Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Reappraised, Refocused Life

 Dear Fellow Musers,

Musing, to my mind, means more than pondering, certainly more than thinking: we regularly ponder and constantly think. Musing is more purposeful. It is different than self-narrative and more than personal essay. Ruminating, comparing, and analyzing, it brings the Muser to an enlightened conclusion.

Flexing Musing Muscle takes time, space, and energy, three things I normally have, or make room for. For instance, despite the crazy demands on my life this past year, I've managed to muse and publish weekly -- even multiple musings on multiple sites. However, nature has introduced a completely new factor into my life -  unexpectedly, that is affecting the time, space, and energy I have to muse, at least in the pattern I'm accustomed to. In order to live well and live long, I have to step back, even re-invent many foundational aspects...not just of my life - but of ME.   

My current bible is a book called The First Year -- Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. The author, M.E.A. McNeil, has become a trusted mentor and I quote:

"Lance Armstrong said that if he had to choose between the experiences of disease and winning the Tour de France, he'd choose disease; he says it's made him more human. Fortunately, we are not faced with a life-threatening illness, but we can still be changed by a reappraised, refocused life. The diagnosis motivates us to begin to do things we've always intended to do to take care of ourselves. It changes our angle of vision; it prompts us to educate ourselves and act on what we learn. It can bring families and friends closer. It can be a catalyst for us to simplify our lives and let go of things that are not important." 

Musing IS important; nothing can keep me from it; even my hands. But in the quest for simplicity, for a stress-less life, for a calm, centered mind, and sweetly-slow body -- crucial to wellness now and far down the road -- I will publish Musings (here and elsewhere) on the timetable of the heart and on the days my thumbs work best. So good-bye 'every Sunday' - see you when I see you. I hope you're still there when I need you.

Love,
Mona

P.S. Daily Hints of Romance will continue at Mona's Musings on Facebook and Musings will appear on Monday mornings at Mormon Mommy Blogs. And again, I will publish occassionally at both Gospel Musings and Mona's Musings with a Hint of Romance. Please keep in touch for a wonderful surprise I have been working on for a long time......

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Daughter Called Abundance


Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters;
and take wives for your sons,
and give your daughters to husbands
that they may bear sons and daughters;
that ye may be increased there,
and not diminished. ~Jerimiah 29:6
 
Poets may try to describe Abundance, but the essence of rapture, wholeness, blessedness, and security cannot be compressed into a boxful of words, smashed down or unleashed, tied with ribbon, or thrown to the wind. Abundance will not be portioned by words, which is ironic, since abundance craves to be shared, divided and multiplied. It runs over and spills and diffuses joy like a crystal chandelier, washing everything to a glow and bringing out the vivid colors in a world that ordinarily appears...ordinary.

My Baby became Bride one week ago. All her life (and the hordes of people who adore her will attest) she has created Abundance: it goes before her, surrounds her, and leaves a wake behind her. She lives like the  exuberant child she once was: playful and joyous in a pool filled with Abundance; splashing all the rest of us, drenching all the rest of us, laughing at our surprise. 

Her bridal gown appeared luminous, reflecting the natural sparkle in her countenance. She glittered like a summer lake, enticing everyone to dive in and cool off in her. For those of us who have known her the longest and loved her the best, Hannah has long been such a refuge; a mountain retreat where we are refreshed by Abundance.

Wedding Day became the opportunity for all of us to return the favor. Fans and friends and family threw love and memories and gratitude and talents and hope like kindling into the fire Kenneth and Hannah had ignited, then stood in awe and watched the blaze until we thought it touched the stars. Breathless at the perfect beauty of living, we basked in Unity and Abundance for hours until they were carried off in fairy-tale style. Content in the afterglow, we sat around the fire of friendship after they left us, staying warm by the embers.

My baby became Bride one week ago. Just like one of the butterflies on her cake, or in her flowers, or around her neck, she fluttered into the cupped hands of her perfect man. He held her with wonder and tenderness; stunned that such a fine, delicate, thrilling creature had chosen to alight on him and kiss his face forever.

All the rest of us are delighted that it is his glass jar that she's chosen to live in. We know he will feed and protect and marvel at her and that together, they will transform life as we know it.

Abundance has a way of enlightening and enlarging everything.


 A mother's treasure is her daughter. ~Catherine Pulsifer

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What's a Family For?


“Sometimes we want to have growth without challenges and to develop strength without any struggle. But growth cannot come by taking the easy way. We clearly understand that an athlete who resists rigorous training will never become a world-class athlete. We must be careful that we don’t resent the very things that help us put on the divine nature.” Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy, General Conference, April 2011

His tiny face is dominated by the largest eyes I have ever seen on a baby and the thick shock of shiny yellow hair is a delightful contrast and surprise. His perfect head lay against the pillow on my lap, so that we could interact face to face while we rocked. It was our first opportunity to have a real interview – just Grammy and Little Boy Blue.

Of course, I had lots of questions and I asked them, but he was reticent to answer just yet. He knew I suppose, that his recollections of the home he’d left a week before were too brilliant for my dull brain; I might explode if he revealed too much. So instead, he kept his intelligence under wraps -- only he couldn’t keep the glow of it from spilling out of those huge, black eyes. I rocked, basked in his glory, and took up the slack in the conversation.
Grandma banter covers a lot of ground. For instance, Little Boy Blue is now oriented to nearly every Merit Badge. (I think he’s excited about Cubs.) Yet for all the talk, most of our bonding time was spent silently appraising one another; just staring; just considering the possibilities.
I must admit, when Old meets New like that, the bulk of “possibilities” are on a grand scale: what grandma doesn’t wonder if she is holding a future President of the United States or the genius who may cure cancer? On the other hand, and maybe because I had just attended Sir Henry’s memorial and graveside service, I realized with a slight shudder that “the possibilities” also included a great deal of loss and pain.

All of a sudden, I wanted to protect my Little Boy Blue from real life. And then I wanted to protect his parents. My imaginary umbrella grew and grew until it ballooned big enough to cover an entire group of people – the ones I call “family”.
What really saddened me momentarily was the thought that my umbrella was not made of some heavy Indian rubber, but was more of a parasol made of paper. Nothing I could do would ever shield my loved ones, especially Little Boy Blue, from the risks associated in the Plan of Salvation, nor would/should I desire such a thing. The prospect of growth, of growth all the way to perfection, over-ruled my natural instinct to squelch trouble and tribulation from having their sway.
And then there’s my baby girl, who will be married next Saturday. Talk about risk! I envision she and her Little-Boy-Blue-nephew jumping feet-first into very deep water, while I wait, somewhat helplessly, at pool’s edge to see how long before they come up for air. Each of them are surrendering all illusion of control, giving themselves wholly into the hands of others, with no other strategy or defense or protection other than love.
With that picture, the things I had been studying and musing about recently, finally all came together and sunk deep into my heart. The essence of it is this:
The rain and the sun in Father’s Plan of Happiness, his Plan of Redemption, our tailor-made Plan of Spiritual Maturation, is obviously not about deflecting pain. It’s about absorbing pain; greater and greater amounts of it. With each new addition to our family, through marriage or birth, the risks may be increasing, but from where else comes the joy of progress? Family life is not a way of hiding or shading from suffering, but a way of suffering purposefully. No family will ever come into being, or become ultimately successful,  who doesn’t accept that reality and relinquish control over life and one another, which, in fact, is precisely how love wins in the end and fills our lives with the peace and abundance we all crave.
I wanted to explain all that to Little Boy Blue as he lay on my lap: I wanted to teach him that instead of fearing “the possibilities”, he should completely and enthusiastically embrace them, even relish them, and that we, his family, would love him through every eventuality. But just as I was formulating the words, those great, dark eyes lit up, a quiver of a smile passed his lips, and I heard a petite voice say, “It’s alright Grammy, I’ll take good care of you. It’s gonna be so much fun.”


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Every Plan (and Parent) Has a Dream




Our Number-Two-Grandson was born this week: Number One to Number-Three (our son) and Number-Three-Plus-One (our daughter-in-law). I dug through my journal to find something I could share tonight as gift to them. I finally found this entry. My husband calls it "prophecy" because it was written on:

Friday, June 16, 2000

            "My own children have asked me: how did you and Dad turn out such good kids as us? (smile)  I've never had a really good answer, but as I've pondered lately, the spirit has led me to recognize one point in particular.
 .           It is: Planning Ahead.
             I don't mean just planning ahead to tomorrow, or next week, or even next year.  I mean - REALLY planning ahead: like a lifetime ahead.

            Even as a teen I was concerned about my future family. I worried over how I would  EVER know how to handle each child and every circumstance? Even at 13, 15, or 17, I realized that life was a parade of endless scenarios and unique personalities. There couldn't be enough how-to books in the world to cover every possibility. And I worried about that. No amount of preparation could possibly be sufficient.
            I was relieved when the answer gradually dawned on me: cultivate the gifts of the Spirit.  Learn to recognize and utilize promptings. The Spirit will customize revelation to fit any circumstance you might face as a parent.
            Of course!  So that is what I did. I learned to listen to and trust this constant companion.
            Then I met my Honey. As the reality of parenthood loomed before me, I worried again: surely the Lord expected me to gain practical knowledge. So, I looked for opportunities to work and play with children. While socializing, I observed and actually studied the parents and kids.  Everything I saw, questioned, or reasoned, I would bounce off my new husband. He enjoyed it as much as I did. I took family life classes at college and read many books on the practical side of parenting. I learned about child development, effective communication, natural consequences and discipline.  I learned about keeping a clean and organized home. I learned and learned and learned and learned!  It seemed wrong to me that the world invested so much of time and energy into preparing for a profession outside of the home, and yet ANYONE could "make people" with practically NO training!                        
Dale and I talked and talked and planned and planned.
            The irony, or blessing of it all, is that our firstborn was severely disabled and our self-imposed education came to a new crossroads. We set out on a whole new avenue of exploration as we passed through an intensive formal course in the treatment of brain injury and the raising a very special human being.
            Nevertheless, in one of the photos of Ashley and me in our very first days together on this earth (and before we knew of her challenges), one element now leaps out. I am cradling my six pound daughter in my hands, holding her tiny face up to my lips. We are in her "nursery", which gave me so much joy to design. Behind us is a bulletin board with carefully arranged pictures representing basic gospel principles like scripture study, families, church going, tithing, the Savior, and even the temple --in a nursery!
            And that’s the key: I had already planned for my infant going to the temple. I was already treating her like the old, intelligent spirit that she really was, capable from the first moment of life to absorb truth. I believed that she was very, very GOOD. 
            As three more children joined our family, I was forever thinking ahead. One foot was always in the present and the other in the future. My visualizations knew no bounds. Some were of everyday choices and routines. Others were on a grander scale. The realization of some were only a few years away, others decades away. I was seeing my children's future when I still had only myself to converse with during the days.
           And through it all, there has been plenty of room for their own dreams. I never went so far as to "plan" their careers, interests, talents, or friendships. I have relished in the passing years, a sense of wonder and surprise at their choices and creations, all within the context of goodness. Their independence from me and their father is my "ultimate" plan.
            Now, a note about "wishes" verses "desire" should be inserted here: these were not just pretty pictures I painted in my daydreams, nor were they set forth on a piece of paper that might someday be lost or obsolete. These were LIVING goals, burned into my heart, my very being! The images were so real, that if there were some way to navigate time, I could have reached out and touched them. It felt (and feels) like they already DO exist, just in some other dimension that I will eventually and inevitably catch up with. I didn't just "want" these things to come to pass, like "it would be nice if...". My desire was very keen. I had absolute faith that they would happen. The Lord speaks of "desire" as in "desiring the things of righteousness." It is very clear that he did not mean fantasizing to be sufficient. True faith and desire motivates to action and a reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what I had.
            In consideration of the principle of "action," I believe I can say without exaggeration that in my adult life, every single choice, whether very tiny or very great, has been based on a single criterion: how will this bless or harm my children? Will this support or detract from the vision? As an example, I am, in fact, writing even these thoughts primarily for my children as parents. I see myself making a gift of this little book of counsel and experience to my daughter or daughter-in-law, as preparations are made for her new baby.
Living within this paradigm is not to say that I have no life, or ambitions, or talents of my own. As I grow old, I will be able to rejoice in a rich assortment of happy personal accomplishments that are dear to me, but none were realized at a price to my children. Any assignment or pursuit was only undertaken when I was satisfied through personal revelation that it would actually enrich my family. And the Lord has never disappointed me. Each of my own experiences has truly, truly blessed my children in some way. And in return has blessed me! I have never felt "sacrificed" in any way. The resulting sense of "fulfillment" and gratitude and joy and personal growth is beyond expression as any "professional" mother will tell you. These precious feelings of the heart and mind are far, far, away, and superior to the glitter of worldly attainment.
            I know that someday, such a keen awareness of my every move will not be of necessity, omnipresent in my thoughts. My children will have lives and families of their own: good lives, I might add. I know, because I have seen them! In that same vision, I see myself as a grandmother, matriarch of a marvelous extended family who enjoy and support one another and celebrate life together! Yet even as the children will no longer be under my direct care, and my husband and I will be "free" to devote ourselves to other forms of service in the Lord's kingdom on earth and in heaven, I see clearly that my "motherhood" will never end.
       
I believe in family for all eternity, and already -- I am planning ahead."

Muse with me: What kind of "plans" (or dreams) do you have for your family? Which of your dreams have come to pass?

Related Musings: 
Wish List

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Tale of Sir Henry


This is for Brent and Emily,
who's precious preemie,
Henry,
has won my heart forever. 

********************************

Sir Henry began life at an extraordinary pace, because he was after all, an extraordinary person. His title gave him away as remarkable; for few people gain the right to be called “Sir” in preamble style, as if greatness is expected before the fact. In this premonition and pre-queathing however, his admirers were justified, for, in fact, he racked up preposterous escapades at an astonishing rate.

For instance, no sooner did Sir Henry receive his Hero Certification, but he went face to face with a dragon.

Fire-breathing and smelly, no one had ever stood up to the creature that barricaded a village of poor peasants from reaching a cave made of solid gold rock. Once Henry had slayed said-dragon, the peasants honored his bravery with a heavy bag of gold coins mined and minted from the cavern, along with a flask of their most famous port: Rootbeeria (made from the roots of the beeria tree). Of course, Henry accepted these tokens, and then waved his sword so that it glistened in the sun, and while the village chanted his name: “Henry O Henry!” rode away to seek other adventures.

No sooner had he passed over the hill, but Sir Henry came upon his first damsel in distress. Her muffled squeal came from behind a suspiciously large tree trunk: the hiding place of an unruly band of gypsies. They had long taken refuge in that place; so sure of being undiscovered that they frequently stole girls and things from hard-working farmers. Henry determined to end the scourge right then and there, despite his lack of experience with women or organized crime.

Riding his stalwart stallion like an arrow, Henry darted through the forest toward the damsel's wailing; one hand on the reins, the other gripping his broadsword. He never had the chance to brandish it though, for as soon as he reached his target, he was surrounded by at least forty-six weapons just like his own, each one held by a dirty-faced tramp with ugly teeth. For any other hero, this kind of ambush spelled demise, but not for one as ingenious as Sir Henry.

Atop his restless steed, Henry purposefully let the bag of magic coins, which was tied to the belt at his waist, clink noisily.  All his captors instantly raised their brows, pricked up their ears, and then rushed upon him with the very greediness Henry had banked upon.

With an expert fling, Henry tossed the coins behind him so they scattered throughout thickets of blackberry and stinging nettle, and while the scroungers yelped their curses, Henry and his horse swept the poor maiden off her feet, saving her from fainting and hitting her head on a hard tree-root, or something far, far worse. After taking his prize home to her parents, and accepting their stinkiest brick of Limburger cheese for later nourishment, Henry set off once more to see how else he might serve man(or woman)kind.

No sooner had he galloped over the river which separated woods from plain, but Henry was accosted by his third and most lethal challenge: a gigantic gila monster that only came out at sunset, which it now was. His fangs had made short order of many a tall rider trying to cross the desert on the only road available between Twinkenbacon and Stainesabury. Hiding behind rocky cliffs, the creature waited patiently for unsuspecting victims with poor night vision, then launched his flicking tongue with a dead-reckoning made possible by an uncanny sense of smell.

Henry himself possessed exceptional senses, however, as do all born-heroes, and he heard the gila slithering through the sand before it could reach him. With the sort of lightning-fast strategic-thinking Sir Henry was celebrated for, he reached into his saddlebag and extricated a chunk of Limburger. Tying it up to the end of a rope, he signaled his horse to move forward at a slow trot, dragging the cheese behind them. (There was no real hurry since gilas are as sluggish as they are poisonous.) Even in the pitch black, Henry could sense that the monster was on their trail and he picked up the pace until he and his horse were well ahead of their predator.

With nowhere to hide, but with the few moments he had bought himself, Sir Henry buried the cheese in a shallow dune, along with the flask of Rootbeeria given him by the poor peasants. Tiptoeing to a safe distance, he and his horse had barely crouched in the darkness when Henry perceived that the gila was gliding right past them, heading straight into the trap. Seconds later, after a loud crunch and an even louder gulp, the monster roared and groaned and burped so big, a stinky cloud lit up the sky, revealing a prone gila monster, claws up. Sir Henry, the instinctive master of hard science as well as the defensive arts, knew that when combined with reptilian venom, Rootbeeria was toxic. 

Henry took a few moments to relish his victory and eat the rest of the Limburger before continuing down the road to Stainesabury. His reputation (which preceded his birth, remember) had already spread throughout the region and thus he was greeted the next morning as he rode into town with cheers and banners that read: “WE LOVE YOU SIR HENRY!”

After that, our gallant knight received requests aplenty from every corner of the land: ‘come stop the flood that is ruining our potato crops’; ‘come save our ranch from the evil gang who chased the sheriff out of town’; ‘come catch the runaway train with women and children that is about to plunge into the canyon because the old bridge washed out’ and so forth.

Of course, Henry did.

These accomplishments would be enough to assure any sort of hero veneration for generations but in Henry’s case, the compilation of exploits excelled all others in one rather significant way -- so significant in fact, that the people built the most splendid castle on the highest peak and named it “The Palace of Sir Henry”, and there, by the wish of Sir Henry himself, old heroes, when they had passed their prime and could no longer dash and lift and bound with abandon, were sympathetically housed and clothed and fed Limburger cheese and Rootbeeria.

So what, you ask, made Henry sooooo special?

Just this: all of his feats were done in two weeks.

********************************
Sir Henry
July 5, 2011 - July 20, 2011


Emily's sister has written an amazingly
beautiful explanation of loss at

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Love With a Focus


"For love is not a river, confined between two banks.
Its essence is to overflow.”
If you follow Mona’s Musings on Facebook, you know the daily ‘Hint of Romance’ often comes from the amazing little book quoted above. It is full of pure inspiration, by which I mean the author clearly wrote the book by the Spirit. Instead of approaching his subject from a “how-to” perspective, this treatise explores the “why”s of marriage -- making the most remarkable case for its Christian purposes.

The chapter I am currently digesting—for it so rich you have to eat it a few bites at a time, like a heavy piece of cheesecake – is called “Love With a Focus”. An illustration of Jesus looking solely into the eyes of ONE child on our Sunday ward bulletin today, perfectly illustrated this theme.

Here is the concept, as beautifully articulated in “The Mystery of Marriage”:

“Why was it, in the great history of salvation, that the Lord Himself chose to concentrate His efforts on the special covenanted love of one chosen people, declaring to them that “you of all nations shall be my very own” (Exodus 19:5)? Was it because God had only enough love to spare for one small group of people? Far from it!

"Rather, it was because love is only love when it is particular, and when the person receiving it is the object of special extremities of attention.

"Even Jesus hesitated to help a Canaanite woman, saying: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). But it was precisely because of His ministry was to a select group that it became capable of spilling over into the whole world. There was nothing vague or hazily defined about Jesus’ love. It was not the sort of mushy, universalist sentiment that claims in theory to love everyone but in practice loves no one. No, Jesus’ love had a practical focus, and for that very reason it was able to overflow to all those outside that immediate focus.

"It was a focus trained not only on the people of Israel but more especially on one small ragged band of those people, and indeed even on one particular person within that small group, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Mason goes on to call this the Lord’s “strategy of concentrated love” which provides a pattern for married couples, who make vows to focus on one special person. This, he claims, “is intended to fill us up to the brim with love, to train us in the very depths of love and so to free us to have more love for others then ever before.”

This idea really makes sense with his next point: “For it is not really the love in a home that eats up time and energy but rather the lack of love. That is what really wreaks havoc in the in our married life, ensnaring us in never-ending self-analysis and robbing us of the energy to love others.”

Several months ago, at my ‘Romance’ Musings, I penned a variation of this idea after exploring Jerusalem in all its diversity: “The security one feels from a solid marriage gives the heart space to love others — lots of others.”

It just so happens that I needed to be reminded of this principle -- the expansive power that comes from “love with a focus” -- this weekend, as I took, what was for me, a major plunge: diving headfirst into the world called “Facebook”. For a very long time, and at the frustration of friends and family, I avoided creating a “personal” page, fearing burial in an avalanche of relationships. Knowing well my mortality and therefore, limitations, I knew I could not personally take care of everyone who called me “friend”.

Of course, came the dawn (and the decision to move forward) when I comprehended that the real function of social networking is to connect: that is, to draw lines, not thick ropes, between individuals; to serve as a touchstone, not a foundation; for it is not possible to forge in mass the same kind of relationships we are called on to cultivate with the people closest (literally) to us. Nor should we try. Our husbands, our wives, our children and grandchildren, by virtue of vows, covenants, and blood deserve unquestionable priority over all other ties.

As Mason puts it: “It is the one person who wins over the many, the humble cause of the home that prevails over every other worthy cause in the world.”

I must admit though, it is comforting to the piece of me that wants to “save the world” on some grand scale, that, in fact, giving preeminence to my honey and my kiddos, indulging them with all my love, time and attention -- especially my honey -- will bring me closer to the ideal of loving and inspiring the rest of mankind than any other pursuit: hence, my tardiness in getting this Musing scratched out today and neglecting the sweet people who are waiting to be Facebook friends...

I’ve been making a special Sunday dinner for my special everyday family.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Days in the Temple

Escort: accompanying another for protection, guidance, or courtesy.

When Funke called me yesterday, I first cried in surprise and joy, and then I cried in longing. Originally from Nigeria, Funke now lives in Hounslow, a suburb of London, near Heathrow airport, and I have been in her flat a number of times, as she was often in mine during our thirteen months there.

The home that holds the most cherished memories for both of us though, is the House that belongs to the Lord. It was in the London England Temple, just a few weeks ago, that we held hands while Funke received her endowments. As her escort, it was my privilege to prepare her and then stay beside her throughout the experience, explaining as necessary, bolstering her confidence with smiles and squeezes. Pure joy.

This sacred honor came to me again just this week. I received another invitation to escort a new temple patron: my very own daughter, the only birth-daughter I will ever share the holy temple with. After a lifetime of loving the gospel, she took to it like a fish to water: completely at home amid scripture and symbolism, requiring a minimum of hand-holding.

As an eighteen-year-old raised in a less-active family, I needed far more support during my first visit to the temple. The sister who acted as my escort knew this and tenderly draped my arm through hers.

She exuded loving confidence throughout, both in me and in the proceedings, so that I relaxed into her testimony, resting my head on her faithful shoulder at every opportunity.

Two hours later, I was sealed for time and all eternity to her son.

When Funke and I went to the temple, she sweetly mimicked everything I said or did, like a younger sibling with an admired elder. Hannah was a little more independent, but still asked lots of questions. The Child-Bride-Me did a ton of both.

My poor mother-in-law was watched like a hawk and peppered with "why" and "what does that mean" and "how do I...'s"' until she almost ran out of answers. It was at that moment when she gave me the instruction which I swore (to myself) to never forget:

"Safety pin your locker key to the inside of your stocking."

Say what?

"That way it won't jingle in your pocket when you walk."

She watched me while I followed through. Satisfied I had mastered this important little rite, she took my hand and led me to the chapel.

Hundreds of temple visits later, she and I found ourselves together in the locker room of the Orlando, Florida Temple, where she was now serving with my Temple President father-in-law as the Temple Matron.

We cheerfully chatted in whispers while I changed and hung my clothes. With everything in the locker, I twisted the tiny key and raised my dress to expose the top of my knee-high stocking. Then -- as I popped open the safety pin attached to the key -- and while bending over to carefully complete the procedure I had followed for twenty-plus years --

she said the most astounding thing:

"What are you doing THAT for?"

Say what?

"Why are you pinning the key inside your stocking?"

Ahhhh...you told me to?

(Shaking of the head.) "That's the silliest thing I ever heard of."

****************************

I must admit, it was awfully fun being Sage-for-a-Day; so fun, that as an escort, I couldn't resist passing on my own personal profundities:

Don't forget the Kleenex.
Only wash whites with whites.

Clip the hem of your dress to a skirt hanger when you store it in a hanging bag.

(and last but not least)

A pocket is THE best place to stash your locker key.


Of course since the temple is all about relationships, information, and forever, it seems perfectly appropriate for Hannah and Funke to cherish my advice like doctrine for the rest of their lives.
At least until they figure out a better way.
Or until I forget it.

Whichever comes first.

Muse with me: What advice do you remember from your first visit to the temple?

More musing on my relationship with my beloved mother-in-law:
Imitating Mother
Cherry-ty (Over-Chocolate) Never Faileth
Whose Body is it Anyway?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Windows of Heaven


"Tithing is an ancient law from God. He made a promise to His children that He would open the windows of heaven, and pour...out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." Face the Future with Faith, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

*******************************************

The United States Dollar (USD) and the Great British Pound (GDP) used to be on friendly terms. Times, as they are however, have strained the relationship, so that Mr. Dollar taps rather weakly at the door of Sir Pound. During our thirteen months in London, I gave up converting the difference in my head with every purchase - it became too depressing. I liked to imagine they were on a level playing field, but the truth knocked us about with every visit to the bank. Living in London is one of the most expensive propositions in the world!

Besides straddling households on two continents (with three trips back and forth "across the pond"), we had two-plus-one in their senior year of college, and another marrying and buying his first house. When I think of the impact of our European travel on the family balance sheet, I have to use self-talk like smelling salts: 'It was worth it.'...'once-in-a-lifetime'...'think of the memories!'. However, the best antidote to sticker shock I've found yet is to "remember, remember"... (Alma 5:5-7 and Pres. Henry B. Eyring)

One of my jobs as a young mom was the household budget. I kept it and I spent it and I sweated over it (my husband sweated for it). Paying the rent, the car, the credit cards, the utilities, etc. was never a piece-of-cake -- it was more like eating mushy peas and liver -- but the hardest check to write each month was the one to the church. Neither of us had grown up in active families, so we weren't accustomed by experience or example to paying our tithing.

I can recall a couple of miraculous episodes -- obviously orchestrated by angels to bolster my faith -- when immediate blessings popped up after a squaring of the shoulders, a squeezing of the eyes, and a thrust of tithing into the hands of bishop.

One of those times left us short $200 for an upcoming trip to Philadelphia for Ashley's therapy program. Another meant we had $100 less for desperately needed groceries and baby supplies. In the first instance, we learned the next day that a group of our friends (who were oblivious to our predicament) had taken up a collection for us covering the deficit exactly. In the second trial, believe it or not, I found $100 wedged into the pages of my Old Testament! But those kind of Red Sea Partings, though absolutely true, are not typical testimonies.

What IS typical happened years later when our little kids were a little older.

In consternation I had wrestled over the bills for hours, finding no way out of the basic fact that we could not cut everyone a piece of the action. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, I was also cognizant of the fact that our tithing went unpaid. The check was written, the envelope stuffed, and the stamp affixed, but it had sat in "outgoing" for weeks.

With calculator-blisters festering on my fingers and wads of paper piling up at my feet, I sat at the kitchen table and bawled for a good fifteen minutes. Then -- with just a drop of resolve left -- like the stricken boxer who can barely manage to crawl back to his corner, I picked up the tithing envelope, opened the front door, walked down the driveway, and stood in front of the mailbox. It might as well have been Abraham standing there, looking at Issac on top of the alter: the incomprehensible thing I was about to do would either kill me and my family, or save us from annihilation. Believe me, it felt just that dramatic.

I left it there and went back inside. The mailman came and went and so did the days and weeks to follow. I can't even remember how we survived the crisis. What I do remember is that we never missed another opportunity to pay our tithing. It got easier and easier over the years, even though our contribution, by virtue of the 10% standard, got bigger and bigger. And that's the whole point, isn't it? The family prosperity-index climbed steadily up and up and up until today our grown children are virtually independent (three graduating from their university studies without any debt) and we can afford a credit-free year overseas and a big-fat Mormon wedding this summer.

Tithing is a spiritual, not a financial principle. Our maturity in the gospel has increased in direct proportion to our obedience. Growth however, has made us deeper, not taller. We still find the windows of heaven too high to see through, but we know now that they are positioned just that way so that blessings can flow from them with all the more force.

*******************************************

"To develop enduring faith, an enduring commitment to be a full-tithe payer is essential. Initially it takes faith to tithe. Then the tithe payer develops more faith to the point that tithing becomes a precious privilege." (Ibid.)

Muse with me: What blessings have you received from paying tithes?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Galaxy Quest: Advice for Parents Who Want to Know

It feels so good to be with my grown children back in the USA this week. My oldest son and his family have been spoiling me rotten, and as I was wrestling this morning with a title for this musing, I remembered our perfectly American Saturday night last night: a mega bowl of popcorn and a popular movie silly. "Galaxy Quest."

My son gave me a stack of photos yesterday – you know, the old fashioned kind, the ones you have to hold in your hand or paste in a scrapbook to look at. He had come across a roll of film and, curious about the contents, had it developed. The pictures were from Christmas 1992. What struck and relieved me most, as I sorted through these hard-copy memories, was that no one posed with their new toy like a fishermen beside his trophy tuna. Instead, in every picture, my children were hugging somebody.

To have physical evidence that my kids really loved and appreciated each other as children, and that we -- all the adults in their lives -- found joy in their childhood, meant a lot to me, for my memory is aging and I am well aware that I cannot trust it completely anymore: either I get little too rose-colored, like an old love-letter curling slightly at the edges, or I become critical of my past, like an old epistle, read so often it takes on too much meaning.

There are some things, however, I remember with absolute clarity. This is the biggest: I LOVED being a mommy. I loved every stage of being a mommy: infants, toddlers, elementary school, tweens, teens, young adults: bring it on. However, I am sure now that I am different now. That is what going through all those stages does to a woman. Grandma’s hair turns silver so that her children will know she is different; so that, as adults, they will forgive and revere her. The wiry head is a lopsided crown proclaiming: I did it. I was imperfect, but I did it.

Two-Plus (today's name for the precious person who married my second son), is about to give birth to her first baby. Evidently, at her recent baby shower, a well-meaning mommy-peer, who is also new to the ranks, gave her this earnest piece of advice: Do not listen to anyone else’s ideas about parenting. It’s your baby, and no one else can tell you how to parent. My darling Two-Plus was amazed.

Her friend’s green-counsel reminds me of a Jerry Seinfeld routine about helpful aliens parking their spaceship in the yard just as Dad is putting everything in the car for a family road-trip. Surrounded by too much luggage for the trunk, Dad says: ‘EVERYBODY STAND BACK. IT GOES IN A WAY ONLY I UNDERSTAND.’ ‘But Dad,’ you whisper, ‘they came from another galaxy! I think they know how to pack.’

I admit I am increasingly wrinkled, shrinking, and poofy, but I am not an alien. Whatever worthy advice I can offer younger mommies and daddies is because I am human too. It’s not because I was Mother-Extraordinaire, but because I was Mother-Pulling-Hair. I over-extended, over-expended, and over-expected. Most of my mistakes, the kids and I grew through, but some of them had consequences that echo in our lives today.... Buuuut if you aren’t interested in becoming the wiser-then-I-was (because the only “how-to” you trust is the book you wrote yourself) then all I can tell you is how it feels to live with the consequences.

I have, and will continue, to share my parenting experience (good and bad) at Musings and in other ways with younger mums and dads who want to know. But for today, standing here in the driveway, surmising all the bags and equipment you have yet to pack, my best advice is to go get some more. ADVICE that is. The parents who have earned their silver crown have a wealth of valuable information.

Toss the “feed-Baby-pureed-liver” prattle if you want (I'm not talking about heeding Know-It-Alls) , but listen for the meaningful stuff from meaningful people. Ask ‘em ('cuz the worthy ones won't necessarily tell you unless you ask) how they got across the galaxy, make notes, and then -- if I were you -- take a picture together. When younger people come to you for your experience someday, you’ll need proof that the kids were once short; natural color hair was normal; and -- though they have long since returned to the stars -- it was wizened, generous aliens who helped you sort the car for that family trip.

Muse with me: What's the best parenting advice you have ever received?

Related Musings:
everything under
Musings On Our Relationships with Kiddos
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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Detour

Thirty-four years ago, a boy who made me laugh, promised to make me laugh forever. We both knew he had no idea how to deliver, but at 19, laughter cannot be supplanted by practicality.

To see what has become of us, or rather, what has become of HIM, please visit my Father's Day musing at Mona's Musings with a Hint of Romance.

Happy Father's Day my Friend, my Friends, my Brothers, my Priesthood Brothers, my biological Fathers and Sons, and my Fathers and Sons in spirit!

May the women in your life appreciate and respect you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You're Home Now

“This was a real, truly live place….I remember that some of it wasn’t very nice…but most of it was beautiful. But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, I want to go home. And they sent me home… And this is my room – and you’re all here! And I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And – on Auntie Em! – there’s no place like home.” Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

Raising children in one corner of the United States, when everything I knew and loved best was 3,000 miles diagonally in the other corner was hard.

When parenthood overwhelmed me, I needed my mommy but this was before MMB, FB, AOL or IM (“long-distance” meant an expensive phone call and “leavin’ on a jet plane” was still exotic enough that the radio played songs about it).

And where were my friends? After high school or college, we’d scattered like the children of Israel.

Not only was this emotional terrain challenging to me, I refused to get comfortable with the physical environment. Palm trees, in my opinion, could never replace evergreens, and water in the air could never compare to water from the sky.

It scared and dismayed me--being so far from “home”.

This sickness turned toxic when it began to affect the precious relationships that had taken me to Oz: my in-laws, my children, my husband. At that point, Heaven knew it was time to intervene for their sake as well as my own, so a good fairy was sent on the errand; an angel named Aunt Athlene, my mother’s sister.

We talked for a long time over the phone —I mean, I talked for a long time, and she listened. After my whimpers were extinguished with just the right dose of sympathy, she turned me upside down with this profound perspective:

What you need to understand, darling,” she began gently, “is that you do not have “A” home. Rather, you have many homes -- or you WILL have many homes -- as a woman. There will always be the “home” of your childhood, but you also have the “home” of your college years; the “home” of your early married life; now another “home” of your young family life; and perhaps another in your mature years. They may even put you in a “home” when you’re an old grandma like me!”

She laughed.


“You will see with time,” she continued, “that each “home” in your life becomes saturated with its own memories, its own traditions and its own purpose. Think about this: your babyhood home must have felt very strange -- so different from the one you left in heaven – but aren’t you glad you made THAT move?”

I have mused a lot this week over that advice from long ago: in ten days we are leaving this little London flat for our three-story house, and I can hardly believe it was thirteen months ago I was leaving the U.S. for a place called England.

Experiences still too fresh to be called 'memories' are flooding me like the waters of the Red Sea on the armies of Pharaoh; I could almost drown in them. It is comforting to know that most of those experiences have been packaged in words and photos, blogs and journals. Even so, it is discomfiting that the flesh of it all, the people, cannot be shipped with the furniture. The only place for them is in my heart.

Aunt Athlene was right: life is all about creating a home, wherever you are and for however long, and the sooner you accept that and get on with it, the faster you can grow and the more love there is in the world.

So say it I must: good-bye wonderful London --you're (another) “home” now.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
Maya Angelou


Muse with me: are you "home"?


Click on the ruby slippers to watch a music video you may get as hooked on as I have:
"There Is No Place Like Home"

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Colleen's Gift

And again, verily thus saith the Lord: Let the work of my temple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. (D&C 127:4. See also D&C 97:8-9)

She had raised her family in exotic places all over the world; wherever Conoco Phillips sent her engineer husband. As long as she could remember, they had worshiped and served in the “emerging church”; filling in the gaps where called; using their background as Americans to help the Kingdom grow and stabilize in corners of the vineyard light years away from Salt Lake City.

When she walked to the pulpit on Fast Sundays, her straight back, long neck, and slightly tilted chin gave her a grace that only those trained at the ballet bar can have. (Though Ballroom Dancers were a long time ago for Colleen, she’d kept the lithe body and enthusiastic heart of her youth; all the more beautiful in maturity.)

And when she reached the pulpit and opened her mouth to testify, it was with such sincere creativity and charming conviction, no one could resist giving her rapt attention. The Bishop called her to teach Seminary and to preside over the Young Women organization (concurrently!) and I asked her to visit teach Maureen, Belinda, Sarah, and Erin. (Would you be surprised if I told you that she was the dearest, most vigilant, most caring visiting teacher I have ever known?)

Twice at my request, Colleen allowed me to tag along on her route (or “root” as they pronounce it here) and each time I marveled at the tenderness of her ministrations and the thoughtfulness of her preparation. The privileged sisters she had watched over loved her fiercely, making it extremely difficult when it came time for Colleen to follow her husband to their next assignment in Spain.

I was with her when she said good-bye, one-by-sniffly-one, leaving in their hands a token of her love – some little gift, usually an item destined for a charity shop, but which suddenly had great meaning because of the personal story Colleen would attach to it: a book, some beads, a toy. I was mesmerized by this talent for gift-giving (one I have never really mastered) and considered it my gift to have witnessed Colleen in action. As we pulled into to the train station though, my dear friend had one more surprise: the last good-bye and final delivery of the day.

When you came to England from the states, Mona -” she said - “I know you were expecting a very different experience. Things have not turned out the way you and your loved ones back home thought they would. You have done some traveling with Dale for his work, but not near as much as you might have...

"I know too, that you believed the day had finally come when you could indulge in study and writing and theater-going, but instead your days are taken up meeting the needs of dozens of people who were strangers to you until recently. You cry yourself to sleep for them and your prayers have never been so full of so many. Most days end with the feeling that you couldn’t possibly give any more, but the next morning, you wake up and give again.”


Disarmed, but swallowed up in her love, all I could do was cry. Colleen was a warm blast of sun, illuminating and healing at the same time.

“In Seminary last week,” she continued, “we learned all about the Kirtland Temple. I told the kids about the sacrifices the Saints made to build it: how in their poverty, they raised the most magnificent building ever seen in those parts. We talked about how the women spun cloth and sewed for the men who labored in the construction and how those women also gave their treasured, beautiful china to be smashed to smithereens so that the stucco on the temple exterior would literally glisten.”

I nodded thoughtfully, having told the same story myself in Seminary and Gospel Doctrine classes.

“The kids were interested,” she smiled, “when I produced a cup of my own bone china.” (I could easily believe Colleen had bone china: her collection of internationally-acquired valuables was exquisite.) But boy were they surprised when I also brought out a hammer!” Colleen laughed at the memory. “I coaxed each one of them, but they all refused to break the cup. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll have to do it myself.’ And when I did--when I smashed the cup to pieces--they just sat there in shock.”

I was incredulous too: I have longed for a bone-china tea set since childhood. “You broke it?!”

“Oh yes,” she affirmed, “and I saved the pieces in the cup’s original box. Now, I wondered, what shall I do with this broken china?

She pulled out a small blue box and rattled the contents.

“That’s when I thought of you, Mona; of your dreams in pieces for the sake of something bigger; the dust of your dreams sparkling in the lives of your brothers and sisters in England.”

That blue box has sat on my bed stand ever since. The shippers came on Friday and tried to pack it up, but I rescued it just in time, from what – I couldn’t say. I just knew the broken cup couldn’t leave. It’s taken two days of musing and prayer for the reason to catch up with the decision, but I’ve finally got it.

I’m going to give Colleen's gift to the new Relief Society President.

Muse with me: What about your broken china?
(If you have a related post on your blog, please share.)

Watch "The Building of the Kirtland Temple"

What You Don't Have or Have Lost

Beautifully related musings by fellow musers:
Visiting Teaching at LDS Women of God

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Imagine a Life

Imagine life in poverty. Imagine life without a mother, or with an alcoholic father, or with family imprisoned. Imagine life with an abusive spouse or as a single mom. Imagine life after rape. Imagine life as an illegal immigrant, or with no food in the cupboards, or without education. Imagine life with mental illness. Imagine life in an arranged marriage, or as a series of co-habitations, or on the verge of divorce. Imagine life with disabilities or living in a hospital room. Imagine fearing violence in the street or dying from cancer.

Imagine life fighting for life and you can imagine my sisters.

As their Relief Society President, I’ve been given a tour of what used to be a plastic globe to me, but is now flesh and blood, lots of blood, too much blood. Women have washed themselves of it in the waters of baptism and now keep the commandments in a life that may be new and improved, but a life that cannot compare to Sister Mona’s charmed existence as an American. Or so they imagine. They love me for for my empathy (which gift I sometimes have too much of for my own good), but deep down, believe it can only go so far, which is true.

One day, while discussing the purpose of suffering in Relief Society, I made a dot in the center of the dry erase board and then drew a line all the way to the edge. I walked around the perimeter of the chapel, continuing an imaginary line, marker mid-air, until I came back to the dot on the board.

“Imagine this line as eternity,” I said. “And imagine this dot representing our mortal probation. As we agreed earlier in our discussion, we can only internalize many important lessons while on earth, through opposition, to prepare for all the rest.” I swept my hand around the room. “Is it any wonder then that with so much to learn in such a short time [pointing at the dot], that life is a crash course?”

They looked thoughtful.

“Yet we expect our ‘dot’ to be a smooth line in and of itself, with only occasional blips,” I continued the line metaphor, using the board to draw what looked like a healthy EKG; praying I was making sense to them.

Suddenly, a voice from the back rang out: “That may be YOUR life Mona,” (referring to the smooth line with a couple of hiccups), “but it’s not mine!

The room froze at the mockery in her voice. If we’d been in a Wild West saloon, everyone would have backed away, clearing the space between us.

“That’s not my point.” I answered carefully. “This little line is not MY life. This line is NOBODY’S LIFE.”

It got very quiet.

“Would you like to see MY life?” I raised the pen impulsively. “This is MY life.”

Then with emotion that startled everyone, including me, I drew an EKG that looked like a woman having a heart attack.

“That’s MY life!” I finished. They were stunned.

Earlier in our stay here, I had listened to a sister for thirty minutes on the phone. She told me about an incident in the ward years before that had wounded her feelings so deeply she found it impossible now to trust the sisters. “I worry for YOU,” she said, turning the conversation in a surprising direction. “I watch how happy you are, and I think, she is going to get hurt.”

The next day I got an email from another sister (one whom I knew was under terrific strain) that read: “Thank you for your example, dear Mona. I watch how happy you are and I think, WOW – she can only be that happy because she's been through a lot.”

Wow is right. One sister assumed I was happy because of the ABSENCE of adversity in my life and the other thought I was happy BECAUSE of it!

I mused over that for a long time and ruminated on the conversation in the classroom (which spawned tears and hugs afterward.) If our happiness quotient is directly related to a lack of tribulation, how realistic is it that we could ever go up the scale? Do we imagine our plastic twin living on a plastic globe with nothing to disrupt her tranquility? When I imagine my Eden-Eve, I realize she couldn’t be anything like Flesh-and-Blood-Me, and actually, I don’t think I'd want her kind of contentment. Our Little Dots, our ”small moments” (D&C 121:7-8), may be going haywire more often than not, and may sometimes be filled with even terrible things, but I believe it’s the only spot where we can become strong enough, or deserving enough, for a FULNESS of JOY (D&C 122:5-8), which IS coming.

And imagining THAT life is what makes me happiest of all.

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted… To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord…” (Isaiah 61:3)

Photography by Dreamstime

Beautifully related post by fellow Muser, Momza at MMB:
Growing Roots


Muse with me: What do you imagine life is about?