak points and each day report back in my scriptures as to how I did in improving them.  I remember the moral, spiritual sweat pouring down in droves as I sought to do better in those aspects that did not come as easily to me.  It took a tremendous amount of labor to conform my behavior and thoughts to the attributes outlined in the Beatitudes and I came to analyze my behavior more and more automatically. 
This labor proved one of the greatest things I think I have ever done to strengthen my spirit and also changed my habits of thinking.  When I hear a piece of advice given from a wise source, whatever that source may be I have an immediate habit of spinning my brain into analysis mode in an attempt to first decide if that assertion is true and reliable and then into a self analysis to determine if there is something in my moral code that needs to be changed or strengthened.  Each morning I also pray and ask what the Lord would have me do that day, every morning I receive an answer and frequently throughout the day I analyze how I am doing in relation to that inspiration.  I frequently ask the Lord, especially in times of frustration or difficulty, what I can do to serve Him better and what would He have me change about myself, my thinking or my behavior.  We may sometimes feel, perhaps, that we don't want to change, that we should have the ability to stay as we are and let everything else change around us but turning to the Lord and questioning ourselves can be one of the greatest things we can do for our own progression, happiness and peace.

Blessings and Blueberries

Blueberries are important in my life.  Truly.  
When I hold a fresh blueberry in my hand I experience a sense of luxury and freedom I rarely have in any other situation.  The mighty little berry brings a feeling of bliss and peace to my soul and when I bite down on it the flavor reminds me that in spite of all the difficulties in life, the world still holds beauty and joy.  It reminds me of God's mercy and His love for His children.  It reminds me of heaven and the exquisite power of the Lord to create magnificent things.  It recalls to my mind that God loves me and is willing to give me absolutely wonderful things.  It makes me feel light, like His beautiful creation and like I am a beloved daughter of God.

Yesterday I mentally turned into a spoiled little five year old with two boxes worth of my little blue friends.  This time of year proves so wonderful to me because all my favorites go on sale - mangoes, apricots, watermelon and yes, my dear companion of the garden variety, the blueberry.  Immediately after purchasing five boxes worth I rinsed one off and proceeded to munch to my heart's content all the way home.  By the time I turned onto my street I was smiling and giggling with reckless abandon, feeling spoiled and snuggly like a baby with her teddy bear.  The taste had driven away any stress from my mind, any difficulties I might have been experiencing and replaced it with a safe and glorious sense of contentment. 

Sometimes it's just the little things, you know?