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,
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?" 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?