Category Archives: Memories

Know-It-All

Grade 9. English class. The assignment? An essay on something we wanted to do with our lives. The mark? C.

I was a straight A student – how could *I* get a C???

With no small sense of indignation I approached the teacher and asked this very question. His response? “You didn’t use enough big words.”

“Well,” I thought, “I’ll show him!” That night after I got home from one of the many activities I was involved with, I sat down with my dad’s big ole dictionary. I looked up every word in my original essay, replaced it with a bigger word, and dropped the revised essay on the teacher’s desk the next morning.

My new mark? D.

With a sense of indignation rivaled by few, I approached the teacher and demanded to know why I had now received a D – after all, I had used *plenty* of big words this time, hadn’t I? Turns out he didn’t believe that I knew the meaning of all of them.

“Try me,” I said.

Word after word he gave me. Word after word I gave him the definition. Finally, he came to the word ‘repose’. “Oh, that one’s easy,” said I. “It’s what you do all day with your feet up on your desk when you’re supposed to be teaching us.”

I never knew a man’s face could turn so many different colours. But I did get my A after all.

Looking back, there were certainly better ways I could have handled the situation, especially now that I am a teacher that has experienced the joy and frustration of having know-it-alls in my own classes. But in my early teenage years, with a teacher who was using all the new-fangled teaching methods (such as group work!) and with my then-photographic memory that worked a lot better with book work, I felt a lot of frustration. I remember very clearly sitting down one week and memorizing my Grade 5 health book, and memorizing piano pieces came so easily that I often could play up to about a Grade 8 or 9 level without much practice at all.

There is, however, a difference between a know-it-all and an insufferable know-it-all.

My husband is a good example of this. He is a true polymath, a person of great and varied learning. But he doesn’t like to broadcast too much about that. While much of the Western world spends their free time watching television and sports and seeking general entertainment, he loves to study. Besides studying languages, some of his hobbies include astronomy, deciphering an ancient script, and mathematics. As in, linear algebra, LaPlace transformations, and other higher level math – he once approached the mathematics faculty at a local university with a problem he was having trouble with, only to discover that they couldn’t do it either! He writes magazine articles about history, politics, economics, and academic papers on semiology, little known languages, other subjects. He writes fantasy and science fiction novels for fun. There is not much that he doesn’t know something about. Our daily conversations often sound like a lecture hall or roundtable discussion, and are informative, interesting, and just what I love.

I was raised to always strive to do my best. I used to use the results as a standard against which I could measure others. But I don’t anymore. Now I always try to do my best because I want to be the best that I can be, regardless of what anyone else is doing. I was once told by a principal in a school that I worked at that I should try to be less enthusiastic because I was making the other teachers feel bad! But that’s not me – I love learning. I have taken courses at eight universities or colleges, studied at least ten languages, and am always looking for more skills that I can learn – in the past few years I have started painting, drawing, and knitting, for example, and I just started taking some classes in statistics and analysis in educational psychology. Indeed, in my faith we are encouraged to get as much education as we can.

I have had people tell me over the years that I was a know-it-all – and they meant an insufferable one. I know my grade 9 teacher probably thought so, and if I knew how to find him I would probably offer him an apology for the hard times I gave the poor man.

But, I am not a know-it-all any longer. I have incontrovertible proof – I only got 99.48% in my stats class.

(I didn’t say I wasn’t still insufferable!)

The Face of Grief

This was me five years ago.
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A lot has changed since then.

Four years ago I got married…
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and got a new-step-daughter.
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Three years ago, my daughter left.

By left, I mean that she left without a word. And except for one short email to tell me that she was nowhere near the massive flooding that was happening where we thought she was living, I haven’t heard from her since.

No explanation. No goodbye. Just gone.

It’s mind-boggling, really. Was I a perfect mother? Of course not. The only perfect person who ever walked the earth was Jesus Christ. But I am sure that I did nothing to warrant this loss, and that I did the best I could for her.

I gave her opportunities to develop her talents…

Oil painting

Oil painting

Flute in Concert Band

Flute in Concert Band

Saxophone

Saxophone

and interests.

War of 1812 Re-enactments at Stoney Creek

War of 1812 Re-enactments at Stoney Creek

Photography (Self-Portrait)

Photography (Self-Portrait)

Curling

Curling

Lord of the Rings Online: Aerieth the Elf (her) and Edrod the Dwarf (me)

Lord of the Rings Online: Aerieth the Elf (her) and Edrod the Dwarf (me)

I traveled with her all over Canada and the eastern United States…

Northwest Territories

Northwest Territories

Ontario

Ontario

Nunavut

Nunavut

went on a tour of Newfoundland…

Gander Bay

Gander Bay

Bonavista

Bonavista

Twillingate

Twillingate

and, with my parents, gave her a cruise as her high school graduation present.
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I encouraged her to have friends from all over, to care about her family, to savor special occasions….

My nephew's christening

My nephew’s christening

My parents' 40th anniversary

My parents’ 40th anniversary

Extended family

Extended family

Step-sisters

Step-sisters

Church camp with her best friend

Church camp with her best friend

Our wedding

Our wedding

My brother's wedding

My brother’s wedding

Boating with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and us

Boating with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and us

And yet, she’s gone.

But that is not all I lost on the day she left.

I lost my godmother, who is one of my aunts, as well as her husband, her two sons, their spouses, and three children. Some of them not only knew what she was planning, but along with her biological father, encouraged it, and helped her to do it in secret. Some of them say they didn’t know. I don’t know who to believe. And even if relations are ever restored, how does one learn to trust again in people who had a hand in such as this?

I lost the close rapport I had with some of my own extended family. Some because they didn’t and still don’t know what to say; others because they pretend she never existed; still others who blame me for her leaving.

I lost a whole slew of people that were supposed to be friends, but had no kind words to say after she left.

But I have also gained some things as well.

I finally realized one of the reasons why the little girl I was so close to when I lived in Pond Inlet died – so helpful to us in life, she has also helped me in death by giving me a taste of that sense of loss long before I felt the loss of my daughter. Though she is not dead, her absence in our lives is felt every day.

I finally am able to pray as I should, something that was denied to me for many years as a result of my first marriage. After it ended, I would become physically ill whenever I prayed, and had resorted to cursory and perfunctory prayers much of the time. Now I can pray again – every day is a constant prayer that she is safe, making good choices, happy.

I finally have realized – or at least have some small inkling – of just what it means when the scriptures say that Heavenly Father lost a third of His children. Why should I exempt myself from what He has experienced?

I finally know that healing of all kinds comes through the Atonement of Christ. “The Savior’s atonement in the garden and on the cross is intimate as well as infinite. Infinite in that it spans the eternities. Intimate in that the Savior felt each person’s pains, sufferings, and sicknesses. Consequently, he knows how to carry our sorrows and relieve our burdens that we might be healed from within, made whole persons, and receive everlasting joy in his kingdom.”

I hope one day she will return to us. If she does, she will be welcomed with open arms, a prodigal daughter to a mother who misses her.

This was me five years ago.

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And this is me today.

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Church Service Missions

Altoona Pennsylvania Stake Conference, Nov 22, 2014

In the fall of 2012 I was teaching in northern Manitoba, Canada, about 750 miles north of Fargo, North Dakota. My husband and I had been married for two and a half years, and I had taken this position teaching in a remote Cree Indian community for something to do while we waited for immigration to allow me to come to the United States to live with him and my step-daughter. During those first years of our marriage we spent a lot of time on Skype – we turned on Skype when we got up in the morning, and turned it off when one of us fell asleep at night. With little else to do in the community I was living in, I was spending a lot of time online while we were Skyping. One night I was on LDS.org and was just sort of clicking my way through all sorts of links on there, when I stumbled across a page that talked about part-time church service missions. As I read, I got more and more excited. As a convert to the church in my mid-twenties with a nine-year old daughter, I didn’t have the opportunity to serve a mission, so I found this prospect intriguing. I, for one, always imagined that church service missionaries were retired older members, probably married, with no children at home, and looking for something worthwhile to do in their golden years. And that used to be the standard. But no longer! If you have as little as eight hours a week to spare, you can qualify to serve a church-service mission!

You, like me, may not realize just how many different kinds of church service missions there are. Some are full-time; some are part-time. Some require travel; some are at-home. They all fall under one of the areas found in the four-fold mission of the church – helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary efforts, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead. But one thing is clear…if there is something you love to do, there is probably a mission for it.

Do you like taking pictures? There’s a mission for that! Church-service photographers are sent a topic each week, spend a few hours taking pictures, then submit them to the church. These photos are then used by website developers, church magazine editors, the Mormon Newsroom, and other church departments to create and enhance content on the church’s more than 200 official websites.

Do you like looking at pictures that other people have taken? There’s a mission for that! While you are checking submitted photos to ensure they meet our standards, you also tag them so that when someone is looking for pictures to add to a website or article, they can quickly find them.

Do you like technology? There’s a mission for that! If you have tech skills, you could be developing apps and other tools for members, making online games for children, creating music apps, or offering technical support.

Do you like family history? There are missions for that! Indexing, research, data specialist, online support – these are just some ways that you could serve a family history mission.

Do you like helping people with their problems? There are missions for that! From Addiction Recovery to Bishops’ Storehouses to Mormon Helping Hands there is a way for you to serve. And if you have medical training, there are even humanitarian cruises where you spend five months on board a navy ship traveling from port to port giving medical attention to underprivileged areas of the world!

Do you like building or fixing things, talking to people, answering phones, working with youth, teaching, helping the missionaries, enhancing military relations, swimming, camping? There are missions for all of these things!

There are even at-home church service missions for youth and young adults who cannot serve a full-time regular mission!

So, after praying about it for several months and having several conversations with church employees about it, I submitted my mission papers and a few months later was called as an Operations Specialist for the LDS.org Response Team in the new church department called Communication Services. Now, that’s a mouthful!

But what do the thirty-five of us on the LDS.org Response Team really do? Well, you know the little Do You Have Feedback About This Page? link at the bottom of all the church web pages? I answer the feedback. I typically respond to 500 or more messages a month dealing with all sorts of topics. I answer a lot of Welfare, Calendar, Directory and Newsletter questions, and I also answer a lot of questions in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Bulgarian and Romanian – and no! I don’t speak all of those languages! Some of us are specialists in different areas. I, for example, am the Specialist for all the feedback for Study Notebook, whether it’s in the online Notes or the various Gospel Library apps. If you have trouble with highlights, tags, links, journals, bookmarks, notebooks or notes, more than likely I am the one who will respond!

Sometimes the Team is given special assignments. Anyone who is in Primary is probably aware of the Primary Resource Pages. These are thematic compilations of every related article, song, movie, game or other resource found on LDS.org that are suitable for children, and are a great help for Primary teachers and families looking for activities for lessons and family home evening. I was part of the group that accepted the request from the General Primary Presidency to find the resources for this resource.

Another special assignment that I was part of involved checking the materials available in other languages to be sure that the links worked and that all available translated documents were posted online.

And yet another special project that I am involved with is image tagging so that church departments can easily find images. A few weeks ago I sent an email to Young Men and Young Women leaders about this project and how the youth and other members can get involved. If you haven’t seen it yet, please ask me or your youth leaders about it. I strongly encourage you to help out with this worthwhile project!

President Monson said in 2013, “You may sometimes be tempted to say, ‘Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?’ I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure your influence for good” (Thomas S. Monson, LDS.org News and Events, June 24, 2013).

I didn’t know when I decided to serve an at-home part-time mission that I would be involved in any of the above activities. But there is no doubt that I have had opportunities to be an influence for good. Working with Study Notebook has led to the developers knowing what works and what doesn’t work, and in some small part this has resulted in changes being made to how it syncs with the apps for the over 2 000 000 current users. My work with the Primary Pages has benefited thousands of Primary teachers. I have had online discussions with hostile anti-Mormons who have written to me later and told me that they changed their minds about us and apologizing for things they said. I have brought several inactive members back to church. These are people I will never meet from places I will never go. I have sent countless golden contact referrals to the missionaries. And because I sometimes forget to remove my name tag after church activities, I have had the opportunity to heighten the church’s presence in my own community.

Since 1979, the Church-service missionary program has provided a growing and varied number of opportunities to serve. This important missionary workforce helps many Church departments and operations provide needed products and services, while at the same time, safe-guarding the integrity of tithing funds. Serving others brings great blessings to the tens of thousands of us who serve, to our families, and to the Church worldwide. I invite you to prayerfully consider joining me in hastening the work by serving a church service mission. It’s just an hour a day. You won’t regret it! In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Forward with Faith…or The Plague of the 3 Ds

Note: This post was originally written as an adaptation to a talk (sermon) that I gave early this year.

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On New Year’s Eve my husband and I stood on our front porch at the stroke of midnight listening to the laughter and festivities taking place on our street. “Here’s to a better year,” he said. To which I replied, “Surely it can only get better from here?”

You see, this past year was marked by the three Ds that have plagued our marriage for all of its three and half years. Death, disease and disappointment seem to have been the hallmark of our marriage. Last month was no exception. Among the three deaths that affected me in December was one of my brightest students that I taught last year on the Cree Indian Reservation where I worked in northern Manitoba. Not technically diseases, but certainly health issues abounded. Between a bad fall, kidney stones, and a dog attack, things were not pleasant. And this Christmas we were supposed to spend the holidays with my family in Newfoundland, which I was dearly looking forward to, as was my three year old nephew whom I miss dreadfully.

I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised by the trials we endured in December, and in a way, we weren’t. Those of you who don’t know us very well could think that I was over-exaggerating when I said that our marriage has been plagued by those three Ds. It started the week before our marriage, actually, when a sewage flood in the apartment I was renting ruined nearly everything for the wedding, followed by the loss of 300 report card files that had to be redone, 12 hours of hair care, and a day in the hospital due to kidney stones.

Then we got married.

Since then I have lost my grandmother and other relatives, several friends, and many former students, most of them to suicide; I have had health issues with every major organ in my body; my step-daughter has had ongoing issues with her ears and other problems resulting from the illness of her mother and her subsequent moving halfway across the country; some of our relatives shunned us for a whole year because we asked them to watch a Christmas Devotional with us; my old van literally blew up in the driveway; my replacement vehicle was stolen and ended up costing about $10 000 in repairs over the course of the year as a result; my husband’s car was broken into when he met me in Montreal for our immigration interviews; due to immigration laws and issues, we were separated for three and a half years, not the nine to fourteen months we had expected; our oldest daughter ran away from home two years ago and hasn’t spoken to any of us since. And this is the shortened list.

When such things occur, it is human nature to wonder why these trials and tribulations happen. Why me? is a popular refrain amongst those suffering intense adversity. Perhaps the better question is: Why not me? Understanding why such things occur in our lives is a key step toward being able to move forward with faith.

W. N. Partridge in his book entitled ‘All These Things Gain Us Experience’ gives us five reasons why we have afflictions.

First, punishment is one reason that we have trials. Indeed, it is human nature to assume that our trials are punishment for some misdeed we have committed. But this is not always so. We turn to various means to attempt to make sense of what is happening to us.

Falling to our knees in prayer is one way we attempt to make sense of the things that are happening in our lives. Our cries of woe are further reinforced in our minds when we feel that our prayers for relief have gone unanswered. But Richard G. Scott teaches us that, “It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately…. When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence. When He answers no, it is to prevent error. When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth.”

When we look to the scriptures for answers, we fall upon passages such as that of Lot’s wife, who through disobedience to God’s commandments was turned into a pillar of salt. But, as Partridge explains, “Lot’s wife…wasn’t just looking back; in her heart she wanted to go back. It would appear that even before she was past the city limits, she was already missing what Sodom and Gomorrah had offered her…. So it isn’t just that she looked back; she looked back longingly…. To yearn to go back to a world that cannot be lived in now, to be perennially dissatisfied with present circumstances and have only dismal views of the future, and to miss the here and now and tomorrow because we are so trapped in the there and then and yesterday are some of the sins of Lot’s wife.”

Are we like Lot’s wife, holding on to the familiar yet discordant past in fear of what is to come? When we feel we are being punished for some misdeed, it is easy to wallow in self-pity and guilt, to maintain the status quo. As much as we do not like what is happening, some small part of us thinks that we must deserve to be punished, or that, as the saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Moving forward is difficult in the best of times; moving forward with faith in times of trial, to exchange a known way of being that we can bear, regardless of how terrible the experience is, for perhaps an unknown trial that we cannot, is a frightening prospect.

But, we cannot remain stagnant and expect to grow as an individual, as a family, as a community, or as a nation. One of the purposes of punishment is to help us effect a change for the better in our lives, to be more obedient to the will of the Lord, to strive to better those around us through service. Lot and his daughters learned a hard lesson that day about the consequences of disobedience, just as the inhabitants of the earth did when they failed to listen to Noah‘s voice and the rains started to fall, and the Nephites who became slaves to the Lamanites after the martyrdom of Abinadi. They knew they had done wrong, as the scriptures record that “they did cry mightily to God…that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.”

So it is with us.  As we learn the lessons of obedience, we, too, can have our afflictions lessened as we go forward with faith.

A second reason that we are given afflictions is to help us remember our duty. Affliction is not limited to people of my faith. Indeed, anyone who believes in God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, have taken upon themselves certain duties when they become believers. When we became members of this Church, we took upon ourselves many duties – to obey the commandments, pray daily, read scriptures, bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, accept callings….the list goes on. Afflictions help us to remember those duties, for if we do not remember them, we begin to forget God, and Satan creeps into our lives.

This is what happened to Lehi and his family in Mosiah 1:17. “Therefore, as they were unfaithful they did not prosper nor progress in their journey, but were driven back, and incurred the displeasure of God upon them; and therefore they were smitten with famine and sore afflictions, to stir them up in the remembrance of their duty.” Lehi had been wandering for eight years in the desert, forgot God, and was afflicted. Not just afflicted, mind you, but SORE afflicted.

In the Doctrine and Covenants 121 we read of Joseph Smith’s pleas to Heavenly Father while in Liberty Jail: O God,  where art thou? In Section 122, we read the Lord’s response to those pleas, wherein He asks fifteen questions of Joseph, ending with the phrase, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee  experience, and shall be for thy good.”

When we have afflictions and honestly feel that we have not done anything to warrant such punishment, we should ask ourselves if we are remembering our duty to God. To move forward with faith through such trials, we must fulfill all of our responsibilities, magnify our callings, pay a full tithe and a generous fast offering, keep the Sabbath Day holy, obey the commandments, do our visiting and home teaching, support our leaders, fellowship with other members, follow the counsel of the prophets, and live up to our roles as parents. In the midst of affliction it is easy to let these things fall to the wayside. The harder path is to move forward with faith by striving to do each of these things more perfectly.

A third reason that we have afflictions is so that we can be an example for others. Seeing how others overcome afflictions in their lives can help us to move forward with faith when we are faced with our own afflictions. In Alma 17:11 the Lord says to the four sons of Mosiah as they are starting their fourteen year mission among the Lamanites that, “…ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me…” Can you imagine how those young men must have felt knowing that they were about to have fourteen years of afflictions? And yet, they moved forward with faith, because they had been promised that if they bore their afflictions they would have much success.

Oftimes we are not being afflicted because of wickedness or because we have forgotten God in our daily lives. Health problems, unemployment, family crisis, death, financial issues, natural disasters come to both the unrighteous and the righteous. When righteous individuals are afflicted in such ways, it is to show that even in the midst of trials those who know God can be examples of hope to those around them by going forward with faith.

Although not a member of our church, my husband’s Aunt Anne, who has been afflicted with a very painful condition her entire adult life, is a wonderful example for my family. Despite her condition, she is one of the brightest, most cheerful people you could ever meet. And when her only daughter and son-in-law asked her if they would consider moving closer to them, the first thing Aunt Anne did was to go to her knees in prayer, not once, but several times.  She received the answer that she and Uncle Hal needed to move to be near their only child. They immediately flew halfway across the country, chose a home site, contracted a builder, and put their home up for sale. The amazing thing about this, however, is not that she prayed and acted upon the response she received. The amazing thing is that her daughter lives in Oklahoma City. In fact, when the big tornado was sweeping through the community, cousin Amy’s home was in its direct path. She went to the safest part of their home and prayed fervently that her home would be spared and her husband would make it home safely. And…the tornado changed direction at the beginning of her street. Amy’s house sustained little damage – the worst was a section of fence that fell down. But less than a quarter of a mile away, complete destruction reigned. Whole neighbourhoods gone, with just foundations showing where homes once stood. And it was in the midst of this chaos that Aunt Anne and Uncle Hal decided to follow the Lord’s prompting to give up all they had worked their entire lives to build, to leave behind friends and activities and the very comfortable life they had made for themselves in their retirement, and to move forward with faith to begin again.

A fourth reason that we have afflictions is to prepare us for something that we need to learn.

When I was growing up I was an active member of my Protestant church. When I became pregnant at age eighteen, my entire family was devastated. My minister told me that if I did not get married, my child would be “a sin and an abomination.” I remember looking at her, and with a sinking heart, telling her that if that is what her church believed, then I could no longer be a member of that church. I spent the next several years raising my daughter, while going to university full-time, taking extra classes, and working anywhere between four to seven part-time jobs. My parents or brother would fly the 900 miles to the province I was living in to pick my daughter up during exam periods so that I could have time to study, but the rest of the time, I was largely on my own with her while at university.

It was during this time that I began my search for a church that I could believe in. I knew that I was not an atheist or agnostic – I knew that God exists. I read everything that I could find about every other religion I had ever heard about, talked to ecclesiastical leaders from any number of congregations, searched online. In every religion I found truths, but there was always something that told me that each one was not quite right for me.

One night I saw an ad for a free Book of Mormon on television, and gave the number a call. I spent six years reading, studying, talking to missionaries, and going to church before I was baptized. To make it clear how active I was in this Church before my baptism, I had one brother exclaim, “You’re not baptized? I thought you must have been born in the Church! Well, that explains why I could never figure out why you didn’t have a calling!”

My experiences as a pregnant teenager and unwed mother were very difficult to go through, but they prepared me to go forward with faith to find the true church, and as a result, my husband and step-daughter.

Finally, sometimes we are given trials to test our patience and faith. In Abraham 3:25 we are told that we should expect lots of trials and adversity. Christ says in that verse that “…we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” A modern-day definition of the word ‘prove’ means to determine quality through tests. But the archaic meaning of the word makes our purpose here on earth even clearer. It means to find out or learn something through experience. How do we gain that experience? Through trials and tribulations, adversity and afflictions.

After I joined the church, I, like many others I suppose, had this naive idea that things could only get better. I quickly found a suitable spouse, and after a short period of time, we were married in the temple. Since it took me six years to be baptized, I’m sure you can appreciate that I rarely do things on a whim, but rather study them out and choose the best option. Getting married was no different. On seven different occasions I prayed about it, and each time was prompted to pick up the nearest scriptures and open them at random. I picked up seven different scriptures – at home and in the temple, hard bound and soft bound, triples and quads, old and new – and each time I opened the scriptures, I found myself reading Doc. and Cov. 104:51, which reads, “And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation.” I figured, hey! this must be a sign, right? Seven different scriptures all telling me the same thing?

So imagine my dismay when things rapidly went downhill. As in, we walked out of the temple, into the chapel, and things start to go wrong. The diamonds fell out of my wedding band. I spent most of the reception in the bathroom being violently ill. My new father-in-law kept referring to his son as the ‘gloom’ instead of the groom. Long story short, the marriage didn’t last long and my husband was eventually excommunicated.

Fast forward about a year and a half. I was living a scant five minutes from the temple, and I spent a lot of time there because I knew for certain that that was the one place that my ex would not be. I prayed day after day in the temple for an answer as to why these things had happened when I felt so sure that I was supposed to marry this guy.

One February day I was sitting in the chapel inside the temple, praying about this matter and pondering again on that scripture…”And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation”… when I heard as clear as a bell, a voice say to me, “What comes next?”

I had never thought to continue reading that verse. I picked up the nearest scriptures and read the following, “And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation, The covenants being broken through transgression, by covetousness and feigned words—  Therefore, you are dissolved as a united order with your brethren, that you are not bound only up to this hour unto them.” Well, I thought, that is pretty clear. The covenants had been broken, through transgression, covetousness, and lies, we were divorced or not bound to each other any longer, and he had been given the opportunity to seek salvation through repentance.

I was telling this story to my Stake President one day a few months later, and he, knowing everything that had happened in that marriage, commented, “I do not understand why you are still a member. I have known countless people who have left the church over far less than what you have experienced.” My reply? “Where else can I go? I believe the Book of Mormon is scripture. I know Joseph Smith is a prophet. I have a strong testimony in the sealing ordinances of our temples. There is no other place for me to go.”

My patience and faith were sorely tried during this time of my life, but I also know that the scriptures give us this promise: “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me….And I will…ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders…” (Mosiah 24:13-14). The only sure thing to do in times of hardship is to go forward with faith, believing that God will ease our burdens.

Here is the thing about afflictions – the difficulty of the trial depends upon the individual and the circumstances that cause the affliction. And what passes as an affliction for one person, could be a great blessing for another. Take, for example, a heavy rain after a season of drought. For the couple hosting a backyard barbeque, this rain is certainly not a blessing. But for the farmer, this same rain will save his crop and allow him to provide for his family. If we learn to approach our understanding of our trials by looking for the blessings found therein, we can move forward in faith.

Those 3 Ds of Death, Disease, and Disappointment that I mentioned had plagued our marriage? All blessings in disguise.

If I had not had the opportunity to care for my grandmother for several hours each day in the pain-filled months preceding her death, I would not have had the opportunity to bear to her my testimony. I would not have had the opportunity to have her say to me, “You know, perhaps that’s what I believe, too.”

If I had not had all those health issues, I doubt that our marriage would have lasted. For example, in our first year of marriage we expected that we would be able to spend about six weeks that summer together, and perhaps one or two other weeks throughout the year. As a result of my illnesses, we actually spent close to seven months together in that first year.

As Doctrine and Covenants  122:9 tells us, “…fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” This promise, given to Joseph as he lay languishing in Liberty Jail, holds true for us as well.  If we bear our afflictions well, we, too, can move forward with faith with the sure knowledge that God will be with us forever and ever.

Mad Healz

I am a denizen of Middle Earth. What I mean is, I love playing LOTRO, the massively multi-player online role-playing game set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth. My main character is Bellanoria Bontael, an Elven Champion who is the consummate warrior, unrelenting in battle, excelling at melee combat, able to absorb punishment with her heavy armour.

Or that’s what I am supposed to do, at least. Don’t get me wrong – I love Bella. Super, strong, swinging a sword…. but I do not spend all my time constantly worrying about my next armour upgrade or new weapon capabilities. Though I love playing this character, I am a mediocre champ at best. Truth be told, while I love my champ, I love my Rune-keeper even more.

I did not think I would like being a Rune-keeper. Rune-keepers are one of the two most sought after classes of character, along with Minstrels. They are healing classes, and every good battle needs good healers. The problem is…good healers are hard to come by. As I found out very quickly, I was not a good minstrel, not at all. As in…everyone died. Very quickly. No slow and painful deaths for *my* LOTRO friends! No-sir-ree! wham! bang! dead.

But, I am an awesome Rune-keeper. In Middle Earth slang, I have mad healz, man, mad healz. Whether I am fighting and healing at the same time, or just healing because there are so many heavy tanks whomping everything in sight, I rock at healz.

You know who else rocks at healz? Our priesthood.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Our priesthood, when held by worthy men with proper authority, also has the ability to heal when coupled with true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ on the part of the recipient. I am living proof of the truth of this claim.

In 2001 I was a new member of my church. I also developed severe kidney stones. After meeting with a urologist, it was determined that the stone was too large to pass naturally or to undergo lithotripsy, which at the time meant being immersed in a vat of water as sound waves pummel one’s kidneys until one’s entire back and sides – inside and out – are black and blue. It’s basically the equivalent of being kicked in the kidneys three thousand times. I was devastated as I learned that the only option was surgery. A friend suggested that I ask for a priesthood blessing, which I promptly did. However, my thoughts were , “Yeah, right. Like this is gonna work.” And guess what? Nothing happened, except for getting a phone call from the urologist to come for a pre-operative x-ray in two days as the procedure was going to be performed in three days. The x-ray showed that this huge boulder that was lodged in my kidney hadn’t gone anywhere.

That evening I felt prompted to ask for another priesthood blessing, and so I called the missionaries and my ecclesiastical leader to come over to my house again. This time I was more sincere and fervently prayed that I would not have to have surgery. During the blessing, Bro S said, “We pray that the necessary things will happen so that this too shall pass.” As he said those words, I felt a sharp pain shoot from the top of my head all the way to my toes. As soon as the blessing was over, I ran to the washroom, and quickly and effortlessly and, most importantly, painlessly, passed numerous shards of stone.

The next day, surgery day, I went to the place where the procedure was to be performed. I told the urologist that I didn’t think I needed the surgery anymore. He told me that was highly unlikely and sent me for more x-rays. About an hour later, the x-rays were repeated. And about a half hour after that, he called me into his office, where, with a strange look on his face, he told me that he had never seen anything like this, that in all of his years of practice he had never seen anyone pass a stone as large as mine was.

Fast forward to this year. I was walking my three dogs in the wee hours of a wet and windy Wednesday morning. As usual, I was holding the two little dogs in my right hand and the big 100 pounder in the left. He is so strong that I have to use a harness, much like a horse’s halter, when I walk him. We were approaching the main street of the town where we live, when a passing police car turned on its sirens. All of the dogs were frightened by the sudden sound and lights directly in front of us. The two little dogs ran one way, and the big guy lunged the other way. I heard a popping sound as he did so, but managed to make it back home.

With my arm still throbbing a couple of hours later, I went to see my doctor.  My swollen upper arm was already black and blue. Turned out that I had sprained my bicep, and was told that it would take about six weeks to heal properly, and that I shouldn’t do anything strenuous at all and try to use my arm as little as possible, and to come back to see her in two days. I burst into tears – I had just spent six weeks recovering from a trip in the sidewalk where I had ended up in a wheelchair, and was not looking forward to yet another lengthy recovery period. So, I asked for a blessing that evening.

Two days later I returned to the doctor, who looked at my arm. “Oh,” she said. “I guess I wrote down the wrong arm,” as she examined my left arm. “Nope,” I replied, “You’re looking at the right arm.” “But there’s no bruise!” “Nope.” “I don’t understand,” she said. But I did. The bruise was gone. The swelling was gone. The pain was gone. By Sunday morning I had full range of movement again.

There was only explanation: mad healz.

To learn more about this essential component of my faith, I invite you to read this article.

Poppies

The poppy. What better flower could be used as a symbol of remembrance and of hope? Springing forth from the poorest of soils and in the poorest of conditions, it wields it’s brightly coloured head on the slenderest of stalks, stalks that one imagines could not bear such a heavy load. Yet, they do.

The poppy, against all odds, flourishes despite all the hardships it endures, a symbol of hope that struggles can be overcome, sacrifices made meaningful, beauty found among horror. This common, lowly weed was one of the first flowers to establish itself on the battlegrounds and cemeteries of Europe during the war to end all wars, creating a mass of waving scarlet beauty where just a short time ago the same ground was drenched in blood.

It is not just our time that uses the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. The ancient Greeks and Romans gave offerings of poppies to the dead, as a symbol of a resurrection, a better life to come. Two hundred years ago, during the Napoleonic Wars, it was recorded that poppies covered the graves of those who had fallen. In addition, the poppy, due to its medicinal qualitites, has been used for thousands of years and across many cultures as a sleep aid. John McCrae was following these traditions when he penned  his famous poem. Perhaps more importantly, even though he was surrounded by the images of war, he continued to see the beauty that still existed around him – flowers blowing gently in the breeze, larks singing as they flew overhead – and used those powerful but often overlooked images to convey a message of hope, of accepting the torch of freedom, of remembrance. “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flander’s Fields” is a powerful statement on the nature of sacrifice from this doctor.

For many people, however, the word ‘poppy’ has another meaning. For me, growing up in Newfoundland, my grandfathers were called Poppy. Many a time I remember them, still miss them, wish I could talk them to once more in this life.

Poppy Ivany, my mother’s father, Eli, died in February 2001, after a terrible descendence into that anti-thesis of remembrance, Alzheimer’s. I have so many memories of him, but it was not until two years ago that I knew that he had volunteered to serve in World War II. He wanted to do his part, but was found medically unfit to serve, and so proudly wore his black armband showing that he was willing to fight but could not. After his memory had been destroyed and distorted by the ravages of his disease, my grandmother was forced to put him into a home. Yet she continued to visit him as often as she could. This was terribly difficult on her, not only having to make this decision but seeing him day after day descending further and further into his own private hell. I recall one day she was asked why she continued to visit him – after all, it was obvious that he no longer knew who she was. Her response? “He might not remember me. But I remember him.”

Eli’s father, Luke, was a Merchant Marine in the Great War. In the nineteen years that I knew him, he cautioned me many times to always do what was right, especially after he moved into our home when I was a teenager. One day after bestowing that same wisdom – along with many other insights – upon me once again, he paused. Getting a wistful look in his eye he told me that he always tried to be good, but there was one time he was glad he wasn’t. You see, he survived the Halifax Explosion because he and his cousin had been bad. He was positive that if they had not been sentenced to clean their ship as a punishment, that he would have been in the part of the harbour that was the worst hit when the explosion happened. His memories of that day and the days following, days when he was on clean-up detail, were etched in his memory like stone. A dazed young boy missing an arm, a father frantically searching for his family in the ruins of a house, a shell-shocked and blinded mother trying to feed her headless infant. My Poppy Luke had seen some terrible things during his time in service, and for many years he was quick to do his part at the Clarenville War Memorial ceremony as one of the last living veterans of World War I.

I sit here on this Remembrance Day, contemplating all of these things, and cannot help but think that when the Millennium comes it will be a strange experience for so many people. A time without war, without conflict, without sadness or loss…. Would that such a thing were possible before then, as we are admonished in the scriptures to ‘renounce war and proclaim peace’. Until that time, I will promote the cause of peace, support those who choose to be part of peace-keeping efforts, pray for a better tomorrow, and continue to wear the red poppy each year in remembrance of sacrifices made by loved ones, friends and strangers.

The poppies still grow in Flander’s Fields.

Lest we forget.

Jack

The old house stands empty near the intersection of Bar Road and what is now called ‘Trinity Drive’. The open door of the traditional Newfoundland-style square home with the low roof swings diligently back and forth in the breeze as I watch, reminding me of Jack, a man I never met and whose last name I did not know until a few weeks ago, but who plays an unforgettable role in my childhood memories.

You see, the only memories I have of this short and stocky man are of him dressed in his red and purple checked flannel shirt and grey-green overalls and rubber boots and blue hat with the ear-flaps, a shovel in his hand, either digging in the ditch in front of his house or taking a break from digging in the ditch in front of his house. I didn’t know if he was married, had children, lived alone, had pets. I didn’t know how old he was, what his last name was, what he did for a living. I don’t even know when he died. The only thing I know is that whatever this man was, whoever this man was, he left a legacy behind. It’s a somewhat small legacy, and probably only important to me, but a legacy, a gift handed down from one generation to the next, nonetheless.

You see, Jack’s ditch never overflowed. His pipes never clogged. His trench rarely had to be redug by the Department of Highways. No overgrown weeds or scraggly alders dared make their appearance. No rocks, frost-hoven from a cold winter, or mud, loosened by spring rains, blocked the steady flow of water in front of Jack’s house. At the first sign of rain or storm or spring thaw there was Jack with his trusty shovel, diligently ensuring that his small part of the world was free from flood and debris.

I can’t help but wonder if some of the devastation caused by Hurricane Igor could have been avoided if there had been more Jacks around.

And I can’t help but wonder what childhood memory I would have instead of falling into a sewer ditch in Cornerbrook with my brother. Not one of my more pleasant memories, I can assure you. Neither of us had listened after being told repeatedly by mother and father and great-aunt and great-uncle to stay away from the ditch and our camper, which was parked parallel to the ditch. Not heeding anyone’s word and fully believing that nothing bad was going to happen to us, my brother and I decided that it would be great fun to jump on the bumper of the camper and promptly slipped off and fell – actually, rolled – into the sewer ditch. Crying and reeking and dying of shame, we shuffled our way into Aunt Anna’s and Uncle Cec’s house, where we were quickly admonished, ridiculed, bathed at arm’s length, soothed with hugs and given bananas. (Looking back, I think the bananas were a desperate ploy to get us to stop bawling so much, as it is very hard to screech when your mouth is full.) After all was said and done, Uncle Cec took me on his lap in his old armchair and gave me a good talking to about listening to adults, and then gave me a little burgundy box filled with scripture cards. I spent many hours diligently reading those cards and rearranging them and sorting them in different ways – alphabetical, biblical order, by colour….I still have them.

If only Jack had lived in Cornerbrook.

The memory of his diligence is Jack’s legacy to me. His diligence in that mere two feet by twenty feet ditch kept his little parcel of earth free from whatever vagaries Mother Nature threw his way. Everytime I pass by his ditch I am reminded that there are so many things I could be more diligent about. Prayer and scripture study are two that come immediately to mind, but there are other things, too. I could be more prepared for emergencies. I could keep more food in my house. I could learn how to be more self-sufficient with home and car repairs. The list goes on. I just need to be more diligent in being diligent.

Jack’s ditch is slowly filling in. The garden is overgrown. The windows in the house are broken. The paint is peeling. Yet, however small it may be, Jack’s legacy lives.

A Time of Firsts

My step-daughter and then-fiance took their first trip to Newfoundland last summer, to attend our wedding. For her birthday, I put together a photo book of her trip for her. The trip was filled with many firsts for us all, including my and my husband’s first kiss. Ever. My step-daughter thought it was pretty funny.  I hope you enjoy the book.

Not the Perfect Man

January: I met a guy. Well…I met THE guy, although I didn’t know it at the time. Call it coincidence, call it karma, call it destiny…call it what you will, but I was more than a little surprised to find out that not only was the guy a writer, but that I had read one of his articles a number of years ago and used it as research for a project I was working on back then. We had so many things in common.

February: Wrote a children’s book about the guy’s daughter, based on a video by her uncle called “Looking for Monsters.” It was a big hit with her and with the 425 students I was teaching at the time. The story itself came to me at one in the morning, when I awoke suddenly with the story already in my head. I decided to illustrate it using watercolours, even though I had never used watercolours – or done anything other than fingerpainting – before. “Boy, she sure knows how to get a guy”, my future mother-in-law commented. Also realized on the 20th that he was THE guy – he just didn’t know it yet.

March: How do two people have a serious relationship from 1800 miles apart? By talking on the phone for two to nine hours a day and sending hundreds of emails, that’s how! The guy says, without realizing it, “One thing I have learned from loving you is that….” I didn’t let on that he had said it, but inside I was jumping for joy.

April: Went to visit the guy and stay with his parents for a week. He was a perfect gentleman – even paying for (and using) two hotel rooms. His daughter leapt into my arms and wouldn’t let go. We went to the Washington DC Temple on the 6th. On the way he very nervously told me that he loved me. I said, “I know. You already told me.” And smiled. Later that day he asked me to marry him.

May: We decided to get married in June. My mother was surprised to find that I planned on making my own wedding dress. “But you don’t sew!” she exclaimed. “Not yet!” I replied. We also discovered that our mothers had already met. His had asked mine for directions to see puffins near here while his parents were on vacation two years ago.

June: The big day arrived. The moment of truth – our first kiss. In front of many of those we love in my parents’ backyard. My gentleman. Not that I really remember much, as I had spent the day before the wedding in the hospital and was taking lots of pain medication. He was there beside me the whole day.

July: There was a July this year? More hospitals. More pain meds. More forgotten days as a result. More being waited on hand and foot.

August: Medical issues continued, and still he was by my side. The end of the month brought many poignant moments as I prepared to return home, and he reassured me that things would be okay.

September: Back home, a new school year approached. More medical issues. He spent every moment possible talking via skype, playing endless games of online scrabble, and figuring out how to play board games when we were 1800 miles apart.

October: Enough is enough, he said, as medical issues continued, and arranged for me to see doctors there, who actually did figure out what was wrong and what I needed to do to fix it.

November: He was more than caring and supportive as I returned to work in a school…preparing for a concert, a musical and in the middle of report card season. Perspective, sanity, encouragement…he offered them all.

December: In the face of immense trials for his daughter and our entire family he kept a cool head, remained patient, and went about doing what needed to be done.

Sounds like the perfect man, doesn’t he?

He’s not.

At this time of year I am reminded that my love is not the perfect man as I, along with countless others, celebrate the birth of Christ, the only perfect man to have walked this earth. And I am grateful that my love is not perfect, because I am not perfect either.

My love is not the perfect man, but he is the perfect man for me because he treats me as the daughter of God that I am.

Dishrags

1968. A man and a woman, madly in love, left home and went upalong* to seek their fortune. Those were my parents. And eventually it led to me being born in the heart of Scarborough, the big city, the land of opportunity. But the pull of Newfoundland on the heartstrings was too strong for my parents to bear, and back home they went, back to family and friends, harbours and bogs, and making ends meet no matter the cost.

It was a good childhood. You know, I never knew we were poor until I went to university and was told so by a professor. I mean, I had always had everything I wanted. I was never hungry, never threadbare, never cold. There was good homemade food, new clothes, a wood stove to keep us warm. I can still remember the smell of mom’s homemade bread baking in the oven…waiting for it to come out so we could have thick pieces spread generously with molasses and fresh cow’s cream. If heaven has a smell, I think it must be like that sweet, fresh, hot bread. And waiting for the fresh milk to be scalded was sheer torture. Too hot or too long and all that beautiful, delicious cream would be wasted. It had to be just right. Rhubarb jam, snuck by the tablespoonful when no one was looking, blueberry duffs, bakeapples, salt meat, salt fish dripping in butter and partridgeberry jam. Even now that I am a vegetarian my one yearly bottle of partridgeberry jam is saved for special occasions, and until 2008 it was reserved exclusively for fish. (To a Newfoundlander, whether born or bred, fish means cod. Salt cod.) My men over the years quickly learned that that precious ruby bottle was not to be used for toast, and the biggest argument I remember having with one of them was over my bottle of ‘home’. Smoked caplin, fresh out of the smoking shed, eyes watering as they were stolen from uncles who always seemed to turn their backs when they knew we were skulking nearby. Of course, since we had spent many long, cold, wet hours skivering those caplin on to dry, poking their eye sockets onto nails on the skivers, we felt that we deserved to taste the fruits of our labours. We weren’t so eager to taste the squid that we hung, though. Making sure that their tentacles were wrapped around the flakes was hard business, but putting them in the toaster later made a crispy treat. Fresh potatoes, beet, carrots, cabbage, turnip greens from the garden, berries from the bogs and marshes and patches, moose and rabbit and birds enough to share with extended family. Cakes, cookies, trifles. The Sunday dinners of roasts and vegetables and gravy and canned fruit with Fussell’s cream. Salmon, cod, trout caught with our own hands. Purity syrup and fruitcake at Christmas. We weren’t poor as near as I could tell.

And the clothes! My God, can my mother sew! You know, when I was in high school my class went on a trip to Quebec. I left my mother with three patterns and a bolt of cloth and strict instructions that I wanted the neck of one pattern, the bodice of the second, and the skirt of the third. We got back the day before graduation and my dress fit like a glove. An off the shoulder beautiful salmon pink, with a flowing skirt, and handmade rosettes. Mom made my Sunbeam uniform for church, dozens of dresses, shorts, shirts, and other clothes, too, and quilts both plain and fancy. And give her a ball of yarn and some needles and she can create masterpieces of lacey intricate design, sweaters and afghans and baby blankets like you’ve never seen before. I think I was in grade 3 when she made my “angel shirt”. Everyone had to have one. The sleeves could be thrown back over your shoulders and when you ran it looked like you were wearing wings, angel wings. We used to pretend that we were angels, like my Uncle Derek, who having just drowned, was an angel. We tried to run fast enough with our angel wings so that we could see him again. But we never could. We could just remember him chasing us when the caplin was on, handfuls of slimy fish ready to be shoved down the back of our shirts instead of buried in the potato garden for fertilizer.

My grandmother is talented, too. She made sweaters for each of her living children one year when they were very young. I think we all still have them, passed down from mothers or fathers to daughters and sons and then to grandchildren. Three generations wearing those same hand-knit sweaters, Nan’s loving touch carrying through the years. Mom’s sweater was mustard yellow with a beautiful green and blue and red skater spinning in eternal rounds, worn by mom and me and my daughter, and now put away for my future grand-daughters and step-daughter and perhaps other children. Quilts and blankets for all her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, numbering now in the fifties, hold the evidence of her care for us, each one lovingly stitched with our names and the dates they were given. Nan is in her eighties now, still knitting, still showing her love by the work of her hands. Hats, mitts, vamps, scarfs. And lately, dishrags. Dishrags by the dozens. Sometimes left plain, out of the plainest wool, sometimes fancy in bright jewel-toned reds and greens with silver and gold peeking through, especially for Christmas, sometimes stitched together into drawers with cute sayings. Some people ask for big gifts for Christmas, but not me. Whenever Nan asks me what I want, I tell her I want the same thing I want every year – dishrags. “Haven’t you got some left?”, she says. “Yes,” I reply, “but you can never have enough dishrags,” I tell her. Truth is, I’m saving up. Living away from home for so long and having had such terrible relationships before now, sometimes it’s the little things that remind me of who I am and that I am loved. Doing dishes with Nan’s dishrags, knowing they were made with love just for me, is something I look forward to. Sometimes those dishrags were the only thing that got me through the heartache and the pain and the disappointment. I ask for them every Christmas, every birthday, because I have to save up. With these dishrags in my hands every day, how could I ever forget that I am loved when Nan, and her precious dishrags, are gone?

*upalong: mainland Canada, as opposed to ‘down home’, which for a Newfoundlander always means Newfoundland.