Thursday, October 15, 2009

Something to Celebrate

An entry from my Tender Mercies Journal
Dated April 27, 2008 ~ Sunday
(about a month after Josh passed away)

It's Josh's birthday. I'm glad I have another tender mercy to share. It's the one that Lorri Cummings shared with us in the Celestial Room of the Provo temple one week after Josh passed away. She had talked with me briefly about it earlier too and it has sustained me in knowing (not just hoping) that Josh is okay, that he is happy and surrounded by love.

A day or two after Lorri found out that Josh had passed away, she went to the temple. During the session, a prayer was said and it was requested of the Lord that those in the company who had questions, would have them answered. As those words were spoken, Lorri felt the Spirit, incredibly strong, swell in her heart. Over the next few minutes she pondered that and she didn't understand why there was such a strong spiritual witness for her during that part of the prayer because she didn't come to the temple with a question to be answered. A little later, as she sat in the Celestial Room, she said in her heart, "Okay, Heavenly Father, I do have a question. Who is with Josh?"

Quite unexpectedly, a vision opened up to her and she saw Josh standing amongst many, many other spirits. There was my mom, Patsy, on the right, with others beside her and behind her that Lorri did not recognize. On the left were Enos' parents, Mary and Bruce. Lorri later acknowledged she was surprised that they did not appear to her as she had known them ~ elderly ~ but rather, they looked younger. Lorri saw standing beside them Enos' aunts and uncles who had passed away and many, many others behind them who she assumed were ancestors.

Lorri said the whole focus seemed to be on Josh. Everyone was present to celebrate him, to welcome him, to express their love for him and their joy in having him in their presence. The best part was the expression on Josh's face.

The night before Josh's funeral, during the viewing, our little video with pictures taken throughout Josh's life was playing on a large screen in the next room. When Lorri saw one particular picture of Josh, she said, "That's how I saw him." It was the only picture that matched in detail the smile that she had seen spread across his face, with no reservations, no inhibitions, just pure joy in his expression. His eyes are lit up and he is beaming.

There is a story behind this picture. Enos was behind the camera snapping pictures like crazy. I had just given Josh a haircut ~ normally a pretty tramatic experience for him and therefore, me, but somehow, Josh seemed to believe us this time when we had complimented his good looks. He had made several trips to the mirror and had come back each time trying unsuccessfully, to hide his grin.
Enos decided to document this happy haircut in hopes that a month or two later it would discourage Josh from letting his hair get too long and shaggy. So, out came the camera. Enos had him slowly do a 360 as he took pictures of every angle, all the time gushing out praises on how handsome he looked. Pretty soon, Josh was hamming it up and Nathan was egging him on. There were lots of giggles in the kitchen and Enos captured it with his camera.
Now we have a picture that represents to us Josh's happiness in the Spirit World. Thanks to Lorri, we have a glimpse into how many people will be edifying his life.
In some ways, time seems to be a trial to us now, like the years that stretch out between now and when we embrace Josh again are a gorge seperating us. Each step through the gorge and up the next hillside seems too long, too slow. But knowing that Josh is not waiting sad and alone at the top of the hill will allow us some joy in the journey we have left. It will allow us to still notice the wildflowers along the riverbed and hear the birds perched up in the trees. We will miss his steps beside us, his hand in ours, his voice and giggle in our ears; but he will be in our hearts, as evidenced by the ongoing tears in our eyes.
I love you Josh, forever and always. We will give you a great celebration on your 13th birthday following the morning of the first resurrection.
I promise.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Marker

We were slow in making decisions regarding a marker to place at Josh's grave. We wanted to get it just right as it really was 'set in stone'. We had chosen a picture to have etched; it was one that was taken while he was doing a service project with the other scouts. We had decided to keep the format simple, his name, the dates, and then a tribute..."Forever loved by family and friends." We received the 'proof' in an email from Bott's Memorial that we were pleased with, but we sat on it, just wishing there was something we could add that was more personal, more Josh-like. It was during this time, about three months after he passed away, that I finally emptied his school backpack. While thumbing through all his papers, I found a worksheet that asked this question, "List four words that you would want people to use to describe you when you die." There in his beautiful cursive handwriting were the words, "kind, funny, smart, and loving."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Anticipating A Joyful Reunion

Last Friday evening I heard the revving of a four wheeler from the open window of the upstairs bedroom at the cabin we were staying at in Island Park. It took me back. Several years ago, I reluctantly hopped off the back of a four wheeler to let Josh take off on his own; his first solo ride. After he had rounded the bend and disappeared out of sight, I started feeling more and more anxious. Was he okay? I was so eager to see his little dust cloud return, I considered jogging along the road until I could at least catch sight of him. Finally, there was his helmet. He sat confidently on that four wheeler with a smile spread as wide as can be.
As this memory came back, it came with tears. I thought of what it will be like to finally see him again. As I imagined the joy, I cried without reservation. Then I prayed. I simply asked Heavenly Father if He would give us something before we returned home from Yellowstone that would help us feel close to Josh.
The next day, we stopped at my Grandma's in Idaho Falls on our way home. While there, for some reason, I walked over to the far wall, and picked up the first of a small stack of CD's. This uncovered a CD I had given to Grandma for her birthday six years ago. It listed nine songs that I had written and recorded and as I scanned through the titles, I realized that there were a few on that CD that I didn't have anywhere else, not even saved on my computer. I asked Grandma if I could take it home and copy it. I asked Enos if he had recorded (sung) the second song on the CD, "The Holy Ghost". He answered, "Probably."
Back in the van, I put the CD in. When that song started to play, it about took my breath away. There was Josh's sweet little voice singing solo. I didn't even remember recording it...not until he sang the word "comfort", with a strong playful accent on the second syllable. We weren't sure whether to laugh or cry. It felt like someone had just handed us a priceless gift. I whispered a quick "Thank you, Heavenly Father" and then played the song again.
On this video, the first picture you will see of Josh is one that the Primary President from our old ward mailed to us not too long ago. She said she found it in the Primary closet and that it was taken the year he was baptized. I wrote "The Holy Ghost" the week he was baptized and confirmed a member of the church. It is truly a tender mercy that we get to enjoy it now.

He testifies of Jesus Christ and through his holy whisperings
we may know the truth of all things.
The Holy Ghost, God's gift to us, will comfort, guide and uplift us.
When things go wrong, we can be strong, for if we'll pray to God above,
we will be encircled with love.
The Holy Ghost, God's gift to us, will comfort, guide and uplift us.
He helps us see what we can be and if we'll listen and obey,
He will lead us safely each day.
The Holy Ghost, God's gift to us, will comfort, guide and uplift us.
The Holy Ghost, God's precious gift to us.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Card

From my Tender Mercies Journal: April 8, 2008
(2 weeks after Josh passed away)

Last night in my prayer I told Heavenly Father that although people are still blessing our lives, it had been a few days since I had had a personal and powerful experience ~ a tender mercy. (This came after I had cried tears as I, again, went through the "I wish that's". Specifically, I remember thinking, "I wish that I had written little love notes more to Josh..." But gently, I was reminded of one I had left on his pillow. Rather than let this console me, I reminded the little voice, "That was over a year ago."

This morning I took some marbles downstairs to put back away in the game room closet. I had pulled them out Friday morning when Nate called and asked me to find and bring him a white elephant gift for the mountain man rendezvous at school. He returned home with the bag of marbles and explained that he couldn't give them away because some of the marbles belonged to Josh. I returned them to the little tote box and before I shut the closet doors, my eye caught hold of something unexpected. One shelf below sat a small card with a picture of kittens. Could it be? My mind jumped back to my prayer the night before and the reminder of a card I had given to Josh over a year ago. This couldn't be it. I opened it; read it; and exclaimed, "Oh, Heavenly Father, how do you do it?" I know the card wasn't there on Friday because I searched the shelves trying to figure out what would make a good white elephant gift for Nathan.


I guess it doesn't matter how. It matters why.

The card reads:

Dear Josh,

I'm so proud of you! You have excelled in so many areas ~ with school work at the top.

Daddy and I love you and will forever love you.


Mom (with a heart)

All I could think was, Josh knows. He knows how deeply I love him. This little miracle is to let me know that he knows.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sacrament Meeting Talk

I usually only read one comic strip in the newspaper and that’s Pickles. But, the other day, I peeked at Marvin. There’s this talkin’ blue toilet that says to the stubborn looking little boy, “Look, kid, there are three things in life that are unavoidable…death…taxes…and potty training.” Most of us have surpassed the potty training ordeal, and many of us have dealt with the unpleasantness of taxes, but all of us have yet to face death.

Death is the doorway to the Spirit World. And what awaits us there? As post-mortal spirits, we continue in the spectrum between misery and happiness that we chose for ourselves by how we lived here on earth. If we sought to follow Jesus’ example, we may become ministering angels while in the spirit world.

In October’s general conference, Elder Holland spoke about the ministry of angels.
“From the beginning down through the dispensations, God has used angels as His emissaries in conveying love and concern for His children. Usually such beings are NOT seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are ALWAYS near. Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private. Occasionally the angelic purpose is to warn. But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, (to provide) guidance in difficult times.”

Elder Holland said that most angels are unseen. Their service to us most often remains anonymous. Do you remember the last time you did a good deed and never told anybody? Wasn’t it so fun? Maybe you mailed an uplifting card without signing it and without leaving a return address. Maybe you left someone a treat or a gift on the front porch, rang the doorbell and ran like the dickens. Is there anything more joyful? This is the kind of stuff we get to look forward to in the Spirit World. I believe much of our angelic service will be to those within our own family circles.

We know that as members of the church who have testimonies of Jesus Christ, we would be called upon to testify of His truths to others in the Spirit World. Let me share with you something from my great-great-grandmother’s life history.

At age 23, Elizabeth Cook was happily married with 3 children and one on the way. One day her husband, Phineas, ‘went with a hayrack’ into town. His brother, Henry, came riding along on a horse. He told Phineas that he had just repaired his gun at the blacksmith shop. As Phineas reached out for the gun, the lines slacked and the horses started going faster. Phineas put the gun down and grabbed the lines. Just then, the wagon went into a chuck hole. The gun went off. The bullet went through Phineas’ heart, killing him almost instantly.

The interesting part of this story is what happened the night before. Elizabeth was up late carding and spinning wool with her mother. Phineas, who had been sleeping about an hour, came out and told the women that he had had such a peculiar dream. He said, “I thought I was in an old ancient city and a man came to me. He had long white flowing hair and a beard. His white garments reached to his feet. Around his waist was a cord and to this cord was a bunch of keys. He took the keys off, handed them to me saying, “take these keys,” and turning, he pointed to a long row of dug-outs. He said, “unlock the doors to these prisons and go in and preach the gospel to those who are waiting for it.” Phineas told Elizabeth and her mother, “I woke up with such a strange feeling; I know there’s meaning to it.”

Even with the understanding that her husband was called to the Spirit World with the purpose of preaching the gospel, Elizabeth’s heart was broken. Months later, after she had given birth to her baby, she went into the bedroom and flung herself onto the bed crying. She said she must have fallen asleep. In a dream, she saw her husband as plain as she ever could have seen him alive. He said, “Lizzie, the Bible says we must not covet that which belongs to our neighbor. You are coveting that which belongs to the Lord.” Then after entreating her to stop grieving, he gave her a loving look and was gone. She awoke and that heavy load was lifted. In her own words: “I became reconciled.”

This experience reminds us that when we enter the Spirit World, we enter a world of service, missionary service as well as sending comfort and love to those still in mortality.

Although we will be busily engaged in the Spirit World, we will certainly be anticipating the next step in our eternal progression: the Resurrection. When our bodies and spirits are reunited through the resurrection, we will never again have to suffer pain, sickness, or death.

I’ve had some dreams since Josh passed away where I’ve been able to see him and gain new insights. In one dream he came into the living room and sat on the floor, leaning against the couch where Cody, Nate, and I were sitting. In our conversation, Nathan asked Josh what it was like in the Spirit World. Quick witted, Josh answered, “Lot of people craving Coke.” Before long, Josh told us he had to go. As he stiffly stood, he mentioned that he didn’t like being back in his body; he had forgotten what it was like to have back pain.

When I woke up from this dream, I felt the unpleasant sensation of a very dry throat; my neck was out and my low back ached as I rolled out of bed. As I remembered my dream in detail, I smiled with the thought that Josh was done with all physical pain and aches. Although I see myself as being mostly healthy, it’s hard to imagine a full day without any moans or groans from pain or discomfort. Aren’t we glad that Jesus opened the door to the miracle of resurrection for all of us?

Everyone who is born on earth, whether they are righteous or wicked, will be resurrected and thus given the gift of immortality. Eternal life is not the same as immortality. I like something that Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Immortality is about quantity. Eternal life is about quality. To use a metaphor, immortality is how long the dinner lasts. Eternal life is what is on the menu and who is with us at the table.”

This brings us to what is referred to as the Judgment. After the resurrection, we will be brought before God to be judged. We’ll remember perfectly our righteousness and our guilt. That’s probably a better thing than we realize. Most of us are already well-trained in recalling guilt yet we quickly forget our own goodness.

Those who have repented of their sins and received the ordinances of the gospel and kept the associated covenants will be cleansed by the Atonement of Christ. They will receive exaltation in the highest kingdom, the celestial kingdom. They will live in God’s presence, become like Him, and receive a fullness of joy. They will live together for eternity with those of their family who qualify.

People who do not accept the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ but live honorable lives will receive a place in the terrestrial kingdom.

Those who continued in their sins and did not repent in this life will receive their reward in the lowest kingdom, which is called the telestial kingdom.

The moral of the story.
“…ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ,
having a perfect brightness of
and a
love of God and of all men.
Wherefore, if ye shall press forward,
feasting upon the word of Christ,
endure to the end,
behold, thus saith the Father:
Ye shall have
eternal life.”

Eternal life, or exaltation, is God’s life. It is attainable.

I am a child of God.
His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure.

I started my talk with a comic strip quote about the unavoidables of life. Death is unavoidable, but it shouldn’t be grouped with potty training and taxes. It follows Birth and it precedes the Resurrection, Judgment and Immortality. It’s another step in our progression to become like our Father in Heaven.

I’m thankful for our Savior, whose atonement makes God’s plan a plan of happiness and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Families Can Be Together Forever

Several months after Josh passed away, I came across a CD I hadn't seen for a very long time. On it's label it said, "Happy Birthday Daddy, from Josh, Dec. 2004". I remembered how Josh had chosen Primary songs from an easy piano book, recorded the songs on our electric piano, and after I had recorded a duet track with each one, we made the CD and surprised Enos with it. What I didn't remember is what songs Josh had picked. Now, I'm amazed at how profound his choices were. As I look through the thirty some songs he could have picked, including fun favorites as Popcorn Popping and Happy, Happy Birthday, I marvel that a nine year old chose the ones we would need to hear now.

I took three songs and arranged them into a piano medley.  When you click on the link below, the audio will appear in another window, but you may return to this window and follow along with the lyrics below:

Words by Ruth M. Gardner, Music by Vanja Y. Watkins
 I Love to See the Temple, words & music by Janice Kapp Perry
I Feel My Savior's Love, words by Ralph Rodgers, K. Newell Dayley, and Laurie Huffman, Music by K. Newell Dayley

I have a fam’ly here on earth. They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.
I love to see the temple. I’m going there someday
To feel the Holy Spirit, to listen and to pray.
For the temple is a house of God, a place of love and beauty.
I feel my Savior’s love in all the world around me.
His Spirit warms my soul through ev’rything I see.
For the temple is a holy place where we are sealed together.
As a child of God, I’ve learned Fam’lies can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s plan.
I always want to be with my own family,
And the Lord has shown me how I can.
The Lord has shown me… A family is forever.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Oh, What Songs of the Heart

I couldn't stop playing and singing this hymn when I found it last summer. The week that I began composing an arrangement, our Relief Society chorister highlighted it as a practice hymn and read the story behind it's beginnings. I thought that was an interesting 'coincidence'.
(The words are by Joseph L. Townsend and the music by Wm. Clayson.)

The Gift

As a family, we have been given many gifts from our relatives and friends. These gifts have been tokens of their love and support to us as well as their testimonies of our Heavenly Father’s plan. They have been gratefully received.

Let me share one story with you about a miraculous gift. It was just a few days after Josh had passed away and a dear friend, Wendee Butters, was at our home gathering up pictures and other items to be displayed at Josh’s viewing and funeral. I found many treasures worthy to share as I sorted through Josh’s art box, a collection of masterpieces that began before his preschool days.

There was one thing I couldn’t find though. It was a poem that Josh wrote in 6th grade called, “I’m”. A copy of it was bound in a book his teacher sent home with him on the last day of school and I knew we still had the book, somewhere. After looking in the art box, I searched the small drawer where I kept his grades and certificates. No luck. I then scanned the shelf where school yearbooks and journals are kept, without success.

I was unwilling to give up. I carried his art box upstairs and set it down on the rug in the entryway, pulling things out one by one. As I was kneeling there, the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, there stood Josh’s 6th grade teachers, Mrs. Donaldson and Mrs. Holmes. They offered their condolences and handed me a gift. To my amazement I held in my hand a wooden frame and behind the glass was a picture of Josh and overlaying the picture was a poem. Josh’s poem.

I'm green Virginia, never ending hillsides of grass.
I'm fishing, look I caught a bass!
I'm the brilliant red sunset, such a peaceful sight of light.
I'm city night with a mosaic diamonds bright.
I'm patriotic colors of red, white, and blue.
I'm excited, the ball is coming now, the goal's in view.
I'm flying way up in the sky, what am I? An airplane of course.
I'm galloping, running way fast; I want to be riding a horse.
I'm playing all day with my fantastic friend.
I'm with all my money, I either lend or I spend.
I'm jumping for joy when homework has ended.
I'm diving for toys and I'm really quite splendid.
This year Pluto escaped planet-hood.
I don't want to go on anymore, but I could.

Joshua Cummings (6th grade 2007)

It still amazes me that at the very moment I was kneeling broken hearted at the front door, seeking something small, yet precious to me, there appeared two angels with the gift I desired.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


From my Tender Mercies Journal ~ May 21, 2009 ~ Thursday

Yesterday I cried, on and off, and ended my day with a tearful prayer. I expressed to Heavenly Father my need to connect with Josh as well as the continued hurt I feel from regrets of not being a better mom. As I often do, I asked Heavenly Father to let Josh know how much I love and miss him, and I also requested that Josh know how sorry I am for the times I could have been more kind and patient. Humbly, I told Heavenly Father that although He has given me so many tender mercies, that I needed one more.

This morning, I thought again about two regrets that seem to haunt me. The Wednesday night before Josh died, I nagged him about taking out the garbages and when he didn't move on it fast enough, I declared a privilege lost, one that didn't match the 'crime.' I also chastized him on Friday when he resisted helping with yardwork. I remember asking ~ after he had apologized ~ "When are you going to change?!" I regret not "showing forth an increase of love". As all of this came to mind again this morning, I said (outloud, I believe), "Is this going to cause me pain, every week for the rest of my life?" I was talking to Heavenly Father. Why couldn't I let it go? Why couldn't I forgive myself? No answer came. I cried, blew my nose, got up and went on with my day.

This is a tender mercies journal, so you can expect the Lord heard and answered me, as He always does. It was while I was teaching piano lessons. Demi's mom needed to know when her last payment was, as she hadn't notated it on an assignment sheet, which is very unlike her. So, I got out my 5-year-old dayplanner, that I now use only as a ledger. Then, when Meredith asked me about my summer teaching schedule, I reached for paper on the piano that I could use to track my students availability. But, there wasn't anything, not even a blank assignment sheet. I noticed the dayplanner, still at my feet, so I thumbed through it. I saw a folded piece of paper with a short grocery list. So, I opened it, thinking, 'this will do'. To my utter amazement, there was a typed message. It was from Josh. It said:

Dear Mother,
I love you so much. I know we can be together forever. I am so sorry I haven't been too helpful.
I love u,
luv josh

I can't remember receiving this typed letter from Josh. He must have just finished 6th grade though, because that's when he and Nate pulled that big typewriter out of the school dumpster.

I like that it says "Dear Mother" and not just "Mom". I like that it says "I love you so much" and not just, "I love you." What made him, at that age, and in that situation write, "I know we can be together forever." And then his apology.

Is Josh so much like me? Has he prayed that I will know of his regrets, in hopes I'll forgive him of any weaknesses? Is he having a hard time forgiving himself? I find myself thinking, How silly! He was only a boy, not even finished growing up. Who could expect him to be perfect? Look at all the good he accomplished! Look at all the joy he brought into people's lives! Then I hear Josh say, "Mom, you're still a child, a child of God. No one expects you to be perfect. Look at all the good you've done, for me. I love you."

I can't help thinking, if there's one more lesson I can teach Josh, it will be how to forgive oneself. So I prayed. Heavenly Father, please take away this pain, the pain that comes from the regret I have of not being a better parent to Josh." And I cried, and I blew my nose, and I got up to finish my day, trusting more in the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

May 24, 2009 ~ Sunday

The Lord gave me a benediction, so to speak, to the tender mercy I received on Thursday. In Sacrament meeting, Cassandra S. gave a talk. She read a quote that was a gift of grace to me:

"We should also realize that feelings of guilt accompany grief ~ regret for things said and done. Guilt is useful only if it prompts us to repent. Though we may not be able to 'make it up' to someone who has left mortality, we can change our attitudes and plan for better eternal relationships."

Within the first week or two after Josh passed away, Genie Godfrey paid me a visit. She, like a few other friends, can do more than sympathize. I remember she held my hands and told me to think about how wonderful it will be to finish raising Josh during the millenium. I commented agreeably that the world will certainly be a better place. I could see in Genie's countenance that I was missing a main point. She tried again, "Think about what a better mother you will be to him." Understanding dawned. I knew even then that waking up to find Josh's spirit gone would provide me with better parenting tutelage than all my previous years as a mother. Now that a year has passed, I'm encouraged. I strive to be kinder, more patient, more attentive, more prayerful, and more grateful.

Cassandra's talk included the encouragement to 'plan for better eternal relationships'. I plan to do more than plan. I plan to improve my eternal relationships right now, every day. I have been lifted above the burden of guilt and am being held up in the realms of faith, hope, and charity. Thank you Heavenly Father for one more tender mercy.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Julie Hill

Julie Hill is a Tender Mercy. Over five years ago, we hadn't gone out house hunting, but a friend of mine drew me a map to our current home. A few days previous, a friend of Enos' from work, also encouraged him to see this house. I believed then that the Lord was working to have us move here, to this very spot, but I didn't know the whole picture. It's becoming more focused to me.

Besides being neighbors to
Julie, Enos and Cody were her hometeachers and I became her visiting teacher. Over the years, we've learned a lot about Julie and so much of it has to do with her son, Cameron. She has been open with us, about the pain of losing him (at age 15), but more specifically the strength that trial has given her.

She is just the person we needed right next door when we woke up to find our Josh was gone. She was the first one at our door after the paramedics arrived and she continued to be here whenever I needed her. That first week, she kept asking, "What else?" She had already done so much. Then she asked, "What about nylons?" My jaw dropped as I remembered I had snagged and thrown away my last good pair on Sunday, thinking I'd go out shopping that week. But it wasn't a week to go out shopping and I would need nylons for the funeral.

One day, within a week or two of Josh's passing, I was left home alone. I started playing the piano, but ended up crying and saying to Heavenly Father, "I don't want to be alone." In less than a minute the doorbell rang. Yes, it was Julie. She scooped me up in her arms and I couldn't hold back the tears and of all things, laughter. I was amazed at how in tune she was with the spirit. Through it all, I don't feel pressured to be strong for Julie. She is the one who has seen my tears and heard my sobs and held me through it all. I know she prays for me every day. I needed to live right here, right next door to Julie, who is now my visiting teacher. I love you, girl!