what is a squiggle?

According to fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Hill, a squiggle is a beginning point, a small, wiggly line on a page with the potential to become something more--a brilliantly drawn fifth-grade picture!

A beginning point. A silly phrase from my preschooler, my teenager rolling his eyes, or my kindergartner deleting my entire 3rd chapter...

Friday, December 7, 2012

Play Date

Every school day, my three-year old and I walk my five-year old to kindergarten.  By myself, I can complete the trip in two minutes.  Even with just my kindergarten I can make it in under four.  But with my little Loopie Loo, the journey takes close to twenty.

His adventure starts the moment we step out the front door as he pauses to search for dead and dying crickets around our doormat--poor misfortune insects who made the fatal mistake of hopping into the pesticide that protects our house from terrorist scorpions.  After he's pointed out all of the bugs, Loopie Loo bounds down the steps, across the grass and onto the dirt road with its thick, loose dusty covering.  He plops down in a soft pile of dirt, dust billowing around him, and draws one of his two favorite letters--an "x" or a "t" or sometimes, both.

When I finally convince him that he can play in the dirt later, and that we must get his brother to school, he jumps up, his backside covered in a light brown sheen, and runs to catch his brother, who, by this time, is impatiently waiting at the cement bridge that spans the irrigation canal.

I try not to choke on the dust kicked up in his passing.  At the bridge, Loopie again pauses for insects.  This time he stomps around the bridge, squishing any and all giant red ants that come into his line of sight.  His brother helps him, until I insist on holding their hands so we can cross the street.

The second we reach the other side, Loo Loo pulls his hand from mine and runs to check out a hole in the dirt next to the sidewalk.  He steps in it, then continues walking--on the curb, which at his age, with his grace and balance, takes an eternity.  For a brief moment he runs again, just until he's moved across the parking lot to another curb, and starts over with his tight rope act.

At last I take their hands again, we cross in front of the cars dropping off kindergartners and step to the office.  My five-year old says his goodbyes and disappears inside the building.  Time to go home.

But, no.

Loopie wants to wave to his brother at the playground.  So we walk to the fence that surrounds all of the cool playground toys that Loo Loo wishes he was old enough to use; while we wait, Loopie tries to squeeze himself through the slats of the fence.  Only his leg and arm fit.

My kindergartner eventually emerges, drops his backpack and waves at us.  Loo Loo stares after him for a moment before we turn around to walk home.  He slides his hand across the low wall in front of the office, and triumphantly kicks at the traffic cones set up to guide cars picking up and dropping off.  Thankfully, he ignores the curbs, walking contentedly beside me until we are again across the street.

As soon as we reach the rocky dirt, he selects two rocks, one for each hand, before resuming his war against the red ants.  When he has smashed enough ants, he drops to his hands and knees in the small, round stones that top the dirt in front of the bridge.  After he hands me his rocks, he scoots through the pebbles for the three feet that they extend into the dirt road while I cringe at the thought of holes in his pants.

Finally, he climbs back to his feet and runs over to the decorative curb that surrounds our neighbor's landscaping.  Loopie calls it "the snake."  As he walks along it, touching each of the solar accent lights he passes, I pray that he doesn't break anything.

Then, he's mine again, holding my hand (not the one holding his rocks) and telling me about the airplane he sees or the clouds floating by.  We are almost home.  We actually set foot on our grass.  But he asks for his rocks and trots off to drop them in the big hole he discovered in our lawn.  By the end of the school year, it should be filled.

After he plucks a leaf from a weed, Loo Loo runs to catch up with me, insisting that he open the door.  He swings it open; I barely catch it in time to keep it from slamming into the wall and watch as he drops his leaf and settles onto the couch to watch a movie.

I sink into a chair.  Exhausted.  Grateful that it's Wednesday, early release day.  Because it's too early to walk from the school to the mailbox.

That's an entirely different adventure...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I'm sorry, my poor neglected blog, but I'm abandoning you for an entire month.

I shall not visit you, read you, or even think about you.

I have other things to worry about.

That's right.  Tomorrow is November 1st--the beginning of National Novel Writing Month.

For the second year in a row, I've decided to participate in the 30 day madness of writing.  And....I've convinced my husband to join me this year.

Looks like the kids will be busy cleaning, cooking and doing laundry.

Until December...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Day of the Dead

Halloween scares me.

And it has nothing to do with the year my brother jumped from behind a bush when I was walking back to rejoin my husband after taking my toddler son potty.  Although, that was pretty scary.  I nearly peed my pants.

Nor does it relate to the grotesque costumes that abound: Zombies, vampires, people sporting fake (but very realistic) injuries on their bodies.

My fear of Halloween stems from something far scarier.  On October 31, 2006 my husband nearly took his own life.

He hadn't yet been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but he had been suffering from depression since late summer.  We'd taken a few trips to a psychiatric emergency room, but at that point we were still waiting to get him in to see someone on a regular basis.  And none of the medications they gave him seemed to be working.  In fact, they were making things worse.

On the night of October 30, my husband and I stayed up late working on his pumpkins for a work contest the next day.  We had purchased a nice little set of carving tools: scoops and various saws and knives.  As we worked, I noticed that my husband kept pausing in his work and examining the implement in his hand.  His eyes had a strange faraway look, and I wondered if, at those moments, he was even aware that I was sitting beside him.

Realizing that my husband was considering how the carving tools could be used for suicide, I quickly counted how many we had and started tracking each one, hoping to prevent him from pocketing any of them.  When the pumpkins were finished, I cleaned up the tools, while my husband protested, insisting that he was fine and he could put things away.

After sending him out of the room, I found a hiding place for the tools and did a quick sweep of the kitchen for anything else that he might find useful.  I had already hidden most things weeks before.  Finally, I was satisfied that he was safe.

I was wrong.

I didn't know about the knife he'd found in the sink before my daughter washed dishes earlier that day.  The knife he had hidden under the cushion of the couch in the living room.

I expected him to be subdued as we prepared for bed, but instead he was oddly cheerful.  When I questioned him about his mood he shrugged his shoulders.  "Tomorrow things will be different."

His answer worried me.  I continued to press him until he finally confessed that he planned to take his life the following day, but he wouldn't tell me how.  I spent nearly an hour reminding him of all the reasons he had to live, of the people that loved him, and how empty our lives would be without him.  Nothing seemed to reach him.

Halloween was the day he'd set as his last day on earth.

To this day, I'm not sure what I said.  But somehow my husband ending up huddled in the corner of our bathroom, crying.  He told me to check under the couch cushion.  I ran out to the living room and found the knife, which I hid.

He insisted on going to work the next day since we had worked so hard on the pumpkins, so I insisted that his father drive him in.  I wanted someone with him at all times.  I picked him up from work and we took the kids out trick or treating.  Then I stayed up with him until after midnight, until the day changed from October 31st to November 1st.

Halloween had passed, and he still lived.

Six years later, my husband's bipolar disorder is controlled, and his moods are failry stable.  But he cycles in the fall, which happens to coincide with Halloween.  And lurking in my mind is the fear that one day he may again decide that Halloween truly is the day of the dead.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Considering Baby Names

My youngest daughter's birthday is next week, and her continual reminders have me reminiscing about how my husband and I decided on her name.

When I was a kid, nothing symbolized summer quite like finding cicada bug skins around our yard--clinging to the gray bricks of our house, slim blades of grass, and the thorny, green Palo Verde branches.  I would grab a sandwich baggie from the house and fill it with all of the skins I could find.  They'd crackle when I picked them, protesting their release from whatever item they clung to.

After several days of carrying my baggie around, the skins became a smashed brown mass that my mother insisted I throw away.  Which I did, right before grabbing another baggie and looking for more skins.

Besides the grumbling roar of thunder during a monsoon, the buzzing of cicadas in the trees has always been my favorite summer sound.

So I told my husband that I wanted to name our baby Secada, if we had a girl (of course I changed the spelling; I'm not that cruel).

I could tell right away that he didn't like the idea.  So we let the matter drop for a while.

We settled on a boy's name months before my due date, but as August crept to a close, my husband still wouldn't agree to name his daughter after a bug.  I tried throwing in his favorite grandmother's middle name for our daughter, but he wouldn't commit.

Until one quiet summer evening.

After putting our three children to bed, we relaxed on the couch to enjoy a few precious moments of peace before pregnancy exhaustion forced me to go to sleep.  As we cuddled, I again approached the problem of a girl's name.

He sighed.  "I don't know."

We sat in silence.  Then we heard a soft rap on the door.  So quiet that we weren't sure we'd heard anything.

We listened...and heard it again, a little louder.

My husband walked to the door and cautiously pulled it open.

A cicada flew inside.

It circled the room before settling on our ceiling fan.

My husband looked from the bug to me and then back at the insect.  He shrugged.  "Okay, we'll name her Secada."

He re-opened the door, and with a flutter of wings, the cicada flew out the door.

Unbelievable, but true.

Even more unbelievable:  my little Secada bug turns 11 on Wednesday.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Longing for some old-fashioned writer's block...

When we were first married, my husband and I lived in a tiny little town on the northern border of Nevada in a small studio apartment.  My husband worked anywhere from 12 to 20 hours a day doing set up for banquets at the local casino, giving me hours and hours to do nothing but write.

I would sit at our table with my word processor (okay, at least it wasn't a typewriter--I'm not that old!) and work on my current project until my lead character managed to get herself into a jam I couldn't get her out of.  Writer's Block.

My word processor was just that--a word processor.  It didn't have any games to distract me from my character's dilemma, no Internet to look up a possible solution.  Just a blinking cursor.

Inevitably, I'd start working on a different writing project.  Usually around chapter nine (I have a lot of unfinished projects from that first year of marriage that all end at chapter nine).  And again, I would write for hours and hours until I ran into another wall.

And then I'd stare at the blinking cursor for hours.

I miss those days.

Now, writer's block is far worse than a brick wall.  It comes in the form of seven demanding children, a house that seems to always need cleaning, and fickle technology that decides to break at the most inopportune times.

My hours of endless writing (or staring) have shrunk to about two hours a day. Around 1 pm, after the cleaning is done and after walking my kindergartner to school. That is, if my three-year old stays with his first movie choice and decides to watch the whole thing.  But most days, I manage a sentence or two before he changes his mind and takes another ten minutes selecting a new movie, or he needs to go potty, or he wants a snack.

Or wants to sit on my lap.

But when I finally get him settled, playing quietly and watching his movie, just when I get rolling on my writing, the garage door bangs open and my teenagers come home.  My overly loquacious teenagers.

They pull the bench up from the table so they can sit beside me as I type, filling me in on every minute of their    
seven or so hours of seminary and school.  After two minutes, I abandon the writing and give them my full attention.

When at last, they turn to their school work, disappearing into the depths of their rooms, the front door swings open and my elementary school children pour through the opening.  Snack, homework, reading with my kindergartner, and sorting through papers occupies my time.

And so goes my two hours of writing.

I love those kids, but sometimes I yearn for some normal writer's block!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Baring the Writer's Soul

Few professions require people to expose themselves the way writers do.  Sometimes, like now, knowing my newest manuscript should have arrived at the publishers for review, I think posing in a skimpy bikini might be easier than allowing someone else to judge my writing.  At least in the bathing suit I would be judged by physical standards, things I can change.  But in my writing...well that's me.  I can't write without infusing part of my soul into the work.

Maybe that's why, as a writer, I find taking criticism to be as easy as eating Brussels sprouts--not only do they taste bad, but they smell bad, too.  When someone likes my writing, that person likes me, because I am part of the writing.  And when they don't like my writing...maybe that's why family members don't make very good critics--they have to live with us after all.

And revisions?  Revising a manuscript is like taking a deep look inward, facing the parts of you that you don't like, and having the courage to cast them aside.  It hurts.

But writers do it.  I do it.


I'm not sure.  Perhaps it has something to do with holding that novel in my hands, my name across the front.  Or reading that one review that says I did something right.  Whatever that something is, it drives me to keep writing, to keep baring my soul...

And, as I move the mouse to click the "publish" button, to keep wishing I had chosen to model bikinis.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Alma 28:13 (Of Roosters and Temptation)

"And thus we see how great the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression, and power of the devil, which comes by the cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men."

I've mentioned Chanticleer, our attack rooster, before.  Here he is strutting his stuff in front of the chicken run like he owns the place.

He doesn't, but not for lack of trying.

Whenever I load the kids into the van to go somewhere, he stands at the gate crowing at us, his fathers fluffed up to make him appear bigger and scarier (I think he just looks like one of the fat biddies on my Fluffy Birds game).  If one of us heads into the garden, out to the play yard, or anywhere he deems his territory, he comes running--a crowing, fluffy bird-ball, that, I will admit, gets my pulse racing when no fence separates us.

We started using our green push broom to defend ourselves because it happened to be nearby.  But lately we've learned that nothing else can successfully keep Chanticleer at bay.

Early one evening, as I walked out to our garden where my husband was watering, I passed Chanticleer.  The rooster was pecking at bugs a good distance away, seemingly calm and nonthreatening.  As I pulled even with him, I spoke to him in a quiet voice.

"Finding any good bugs, Chanti?"

The stupid bird jumped at me.  No warning, no puffed up feathers or crowing, just an immediate, leaping attack.

Fortunately, I managed to kick out at him, catching him in the chest and knocking him backward.  But almost immediately he attacked again.  We stayed that way for several minutes as Chanticleer jumped and I kicked him down until my husband noticed what was going on and came running over with a large two by four.

He swung at the bird, and Chanticleer turned his attention to him.  He continued his dancing attack, only with a new partner.

After my husband landing three or four strikes with the board, my teenage son walked out the back door.  He saw the rooster leap at his dad, realized the wood did not deter Chanticleer, and grabbed the broom resting next to the door.

My son hadn't even gotten within four feet of Chanti when the bird saw the broom.   He ran as fast as he could back toward the chicken run squawking the whole way.

I landed direct kicks on the rooster's chest, and my husband got in some pretty good hits with the board, but only the broom, which hadn't even touched him, scared Chanticleer away.

The green push broom was Chanti's weakness.

Even my little five-year old can chase Chanticleer away from his toy construction truck worksite with one wave of the broom.

Although we had to discover Chanti's weakness, Satan already knows ours.  And he uses them against us as easily as we wave the broom at our rooster.

Fortunately, unlike our attack rooster, we can recognize our weakness with the help of the Lord, and thus Satan's attacks on us, and learn to overcome them.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Matthew 25:29

"For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."

Not wanting to have my talents taken away from me, but rather wanting to increase them, I've decided that for today's blog, I will participate in LDS Publisher's writing prompt.

So, here is what I came up with:

Hilary paused in her sweeping and raised her head slightly so the gentle autumn breeze could dance across her wrinkled face.  She closed her eyes as the cool fingers of the wind caressed her cheeks, listening to the crinkling sound of cottonwood leaves skittering across the patio.

Time to start planning my winter trip to Phoenix.

After a moment, she hefted her broom and returned to her task of clearing the red brick patio of dust, debris and gathering leaves. 

Red brick?

Glancing at the skyline, Hilary saw faint purple mountains in the distance, framed by the faded blue of the desert sky, not the tree-lined ridges that pushed close to her small house in Oregon.  Directly in front of her was the gray wall that separated her son's swimming pool from the rest of the yard, not her round, above ground pool sitting open on the welcoming green lawn.   She released the broom, watched it fall and clatter onto the red bricks, not her wooden deck.

Her legs felt weak as she shuffled over to the wooden picnic table by the door, its checkered table cloth held in place by a variety of large rocks.

Phoenix?  How long have I been here?

She couldn't remember.  She tried and tried and tried, but she couldn't even remember what she had done the day before, or what day it was, or whether she'd had grapefruit or French toast for breakfast.
At least I know my name.  Hilary Grosberg.  And I'm...I'm...how old am I?

Hilary leaned her elbows on the table and rested her forehead on her hands.  She breathed in short, panicked gulps, and her heart began to pound a crazy rhythm against her chest.  Then she felt something furry rub against her leg.

"Beast!"  She scooped the gray tabby kitty onto her lap.  "You always know when Mama needs you."  She stroked his soft fur, enjoying the humming rumble of his purring.

The cat raised his head, looking at Hilary and mewed.  She held him up so she could gaze into his blue eyes.  "Now, Beast..."

Blue eyes?  Beast's were brown.

In disbelief, Hilary set the cat back down on the ground.  He rubbed his head against her leg a few times, but when she didn't respond he sat back to lick his paws.

Hilary stood up and walked slowly to the door that led to her room at her son's house.  She paused with her hand on the knob, her attention caught by a pile of rotting boards shoved in the corner against the fence that lined the property.   With her free hand, she touched her wrinkled, weather-worn cheeks, her coarse gray-white hair.

Crumbling.  Useless.  No better than a pile of forgotten wood.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Doctrine and Covenants 76:22

"And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

President Monson, our latter day prophet adds his testimony of the Savior: http://www.lds.org/liahona/2012/04/he-is-risen-a-prophets-testimony?lang=eng

Because Jesus suffered for our sins and overcame death, we all have the hope that one day we can live again in his presence.  Knowing this makes the trials and tragedies of this life so much easier to bear.  May this knowledge fill our souls with peace.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-6

"Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
    For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
    For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name's glory."

In the fall of 2006 my husband suffered from severe depression.  As a result of undiagnosed bipolar disorder and events from his teenage years, his thoughts revolved around suicide, which seemed to him to be the only avenue of escape from the terrible feelings that assaulted him.  We took several trips to the psychiatric emergency room in downtown Phoenix, visited with his primary care doctor, and even spoke with a lady provided for by his work's helpline.  But nothing helped.

I prayed fervently for something to lift him out of his depression, but I also prayed for strength to support and help him through his trials.  As general conference approached, I began to pray that one of the speakers would be inspired to address a topic that would help my husband in his quest to overcome his negative feelings.

Conference weekend arrived and we gathered in our home to listen to both the Saturday and Sunday sessions. I remember that not one speaker, but three speakers in that conference spoke on feelings of self worth, overcoming depression, and forgiving ourselves.  As that third speaker began his talk, covering items of great importance to me and my husband, my husband turned to me, a ghost of a smile on his face.

"You must have a direct line to heaven."

I realized at that moment, that I did; we all do.  Each of us can prepare ourselves to listen to the Lord's prophets and hear the words that He would speak to us if He were here.  Never before had I prayed to receive answers from conference.  I had never thought to.  But in 2006, I could not deny that the Lord had spoken directly to me.  The words that He inspired His servants to say brought me great comfort, and although the talks did not cure my husband of his depression, they helped to open communication between us about the subject, and that communication played a vital role in his eventual recovery.

I've had a lot on my mind lately; I'm anxious to hear what the Lord has to tell me this weekend.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Ephesians 6: 11-13

"Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."

Every morning I put on my shoes, a pair of gloves and grab our broken green push broom in preparation of feeding our docile, mixed flock of chickens.  If they're docile, why do I need the gloves and broom?  Because of the feisty, full-of-himself rooster waiting just outside the chicken run.

In early October of 2011 my dad brought over ten cute little, fluffy red-brown chicks that peeped and scratched at their cardboard box.  Ten Rhode Island Reds, guaranteed-to-be-hens chicks.  But by the first of February, as the time neared to move the young chickens from their small coop to join the mature chickens in the run, we were pretty certain that one of those now teen-aged birds was not a hen.

Chanticleer, as we called him, had a bigger comb, bigger body, and a fluffier, more colorful greenish tail than his sisters.  The feathers around his neck were shiny and smooth.  And he made a strange croaking sound like a toddler trying to imitate a rooster.

To be sure, I read up on Rhode Island Red roosters.  Chanticleer matched every description I found.  I  also discovered that these roosters were very protective of their flock and had been known to kill a fox if it threatened their hens.

Good.  Hopefully we wouldn't lose anymore of our birds to the wandering neighborhood dogs that had taken at least five of our original flock.

But we wanted chickens for the eggs, not to raise more chickens, so, with the help of my two teenagers, I clipped Chanti's wings and tossed him on the other side of the  fence, into the backyard.

At first he stayed close to the hens.  Whenever I went into the run to feed, water and collect eggs, Chanti would shadow my movements on the other side of the fence.  And his feeble attempts at crowing weren't enough to wake me in the early morning hours.  I felt kind of attached to him.

Attached enough to put off my husband's suggestion that we make a meal out of Chanti.  Instead, I pointed out that we hadn't seen any cats roaming around the yard in the weeks since we'd separated Chanticleer from the rest of the flock.

But the first time the rooster attacked me, I changed my mind.  I had just finished feeding and water the hens and was headed over to give Chanti his share of the feed and refill his water dish.  Walking past him as always, I started to dump the pitcher of water when Chanti jumped at me, his red-brown feathers puffed up like he'd been dried without a dryer sheet.  In response, I threw the rest of the water at him.  With a squawk, he sulked away while I tossed his feed down and hurried back into the house.

Over the next few weeks his attacks became more aggressive.  In the beginning, I could easily fend Chanti off with a quick kick in his direction, but as his crow matured, so did his boldness.  Soon enough I started carrying a short stick anytime I went in to see the hens.  We began dumping Chanti's food over the fence to keep him distracted while we escaped the run and went back to the house.

I didn't start using the broom until Chanti's attack on my husband.  One afternoon, he was checking on the garden, on the opposite side of our large yard than the coop, when Chanticleer came bounding across the lawn and jumped at him.  Twice.  Despite the hard kicks my husband landed in defending himself.

Needless to say, Chanti's days are now numbered.

But, like the wickedness and evil that we know exists in the world, I knew that Chanti had an aggressive streak.  It was part of his nature.  Yet, I didn't prepare myself to face that meanness, until after it almost had painful consequences.  And even after his attacks caused my daughter to spill feed and my son to drop some eggs, we still relied on our own strength to protect us.

Sometimes we face Satan and his temptations the same way, boldly trusting in our own strength and cunning to keep us from his grasp, when we would have been better off girding ourselves with the Lord's armor.

We know the devil's character.  We know he is cunning and tricky and determined to get us.  Knowing this, we should never face him unarmed, but we should beat him off, standing strong in the armor the Lord has given us, even if our only weapon is a broken push broom!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Galatians 5:13

"For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."

I heard my husband's aunt banging around in the stairwell as she lugged her bags upstairs.  I thought about offering to help, even set down the measuring spoon I was holding and started toward the stairs, but something stopped me.  What if she didn't want help?  What if by offering to help, I made her feel weak or offended her?  With those thoughts in mind, I waited for her to reach the top of the stairs, thinking that maybe I could give her a hand then.

As I hesitated, my twelve year old son walked into the kitchen and saw his aunt as she approached the gate at the top of the stairs.  "Tricia, do you need help?"  Even as he asked, he was already moving forward, opening the gate and helping her get her bulky bags through.  He then opened the door of the house for her and followed her outside to make sure she was able to get everything in her car.

Why did I hesitate?

Elder M. Russel Ballard, in a general conference session in April of 2011 counseled, "we need to be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. The still, small voice will let us know who needs our help and what we can do to help them."

I felt the prompting to help, and I wanted to heed it, but I let my fear of man overcome my fear of the Lord.  And this wasn't the first time.

Recently, after learning that a friends daughter was in the hospital in serious condition after a fall off a swing, I thought about the long drive they had from their house to get to the hospital and the rising price of gas and wondered if I could do anything to help.

I considered giving them a call and offering them some money, but I worried I might upset them by assuming they needed my help.

Most times, I don't have too much trouble heeding the Holy Ghost's promptings.  But when they relate to other people, people I don't know very well or even at all, I struggle.  How can I learn to set aside my doubts and worries about how someone will receive my service and just do it?

Elder Ballard offers this advice: "Brothers and sisters, may I reemphasize that the most important attribute of Heavenly Father and of His Beloved Son that we should desire and seek to possess within our lives is the gift of charity, 'the pure love of Christ.' From this gift springs our capacity to love and to serve others as the Savior did."

Charity doesn't come to us overnight.  We have to pray for it, and we have to work to attain it.  As with all things in the gospel of Jesus Christ, line upon line--a little at a time.

The next time the Holy Ghost urges me to do something for someone else, I'll do my best to respond without doubts and worry.  If I succeed, I'll have taken an important step towards developing charity.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: 2 Nephi 24:16

"They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and shall consider thee, and shall say: Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?"

Last night as the family was gathering for scripture and prayer, my 16 year old son told my husband that he needed to talk to us before he went to bed.  My stomach knotted up as I thought about all the awful things he might be about to tell us.

Satan works that way on me.

He starts feeding me all of the worst-case possibilities anytime something breaks, someone is late coming home, or a teenager wants to talk.  And even though I try my best to turn to the Lord and trust the peace and reassurances he gives me, I always seem to keep Satan's version of things in the back of my mind, wondering if maybe he's right.

So as we walked down the hall to my room to talk, I envisioned tales of secret girlfriends, teen pregnancy, failing classes and suspensions from school, even though I know my son stresses over a C on his report card and can't even jokingly lie to us with a straight face.

I let Satan have those few moments to torment me, which he did rather well.

Until my son confessed that he forgot to turn in his application essay for National Junior Honor Society.  Oh that's all?  Why was I worried?

I look forward to the day when Satan's true character is revealed and he stands powerless before the righteous.    I hope I'm there to say, "Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms?"

Until then, I'll try my best to ignore the trembling and shaking he sends in my direction.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: 2 Nephi 28:30

"For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have."

I walk up the stairs in my house multiple times in a day, often carrying a sturdy two-year old, and I've done this now for over a year.  So, why don't my legs feel any stronger?  Why do I still struggle up all fifteen steps when my little boy decides he needs a free ride?

The answer, I believe, comes from laziness.  Yes, I climb those darn stairs A LOT!  But I only climb them when I have to.  What would happen if I pushed myself a little and threw in an extra trip down and up every time a task required me to move from one floor to the next?  

Well, for one thing, my thighs and buttocks would scream at me the next morning.  And they would protest each step I took the next day.  But if were to challenge my body by continuing the extra trips, soon my legs would get stronger and I could totally handle it.  However, if I didn't continue to challenge myself, adding even more journeys down and up, my strength would again plateau.

Spiritually, we are much the same.  If we try to glide through life on the basic primary answers--say your prayers, go to church and read your scriptures--we will be stuck, our spiritual growth will stagnate.  Climbing the spiritual stairs of prayer, scripture study, and meeting attendance will take all of our energy and never get any easier.

Instead, we must challenge ourselves spiritually: stay on our knees longer, read another verse, try to apply something we learned on Sunday to our lives.  

Spiritual strength doesn't just happen any more than physical strength does.  

One of my favorite quotes is: If you don't feel close to the Lord, who moved?

Start climbing those steps back to Him.  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Doctrine and Covenants 68:28

"And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord."

Most nights I don't feel like I'm teaching my two youngest boys anything about prayer.  Even when I do manage to convince them to get on their knees and fold their arms, they start driving toy cars around the living room or tackling each other as soon as the prayer starts.

But Wednesday night, my five-year old proved to me that he is indeed learning.

We discovered on Monday that our home's well water was contaminated so my husband and our neighbor had to clean the well and treat it with chlorine.  On Tuesday we were able to turn the water back on, but the water had too much chlorine in it to consume. As my husband and I were headed out to celebrate my birthday, we gave our children strict instructions to only drink from the water bottles we had filled at my parents' house.

When we arrived home, in the madness of getting our children ready for bed, Cyrus came running to me, a look of sheer panic on his face.

"I accidentally drank some of the yucky water!"

I assured him that a little bit, especially since it had come out of our filtered water spout, wouldn't hurt him.  He'd be fine.

Later that night, after Cy had fallen asleep, I learned that his older brother had told him and the other young boys that if they drank the water, they'd die.  No wonder Cy was scared to death.  But since he seemed okay with things, I dismissed the thought.

Until Wednesday evening when Cy again approached me.

"Mom.  Sometimes Secada prays."

"That's good." I didn't turn away from my computer screen.

"Sometimes I pray.  I prayed last night."

"Oh.  What did you pray for?"  Again, I gave him only a small portion of my attention.

"That I wouldn't die."

That got my attention.  My little Cy-Cy had been afraid he was going to die, and in his fear, he knew enough to turn to his Heavenly Father.  I wrapped him in a hug and tried not to let him see my tears.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: 3 Nephi 16:13

"But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel."

The man sitting on our tattered green couch looked frustratingly familiar.  He introduced himself and his teenage son as our new home teachers, and I had seen him around the church building a few times, but I was sure I knew him from somewhere else.

I studied him, noting his short blond hair and faded blue eyes, and guessed that he was probably around my age.  Then, when he mentioned his old high school, my old high school, I began to suspect.  As soon as the door closed behind them, I dug out my yearbooks to confirm what I already knew.  It was him, and he didn't seem to remember me.

But then, why would he?  Although the incident at the football game had been important to me, it had probably meant nothing to him.

I saw him everyday the first semester of my freshman year.  We passed in the crowded hallway after Algebra, and after a few weeks I found myself looking forward to seeing his handsome face each day.  Eventually he smiled at me--one of those shy smiles that sent my heart thudding against the books I hugged to my chest.

The next day he stopped me in the middle of the hall, people shoving past us on all sides, and asked if I'd like to meet him at the football game that night.  My mouth felt dry; I didn't trust any sound to come out without squeaking, so I nodded.  I was rewarded with another smile.

"See ya tonight."

My hands shook as I showed the gate attendant my ID card.  I peered around him, trying to catch a glimpse of the bleachers while he counted out the change from my entry fee.  Shoving the bills in my pocket, I walked toward the field, worried that he wouldn't show.

But when I reached the bleachers, he stood and jogged down the steps to reach me.  We walked together back to where he'd been sitting with a group of his friends.

"You look great."  He gave me that smile again.

I sat on the cold metal bench, mumbled a thank you and wiped my sweaty hands on my jeans.

He straddled the bench so he was facing me.  "Do you want a smoke?"

My stomach began to protest my dinner.  I looked from my hands to his smiling, handsome face and swallowed nervously.  Around us, some of his friends had already lit up and the acrid smell of smoke began to drift over me.  I felt a tickle in my lungs as the smoke triggered my asthma; I scratched at my throat.  "I guess not."

"Oh."  His wonderful smile disappeared as he moved to face forward.  "Well, I do."

Not knowing what else to do, I stood up and walked back down the bleachers.  He didn't try to stop me.

No.  He had no reason to remember me.  But that night was the first time anyone had so openly asked me to  do something I knew was wrong.  So I remembered.

And now fifteen years later, he was my home teacher.  A faithful, concerned home teacher, as it turned out, who brought us chocolate chip cookies and Oreos.

Evidence that the Lord gives each of his children a chance to return and repent.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Isaiah 55:8-9

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

A few years ago, when my car broke down, again, I borrowed my brother's Grand Am, which happened to be the car I learned to drive on.  When I climbed in, even though I hadn't driven the car in a long time, everything felt familiar.  I had no trouble readjusting to driving a stick shift.  So I was very confused when, after stopping to check the mail, I couldn't get the car to start.

I tried every trick I knew before I finally gave in and called my brother.  He ran through the list of things I had already attempted.

"I've done all that."

"Then I don't know what to tell you."

I sighed.  "Great."

"Okay, stupid question: Are you using the right key?"

I rolled my eyes.  "Of course I'm using the right key."  Although he couldn't see me, I raised my hand to prove to him that my car and mailbox keys were in my hand and the Grand Am key was in the ignition.  But the keys in my hand were not mine.  "Oh."

I swapped the keys and the car started immediately on my next attempt.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in trying to figure out the solution to things, that I make things more complicated than they really are.  Or I think I know enough about something that I don't need any outside help.

Most of the time, I'm wrong.

And when I finally yield myself up to sincere prayer, I often find that the answer was so simple, I had merely overlooked it.  But, had I remembered that the Lord's ways are not mine and taken a step back to view my troubles from His perspective, the solution would have been plain before me.

Just as it was with the keys.  I was so certain that the problem had something to do with the car, rather than the driver, that I didn't see my simple mistake.  The world's way is to look outward, to blame our troubles on things beyond our control, but the Lord's way is to look inward.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Isaiah 54:13

"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children."

Although no one would believe it now, when I was in Junior Primary, all those years ago, I was not the most well behaved child in my class. In school, I was a perfect little angel--always did my homework, helped other students, never got my name on the board--pretty much a teacher's pet.  But during primary, especially class time, I was someone else.

I have vague memories of sitting on the floor in the corner of the classroom, surrounded by empty chairs and refusing to say anything other than, "Meow."

My agile little hands turned coloring pages and other handouts from the teacher into paper airplanes that I threw at the boys.

Perhaps my behavior had something to do with being a member of such a large family.  I never felt forgotten or left out, but maybe I was seeking extra attention anyway.

I kept waiting for the teacher to threaten me the way she threatened the other kids:  "If you don't behave I'm going to get you father."  But she never did.  Maybe she didn't realize that, although the threat of their fathers didn't seem to faze the other children, it scared me to death; whatever her reasons, she never brought my father into the classroom.

Most of my primary teachers' names and faces, as well as those early years in primary, have long since faded from my memory.  After all, these days I struggle to remember my own children's names!  But I remember that teacher.  She was blond with curly hair and a round friendly face.  Her name was Sister Clawson.

And I will never forgot the Sunday that she taught me, through her actions, that I was loved, despite my bad behavior and general obnoxiousness.  That day was my birthday.  I cannot recall how old I was, but I remember walking into primary, feeling the usual childlike excitement of a birthday, when I saw the small cake sitting on the table.

So we're having cake to celebrate my birthday!  My excitement tripled, and I found it even harder than usual to pay attention to the lesson, with that round, white-frosted cake constantly invading my thoughts.  Finally the lesson ended, and I waited for Sister Clawson to have the class sing to me, cut the cake and share it with the class.

She didn't.

We had our closing prayer and with little reluctant looks back toward the cake, my classmates began filing out to find their parents.

"Brenda.  This is for you," Sister Clawson said as I turned to leave. And she handed me the entire cake.  The whole cake was for me!  I decided I must be pretty important to get the cake all to myself.

As I walked through the halls, holding my cake, everyone I saw looked on it with envy.

"Where'd you get that?"

"It's my birthday."  I smiled.

Without a single lecture, without reporting my terrible behavior to my parents, Sister Clawson completely changed me.  She taught me the most important lesson I needed to know--that I was loved. Knowing that, I was prepared to learn of the Lord.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Luke 6:37

"Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven."

A few days ago, while driving down a residential street to my parents' house, a driver turned left out of one of the side streets right in front of me.  My immediate reaction was to verbally question the driver's intelligence.  Mine was obviously the only car on the road; they could have turned after I passed.  And the driver had hesitated, waiting to turn until I was almost to them.  As I hit my brakes and watched the car complete the turn, I recognized the person driving.  I knew her.  But I didn't just know her, I liked her.

Suddenly, instead of finding fault with the woman, I began to think up excuses for her, reasons she may have had for doing what she did.  Maybe she just misjudged my speed or was in an extra hurry that morning and didn't take time to think about her actions.  Whatever the cause of her untimely turn, I found that once I knew who she was, I wasn't irritated about what happened anymore.

And I wondered why.  The reason couldn't merely be that I knew the driver.  If I'd known her and disliked her, my dislike would have been strengthened by her action, not lessened.  So the answer was that the woman was someone I liked and respected--the beginnings of charity.

Jesus has commanded us to love everyone, and I can honestly claim that I don't really hate anyone, but lack of hate doesn't qualify as love.  If somehow I could really remember that every single person is a child of God, even the driver tailgating me as I go the speed limit, maybe I could do better at loving everyone, having charity.

What if I knew that that driver who seemed determined to attach their bumper to the back of my car had a child lying sick in the hospital and was desperate to get back to him?  Maybe the person who practically stops to make a right hand turn has a car with untrustworthy brakes.

The next time a driver irks me, I will try to think of them as a child of God, with thoughts, feelings, worries and imperfections, just like me.  Maybe then I can avoid judging.  I'll take it one car at a time...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Luke 12:6

"Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before the God?"

The Lord knows and cares about all of His creations.  Including the three small land hermit crabs we bought for our oldest daughter's birthday when she was seven or eight years old.  All three crabs could fit in the the palm of my hand together, as long as they weren't moving around, which they usually were. Our daughter named them Hermie, Kermit and Toby.

I was surprised by how much care the tiny little critters needed; I had expected them to be more like fish--feed everyday and clean the tank when you can no longer see them swimming (or in the crabs' case, crawling) around.  We had to wash their water dish daily, make sure their little sponge stayed moist, clean their rocks, and bath them.

Bathing a hermit crab is nothing like bathing a toddler.  A squirming, screaming toddler is easier.  First we had to catch the little guys, and they could move fast when they chose to.  They'd nip us with their little claws in protest when we picked them up, we'd submerge them briefly in the clean water, and they'd nip us again when we pulled them out.

The crabs had to be completely dry before we could put them back in their tank, so we found a box to spread an old towel in so they could crawl around for a few hours and dry off without constant supervision.

One night in December, in our rush to get to our ward Christmas party, we forgot to put the crabs back into their tank before we left.  The six of us burst back into the house, the kids nearly bouncing from the walls on a candy cane-Christmas high, and found the tank empty.  Their drying box was still sitting on the counter.  Panicked, we checked the box and found only Toby curled up in his shell amidst the folds of the towel.  I snatched him up and placed him in the tank.

The search for the other two crabs commenced.  We checked the counter and the floor below it, wondering if our little crabs could have survived a fall from that high.  No hermit crabs.  The next closest place was our Christmas tree, surrounded by gifts.  While the kids crept around on their hands and knees searching the house, my husband and I began pulling gifts from beneath the tree and placing them carefully behind us.  When we finished, no one had seen any signs of the crabs.

We gave our daughter the talk.  The sometimes-these-things-happen talk.

She countered us with, "Heavenly Father made them.  He loves them, and He knows where they are."

So with a quick warning that our prayers are not always answered they way we want them to be, and that we could find the crabs dead somewhere, we proceeded to pray that the Lord would lead us to the crabs.  After the prayer, we felt compelled to check under the couch and the end table.  We pulled the table out a little so we could get to the couch.  Nothing.  Then we lifted up the end table, and found Hermie happily crawling around on the carpet.

Our daughter scooped him up in both hands, telling him how sorrow she was for forgetting to put him back in his tank as she carried him to the kitchen.  She placed him in the tank with Toby, and turned to me with a triumphant smile.  "Now for Kermit."

We looked for another half hour.  The younger children were getting cranky, so to our daughter's dismay, we called off the search and rescue and sent the kids to get ready for bed.

"I'm sorry," I told my dejected little girl.  "But at least two of them are safe."  She merely nodded and sniffed as she walked toward her bedroom.

Another half hour passed as the kids changed, brushed their teeth and continued to show the effects of too much sugar.  Except our oldest daughter who kept searching for her crab.  We had scripture and prayer--remembering to pray for missing Kermit--and herded everyone into the hallway to their rooms.

Not a minute later we heard our daughter's excited squeal.  "Kermit!"  She came running from the hallway with the missing crab cupped in her hand.  "He was just creeping out of my room!"

Like the sparrows mentioned in Luke, Heavenly Father knew and loved those little crabs.  But more importantly, He knows and loves my daughter--enough to help her find three tiny critters alive and well.

"But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Scripture Squiggle: Doctrine and Covenants 63:9-10

"But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.
Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God."

Signs follow those who believe.  This is, of course, the reason that Laman and Lemuel were not converted when the angel appeared to them.  They were shown a sign, but they didn't have any faith.  But what about Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah?  They, too, were given a sign without first having faith, but they believed and repented of their sins.

In completing our Sunday school reading for this week, my husband and I read the account of the angel appearing to Laman and Lemuel and their subsequent continued murmurings.  Then, the very next morning, my personal reading happened to be the account of Alma and his brethren.  A very stark contrast indeed.

Naturally, I wanted to know what the difference was.  Why did the appearance of an angel convert some but not others?  Before I could learn that, I had to see the similarities:

  • Laman and Lemuel, as well as Alma were sinners.  Alma was described as being "a wicked and idolatrous man" while Laman and Lemuel were compared to the Jews in Jerusalem who sought Lehi's life.  Those people were so wicked that the city of Jerusalem was fast approaching destruction.
  • Both angelic appearances were in response to persecution.  Laman and Lemuel were persecuting their younger brothers for wanting to keep the Lord's commandments, and Alma and his brethren were persecuting those who belonged to the church of God, attempting to draw them away.
  • Both angelic appearances were in response to some one's faith.  In Laman and Lemuel's case, the faith that brought the angel was that of Nephi as he tried to do his best to obey the commandments the Lord had given him through his father.  For Alma and the sons of Mosiah, it was the faith of Alma's father and the members of the church that brought about the angel's visit.
  • Both parties were given specific instruction.  Laman and Lemuel were told to return to Jerusalem and Laban would be delivered into their hands.  Alma and his brethren were told to stop persecuting the church of God.
  • The angels came to teach them something.  The angel reaffirmed to Laman and Lemuel that their brother was chosen to rule over them, because of their iniquities.  To Alma and the sons of Mosiah, the angel came to convince them of the power and authority of God.
  • Everyone involved was well instructed in the gospel.  Laman and Lemuel were frequently counseled by their prophet-father.  Alma was also the son of a prophet, as were Mosiah's sons.  None of them lacked for knowledge about the Lord.
Although there were differences in the messages delivered by the angels, the main difference in the occurrences is how the people who saw the angels reacted.  

According to Nephi's account, Laman and Lemuel didn't react with any shock or surprise when they saw the angel.  The angel's visit didn't ease their anger toward their brothers, although they did stop hitting them with the rod.  In fact, their reaction was a very worldly, natural man response.  They questioned the Lord's power.  How could God possibly deliver Laban to them?  He was so powerful he could slay fifty people.  They had no faith.

Laman and Lemuel's reaction was also one of hard heartedness.  They had been taught on numerous occasions, yet they rejected what they were given, refusing to look inward and recognize their wrong doings.  This angelic visit was no different.  They didn't want to return to Jerusalem.  They continued to murmur as they followed Nephi back, perhaps they hoped that since Laban could slay fifty, that maybe he would slay their brother for them.

Alma and the sons of Mosiah, however, had a different reaction.  First, they were shocked to see and hear the angel, so shocked that they fell to the earth.  And they listened.  They actually heard the words of the angel and let it change them, let it remind them of the teachings they had received from their fathers.  The change wasn't easy, as Alma records.  He suffered pains so great that he actually wished that he did not exist.  But he allowed his experiences to soften his heart, rather than harden it as Laman and Lemuel did.

I hope I can follow Alma's example, and react to chastisements from the Lord with a soft heart and recognize the need to change.