By Small and Simple Things

Catherine-Helena-Bickerton- Catherine Bickerton McNevin

Do you make a difference?  Does your life matter?  Fifty years from now will it matter whether you did one thing or another?

In Alma 37, Alma is explaining to his son, Helaman, why it’s important to write and preserve a record of their people and pass it down through the generations. Alma says, “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
“And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” (Alma 37:6-7)

Some people, like Alma, have a huge sphere of influence, and some have only a small part to play. Yet each of us has something we can do.  The small acts of kindness and service we do daily an make an impact in someone’s life.  A smile, a phone call, a letter of appreciation. Comforting a crying child. Visiting someone who is lonely. Encouraging a friend when they’re down. Listening to another’s troubles. Planting flowers. Painting a picture and sharing it.

Yet another way to make a difference is by making a record of your life.  Collect your family’s stories, history, photographs, and vital records. Write down your life story and share it with your family.  We have so many tools today that make this easier. You may think, “My life is boring. Who would want to know about it?” But some day, someone in your family may be extremely grateful for your efforts.

My great-great grandmother, Catherine Bickerton McNevin, wrote down the story of how her parents came to Canada, met, and married. Another story tells about her experiences as a girl in a one-room school in Ontario.  My great-aunt Marj told me stories about her McNevin/Grant ancestors and how they came from Scotland, and what happened to them. Great-Aunt Joyce wrote down all the details she knew about the descendants of her grandparents. I am so thankful to these wonderful women, for they have enriched my life and helped make me who I am today.

Choose to do something good today — some little thing. Listen to the still, small voice within and see how one step at a time, you can make a difference.

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Found: A Long Lost Friend

cover the little white horse

After my first baby died, I read a book which gave me great comfort. A few years later, I searched back through my journal, trying to find the name and author of this book, but to my surprise I hadn’t recorded it. Years went by, and I continued to search for the book, occasionally sending out enquiries, asking bookstore employees and librarians if they could help me. No one had heard of it. I began to wonder if I had dreamed the whole thing. The only thing I could remember about the story is that there was a little girl who walked through the forest with a large dog, who kept her safe and turned out to be a lion. Well, last week, I decided to put out some feelers for the book once again, this time on Facebook with one of my author groups. To my amazement, on the first day, I got a response – and they suggested the book might be The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge. I ordered it, read it – and Yes! I had found my long lost book.
Maria Merryweather is 13 years old when her father dies, and she is sent to the countryside in western England to live with her uncle, Sir Benjamin Merryweather, at Moonacre Manor. She is accompanied by her governess, Miss Heliotrope, and a self-centered dog named Wiggins. Maria is enchanted by the beauty she finds there and soon makes friends with Sir Benjamin and the other colorful citizens of the area. She even finds Robin, her ‘imaginary’ childhood friend there, and the two have wonderful adventures together. She sees a glowing white horse (with a horn on its forehead), and she is guarded by Wrolf, the “dog” who, yes, is really a lion. (Sir Benjamin calls him a dog so others won’t be afraid of him.)
Maria soon discovers a sadness beneath the beauty – there is a generations-old curse on the valley, brought down on them by her vain, greedy ancestor, the first Sir Merryweather. Maria decides that she will be the one to break the curse and bring true love, happiness, and healing to the family and all the inhabitants of the valley.
Published in 1946, The Little White Horse won a Carnegie medal for that year. I think this children’s fantasy would have a hard time getting published today. It is chock full of description, it has a religious theme mixed with magic, the plot is very simple, and the happy ending is inevitable. And yet, after reading it again all these years later, I understand why it is a great book and why it had such a profound impact on me. There is so much more to the story than you think at first glance.
The writing style reminds me of The Secret Garden. The vivid description puts you right there in the 19th century English countryside — smelling and seeing the gorgeous flowers, tasting the bread and cream, and feeling the wind on your face. I loved Maria’s room at the top of the tower. I think every little girl dreams of having a room just like Maria’s, to have their very own pony to ride, and to have such stalwart friends as the wise, strong Wrolf (the lion), who protects her from harm yet goes with her on adventures.
I loved the names of the characters, which reveal something about them – Maria Merryweather is optimistic, good-hearted, curious, and a steadfast friend to everyone. Then there are the supporting characters — Miss Heliotrope, the governess, a strict but kind woman with an unfortunately large nose and a heart which guards a secret longing. Then we have Sir Benjamin, the large and merry (if sometimes sad) lord of the manor; Marmaduke Scarlet, the cook and housekeeper with the enormous vocabulary; Digweed, the gardener; Loveday Minette, who is beautiful and loving; Robin, Maria’s steadfast friend who has a bit of the fey Robin Goodfellow in him; Old Parson, who can preach a sermon, play a fiddle, or understand the needs of children; and finally, the sinister Monsieur Coque de Noir. The animals play a major part in the story too, with Wrolf the courageous “dog,” Zachariah the cat who communicates through pictographs, Serena the wise hare, Perriwinkle the pony, and the lazy but beloved Wiggins.
I loved the themes of faith, goodness, and courage that ran through the story. World War II had just ended, and I think that Elizabeth Goudge yearned for a world where enmity could be resolved and people could live in peace and beauty. The symbols of the lion and the unicorn (England and Scotland) are there. The two animals haven’t been seen for many years, but now that a new heroine has come, they appear once more to aid her in her quest. The lion is her protector, the solid, dependable and trustworthy guardian. The unicorn is beautiful, lovely imagination, who gives Maria hope and enjoyment. Sun and Moon — we need both in our lives. The animals Maria grows to love all get along together, eating their suppers side by side in front of the fire – another symbol of peace.
Elizabeth Goudge could have focused on the adventure and danger which are in the plot, or on Maria’s tragic circumstances, but instead, she tells the story through the viewpoint of a girl who yearns to do something good with her life. Maria finds joy in the beauty of nature. She believes in unicorns and lions. She sees in others the ability to love and be loved, and she responds to them, bringing out their best qualities. Maria sees what needs to be done, and she sets about doing it. That takes faith, courage, sacrifice, and determination, no matter your age.
There is a theme of homecoming that runs through the story. Maria comes to the land of her ancestors and feels a sense of rightness, of having come home. She wants to solve the curse and have everyone live in happiness. We yearn for a place to call our home, a permanent place where loved ones live together in harmony and the beauty of nature surrounds us. We long for a happy ending.
As Elizabeth Goudge said, “As this world becomes increasingly ugly, callous and materialistic it needs to be reminded that the old fairy stories are rooted in truth, that imagination is of value, that happy endings do, in fact, occur, and that the blue spring mist that makes an ugly street look beautiful is just as real a thing as the street itself.”
I am so glad to be reunited with my old friend, The Little White Horse. If Elizabeth Goudge were alive today, I would send her a lovely thank you letter. I recommend this book to everyone.

In the Beginning 2

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Morning Musings: Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” There is so much to think about in this seemingly simple sentence. First, God did it. Our planet with its myriad life is not an accident. It is not something that just randomly happened over billions of years. That would be like blowing up a nuclear bomb and expecting a beautiful garden to be the result. Nope, just not going to happen. As anyone who works with materials (be they pen, brush with paints, piano keys, or wood) to create a finished product could tell you, creating something worthwhile takes inspiration, forethought, planning, and determined execution. It takes Effort.
The question for me has never been whether God created the earth or not. All I have to do is to look around at the stunning beauty around me and examine the incredible detail and complex way everything relates to everything else to know that this was no accident. It was not a mistake. Someone lovingly and carefully made all this — someone much more intelligent and creative than I could ever hope to be.
The better question is, Why did God create it in the first place? Why does he create whole planets with life on them? That has to be a lot of work. However long it took, it wasn’t easy. Why would an immortal being go to so much effort? The answer is, He does it for us — His children, because He loves us. “For behold,  this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) Love is His motivator.  Isn’t that amazing? Go outside and look around at nature, and say, “He made this for me.” Whoa. Does that make your heart rejoice or what?

(Photo by Daniel Nicolas)

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

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On the first day of spring my oldest son turned thirty-three years old. That is really hard to believe. It seems like such a short time ago that I held my newborn son in my arms and marveled  at how beautiful he was. He seemed so aware to me, as if the veil of forgetfulness still hadn’t been completely draped across his mind. I watched his eyes moving under his eyelids while he slept. He laughed. A little while later he cried, and I wondered what he was dreaming about. Who had been his friends while he resided with God in the heavens? What talents and skills did he bring with him to help him on his mortal journey?  What assignments had he accepted from his Heavenly Father that he would need to accomplish? I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. This tiny child had been given to me in trust, and I wanted to be a good mother to him.
Well, the years rolled by, and I did my best to love him, teach him right from wrong, and guide him.  I watched him grow up to be a good man, a kind and patient husband and father, and someone who has compassion for others and lives his life in a way that will serve and help them. I am so very proud of him, but I can take only a small credit for how he turned out. He came to earth with those qualities.

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.” – William Henry Wordsworth
(from INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY FROM RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD)

Miracles

Danny trees and clouds

A few months ago I opened a fortune cookie, and I read, “You will experience a miracle.” I thought, “Cool, a real fortune for once. I wonder what it will be?” Time went by, and I thought about that fortune every once in a while, wondering if a miracle would really happen.
Then a few days ago, I went outside after a rainstorm. The world around me had a luminescent quality, as if I was looking at a watercolor painting. The sky was incredible with purple and white clouds tinged with pink blush. The tree-covered hills were lush green, washed clean by rain. Birds chattered in a dozen languages. Even the air was different — cool, fresh and wet. I stood there, staring at the magnificent beauty around me, and I rejoiced.
I keep looking for big things, when all around me, every day, there are miracles — the beauty of this earth, the face of my newborn granddaughter, the laugher of children, the loving touch of someone’s hand when I’ve had a bad day, the happy dance my little dog does when he greets me at the door, the gift of life, the ability to see, to sing, and to read.
I don’t need a big miracle to know that God loves us. All I have to do is look around.

Christmas

Liz Lemon Swindle She Shall Bring Forth A Son She Shall Bring Forth a Son, by Liz Lemon Swindle

Christmas is a hard time for a lot of people. While many are caught up in the rush of buying gifts, hanging up lights and decorations, wrapping presents, sending out last minute cards, and trying to create the perfect magical family event, others are alone or lonely. Many have lost loved ones — parents, children, spouses, friends, and dear pets. For them, it is a time of great sadness, a time of unmet expectations, of emptiness and pain. Most of my children and grandchildren are far away this Christmas, and I miss them deeply.

My heart goes out to anyone who is hurting this Christmas, and I offer a special prayer that you will be comforted. May you know that there is One who will always love you, no matter what the circumstances of your life. He will lift you and comfort you in your trials. May you reach out to others and find a way to gladden a heart or lift a burden. May you peel back the artificial wrapping and commercial bustle, and discover the real meaning of Christmas: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 King James Version) May you find peace.

Life is a Journey

Someone dear to me is struggling through a great challenge.  I admire her for the tremendous courage she shows each day.   Here is my analogy of life for her and for all those who need a boost of encouragement in the ongoing battle.

Imagine a woman climbing up a very tall hill.  At the top of the hill, just over the rise, is her home.  She walks towards it, knowing that in that home there will be complete rest, peace and joy.  There she will be reunited with her loved ones, her Father, and her Elder Brother.  She looks forward to that day so much.

Meanwhile, though, she has to keep walking, and the journey is long.  There are bumps in the road, rocks, snakes, and other obstacles that keep popping up.  She’s been wounded before, and she has many scars from her climb.  She’s lonely and cold and scared.  That’s a normal part of the journey, though.  Everyone encounters these things.  But this woman has an added challenge.  She faces a headwind that blows against her, day after day, minute after minute.  It is cold and relentless, and she wishes with all her heart that the wind would cease.  But the only promise she has is that when she gets home, there will be no wind.  This wind is very discouraging to her:  no matter what she does, it keeps blowing.  She does what she can to counteract its effects.  She wears a warm coat, gloves and a hat.  She has a nice, strong staff that she leans on.  She stops and eats hot, nourishing meals along the way.  When she sees others in need, she stops and helps them, and all these things help her and give her courage.  But still the wind blows.

This woman has great courage.  She keeps going.  She keeps putting one foot in front of the other, day after day.  Not only does she face the normal obstacles and this awful headwind, but she encounters people along the way who don’t want her to get home.  Their main goal is to stop her from continuing her walk, to give up.  They taunt her, criticize her, and tell her she can’t do it, and their cruel words torment her.  Sometimes she can’t seem to help listening to them.  They seem so logical, so persuasive.  After all, what does she know?  Maybe she should give up.  Maybe her home really isn’t just over the rise.  Maybe she really doesn’t have the capability to get there.  Maybe she should just lie down and quit.

But little does this woman know, there are others who walk with her.  Even though she feels so very alone, she isn’t.  There are other people walking beside her, cheering for her, encouraging her, praying for her, and strengthening her.  They were sent by her Elder Brother to help her, and they are there, every step of the way.  She is never alone.  And if she will call out to her Father, He will give her the strength and ability to finish her climb.  He knows what a choice person she is.  He allows her to face the challenges she faces because He knows she can do it.  When she finally gets home, he is going to put his arms around her and hug her, and tell her how proud He is of her, because she has faced the worst life could throw at her, and she didn’t give up.  She has conquered, and she has become a glorious being full of peace and light.

So I would tell this woman to stop listening to the voices that tell her she can’t do it.  Instead, listen to the ones who say she can, the angels who walk beside her and are always ready to comfort and help her.  I would tell her to make sure she wears her warm clothing that will shield and protect her against the power of the destroyer.  I would tell her to eat the hot, nourishing bread of life that is found in the scriptures, and to cling to the rod that she holds in her hands.  And I would tell her to keep on reaching out with compassion to the others she encounters along the climb, because when she helps them, she is also helping and strengthening herself.  Her love and compassion for others keeps on growing in proportion to how she serves them, and by serving them, she is serving her Father and showing her love for Him.

I would also tell her to keep singing battle songs — Yes, battle songs, for this climb is a battle, and we all need the courage that singing gives us.  Songs like Let Us All Press On, and How Firm a Foundation.  When those negative voices start to tear away at her, I would tell her to sing aloud.  She shouldn’t worry if she can sing well or not.  The point is, if her whole soul is singing, then the evil side can’t overcome her.  Most of all, I would tell her to keep on trusting in her Father, who believes in her, and to call on the Savior for help, for He will walk beside her and sustain her.  When it seems that all hope is gone, He will be there for her.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-39)

Keep on fighting.

(Photo by Daniel Nicolas)

 

 

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The Gift of Language

This month we celebrate Thanksgiving, and we stop and think about what we are thankful for.  I have been blessed so much, and just one of the things I am grateful for is language.

 And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration;

 And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled.  (Moses 6:5-6, Pearl of Great Price)

The gift of language was given to Adam and his family.  They kept a book of remembrance.  Isn’t that wonderful?  They wrote it so the important things would be remembered, and they taught their children to read and write.  It contained their genealogy, their priesthood lineage, and a record of the events of their lives.  Think about how precious this is.  How I wish we had more information about Adam and Eve and their children!  But what if we didn’t have any? The only reason we have what we do is because they received this amazing gift of written language from God, and they preserved their stories and names to pass on to their descendants.   The records came down to Noah, and then down to Abraham, and then on to Moses, who included it in his writings.  It’s a lesson to me to make a record of my life for my descendants too.  (I hope they enjoy my books!)

I am thankful for my computer which allows me to write so much faster than I would be able to on paper. I am thankful for words, for the beautiful gift of language, for the meanings, and history, and richness of words from many languages.  I love words.

Language.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Patterns

One day when I was at the temple, I stared at the beautiful stained glass window for a long time, trying to figure out the geometric pattern the artist had used in his or her design.  But I couldn’t quite figure it out.  It didn’t seem to be going anywhere.  And then I realized that I couldn’t see the whole pattern.  I was seeing only a small piece of the whole picture.  There was more to the design both above and below and to the sides that was not visible to me.

Our lives are like this stained glass window, with lines of light and dark, of joy and sorrow, of good times and trial running through it.  We can’t see the whole pattern.  Just when we think we have it figured out, something happens that shakes us up.  The only way to get through these times is to remember that we don’t see the whole picture.  We see only our mortal lives, and we only understand a small portion of even that.  We can’t remember what it was like before, and we have only small glimpses of what it will be like after.  All we can do is trust the maker of the window, that He knew what he was doing.  If we go to Him, He will help us through the hard times.  And someday we’ll get to see the whole picture, and it will be beautiful.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (KJV 1 Corinthians 2:9)

Living Water

Water runs all through the scriptures in a joyous, never-ending flow.  The Israelites were a people living in a desert, and water was precious, life-giving, and sought after.  If we will plant ourselves beside the Lord, He will bring life and nourishment to the parched deserts in our lives, and healing to the barren places in our hearts.

 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.   (Psalms 1:1-3 KJV)

(Scene from Krithia, Greece)

River at Krithia