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Blog Post, The Last

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“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” -Frank Herbert
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Dear Friends,

Three and a half years ago I started this blog. It was a creative outlet during a time when I was very much home-bound tending to the care of my father, and feeling very much the need to give expression to the stew-pot of random thoughts and observations simmering inside of me. Once again in my childhood home, surrounded on every side by things that reminded me of my youth and the familial happiness I had always enjoyed, I found I had a new, more experienced perspective  from which to  interpret the past.  Once again I walked the neighborhood frequently. (I used to walk this neighborhood by necessity, to get to school, to visit friends, or to go to the store, but since returning I have walked mostly to add variety to my days, and for my health.)

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As I walked, I couldn’t help but feel the past and present mesh into a finger-painted blur. The most interesting observation resulting from this fusing of times was that everything that was old was new, and everything that appeared new was shaped by the old. Once, there were orange and lemon groves skirting the foothills on the north end of town, now there are big, expensive homes that have stealthily crept up the mountainside. The homes in our more workaday neighborhood have remained the same, yet have become different, having undergone updates, remodeling, drought-tolerant landscaping, or having been worn down by time and neglect.  Still, basically, they are the same homes, roosting like hens on their nests waiting for something new to hatch out from under, within, or around them.

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One walk took me onto the premises of my old elementary school. Peering through the windows of the first classroom I attended at that school produced mixed emotions—the once tidy, orderly classroom with the honey-colored wooden shelves and cabinets housing fresh manila paper and stacks of sack lunches, had become cluttered and tacky with too much “stuff” covering the walls, windows, counters, and floors. The large picture windows on one end of the room, once brightly beckoning weary brains to recess, had been blocked at the lower levels so students, I supposed, couldn’t see out, or daydream, forcing Light, the literal Revealer of Knowledge, to diminish. Surely the school wasn’t perfect when I was there, but I turned away from that window feeling melancholy at the loss of something that was once unspoiled. Also gone was the old-fashioned playground equipment from my past: the extinct teeter-totters, the variegated metal rings and the uneven bars that all the girls of my generation had used to test out (and show off) their athletic prowess. The school still stood, was still in use, but it was changed and affected by the times.

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Our neighborhood park has often been incorporated into my walks. It, too, at first glance, appeared to be what it once was, but the trees have grown tall, or have been removed, old playground apparatus’ have disappeared, the rec center is now a day-care, and scores of soccer players now populate the lawns. When I was a child, the park, like the housing development, was brand new, the trees—but saplings back then—provided little to no shelter from the sun. The park has since become an oasis of shade, a welcome stop for grandchildren to climb trees and scramble over the playground, letting off pent-up energy from being indoors.

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The city center, once a cute, small-town “village” still has a reputation as such, but up-scaling has produced higher-priced, fancy restaurants, haute couture clothing stores, and a library that was once a quaint, little gem transformed into a ziggurat-ish eyesore. Still, much of the old has been preserved in town, and, for the most part, it retains its charm and attraction, for which I’m grateful, and very fond.

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Neighbors have come and gone, too. Mostly, they have gone. Besides me, those directly across the street are the only ones left from the “olden days.” They’ve been in their home almost as long as our family has occupied ours—over fifty years. They are both now eighty-five, and tend their front lawn with tender loving care and a fine-tooth comb. (It was only this summer they finally broke down and hired a gardener.) It’s comforting to see their familiar faces, and to share produce and jam, as well as watch over each other’s homes during vacations. They are like the pepper trees lining the street, rooted to the neighborhood, providing the kind of constancy that shades and protects that which is cherished. But I know even they will not last forever. Things change. Time slips by in unintelligible increments, quietly amassing into years filled with subtle change.

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I have often written about change in my blog, and here I am writing about it again, one last time. A year ago, my dear father passed away. The reasons that writing a blog were so appealing to me at the time I began this blog have become moot. A time for reminiscing has transformed into a time for wiping the slate clean, so to speak. That’s not what I’m really doing, of course, but it feels like it. It feels like I’m in process of taking down, ripping apart, discarding, or throwing away almost every remaining vestige of my childhood and former life, and of the lives of my parents, kissing them all a tender good-bye. Today, I went through another closet. My father’s old corduroy jacket was buried in a sack of old sweaters. I pulled it out, smelled it, and hugged it for a long time, weeping over the loss of my dear parents.  I took it into his old closet and hung it up. It won’t stay there, because going through the things in that closet are also on my have-to-do list. I have to do this—there is no one else who can. It is my lot, and I must face it, and carry the weight of it.

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Before long, the house will be sold. But first, it will have to undergo even more change—a face lift. Nearly everything in the house is original, except the carpet. The linoleum tiles can be picked up and moved around like puzzle pieces (the glue wore off long ago). The wood cabinets are thread-bare and tired. They cry out for me to put them out to pasture. The yards, too, have suffered great neglect during the last two years of my father’s demise, and the decade-long drought that beset California until this past winter.  Yes, the house must undergo change. It’s gray hairs are showing, just like mine. I miss the days of dark-haired youth, but there is no holding back time or the tide. We all ride the great gushing wave of eternity, and there’s no getting off. My own mortality beckons to me frankly, and it’s okay. I am not afraid of what lies ahead and beyond.

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But there is an overwhelming sense of so much to do. Will I ever finish? Does anyone ever finish? My parents didn’t. Each left projects undone, words unwritten, music not played. As I wade through receipts that are a half-century old, old negatives, artwork, books, clothing, letters, photographs, stamp collections, family history work, and endless, heart-strung memories, I find much of my parents’ life work in a state of suspended animation. I think “finishing” is a false idea, a foolish notion. We come to the great Finishing School of Earth without the slightest notion of finishing, of becoming fully polished and ready to enter the vast gates of eternity, though we may work toward it all our days. We struggle with human frailty, with ambition, or lack thereof, with responsibilities, fears, and trials. We grasp for every moment of joy life affords, and relish time with loved ones, friends, and the beauty of the earth. We study hard and take exams, we marry, and rear children, we gather the sheaves of the depth and beauty of life into the garners of memory to cherish in our old age. We wrestle with aging bodies, health, and dementia, and watch our beloved, aging parents become as children, needing their children to “parent” and assist them as they exit this life. They welcome and parent us into life, and we bid farewell and parent them out of this life. It is a circle. We are an intrinsic part of that circle. It will all happen again. As I sift through the relics of their lives, having to part with most of it, I wonder if I will have time to complete those things I have longed to accomplish. Simple things, like writing my personal history for my posterity, and spending time with and knowing each precious grandchild and great-grandchild intimately—having a relationship that will outlast time. Those relationships are the things that endure, that stay in the innermost pockets of the heart, and that are valued throughout eternity. Nothing can take that away from those who nurture those relationships. Not even time.

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And so, I have come to the point where I realize I have little left to write of in my blog, at least right now. I can’t think about it anymore. I must move on, finish, if possible, reliving my parents’ lives as I go through what they left behind, and attempt to finish what is left to live of my own life (and I hope there are decades-worth left). My mind and heart are beset with the sheer volume of stuff, the monumental size of the task, and the overwhelming sense of a book that has turned its last leaf and is winding down towards an unending finish. It is at this point I find I must also end my blog, at least for now.

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“A Random Harvest” has been therapeutic for me. It allowed me to reach out and interact with others without leaving my father or the house. It allowed me to ponder upon my past and to share the blessings of life that my husband and I have enjoyed, (alone and together), to muse on the beauty and poetry of life, and to observe with friends the interesting little inconsistencies, the absurd, the delightful, and the profound aspects of life. Whenever someone—someone known to me, and someone I did not know—responded with a comment to my little offerings, I felt a greater extension of the brotherhood and sisterhood we all share with one another. I hope you felt it, too.

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Mine are just little scribbling symbols of random, haphazard thoughts and ideas. But I have felt such gratitude and such unity as I have learned that others have felt much the same. How can I ever thank you for reading my obscure, little blog? For holding my hand, as we’ve walked this small byway on the path of life together? When I have looked at the stats page on my blog, I have been amazed at the people from around the globe who have—I’m not sure how—happened upon and read my humble thoughts. I find that absolutely unfathomable. But I am humbled and fascinated by it every time!

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I love Emily Dickinson’s poem about books– “The Frugal Frigate”–one of my favorites:

There is no Frigate like a Book 

To take us Lands away 

Nor any Coursers like a Page 

Of prancing Poetry – 

This Traverse may the poorest take 

Without oppress of Toll – 

How frugal is the Chariot 

That bears the Human Soul –

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In many ways, I feel similar sentiments about this blog. For me it has been a frigate—a chariot—bearing away my human soul, traversing lands, and ideas, and hearts, without oppress of toll. I have connected with others who share my love of all things good and virtuous. This makes me happy. There is a lot of good in the world! I’m so grateful!

 

So this will be my last blog post as “A Random Harvest,” at least for a while—maybe forever.  I am allowing it to enter into a state of suspended animation. At some later date, if a desire has not rekindled to post again, I will retire it into the annals of things of the past. Like my childhood home, my blog has run its course. Both have brought me joy, and I have learned and grown because of them. I hope it has been one small pinprick of light and joy for you, as well. I will miss it. I will miss you.

 

I declare to you my faith in a loving Heavenly Father, and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the “Author and Finisher of [my] faith,”(Hebrews 12:2) and the Holy Ghost. They are the hub around which my life revolves, and the balance that keeps me sane and happy. It is through Them that all sad endings, and supposed “unfinished symphonies” of life may be transformed into eternal joy and sublime fulfillment. I share my gratitude for a supportive and loving husband, Brad, (who has good-naturedly allowed me to feature him in my blog from time to time). I also share my love of family and friends, for there is nothing that brings greater joy while traversing this expanse of time on earth. I thank you for your comments, for your interest, and as always….

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….from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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©September 22, 2017

*Note: All these beautiful book covers are public domain images.

+Featured Image: “Destiny” by John William Waterhouse (one of my favorites)

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Hot Rod (or How we Roll)

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Blog Post # 48

Yesterday evening, my husband, Brad, and I were waiting at a streetlight, next to a low-riding, black hot rod – one that epitomizes the standard for such a car. It was long, sleek, and low, with a flattened square-ish cab-like roof and chartreuse hubcaps. Scrawled on the upper back portion of the roof were the words, “This is how I roll.” A man of immense proportions had squeezed into the driver’s seat, bulging out the windows like leavened dough, appearing to be cramped beyond comfort. He revved his engine like a NASCAR driver, clearly impatient to go.artflow_201701181402.png

We were astonished when, after waiting only a few seconds, the hot rod streaked into the intersection, and rocketed through the red light at lightning speed, leaving a blast of engine noise in its wake. A car in opposing traffic had already begun to make a left turn, and (fortunately) moved slowly enough to prevent a collision—completing its turn just after the hot rod exited the intersection. We looked at each other in stunned silence, then wondered aloud what madness had possessed the man behind the wheel of the hot rod! (Maybe all sense squeezed out of the driver by the snug quarters he was wedged into, or maybe he was experiencing some kind of brain-cramp.)

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Do you see how big the driver of this hot rod is? The one we saw looked just like that (but this isn’t him).

Soon, the light changed, and we lumbered up the street at a crawl compared to what we had just witnessed. When we approached the next light, and were about to turn into our destination, we noticed the hot rod stuck behind a car at the intersection just ahead of us. As we entered a restaurant, we heard the unmistakable roar of the hot rod’s engine as it zoomed around the corner and up the adjacent street.

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I wonder…what motivates someone to do something so insane? He might have caused serious injury or death to himself or others—and for what? 50 yards of street? To be first? A lack of patience or self-control? Showing-off? … I have no idea! (To be fair – to give him the benefit of the doubt – there is the possibility that in anticipation of the light changing, he thought it already had.) However, whether or not it was intentional, he took that intersection blindly and at tremendous speed.

Here’s the truth. For all his speed-demon antics, he was still forced to wait at that next light, and had gained no advantage over all the other drivers who had waited for the previous light—those who had obeyed the laws, and exercised patience and self-control.

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I wonder if, after his apparent mistake, or, in any case, his recklessness, that guy gloated over his supposed machismo, or conversely, if he felt even the least bit small, sheepish or sorry? If his recklessness shrank to fit into the size of the cab, at least that would be something. Whatever the case, he proved “how he rolled,” and let those in the world around him determine for themselves exactly what that meant.  I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was not impressed by his brazen show of bravado. Instead, I was stunned by his ostentatious demonstration of thoughtlessness, irresponsibility, and foolishness.

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Each of us is a walking, talking – yes, even driving – example of “how we roll.” Whatever persona we hope to exude, others will see what is inherently and obviously part of our character through our words and actions. If we don’t want to send mixed signals, we must be absolutely true to ourselves. And if we want our persona to match any ideals of good character, we must also be true to the truth and light that burns deep within our hearts – the light of truth given to all human beings, reigning in an unsullied conscience.

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Flawed as I am, I hope that “how I roll” may be consistent with my most valued knowledge and precious beliefs—that I might “walk my talk” with purity of purpose, with real intent, with generosity, tolerance, patience, optimism, gentleness, kindness, and love. A tall order, I know, but that is how I would like “to roll.”

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Ha! Perhaps a whole different scenario would have occurred at the streetlight if the man in the hot rod was of a mind to write this expression on the back of his cab: “Merrily We Roll Along!” 

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End Piece

©January 17, 2017

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

 


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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
    Kazoo

    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 http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1970.

    © November 7, 2014