Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Tribute to My Mother (and Father) on Her Passing

My mom passed away on Monday. It was completely unexpected, and nobody knows exactly why it happened. She had said recently that she wanted to be with Dad again, and we choose to believe her sincere wish was granted. 

On this day of thanksgiving, I am most grateful at this moment for parents who loved me - truly loved the unique person I was - and allowed me to be different - and treasured me for that difference.

I am grateful for six children who allowed me to try to emulate my parents' loving acceptance - even when their unique differences occasionally challenged my determination to do so.

I am grateful to have been raised with the idea that families are forever, literally. I don't know why I was and am blessed to be a part of such a wonderfully unique family, but I thank God for it. My parents were ordinary heroes, and I will treasure my association with them forever.

I am thankful, deeply, that my mother has been allowed to receive her fondest desire - to be with my father again. God bless you, Mom and Dad. Save a place for all of us. 

I wrote her obituary yesterday and share it here for my children to be able to remember their heritage: 

Nora Jane Westover DeGraw, of Ada, OK, passed from this mortal life to the next on November 23, 2015 of natural causes incident to age.  She was 75 years old.  

Nora was born on October 28, 1940 in Joseph City, Arizona to Lloyd Westover and Laura Hudson.  She was the fifth of six children.  She attended school in Santaquin and Payson, Utah, graduating from Payson High School.  She married her sweetheart, Curtis Lamar DeGraw, on March 29, 1961 in the Salt Lake City LDS temple.  Together, they raised eight children (losing one daughter to a stillbirth) in a home full of love and the gospel of Jesus Christ, later serving as a missionary couple in South Carolina. 

Prior to their marriage, Nora worked as a secretary on the staff of David O. McKay, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After their marriage, she dedicated her life to raising their children, returning to part-time work as a secretary at the Santaquin Elementary School after their youngest child started school. Her typing and shorthand skills were legendary. She lived most of her life in Santaquin, Utah – with a few years near the beginning of her marriage in Salt Lake City and the last five years in Ada, OK, living near a son and daughter and their families. 

Nora was a naturally spiritual person, whose smile lit up the world around her and whose tears were harder on her children than any punishment. She was small in stature, but she had the largest heart possible. She was known by all as one of the kindest, sweetest, most gentle people on this earth; nobody ever heard her raise her voice in anger or frustration, and she was never known to criticize others. Her optimistic, loving, accepting personality was a beacon to her family, their eventual spouses, her extended family and friends, and everyone with whom she associated. She loved her family, her religion, her friends, music (an accomplished pianist), reading (especially next to the heating vent under the kitchen desk during the winter in her Santaquin home), getting to know, appreciate and love others, and, most of all, her husband – her eternal companion.  She loved him truly, deeply and exclusively.  They were married for 52 years and were a testament to the power of complete love and fidelity.  Her greatest wish after his passing two years ago was to be with him once more, but she was willing to wait on the Lord’s timing for that glorious reunion.

At this time of thanksgiving, her family is grateful to have been a central part of her life. We miss her, but we are thankful that God saw fit to answer the prayer of one of His elect daughters and allow her to join Curtis, their daughter, Lorna Sue, and all of her departed relatives and friends. We can see our father greeting her on the other side of the veil, then waiting patiently, with a loving grin, as she greeted and hugged every person she ever knew and loved. Truly, we come from a long line of love, and we honor our parents for the incredible examples of Christ-like love they gave us.

Nora is survived by three siblings, eight children, thirty-six grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren.  She was preceded in death by her parents, two siblings, a daughter and a grandchild. 

As was the case when Curtis passed away, his family asks that each person who knew and loved Nora renew an individual commitment to love and serve others – that all who wish to honor her do so by accepting and internalizing the Savior’s words:

“As I have loved you, love one another.” 
She would prefer to be honored by what we do, how we live, and who we become more than by anything we might say.  In particular, she would want everyone to fill their homes with smiles and good music – the universal languages of love.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

My Talk in Church Today: Gratitude

I spoke today about gratitude. My daughter is sick, so I don't have time to do a full outline or summary, so the following is a condensed version:

Colossians 2:6-7 - "abounding therein with thanksgiving"

Two-edged sword - (Ammonihah = gratitude on steroids; public acknowledgment can be boastful, especially when righteousness is implied, and can hurt those who don't share the same blessings [talk on marriage and family last month as example])

Gratitude does not mean constant happiness. Life is difficult and brings trials and grief - moments that make gratitude hard. Also, biological issues like depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, etc. can inhibit one's ability to feel gratitude and joy. None of those things constitute sin. I pray that nothing I say will add in any way to the burdens carried by anyone here today.

Being grateful also does not mean we have to be thankful for our trials themselves. Rather, it means being thankful for what we learn from those trials. Let me give two examples of what I mean:

My mother's schizophrenia (not grateful for it but grateful for what I learned as a result of it)

Friend whose daughter died unexpectedly (He wasn't grateful she died, but he was grateful he was able to draw closer to God as a result. Nobody should ever say he should be grateful for that trial.)

I hope nobody here feels unworthy in some way if you can't thank God for a particular trial, but I also hope you can be thankful, now or in the future, for what you will learn as a result of that trial.

Three degrees of love, gratitude and service: God = telestial; friends / same (including family) = terrestrial; enemies / different (including family) = celestial

Michelle's weekly blessing list that has helped her see and recognize her blessings as they happen, rather than only in hindsight

My blessing list (Due to time constraints, only "For the Strength of the Hills" and a description of John Daniel Malan's sacrifice for his testimony.)

Definition of praise and honor in our theology being centered on doing and becoming - need to show gratitude and not just to verbalize it (although saying it is critical, too)

Plan of Happiness works for some people; Plan of Salvation works better for other people. I pray I can help everyone be grateful as a result of their interactions with me, whether pursuing happiness or receiving salvation is more powerful to them.

Invitation to count our blessings every day and then work to bless others - to show our gratitude in visible, tangible ways