Discovering the Pioneer Spirit Within Ourselves

Pioneers-Handcarts
Pushing, Pulling and Praying, Bound for Zion, by E. Kimball Warren

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve added a post to my blog. I’m not sure why, but I know there were plenty of times I thought about things to write and allowed certain fears to overcome me. What a time-wasting emotion, right?

But today is Pioneer Day and I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it is a day to remember the early Mormon pioneers, those faithful members who, shortly after being baptized, accepted the call to move west. After years of persecution, the surviving Saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley. Many didn’t reach their destination because of disease, inclement weather, and lack of food. Most of them walked, pulling handcarts piled with their few possessions.

Whether you are Mormon or not, one cannot help but admire the determination of these people, motivated only by faith and their belief that God was leading them to where they needed to be.

The “pioneer spirit” is everything that today’s secular society is not. Traits like selfishness and greed only hindered progress and hurt the groups traveling together. That is not to say these things didn’t exist. We are talking about normal, flawed humans, after all, and idealizing them as anything else serves no one’s purpose.

But still, there is so much to be learned from these early pioneers and others like them who accomplished so much with none of the modern conveniences we enjoy today.

*****

I am one who truly believes that each of us was born at the time in history when we were supposed to be born. Each of us can make a positive mark, whether large and acknowledged by many, or small and known to a few. Being a modern pioneer isn’t the same as pulling a handcart for hundreds of miles, but there are other ways to forge a trail and create a legacy of our very own.

Looking around at people in my life, there are so many I admire. Many, although not famous, are pioneers in their own ways. Those ways have had positive effects that have branched out into the lives of others. I’m thinking of the young mother who is working to stop the cycle of addiction in her family. I’m thinking of the diligent dad who is fervently working to end the cycle of absent fathers in his family. I’m thinking of another young mother who, after several detours in life, is now her family’s pioneer of faith. I’m thinking of the single, senior citizen lady who refuses to be bitter and seeks only to serve and comfort others.

What do all of these people have in common? I see three main things. One, all of them have gone beyond their comfort zones. Two, all of them are moving forward. (Sometimes moving forward is accompanied by some backwards steps, but it’s still moving forward.) Three, all of them will freely admit that what they have done and what they are still doing is difficult, but worth it.

*****

As someone who has a tendency to overthink things and has a tough time getting out of my comfort zone, I will be the first to confess how easy it is to stay still, to compare our weaknesses to others’ strengths, and to become our own worst enemy when it comes to any kind of progress. We always talk about how important it is to be kind to others, but we often forget to be kind to ourselves. Sometimes we need to just give ourselves a break.

Thanks to the internet (she said, sarcastically,) we are bombarded with images carefully crafted to make us feel bad about ourselves. How often do we remember the makeup tricks and computer enhancements that go into creating these “perfect” images?  Even at age, ahem, 46, I look at some of these images and sigh discouragingly. We look at social media posts and forget that nearly everything…everything… is a filtered version of people’s lives, just like those Photoshopped images. Images, preying on our imagination and often, skewing our perception.

So how do we stay strong? How do we move forward? How do we forge trails of positivity and kindness to ourselves and others?

 

*****

It has taken me years to figure this out, and I still falter on certain days, but it is actually pretty simple. Remember who you are. And also, remember who you are not.

 

pioneer-girl-praying
photo courtesy of ldsclipart.com

Who am I? I’m a daughter of God created in His image. I am a beautiful spirit child who came to earth for a purpose. I have divine heritage. I am loved. I have choices. I have the power to make my life happy or unhappy. I have the strength to overcome obstacles. I can create. I have the power to add goodness to the world. I am so many things I haven’t even discovered about myself yet. I am unique because I am the only person just like me that has ever been and ever will be.

What is the best part of remembering these things? They have nothing to do with looks, wealth, possessions, marital status, age, popularity, and dress size.

What am I not? I am not the sum of others’ opinions of me. I am not my challenges. I am not my tax bracket. I am not the prestige level of my job. I am not the number I see on the scale. I am not my health issues (or, in my case, my skin issues.) I am not the way my hair turns out on a certain day.  I am not my mistakes. I am not my weaknesses. I am not all of the negative feelings that accompany guilt, fear, and inadequacy.

*****

What do any of these things have to do with the pioneers? Stay with me as I explain.

As soon as we start thinking positively about ourselves and who we really are, we think less about ourselves. Not less of ourselves, less about ourselves. See the difference?

What happens when we think less about ourselves? We can think more about others. We can brighten others’ days. We can lift others’ spirits. We can forge new trails of kindness and positivity, things the world is sadly lacking.

Forgetting yourself in service, forgetting yourself in kindness, does not mean forgetting yourself all together. It does not mean running yourself ragged, it does not mean never saying “no.” And it does not mean feeling guilty when you do.

People I admire most (not comparing, but admiring) are those who know how to balance taking care of themselves and brightening the lives of others. They know their limits and acknowledge–but don’t dwell on–their flaws. They’re not in a silent, mental competition with anyone. But, most importantly, they know their own self-worth and their own divine nature. This, in my opinion and experience, is the key.

*****

Yes, I am an observer of humans around me, always looking for examples of goodness where goodness is most important. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that I am surrounded by modern-day pioneers. Perhaps even the person who just finished reading this post.

Happy Pioneer Day, friends.

The Powerful Pine Tree

pine_tree_png_by_paradise234-d5fvhyc
“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes

Isn’t it amazing how certain smells bring back memories from childhood?

Last Saturday, Hubby and I decided to go out to breakfast. After seeing that our favorite breakfast spot was too crowded, we drove to another restaurant that is very popular. As we exited the car, I was enveloped by a scent that transported me to several decades ago.

Why? Eric had parked under a fragrant pine tree. The scent took me back to my early years when my family owned a cabin in the town of Crestline, nestled in the San Bernadino Mountains. A few seconds is all it took to remind me of the fun times at the cabin, often with friends in tow. We would climb a huge boulder that sat a few feet away from the house, toboggan down the stairs until we collided with the wall, swim in nearby Lake Gregory, eat donuts in the church basement, play hide-and-seek, and read books up in the loft. Does it matter that it has been over 30 years since those memories were made? Not one bit. They are imprinted on my heart.

A couple of years ago my brother took his wife and children up to Crestline and, amazingly, he found our cabin. Despite a few cosmetic changes, it looked as I remembered it. Still, last Saturday’s smell of the pine worked its way into my memory bank more intensely than a photo. Seven days later it lingers, as do the simple, happy memories of that special place.

These Little Things

clipartplace_bed
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘Thank You,’ that would suffice.” -Eckhart

This morning it took a pep talk to roll out of bed. I had awakened earlier when Hubby was changing into work clothes and packing the lunch I made him last night. I lay there, motionless, for a while, hearing him set the house alarm, turn his key in the lock, and then start up his truck engine, becoming progressively fainter as he drove away. All of this long before the sun was up.

I readjusted under the covers, heard the beginning of rain start to pitter-patter outside. My mind drifted in and out of sleep until there were no more excuses. It was time to start the day.

As I prepared to say my morning prayers I was struck with the importance of being grateful for the little things–things we, no doubt, appreciate–but too often dismiss.

I sat up in my warm bed and was grateful for my warm bed. I listened to the rain outside and was grateful for our dry house to protect us from the rain, but still grateful for the rain. I shuffled to the kitchen in feet wrapped in cozy socks and was grateful to have cozy socks. I took a carton of eggs out of the refrigerator, put bread in the toaster, and was grateful for the eggs and bread. I needed no assistance. I was grateful for a healthy mind and body.

Our 2 year old kitty, Maggie May, as per our morning ritual, announced her entrance with a meow and came trotting into the kitchen. She purred approvingly each time I stroked her back. I gave her some food and was grateful for the unconditional love of this funny little cat.

Seeing Hubby’s old work boots in a corner I was grateful for him, his love, his friendship, his companionship, his wisdom, his sense of responsibility to provide, his work ethic, and his job.

Looking inside the refrigerator I surveyed the ingredients for tonight’s dinner, grateful that we never go hungry, grateful we do not even know the feeling of true hunger, grateful that we even have a refrigerator. When our old one died a few weeks ago, getting a new one was never a matter of if, only a matter of when.

These little things. A bed, a roof, socks, eggs, a fridge, an affectionate pet, a devoted husband. They translate to warmth, shelter, fresh food, and love. These are not little things.

 

The Guest House

image.png

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~Rumi


A friend shared this poem this morning.

Now I share it with you.🌿

Seeking the Quiet: Weed the Vacant Lot

Some thoughts are just worth reposting again. I was going through my previous site and came across this post from last year. Last year was really busy!  We did a lot of traveling, met many new people, and had to stay organized to keep one step ahead of everything.

At one point, in the midst of settling in from one trip and preparing for another, I started to feel overwhelmed. I was worrying unnecessarily about events that hadn’t happened.

Fortunately, I found a talk by Boyd K. Packer that put things into perspective, at which point I wrote the post below.


and-in-case-you-wanted-to-add-a-tennis-court-or-separate-house-there-are-two-vacant-lots-next-to-the-property.jpg
Parts of our minds are like vacant lots. Are we keeping the weeds out?

From July 5, 2015

Recently I heard this:  “Worrying is negatively anticipating that something bad will happen” Or the humorous version, “You can’t tell me worrying doesn’t help. The things I worry about never happen.”

That last quote came from a 1977 talk by Pres. Boyd K. Packer called Balm of Gilead.  A talk I listened to this morning for the very first time and haven’t stopped thinking about. I’m adding a link because I recommend that you watch it. After you’re done reading this post, of course.

Anyone who knows about Pres. Packer, who just passed away 2 days ago, knows that he did not mince words. He was very direct and often forced the listener to hold a mirror up in front of him/herself.

What happens when we do that? Sometimes we like what we see and sometimes we don’t.

He talks about the “vacant lot” we all have in our minds. You know…that part of ourselves where the uncertainties, the rationalizations, the doubts, and the “gray” areas live like little weeds. We can pick them and throw them out. We can put up a mental “No Dumping” sign. Or we can let those weeds fester.

(If I want to get really metaphorical, I could talk about those weeds that start springing little flowers and try convincing us that they shouldn’t be picked.  I’ve had those too. Haven’t we all?)

I wouldn’t say I’d reached a big festering point in my vacant lot, but I was definitely letting weeds grow there. Most of those weeds were just unimportant things that I was allowing to become too important.

One way I’ve been trying to combat the weeds is by reading the Scriptures more often, more fervently, and with more thought.

The Scriptures are a great “weed killer.”

Another way is by eliminating, or cutting back, on things that don’t matter. For me, a lot of this is device, media, and social-media based. Wow, those things are powerful and time-consuming!

I have come to 2 conclusions: 1. I control my phone, not the other way around. 2. The media and social media don’t get to decide what’s important and what’s true.

I must tell you…Reminding myself of these things and taking some personal steps to implement them has really made a difference these last few days.  The noise of the world has lessened and inner peace has grown. When I start to get worked up or negatively anticipate something that hasn’t happened yet I find my saner side saying “It doesn’t matter,” or “It’s only…”

There was a time when the world was quieter. Now it seems like the only way we can have quiet is to actively seek it.

Psalms 107:30  

Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. 

Life as a haven full of gladness. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  How often have I allowed weeds to grow and prevented this?

Seeking the quiet. This is my new goal. To remind myself what really matters, and to put my energies there.

The Mercy Dilemma

Sunday’s Relief Society lesson was based on a talk called Always Remember Him, by Elder Gerrit W. Gong. As I admitted to the sisters while conducting the meeting, I did not pay a lot of attention to this talk when it was given during April General Conference. But I read it closely last Saturday and was struck by its poignancy.

“Him,” of course, is the Savior. These are ways Elder Gong says we can remember Him:

  1. By having confidence in His covenants, promises, and assurances.
  2. By gratefully acknowledging His hand throughout our lives.
  3. By trusting when the Lord assures us, “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”
  4. He invites us to remember that He is always welcoming us home.
  5.  We can always remember Him on the Sabbath through the sacrament.

I’m sure different people were affected by different things in the list, but the one that struck me the most was number 3.

forgiveness
“…shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother…” Zechariah 7:9

We can always remember Him by trusting when the Lord assures us, “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”

To be worthy does not mean to be perfect. Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness invites us to be humbly at peace on our life’s journey to someday become perfected in Christ, not constantly worried, frustrated, or unhappy in our imperfections today. Remember, He knows all the things we don’t want anyone else to know about us—and loves us still. (Elder Gong)

I’ve put in bold the phrases that meant the most to me in this paragraph. They made me think of two things:

First, how incredibly fortunate I am to be married to a man who has refined the action of quickly letting go of negative feelings. He (Hubby) knows everything about me and loves me still. I wish I were more like that. I try to be, but I’m not always successful, so it is nice to have such a good example of this quality in my home. I sometimes fall in the trap of thinking, “If I forget, does that mean I don’t care? Does it mean I don’t want to learn from my mistake?”

It’s a foolish trap, of course, and an easy lie to tell ourselves. You can learn from your mistakes without constantly revisiting them and letting them define you. Dr. S. Michael Wilcox, my favorite BYU Education Week instructor, talks about “Pink People.” These are the people who are not quite scarlet in their sins, but haven’t quite forgiven themselves either.  As someone who is unduly hard on myself, I admit–sometimes I’m pink.

We need to forgive ourselves.

Second, I thought of the double standard that exists in the world. The idea of “mercy for me, but not for thee.”

In a recent talk I attended, Brother Wilcox said, “Somewhere in history, it became more important to be right than to be good.”

Oh, how very true!  We see this so much on social media. The lack of mercy for people in headlines is staggering. In today’s society where everyone is judge and jury, one comment can become a runaway train. But isn’t stating an opinion our right? Doesn’t that person or company deserve it? The comments continue in a downward spiral until everyone is exhausted. What purpose did it serve?  None. Who is the victor? No one.

The popular double standard has then emerged. In the same way we don’t want others to define us by our mistakes, we should try not to do the same thing to others, including people we don’t know personally. And, even though mistakes and bad choices are not the same thing, I’m going to combine them here because the principle applies to both.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is attributed to the strong.” –Mahatma Gandhi

What an exceptional quote, and what great gifts forgiveness and mercy are to both the recipient and the giver. Guilt and grudges act like terrible weights shackled to us, when the keys are there in front of us. A little more humility, a little less pride.

There are times it can be so very hard, I know, especially when we feel we have been deeply wronged. Still, forgiveness should always be the goal.

As Gordon B. Hinckley said: Try a little harder to be a little better.

Let’s try harder to let go of that double-standard of forgiveness and not create our own mercy dilemma. Let’s remember that everyone is fighting their own battle, many of them invisible, and just doing their best.

Let’s apply the Golden Rule of doing unto others as we would have others do unto us.

Try a little harder. It is something within everyone’s power, including mine.

Some Beauty for Your Day

Enya’s music is very special to me. Her poetic lyrics often focus on love, nature, or storytelling. She captures a very unique calmness in her songs, each with a pulse that is both driving and relaxing. Enjoy her song,  Amarantine. Better still, close your eyes and listen.

You know when you give your love away
It opens your heart, everything is new
And you know time will always find a way
To let your heart believe it’s true

You know love is everything you say
A whisper, a word, promises you give
You feel it in the heartbeat of the day
You know this is the way love is

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love…

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love…

You know love may sometimes make you cry
So let the tears go, they will flow away
For you know love will always let you fly
How far a heart can fly away

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love…

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love….

Amarantine
Amarantine
Amarantine
Love is, love is, love….

You know when love’s shining in your eyes
It may be the stars falling from above.
And you know love is with you when you rise,
For night and day belong to love

____________

Make the day yours. Open your heart and embrace what is good.

I’m Not Famous, but My Relatives Are

When I was younger, I never thought much about genealogy. It seemed very complicated and overwhelming. Charts, charts, and more charts. There were other people to do the work. Plus, as a child, I was the fourth generation of living relatives. (Now I’m the second.)

I felt–and still feel–pretty lucky that those productive, motivated people were on both sides of my family.

On my dad’s side, my grandma had an uncle who compiled hundreds of pages of family history and genealogical information. He self-published a book in 1928, of which my grandma had one of only a handful of copies.

When I bought my first house in 2005, my grandma gave me an unusual box for Christmas. Inside it was the special book her uncle had published, which he gave to my grandmother’s aunt in 1938. She passed it down to my grandma, who gave it to me. In my mind, it is a sacred record. And, since I don’t have children of my own, I hope that my niece or nephew regard it with the same esteem as I do. One day, I too, will need to pass it on.

IMG_4731
Title page of what we affectionately call “The Bunn Book.”  I love that Uncle Romanzo Bunn inserted his actual signature on the title page. What a cool guy.

My mom’s dad, my grandpa, took great pains to research his family. He encountered more than a few obstacles, especially because his own father was an orphan in Mexico, and finding records on his history was very difficult. It took years, but eventually my grandpa’s determination was rewarded. He found the necessary information on his father. While visiting Utah in 1994 to attend my BYU graduation, he even visited the genealogical library in Salt Lake City. That’s tenacity, folks.

When my grandpa died in March 2008, I took the family tree he constructed, which always had a place of honor over his desk. Now it has a place of honor over mine. I see it every day and am reminded of those who came before me.

IMG_4729
“Our Family Tree,” constructed by my beloved grandpa, Gilberto Arturo Viramontes

A year before, on my maternal grandma’s side, an ambitious cousin also published a book of genealogy. He made it available to anyone who wanted to purchase a copy.

IMG_4732
Since this book is all in Spanish, I have painstakingly traced my direct line through my great-grandmother using notes and Post-its. (Hooray for high school language classes and a bilingual mother.)

Incredibly, all of these things became available to me within only 3 years. That sounds like more than a coincidence to me.

When I moved up north with my husband in 2010, I began exploring Family Search and doing more genealogy. It was fun, but time-consuming, and I eventually abandoned it…until now…

What’s a great way to light a fire under someone to do family history? Match them up with FAMOUS PEOPLE. Naturally.

A few days ago I was introduced to a website called Relative Finder, which is attached to Family Search. Using existing genealogical data that you or someone else has entered, Relative Finder tells you if you share common ancestors with any well-known people. You need to have an account with Family Search (it’s FREE) and you need to input at least a few names, but it isn’t difficult. And you can always find a local Family History Center where someone will help you if you need it. (Also FREE.)

The cynic might be thinking, “What?” And I hear you. I was thinking the same thing, except…that the site also shows you how you’re related through that common ancestor.

Example: According to Relative Finder, I am 14th cousin, once removed, to Elvis Presley. That’s right, The King of Rock n Roll himself. Let’s see how:

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 9.11.53 PM

Yes, that common ancestor was a few hundred years back, but the proof is right there. Elvis and I are cousins. Distant cousins, but still cousins.

Others in my list include Susan B. Anthony, Emily Dickinson, Harry Truman, Henry David Thoreau, Samuel Morse, Abigail Adams, Philo T. Farnsworth, Walt Disney and several others.

Besides the fun of seeing such names, it is also a reminder that we, all of us, are connected. I don’t know about you, but that makes me view the entire human race differently. That person you cut off in traffic? The lady whose groceries you helped pick up? The person online whose comment made you mad? The teenager who handed you your drive-through order?

They might be your relatives.

 Something to ponder.

These Things I Seek: Seeds of Bliss and Balance

lemon-seeds
“All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.” -Indian proverb

Oh, Creativity.

It can be exhilarating. It can be frustrating.

I suppose one of the hardest aspects of creativity is not knowing what your creative outlet is, but even when you find it, there can be setbacks. Experience has shown me what my creative outlets are not: quilting, sewing, cooking (beyond the basics,) and gardening.

Gardening. It is probably the one hobby I truly wish I was better at, but, alas. I end up in an inevitable power struggle with the plant and it dies. I’m not sure who ends up the winner, probably the withered, neglected plant.

Having found your creative outlet, do you ever have days when the ideas just FLOW?

Me too! It’s great, isn’t it?

I, personally, love the process of beginning a new blog. The ideas begin and, once I make the decision to commit to its birth and design, it is fun to see them evolve into something tangible.

Naming the blog, however, is completely different. I dread it, go around in circles, then dread it some more.

For some time I have wanted to give my personal blog a new name. “Keeping Up With Kristie” seemed like I was saying that my life was something more exciting than the norm and needed “keeping up with.” (Not true!)

Then, a certain reality show family began using a similar name. That did it.

How does one name a blog? I’m still not sure. But one helpful site suggested brainstorming favorite words and ideas.

These are a few of my favorite words:

Purposeful     Bliss     Meaningful     Possibilities     Delight     Spiritual     Simplicity

Contentment     Balance     Thoughtful     Wisdom     Value     Gratitude     Unique    

Witty     Enchanted     Intentional     Choice

Then I began to think about why I liked those words.  And I thought I about the purpose of a personal blog.

Many of them are attributes I seek to acquire or ways in which I want to acquire them.

A personal blog is a place to share my thoughts and, hopefully, share ways I am striving to better myself. Since I have not had success as an actual gardener, perhaps I can plant other seeds–internal seeds. (I know, being me can be exhausting sometimes, i.e., “Simplicity” on the list.)

But, in the end, Bliss and Balance won. They are all-encompassing. They are quiet, yet strong.

The Parable of the Sower

This parable’s powerful message has followed me around lately. When Christ taught this parable, He was referring to the Word of God (seeds) and the hearts of men (different types of soil the seeds fell upon.) The full parable is HERE.

The symbols in this parable can be applied to other things too. I seek also to plant seeds of Bliss and Balance in my life. I want them to fall on good soil that I have nourished. I want them to take root and blossom into beautiful flowers which produce new seeds of their own. Seeds of inspiration. Seeds of personal revelation. Seeds that don’t even have names yet but are all about goodness.

I’m also aware that in this world of extremes, Bliss and Balance are becoming more and more elusive.

Balance means incorporating many good activities into our lives, but also remembering to be flexible when things do not go as planned or when others’ needs come before our own.

Bliss is not apathy or laziness, but calm contentment. In my opinion, it is a step beyond happiness. Happiness may be the cake, but Bliss is the recipe.

And so, as this writer and her site evolve, I hope to plant these seeds in my days. I do not expect perfection. There will be times when the seeds fall upon rocky ground or get devoured by birds, but they are what I seek and I will keep trying.

It is amazing how, with Man’s many admirable creations, the best Life lessons still come from He who created at the very beginning.