Saturday, May 26, 2012

Boating on Memorial Day

I was a teenager in the Northwest in the 1990’s. This meant that Nirvana was ruling the airwaves, plaid flannel was king, boys bathed as infrequently  as Ethan Hawk in “Reality Bites”, and all the cool kids drove little pregnant roller skate cars like Geo Metros. My mom and dad thought those cars were death traps and had something sturdier in mind for me.

Much to my dismay they were not interested in the fact that no drummer in a garage band would want to date a girl who drove a 1977 butterscotch colored, purple tinted window, Brady Bunch station wagon. 

That car could seat 9 ½ comfortably, went from 0 to 60 in 3.8 minutes, and was the size of the Titanic. My 10 year old brother could beat it in a 50 yard drag race on his bicycle. Even better than all that, and since this was before the days of cell phones, my mom could locate me at any time of the day or night by just calling around town and asking if anyone had seen “the boat”. Seriously, that's what she even called it.

The boat was a multi-purpose vehicle in my family. Besides being the teenage automobile of shame it transported freight for my dad’s business, hauled boy scouts on campouts, moved gardening materials and basically acted like a huge ugly pickup truck. In addition to all that it also transported the family on our yearly Memorial Day outing.

Mom and Dad along with their disregard for my personal popularity, also inexplicably believed that Memorial Day was a day to actually remember people who had died.

Instead of spending a fun 3 day weekend full of BBQ’s and pool parties they would load up the boat with all the kids and take flowers to everyone we had ever known that had left this earth. It was mandatory and no amount of whining or crying was going to get you out of it.

We would get up early on Sunday morning and mom would get the quart size Mason jars out of the garage, we would wrap them in tin foil and my sister and I would be dispatched to find pebbles to weight the bottoms. We would then fill empty plastic milk cartons with water and go out and cut the irises that were blooming in our yard. All of this would go in the back of the boat and then we were off like a herd of turtles to visit Mrs. Edwards to buy more flower arrangements.

Mrs. Edwards was an elderly lady who had a huge flower garden. Every year she would cut bouquets of fresh flowers and put them on shelves in her garage. It smelled like heaven in there. Dad would go into her garage, pick out 10 or 15 arrangements, and then pay Mrs. Edwards four times what she was asking for them. He was a bit of a penny pincher and so this portion of the program always mystified me.

 I didn’t realize until years later that the Memorial Day flower business was really her only income, and because she would not accept financial help from anyone, dad used it to try to make her life a little easier.

Once the back of the boat was loaded with irises and peonies, daisies and columbine, off we would go to meet up with some of our extended family at the first cemetery. Out we would pile into the cool morning air and set up a mason jar and flowers, clean the dead grass from around the headstone, dad would say a few words about the person we were visiting, get misty eyed, take a picture of everyone posed around the plot, and then we would load up and move on to the next graveyard. As we drove one of us would hold a portable radio on our lap and try to keep the antenna pointed in a direction that would pick up the Indy 500. This pattern would go on for hours. Finally, exhausted, hungry and usually with several of us in tears we would make it home and go to our separate corners, dreading the next time we would have to make the trek.

When this was going on I had never lost anyone close to me. My childhood had been free from injury of that type. I didn’t know what it was like to have loved someone and then have them move on to the other side and so the sentimentality my parents showed did not compute for me. 

Now all these years later, what I would give to load up in the boat one more time and go with dad to visit our relatives who have passed on. I would pose for the pictures and not roll my eyes, I would clean the headstones without griping, and get misty eyed as I talked about those people I love so much. I would hug him and tell him I appreciated how much family meant to him.

My little brood will be going to a pool party and BBQ this weekend and it will be fun. And though we are 1500 miles from any of the resting places of those people that are so dear I think I will take the time to tell the kids about them again. I think that we will take a virtual trip to those resting places and hopefully I can instill in my kids the same love and respect for those who have moved on before us as my mom and dad did for me.

And with David taking driver’s training this summer… I wonder where I can find a Brady Bunch station wagon?



Malachi 4:6  “ And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…”

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Light Bulb

A few months ago my adorable 14 year old son Andrew competed and made it into the All District Band. Winning this honor earned him an all expense paid trip to Kennadale Texas on one of the school’s finest buses. Once there he would practice all day with a guest conductor and then play in a concert that night. Being the dedicated Band cheerleader that I am (we have our own uniforms, cheers  and everything, think Will Ferrell and Cheri O’Terri singing to the Farmer’s Insurance jingle “we are Band Nerds, duh duh duh duh duh duh duh)  we loaded up the trusty family vehicle, plugged in our GPS, and started out on the three hour trip to the concert.

We live at least an hour in any direction from civilization and so when we have the opportunity to get to the big city a stop at Costco is essential . I must have shredded cheese in 5 pound bags and can’t live without the 102 count toilet paper they sell there. I reluctantly admit that I can become a little crazed in that store and my hubby, who I affectionately refer to as “Buns”, has from time to time had to come after me and begin intervention techniques to get me out of there. “Breathe deeply Brenda, think of our kids, we really don’t need another case of couscous in food storage.”  He was not on this trip but I managed to leave spending only $14,000. A deal if you ask me.

With the stop at Costco cleared, (there was even a few inches of empty space to see out of the back window) we continued on down the road. It was at this time that my aging GPS unit had a mental break down and decided it didn’t know where it was going. Apparently the city planners in the Dallas Fort Worth metro area had neglected to send  it the memo about the new freeway they were building. Anyway, it indicated that I should make a right turn directly into a bridge pylon and then led us on a very interesting tour of what one could call “the hood”.  I appreciated its thoughtfulness in getting us so close to the graffiti artwork and the bullet holes in the buildings, and that young man with all the necklaces was quite friendly as he waved to us but I’m not really sure that gesture was he was making was suitable for a ‘G’ rated audience.

As much as I enjoyed this new experience I became aware of something I had long suspected about myself. I couldn’t find my left elbow without a GPS. Luckily my sister, who had finally stopped hyperventilating and was a little better at navigation, turned us around and helped me to finally make it to our destination.   

We made our way into the auditorium and were immediately assaulted by the organized crime rings that run the souvenir booths at these events. They sell shirts, hats, and participation plaques at prices that would make Donald Trump drop dead from sticker shock. The whole racket operates on the principle of guilt. “You are a bad parent if you don’t buy this junk for your kid, to be supportive you must spend your entire retirement savings on a ‘Baritones Rule’ trucker hat. All the other parents are doing it. Won't you?”

Defeated and with hat and plaque in hand we were finally seated. We waved to the other band parents, took pictures of Andrew sitting on stage, and then the lights went down. The crowd sat in the dark in anticipation.

Then something incredible happened.  

The conductor walked onto the stage and intuitively you noticed there was something different about him. He was a large man in a black suit, he said a few words about how much he had enjoyed working with the kids that day, and then he took his place at the conductor’s stand. He tapped his baton a few times and the kids all straitened in their chairs. There was a look of concentration on all of their faces but what was unusual was the smiles on the faces of every single member of that band. Without fail as I scanned this large group of kids from all over the state you could tell they were happy and completely in the moment.

The conductor raised his arms and the music began. As he directed his entire body became involved. His head bobbed, his hips bounced, his foot tapped. The sound coming from those kids as this was going on was beautiful but the energy that was emanating out of the man in black filled the entire room. It was absolutely joyous and it was almost as if you could see the light of inspiration beaming strait down from the ceiling and into his head. He was then taking that light and projecting it out of every pore in his body. It lifted those kids and the audience almost out of their seats. It was breathtaking.

After the first song concluded and I came back to my senses, I began to have a thought. “Here I am, frazzled from shopping and getting lost, tired from all the driving, and yet I’m having a truly spiritual experience at an 8th grade band concert. Man, life is full of unexpected wonderful moments."

Then the light bulb went off in my head.

The reason this guy was having such a profound effect on everyone around him was that he had a talent given to him from God. He had taken the time to study and develop that gift. He then he took that knowledge and ability and used it to teach others. In doing this he had figured out a basic truth, that when you find whatever it is God wants you to do and then choose to develop that gift to help others, you can become a literal window for the light of heaven to shine through. You can change the world for good even if it is only for 32 minutes of a middle school band concert. Although, somehow I think that particular man has had a much more far reaching effect in the course of his life.

The phenomenal thing about truths like this is that it applies to everyone. We can find the gifts that God has given us whether it is in music or science or in the ability to listen to others, in art or organization or being a great parent,  it can be in any of the billions of ways we can be of service to our fellow man. In each of those things we find the gift, we study and develop, and then we too can allow the light of heaven to shine through us. The result is joy for us and those we serve.

There was a quote I read once by Marianne Williamson that speaks to this.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” 

It’s in you and it’s in me, so let’s get out there and shine.



Matthew 5:16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

Friday, May 18, 2012

That Big Fluffy Airport in the Sky

One of the great things about living in the wilds of West Texas, where members of my church are about as prevalent as chickens in Antarctica, is that I get to spend a lot of time with the missionaries assigned to the area. Most of these young men come to us from Utah and Idaho and are like a breath of fresh air and enthusiasm from home. I see them on their preparation days because they do laundry at our home and I’ve had multiple opportunities to go out and teach with them. Over time I find myself learning to love them just as if they were my own sons.

(As an aside here- please note that I am not old enough to be the mother of a missionary. I will not reach that milestone for at least 3 1/2 more years... Sigh... Excuse me for a moment while I run out and buy some nice 'n' easy to cover up my gray.) Anyway-

With the experience of seeing so many different Elders pass through I have begun to recognize patterns in those missionaries who are productive and happy. Let’s be clear, this is the Southern Bible Belt and rejection is an all-day-long everyday occurrence for these guys. They are met with shotguns at the doors they knock on with alarming frequency and all of them struggle with some of the harsh words that are thrown their way. Over the years I've seen those who struggle and then give up and then those who keep pushing forward and eventually are transformed into productive incredible men.

My younger brother Kent is a prime example of the transformation that can take place in the course of two years of service on an LDS mission. Kent was a good kid, didn’t get into much trouble, had potential and talent but was content to spend his time memorizing quotes from Space Ghost Coast to Coast and beating Final Fantasy twelve times in a row. He spent one inglorious year at BYU Idaho and after an injury to his knee while playing softball, moved into my basement to recover and get ready to go on his mission. His preparation consisted of playing video games 8 hours a day and venturing up into the light once in a while to raid the freezer for frozen pizza.

He was called to serve in the Central American country of Panama and was immediately assigned to a senior companion who had been an Olympic athlete. That Elder ran Kent up and down the side of a jungle mountain for months. They had limited conveniences and showered by using a garden hose nailed to the wall of their small tin-roofed residence. Kent was out of shape and battled through his lazy streak, learned a new language, and learned to serve and love the people of that country with all of his heart.

 The dashing Elder Cherry is on the right.

At the end of two years we met him at the airport wearing sombreros (which was totally inappropriate for a multitude of reasons) and with a huge misspelled “Bienvenido a casa √©lder Cherry!” banner. As he came through security no one recognized him. He had grown to almost 6 foot 5 inches tall, had lost 100 pounds and absolutely glowed with an inner light. No kidding, it almost hurt your eyes to look at him. His homecoming talk in church the following Sunday had the entire congregation awash in tears it was so beautiful and everyone we spoke to was amazed at his growth in such a short period of time. He now has an incredible wife, a beautiful son, and has just completed his first year of dental school. 

The future is impossibly bright for Kent because he chose to allow the hardships of his mission to make him into a better version of himself.

At this point in these kinds of stories I always start to think “Ok, so good for him and those other people that take advantage of that experience. Big deal, that isn’t me. I didn’t serve a mission and I’m just schlubbing along in life and dealing with all the garbage and hardships I have to deal with. Right?

Here’s the thing, from an LDS perspective we know that we existed before we came here as spirit children of our Heavenly Father. In that place we accepted a mission call to this earth. Truly we did, and like the young men and women who go out today we were excited and I’m sure a little nervous about taking on the challenge. Some of us were better prepared than others to come, some had tendencies towards all kinds of different character defects like laziness, but all of us signed up to come out with the knowledge that if we would persevere through the difficulties and rejection and trust in God, that He would transform us into much better versions of ourselves. That was the deal.

So the question now becomes, who do we want to be when we get back to our family at that big airport in the sky? And will they be wearing sombreros?



“It is not a question of whether or not we want to be missionaries. We have already decided that issue. We are alive; we are here; we are members. The only question is: What kind of missionaries will we be?” 
 - John H. Groberg

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Weekly Bird

When my two older boys were little we attended a typical LDS Ward in Idaho. Jon and I were just making our way back into church activity after some wandering for a few years. I was a very young mother with two rambunctious and hilarious little boys. They were never the kids who walked through the halls with their arms folded reverently nor were they even able to sit still through any of the main Sacrament Meeting. We spent most of those meetings out in the hall with somebody pouting and screaming. Usually it was me.

I can remember seeing some of the other mothers in that Ward and wondering what was the matter with me? These picture perfect moms walked their blonde-headed broods in every week, perfectly pressed, not a hair out of place, arms folded and into their regular pews with military precision. They then sat patiently through the service and quietly colored pictures or ate cheerios out of color coordinated containers with their name on it. I was lucky if we made it to church with everyone with their shoes on much less with perfect little activity kits.

Shortly after moving into this congregation I was called to be the Primary Chorister, a calling I really felt good about since I had a background in music and the pianist happened to be the mother of one of my best friend’s from high school. Sister Hogg had been a tremendous influence on me and is one of the most fun people I have ever met. We would spend our down time in Primary breaking each other up behind the piano while sharing time was going on.

The second counselor in the Primary Presidency was the wife of a professor from a college in town. She did not appreciate humor and it seemed to me, looked down on those not in the world of academia as little better than serf in the fields of her manor. There was no mistaking that she held my sophomoric sense of humor in contempt and found it a trial to even share the same oxygen in a room with me. As I concluded the singing portion one Sunday I said “and now I’ll turn the time over to Sister Weekly” she immediately got up, looked down her nose and said flatly “you don’t turn the time over to anyone.”

At the time this was all going on David was four years old and in the Sunbeam class. He was adorable if I do say so myself, having acquired from his Daddy dark eyes with intolerably long lashes and olive skin. He also had a mischievous streak that was revealed any time he thought he could get a rise out of an adult. Earlier in the week he had been sitting with my mom counting on his fingers. As they practiced up to 10 and back down he managed to leave just his middle fingers up. Mom, in a responsible grandma fashion told him “oh no David, don’t do that. You should never point your middle finger at anyone.” As I watched this little encounter I saw the lights go on in Dave’s eyes. Here was some ammunition to be used later. I swooped over and told him not to worry about it but I knew that was going to come back at some inopportune moment.

The following Sunday as I was nestled snugly behind the piano with Sister Hogg, we watched Sister Weekly give the sharing time presentation. It was on repentance and a little dry. Most of the kids were zoned out completely. As I looked around the room my eyes came to rest on David sitting in the front row with the rest of his class. Sister Weekly was kneeling right in front of him with a visual aid and began to ask him a question about the lesson.

As if in slow motion I saw him glance up at me with a devilish glint in his eyes and a smile on his face.Then he looked Sister Weekly right in the eyes and with a huge grin took both hands and stuck up his middle fingers.

The entire room stopped dead in absolute horror for several never ending seconds.

Finally Sister Weekly stood up, stepped back, and sputtered something incomprehensible. She finally gathered herself and moved on with the lesson. Something inside of me burst in that moment and I found myself laughing uncontrollably in my hide-out behind the piano. It was a maniacal, inappropriate, mini-melt down. After all of those months of feeling like a second class citizen to that woman my innocent, adorable, little man had unknowingly done something so offensive it completely knocked her off her high horse for a few seconds.

Obviously this incident did not help my reputation as a parent in that Ward but something inside me was freed and I just didn’t care anymore what anyone thought. I knew I was doing the best I could and realized I didn’t want little blonde robot children who never misbehaved. I loved my boys all the more because they were funny and a little irreverent. I couldn’t image living in a home that wasn’t loud and chaotic and full of love.

As the years have gone by I've been able to see that I was holding myself up against some pretty unrealistic and imagined ideals. Those families I perceived as perfect were not and each had their own set of challenges. I also realized in the end there is no purpose in comparing myself to anyone else. The race is really against myself and with the Lord's help I'm doing just fine. 



P.S. I've changed Sister Weekly's name. My memory of her is pretty harsh and I'm sure it was more my insecurity that I remember than her unkindness. Although she was pretty snooty. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Please! Not Another Mormon Mommy Blog

I’ve recently become aware of the phenomenon of the “Mormon Mommy Blog” where young housewives of the faith blog about their perfect husbands, adorable children, and the trips they take to Europe. They wax poetic about the $600 cashmere sweaters they wear from J. Crew and the hilarious antics of their family dog. They share their insights on how to lose that last 5 pounds so you too can fit into a size four and recipes for homemade granola using only organic products. They scrapbook 3 hours a day and take professional grade photographs of everything around them and it is all beautiful. They seem to have droves of followers who are living in the same picture perfect world and honestly I say good for them. But as I read the stories and look at the gorgeous pictures I find that I don’t relate to these women and their lives in any way except that we are members of the same religion.

By looking you would immediately come to the conclusion that I do not belong on the cover of Vogue. I could care less about homemade crafts and scrap-booking, I shop at J.C. Penny, and the last time I was a size four was the 7th grade. My husband is not a dentist/doctor/engineer and my children are not all prodigies. My dogs are normal dogs and most of the time not stand up comedians.

I love learning about and discussing my own and anyone who will hold still long enough's religious beliefs. I watch Nova for fun and like to think about how and why things work they way they do in the physical world. My children and I bond by quoting Monte Python to each other. We live in an ancient self-renovated Baptist church in a tiny town in rural West Texas where the construction is on-going and never ending. I get tired and cranky at times and have a tenuous hold on my own sanity as I work full time, go to school full time, teach Gospel Doctrine every Sunday, and serve on the local school board.

And yet, the belief system that I share with these women is what drives me to do all of these things and love it. It is what causes me to focus on trying to be a good mom and wife and to see the humor and joy that is there amid all of the stress. It helps me to realize how fiercely I love my family. It may be that Mormonism has the same effect on them; it is just manifested in different interests and living conditions.  

So why write a blog? Mostly to give my husband and family a break. You see, my head gets full of thoughts and ideas and I harass the people I love with all of it until they just can’t stand it anymore. “Oh no, mom is talking about the law of consecration again. Run!” This, like most blogs out there I suspect, is going to be a creative outlet which maybe one person besides myself will read. Thanks Mom.

“A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.”

-Walt Whitman

This is going to be my way of throwing threads of myself out into space to see if any of them catch somewhere.


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