It has been over two years since I’ve written on this blog and, here we are, the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide protests after the shameful death of George Floyd.
One does not cancel out the other. They are both horrible. They are both being handled in unacceptable ways. The stress, the emotions, the hatred (of both fellow citizens and governmental leaders) is at a high we have not seen in a while.
One thing I find most discouraging is that some have taken it upon themselves to monitor others in what can and cannot be said. This “Land of the Free” has turned into a land of censorship and shaming. Talk about counterproductive. This happened to me today.
The only word to describe how most of us feel right now is amped. Whatever it is we feel, we feel it strongly. But beware about publicizing those feelings. Someone is waiting in the wings to pounce.
Actual war has not been fought on American soil in a very long time, and yet, we’re imploding by attacking ourselves.
Sometimes our actions are led by our heart and sometimes by our mind. The actions happening right now seem to be led by neither.
I long for a day when kindness, not the need to be right, prevails. I long for a day when free speech is truly available, not just for those in agreement. I long for a day when we can stand together as one race. The human race.
This morning, while indulging in my daily 8 minutes of writing on the Lifecraft journal app, the prompt was about “Drive-bys.” Drive-bys? I thought. What are drive-bys?
The prompt defined them as “places we drive by that evoke powerful memories and emotions.” I suddenly realized that I have lots of drive-bys, as I’m sure we all do. I’d like to share a few of them here.
Many are houses and they are all in Southern California, where I grew up. My mother’s house doesn’t qualify yet because she still lives there, but, until it does qualify, there are several others.
There is, for instance, the house across the street from my mother and slightly to the right. It’s the house I bought in 2005, lived in until 2010, and sold in 2013. I will always love that house.
There is the apartment house, less than a mile away, where I lived from 1996 to 2000. It was where I first tasted true independence but still lived near family. The day I moved in I adopted two sweet kitties, both of whom lived long enough to be a part of my current chapter in the Pacific Northwest.
Not far from there is my grandparents’ house. It isn’t the house where my mother was raised, but it is the only house they lived in during my lifetime. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of memories attached to it. They’ve both been gone for 10 years, but I still slow down when I drive past it. As houses go, it is my most powerful drive-by. The palm trees that line the street make for a glorious silhouette as nighttime approaches.
There are the houses that belonged to elementary school friends. I still smile when I drive by them as fun, silly childhood memories rise to the surface.
There’s the Los Angeles Arboretum, where we often visited as a family. That’s a wonderful drive-by. The peacocks, the gardens, Queen Anne’s Cottage (where exteriors of Fantasy Island were filmed,) the benches where we ate tuna fish or egg salad sandwiches, the fountain we used to cool ourselves on summer days, and so many other little details all weave a warm blanket of nostalgia.
When we visit Utah, my favorite drive-by is BYU campus. 1989 to 1994, when I was a student there, was a time of extreme personal growth, major milestones, and where I met terrific friends I still have today. Other drive-bys are my freshman dorms and the apartment house I lived in for 3 years. Oh, the memories!
And, of course, there’s Temple Square, which I first visited as a teenager. I think it is one of the most marvelous places in the whole world. It’s meaning and history, as well as the faith, patience, sacrifice, and sweat that went into its conception and construction never fail to impress me.
Locally, I have two drive-bys. One is the Portland Temple, which has come to mean a lot to me since moving here. I think of any temple I’ve visited, the Portland Temple touches my heart the most. I truly think of it as “my temple.”
The other is the beautiful man-made lake in our little town. No matter what the season, the lake twinkles at a certain time of day, usually just before dusk. It was my solace during the first few months here, where I would walk 2-3 times a day to break up the drudgery of unpacking and the challenge of adjusting to being away from my family. (Even a happily married newlywed misses her family!) We’re fortunate to live only a few steps away.
When I go into brainstorm mode, these are my drive-bys. All of them evoke powerful memories, just like the definition requires. And all of those memories point north to the person I am today.
Last night, while relaxing with the iPad, I came across something that really affected me. This is unique, and probably the beginning of a trend.
THE AMAZING SHUDU
It seems there is a new “super model” on the scene. She’s becoming very popular, very quickly. She is a stunning woman with a flawless ebony complexion, perfect figure, and clever social media posts.
But, you will never see her on a runway. Why?
Because she doesn’t exist. She is a computer-generated figure, conceived by a 28-year male designer, who also posts on her behalf. “Shudu” has over 40,000 Instagram followers, many of whom don’t realize that she isn’t an actual person.
Why did this affect me?
Because an image like this is one more thing that distracts from what’s really important.
FILLING THE HOLES
It’s unfortunate, but we live in a world that wants us to feel like we aren’t good enough, and never will be. That mindset creates holes and gaps in all of us (even though many of us know better) and businesses thrive on it: Cosmetics, weight-loss, self-help, money making schemes, fashion, electronics, cars, and so many others are all about making us feel better about ourselves.
And it works! But only as a fleeting euphoria. Because just like Shudu, it’s not real.
Then, there are the other ways people fill the holes: fame, power, materialism, comparison, competitiveness, food, and drugs…to name a few.
Like the others, these, too, are hollow and temporary.
BUT WHAT IF…?
What you’ll never see advertised are the real answers to filling those gaps, because they last, they’re reachable…and they’re FREE. So…
What if we were kinder, more often? Just because it is the nice thing to do.
What if we cared more about letting others shine? Just because everyone deserves that chance.
What if we supported one another, instead of comparing and competing?
What if we served for the benefit of others and not for the accolades that might come back to us?
What if we stepped out of ourselves more often, allowing for empathy and love?
What if we focused more on our many blessings and less on what we think we’re missing?
These are the gap fillers, my friends. These are the ways to fill the holes. And they have nothing to do with looks, weight, wealth, wardrobe, age, power, and all of those things society says we must have in order to be worth something.
So have the courage to be kind. Have the courage to truly care about others. Have the courage to focus on what’s real. Have the courage to focus on what matters. Have the courage to focus on what lasts.
Last Sunday at church, a lesson was given on Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s recent talk called A Yearning for Home. It’s a wonderful talk, which I urge you to watch or read.
The idea of “home” is an interesting one, and Sunday’s lesson got me thinking about it. We know that a house and a home are not the same thing. A house is a structure where someone lives. Wood, nails, steel, beams–shelter from the elements. But what is a home?
In its plainest sense, a home–like a house– is also a shelter, but not necessarily a physical one.
A BRAINSTORM OF DEFINITIONS
When the question was asked on Sunday, “What is home?” there was a variety of answers:
“Home is where you live.”
“Home is where you feel love and peace.”
“Home is where you can be yourself.”
“Home is an escape from the rest of the world.”
“Home is the place you feel most loved.”
“Home is where you feel taken care of.”
“Home is your sanctuary.”
All of these are excellent answers and correct in their own way. In fact, I think these answers are even more correct than the dictionary definition, which is basically a synonym for house. The sad truth is that there are plenty of people who grew up in houses that never had that peaceful sense of “home.”
In Elder Uchtdorf’s talk, he spoke of a dog who traveled 2,000 miles over several months to reunite with his family. I have a similar true story:
One afternoon when I was in ninth or tenth grade, I looked out the window and saw a reddish German Shepherd mix trotting down our street. I called to him and he came up to our gate. We made efforts to find his owners, but no one claimed him. He was ours now and, because of his coloring, we called him Sundance.
For the first few months, Sundance would sneak out of the gate whenever he had a chance. He would gallop up and down the street as we ran after him, eventually catching him, and bringing him back to the house. But one time, he ran out–and away. He was gone.
We called the Humane Society to see if someone had brought Sundance in, but he wasn’t there. We put up signs, asking if anyone had seen him, but we didn’t get one phone call. We drove up and down streets. Nothing.
Days went by. We resigned ourselves to the fact that the dog we had grown to love was gone for good. The best we could do was hope that he would find another family.
A week and a half went by. It was the afternoon. School was over for the day. I was returning to the house after dropping my brother off at a weekly lesson.
And there…was Sundance.
He was sitting on the corner of the front yard. He was dirty, but wagging his tail. He was home.
We have no idea where Sundance went during those 8-10 days. But he never ran away again. In fact, he was so devoted to us that we could walk him without a leash, either right next to us or a few feet ahead. He stopped when we stopped. He never crossed the street without us. He never ran after another dog.
My mom, brother, and I have always said that if we could choose one animal to talk, it would be Sundance. He always seemed like he was just about to say something.
This amazing dog lived with us for the next 10 years. A few years after I graduated BYU, while my mom and I were teaching at the same school, we received a phone call from my brother that Sundance had laid down in his favorite spot in the backyard and passed away.
HOME IS ABOUT THE HEART
Clearly, in Sundance’s case, “home” was where he felt the most loved and taken care of, which means it had nothing to do with the actual house and everything to do with the people in it.
There was a time when the house I grew up in was also home. My family was there. It was my physical and emotional shelter from the rest of the world.
When I bought my own house, that became home. I could be myself there. It was my sanctuary. It’s where I relaxed. The pictures and decor told my story.
And then I got married and moved to the Pacific Northwest. As I adjusted, the concept of home became a gray area for a while. Everything up here was very new, despite the fact that my sweet husband sold his house and bought one for us to start our new life together. A house we found and picked out together. Still, it took a long time for me to stop calling California “home.” It was habit. It’s what I knew.
Then I sold my house in California and the umbilical cord to that home was finally cut. Amazingly, selling it wasn’t as emotional as I thought it would be. I realized that somewhere in the first few years of marriage, home became where I am now. And, although I have a tendency to get overly attached to houses I live in, the real reason that this is home now is because home is wherever my husband and I are together.
A LOVING SHELTER
So, yes, home is definitely a shelter from the world because home is where love abides. Home is where the craziness of the world is left at the door. Home is that place where we have the power to create an atmosphere that can affect others. If we do it well, people who enter will notice.
If I had the choice, I hope I’ll be remembered (among other things) as someone who knows how to create a home–one that is loving, peaceful, cozy, and welcoming. One of my favorite compliments (because let’s be serious, we all love compliments) is when someone tells me my home is warm and inviting. I love that. When I hear this, it feels like I’m doing something right and putting something good out into the world, even if it’s just our little corner of it.
Everyone, at any age, deserves to know the feeling of home. Tragedies, like the one last week in Florida, could be avoided. A true home, whether it is in a house, a church, or in a tent under the stars, gives a person the sense of self needed to face the challenges of Life.
How different the world would be if everyone felt loved, welcomed, and embraced. How different it would be if everyone had the peaceful refuge of home.
Today’s few minutes of free thought are devoted to the evolution of gift giving. Not the historical evolution, but the evolution of how gift giving changes as we get older.
Remember when you were a kid and grownups were always telling you that it was better to give than receive? It didn’t really resonate, did it?
Remember when you loved birthdays and Christmas because of the gifts you expected to receive? Whether you knew what to expect or not, the fact that you could expect them made those occasions something to look forward to with childlike anticipation.
As I’ve gotten older (ugh) I am finding that those types of things really do matter less and less. The grandeur of gifts matter less and less. Do you know which gifts I treasure the most these days? The gifts I’m not expecting at times I’m not expecting them.
The earliest one I can remember was from my grandfather, who we called Tito. He’s been on my mind a lot lately because the 10-year anniversary of his passing is coming up on March 13. I can hardly believe it’s been 10 years.
When I was a junior and senior in high school, Tito was usually the one who picked me up in the afternoon. He was a very quiet man—a mining engineer from Guanajuato, Mexico who emigrated to the US with my expectant grandma (Tita) and 3 kids (including my mom) in 1949. We rarely talked in the car during those afternoon rides, partly because I was tired from the day, partly because Tito was never into small talk, and partly because I found myself preoccupied with the way he always drove with two feet—one on the accelerator and one on the brake. I’ve never seen anyone else drive like that but, calculated, meticulous man that he was, he never got into an accident.
Tito was a life-long learner. He could build and fix anything. ANYTHING. He subscribed to magazines like Smithsonian and National Geographic and read them from cover to cover each month. (Propped up on a tabletop book stand that he designed and built, of course. ) He taught himself to play the organ, and was always a bit envious (though he never admitted it) that I could play the piano by ear, frequently asking me if I had practiced lately, and always appearing a bit deflated when my answer was “no.”
I often find myself tapping into memories of him.
Tito was not a spontaneous person, a trait I probably inherited from him, so when he did things “on the fly” it really was unexpected—even the smallest gesture.
He had a gruff voice, although he wasn’t a gruff person. I knew that he loved me very much, although he never said the words.
I know, a lot of build up for a gesture that will seem small to some, but meant a lot to me.
One weekday afternoon when I was 16 or 17, Tito came to pick me up from school—fairly prompt as always—in his white Datsun truck. I got in, said hi as I put on my seat-belt, and watched him take out a small plastic bag. Inside was a little yellow eraser, about an inch long, in the shape of a piano. He’d been to Pedrini’s Music earlier in the day (probably to look at their books of “easy organ music”,) saw this, thought I would like it, and bought it.
And THAT is why unexpected gifts are the best. Someone has been thinking of you, or you’ve been thinking of someone else, for no reason at all except you’ve seen something that reminded you of them. No holiday, no birthday, just a reminder of friendship or love that exists. That alone is cause for celebration.
I admit I don’t know where that little eraser is right now. I think, after decades of moving it from apartment to apartment in college, then to my California apartment and houses, it eventually got lost in the shuffle. But I did keep it for a very long time. Even the memory of it warms my heart and motivates me to pay that gesture forward once in a while with people I love.
If you haven’t given an unexpected gift before, or if you have and it’s been a while, do it. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, because the nature of the gesture will speak volumes.
And you will be reminded that what you were taught as a kid really is true: it IS better to give than receive.
I found the picture above completely by accident, but it just makes me laugh at how much it resembles my own desk. Except, instead of a digital picture of a guy in a hardhat, I have 2 pictures of flowers. Instead of speakers, I have family pictures. Instead of a camera on a shelf, I (we–Hubby and I share a home office) have some ham radios that we bought and have yet learned how to use. Oh yes, and my long, wiry desk lamp is black and on the right side. See? Similar. LOL (And yes, I keep Post-It notes in business. And yes, I have a note stuck to the bottom left corner of my iMac.)
Two days ago I discovered a new app called Lifecraft. In a way, it’s almost been a “life raft.” (See what I did there? *wink*) It’s a journaling app and I love it. It is helping me rediscover the bravado I use to have with my previous blog. I’m not sure why that has diminished as much as it has, but I am digging around for it. A writer/blogger needs that.
It also has an 8 minute timer. Who came up with the idea that 8 minutes is the perfect amount of time to let loose with the words and allow them to pour out without overthinking? It’s brilliant! It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you aren’t second guessing yourself. After an 8 minute journal entry, I flew over here and set 8 minutes on my phone to do it again. And look…2 minutes to spare.
Be brave, be sure, be creative. My creation place is where I write (similar to the picture above) but it is also the place in my mind and soul where I scoop out what I need to write. That is what makes a writer–an insatiable need to write.
This page is also my creation place. Stats, likes, visitors, and followers are all peripheral. Appreciated, but peripheral. The more you create for you, the less you will worry about the opinions of others. Approval is so overrated.
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.
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.
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.
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.