Sunday, June 24, 2018

Family Dream

I realized that my two cats with terminal conditions may be on their way to the rainbow bridge sooner than I'd like. I realized that although I am following the Spirit moving back to Upstate New York, I am sad to leave Olympic National Park so far away. I also realized that while the Lord blesses us all, I may never find a partner to share my life with. 
I wept and prayed. I knew that Christ understood the loneliness better than I ever could and asked Heavenly Father to help me remember the loneliness that Christ felt throughout his life. 
He sent me a beautiful dream of my parents and siblings gathered around the Christmas tree in our tiny home when we were young. I was so happy to see my deceased mother, as I had not dreamed of her for a very long time. We were singing, "I Am a Child of God." I woke with a great sense of peace that I am never alone, and when I am sealed to both parents and my deceased brother my link to my ancestors will be very real. It is a great comfort to my sorrow.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen


I knew I would grieve.

I knew I would be sad.

I did not know grief would wrap me in a cold blanket and drag me to the bottom of a frozen lake. I did not know it would rob me of my very desire to breathe, to move, to think. I did not know.

I did not know clothing would hurt. I did not know.

I did not know I would be so tired. I didn't know I would be so lonely. I did not know I would not care.

About anything.

I did not know that food would taste bad. I did not know that cooking was a burden. I did not know chewing was exhausting.

I did not know moving would hurt. I did not know walking would exhaust me. did not know turning over in bed would be impossible. I just did not know.

I did not know I could fit so many dirty dishes in the sink. I did not know that cat boxes could smell so bad. I did not know I could look at cat puke and walk on by. I just did not know.

I did not know that I could carry on day after day, feeling this burden that would break me weigh on my heart. I did not know that I could smile for some one and lift their hearts, then return to my own shattered abyss.  I did not know.


I remember a saying from a Dine woman on the CBC show, "North of Sixty." She said, "Its good to cry when things change.

The tears started when I planned to donate my field guides of the Pacific Northwest and Olympic National Park. How can I move so far away from my beloved Olympic green mountains and coastal rainforest? How can I truly move back to Upstate New York?

I have to let myself grieve. Although I trust the spirit I am following, I am sad. Although I love the job I am leaving, I am sad. But, although I am doing a hard thing, I am going. And I am sad.

So, its good to cry when things change.

This move has been brewing for many years. I long for music of the crickets at night, the cicadas at noon. I yearn for the taste of winter on the wind and the crack of summer thunder. I ache for the silence of remote graveyards; the sunset over distant hills. I crave New York.

Home. I am going home. The home I didn't want to leave for the life I had to live. I can go back now; it's time.

Big Changes

Last fall I decided to move from my home in Washington State back to Big Flats, New York, on my beloved Allegheny Plateau. I had been missing home for many recent years, and the thought that I could perhaps live more cheaply and not have to work for my mortgage was very appealing. Plus, Dad had been gone for 8 months already and my step-mom was living alone. She still is; her health seems to be stable. So, I made the decision...and it was tough.

As I look back, I had really been making this decision for the last 5 years. When I finally said it out loud to a colleague last June, I felt like I had given birth. A burden was lifted. I admitted to myself in real words with real intent that I wanted to go back home.

And so I struggled.

I had accepted a position as a chemistry teacher at our brand new district high school... a job for which I was trained but had never actually done. I worked in an alternative program for 16 years and wanted to try something new. I was terrified. The staff, school culture and diversity got me through the year. It was a good, hard year.

And now the burden is lifted. I go to clean my classroom out tomorrow and say goodbye to my newest dear friends. I cried last week when my students left. Some of them cried, too. When my supervising administrator asked me what I was proudest of this year, I replied, "I tell the kids every day that I love them....and some days they tell me they love me back."

An adventure in love is what this year really was. Loving my content, loving my students, but most of all loving myself, and allowing myself the bravery to change.

So, here's to a good, hard summer...of packing and cleaning the house, accepting a good offer on it, signing the sale papers and road tripping back to New York! With two cats, no less! (And hopefully a friend and her dog.) Should be a marvelous event in history!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Modern Day Pioneers

In the July 2013 First Presidency Message, President Thomas S Monson asked “Can we somehow muster the courage and steadfastness of purpose that characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers? I know we can be. Oh, how the world needs pioneers today!” (1)

You are a pioneer 


Martin Luther King Jr. said“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” 

In our most recent General Conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook said. “Faith is a principle of power.” (2) He goes on to describe the story recounted in Luke, chapter 8, where a woman who in 12 years had exhausted all her resources and suffered from an illness of the blood, pressed toward the Savior in a crowd. She had the faith that if she could touch him she would be healed.  When she succeeded, her illness was instantly cured. 

46 And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.
47 And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.
48 And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.

How many times in life have we taken a first step? How many times have we walked into the unknown, seeing only that first step before us, the direction laid out but the end not in sight? I believe many times. My most memorable first step was that of baptism into the Lord’s church. I could not see all the sweet things in my life that true conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ would bring me, but I knew that if I chose to make the one right decision of being baptized I would be on the correct path. That decision, to act on my faith in the testimony of Jesus Christ has shaped and will shape the remainder of my life. Faith is powerful first step.

Brothers and Sisters, I ask you to take that first step.

You are a pioneer.


British Author, Douglas Adams, says “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.

In October General Conference of 1989, Elder Dallin H. Oakes said, “In every nation, in every worthy occupation and activity, members of this church face hardships, overcome obstacles, and follow the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ as valiantly as the pioneers of any age. They pay their tithes and offerings. They serve as missionaries or as Church Service volunteers, or they support others who do so. Like the noble young mothers who postpone the pursuit of their personal goals in order to provide the needs of their children, they sacrifice immediate pleasures to keep commitments that are eternal. They accept callings and, in the service of others, they willingly give their time and sometimes their lives.

“They do as the Savior taught: They deny themselves; they take up their crosses daily; they follow Him. (See Luke 9:23.) These are those the Savior likened to the seed that fell on good ground: “in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, [they] keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15.)

“The fruits of the gospel issue from every honest and good heart, without regard to past origins or current positions in the Church.”

We have all served, both in and out of the church. Sometimes we serve with  ease and joy, and this is good. But sometimes when we serve we can be tired, uncomfortable and downright irritable. It is then we must step back from ourselves, put off our selfish nature and do for others what they cannot do for themselves. It is then we will truly find Christ in our lives and emulate the stalwart spirit of the pioneer.

Brothers and Sisters, I ask you to serve with sincerity and integrity.

You are a pioneer. 


Latter-day Saints strive to be obedient to the laws of the Gospel.  The commandments instruct us on matters of duty to God, personal morality, family relationships and interactions with all God’s children. Collectively, they construct the ultimate user’s manual for our mortal and immortal existence. While you seek to keep the commandments yourself, others will observe your example and gain testimony from it.

There are many voices seeking to pull us from the user’s manual, telling us we can find short-cut and alternate directions in diverse places. Some disregard the user’s manual altogether and seek out other instructions, the results thereof being disappointment and fleeting sensation.  Sometimes, by our actions, we can encourage others to follow the wrong user’s manual.

I love this quote from British author, Catherine Aird,   “If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.”  

When Lehi saw the vision of the Tree of Life, he was the first of his family to reach the tree and partake of the fruit. Then he looked for his family and invited them to come to the tree with him. Not all of them came. Some did: Nephi and Sam and Sariah. But others did not, as they listened to the voices which pulled them away. Thus, we now consider this choice of Laman and Lemuel as ‘a horrible warning.”

President Monson has said, 

“We are surrounded by persuasive voices, beguiling voices, belittling voices, sophisticated voices, and confusing voices. I might add that these are loud voices. I admonish you to turn the volume down and to be influenced instead by that still, small voice which will guide you to safety. Remember that one with authority placed his hands on your head after you were baptized, confirming you a member of the Church and saying, “Receive the Holy Ghost.”  Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that special voice which testifies of truth. As the prophet Isaiah promised, “Thine ears shall hear a word … , saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.”  May we ever be in tune, that we might hear this comforting, guiding voice which will keep us safe. (4)

Brothers and Sisters, I ask you to be good examples.
You are a pioneer

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

While serving his mission in the Holy Land, people often marveled at the Savior’s willingness to forgive. Of course, he had the authority to forgive sins, but why was he so willing to do it? The answer is in His holy purpose in the plan of redemption: to be the sacrificial lamb for his brothers and sisters, who, if they repent, could be cleansed through his atoning sacrifice. And while those he taught then (and even us today) struggle to understand this great love, he has commanded us to repent and be partakers of eternal salvation.

Elder Oakes again says:

“One of the most Godlike expressions of the human soul is the act of forgiveness. Everyone is wronged at some point by someone, and many suffer serious wrongs. Christians everywhere stand in awe of those pioneers who have climbed that steep slope to the spiritual summit attained by those who have heeded the Savior’s command to forgive all men. (See Matt. 6:14–15; D&C 64:9–10.) Forgiveness is mortality’s mirror image of the mercy of God.

“…many modern Saints do their pioneering on the frontiers of their own attitudes and emotions. The proverb says, “He that ruleth his spirit [is better] than he that taketh a city.” (Prov. 16:32.) Modern Saints know that one who subdues his own spirit is just as much a pioneer as one who conquers a continent. (3)

Forgiveness need not be a mountain we cannot climb, or a soft word we cannot speak. While some waste useless energy on harboring grudges and anger, others find that forgiveness needs to be awarded often and wholeheartedly. Sometimes we do not know that we have need to forgive others until distasteful or unkind memories surface, but we can forge through pain and sorrow to feel the blessed relief and Godliness on the other side.

Brothers and sisters, I ask you to be strong.

You are a pioneer.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Laying Dad to Rest, January 14, 2017

We celebrated Dad's life today and he was laid to rest with full military honors in Big Flats, NY. The service was beautiful and Dad was honored and remembered by many friends and family. Sometimes I think I will wake up and find this has all been a bad dream, but the shared bonds of sorrow that we have experienced declare that this is an inevitable rite of passage of all families; to put their patriarch to rest and move forward in sweet memory. 
See you on the flip side. Rest well, Dad, after all your long years you've made've crossed the bar. 
Crossing the Bar, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea, 
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home. 
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark; 
For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Many of you have captured Pokemon today. Many of you have captured free Slurpees from 7 Eleven. I have not captured anything today. For me, it has been a day of quiet remembrance of the woman who gave me life.

While growing up, July 4 started a week of celebrations...fireworks for America, a birthday cake for me on July 7, and then 4 days of sneaking around until my mother's birthday on July 11. My dad would shuffle us off shopping or out of the house to share his birthday plots with us. It usually involved something blue, being wrapped in blue and tied up with blue, as blue was my mother's favorite color. 

We'd always ask her what she wanted for her birthday, but she always said, "I don't need anything." Isn't that just like a mom? We kids could have been nicer to her, done our chores, stopped fighting and picked up after ourselves. Somehow we never thought of that, though. I seem to recall getting her things like perfume, blue soaps and blue nightgowns. She was always pleased with what we got her and never complained.

So today some of you may share her birthday, and while I remember her, on what would be her 85th year on earth, I am happy that I can remember you at the same time. It makes me smile, and although that does not assuage the guilt I have of being an unruly, ungrateful child, I know she would smile, as well, knowing that you share that special day with her when you came to earth.

Happy Birthday, Mom! It's been 40 years since I've seen you, but every time I see a blue soap or nightgown I think of you and how much I miss you. I love that I had you in my life for 16 years and that you were my biggest fan. My poems, my songs, my stories...all of them I wrote with the idea that you would be proud of me. I love you.

Penny Lee Soutar copyright July 11, 2016