The Best Gifts are Unexpected…

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.

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Tito on his 95th birthday in 2006.

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.

 

The Creation Place

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A digital rendering of my desk. Kind of.

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.

 

Sometimes

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Lincoln City, OR 2012 (Photo by K. Cooley)

-SOMETIMES-

Sometimes maintaining seeds of bliss and balance is easy.

Sometimes it feels the world is conspiring against you.

This morning felt what way.

Sometimes the day churns along like butter.

Sometimes you feel forced to nod along with things you actually disapprove of.

This morning felt that way.

Sometimes everything flows so simply.

Sometimes things that should be simple get hijacked.

This morning felt that way.

Sometimes you wonder what lesson you’re supposed to be learning.

Sometimes remembering your blessings is the only thing that saves you.

This morning felt that way.

–2/1/18 by K. Cooley

 

 

Discovering the Pioneer Spirit Within Ourselves

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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

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“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

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“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

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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.

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“…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.