Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Mother's Day Gifts - 2015

I love the Mother's Day cards and gifts my children make.  Lincoln is a prolific gift giver and this year I received over 20 tiny hearts with messages, cards, pipe cleaner bracelets, and lego creations.  He is, at this very moment, still creating and just announced, "Mom, I don't think you can ever get me to stop making things for you on Mother's Day."  Last Mother's Day he did the same thing.  He said, "I just love mom SO much today!"  The love of a child is so beautiful!

          Mother's Day 2015 - My Mom
Here are a few memories of my mom.  We weren't distant when I was growing up but as a teenager I felt we were very different.  I didn't always value my mother's ideas.  I wouldn't say that I considered her my friend; my parent who loved me but not someone with whom I would choose to share my secrets.  A few experiences changed that relationship.  One was the night before I left on a mission for the LDS church.  As I contemplated not seeing my family for a long time I began to cry in my bed.  I couldn't stop.  I felt so bereft.  Then I felt my mother lay down on the bed beside me and her arms went around me.  I cried myself to sleep with her arms around me.  She felt like my friend that night.

After my mission I got married.  My first baby was born 4 years later and because of an accident in the womb with the umbilical cord she was full term and stillborn.  It was a very painful time.  My parents came.  They held our baby.  They held us.  Then my dad went home and back to work but my mother stayed.  She stayed with me for 6 weeks!!!  I sustained some injury during the birth and was weak physically and emotionally.  She helped me in and out of the bath when my husband was gone for school. She helped wrap my breasts when the milk came in to ease the pain.  When I was ready she helped me pack up the nursery.  I wrote in my journal, "My mother is the friend I never knew I had."  

One of the best compliments my mom ever received was from a friend who was visiting who remarked to my mother, "You are the only woman I know who can sit down in the middle of a mess and cut out paper dolls with her children."  My mother recognized those words as the compliment they were intended to be and has cherished them.  And so have I.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Father's Day 2014 - My dad

When I was a toddler I got a tiny tea set for Christmas.  I carried one of the little cups into the bathroom where our tub had a leaky faucet and filled it for my daddy, who drank it.  So I brought him another cup and another and another.  It was a joyful and, according to my dad, delicious game we were playing together.  When my father had drunk enough "bathroom tea" he got up and followed me into the bathroom to discover that I wasn't getting his tea from the leaky faucet...

When I was 14 my dad made me a special gift for Christmas.  A beautiful hinged 3-way mirror.  I have seen pictures of myself from this time period and they aren't pretty.  My sisters once said after looking through some family pictures, "Wow!  Puberty hit you hard."  Yes, it did.  A sucker punch right to the gut.  I had a pair of large glasses tinted pink at the top with a little apple decal down in the corner.  A helpful aunt had given me my first perm and frizzy is not a strong enough adjective to describe the outcome.  Maybe fried.  Or nuked.  At any rate, I was not a pretty mid-range adolescent.  I have sometimes wondered why he spent time making a beautiful mirror for his not so beautiful daughter...

When I was 23 I returned home from a  18 month mission to the Dominican Republic for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I was physically and emotionally spent.  But I felt I should get right to work looking for a job - getting on with my life.  My dad quietly said, "Don't worry about taking a little time to rest right now.  There is plenty of time to get a job later."  I think I slept for almost 2 weeks straight.  I didn't realize how exhausted I had been but my dad's permission to rest was such a gift to me.

When I was 37 our family moved to New Hampshire.  My dad drove with Jay to haul our belongings to New England.  My mother flew out with the children and I.  My parents stayed for a little while to help us get settled and then we drove them to the airport.  I was so sad to see them go.  After we hugged goodbye at the airport my dad came around to my side of the car to give me one last hug and kiss.  He whispered in my ear, "Sink your roots down deep here."  That was not my intention at that very moment.  My intention was to bide my time with my family until we could return to the West.  I shared his counsel with Jay and we made a conscious decision to follow his advice.  Our time in New Hampshire was not always easy but it was very growth promoting and beautiful.  I am so glad dad said, "Sink your roots down deep" when as a parent I would rather say something like, "Come home soon."  

When I was 41 we flew home for a summer visit.  On the morning we were to depart my dad had to leave early in the morning for an engagement so he came into the room where I was sleeping to say goodbye. I sat up groggily in bed and he hugged me and kissed me. Then he looked at my face and hugged and kissed me again. I found I couldn't go back to sleep after he left. I just laid there amazed that after all the years of successes and failures, of foolish mistakes and happy memories my dad STILL loved me very, very much. I was still his girl. What an incredible feeling it is to be loved so unconditionally.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day 2014

Recently I made a new friend.  One day she asked me, “You seem to be able to see the best in people.  Why?”  The answer came instantly and even startled me a little as it came out of my mouth. “My mother,” I said.  “My mother taught me how to see people.”  My mother is not perfect, but there are parts of her that are close.  This is one of them.

I grew up in a rural farming community.  I had a wonderful childhood.  Even as a child, however, I noticed that some families in our community seemed a little different from the majority of the farm families around us.  They didn’t fit in as easily as more typical families did.  But I noticed that they “fit in” with our family.  Their children were invited to our home and became our playmates and we went to their homes.  I remember overhearing my mother on the telephone with a mother from one of these families.  My mother was calling her “Kid”, (mom’s pet name for her good friends) and laughing, truly enjoying the conversation with this woman toward whom some other mothers were less friendly.  I noted that in my home, every person was valued.  You didn’t have to be witty or smart or exceptionally talented.  You could even have annoying quirks or a dirty face or tell bad jokes.  Your value simply “was”.  You didn’t have to earn it with my mother.

I find myself looking at people the way my mother did, using what I call “Christ’s light”. I picture a lantern powered by the love of the Savior.  When I look at someone I try to hold this lantern up and look at them using this love-powered light. Under its glow the things about others that seem different or weak fade into shadow and the things about them that are eternal and beautiful shine.  Everyone has value.  Everyone has beauty.  You don’t have to earn it.  It just “is”. This is one of the great legacies handed down to me from my mother, Arva Merrill Burton.

What about you?  What legacies are yours because of mothers or mother figures in your life?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Money:Weakness to Strength - Installment 1

Over the next several weeks I will be sharing the experience Jay and I have had as Heavenly Father has helped us begin to make a weakness into a strength. This process isn't over yet for us but much progress has been made. The story is very personal but with Jay's permission I share it in the hope that it might bring courage to someone else who is struggling with a weakness and wonders if the Lord has power to heal.  He does.

Money:Weakness to Strength - Installment 1

Just over 10 years ago my husband Jay and I decided we wanted to work together and be on the same page with regard to the care and use of our money. We wanted to know when to spend it and when to save it and have the discipline to stick with our decisions. We wanted to develop the generosity to give enough that it required some measure of sacrifice from us - not so much that we ruined our temporal future and not so little that we ruined our spiritual future. We had tried to do this on our own during the first ten years of our marriage but continued to feel week in this area.

As we talked together over the course of several weeks we knew that we needed the Lord's help to make these changes together. Don't misunderstand – we had been praying during the previous ten years – but we didn't seem to have made much progress and we certainly weren't united in our thinking about money. One evening, referring to Ether 12:27 where the Lord promises that “... if [men] humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” I asked my husband, “Do you believe, after all this time and all these prayers, that the Lord really will make a weakness a strength as he promises?” After careful consideration he replied, “Yes.” Shortly thereafter we knelt in prayer and told Heavenly Father that we surrendered ourselves completely to His judgment and care in this matter and together we asked Him to make us mighty in the area of finances within our marriage. Almost immediately, all “heaven” broke loose in answer to this prayer. Now, ten years later, we wonder if we would have the courage to offer the same prayer if we had known what the path would be that led us to what finally, would be a gift and a blessing. In my naivete, I believed that Heavenly Father would answer that prayer swiftly, that our transformation would take place in six months (a year at most) and we would be made strong just for the asking with perhaps, a little tutoring. I had no idea that surrendering our will to His in this matter would be a very lengthy process, that there would be extreme mental and spiritual anguish and many, many tears before He was able to strip away the old and make us “new creatures in Christ”. Unexpectedly, his tutoring also helped us address some of the other weaknesses we shared as a couple. Pride, for example, was addressed (and neither one of us thought we had any real problems with that!). We began to realize that we each had multiple weaknesses that in one way or another, were connected with our use or misuse of money. Heavenly Father was not content healing one little part of our weakness. He was intent on healing us completely. I have just one word to describe this process: Ouch. And two words to describe the outcome which is still not complete but seems close: Worth it! This is the story of our ten years of tutoring, what he taught us and how he is transforming us.
Within weeks of our prayer it became clear that Jay's job was at stake. What had been a promising small company when we had hired on three years previously suddenly started laying off employees until they were down to one third of their original workforce. Miraculously, Jay was not laid off but it looked inevitable that the company would eventually close its doors. We began to formulate plans A, B, and C. Ultimately, plan C became plan A and we made the decision to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree with the intent that Jay would be a professor of Graphic Design. This would give him more time with us and greater flexibility. We felt great peace over this decision and made the necessary preparations which included leaving the home we were buying in a good neighborhood close to family in Idaho and moving back into an apartment in Salt Lake City near the U where my husband could attend school. I remember driving away from our home and shedding the first of many tears. I shed the next when we pulled into our new home, a second floor apartment in an old house. It was close to midnight and I was tired. I had three little children including a two month old baby who were all asleep in the car. We had made arrangements to stay the night with friends. My mother, who had accompanied us, suggested that she and I go to the home of our friends and put the children to bed. Jay's mother, who had also come to help, said she would stay with Jay and help direct traffic at our new home as the men who had assembled to help us unloaded our truck. I was so grateful to these two women. As we drove I cried quietly. My mother encouraged me. I had great confidence in my mother's words because she, too, had sold her home and gone back to school with my father except, in her case, she had seven children and together they had driven away from family and halfway across the country to a new home and life. I remembered that their sacrifice had brought great blessings to our family and I was heartened.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Church in a Russian Branch

I already wrote today about an experience that I had at church here in Russia but I forgot to tell about what little I saw of church here today. The branch is very small, maybe forty people. They meet in half of a building (the other half is a beauty salon) which has been renovated. There is a long narrow room where we meet for Sacrament meeting. Then the Relief Society gathers their chairs in a circle and meets in the front of this room for Relief Society. (They do a 2-hour block here. They simply do not have the manpower to staff all the auxilliaries.) Today my mother was called to be a Primary Teacher. These little children will be so blessed. She will have a translator we think. She says, "I will prepare it completely and find visual aids. Then I will do whatever the leadership wants me to do." She doesn't know what age group, it may be all of the children (There aren't many) or it may be just one. I love the faith of my mother. I love her willingness to serve in whatever way, in whatever capacity, whenever and wherever she is needed. What an incredible example she and my father are to me.

Here is a picture of the chapel.

Here is a picture of the stairs that go up to the primary room and one other classroom

Sunday - Miracles

I was part of a miracle today and it touched me deeply. I was reminded again that the Lord knows the names and needs of all of His children and occasionally, when we're very lucky, He allows us to be part of a miracle. Such was my experience today.

To get to the branch my parents serve in takes about 90 minutes. Walk, metro, walk, more metro, walk and you have arrived. 90 minutes! We arrive shortly before church begins. I am excited to visit a Russian branch of the church. I am particularly interested in attending Relief Society as I currently serve in the Relief Society of my home branch and want to be able to tell the Peterborough sisters about it. There is a young man at church who is visiting for the first time. He speaks limited Russian because he is from Cuba. Spanish is his native tongue. I served my mission next door to his country in the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola. I once spoke Spanish fluently but not now. I have forgotten so much and have lost the confidence it takes to speak well. But today there is a young man who needs to know about the restored church, who doesn't have access to it in Cuba where the church is not allowed yet, and I agree to translate the meeting for him. This means that an American missionary translates the meeting from Russian to English for me, and then I translate the meeting from English to Spanish for Ivan - my young friend from Cuba. I pray silently and fervently that Heavenly Father will grant me the gift of tongues so that I can communicate again in this language from my mission. And my prayer is answered. While there are several important words that I simply cannot remember, the language comes flowing back into my mind and out of my mouth. "Do you understand me?" I ask Ivan in spanish. He assures me that he does and I can tell by the questions he is asking that he and I are on the very same page. This is one of the miracles. One of the speakers mentions a living prophet. Ivan turns to me with excitement. "You have a prophet?" "We do." There is a little talk about Elder Scott who was in Russia 3 weeks ago. I explain that Elder Scott is one of twelve apostles. More amazement. "You believe in apostles?" he asks earnestly. "Yes," I tell him - just like in the days of Christ." He is holding a copy of the Book of Mormon in Spanish which the sister missionaries have given him. He keeps gesturing througout the meeting to the subtitle Another Testament of Jesus Christ. He loves the idea that this book is not intended to take the place of the bible but rather, is an additional witness of the Savior.

After sacrament meeting the sister missionaries teach the gospel principles lesson in Russian. My dad and I invite Ivan to another room with us and invite him to tell us a little about himself and ask any questions that he may have. This is the story he tells us.

He was born in Cuba. Nine days after his birth his mother died due to complications related to a Ceserean section. He and his siblings were raised by their father who he described as a good man. He was very active in the apostolic church in Cuba. One thing in their doctrine puzzled him. He shows us that in the book of Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 11 it talks about prophets and apostles and evangelists and pastors and teachers. He says his church doesn't believe in apostles. This has bothered him. He feels that the true church would believe in all of these priesthood offices - that the true church would definitely have apostles. He continues to study. He doesn't remember how this happened but during this time in Cuba he came across 2 videos that have an impact on him. My father takes out the Liahona and shows him pictures of the members of the First Presidency. He points to President Monson and says, "This man was on one of the videos. I recognize him. He was standing in front of a large, beautiful building with lots of flags." He tells us that he felt good about the things the prophet said. Then he goes on. "Several years ago," he says, "I had a dream. In the dream I was well-dressed and I was standing in front of a very large congregation teaching about Jesus Christ. When I woke up I knew that the Lord had called me to be a missionary." He tells us that he leaves Cuba and comes to Russia. From there he is going on to Ecuador to teach. He produces a document from his minister in Cuba, a letter of recommendation, which he carries with him. I ask him why he chooses to come to Russia. He explains that for Cubans it is easy to come to Russia (and also to Ecuador) because you don't need a visa to travel between these three countries. He feels called to Russia and so he packs his bags and says goodbye to his father. He considers himself an ambassador of the Lord. He wants to preach about Jesus. He speaks no Russian when he comes and lives in an apartment with so many, many others trying to make ends meet. He studies Russian. Somehow he becomes acquainted with a christian family who are quite wealthy. They own a business making beautiful Russian coats for women. They invite him to come and live at their offices and in exchange for living there he cleans and takes care of the offices. He is soooo grateful for this living arrangement where he pays rent with work instead of rubles. During this time the Jehovah's Witnesses find him and teach him. He says that they are very persistant. One doctrine that is confusing to him is that they believe that Jesus Christ is just a man (this is how he explained it to me.) One night as he was studying his bible he felt the Holy Ghost say to him, "Jesus Christ is not just a man. Jesus Christ is God." He told me, "The Lord revealed to me that this church was not the right one." He is very well-versed in the bible because he studies it often. He tells my dad and I that the Holy Ghost often reveals things to him. He shares some examples and I am amazed that he understands doctrine of the church without ever having been a member.

Then he meets the sister missionaries on the metro. They introduce themselves as missionaries. He introduces himself to them as a missionary also, using his limited Russian. The sister missionaries tell him a little about The Book of Mormon and promise to find one for him in Spanish. They invite him to church on Sunday and get his phone number. Later in the week they call him on the phone. They are able to communicate enough to give him details about the church and where and when it meets. He comes. (We later learn from the sister missionaries that one of the missionary apartments was recently closed. The sister missionaries living there were sent to different areas to serve. As they sorted through the books to be returned to the mission office they found a Book of Mormon in spanish. They gave all the extra books to the office and kept just one. The Book of Mormon in Spanish. Why? The sister who brought it with her doesn't speak Spanish - both she and her companion are Russian. And so when Ivan needs a Book of Mormon in his mother tongue - they just happen to have one. Another miracle.

Ivan tells dad and I that he feels good about the things he is learning. They make sense to him. He says, "I believe I have found the true church." I ask him if he would like to be baptized and he says, "Yes." He wants to know if we believe in miracles. I ask him, "Do you think it is a coincidence that both you and I are here today?" For the first time he realizes that I don't live in Russia, that I am only visiting. "I wasn't here last week," I say, "and I won't be here next week but this one week, your first week at church in Russia, we are both here at the same time. You speak Spanish and I speak Spanish. Yes, my friend, I believe in miracles. I also believe that Heavenly Father is very interested in you and your life. I can absolutely see you as you saw yourself in your dream, preaching the gospel to a large congregation in a white shirt and tie. I feel that Heavenly Father has wonderful plans for you and I am so grateful to have played a small part.

Tomorrow Renee, Kaylyn, and my aunt Sher are flying to St. Petersburg. Originally, I was planning to go, too. But when it came time to purchase our tickets I found that I didn't want to go. I just wanted to stay here in Moscow with my parents. I find it miraculous that I am here and available to translate tomorrow for Ivan's first missionary discussion until the missionaries are able to find someone else in the Europe East Area that speaks spanish.

Do I believe in miracles? Do I believe that the Savior cares about us individually and sometimes orchestrates our lives in wonderful ways? As they say here in Russia, "Da!" (Yes!)

When my sisters and my aunt began planning this trip I had no intention of coming. Jay and I just bought a house and we didn't have money for me to make this trip. My parents invited me to come and they would pay for my ticket and help me with expenses. Gratefully, I came along.

My sisters are joking today that the Lord said (think about this next sentence in a deep man voice), "DeVere and Arva, Bring your daughter to Russia." Pause. "No, not those two!" (Referring to Kaylyn and Renee) "The other one!" And as an afterthought, "Alright, the rest can come as tourists."

I am grateful to have been an instrument in the hands of the Lord today.