Monday, January 15, 2018

Who Am I?

I'm a Leo and a Ravenclaw. I'm blue and yellow, green, orange and yellow, green, and never ever red. I'm INFP, tender hearted but insecure, and so right brained that someone once doubted if there was anything in the left side of my skull. I'm abstract random and optimistic to a fault, a wee bit Scottish, a whole lot British and an Idaho native. I've been called a conservationalist, but I may also be an environmentalist. I'm a Mormon Democrat and a devout Christian (no matter what some of my Evangelical friends think!), and last but not least a bit ADHD. 

The part of me who majored in Psychology until a math statistics class turned me into a Psychology minor loves to take personality tests. I love them! Rationally, I know the validity tests is debatable at best. (Except that I really am a Leo and a Ravenclaw.) 

Recently, I listened to a Hidden Brain episode on NPR and found out I'm not the only one who loves categorizing my personality and giving myself labels. Many people have been harmed by various tests and I take all of them with a proverbial grain of salt. And I think we all know how devastating labels can be. We don't need any more ways to separate and segregate each other.

So, who am I really? I am a Child of God. And so are you!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Our Better Angels

Yesterday, I attended a women's church class that was about Christ being the good shepherd. It was a lovely lesson. The teacher encouraged us to develop those gifts that would allow us to be good shepherds to those around us, and to stop the inclination we have to judge each other, which I am afraid we do all too often.  In our church we refer to our mortal selves having a "natural man" aspect wherein we have tendencies toward uncharitable habits ranging from gossiping to breaking any number of the 10 Commandments. It is that part of us that we try to overcome throughout mortality. We also believe that everyone born into this life comes with the light of Christ--our conscience so to speak.

Toward the end of the lesson, the teacher reminded us to listen to that part of ourselves that wants to do good and the phrase "Better Angels" popped into my mind. I naturally did what I always do--and right there and then, while listening to the lesson, mostly, I googled "Better Angels." (I hope none of my former students read this and remember my preaching about not multi-tasking within the language centers of our brain, because you can't read and listen simultaneously!) I read a few things and then decided to research it more later.  So I did! I love the internet when I don't hate it.

In 1841, Charles Dickens (!)wrote, "So do the shadows of our own desires stand between us and our better angels, and thus their brightness is eclipsed." It was in his book, Barnaby Rudge. (entire quote listed below--amazing)

In Abraham Lincoln's (!!) first Inaugural Address given in 1861, William Seward suggested edits to the speech. According to an article on, Ronald C. White Jr., an author of A. Lincoln: A Biography, Lincoln accepted some suggestions, but not all.

"It is Lincoln's final sentence that has found its place as American scripture: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Seward had written, "the guardian angel of the nation" impersonal. But Lincoln invoked "the better angels of our nature" — deeply personal."
 I love this phrase even more knowing Charles Dickens and Abraham Lincoln used it so long ago. Apparently Shakespeare used it in Othello as well. It really is as close to scripture as it can get!  It may trouble some people that the term implies that there are less than good angels, but if you apply the natural man concept and realize that the term refers to our natures, I think it is completely acceptable to realize that within us is a complex set of character traits--good and bad--and that we have the choice as to which ones we choose to employ.
I find great comfort and courage in knowing that within myself there is a force, a light, an angel if you will, that will help me be better. If I choose to love, not hate, I will love.  If I choose tolerance over judgment, I will be a better friend and citizen. If I expect a better and higher aspect of myself to go forward, I truly believe I will.
There is an organization named after this quote as Lincoln used it at that is a bipartisan network of leaders and organizations that wants to re-unite our country in the way Abraham Lincoln plead with us to do so often. I wish them God's speed and best wishes.
For myself, I will concentrate on daily choices, calling upon my own better angels to help me as a mother, grandmother and friend, and ultimately a better disciple of the Good Shepherd.

The complete quote from Dickens:
"The thoughts of worldly men are for ever regulated by a moral law of gravitation, which, like the physical one, holds them down to earth. The bright glory of day, and the silent wonders of a starlit night, appeal to their minds in vain. There are no signs in the sun, or in the moon, or in the stars, for their reading. They are like some wise men, who, learning to know each planet by its Latin name, have quite forgotten such small heavenly constellations as Charity, Forbearance, Universal Love, and Mercy, although they shine by night and day so brightly that the blind may see them; and who, looking upward at the spangled sky, see nothing there book-learning…
“It is curious to imagine these people of the world, busy in thought, turning their eyes towards the countless spheres that shine above us, and making them reflect the only images their minds contain…So do the shadows of our own desires stand between us and our better angels, and thus their brightness is eclipsed.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Plethora of Sisters--the Most Recent is German!

I really like my new blogging plan. A place for happy blogs like this one on this site and a place for complicated things on my other blog:

Meanwhile--sisters! My parents didn't see fit to give me any. Also, I don't have a middle name. Those two omissions along with no pony in the back yard are the only things I hold against them. Well, and that they died too soon. Sigh. Pamela Rose Hunter. That's my imaginary middle name.

My brothers, who rock, gave my my first real sisters when they got married. Excellent choices--Iris and Sage are just like real sisters without the childhood fights. I'm lucky my brothers were careful and clever in choosing wives. Sage lives too far away, but Iris is close enough to quilt with, golf with and generally fulfill my extreme neediness to have an older sister.

But it was obvious that I was going to need a lot of sisters to keep me happy. I started in high school with Jeannine. Great start. Then I went to college and found Sandra. We were born 3 days apart, in Idaho, and each came home to two older brothers as youngest children forever. I think we could have been twins, but our parents each wanted one of us. We're awesome. And I still see her as often as I can.

*******Alert!!!!!!! I'm going to miss listing some very amazing women on this highlight reel. They know who they are even if I neglect naming them. Hawaii semester sisters Jacqui, Martha, Karla and Diane, I'm talking to you. Or would be if I had the slightest idea where you are! **************

So eventually, I graduated from college, got a job and moved on. I even got married and found out that is when you really need women in your life! Ah, Valley Forge/Yorktown. 10 newly married couples?  More?  All I really remember is that 30 babies were born in our ward in 1980. This is where I added Debbie and Karren to my list of sisters. A couple of years later, Janna and I met while holding our 8 month old babies who were born on the same day. No, I didn't name Jana after Janna but I would have if I'd met Janna a year earlier. We eventually made up 2/5 ths of a writing group with Theresa, Ann and Jill. What a rare privilege being part of that group was. I made lots of friends during pregnancy and child rearing years. Those I call sisters are the ones I still see as often as we can make schedules match. Gloria is the obvious one. Her family thinks I'm part of the family on her husband's side and his family thinks the opposite. That's how many family events I show up at. Her Kaysville ward knows me by name. The year after I graduated, I subbed for Lyn and we became traveling sisters--a kinder and gentler Thelma and Louise. I hope there's one more trip together. Judy and I clicked like fellow teachers often do, and when I started teaching in Nampa, Leslie became a little sister. Younger sister? She's in Montana now. Teachers make good sisters--both have qualities of love and nurturing. Add Alyce to the list, which reminds me--we are overdue for lunch.

Some of the woman I grew to love moved and I didn't do the work needed to stay close, but when I see them, the warmth and sisterhood is still there--Jeanette and Mary come to mind. Lora Dawn and Anne-Marie as well.  Bonnie and her mom made it into scrapbooks and Bonnie is still my favorite driving partner to Utah and generous to a fault. She also makes really good candy!

I moved to Nampa and mourned the loss of sisters. Thirty minutes away might as well be three hundred I feared. And where would I find sisters in Nampa? No one in Nampa could possible like me or be kindred. I didn't even know if Nampa would allow me to live there. And in many ways those fears have been borne out. Thank heavens, literally, for Pamela and Sheila. I probably would have found a way to move back to Boise and live in a hut if I hadn't met these two. I'm serious as a heart attack here.

And now I come to my latest sister. Working at the Temple brought me dozens of women who I refer to as Sister Adams and Sister Howell, etc. Wahoo! Best part of the Church I love is the knowledge of a Heavenly Father and Mother and a whole earth full of brothers and sisters.

When I met Beate Cook, I was immediately impressed with her gentleness, graciousness and beauty. She's self-conscious about her accent, but President Uchtdorf has made having a German accent pretty darn cool. Not to mention she speaks perfect English. I've studied a fair amount about the history around World War II, the Holocaust, and many aspects of American and European events of the thirties and forties. I started asking Beate, who married an American serviceman in 1959, years before either one joined our Church, about her family's experiences in Germany. Had she written her history? Had she written about her parents and grandparents experiences? I was pretty nosy. She was very kind. But no, she hadn't.  I asked her if I could. Write her history. Not a question I ask people on a regular basis. In fact, she is the only person I have ever had the desire to ask that question to. It wasn't until later that I realized that if she had wanted to write her history, she would have written it in German. Not a lot of use to her children and grandchildren. Or to me! I mean, I wouldn't want to write my memoirs in a second language, even if I had one. (What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bi-lingual. What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Tri-lingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.)

Beate agreed and it took us two years to make the time together happen. I think there were reasons for that, but finally, this July, I spent almost a week at their ranch in Riggins, Idaho. It was heaven. A very warm heaven due to Riggins being in a canyon, not cooler like the mountains in nearby McCall, but heaven just the same. Her house is beautiful and full of those characteristics of the British houses I came to love a few years ago. Lace curtains, lovely table linens, pretty dishes and so clean. Gloria lived in Germany and has told me about a work ethic she observed there. Beate is a little older than I am and works circles around me in every possible way. She irons her slip and her husband's levis. I iron . . . hmmm. Quilt blocks once every ten years when I start a quilt never to be finished? We worked on family histories a bit and I interviewed her about everything I could think of.  I'm not done. I haven't written her history yet, but I'm getting ready as soon as I have another visit to firm details up. She thanked me for coming; I thanked her for letting me. Believe me, I got the best of the deal. I better write a very good history. She had an interesting childhood--there are details that should definitely be recorded.

She called last week and we talked about October for my next visit. I'll be there! I mean, I already love her like a sister!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Gardens Take Time: The Joy of Weeding

A while back I wrote a post about gardens as an analogy of life. I love analogies! I mentioned in the post that I felt my life garden was being pruned, weeded, replanted and improved by my Heavenly Father and that it wasn't always appreciated!  Turns out that whatever analogy you use for change hurts--a refiner's fire sound appealing to anyone?

After neglecting my back yard for a month while I flitted (drove endlessly?) from Nampa to Utah, Nampa to Boise, Nampa to Utah, Nampa to Riggins and Nampa to Utah, I was greeted with sad flowers and triumphant weeds. Tall, towering, terrible, triumphant weeds. After one hour of weeding yesterday, I wrote a facebook post that was meant to be funny but truthfully must have sounded like I was about to consider killing myself with a gardening implement. Friends came out of hiding and offered me love and encouragement, advice and good wishes, and from one much loved friend, "Real friends pull weeds together." No, Sheila, real friends go to lunch together!

Because of the outpouring of well-wishes, I went outside with a lighter heart today. I noticed yesterday's progress and by the time I went back inside two hours later, I felt wonderful. I started weeding by kneeling down near my lavender plant and breathing in its wonderful scent while freeing it from weeds that were trying to choke its life out. I emptied basket after of basket of wild morning glory vines winding around everything in reach, common mallow (I just did a weed image search so I can call these weeds out by name!), dandelions with stickers, crabgrass, and goat head weeds--all the while contemplating the blessings in my life. And believe me, two hours is not nearly long enough to contemplate all the blessings I enjoy.

So one more garden analogy that fits with life--friends make burdens lighter and tackling tough weeds and winning one battle at a time feels really great!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Not All Diseases Are Created Equal

I have a disease called Multiple Sclerosis, MS. It's an auto-immune disease which means the body attacks itself. In MS, the myelin sheathing around nerves is attacked by anti-bodies that think they are protecting me from an outside infection.  When I was diagnosed, the prognosis was anything from very few exacerbations to a constantly worsening that would leave me in a wheelchair.  Twenty years in, I am happy that the course of the disease is only moderately disabling for me.  I did have to retire early from teaching, but I will walk a 5K next week with my grandchildren with few difficulties. Summer is wretched because of the heat, which makes all former symptoms come back for a curtain call and I am more tired than I was even in the first trimesters of pregnancy, but all in all I have been very lucky.  As diseases go, I'll take MS.

My parents both died of cancer, so obviously, that particular disease scares me, but in true Scarlett O'Hara fashion, I choose to not think about it.

There is one disease that I am incredibly grateful is not likely to visit me--addiction. Aside from a sweet tooth that has plagued me, I have had no affinity to addictive substances.  I never started drinking, so I don't know if I could have stopped. Likewise for cigarettes, which I watched my father struggle with his entire life.  The few pain killers I took as needed left me pain free, but not addicted, but that may be because of the short duration I took them. I guess I'll never know if I could have been an addict, but I love someone very much who is one.

My oldest son started smoking when he was 14 or 15. It was during the time that my then husband and I separated and eventually divorced, and drinking alcohol followed soon thereafter for this teenager who felt confused and betrayed. Illegal drugs came next and while he tried several, the only one that held on was marijuana. Only about 8% of people who smoke pot become addicted, but Cody is one of them. By the time he was 18, he was stealing things out of cars to pay for the substance abuse that was quickly stealing his future. He was caught, pleaded guilty and I was the mother of a felon.

Two disclaimers here. The universe has convinced me that I am an enabler and that Cody and I are co-dependent. Guilty as charged. All I knew for years was that I loved this boy more than words can express and he was in 97 kinds of pain and trouble. I tried to protect him. I tried to save him. It didn't work so I tried harder. I nagged. I begged. I tried to be perfect in the false belief that any blessing due me could be transferred to him. I prayed and prayed and prayed.

The second disclaimer?  I absolutely positively believe that addiction/alcoholism is a disease.  I didn't always believe that. At first, I fell in line with the attitude that Cody just needed to make better choices. He did. But the bottom line is that he needed treatment. His addictions are accompanied by ADHD, depression and anxiety. He's never been to rehab, but he's been in jail--a poor person's rehab to be blunt.

Two of the groups that inspire little to no compassion are addicts and felons. Cody is in jail right now for drinking and smoking pot--both parole violations. Of the poor choices he has made while on this journey through hell, I am happy to say violence has never been a road he has taken. Unfortunately, theft has, and since stealing is a definite 'no' in the 10 commandments, I'm left with little credibility to defend him. And frankly, I'm learning not to defend him. I get treatment for my MS; my parents sought and received medical treatment for cancer. Cody has not always been compliant when offered treatment. In fact, he has rarely been compliant.

I visited Cody today in prison. He is very depressed. I don't mean he feels crummy. I mean he is clinically, severely depressed. He started taking anti-depressants again, but on the second day, the guard said something snarky so he didn't go back the third day. I encouraged him to reconsider, trying hard not to enable or be co-dependent. (I truly hate those terms.)  He said he can't find any hope, any purpose. The only thought that brings any happiness is his nieces and nephews, but then he crashes into despair thinking he has ruined any future relationship with them.

And so, I look across the table and see a still handsome 37 year old who has a disease. I will try not to be too sad as he continues to struggle with his choices and his lack of choices. I will try not to be too frustrated with a system that gives little care or hope to those similarly afflicted. And I will pray for a cure.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Gardens Take Time

I love flower gardens. I have been to several botanical gardens and am always impressed by not only the beauty, but by the number of years some plants have been growing.  My grandmother grew flowers,mostly perennials and flowering bushes. Every Memorial Day she would fill bottles and cans with peonies, lilacs and snowball bush flowers (I'm sure there is a real name for that bush, but I don't know it.) and take them to cemeteries.  They called it Decoration Day.  My mother didn't really go in for decorating graves and made a bit of a show about leaving Utah and her youth behind her, but I realize now that the main flowers that greeted me each Idaho spring were peonies, lilacs and snowball bushes.  I have planted all three as well, along with the bleeding hearts I loved when I was young.  In my home of two years, I have two small lilac bushes, three peonies, and a bleeding heart plant but no snowball bushes as yet. She and my dad also grew petunias and snapdragons and a few roses. Me too. I've even added some they didn't grow--lavender, columbine, and plants I don't know the names of. But I digress.  This blog is not about flower gardens--it is about THE flower garden, The Garden of Eden. And me.

Let me explain.  I believe that Heavenly Father directed his son, Jesus, to create the Earth.  I love the creation story and believe it is true, as far as we understand it. I think it took longer than 6 of our days to complete, and I believe that He worked through natural laws. The Garden of Eden would have taken a very long time.  In every depiction I have seen, and I know these are only artists' depictions, this garden was lush with every plant, flower and tree that existed then and exists now.  Maybe more. The point I am trying to make is that it took time for this beautifully perfect garden to be finished.

I am 62 years old.  When I was younger (so much younger than today!) I thought my life would be figured out by this time.  I thought I would be finished, not perfect, but well on my way to being something I could present back to my Heavenly Father with satisfaction.  I knew I would still be polishing up the rough surfaces, but I'm serious--I thought I would be done with all the hard stuff.  I was wrong.

Back to my beautiful garden analogy.  It turns out that I wasn't all that ambitious about the garden of my life. I was content with some pesky weeds and as long as I added a few new perennials every year, I was good. My life's garden was a lot like my new house garden--not lush by any means, but pretty in spots.  Heavenly Father had more in mind for my stay here on earth.

Gardens take work.  I love working in my yard. I like to feel the soil under my fingernails.  I like to dig and stretch and water and watch as my efforts make one little patch of yard beautiful.  My gardening skills are novice, my budget is tight, but all in all, I take pride in my efforts.

My life garden is okay.  In fact, parts of it are beautiful. But it's hard work and I am lazy at times. Good enough has been my overall philosophy. I mean, really.  I'm a pretty good writer sometimes. I'm good at crafts.  I can cook if I want to.  I'm a good teacher. Again, it's hard work and I get tired. The most important part of my life is the honor I have been given to be a mother and grandmother.

Lately, life has been hard.  I have a beloved son who struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues. It's hard to always do what's best for him and what's best for me.  Weeds like inconsistency, enabling, and excusing crop up, even when I know better.  Sometimes I can't tell flowers from weeds, and sometimes I just want someone else to be the gardener for a while. Turns out that, at 62, I'm not done. There's more to do, more to learn if I am to become the mother I want to be, the daughter of God I want to be.

My son's life is also a garden.  He has rare and exotic plants and flowers and amazes me with his gardening skills.  He also breaks my heart when he lets the garden grow wild, without the care and pruning it deserves. Sometimes I have neglected my own garden, trying to fix his. Neither garden flourishes.

I have been humbled enough by what I considered my failures at parenting, that I have finally asked for help and started listening to people who love me give me counsel and advice.  I have knelt in prayer and felt loved and chastised at the same time. I have, figuratively speaking, felt my life garden be redesigned. Borders have been enlarged, soil is being improved with compost and nutrients. Weeds are being pulled out, some of which have long, stubborn roots. New varieties of plants are being brought in, and I have to admit that I'm not completely grateful for the pain of this new growth. Many tears have watered these new plants and I will not even pretend that the work is done.

Eventually, I will be finished and the life I present back to my Heavenly Father, beautified by His hand and perfected by my Savior's Atonement will be much more than I was willing to settle for. Unburdened by my attempts of control, my son will have the chance to allow his life to be changed and healed.

I hope in a few years when I look back, I will be happy that the work made things better and maybe I'll even be able to help other gardeners.  Until then, I trust in the Lord and am willing to accept His direction.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

For Kristen

When I turned 18, I automatically became a member of the largest women's organization in the world, the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Among the excellent aspects of this organization is being a part of the visiting teaching program.  In every congregation, women are assigned two visiting teachers. These two companions go to the homes of the women on their 'routes' once a month with a message of hope/encouragement/inspiration as a way to form friendships that will then enable them to ascertain the needs of these women and make sure these needs are met.

For example, Mary is visited by Jane and Emily.  They could be the same age or not, have similar family situations or not, be devout members of the church or not.  Jane and Emily probably have 2-4 women they visit.  Say Mary has a baby.  Jane and Emily will either take a couple of meals into the family or ask other people to do so.  That's easy enough.  But say Mary is battling severe depression, is struggling to take care of herself and her children, and is possibly even wondering if life is worth living.  If Jane and Emily have truly become friends with Mary and love her as a sister, they have an opportunity to help this woman out of a deep hole. They listen to her, watch her children, take her to doctor's appointments, and if the situation warrants, talk to the Relief Society president about getting more help and support for her.  But Jane and Emily will never know about any of this unless Mary trusts them.  They can't just show up once a month, give a five minute lesson and blithely say, "Let us know if you need anything," as they hurry out the door.

When I was 23, I was the Relief Society president of a single adult ward, and thereby oversaw the visiting teaching in my ward.  Every woman was assigned visiting teachers unless they absolutely refused to let them visit.  Few did, even if they never attended church.  Who doesn't need two more friends watching out for you?  All women were asked to be visiting teachers; most accepted; some were consistent in their monthly visits; some were consistent and compassionate.  Great acts of service were accomplished by these consistently caring visiting teachers.  Great acts of service were even accomplished by the ones who only made visits occasionally because the important aspect was making friends with the women you taught--establishing relationships of trust that enabled them to ask you for help.  Even when these acts of service weren't necessary, something pretty wonderful usually happened--lasting friendships.

I'm 62 years old.  I have been a visiting teacher for 44 years. I have been visited by other women for 44 years.  I have served and been served. I have been consistent in my visits at times and have been horribly inconsistent during other times.  I have had incredible visiting teachers who became life long friends and others who did not visit me.  We're all human and this program is as simple as it sounds, but not easy. Calling women you may not know and asking to come to their homes can be scary.  Getting to know them can be difficult.  Developing friendships takes time and effort.  People move; there are times in our lives when adding one more duty seems daunting if not impossible.

Starting in my mid 40's, I took more than I gave.  I was a single parent, worked full time, had health issues, money problems and challenging parenting issues.  My visiting teachers were wonderful, but I wasn't such a great visiting teacher.  The Relief Society presidents switched my companions and my routes, and there were times I rose to the occasion, but I slowly lost confidence in my ability to adequately handle my own life, let along help someone else.  I still reached out to others and served in other areas, but I didn't feel like I was the kind of visiting teacher I had been in the past.

I left a ward I had been in for for over 30 years and moved into a new ward almost two years ago.  I was asked to be a visiting teacher and given a companion and a route.  It was slow going.  They were all strangers and I was still working full time and dealing with all the same issues of the past 15 years. One Sunday, the Relief Society president let me know that a sister on my route had reached out and asked to be visited. At first I felt guilty that I had to be reminded, but at least I knew I was welcome.  I visited Kristen alone a few times, with my first companion a few times, and then my next companion. Not every month, but often enough.  I started making friends with this young mother of three who looked like she belonged in a Jane Austen movie.  I retired almost a year ago and Kristen and I continued to form a friendship.  She had a fourth baby and she and her husband moved in with his sister and her family.  Four adults and eleven children lived together as Kristen and Adam helped the larger family financially while his sister's husband recovered from an illness.

It wasn't always easy for Kristen to merge her four young children with seven older cousins, less room and different family habits and lifestyles.  One day, I asked if she wanted to bring her kids over to my house once a week or so, let them play in my (awesome) toy room while she and I sat in the living room with her baby and talked.  It seemed like an easy offer to make, but it made a world of difference for a couple of months.  I loved the feeling of helping and she felt loved and cared for.  And her kids liked the toy room. She cooked a couple of times--she missed having her own kitchen and mine is largely unused.  We laughed together and shared hopes and frustrations.

Kristen is moving to Florida tomorrow morning. New city, new house, new job, new friends.  She'll have new visiting teachers, too.  I hope they love her as much as I do.  Thanks, Kristen, for reminding me that I can help another woman in small and simple ways.  There's a reason that we call each other sisters in our church.