Friday, November 7, 2014

Nearly Perfect

Blog Post # 21

Ether 12:27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

A woman approached a bouquet of silk flowers, investigating it closely. She zeroed in on the only rose, reaching to touch the petals and whispered, “Is it real?” Judging from the other flowers in the bouquet, I shook my head, and told her I didn’t think it was. Drawing back her finger, she remarked confidently, “It’s fake, but the rose looked real—it isn’t perfect.”

This silk rose was unlike some—made with small imperfections. Reproductions of nature are sometimes created in perfect symmetry and form: a dead giveaway that the reproduction is a fake since things in the natural world tend to have blemishes and inconsistencies. At first glance, a rose may appear perfect, but even the most perfectly formed rose is, upon closer examination, likely asymmetrical, or may have a spot of brown, or a gimpy petal.

It is in these little departures from perfection that we see the true beauty of the rose. Each rose, though coming from an abundant proliferation of rose bushes around the globe, bares its own individual distinctions and, if I may, flaws. I wonder if all roses were identical in shape and arrangement—clones of one paragon of perfection—would we find them boring or monotonous? (Well, probably not.) But even “flawed” roses are perfectly beautiful.

The same is true of other things. When electronic keyboards became popular many years ago, I occasionally had the displeasure of playing one. The older, economical models had the action of a toy piano, and the tone of a toy accordion. Many of the keyboards were only half the size of an eighty-eight key acoustic piano. Try playing Wagner’s Wedding March for a bride on such an instrument (I know--I had to do it once), and you’ll find the results as laughable and embarrassing as if the Olympic Fanfare and Theme were played on Kazoos. 

Early Electronic Keyboard


Recent electronic and digital instruments have improved on those early models. They come with headsets, improved hammer action, full-sized keyboards, and a variety of sound options. But there’s one thing these modern instruments lack—flaws in performance sound and delivery. Digital tones can be beautiful, functional, and astonishingly versatile, but without the small distinctions and inconsistencies in tonal quality created by the vibration of strings and the resonance of a wooden sounding board the sound they create is manufactured and flawlessly, monotonously consistent.  By nature of their design, acoustic instruments have distinctive character that makes their reverberations unique and moving.

Piano Sounding Board

When my daughter was purchasing an acoustic piano, we walked together through the warehouse trying out different instruments. Each piano, including those made by the same company, had a distinct sound, action and quality because each piano was made from a different kind of wood, from a different tree, with slight variations in the wound strings, and so on. Each had a unique identity—a unique voice. These inconsistencies created character. Where one had a bright, full sound, another was subdued or thin, another rich.  It was somewhat like choosing a friend to interact with for years to come. It had to be the right fit. 

Among book lovers, there is a newer debate of preferences between digital books, audio books, or “real” hardbound or softcover books. I was, at first, skeptical about Kindles when they first came out, holding fast to traditional books. Then, a few years ago, while waiting hours for Jury Duty to begin, I noticed one of my fellow jurors reading on a Kindle. I asked her what she thought of it, and her response was positive. She let me hold it, heft it, and look at the appearance of the writing on the screen. “Humph…,”I thought, “It’s OK, I guess.” But I wasn’t sure I could get used to such a thing. There’s something about holding a real book, the weight, the feel, the sensory experience. Flipping pages. Those things aren’t possible on a digital screen.

My sister, Karen, and I attended several educational conferences together many years ago. Before each conference we packed up boxes of encyclopedias, reference books, and resource materials with which to work while we were there. We lugged those heavy boxes up and down flights of stairs to and from our room each time we went for the sheer joy and anticipation of what was to come! On more than one occasion, we skipped less appealing activities (such as rafting on the Truckee River, or going on a “field trip” into town) in order to pursue more exciting prospects (such as sitting in our room pouring over encyclopedias while writing curriculum for home school)! A notepad or laptop would have made our lives much simpler and less burdensome in those not so long ago days of the late 80s and early 90s.    

After considering the many conveniences of a notepad, I invested in one a couple of years after seeing the juror's Kindle. I have since read many books on a digital screen, and am convinced the technology opportune and valuable. There are advantages to the notepad format. Just as a pianist carries an entire orchestra in a portable digital keyboard, the notepad carries an entire library in a very small, lightweight package. (Not to mention the multiple other uses and apps included in its convenient and compact form.)

However, after having read several books digitally, I’m convinced that there is nothing better than a good, old-fashioned book to soothe the eyes, and to enjoy a more satisfying, sensory experience with reading. 

Old Books: Flawed on the outside, but what's inside remains of value

A digital screen poses the same problem as the silk rose and the digital piano: no apparent flaws. The well-lit, non-glare screen is bright and easy to read even for a passenger riding in a car at night. (Note: I said “for a passenger,” not for a “driver!”) Pages turn smoothly, and have easy bookmarks. It’s possible to make notes and to highlight words and passages. Perfect. Yes?

 No. Not quite.

A local church leader recently challenged members in our area to reread the scriptures during the following six months on an inexpensive, paperback copy, and to make marginal notes of impressions and inspiration received during the reading. I dutifully bought said scriptures and began reading and making notes. It has always been my practice to make copious notes, and to record impressions and inspiration while reading the scriptures—even when using my laptop or notepad. However, while reading the paperback text, I discovered something unexpected. I was profoundly impressed with the difference in my experience rereading the bound paper book, instead of the digital screen. 

Isaiah 7: On my Android

Subtleties of light and shadow falling on the page, the character of the paper, and the appearance and selection of the words may all be incidental to one’s study. But after reading from a monitor or screen for a period of time, I couldn’t help but notice that these physical elements caused certain words to stand out, catching my eye and my attention, and leading to further thought and sometimes to new understanding. The sensorial experience far exceeded any experience I’ve had staring at a flat, brightly lit screen, and helped me to “listen to” the layers of meaning within the written words, to understand and relate them to my own life in a more personal way. The ease of writing notes and impressions in the margins was not only simpler when done by hand, but it was almost as if the personal inspiration I received became one with the physical book of scripture in my behalf.

Isaiah 7: My scriptures

All this was not possible to the same degree on a digital screen. Why? Because of the absence of flaws. The irregularities in the printed text, the wrinkling pages, the layout on the page, the play of light all influenced how I saw and felt the words. I didn’t just read, I poured over the words. I studied, I reviewed, I basked, I feasted. My fingers could rest on the paper without accidentally turning the page or inadvertently causing some other kind of action to happen. The feel of the thin paper was a tangible connection to the written word.

And what of the flaws in people? We all know they exist, and sometimes we aren’t particularly thrilled about those others may have, not to mention our own . Once, when I was bemoaning the behavior of my children, Karen shared an insightful comment. “What if, every single day, every one of our kids got up and came in like perfect little grown-up automatons, sitting on the couch without doing or saying anything out of order. Wouldn’t we be shocked if they acted like that? Would we really want it that way?” 

As I pondered this, I realized that, though challenging at times, their variety of behaviors—good and bad—were extensions of precious personalities; part and parcel of growth, development and becoming. No, I wouldn’t want little automatons any more than I would want them all in comas. I was happy with the little people I loved sharing everyday life with. Hindsight has shown that those seeming flaws were building blocks to some profoundly important traits and gifts, needing time to channel and mature.

One day, when my oldest child was only four, we lived in a cute little rural community where we spent most of our free time in the garden, and visiting friends. One day, I took my little ones and walked the several blocks to the home of a close friend. As I approached the door, I accidentally heard through apparently thin walls my dear, laughing, seemingly perfect, never-raised-her-voice-above-a-whisper friend yelling at her children! I stopped in my tracks. I certainly wasn’t going to knock on her door at that telling moment, when it would have been impossible for her not to recognize I had heard through the walls. We backed up into the street, waited a respectable length of time, then returned and knocked on the door, cheerfully gained entrance, and had a wonderful visit. The point is, from that day forth, I felt an extra special bond with this friend. She was like me: flawed. It wasn’t that I didn’t already know that she had imperfections. Who doesn’t have them? It was that I hadn’t witnessed them before. Etiquette, good manners, propriety all summoned imperfect, flawed beings such as my friend and me to be on one’s best behavior when in one another’s company. It wasn’t dishonesty; it was decency, respectfulness, politeness. If those walls hadn’t talked that day, I would have missed perspectives I sorely needed—to know I wasn’t alone in my own flawed life; that other “good” people were also flawed, while striving to be better each day. Flaws don't make a good person bad; they just make them real, and interesting, and familiar. 

The scriptures teach us to be perfect. Here are just two examples of this commandment:

James 1:4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Flaws are a part of nature, including human nature. We are all flawed, but not hopelessly so. Each soul is on a journey, and walks at a different pace, occupying a different location, along the path. All face obstacles on the path, and must learn to dodge, hop over, climb above, or wade through them. Flaws are among those obstacles and are necessary parts of the journey. Through them, we grow stronger, more humble and teachable, and if we desire it, filled with more faith and hope and trust in God.

A *wise man once shared the following story:
When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is. [W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis (New York: Random House, 1974), p. 37]

How true of us all! Certainly our development not only encounters, but invites flaws and mistakes. When a baby is learning to walk, it falls over and over again. But we wouldn’t say the baby is flawed! We recognize the baby is just young, just learning. We think the baby cute, sweet, and tenacious. We are all like the baby, like the rose. We may sport gray hair and wrinkles, but we are still in process of development and growth. And that’s OK.

After all, aren’t the rough edges of a rolling stone merely flaws that will wear away in time, producing a refined and polished gem? The flaws, instead of becoming scars, will add depth, interest, and flecks of lasting wisdom and beauty. The very flaws we once despised may become vehicles toward perfecting our natures. 

Rough Opal
Polished Opal
Turquoise: Rough and Polished

And then, there’s always the rose—in every stage of development…perfectly beautiful, and “perfectly all right as it is.”

* The wise man who gave the talk entitled "The Authority of Personality, Competence, and Character," that included this quote, was Marion D. Hanks. The talk can be found at

© November 7, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Garden of Remembrance

Blog Post #20

"Summer Flowers" by John William Godward

In the Garden of Remembrance
Time stands still
While one leisurely
Strolls and Reflects
Upon each
Intimate Blossom

"The Shrine" by John William Waterhouse

"The Flower Picker" by John William Waterhouse

"Gather Ye Rosebuds" by Waterhouse

"Among the Ruins" by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

"Spring" by Alma-Tadema

Public domain images of some of my favorite Pre-Raphaelite Artists
©October 10, 2014

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Decisions! Decisions!

Blog Post #19

Decisions! Decisions! I am, at times, stricken by critically insignificant decisions (such as which shirt to wear with one of two pairs of jeans, or where to go for lunch.) These kinds of decisions weary my poor brain with their indifference.

I can guess what you’re thinking. You may think I’m being ridiculous; that I’m exaggerating. You may think I’m talking a few grains of salt, not the Great Salt Lake. These are just little  things. Not real decisions. Not weighty, hefty matters. These are minuscule choices. Not worth mentioning.

Grains of Salt
Great Salt Lake

I think it’s the relentlessness of these little decisions—these lurking-around-every-corner-to-nag-and-exacerbate kinds of decisions—that encumber and exhaust my brain cells with unwanted clutter.

First thing in the morning—every morning—I face an enormous decision-making obstacle: what to wear. I stand before my open closet, morning light pouring through the window casting a good-humored beam on the drowsy articles of clothing that never awake from their insurmountable sleep of death--the result of hanging in my closet. I stare vacantly at the drooping scene. When nothing screams, “I am amazing! Wear me!” I walk two steps to my dresser and open the drawers.  Again, vacant staring. Like watching the spoiler for the same mystery show every morning, there’s no need to wonder about the outcome, I know there will be no surprises in store for me. And even though I’ve repeated the same combinations of shirts and pants for decades, oddly enough, I still deliberate over what to wear with what. After wasting ten minutes, staring blankly, I finally put something on, and stand before the hall mirror. Yup. Same old, same old. Odder still is the fact that, one day, the same old thing looks okay, while the next day it looks horrible. I always think the things in my closet and drawers will transform into crisp, new, attractive, nice-fitting, flattering fashion statements while I sleep.  No wonder I am reluctant to face this decision each morning. 

Let me point out that there are other equally perplexing insignificant decisions that plague wishy-washy people like me during a typical day. For example, after many hours of resolute labor, sewing like the busy little mice in “The Tailor of Gloucester,” my daughter and I make a trip to the post office to ship orders to her customers (my daughter sews for a living—I sometimes help). 

From "The Tailor of Gloucester" by Beatrix Potter

When the order is in the mail, and on its way, our minds cry out to click up our heels, but our bodies are so weak with hunger from working through lunchtime we're too withered to do it. Like limp and tired little herbs in need of a bit of refreshment to revive our droopiness, we drag our faint and weary selves to the little sandwich shop across the barren seedbed of the street for some nourishment.

The café is a tiny place, cluttered with pictures, handbills, flyers, and information on every wall.  Still famished and lacking mental dexterity, I find myself consumed by the information thrust at me on every side. Waiting behind the counter are voraciously happy, peppy, friendly people poised to take our order with pencil and pad, who offer a cheerful and encouraging greeting. Absentmindedly, I look up at the menu which is posted above said prodigiously peppy people—and find a mass of words that, for all their familiarity, might as well be written in Greek. Certainly, I recognize the words, but in my current state of weary confusion and inertness, they read more like an eye chart in an optometrist’s office.

From a 10th-century manuscript of Thucydides
Eye Chart in Greek

“May I take your order?” says the perky waiter to Cait and me. “What would you like?” I think to myself, “I’d like someone to simplify the menu for my famished neurons which are teetering on the brink of that shaky kind of hunger and mindless thinking born of going too long without eating. Will someone just circle in red the item that most appeals to me?” After standing aside letting other decisive people go ahead with their orders, I mull over the menu as if I were deciphering hieroglyphics in the Book of the Dead. 

Book of the Dead

Finally, I decide on the chicken salad. Yes, the chicken salad.  Then, I must decide if I want a full, or half order. Are we sharing (as we frequently do), or ordering separately? Remarkably, the (still smiling) waiter endures patiently as I think aloud, consulting with Cait about immediate and pressing decisions as we stand, conspicuously taking up precious space, at the ordering counter.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

My daughter, long ago having grown tired of my process of choosing a place to eat, as well as what to eat, turned the entire mass of decision-making over to finicky me. Cait says, “I don’t care where we go. I’ll eat anything. You decide.” I’ve heard this jaded dictum many times before. Ugh. After pleading looks, she helps me decide that we’ll share the chicken salad sandwich. “Is it for here, or to go?” says Mr. Cheerful. Again, pleading looks (not wasted on Mr. Cheerful).  Finally, the waiter decides for us. Sometimes, noting our creased eyebrows and hem hawing around about if we have or haven't got time, he decides he should make the food to-go. Other times, calmly smiling as we try to read each other's thoughts, we supply just enough evidence that we’re not quite ready to leave. While they make the food, we discuss whether we should sit inside, or out. It’s only 106-degrees F. outside. The heat should prompt a snap decision, but the imagined charm of sitting at a sidewalk café delays the verdict. When a girl with a computer leaves one of the few little inside tables, we quickly decide to stay inside where it’s cool, and snatch up the spot against the wall with alacrity and a sense of triumph over all other aspiring (and perspiring) customers.  

We’ve repeated this process several times in past weeks, with varying results, but we always go through the same process of decision-making. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I enter that little shop—which I really like!—I patently reenact the same decision-making fiasco. A day or two ago, we again made a delivery and went to get a sandwich. “Mom, do you want chicken salad again?” my daughter probed with a subtle pleading in her voice, (the true meaning of which was: “Must we share chicken salad again?” Whereas I am a creature of taste bud habit, she likes a wider variety of palate pleasing tastes. Sharing with a finicky eater can be boring for the adventurous connoisseur of lunchtime cuisine.) “We don’t have to get chicken salad, Cait,” I said, explaining my apparent dyslexic confusion with the menu. I added, “To hurry things up, I always get the same thing.” (And I like the chicken salad.)  There is often a line behind us, and I don’t want to make people wait eons while I decipher the Rosetta Stone. 

Rosetta Stone

She helped me focus on and order a turkey sandwich—the optimistic waiter sensed a breakthrough at this speedy-er decision. He hastily scribbled “to-go” on our ticket, only to have to change it to “dining-in,” as Cait pointed out during the ensuing at-the-counter-discussion about whether we should stay or take it with us that she had other errands to run before returning home. To his credit, our waiter, Mr. Cheerful, never lost his ever-jovial demeanor. While we consumed our half turkey sandwiches, I struck on a plan—I studied the menu while I ate, and decided in advance on a custom sandwich for our next visit. Yes! I will be ready for the next sandwich order. I will nip the demon decision-making weed in the bud.

But what of all the other critically insignificant decisions that have to be made throughout the day?  Should I put the dark clothes in the wash first, or the white clothes in to soak? Which direction should we go on our walk? Shall we take brownies or chocolate chip cookies to the potluck? (That there's chocolate requires no decision.)  Walmart or Target? And the most infamously, critically insignificant decision of all: What shall I make for dinner?

Giving credence to things that really don’t matter may give one a false sense of decision-making prowess. (Either that, or make one crazy!) Although I will probably continue to puzzle over menus, chicken salad sandwiches, and my closet, these insignificant things really aren’t worth expending thoughtful energy on, so unrelated to and irrelevant are they when compared with the real, truly significant, heart-wrenching, life-altering decisions we all face from time to time. 

These insignificant kinds of decisions are best summed-up in a few short sentences:

Madonna Lilies

And why take ye thought for raiment? *Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  … For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:28-33)

Madonna of the Lilies by Alfonse Mucha

 And this, my dear friends, to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, is truly a good decision, worthy of thought and energy. I know when I do this, all other decisions--great and small--fall into their proper places and I feel peace.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for reading.

©October 5, 2014

*I've included a link to a beautiful, peaceful Youtube recording of "Consider the Lilies." Sit back, relax, and clear your mind as you enjoy this lovely song.