Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Suffer The Children

I am the Primary chorister in my ward.  I love this calling and as cliche as it sounds, yes, the children really do teach me every week. This past Sunday was no exception.

As the Jr. Primary children hurried into the primary room after sacrament meeting , I stood in front of the room  and sang songs, welcoming them in.  This is what I do every week.

Little three year-old Lauren Hopkins was having a very hard time in Primary. Her mother, Larissa, sat beside her for a few minutes,  reassured  her, and then got up to leave. Lauren tried to suppress her tears, but it was more than her little heart could take and she began to sob.  I guess it was more than Larissa's heart could take as well, and  she went back and sat by daughter.    Once again Larissa comforted Lauren,  and stood to leave. And  again, Lauren began to sob.  Larissa took courage and did what a mom needs to do sometimes; she did not go back.  

I quickly began singing  fun little action songs with the children in hopes that I could catch Lauren's attention and keep her from crying.  It didn't work.  Her crying increased, but I was so surprised by how still and reverent the rest of the children were.  They were softy singing as if to comfort  their little friend.  . 

Then something amazing happened.  As we were quietly singing I watched four-year old Joseph Bolton reverently get up from his chair.  He walked behind where Lauren was sitting and put his arm around her shoulders, while bending over to show her that it was him.  So calm. So sacred. So perfect.  As Lauren's cries began to subside,  Joe quietly returned back to his seat never saying a word.

Tears filled my eyes as I realized I stood on sacred ground.  I had just witnessed love, even charity in its purest form.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"An Heart of Flesh". Ezekiel 11:19

Ezekiel quotes the Lord God:  "And I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh."  That is exactly what the Lord has done for Brandon.   I am sure there have been times when a stone has found place in his heart,  but basically Brandon's heart has been open and absorbing.  The experiences  of his childhood (previous blog post) are perfect examples of this spiritual gift.

Brandon associated with a unique group of boys while growing up.  Looking back on it, I sense that he was the hub of the group, giving some stability to their somewhat troubled lives.  Tyler Knotek; only active member in his family.  Beau Biscamp; raised by a single mom. Thomas Loderstat; father jailed for growing marijuana in his back yard.  These are only the three that come to mind, but there were others with similar trials. These boys loved Brandon and I know it was because he gave them his heart.  There were many times when they would all join us for family scripture study and prayers.  We had a tradition of hugging each family member and saying :"I Love You", after we got up from family prayer.  It was so sweet embracing them and hearing them repeat "I love you too."  Brandon was never embarrassed by this, in fact he welcomed it.  He was so open and I think he just felt everyone else should be too.

That fleshy heart of Brandon makes him very conscientious of other people's feelings.  He thinks about the affect his words or actions will have on people.  I remember when he was 17 and we were having FHE.  The phone rang and it was his newly baptized friend Tanner.  The conversation continued for a few minutes and then Brandon hung up the phone.  Someone asked Brandon why he didn't just tell him it was Family Night and that he had to go.  Brandon's response made me realize that people are more important than programs.  Brandon explained that Tanner was very new in the gospel and didn't have a clue about FHE, and he felt it was more important to talk with him  for a few minutes to strengthen that friendship than to teach him a lesson about calling on Monday night.

Because Brandon's heart is open, it is susceptible to hurt and pain.  That just comes with the territory I guess.  As sad and devastating as it is to experience a true heart ache,  I am so grateful that he can. A stony heart is void of feeling.    But Brandon's  fleshy heart feels....loves....and  deeply cares.

While growing up,  Brandon would freely talk about his life to me.  Even today I  am so grateful for his phone calls.  He spends time with me and is not hurried with our conversations.  He opens up and shares his life, wisdom, frustrations, and even trials.  His ability to share his heart has given me sacred, cherished opportunities to not just bear his burdens and  mourn with him, but to rejoice with him as well.  Those experiences have drawn me closer to him and I am so grateful for that.

Brandon,  I have learned how to give more of my heart to others because of your example.  So many of your other spiritual gifts are tied to your open, loving heart.  Your heart is filled with empathy; the ability to feel what others are feeling; truly a Christ-like quality.    I hope you will always be thankful for that gift and never view it as a weakness.  It is what draws people to you.   Happy Birthday son.  I love you.  Mommy

Experiencing Brandon's Heart

*I recorded  all these different experiences regarding Brandon all on the same day 1/5/93.  So this really is just one journal entry all about Brandon.   

Jan 5th, 1993

I had a sweet experience with Brandon tonight.  We had just finished with our scriptures and prayers.  As I got up from saying my personal prayers, Brandon was laying down on the love seat.  All the other kids had hurried off to their bedrooms.  Brandon looked so sad so I asked him what was wrong.  He said that he was sad because of a sin.  Being a little startle by that,  I asked him if he had prayed about it to Heavenly Father and he told me he had but didn't feel like he had been forgiven.  I asked him if he would like to tell me about it.  He then told me that after tithing settlement a few weeks ago, dad had taken the boys to MacFrugals to buy some stuff.   Brandon had found a bag of jelly beans with a hole in the bag.  He told me that he squeezed a jelly bean out of the bag and ate it.  As he told me the story, his eyes filled up with tears.  He was so sincere and really sad.  I told him that if he had asked Heavenly Father to forgive him and he promised to never do it again , then all he needed to do was forgive himself.

We had been talking a lot in our family scripture study about Jesus' atonement and what that means to us individually.  We asked the boys to think about the pain that Christ suffered for them when they are thinking about doing something wrong.  I think Brandon was receptive to what we taught him and felt remorse for the jelly bean ordeal.

Brandon has a very sensitive side to him.  He feels so bad when one of his brothers get into trouble.  When he was little, he use to offer to go into the  bedroom with Derrick and keep him company when Derrick got sent to his room. He still hates to see a sibling punished.  I think he'd almost rather take the punishment himself than to watch his brothers go through it.

One experience that really stands out in my mind happened about a year ago.  Brandon must have been seven. Jared and the boys collect baseball cards.  Brandon found a pack of cards that belong to Jared and he opened them up.  The pack of cards were probably only worth a couple of dollars, but we were upset that he'd take something that didn't belong to him and that he didn't ask first.  So after Derrick brought it to our attention (something Derrick was more than happy to do).   Jared talked to Brandon.  I felt so sorry for Brandon; he was so sad.  He was really upset about letting his dad down.  He told his dad how sorry he was about it and then went into his room and got some money for the pack of baseball cards and gave it to Jared.

A few days later, I was cleaning my bedroom and I saw a note on Jared's pillow.
It said: "Dear dad, I'm sorry that I took your baseball cards without asking first.  Will you please forgive me?  Signed your son Brandon"

Another special experience I had with Brandon was when he was five and a-half years old.  I had just sent the big boys (Derrick & Brandon) to bed and told them to turn off their TV set after their program was over.  Jared and I went in our room to watch TV and at 10:00 pm 20/20 came on and we started watching a documentary on the orphans in Romania.  It showed video coverage of the children in cages, being treated like animals,.  It showed the horrible treatment of these children and the filth they lived in.  I couldn't stand it.  It was making both Jared and I so upset.  We turned off the TV.  After it was off, I heard Brandon just sobbing.  As I got to their room , I saw their TV was on the 20/20 program that Jared and I had been watching.  Brandon just looked up at me from his bed and asked me if this really was happening to these children.

Not sure of what I should do or say, I got him up out of bed and took him with me into the living room.  I had no idea as to how I would comfort him.  I felt I needed comforting myself because of what I had seen.

As we sat down on the couch I looked over at the fireplace hearth and saw all of our scriptures stacked up.  I thought of what we had been reading about in the Book of Mormon as a family.  We were in 3 Nephi where it talks about Christ visit to the Nephites. Just a few nights before, we had read about Jesus blessing the little children and how angels came down and encircled the children as a ring of fire and  ministered to them.  We had talked about the special relationship that Jesus has with children.  The boys were fascinated with this discussion.

As I sat there on the couch with my very upset Brandon, I thought about the Savior and the children.  I reminded Brandon about what we had studied.  I held him in my arms and told him that the children who suffer horrible things on earth, like those little Romanian children that he saw on TV, that they would someday be in the arms of Jesus and he would  bless and care for them just like he did for the little Nephite children.

It was a very sweet, tender experience as we discussed the  "favor" that Jesus has for all of his children.  Brandon seemed to be comforted by my words and the remembrance of what we had studied as a family.  I asked him if he'd like to kneel  down and pray with me so we could have Heavenly Father's spirit with us.  He did and we knelt together and prayed.  It was an experience I will always cherish.

Another experience I had with Brandon was when he was five and in kindergarten.  In our family scripture study, we were in Alma 5.  It talks about Alma preaching to all those he had baptized. Alma asked his people  if they had  "received His image in their countenances".  Jared tried to explain what that meant  as best as he could so that the boys would understand.  Jared has a great quality of being able to simplify the scriptures and portraying them in a way so that they kids can relate and really understand.  I was sure that Derrick was understanding what it meant to have Christ's image in your countenance, but Brandon was having a little more difficulty with it.

Jared told Brandon that people should be able to look at him and see Jesus in his face because of his actions and words.  I think Brandon was taking it literal, but we did the best we could and we moved on.

The next day, Derrick had gone to  school and I was hurrying to feed lunch to Brandon, Daniel and Travis before Brandon left for  afternoon kindergarten.  I got the boys  up to the bar and made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and  I told them to hurry and eat fast.  Brandon  got my attention and said: "Mom,  look at Travis".  I looked at Travis and he was sitting on his bar stool folding his arms.  I responded:  "Yeah, Travis wants us to say a blessing on the food before we eat."  Then Brandon replied:  "Mom, I think I see Jesus in his face". Well needless to say tears filled my eyes.  Brandon understood what we had taught him the night before and he recognized that principle in Travis.

The scriptures and our diligence to study them as a family have blessed us so much.  There is a bond that has been strengthened each time as we gather together in our living room and open up our own scriptures to read and discuss and ponder them together.  We start off with a Primary song - hopefully a child will choose a reverent one; one that settles us down and invites Heavenly Father's Spirit in.  Then we all turn to Alma.  We've been in Alma for almost 1 1/2 years.  But it should only be four or five more days till we're done.  We are at Chapter 63 of Alma now.

Each child, even Noelle, gets to read.  Jared or I will read a few words and the little ones will repeat the words back to us.  Then we thoroughly discuss what we have read so we understand what is happening.  We apply it to our lives and give personal experiences that go along with what has been learned.  It's great!  What amazes me is how much the boys love it.  It's fun to them. They like gathering around and learning   I can see now how Daniel is starting to add his comments and be more attentive.  Travis and Noelle are still out of it , but they'll learn before long.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Another morning, another adventure!  As we were looking for a new place to hike, Judy drove down to the end of a street and entered  past a gate, undoubtedly on to someone's property.  There was a little dirt road off to the right  and we figured we would be fine to park up by what was obviously an abandoned house.   Judy hid the keys under a rock  and we started walking toward  the hills.

We hiked up to the top of a  stately mesa, walked a ways and then shimmied down the side  into a nice, new wash for us to explore.  We followed the wash back to the direction of where the car was parked.  Remember we have a rule.....never walk back the same way we came.  With that in mind, we continued down this wash  and I was pleasantly surprised to find a pair of nice reading glasses that actually matched my prescription   I cleaned them off and stuck them on top of my head.  We like to find treasures on our adventures.   Last week Judy found an abandoned turtle shell.

The wash led us to a field thick with Mesquite trees.  For those who don't know what a Mesquite tree is, I will tell you that in the winter they are leafless, ugly, black thick bushes with pointy sharp spikes covering the branches.  As we carefully navigated between these hideous trees we soon found ourselves blocked in.  We could see the house where the car was parked and we could see the road just beyond, but we could not get passed those trees!

Judy found a small (by small, I mean cat-like small) opening under some grey, stickery bushes. She daintily  crouched down and scampered  to  the other side.  Judy is small, catlike herself and did this with much ease and grace, without so much as a hair on her head out of place.  I am not small, and when I crouched down, I was still three sizes too big for the opening.  Down on all fours, I began to push my way through the thicket.  The branches scrapped and poked  me with every little movement.   I had to continually free my hair, skin and clothes from their grasp.  It was ugly and messy and I was not happy!  I finally broke through to the other side, and I felt like I had just accomplished something truly monumental!  I was in pain and looked like I had endured a cat fight .............but I was finally through!

We made our way to the car, hopped in and drove back to the gate, which was now closed and pad locked.    I must admit, I got a little nervous as we saw a man  walking towards us.  Judy began to plead our case after the  man explained  that this was all his property .  He then told us that he had seen the car and went to check it out.  Upon finding a women's wallet left behind inside, he was somewhat concerned and called the police.  He introduced  himself as  Greg Cleveland.  I told him my name and of course he already knew Judy's name because the  police had run a check on her car.  He was very kind and made a quick call back to metro to let them know we had been located and were safe.

Greg invited us to take a walk on his property to share with us his vision for his 100 acre ranch.  As we started to walk,  I felt like he was staring at me.  I quickly remembered the glasses that I had found and had propped up on my head.     Yep..............they were his!   Not only had we trespassed his property  but I had stolen his glasses too.