Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Top 5 List of Things To Be Grateful For

Every year at this time I think about why I love Thanksgiving more than any other holiday in the calendar. It's always been a chance to sit down and take stock of the year as it quickly passes away. This year is no exception. We have so much to be grateful for, and I can always think of more than my top five because it's a very long list. But for 2014, here are my top five:

Ashley, Dianne, Patsy, Peggy
1. My mother-in-law, Peggy Ruth Brazier Hewlett Weight. Yes, at the top of my list this year I have ranked my mother-in-law. She recently passed away after almost 93 years on the planet. But I am not grateful she passed away. Rather, I am grateful for the long legacy of faith she represents to me and all her posterity. I am grateful for all the happy memories she has given us. I am grateful to her for living in such a way that we all learned valuable life lessons of repentance, forgiveness, diligence, hard work and dedication. Legion are the examples of people, family and otherwise, who were welcomed to her home when they were in town for visits. She was always the "hostess with the mostess."

By the world's standards, this would seem an odd choice at the top of a list of things for which I am grateful, but in my case none of the standard mother-in-law jokes apply. Peggy was world-class in essentially all the things that matter most in mothers and human beings in general. She was a consummate networker and connector of people. She had so many friends, even after such a long life, that the chapel for her funeral was filled to overflowing and back into the cultural hall. Never underestimate the impact of being a good friend. Indeed, nearly all her posterity and everyone who knew her thought they were her favorite. What capacity for making people feel special and valued!

I first became aware of Peggy when her son Lin was killed by a drunk driver when I was a junior at East High School. Lin was a senior and Patsy was a sophomore. I watched their family grieve over Lin's death, along with the whole student body. I was at the cemetery in October, 1963, when Lin and his friend Flemming Christensen were laid to rest fifty-one years ago. As I stood over the open grave the other day to dedicate Peggy's final resting place, the memory of Lin's and Flemming's funerals came rushing back. Now the circle of life was complete, and the glorious reunion that was taking place on the other side of the veil was revealed clearly to me and all the rest of us.

Peggy and Harold were role models of applying the atonement's principles to their lives, and they became diligent missionaries wherever in the world they went. Eventually, they would travel to the far corners of the earth, touching foot on every continent except Antarctica. Her son John sang "O That I Were an Angel," as a final tribute to her at her funeral, and when I thought of Lin and Flemming doing missionary work in the spirit world for fifty-one years before she joined them there, I was thrilled at the prospect of her wish finally coming true! How grateful I am for the knowledge of the plan of salvation that has been revealed in these last days.

2. I am grateful for her daughter, Patsy. I don't think there is a more compassionate and loving woman on earth than Patsy. She has spent the last several weeks at her mother's side both in the rehab center and the hospital. Peggy fell and broke her hip about seven weeks ago. It proved to be a game changer, and accelerated her demise. Until that event, we had all thought Peggy to be invincible. At the peril of her own health, something I have been worried about, Patsy pressed on in service to her mother, ignoring her own well-being. I insisted that she go to see the doctor this week after all the events of her mother's passing were complete, and as I was writing this post they called from the doctor's office to give an alarming report about Patsy's anemic condition, something that has been a lifelong challenge for her but has been exacerbated by the events of the past several weeks. We spent the rest of the day in the emergency room until well into the night, while they transfused her with two units of blood.

We never know when or how life will end. There are no guarantees, no extended lease terms on life. Our sojourn here on earth has an expiration date, we just don't have that information. I am grateful for each day I have with this remarkable woman, knowing factors beyond our control may overtake us someday. When I think about why Patsy has a lifelong pattern of little or no sleep at night and seems to be so focused on the needs and comforts of others ahead of her own, I need look no further than the example she saw in her mother for the answer.

At Merilee's wedding reception, summer 2014 
3. I am grateful for all our children and grandchildren. In our family we don't make distinctions about in-laws. They are all ours, and we count them that way. When we were counting up grandchildren of Peggy's we included all the spouses of our children in the count, and we were instructed that's not an accurate count. Peggy never believed that - she always sided with our way of counting. So, when the program for the memorial service was being prepared I listed everyone as though they all belonged to Peggy and Harold, because they do without reservation. One well wisher in a card to Patsy after the funeral, summed it up best:

"Your dear mother was loved by so many! She brought a lot of happiness and joy, especially to her grandchildren. They have expressed so many great things about their experiences with her. Her family was so important to her, her friends loved her, and she always was full of life!
"You were so fortunate to have had her in your life for so many years. Her zest for life, her love of family was so evident.
"Patsy, know I love you, you have so many wonderful traits of your mother."

4. The knowledge I have of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. That testimony anchors our existence here in mortality. He suffered for each of us. As the only Sinless One, He took upon Himself our sins and our afflictions. There is nothing in this mortal experience He does not know and understand intimately. In a way I do not fully understand, He knew us in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. He knew about all the sins we committed, and He knew about all the wrongs that were inflicted upon us by others, and He forgave everyone who has ever afflicted another and been afflicted. I am thankful I share that knowledge with Peggy.

On the back of the program for her memorial service, we printed a written testimony she offered when she and Harold were serving as missionaries in Ireland. We found it among her papers as we were preparing for her funeral:

"Today is Mother's Day in the United States, and I am missing my beautiful children and grandchildren.
"My heart is overflowing with gratitude to my Heavenly Father for these beautiful children and grandchildren.
"The privilege of partnership with God in bearing and nurturing His children has been the greatest blessing of my life!
"I thank my Father in Heaven for noble heritage, ancestors who pulled handcarts across wonderful country, parents and brothers who love me and taught me to love the Lord, wonderful friends and associates.
"I am so grateful for a fine and noble husband to love me and care for me.
"I am grateful for gospel callings and teachings, for the Holy Spirit to lead, to warn, to strengthen and to comfort me.
"I believe in Christ. I love him with all my heart. I know His power."

5. I am thankful for a blanket of white that now covers Pine Valley. Last night ten inches of snow fell and all the trees are now cloaked in white that sparkles with a brightness beyond description. I said to Patsy as we drove down the road to our three-hour block of meetings this morning, "This is the most beautiful scene imaginable. The winter presents some challenges to overcome, but if you love white this is the place to be." Whenever the Utah ski resorts get a big winter storm before Thanksgiving, it bodes well for the tourist trade in these parts and the water reserves for next summer. We can be thankful for water content in snow.

White is such a remarkable and consistent gospel symbol. We dress in white clothing to go to the temple to participate in all the ordinances of salvation. We are all dressed alike. There is no class distinction there. When Peggy was lying in her casket at her viewings, her white temple dress was the one she selected and told Patsy, "This is the dress I want you to bury me in." In life she was beautiful and arrayed in spotless white when she attended the temple with us, and in death she was translucent, appearing to be at peace in her restful repose and twenty years younger than her 92-plus years.

Babies are blessed in white. Brides are dressed in white. A white shirt is the "priesthood uniform" for boys and men alike. White is the color for all participants in a baptismal service. Often, though not mandated, white bread is the symbol for the sacrament. We wash our garments in the blood of Christ through His atonement, and when we do we are told we are made "spotless white."

And now in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, alongside her beloved Lin, the graves are covered in a fresh blanket of white.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election 2014 - The Aftermath

There are pundits galore, all over the political universe it seems, who will make meaning out of yesterday's election results. Be careful whom you choose to believe.

I have remained intentionally silent in the run up to this election, privately hoping for the results we observed, but not going public with those aspirations. Putting control of the Senate back into the hands of the Republicans has little to do with their superior agenda, in my opinion. Rather, this election was a stout repudiation of Barack Obama's misguided policies across the whole political waterfront. His much-ballyhooed base seemingly evaporated in this election. The vaunted Democratic election machine ground to an embarrassingly squeaky halt.

We are being told this morning the Democrats need to reinvent themselves in the wake of this stunning defeat for Barack Obama as leader of the party.

He won't see it that way, and in fact one of his aides was quoted this morning in the NY Times as saying exactly that: "He doesn't feel repudiated." And this from a man who boldly declared this election was about ALL his policies, "every single one."

It wasn't that long ago there were cries for the Republicans to reinvent themselves, allegations they were a divided party in search of unity, woefully unable to connect to the American people. Well, times change, people change their views, and the political pendulum swings back and forth. Now it is the Republicans who are trending upward. And that will change someday too.

Not only did Republicans win seven Democratic Senate seats (and counting), lost none, and took control of the Senate, but they did something far more significant for the long term health of the Republic by dislodging Harry Reid (D-NV) as the Senate Majority Leader. He has single-handedly and heavy-handedly, broken the Senate rules repeatedly to make new rules to suit his own political needs.

This morning, he sounded like a statesman: “I’d like to congratulate Senator McConnell (R-KY), who will be the new Senate Majority Leader. The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together. I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class.”

Based on what Harry Reid has done for the middle class over the last six years, no one should be holding their breath that Harry Reid will ever become anything but the obstructionist he has always been. But hope springs eternal, I suppose. History, I predict, will judge Harry Reid harshly as the author of chaos and divisiveness in the legislative process these last six years. I hope Republicans will model true leadership better, now that the reins are in their hands. I am, and will always be, optimistic about the future of America.

In addition, the Republicans added more governorships throughout the country. Democrats won only one and lost four, including bluer than blue Maryland. Even Illinois added a Republican governor! In the House, Democrats lost at least eight seats, probably more when the final results are in. There are now more House Republicans on Capitol Hill than have been seated since World War II.

Mia Love's family
Several firsts in the House include the election of Mia Love (R-UT), the first black Republican conservative woman, who is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is an historic "first" worth celebrating, and the citizens of the 4th Utah Congressional District are to be congratulated for their foresight.

Orrin Hatch (R-UT) finally is realizing his dream to become the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and as an added bonus he will be named the President Pro Tempore, now fourth in line to the presidency and the recipient of his own Secret Service security detail. For the uninitiated, that office is provided for in the Constitution (yes, we are still governed by it), and is the senior Senator in the majority party who sits (ceremoniously) in the seat of the President of the Senate, who is the Vice President, when the Vice President is not there (which is nearly always never).

There’s no reason to gloat this morning. You couldn't fairly call it a "wave" election. But it could be accurately characterized as the election where Democrats suffered worse than the mid-terms four years ago in 2010.

I hope I'm not stretching too far to think this might just be the end of the liberal progressive Democratic governance and all of Washington's gross spending excesses. My fear is that Republicans have been prone in the past to be the all too willing collaborators for the spending orgy.

Let's hope for some responsible budget setting governance to replace what we've witnessed in the last six years.