Sunday, December 21, 2008

Don’t Quit Music Lessons

I started learning to the play the piano when I was about five years old. I remember seeing a group of beautiful pianos at the Illinois State Fair and I told my mom that I wanted to be able to play. She asked, “Really!? If we were to get one would you practice?” Of course, I said I would practice since I had no idea what I was getting myself into at that young age. They bought a piano and I started taking lessons.

My first lesson was with Mrs. Atterberry who was in her young nineties. She taught me how to play a very simple tune so that I could leave my first lesson with success. She was my teacher for a few years and then she died. I had a little time off from lessons while my parents found me a new teacher, Mrs. Weyhrich. She was patient and extremely talented. She could play the music with her left hand even though it was meant for her right and she could read any and all music at first site…. I know, ‘cause I tested this. She was amazing. She remained my music teacher until we moved out of the area when I was sixteen. She later became my daughter’s music teacher until she retired.

Throughout the years of learning to play the piano I had moments when I loved it and moments when I hated it. Sometimes it was enjoyable and sometimes I thought it was torture. I remember during practice times I would arch my back over the bench with my feet holding me up by pressing on the piano. I would hang upside down until my mom would yell from the other room, “I don’t hear any practicing!”

The advantage to learning a musical instrument while young is that we have someone like my mom reminding us, nudging us and not letting us give up. I’m sure that many times during the years I would have been satisfied to quit the demands of learning to play the piano. My mom had started taking lessons when I did and she never finished. When my daughter began learning to play the violin I, too, started taking lessons with her. Like my mom with the piano, I never finished learning to play the violin. I can play as much violin as my mom can play piano.

When we are learning something through our youth we forget once we are adults all those years of practicing, the feeling of never accomplishing anything of value, the struggles to overcome the desire to quit. Once we are adults we either need to persevere on our own or surrender to our desire to quit. We no longer have a mom to remind us that we need to practice and enforce our progress.

For everything we learn there is a hill to overcome. We get to this point where we feel there is no way we will ever learn what we are struggling to learn. During that moment it is no fun, we loose interest and sometimes feel it’s hopeless. So, we tell our parents we are no longer interested. When, in fact, we just need to keep going until it does turn around. The feeling of finally mastering that which we once thought was hopeless and struggled through and wondered if we would overcome, outweighs those previous doubts. It’s exhilarating. It makes it easier next time to have faith that it will all come together.

If only I had a nickel every time I had someone come to me and share that they wished they knew how to play the piano or wished they had never quit. I’ve never had anyone ever share that they quite and it was the best thing they had ever done. They are always expressing regret.

Have you ever noticed that parents with musical talent also have children with musical talent? It’s not because they are born that way. At birth the doctor doesn’t say to the parents, “Yep, this one’s a born musician!” No, they had parents who understood that there are always those difficult moments when quitting is attractive but they need to overcome instead. They don’t let their children quit. That’s all it takes, not quitting.

Well, I should be more truthful. Not quitting will create a musician, but perfect practicing will make a competent artist. Practiced doesn’t make perfect, it makes habits. Perfect practice makes perfect. When I was in college and took a sociology class I decided I was going to get a head start and read the first couple of chapters. During my first class I learned I had been given the wrong book and those chapters were not in the new book. I was grateful for having read them because they explained this very point. Gold medalists and master musicians and all of the other talent we watch throughout the world didn’t happen because they practice non-stop or that they had some advantage of being born that way. They excelled in what they do because each and every time they practiced they practiced perfectly. If we practice imperfectly, we develop imperfect habits. Instead, every move, every note, every effort is made to create perfection. It isn’t the number of reps, it’s the quality of the move.

I can remember in fifth grade I practiced a song over and over and over again. Each time I made a mistake I started the entire song over from the beginning. I did that for weeks. When I performed the song at a school program I wasn’t even nervous. I shared that with my mom and she said it was because I had practiced it so much. I didn’t even realize what I had done that was so right. Looking back I realize that I had practiced perfectly and didn’t accept anything less.

A few years ago I heard a parent explain the reason they allowed their child to quit was because they were no longer interested in music. Well, that isn’t true. I found this an interesting argument to justify her decision. I can see that a lot of parents probably allow their children to quit music lessons because they’ve convinced themselves, or their children have claimed that they are simply no longer interested. Let’s look at that for a second. The music industry is a multi-billion dollar business. Millions tune into American Idol and vote every year. MP3 players, stereo equipment, and musical instruments sell off the charts. ITunes makes gobs of money selling just one song at a time.

Then, there are ways that we use music to our advantage. We start our worship meetings with appropriate music to set the mood. We go to the store and they have music playing to set the mood. We attend a motivational seminar and they have exciting energy driving music playing to set the mood. Our favorite pop stars tour and sell out tickets to their fans. Bands and talented artists work their fingers and voices to the bone trying to succeed in the industry.

I could go on forever about the impact and depth to which music is involved in our lives. Yet, somehow, this one son is simply no longer interested in learning his instrument. He is the one and only exception to the music craze. NOT! He simply met that point of resistance where it became work and not so much fun. He met the learning curve and decided he didn’t want to, wasn’t sure if he could, and had a momentary loss of memory for why he was even doing this. This is the moment NOT to quit. Children need these opportunities throughout their childhood to teach them perseverance. Learning now to quit when times get tough and we are no longer interested only begins a habit of response that they follow throughout their lives. Let them learn now that they are made of more than they realize and don’t let them quit. They will eventually realize that they really do like it. When that time comes they will have a skill they will be glad they have.

I can remember those days when I hated playing the piano. By the time I made it to my teenage years I could play some beautiful and complicated music. Every time I was bored I played the piano. If I was stressed I played the piano. I used it as an outlet for my emotions. I was grateful for the ability and skill to be able to express myself and it gave me confidence. But, I wouldn’t have had that pleasure had my parents allowed me to give up when things were tough, during the times I hated it, or if they believed it just wasn’t for me.

I’m grateful that my parents never let me give up. I hope that some doubting parent reads this and decides not to let their child give up, either. Then, they will appreciate not being the person who wished they had never quit. They will be grateful for their talent and perseverance.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Favorite Song

Friday, November 28, 2008

Don't Dress Like a Boy Magnet

Radio Script for July 3, 2008

“Don't Dress Like a Boy Magnet”

Hello, I’m Doug Apple…with Apples of Gold.

Don’t dress like a boy magnet.

“But I want to be a boy magnet!”Oh, you better think about that. Start by thinking about this: what percentage of the male population are you trying to attract? Probably a very tiny percentage, right? After all, you’re not trying to attract the dirty old men, are you? You’re not trying to attract the losers and abusers. I’m going to guess that the only guys you want to attract are the guys that you are attracted to. I bet you’re not trying to attract any unwanted attention from guys you aren’t attracted to. So really, it’s a very small percentage of the male population you are trying to attract, so don’t dress like you’re trying to attract them all.

So how many do you want to attract? This is important. I hope your answer is…one. If you are a single Christian female, then the most you should be trying to attract is one, and that would be your future husband who will become your one and only. And what kind of husband do you want? A strong Christian, I hope. A good, godly man with high principles and strong morals. If this is the kind of husband you want, then how should you attract him? First Peter 3 talks about how women should make themselves beautiful. It’s not their hair or their clothes or their jewelry that makes them so attractive. Instead it’s what’s inside, their holiness, their gentleness, their peace, their hope in God.

If you want to attract a godly man, then you must be a godly woman. You need to work on your inner qualities and your walk with God. And with that comes a de-emphasis on your outward appearance.“Yes, Doug, I want a good Christian husband someday. But I want to be attractive. Is there anything wrong with that?”I think you need to drill down and see what your motivation is. Does it make you feel good to get the boys’ attention? Is your self esteem riding on this? Is that why you dress like a boy magnet?Now think this through. If this is what makes you feel good about yourself, then what will you do when you are married? After a while, many women fall back into the rut of making themselves feel good by attracting the boys’ attention – even though they are married. And what will you do when you get older and lose your attractive edge? Some women panic with those first signs of old age. That’s why you see mothers and grandmothers dressing like boy magnets. Their self esteem hinges on grabbing the boys’ attention. This is a rotten place to get your self esteem. It’s fleeting. It’s never really there. You are always chasing it but never really catching it. The problem is that it’s like a drug. It feels so good to snag the attention of an attractive member of the opposite sex. It gives you a high that can last all day. Then like other highs, once it wears off you need another one. And to get it – now listen – to get it, what will you be willing to do? Will you wear your clothes a little tighter? Skirts a little shorter? Tops a little racier? What will you do to attract the boys?

Now let’s talk about the attention you are getting. When you dress like a boy magnet, what you are attracting is the eyes of the boys. They are looking at your body. Or let me say this, they are looking at your body parts. If you wear tight jeans, they are looking at your rear end. If you wear short skirts, they are looking at your legs, and on and on. Now don’t get too excited, thinking they are looking at you. They are not really looking at you. They are looking at your parts. Listen, they may love your chest, but they may not like you at all. This is not what you want, is it? It’s demeaning. It’s depersonalizing. So think about it. You dress like a boy magnet to draw the attention of the boys, which makes you feel good about yourself. But in reality, they aren’t even thinking about you as a person. They are just enjoying the display. It could be anyone.

So if you think you want to be a boy magnet, you need to think it through. I don’t think it’s going to bring the results you want.If your goal is to attract a good, godly husband, then dressing like a boy magnet is not the way to do it. Instead, work on your inner qualities, such as your holiness and your walk with God.

“But Doug, if I don’t dress to attract, I’m afraid I won’t attract anyone.”

Let’s go back to First Peter chapter 3. Verse 6 says you should “do what is right and do not give way to fear.”Yes, I think it’s a legitimate fear to think you might miss out on attracting a good husband. But do what is right, and don’t give way to fear. You don’t have to dress like a little “hottie” to attract a godly man. In fact, I think a godly man will disrespect that. It’s more likely to repel than attract. And you know what? A man doesn’t want to be married to a boy magnet. When a man marries, he wants you to himself. He doesn’t want to share you with the rest of the male population. So think this through, and pray about it. What are your goals? What is your motivation? When you get to the bottom of it, I think you’ll find that it doesn’t have any good long term effects. It’s just not a good plan to dress like a boy magnet.

Comments? E-mail me: dougapple@wave94.com. May God bless you today! With Apples of Gold…I’m Doug Apple.© 2008 The Arrow’s TipTo subscribe to your own daily “Apples of Gold” e-mail, write dougapple@wave94.com.If you want to be removed from this e-mail list, simply click reply and type UNSUBSCRIBE on the subject line.If you want to catch “Apples of Gold” in its original audio format, go to www.wave94.comTo search through the large archive of past articles, go here: http://www.wave94.com/modules.php?name=Stories_ArchiveIf you have trouble reaching me at my main e-mail address, try this one: douglas_apple@msn.com(Proverbs 25:11 – “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”)Why “The Arrow’s Tip”? Each morning, after diligently seeking the Lord, I write Apples of Gold. Then before I release it to the public I pray one final prayer, “Lord, send forth your arrows.” I envision Apples of Gold as arrows, tips dipped in the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of God (Rev. 22:1), sailing toward the hearts and minds of men and women around the world.Doug AppleGeneral Manager - Wave 94 Christian Radio for TallahasseePO Box 4105Tallahassee, FL 32315(850) 926-8000

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Central Illinois Concert Orchestra (CICO) 14 November 2008

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B is to the far left behind the harpist. You can kinda see her as the girl with bushy, shoulder length hair. The second song they played was phenomenal! I wish I had recorded that. Not all is lost, though, I ordered the audio CD. I'll see how to share that when I get it. Enjoy!

Follow the Prophet

I've been noticing through my research of different topics that I can find answers to just about everything through the modern-day prophets. Yes, I find answers in scriptures and I heavily rely on them throughout my daily activities and strive to make them an integral party of my life. Nothing can compensate or replace the value that they hold. I've heard it said that the council and direction that guided Adam during his life did not help Noah build the ark. In other words, we need direction for our current day, too, and we are blessed with the restored gospel and a living Prophet today. There are a lot of topics that makes one go "hmmmm... I wonder what is the right thing to do in this situation?" And, then there are those topics that we know inherently are the right thing to do and could use the validation and articulation to put our thoughts into words. I appreciate and love the gospel and I feel comfort knowing that I have a modern day Prophet to lead and guide me through my life and these difficult latter days. I would like to compile a list of articles from the leaders of the church, mostly found in the Ensign, that I find speak to me or answer a latter-day question specific to our time.

This is a work in progress and topics and related council will be added through time. I can't possibly have a comprehensive list of all of them... so, these will be a few that stuck with me.

Abortion
Abortion, An Assault on the Defenseless by Elder Russel M Nelson, Ensign October 2008
What I really liked about this article is the point that he made that we do not get to choose the consequences to our actions. The choice comes before whatever action we choose to take. After the action has been taken, we loose the privilege of deciding from that point and consequences are what naturally follow. This holds true in many areas of our lives. How many times do we hear our children cry how unfair their punishment is? What if the criminals were able to choose their course of punishment? To every choice we make there is a consequence, whether good or bad. It's up to us to realize that we have the opportunity to choose before we make a mistake. After we have thus made the mistake we can no longer change the consequences, but we can rely on the miracle of forgiveness and correcting our course from that point. Let's not compound our errors by making more errors. Here are a couple more abortion articles. Statement on Abortion and Covenants.

Same Gender Attraction
Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction by Jeffrey R. Holland, Ensign, Oct 2007.
Church Supports Call for Constitutional Amendment Ensign, July 2006.
Same-Gender Attraction, by Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, Oct 1995

What I appreciate about the council that we get from our leaders is the understanding of our divine heritage. The Proclamation to the world addresses and clarifies this heritage when reminding us "All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." I find comfort in knowing that God is not a God of confusion and I can hold to this council during these times of confusion throughout the world.

Abuse
I've been blessed with goodly parents and family, so thankfully I cannot relate to the horrors of deep and lasting abuse. It's nice to be reminded that Heavenly Father is mindful of everyone's challenges and difficulties. I would imagine that those who suffer from abuse probably feel alone and wonder about their worthiness as an individual. I'm grateful that our leaders have seen fit to address such difficult and sensitive issues.
To Heal The Shattering Consequences of Abuse by Elder Richard G. Scott, May 2008 Ensign.

Business and Fraud
Over the course of the last few years I have come to realize that any business that practices using the advantage of time in their favor and against their customer’s best interest boarders anywhere from unethical to fraud. They would justify their coarse of action by claiming that’s the way business works, but I can testify that any persons character is at more risk by practicing these methods than their business could ever benefit by doing the same. Here are two examples that are on either end of that spectrum of morality. When I joined Mary Kay Cosmetics I was told to purchase extra product for my Debut because it would sell faster and easier than if my customers, aka friends and relatives, had to place an order. Why is this? This is because we tend to be impulse buyers, go home and later either regret the purchase or realize that we don’t even need it. Which, we would have realized this had we had an opportunity to think about it and be more practical in our decision. Why would I want to do this to my customers, whether or not they are friends or family? If they truly need this item, why trick them into purchasing it just because it’s right in front of their face all in the name of a profit? That is just plain unethical. The second example of this is when we signed up for real estate training classes with Russ Whitney. There were only a minimal amount of students they could enroll. Furthermore, if we didn’t enroll today, we would lose a “discount.” Finally, after actually attending this expensive “training” for 3 days we learned that it was a glorified sales pitch for much more expensive “discounted” classes, where again the “discount” was only available until the end of class that day. This is plain fraud and dishonest behavior any way you look at it. Unfortunately, in both cases, we didn’t realize these questionable behaviors were unethical or fraud, and because of our ignorance and decision to disregard any warning signs, get clarification and seek information or advice from an unbiased third-party, we participated in them. It wasn’t until later that we realized that because the first would be willing to be unethical with their own customers that I wasn’t far behind. While the training made promises that they wouldn’t keep and they surely didn’t have our best interest at heart all while they were running a “business” which eventually found us, and quite quickly, in dire financial circumstances. I had said that I wish I had known beforehand, but as it turns out there were leaders within the church, including prophet counsel to beware of fraudulent activities and unreasonable investments. While we had been cautioned for years to use wisdom and prudence in all things somehow I either didn’t believe that included me or the circumstance in which I was facing, or both. While I one time chastised my daughter for not coming to me before making a decision that could have put her into serious danger, although in her mind was quite safe, I came to realize that when making the level of decisions we were making in both of these circumstances I should have, too, taken them to someone smarter and more informed that I was at the time, because as it turns out we were not safe.
Recognizing—and Avoiding—Bad Investments, by John W. Hardy, Ensign, Sep 1983.
Protecting Family Finances by Avoiding Fraud by Karianne Salisbury, Ensign, July 2008.

Word of Wisdom
Energy Drinks: The Lift That Lets You Down, by Russell Wilcox, New Era, Dec 2008.
The Energy Drink Epidemic, By Thomas J. Boud, MD, Ensign, Dec 2008. Dr. Boud works in family medicine at a primary care facility and volunteers for the Church as a consulting physician in the Missionary Medical Department.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Mom Song

Isn't this fun!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tumbling

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Piano Recital Spring 2008

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

When Queens Ride By

When Queens Ride By by Agnes Slight Turnbull, 1888

Jennie Musgrave woke at the shrill rasp of the alarm clock as she always woke—with the shuddering start and a heavy realization that the brief respite of the night's oblivion was over. She had only time to glance through the dull light at the cluttered, dusty room, before John's voice was saying sleepily as he said every morning, "All right, let's go. It doesn't seem as if we'd been in bed at all!"
Jennie dressed quickly in the clothes, none too clean, that, exhausted, she had flung from her the night before. She hurried down the back stairs, her coarse shoes clattering thickly upon the bare boards. She kindled the fire in the range and then made a hasty pretense at washing in the basin in the sink.
John strode through the kitchen and on out to the barn. There were six cows to be milked and the great cans of milk to be taken to the station for the morning train.
Jennie put coffee and bacon on the stove, and then, catching up a pail from the porch, went after John. A golden red disk broke the misty blue of the morning above the cow pasture. A sweet, fragrant breath blew from the orchard. But Jennie neither saw nor felt the beauty about her.
She glanced at the sun and thought, It's going to be a hot day. She glanced at the orchard, and her brows knit. There it hung. All that fruit. Bushels of it going to waste. Maybe she could get time that day to make some more apple butter. But the tomatoes wouldn't wait. She must pick them and get them to town today, or that would be a dead loss. After all her work, well, it would only be in a piece with everything else if it did happen so. She and John had bad luck, and they might as well make up their minds to it.
She finished her part of the milking and hurried back again to the overcooked bacon and strong coffee. The children were down, clamorous, dirty, always underfoot. Jim, the eldest, was in his first term of school. She glanced at his spotted waist. He should have a clean one. But she couldn't help it. She couldn't get the washing done last week, and when she was to get a day for it this week she didn't know, with all the picking and the trips to town to make!
Breakfast was hurried and unpalatable, a sort of grudging concession to the demands of the body. Then John left in the milk wagon for the station, and Jennie packed little Jim's lunch basket with bread and apple butter and pie, left the two little children to their own devices in the backyard, and started toward the barn. There was no time to do anything in the house. The chickens and turkeys had to be attended to, and then she must get to the tomato patch before the sun got too hot. Behind her was the orchard with its rows and rows of laden apple tree. Maybe this afternoon—maybe tomorrow morning. There were the potatoes, too, to be lifted. Too hard work for a woman. But what were you going to do? Starve? John worked till dark in the fields.
She pushed her hair back with a quick, boyish sweep of her arm and went on scattering the grain to the fowls. She remembered their eager plans when they were married, when they took over the old farm—laden with its heavy mortgage—that had been John's father's. John had been so straight of back then and so jolly. Only seven years, yet now he was stooped a little, and his brows were always drawn, as though to hide a look of ashamed failure. They had planned to have a model farm someday: blooded stock, a tractor, a new barn. And then such a home they were to make of the old stone house! Jennie's hopes had flared higher even than John's. A rug for the parlor, an overstuffed set like the one in the mail—order catalogue, linoleum for the kitchen, electric lights! They were young and, oh, so strong! There was nothing they could not do if they only worked hard enough.
But that great faith had dwindled as the first year passed. John worked later and later in the evenings. Jennie took more and more of the heavy tasks upon her own shoulders. She often thought with some pride that no woman in the countryside ever helped her husband as she did. Even with the haying and riding the reaper. Hard, coarsening work, but she was glad to do it for John's sake.
The sad riddle of it all was that at the end of each year they were no further on. The only difference from the year before was another window shutter hanging from one hinge and another crippled wagon in the barnyard which John never had time to mend. They puzzled over it in a vague distress.
And meanwhile life degenerated into a straining, hopeless struggle. Sometimes lately John had seemed a little listless, as though nothing mattered. A little bitter when he spoke of Henry Davis.
Henry held the mortgage and had expected a payment on the principle this year. He had come once and looked about with something very like a sneer on his face. If he should decide someday to foreclose—that would be the final blow. They never would get up after that. If John couldn't hold the old farm, he could never try to buy a new one. It would mean being renters all their lives. Poor renters at that!
She went to the tomato field. It had been her own idea to do some tracking along with the regular farm crops. But, like everything else, it had failed of her expectations. As she put the scarlet tomatoes, just a little overripe, into the basket, she glanced with a hard tightening of her lips toward a break in the trees a half mile away where a dark, listening bit of road caught the sun. Across its polished surface twinkled an endless procession of shining, swift—moving objects. The
State Highway.
Jennie hated it. In the first place, it was so tauntingly near and yet so hopelessly far from them. If it only ran by their door, as it did past henry Davis's for instance, it would solve the whole problem of marketing the fruits and vegetables. Then they could set the baskets on the lawn, and people could stop for them. But as it was, nobody all summer long had paid the least attention to the sign John had put up at the end of the lane. And no wonder. Why should travelers drive their cars over the stony country byway, when a little farther along they would find the same fruit spread temptingly for them at the very roadside?
But there was another reason she hated that bit of sleek road showing between the trees. She hated it because it hurt her with its suggestions of all that passed her by in that endless procession twinkling in the sunshine. There they kept going, day after day, those happy, carefree women, riding in handsome limousines or in gay little roadsters. Some in plainer cars, too, but even those were, like the others, women who could have rest, pleasure, comfort for the asking. They were whirled along hour by hour to new pleasures, while she was weighted to the drudgery of the farm like one of the great rocks in the pasture field.
And—most bitter thought of all—they had pretty homes to go back to when the happy journey was over. That seemed to be the strange and cruel law about homes. The finer they were, the easier it was to leave them. Now with her—if she had the rug for the parlor and the stuffed furniture and linoleum for the kitchen, she shouldn't mind anything so much then; she had nothing, nothing but hard slaving and bad luck. And the highway taunted her with it. Flung its impossible pleasures mockingly in her face as she bent over the vines or dragged the heavy baskets along the rows.
The sun grew hotter. Jennie put more strength into her task. She knew, at last, by the scorching heat overhead that is was nearing noon. She must have a bit of lunch ready for John when he came in. There wasn't time to prepare much. Just reheat the coffee and set down some bread and pie.
She started towards the house, giving a long yodeling call for the children as she went. They appeared from the orchard, tumbled and torn from experiments with the wire fence. Her heart smothered her at the sight of them. Among the other dreams that the years had crushed out were those of little rosy boys and girls in clean suits and fresh ruffled dresses. As it was, the children had just grown like farm weeds.
This was the part of all the drudgery that hurt most. That she had not time to care for her children, sew for them, teach them things that other children knew. Sometimes it seemed as if she had no real love for them at all. She was too terribly tired as a rule to have any feeling. The only times she used energy to talk to them was when she had to reprove them for some dangerous misdeed. That was all wrong. It seemed wicked; but how could she help it? With the work draining the very life out of her, strong as she was.

John came in heavily, and they ate in silence except for the children's chatter. John hardly looked up from his plate. He gulped down great drafts of the warmed-over coffee and then pushed his chair back hurriedly.
"I'm goin' to try to finish the harrowin' in the south field," he said.
"I'm at the tomatoes," Jennie answered. "I've got them' most all picked and ready for takin'."
That was all. Work was again upon them.
It was two o'clock by the sun, and Jennie had loaded the last heavy basket of tomatoes on the milk wagon in which she must drive to town, when she heard shrill voices sounding along the path. The children were flying in excitement toward her.
"Mum! Mum! Mum!" they called as they came panting up to her with big, surprised eyes.
"Mum, there's a lady up there. At the kitchen door. All dressed up. A pretty lady. She wants to see you."
Jennie gazed down at them disbelievingly. A lady, a pretty lady at her kitchen door? All dressed up! What that could mean! Was it possible someone had at last braved the stony lane to buy fruit? Maybe bushels of it!
"Did she come in a car?" Jennie asked quickly.
"No, she just walked in. She's awful pretty. She smiled at us."
Jennie's hopes dropped. Of course. She might have known. Some agent likely, selling books. She followed the children wearily back along the path and in at the rear door of the kitchen. Across from it another door opened into the side yard. Here stood the stranger.
The two women looked at each other across the kitchen, across the table with the remains of two meals upon it, the strewn chairs, the littered stove—across the whole scene of unlovely disorder. They looked at each other in startled surprise, as inhabitants of Earth and Mars might look if they were suddenly brought face-to-face.
Jennie saw a woman in a gray tweed coat that seemed to be part of her straight, slim body. A small gray hat with a rose quill was drawn low over the brownish hair. Her blue eyes were clear and smiling. She was beautiful! And yet she was not young. She was in her forties, surely. But an aura of eager youth clung to her, a clean and exquisite freshness.
The stranger in her turn looked across at a young woman, haggard and weary. Her yellowish hair hung in straggling wisps. Her eyes looked hard and hunted. Her cheeks were thin and sallow. Her calico dress was shapeless and begrimed from her work.
So they looked at each other for one long, appraising second. Then the woman in gray smiled.
"How do you do? " she began. "We ran our car into the shade of your lane to have our lunch and rest for a while. And I walked on up to buy a few apples, if you have them."
Jennie stood staring at the stranger. There was an unconscious hostility in her eyes. This was one of the women from the highway. One of those envied ones who passed twinkling through the summer sunshine from pleasure to pleasure while Jennie slaved on.
But the pretty lady's smile was disarming. Jennie started toward a chair and pulled off the old coat and apron that lay on it.
"Won't you sit down?" she said politely. "I'll go and get the apples. I'll have to pick them off the tree. Would you prefer Rambos?"
"I don't know what they are, but they sound delicious. You must choose them for me. But mayn't I come with you? I should love to help pick them."
Jennie considered. She felt baffled by the friendliness of the other woman's face and utterly unable to meet it. But she did not know how to refuse.
"Why I s'pose so. If you can get through the dirt."
She led the way over the back porch with its crowded baskets and pails and coal buckets, along the unkept path toward the orchard. She had never been so acutely conscious of the disorder about her. Now a hot shame brought a lump to her throat. In her preoccupied haste before, she had actually not noticed that tub of overturned milk cans and rubbish heap! She saw it all now swiftly through the other woman's eyes. And then that new perspective was checked by a bitter defiance. Why should she care how things looked to this woman? She would be gone, speeding down the highway in a few minutes as though she had never been there.
She reached the orchard and began to drag a long ladder from the fence to the Rambo tree.
The other woman cried out in distress. "Oh, but you can't do that! You mustn't. It's too heavy for you, or even for both of us. Please just let me pick a few from the ground."
Jennie looked in amazement at the stranger's concern. It was so long since she had seen anything like it.
"Heavy?" she repeated. "This ladder? I wish I didn't ever lift anything heavier than this. After hoistin' bushel baskets of tomatoes onto a wagon, this feels light to me."
The stranger caught her arm. "But—but do you think it's right? Why, that's a man's work."
Jennie's eyes blazed. Something furious and long-pent broke out from within her. "Right! Who are you to be askin' me whether I'm right or not?" What would have become of us if I didn't do a man's work? It takes us both, slaving away, an' then we get nowhere. A person like you don't know what work is! You don't know—"
Jennie's voice was the high shrill of hysteria; but the stranger's low tones somehow broke through. "Listen," she said soothingly. "Please listen to me. I'm sorry I annoyed you by saying that, but now, since we are talking, why can't we sit down here and rest a minute? It's so cool and lovely here under the trees, and if you were to tell me all about it—because I'm only a stranger—perhaps it would help. It does sometimes, you know. A little rest would—"
"Rest! Me sit down to rest, an' the wagon loaded to go to town? It'll hurry me now to get back before dark."
And then something strange happened. The other women put her cool, soft hand on Jennie's grimy arm. There was a compelling tenderness in her eyes. "Just take the time you would have spent picking apples. I would so much rather. And perhaps somehow I could help you. I wish I could. Won't you tell me why you have to work so hard?"
Jennie sank down on the smooth green grass. Her hunted, unwilling eyes had yielded to some power in the clear, serene eyes of the stranger. A sort of exhaustion came over her. A trembling reaction from the straining effort of weeks.
"There ain't much to tell," she said half sullenly, "only that we ain't gettin' ahead. We're clean discouraged, both off us. Henry Davis is talking about foreclosin' on us if we don't pay some principle. The time of the mortgage is out this year, an' mebbe he won't renew it. He's got plenty himself, but them's the hardest kind." She paused; then her eyes flared. "An' it ain't that I haven't done my part. Look at me. I'm barely thirty, an' I might be fifty. I'm so weather-beaten. That's the way I've worked!"
"And you think that has helped your husband?"
"Helped him?" Jennie's voice was sharp. "Why shouldn't it help him?"
The stranger was looking away through the green stretches of orchard. She laced her slim hands together about her knees. She spoke slowly. "Men are such queer things, husbands especially. Sometimes we blunder when we are trying hardest to serve them. For instance, they want us to be economical, and yet they want us in pretty clothes. They need our work, and yet they want us to keep our youth and our beauty. And sometimes they don't know themselves which they really want most. So we have to choose. That's what makes it so hard".
She paused. Jennie was watching her with dull curiosity as though she were speaking a foreign tongue. Then the stranger went on:
"I had to choose once, long ago; just after we were married, my husband decided to have his own business, so he started a very tiny one. He couldn't afford a helper, and he wanted me to stay in the office while he did the outside selling. And I refused, even though it hurt him. Oh, it was hard! But I knew how it would be if I did as he wished. We would both have come back each night. Tired out, to a dark, cheerless house and a picked-up dinner. And a year if that might have taken something away from us—something precious. I couldn't risk it, so I refused and stuck to it."
"And then how I worked in my house—a flat it was then. I had so little outside of our wedding gifts; but at least I could make it a clean, shining, happy place. I tried to give our little dinners the grace of a feast. And as the months went on, I knew I had done right. My husband would come home dead-tired and discouraged, ready to give up the whole thing. But after he had eaten and sat down in our bright little living room, and I had read to him or told him all the funny things I could invent about my day, I could see him change. By bedtime he had his courage back, and by morning he was at last ready to go out and fight again. And at last he won, and he won his success alone, as a man loves to do.
Still Jennie did not speak. She only regarded her guest with a half-resentful understanding.
The woman in gray looked off again between the trees. Her voice was very sweet. A humorous little smile played about her lips.
"There was a queen once," she went on, "who reigned in troublous days. And every time the country was on the brink of war and the people ready to fly into a panic, she would put on her showiest dress and take her court with her and go hunting. And when the people would see her riding by, apparently so gay and happy, they were sure all was well with the Government. So she tided over many a danger. And I've tried to be like her.
"Whenever a big crisis comes in my husband's business—and we've had several—or when he's discouraged, I put on my prettiest dress and get the best dinner I know how or give a party! And somehow it seems to work. That's the woman's part, you know. To play the queen—"
A faint honk-honk came from the lane. The stranger started to her feet. "That's my husband. I must go. Please don't bother about the apples. I'll just take these from under the tree. We only wanted two or three, really. And give these to the children." She slipped two coins into Jennie's hand.
Jennie had risen, too, and was trying from a confusion of startled thoughts to select one for speech. Instead she only answered the other woman's bright good-bye with a stammering repetition and a broken apology about the apples.
She watched the stranger's erect, lithe figure hurrying away across the path that led directly to the lane. Then she turned her back to the house, wondering dazedly if she had only dreamed that the other woman had been there. But no, there were emotions rising hotly within her that were new. They had had no place an hour before. They had risen at the words of the stranger and at the sight of her smooth, soft hair, the fresh color in her cheeks, the happy shine of her eyes.
A great wave of longing swept over Jennie, a desire that was lost in choking despair. It was as thought she had heard a strain of music for which she had waited all her life and then felt it swept away into silence before she had grasped its beauty. For a few brief minutes she, Jennie Musgrave, had sat beside one of the women of the highway and caught a breath of her life—that life which forever twinkled in the past in bright procession, like the happenings of a fairy tale. Then she was gone, and Jennie was left as she had been, bound to the soil like one of the rocks of the field.
The bitterness that stormed her heart now was different from the old dull disheartenment. For it was coupled with new knowledge. The words of the stranger seemed more vivid to her than when she had sat listening in the orchard. But they came back to her with the pain of agony.
"All very well for her to talk so smooth to me about man's work and woman's work! An' what she did for her husband's big success. Easy enough for her to sit talking about queens! What would she do if she was here on this farm like me? What would a woman like her do?"
Jennie had reached the kitchen door and stood there looking at the hopeless melee about her. Her words sounded strange and hollow in the silence of the house. "Easy for her!" she burst out. She never had the work pilin' up over her like I have. She never felt it at her throat like a wolf, the same as John an' me does. Talk about choosin'! I haven't got no choice. I just got to keep goin'—just keep goin', like I always have—"
She stopped suddenly. There in the middle of the kitchen floor, where the other woman had passed over, lay a tiny square of white. Jennie crossed to it quickly and picked it up. A faint delicious fragrance like the dream of a flower came from it. Jennie inhaled it eagerly. It was not like any odor she had ever known. It made her think of sweet, strange things. Things she had never thought about before. Of gardens in the early summer dusk, of wide fair rooms with the moonlight shining in them. It made her somehow think with vague wistfulness of all that.
She looked carefully at the tiny square. The handkerchief was of fine, fairylike smoothness. In the corner a dainty blue butterfly spread his wings. Jennie drew in another long breath. The fragrance filled her senses again. Her first greedy draft had not exhausted it. It would stay for a while, at least.
She laid the bit of white down cautiously on the edge of the table and went to the sink, where she washed her hands carefully. The she returned and picked up the handkerchief again with something like reverence. She sat down, still holding it, staring at it. This bit of linen was to her an articulated voice. She understood its language. It spoke to her of white, freshly washed clothes blowing in the sunshine, of an iron moving smoothly, leisurely, to the accompaniment of a song over snowy folds; it spoke to her of quiet, orderly rooms and ticking clocks and a mending basket under the evening lamp; it spoke to her of all the peaceful routine of a well managed household, the kind she had once dreamed of having.
But more than this, the exquisite daintiness of it, the sweet, alluring perfume spoke to her of something else which her heart understood, even though her speech could have found no words for it. She could feel gropingly the delicacy, the grace, the beauty that made up the other woman's life in all its relations.
She, Jennie, had none of that. Everything about their lives, hers and John's, was coarsened, soiled somehow by the dragging, endless labor or the days.
Jennie leaned forward, her arms stretched tautly before her upon her knees, her hands clasped tightly over the fragrant bit of white. Suppose she were to try doing as the stranger had said. Suppose that she spent her time on the house and let the outside work go. What then? What would John say? Would they be much farther behind than they were now? Could they be? And suppose, by some strange chance, the other woman had been right! That a man could be helped more by doing of these other things she had neglected?
She sat very still, distressed, uncertain. Out in the barnyard waited the wagon of tomatoes, overripe now for market. No, she could do nothing today, at least, but go on as usual.
Then her hands opened a little; the perfume within them came up to her, bringing again that thrill of sweet, indescribable things.
She started up, half-terrified at her own resolve. "I'm goin' to try it now. Mebbe I'm crazy, but I'm goin' to do it anyhow!"
It was a long time since Jennie had performed such a meticulous toilet. It was years since she had brushed her hair. A hasty combing had been its best treatment. She put on her one clean dress, the dark voile reserved for trips to town. She even changed from her shapeless, heavy shoes to her best ones. Then, as she looked at herself in the dusty mirror, she saw that she was changed. Something, at least, of the hard haggardness was gone from her face, and her hair framed it with smooth softness. Tomorrow she would wash it. It used to be almost yellow.
She went to the kitchen. With something of the burning zeal of a fanatic, she attacked the confusion before her. By half past four the room was clean: the floor swept, the stove shining, dishes and pans washed and put in their places. From the tumbled depths of a drawer Jennie had extracted a white tablecloth that had been bought in the early days, for company only. With a spirit of daring recklessness she spread it on the table. She polished the chimney of the big oil lamp and then set the fixture, clean and shining, in the center of the white cloth.
Now the supper! And she must hurry. She planned to have it at six o' clock and ring the big bell for John fifteen minutes before, as she used to just after they were married.
She decided upon fried ham and browned potatoes and applesauce with hot biscuits. She hadn't made them for so long, but her fingers fell into their old deftness. Why, cooking was just play if you had time to do it right! Then she thought of the tomatoes and gave a little shudder. She thought of the long hours of backbreaking work she had put into them and called herself a little fool to have been swayed by the words of a strange and the scent of a handkerchief, to neglect her rightful work and bring more loss upon John and herself. But she went on, making the biscuits, turning the ham, setting the table.
It was half past five; the first pan of flaky brown mounds had been withdrawn from the oven, the children's faces and hands had been washed and their excited questions satisfied, when the sound of a car came from the bend. Jennie knew that car. It belonged to Henry Davis. He could be coming for only one thing.
The blow they had dreaded, fending off by blind disbelief in the ultimate disaster, was about to fall. Henry was coming to tell them he was going to foreclose. It would almost kill John. This was his father's old farm. John had taken it over, mortgage and all, so hopefully, so sure he could succeed where his father had failed. If he had to leave now there would be a double disgrace to bear. And where could they go? Farms weren't so plentiful.
Henry had driven up to the side gate. He fumbled with some papers in his inner pocket as he started up the walk. A wild terror filled Jennie's heart. She wanted desperately to avoid meeting Henry Davis's keen, hard face, to flee somewhere, anywhere before she heard the words hat doomed them.
Then as she stood shaken, wondering how she could live through what the next hours would bring, she saw in a flash the beautiful stranger as she had sat in the orchard, looking off between the trees and smiling to herself. "There was once a queen."
Jennie heard the words again distinctly just as Henry Davis's steps sounded sharply nearer on the walk outside. There was only a confused picture of a queen wearing the stranger's lovely, highbred face, riding gaily to the hunt through forests and towns while her kingdom was tottering. Riding gallantly on, in spite of her fears.
Jennie's heart was pounding and her hands were suddenly cold. But something unreal and yet irresistible was sweeping her with it. "There was once a queen."
She opened the screen door before Henry Davis had time to knock. She extended her hand cordially. She was smiling. "Well, how d' you do, Mr. Davis. Come right in. I'm real glad to see you. Been quite a while since you was over."
Henry looked surprised and very much embarrassed. "Why, no, now, I won't go in. I just stopped to see John on a little matter of business. I'll just—"
"You'll just come right in. John will be in from milkin' in a few minutes an' you can talk while you eat, both of you. I've supper just ready. Now step right in, Mr. Davis!"
As Jennie moved aside, a warm, fragrant breath of fried ham and biscuits seemed to waft itself to Henry Davis's nostrils. There was a visible softening of his features. "Why, no, I didn't reckon on anything like this. I 'lowed I'd just speak to John and then be gettin' on."
"They'll see you at home when you get there," Jennie put in quickly. "You never tasted my hot biscuits with butter an' quince honey, or you wouldn't take so much coachin'!"
Henry Davis came in and sat in the big, clean, warm kitchen. His eyes took in every detail of the orderly room: the clean cloth, the shining lamp, the neat sink, the glowing stove. Jennie saw him relax comfortably in his chair. Then above the aromas of the food about her, she detected the strange sweetness of the bit of white linen she had tucked away in the bosom of her dress. It rose to her as a haunting sense of her power as a woman.
She smiled at Henry Davis. Smiled as she would never have thought of doing a day ago. Then she would have spoken to him with a drawn face full of subservient fear. Now, though the fear clutched her heart, her lips smiled sweetly, moved by that unreality that seemed to possess her. "There was once a queen."
"An' how are things goin' with you, Mr. Davis?" she asked with a blithe upward reflection.
Henry Davis was very human. He had never noticed before that Jennie's hair was so thick and pretty and that she had such pleasant ways. Neither had he dreamed that she was such a good cook as the sight and smell of the supper things would indicate. He was very comfortable there in the big sweet-smelling kitchen.
He smiled back. It was an interesting experiment on Henry's part, for his smiles were rare. "Oh, so-so. How are they with you?"
Jennie had been taught to speak the truth; but at this moment there dawned in her mind a vague understanding that the high loyalties of life are, after all, relative and not absolute.
She smiled again as she skillfully flipped a great slice of golden brown ham over in the frying pan. "Why, just fine, Mr. Davis. We're gettin' on just fine, John an' me. It's been hard sleddin' but I sort of think the worst is over. I think we're goin' to come out way ahead now. We'll just be proud to pay off that mortgage so fast, come another year, that you'll be surprised!"
It was said. Jennie marveled that the words had not choked her, had not somehow smitten her dead as she spoke them. But their effect on Henry Davis was amazingly good.
"That so?" he asked in surprise. "Well now, that's fine. I always wanted to see John make a success of the old place, but somehow—well, you know it didn't look as if—that is, there's been some talk around that maybe John wasn't just gettin' along any too—you know. A man has to sort of watch his investments. Well, now, I'm glad things are pickin' up a little."
Jennie felt as though a tight hand at her throat had relaxed. She spoke brightly of the fall weather and the crops as she finished setting the dishes on the table and rang the big bell for John. There was delicate work yet to be done when he came in.
Little Jim had to be sent to hasten him before he finally appeared. He was a big man, John Musgrave, big and slow moving and serious. He had known nothing all his life but hard physical toil. Hedaviess had pitted his great body against all the adverse forces of nature. There was a time when he had felt that strength such as his was all any man needed to bring him fortune. Now he was not so sure. The brightness of that faith was dimmed by experience.
John came to the kitchen door with his eyebrows drawn. Little Jim had told Jim that Henry Davis was there. He came into the room as an accused man faces the jury of his peers, faces the men who, though the same flesh and blood as he, are yet somehow curiously in a position to save or to destroy him.
John came in, and then he stopped, staring blankly at the scene before him. At Jennie moving about the bright table, chatting happily with Henry Davis! At Henry himself, his sharp features softened by an air of great satisfaction. At the sixth plate on the white cloth. Henry staying for supper!
But the silent deeps of John's nature served him well. He made no comment. Merely shook hands with Henry Davis and then washed his face at the sink.
Jennie arranged the savory dishes, and they sat down to supper. It was an entirely new experience to John to sit at the head of his own table and serve a generously heaped plate to Henry Davis. It sent through him a sharp thrill of sufficiency, of equality. He realized that before he had been cringing in his soul at the very sight of this man.
Henry consumed eight biscuits richly covered with quince honey, along with the heavier part of his dinner. Jennie counted them. She recalled hearing that the Davises did not set a very bountiful table; it was common talk that Mrs. Davis was even more "miserly" than her husband. But, however that was, Henry now seemed to grow more and more genial and expansive as he ate. So did John. By the time the pie was set before them, they were laughing over a joke Henry had heard at Grange meeting.
Jennie was bright, watchful, careful. If the talk lagged, she made a quick remark. She moved softly between table and stove, refilling the dishes. She saw to it that a hot biscuit was at Henry Davis's elbow just when he was ready for it. All the while there was rising within her a strong zest for life that she would have deemed impossible only that morning. This meal, at least, was a perfect success, and achievements of any sort whatever had been few.
Henry Davis left soon after supper. He brought the conversation around awkwardly to his errand as they rose from the table. Jennie was ready.
"I told him, John, that the worst was over now, an' we're getting' on fine!" She laughed." I told him we'd be swampin' him pretty soon with our payments. Ain't that right John?"
John's mind was not analytical. At that moment he was comfortable. He has been host at a delicious supper with his ancient adversary, whose sharp face marvelously softened. Jennie's eyes were shining with a new and amazing confidence. It was a natural moment for unreasoning optimism.
"Why that's right, Mr. Davis. I believe we can start clearin' this off now pretty soon. If you could just see your way clear to renew the note mebbe. . . ."
It was done. The papers were back in Davis's pocket. They had bid him a cordial good-bye from the door.
"Next time you come, I will have biscuits for you Mr. Davis." Jennie had called daringly after him.
"Now you don't forget that Mrs. Musgrave! They certainly ain't hard to eat."
He was gone. Jennie cleared the table and set the shining lamp in the center of the oilcloth covering. She began to wash the dishes. John was fumbling through the papers on a hanging shelf. He finally sat down with and old tablet and pencil. He spoke meditatively. "I believe I'll do a little figurin' since I've got time tonight. It just struck me that mebbe if I used my head a little more I'd get on faster."
"Well now, you might," said Jennie. It would not be John's way to comment just yet on their sudden deliverance. She polished two big Rambo apples and placed them on a saucer beside him.
He looked pleased. "Now that's what I like." He grinned. Then making a clumsy clutch at her arm, he added, "Say, you look sort of pretty tonight."
Jennie made a brisk coquettish business of freeing herself. "Go along with you!" she returned, smiling and started in again upon the dishes. But a hot wave of color had swept up in her shallow cheeks.
John had looked more grateful over her setting those two apples beside him now, than he had the day last fall when she lifted all the potatoes herself! Men were strange, as the woman in gray had said. Maybe even John had been needing something else more than he needed the hard, backbreaking work she had been doing.
She tidied up the kitchen and put the children to bed. It seemed strange to be through now, ready to sit down. All summer they had worked outdoors till bedtime. Last night she had been slaving over apple butter until she stopped, exhausted, and John had been working in the barn with the lantern. Tonight seemed so peaceful, so quiet. John still sat at the table, figuring while he munched his apples. His brows were not drawn now. There was a new, purposeful light upon his face.
Jennie walked to the doorway and stood looking off through the darkness and through the break in the trees at the end of the lane. Bright and golden lights kept glittering across it, breaking dimly through the woods, flashing out strongly for a moment, then disappearing behind the hill. Those were the lights of the happy cars that never stopped in their swift search for far and magic places. Those were the lights of the highway which she had hated. But she did not hate it now. For today it had come to her at last and left with her some of its mysterious pleasure.
Jennie wished, as she stood there, that she could somehow tell the beautiful stranger in the gray coat that her words had been true, that she, Jennie, insofar as she was able, was to be like her and fulfill her woman's part.
For while she was not figuring as John was doing, yet her mind had been planning, sketching in details, strengthening itself against the chains of old habits, resolving on new ones; seeing with sudden clearness where they had been blundered, where they had made mistakes that farsighted, orderly management could have avoided. But how could John have sat down to figure in comfort before, in the kind of kitchen she had been keeping?
Jennie bit her lip. Even if some of the tomatoes spoiled, if all of them spoiled, there would be a snowy washing on her line tomorrow; there would be ironing the next day in her clean kitchen. She could sing as she worked. She used to when she was a girl. Even if the apples rotted on the trees, there were certain things she knew now that she must do, regardless of what John might say. It would pay better in the end, for she had read the real needs of his soul from his eyes that evening. Yes, wives had to choose for their husbands sometimes.
A thin haunting breath of sweetness rose from the bosom of her dress where the scrap of white linen lay. Jennie smiled into the dark. And tomorrow she would take time to wash her hair. It used to be yellow—and she wished she could see the stranger once more, just long enough to tell her she understood.
As a matter of fact, at that very moment, many miles along the sleek highway, a woman in a gray coat, with a soft gray hat and a rose quill, leaned suddenly close to her husband as he shot the high-powered car through the night. Suddenly he glanced down at her and slackened the speed.
"Tired?" he asked. "You haven't spoken for miles. Shall we stop at this next town?"
The woman shook her head. "I'm all right, and I love to drive at night. It's only—you know—that poor woman at the farm. I can't get over her wretched face and house and everything. It—it was hopeless!"
The man smiled down at her tenderly. "Well, I'm sorry, too, if it was all as bad as your description; but you mustn't worry. Good gracious, darling, you're not weeping over it, I hope!"
"No, truly, just a few little tears. I know it's silly, but I did so want to help her, and I know now that what I said must have sounded perfectly insane. She wouldn't know what I was talking about. She just looked up with that blank, tired face. And it all seemed so impossible. No, I'm not going to cry. Of course I'm not—but—lend me your handkerchief, will you dear? I've lost mine somehow!"

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Traffic as the Test of Christian Character

A great article that goes along with mine "I Don't Have to Be First". This one is called Traffic as the Test of Christian Character

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How To Do It Right. Marriage.

I married young and unprepared. Then, I divorced young and still was unprepared. With a clearer view I remarried a few years later. Eleven and one-half years have passed and we are still married. As we have raised our little girl I often wondered how to teach her how to have a proper courtship and for choosing a spouse. I wanted her to have an even clearer view and to be much more prepared. I realized that I still did not have all the answers.

Many years ago an old friend of mine had made mention the reason for a decision that her and her fiancĂ© had made for delaying marriage. She had said that they wanted to do it right. At the time I took it personally, realizing that she had compared my mistakes to that of her own concerns for making the right decisions for herself. What is right? I understood what she had been saying. She had meant to finish college and get a good job. Be stable and prepared. These are all good things. Since then I have pondered what “right” really means from an eternal perspective rather than one from a worldly view. What is right in the eyes of my Heavenly Father and how can I teach that to my daughter?

For many years I defined “right” to mean marring a man in the Temple who was fulfilling his priesthood responsibilities. Besides teaching her gospel standards, the Law of Chastity and purity, that was it. I could not think of anything else. Finally, one day my daughter cut me off while reminding her of this criteria and she mentioned that I need not worry because she would not even be dating anyone outside of the Church. I was stunned. I had not even thought of that. So, I changed the criteria to include members only. I even found quotes from church leaders to substantiate the importance of this choice. Even a Young Women lesson that focused on Dating Decisions

For the Strength of Youth says this about dating: “Because dating is a preparation for marriage, date only those who have high standards, who respect your standards, and in whose company you can maintain the standards of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (p. 7). And President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: “Your chances for a happy and lasting marriage will be far greater if you will date those who are active and faithful in the Church” (Ensign, Nov. 1981, 41).

President Spencer W. Kimball counseled: “Do not take the chance of dating nonmembers, or members who are untrained and faithless. … One cannot afford to take a chance on falling in love with someone who may never accept the gospel (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 241–42; italics added)…. If you date someone who doesn’t hold high standards, the romantic feelings you may develop for that person could pressure you to compromise your standards. Temple marriage should be your goal. If you avoid dating situations where you may feel pressure to compromise your standards—even if it means postponing dating—the Lord will bless you.

The world has quite a different point of view than the teachings we have taught our daughter. In For Strength of Youth Pamphlet youth are admonished to maintain sexual purity. I remember an experience that was pivotal in my view for criteria in preparing for marriage.

While attending a marriage ceremony in the Salt Lake Temple the officiator commented after the newlyweds kissed that we had witnessed their first ever kiss! I had never, until that point, heard of such a thing. I pondered that for years. John Bytheway spoke candidly about this in his talk “What Do Kisses Mean?” he shares “Remember, before you are married, you will be more respected and more attractive for the affection you withhold than for the affection you give.” While President Spencer W. Kimball asks “What do kisses mean when given out like pretzels and robbed of sacredness?”

In his talk “Standards Night Live” John Bytheway teaches that youth show their future spouse how much they are loved by how they behave long before they are married. By saving themselves, even to the point of avoiding the simplest act of affection, they show their love for their future spouse while still in their youth. I have learned that part of the “right” for marriage is through our actions during the many years preceding the wedding.

The next question I had was the timing of the marriage. Since I had married at the young age of eighteen years I wanted my own daughter to have a little more time. That seemed that it should fit in the grand scheme of doing it right. She wants to serve a mission and would need to be at least twenty-one years old before she can serve in that capacity. This would mean she would still be single and then after eighteen months of serving she would return home almost twenty-three years old. I felt that was a safe age to marry. Then, I came across the following advice from church leaders that changed that goal from a determined quest that of keeping an open mind.

In the home a young girl can understand that her primary role is to be a wife and mother. Yet as that preparation unfolds there may be an opportunity to serve a full-time mission, provided recent counsel of the First Presidency is followed: “Worthy single women ages twenty-one and older … may be recommended to serve full-time missions. … These sisters can make a valuable contribution … , but they should not be pressured to serve. Bishops should not recommend them for missionary service if it will interfere with imminent marriage prospects.” Richard G. Scott, “Now Is the Time to Serve a Mission!.

Last year I watched the Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Building Up a Righteous Posterity and I was thrilled to hear sage advice on marriage for young folks. It provided direct instruction for my quest of how to do it “right.” Elder Holland said: “I think we’ve all heard comments such as “Well, I need to get through school before I get married” or “I need to get a job” or “I need a little money in the bank” or “We’re going to need a car.” We start to hear, increasingly in society, those kinds of stipulations. We want all of this in place. I have loved a very homely little definition of love that James Thurber gave many, many years ago. He said, “Love is what you go through together.”… You shouldn’t miss the ties that bind and the experiences that link us together in our youth and in our hardship and in our sacrifice as well as in senior years when maybe you’ve got a little more money.”

As I thought about this advice I began to remember that the most enjoyable times in my marriage were when we had the least money. It seemed to force us to live a simple life and to appreciate the little things. I can also remember the feeling of bonding that we had while sharing the vicissitudes of life. What a pity it would have been had we postponed life with one another until some part of the difficulty was over. Yet, I wonder how that could ever be? How can we actually wait until difficult times are over? Life is full of trials and experiences, both good and bad. If young people are postponing marriage until after college is finished and a good job is found, is the hard part of life over? Hardly! I think we often fool ourselves a bit. A good education and a job are important, but it need not postpone marriage.

Of the same Leadership meeting Sister Beck and Elder Oaks had brought up another good point when choosing a spouse.

Sister Beck: Oftentimes we hear young adults saying, “I’m looking for my soul mate.” And they put off being married because they think there’s one perfect match and a soul mate who then will be their best friend forever. What really should they be looking for if they’re interested in seeking after the Lord’s blessings and forming an eternal family? How do they do that?

Elder Oaks: I’m always doubtful when I hear that someone’s waiting for the person that was predestined for them in heaven. There may be such cases. But I think most of us are looking for someone we love, whom we can stand together with and go forward with, who has same ideals and the same principles to make an eternal family. I think the idea that you’re waiting until something hits you on the head as if to say “this is it” just postpones marriage and sometimes prevents it altogether.

While creating the YW Quotes Calendar for my daughter I also came across this quote:

"Soul mates' are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price." Spencer W. Kimball

It has only been recently that I seem to be finding most of my answers for making the right decisions when finding a spouse in order to teach my daughter correct principles. In addition to the direction I receive through church leaders and gospel principles, I can be thankful for wise friends. They have taught me that during the dating period a young man and young women should choose wise activities for their dates that include other friends. Through time this will allow her to see him under the light of his true character. Someone has said that we “should keep [our] eyes wide open before marriage, and half shut afterward.

Another friend provided three essentials that she looked for when she was searching for an eternal companion. She looked for someone who had earned his Eagle Scout, graduated from Seminary and served a mission. She explained the reasons behind these choices. If he had earned his Eagle Scout she knew that he could make goals for his family. By graduating from Seminary she knew he would be able to get up early to earn a living for his family. Finally, by serving a mission she knew that he could keep promises to the Lord and thereby keep his promises to her.

After much thought I decided to add one more criteria to the list. As I watched my young niece and nephew-in-law with their little baby, now expecting a second one, I realized how blessed they were that they both received their college educations while so young. I don’t know about him, but I know she already has her master’s degree. What a blessing that is for them during these rough times. With that extra leverage in life, she will not feel so compelled to work outside of the home to make up for budgetary differences. With his education he will be able to stand out from the crowd of a job-hungered competition. This isn’t about building wealth and recognition, it is about sustaining the family in an unstable world. To have the wisdom and foresight to recognize the need for an education is showing love for his family and the needs they will have in their future. Postponing education while still so young for whatever reason is really not an option these days. It doesn’t get easier. Whether just out of high school for young women or just returned from a mission for young men and education is recommended by church leaders.

A good education will prepare us for opportunities as they come and will help us be an asset to our families, the Church, and our communities. (see

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Squirrel and the Nut

Tonight I cannot sleep so I have decided to put together this story. It has been in my head for quite a few weeks. It actually started many years ago and I used part of it in a talk once upon a time and through further reflection realized how awful the talk truly was. While the story remains solid, I want to take it in a better direction. I had been pondering the story again and wanted to find an example of the ideal. Then, recently a friend shared a story at church during one of her lessons and I realized it was exactly what I was looking for to tie together this one. Interestingly, I did a search on the LDS site and found an article that this story ties in with quite well titled “On Giving and Getting.” I hope I can organize all of the thoughts from my head. Then, maybe I can go to sleep!

During one fall afternoon my daughter and I had the opportunity to watch a squirrel playing in the leaves spread across the lawn. He had a huge nut in his mouth and was nervously looking in our direction. It seems that he considered us a threat to his dinner because he began digging into the pile of leaves, and quite frequently, he would look our way to see if we were still watching. Eventually, he made it to the bottom of the pile. Just before it would require of him to get his paws dirty by digging into the ground, he dropped the nut and quickly and carelessly threw some of the leaves back over it. He looked at us one last time and then ran way. The scene made us laugh, especially since we recognized that while he did what little he figured was required to successfully hide the nut he had considered the job finished. It’s as if he had said, “There! It’s buried! I did my job. I’m off the hook.” Had he probed a little further, been willing to get his paws a little dirty, and dug into the ground only a few inches, then perhaps, he could have saved that nut for longer than the existence of the leaves or from the discovery of another hungry critter that could easily happen upon this little treasure. Instead, he settled for bare efforts, secure in his delusion that he was off the hook from further protecting his food.

It came to me that I could use this story to evaluate my own efforts throughout my life. How many times have I made the least effort in a cause and expected solid results? There are a myriad of different areas with which this could apply. My communication with family or friends, level of commitment at work, school or church, loyalty to the development of my talents, skills or education, and level of health and physical strength are all influenced by the amount of effort I am willing to put forth, how deep I am willing to dig in and bury that nut. Do I protect those processes to insure an honest endeavor and a well developed character?

A few years ago I was introduced to a couple of books that provided me with some specific direction for effective communication. Both of them were by the same author and discussed love languages and apologies. As it turns out, we all receive love and show love in different ways and the same is with an apology. Without this understanding one person can be working diligently to show either of these while the other person is wondering what the big holdup is. While I am thinking that “I said I was sorry!” they could be asking “Why is she burying her nut so shallow?”

John Bytheway, in the DVD Standards Night Live, discussed the tendency for young men and women to want to know just how far they can push the limits without crossing the line. How little can I do, what is the farthest I can go before crossing that line? How far can I go without being bad and still be good? As an adult I sometimes find myself wondering where the fine line is in different circumstances, too. Am I pushing the copy write limits, speed limit, or honesty boundaries? He warns that our intent should be to maintain our integrity by avoiding at all costs that fine line. Do I want anyone to doubt my intentions or reliability? Or in keeping with the Squirrel’s food, how deep have I dug to protect my precious nut?

Even after I have sufficiently taken the extra effort to deeply bury my nut and have done everything right and in my power to protect it, some critter can still come by and dig it up. It is during those challenges in life that I must rely the heaviest on the promise made by our Savior. In 2 Nephi 25:23 we are promised that "by grace we are saved, after all we can do." I know that after everything that is in my power to do what is necessary of me and it fails anyway, then I can rely on Christ to make up the difference for me.

Recently, during a church lesson my friend shared her family’s story of their first gardening experience. Because their yard was all grass and had never previously grown a garden they needed to properly prepare the ground. Some had suggested tilling the ground, but this was a concern because that would only overturn the soil and leave the grass underneath where it could later grow through to the top. So, they got on their hands and knees, pulled up the grass, sifted the soil through their fingers and cleared away the unwanted grass from the entire garden plot. This thorough effort to prepare their soil allowed them the blessings of essentially having a weed free garden. This was the opposite of carelessly tossing the leaves; this was digging deep and being thorough.

While comparing the two stories, I hope to be as meticulous as my friend was with her garden in my prayers, honesty with my fellow men, a days work, tithing and all else. It’s interesting where an effort in our daily lives comes down to honesty, mainly with us more than anything else. In the end, I pray that my efforts have far exceeded expectations set of me and that I am as careful as my friend was with her garden. I do not want to settle for bare efforts. I want to make a substantial effort to break ground.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bedbug Letter

This morning as I was cleaning my glasses I reminded myself to do so delicately and from the correct direction. You see, last year I bought new glasses, the kind where the bottom doesn’t have a rim, but a clear plastic line that wraps around the bottom. After a few months of cleaning them every morning the plastic line broke. The eye doctor place fixed them while in wonder of how they broke. That had never happened before, they said. The next day while I was cleaning my glasses I realized how it had happened. As I was cleaning them I was pulling them away from the rim, putting pressure on those thin plastic lines. So, now I clean them coming from the opposite direction and they have never broken again.

Some time later while visiting my grandparents, I shared with grandpa what had happened. He and my family chuckled when they heard the claim that the doctor’s office had never before seen that happen. They said it sounded like the bedbug letter. I asked what that meant and he told the following story.

Many years ago, during the days that travel by train was more common, a man had a terrible nights sleep during his train trip because he was bitten by bed bugs all through the night. He wrote a letter to the train company making his complaint thoroughly clear for his disgust with the discomfort that these bed bugs had caused him. The train company replied with the sort of response most would expect to hear in an apology. They were very sorry for his inconvenience as they had never had this happen before and were not sure how it happened. Therefore, they would make all necessary arrangements to make sure that this room was cleaned from top to bottom, thereby eliminating all bed bugs for future guests… how thoroughly embarrassed to have had that happen on their train as the company wanted all of their passengers to enjoy their trip in all the comfort that a train allows, etc. The only problem is that the secretary had enclosed the customer’s original complaint letter in with the apology on which a note was attached that read “send the bed-bug letter” Apparently, it happened so often, they had a form letter already prepared for these complaints.

So, this morning while I carefully cleaned my glasses so that they wouldn’t break I thought about that story and the bedbug letter. It makes me laugh every time I think of it. Then, I started thinking of the bedbug letter responses in my own life. I seem to have a lot of them, form responses that have become so reactive I don’t think much of them. How are you doing today? I say that I’m doing fine, good or great (at least it’s a bit different each time). That’s the most common bedbug letter that I know of. Not many people, and not many times, have I heard anyone really go into an elaborate explanation of how they are really doing. It would throw me off if they did.

When a cashier thanks me they usually follow it up with wishing me a good day, too. I’ve heard it so often that when I hear them thanking me I don’t even wait to confirm they’ve wished me well, I just happily reply with my bedbug letter answer “thanks, you too!” How embarrassing when they happened to have left out the wishing me a good day part.

I’ve noticed that oftentimes I expect the same reaction from someone that I would have given had I been in the same circumstances. If I encounter someone with something good or bad and I would have reacted in a certain way, then I always expect the other person to react in that same way. It throws me off when they don’t conform to what my expectations would’ve been, to my bedbug letter.

On garbage day we all get out those bedbug letters and start mailing them, only forgetting there was a holiday and the garbage man isn’t coming. Still, the entire neighborhood has all their garbage cans ready for pick up.

I like the story of the bedbug letter and I’ll look forward to seeing similarities throughout my life that I find compare to my own personal bedbug letter responses, reactions, and behaviors. What I can learn from this story is the need for sincerity. We can slip into the trap of living so habitually that we can loose focus on what we may normally let slip by, the opportunities for friendship, observation of the beauty, appreciation for the uniqueness, and the simple occasion to brighten the world around us.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Favorite Song



This song is sung at EFY (Especially For Youth) and is a favorite of mine. I love seeing all the wonderful youth singing this beautiful song and exuberating the spirit within them.

Friday, August 8, 2008

I Don't Have to be First

Happily, I am from a small town. I have always joked that if it takes more than five minutes to travel from one end of a city to the opposite end, then it’s too big for me. Despite its small size, we are not immune from raging or rude drivers. That does not prepare me, though, for the mind blowing practices of some of the larger cities.

Whenever we travel through a large city my husband would always drive, especially in one particular major metropolitan city where the dangerous driving practices seem to outrank any civility. This particular area seemed to scare me so much that I felt I was putting my life in danger each time we traveled our way through. The drivers were weaving in and out of lanes without any regard to the other driver’s safety. Cutting someone off was an understatement considering they would simply take the spot you were in rather than wait for the slightest opening. Semi trucks would cut from one end of all five lanes to the other end without a moments notice. Regardless of our own large vehicle, I was always horrified to drive through this unpredictable fury. We seldom choose this route and avoided it whenever possible.

A few years ago we made an important appointment nearly in the center of all this chaos. This appointment could not be rescheduled without losing money and our spot would be lost had we cancelled. I was not too concerned since my husband would be expected to drive. Except, when the time came for the trip, it turned out that he would be unexpectedly tied up with work, something time-sensitive that he could not avoid, which meant that I would be driving by myself!

A bit of a panic began to overtake me. “How was I to do this by myself,” I wondered. As I pondered the best plan of action one specific method came to my mind. I wouldn’t worry about being first. I recognized that in my own frustrated driving habits there stemmed a misleading idea that by being in front of one more vehicle that was holding me back would allow me to be further ahead on the road, when in actuality it only made me first at the next light. Perhaps by not being first, I would save myself the heartache of fighting for it against everyone else, thereby keeping me safer. I would travel the speed limit and allow anyone and everyone to pass me. If they wanted my spot I would give it to them. If they wanted to cut in front of me, I would let them. I had realized that most of the trouble came when someone wanted to be in front of someone else, hence making them first.

Because I understood that the most important outcome of that trip was to safely make it to my destination and to return home in safety, too, I experienced a trip without any troubles. I am certain there were the occasional vehicles frustrated that I was going the speed limit, thus impeding their own travel; that I was an occasional roadblock for the speedy mass. Through it all, though, I remained a conscientious driver who followed the rules of the road to my own benefit and safety, including those around me.

Throughout the months that passed I began to see a correlation between that decision to not be first and how I lived my life. In this life of chaos where priorities are jumbled and focuses are blurred I have noticed that I can often have my own experiences with life rage, rudeness, and even feel danger for me and my family. There have been opportunities for me to feel a tinge of jealousy when someone else received a blessing of any magnitude that I would have liked to experience; when someone else would meet a goal before I could reach it; and when I felt that my efforts may not have been as recognized as someone else’s. I may feel the urge to trump someone else’s efforts or feel compelled to show how much I too have accomplished. During these times I will remind myself that I do not have to be first, I just need to be consistent and conscientious in my effort to safely and successfully reach my goal, which, in this case, is to return to my Father in Heaven. When I get there is of no consequence over getting there safely and the example I set while doing so. I am certain that through the process some may feel frustrated that my standards are impeding their own ideals; and that occasionally I may serve as a roadblock to someone’s ulterior motives. But, when through it all I remain a humble servant and heed the promptings of the spirit and the counsel of my leaders and prophet, I know that I can return home in safety. When at times I feel the urge to slip, I simply remind myself that “I don’t have to be first.”