Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Lantern In the Dark

I’ve been chomping at the bit to turn on my Christmas lights ever since I put them up (see “Up On the Roof,” 11/15/2013). I usually don’t turn them on until Thanksgiving, if by some miracle I have them up by then, that is. Because Thanksgiving is so late this year, I decided November 25th, one month before Christmas, would be a good day to fire them up. So on the designated evening, I invited my children and grandchildren over for a “Lights On” ceremony. Before we turned on the lights, I talked to my grandchildren about how God gives each of us something like a flashlight before we come to Earth. I told them that this little light burns in each of our hearts, tells us the difference between right and wrong, and helps us see the way God would have us go. Then we all went outside, and I flipped the switch. The last part of our “ceremony” was the part the kids liked the most—hot fudge sundaes with Grandma’s homemade to-die-for hot fudge. (I’ve put the recipe on my “Just Stuff . . . .” page.)

I don’t know if my grandchildren will remember the message as much as the hot fudge, but the whole thing got me to thinking about the role of light, both physical and spiritual, in our lives. As I sifted through various thoughts and memories about light, a particular experience from my childhood made its way to the surface of my consciousness.

My parents owned a boat when I was growing up, and our family spent many happy, delightful days boating on the lakes and reservoirs in the surrounding area. One of our favorite places to go was Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border.  Our trips to Bear Lake usually occurred in August because that was about the only time of year when the water was warm enough to comfortably swim in without a wet suit. Brief afternoon squalls were common, but the rest of the time was usually bright and sunny. In fact, in all of the trips we made, I remember only once when it rained all day. I don’t know if it was actually the only time it rained all day, or if I just remember it because of what happened.

lanternThe rain that day was drizzly, cold, and uncomfortable. Swimming in the lake or playing on the beach was out of the question, so we decided to take a trip to Minnetonka Cave near the town of St. Charles. Like other developed caves I have been in, the pathway and the various rock formations are lit by electric lights. On the day we went, however, the power was out so there was no electric lighting in the cave. Instead of closing the cave to tours, the ranger said he would take us through using only a lantern. Now that’s the way to tour a cave!

The tour is about a half-mile long and involves climbing up and down 444 steps (I googled it) and is not recommended for people with heart or respiratory conditions. I only mention this because is it an important part of the story. There were several others with our family on the tour, one of whom was a woman with just such conditions. We had gone a ways into the cave and climbed up some of the 444 stairs when this woman decided she just couldn’t go any farther. As there was no lighting other than the lantern the forest ranger was carrying, going back on her own wasn’t an option (although I don’t think he would have let her go on alone even if the lights were on). That left her just two options—continue with the group or sit on a nearby bench to wait while the rest of the group continued to the end of the trail and returned to her location. She decided to wait—alone and in the dark.

In every organized cave tour I have been on, there has been a point where the guide turns out the lights so you can experience just exactly how dark caves truly are. You literally cannot see your hand in front of your face; it is a darkness that is palpable. As we were about 30 minutes into the 90 minute tour when the woman decided to stay behind, I would guess she sat there, alone in the dark and cold (the temperature in the cave was about 40°), for at least 30 minutes until the rest of the group returned. I was only about nine or ten years old at the time, but even at that young age I recognized how disconcerting it must have been to be in that inky, absolute darkness for any length of time.

The other thing I remember about that outing was that on the way back to the mouth of the cave, my sister and I decided it would be fun to run out ahead of the group as far as we could until we reached the outer edge of the lantern’s glow. I am sure we were giving the forest ranger heart palpitations as we ventured further and further away from the group, but we thought it was great fun.

This experience has since become a symbol to me of the light God offers us in our “tour” of mortality. There is no electric lighting along our way, so if I am to see clearly where I am going, I must stay close to the One holding the lantern. There have been times when I seemingly have been emotionally and spiritually left sitting on that bench, all alone in the dark and cold. I say seemingly because I have learned over the years that, no matter how dark it seems, I have never been left utterly and completely without light. I have also learned that when I can’t see where the path leads, the best course of action is to stay safely on the bench and wait until the glow of the lantern once again brightens the way before me. Staying on the bench doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing; it means doing the things that I know will keep me safe until the light is sufficient to guide my feet. For me, those things include serving others to whatever extent I am capable of at the time, reading and pondering scripture, honoring the Sabbath, and, most importantly, constant prayer. Oh, there is one other essential bench-sitting pursuit—exercising faith that the light will return. That is, for me, is the hardest part.

There have also been times when I have tried to run before the light, times when I thought I knew where God’s path was leading me, or at least where I thought it should be leading me, and so ventured into the darkness on my own. The danger of going beyond the reach of the light is that our paths through mortality usually take twists and turns that we never imagined. Consequently, if I am impatient and try to get ahead of God’s light, I usually miss a turn and fall off the trail into who knows what kinds of trouble and difficulty. Thus, I have learned to follow the light rather than precede it. Believe me, it makes for a much safer and happier journey.

In His great love for His children, God’s lantern is always lit, but it is up to us to choose to open our eyes and look for its light. If we find and follow it, we will always be led safely home—where, hopefully, there will be hot fudge sundaes waiting for us.

Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_4101059_lit-lantern-on-dark-background-sepia-toned.html’>pshenichka / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

 

Gratitude for Gratitude

Gratitude Candles imageI have nothing but fond memories of Thanksgiving; it is one of my favorite holidays. However, I have to admit that I am somewhat ambivalent about gratitude. I’ll get to that in a minute.

We always spent Thanksgiving with my dad’s side of the family. There were so many of us, I’m not sure “family” is even the right word—maybe “troop” would be better. Counting me, there were 35 cousins. Add in my parents, grandparents, and various aunts and uncles and you can see what I mean. That many people meant there was a LOT of food. I remember my male cousins would have a heaping plate of mashed potatoes—just potatoes—first. Then, after what for most people would have been a full meal, they would go back for the rest of the meal. We had all the traditional dishes, but my favorite was Grandma’s homemade rolls. I have no idea how we all fit into Grandma’s and Grandpa’s small farmhouse, but we did, and it was wonderful.

These Thanksgiving dinners took center stage in a dream I had just after my grandfather died in 1982. I was living in out of state and had just had a baby and wasn’t able to go to the funeral. My brother was living in England at the time and couldn’t come home, either. The two of us were the only ones out of all the cousins who weren’t at the funeral. Shortly after the funeral, I dreamed that I was at one of these grand Thanksgiving feasts, but instead of pigging out with the rest of the teenagers, I was watching the action with my grandfather at my side. It was interesting because he didn’t look old; I would guess he was somewhere in his 30’s, but I knew it was him. What was more intriguing was that I was the only one who could see and talk to Grandpa. While most of my dreams are pretty goofy (I once dreamed my cat was driving my husband’s truck and wrecked it), there was a totally different quality about this one. There was just something very solid, very real about it. I have always believed that this dream was given to me so I could have the opportunity to say goodbye to my grandfather since I hadn’t been able to attend the funeral.

Now about gratitude. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for it. When it comes to gratitude, I am always intellectually grateful for the goodness in my life. The problem is that there have been many, many times in my life when I just couldn’t feel grateful. Unfortunately, that’s one of the effects of depression—you simply don’t feel positive emotions. I have often described depression to others by telling them it is like eating Thanksgiving dinner with a head cold—you might as well be eating cardboard because nothing tastes good. You know you are eating something delicious because you’ve had experiences with it before. But no matter how wonderful a dish is, if you can’t taste it, there is no pleasure. With depression, it’s as if you lose your spiritual and emotional taste buds, and life has no deliciousness. Fortunately, there have been times when I have felt gloriously grateful. When it does happen, I am always grateful to feel grateful and thank God for the experience. I guess that is one advantage to having experienced depression—I have learned to appreciate the sweet because I have drunk so deeply of the bitter.

So what do you do when you’re in the dark place where gratitude is beyond your immediate capacity to feel? If that’s where you are right now, is there some way you can get through Thanksgiving without feeling like you are left out in the cold when it comes to being grateful? I believe so. To explain what I mean, I want to relate two stories that came to mind when I was thinking about writing this post.

The first story is another of our family legends—the story of the Lost Ring. Every year my mother has a big family dinner for each of us on our birthday. The birthday person gets to choose the menu and is relieved from setting up and clearing duties for the evening. My siblings and I have all reached the point where putting the appropriate number of candles on the cake is literally impossible—there just isn’t enough room. And even if you could get all of the candles on the cake, you would need someone with a fire extinguisher standing by because it would definitely be a fire hazard. To solve the problem, she simply purchased candles shaped like numbers (she probably has a full set by now), and when a birthday rolls around, she pulls out the appropriate numbers, sticks them on the cake, lights them while we sing “Happy Birthday,” and, after they have been blown out, puts them away for the next birthday.

After one of these birthday dinners, she was cleaning up and didn’t want to get her emerald ring to get dirty, so she took it off and put it on the windowsill above her kitchen sink. This wasn’t just a generic emerald ring she bought at the jewelry store; she and Dad bought the stone in Cartegna while on a cruise, so the ring had sentimental as well as monetary value. The next day she realized that she hadn’t put her ring away, so she went to the windowsill to retrieve it, and—you know what’s coming—it was gone. As you might imagine, she went into full-blown search mode looking everywhere she could think of—the trash, the dishwasher, cupboards, drawers. She looked everywhere she thought it might possibly be then went on to places it couldn’t possibly be, all to no avail. The ring simply wasn’t to be found. She went so far as to consider that a bird had flown through her open window, picked up the shiny bauble, and made off with it.

Over the next year she kept looking and re-looking in every place she could think of with no success. That is, until a year later at the same sibling’s birthday dinner. (I don’t remember whose birthday it was and neither does Mom.) She made her traditional from-scratch chocolate cake, frosted it, and then reached to the top shelf of the cupboard to get the number candles down to put on the cake. And there, embedded in the wax of the candle was her ring. Apparently, after the birthday dinner the year before, she had put the candle on the windowsill and then put the ring on the candle. Because the candle was still warm, the wax was soft enough that the ring settled into it and stayed there when the candle was put away.

The second story is shorter but similar.

“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me: for I have found the piece which I had lost.” (Luke 15: 8-9)

So what do these two stories have to do with feeling grateful? It is this—I finally realized that when I am depressed, I am not being ungrateful when I don’t feel gratitude. The fact is, I would feel grateful if I could. In fact, I desperately want to feel grateful, but I just can’t. I have simply, and temporarily, lost my ability to feel grateful, not my gratitude. And, as the two stories illustrate, that which is lost can also be found. But to find it, I have to look, and look, and look some more. It usually takes time—it took my mother a year to find her lost treasure—but I always eventually find it. It might not stick around for long, and if I’m not looking for it, I will likely miss it. But when I am feeling grateful, I thank God for the incredible blessing that it is. When I’m not able to feel gratitude, I try to remember that I have felt grateful in the past and trust that I will feel grateful in the future. I strive to continually acknowledge the things for which I am intellectually, if not emotionally, grateful. These actions are like candles burning in the dark, lighting my way to help me find what I am seeking.

If your gratitude has gone A.W.O.L this holiday season, find some candles—either mine or some of your own—to brighten your gratitude darkness. Just remember to check them for any extra adornments before you put them away.

Image credit: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_20893758_open-bible-candle-and-autumn-decorations.html’>tuvi / 123RF Stock Photo</a>