WIP-Wraping up the Search for Stories

The final week of the month is now devoted to updates on my works in progress (WIP.) I'm happy to share that I now have forty-two of the fifty Relief Society stories I need. The collection is coming together one experience at a time. I'm so excited for the day I'll get to share it with you, whether it gets a publisher or not, it needs to be read. As I go through each story, one after another, the voices of many sisters create a very powerful testimony of the love of our Savior and the power of God in the lives of His daughters. His work is very much alive.

As I wrap up my search for stories, I hope each of you will consider your own experiences one more time. Maybe you didn't have anything to share a few months ago, but time has somehow landed a tender memory or sweet experience in your life since then. Write it up and send it to me. The Lord is working in your life too. I'm certain we only need to look to see His hand. I can't wait to see these final eight stories. I'm setting my last deadline for June 9, 2012. Feel free to pass the info about the new deadline along to anyone else you know who may have a story.

Interview With Cynthia Joan Mitchell: Part 4

Today I'm posting the last question I asked Cynthia. I loved reading her responses and especially the stories she shared. Thanks so much for participating in this and many thanks to Cynthia for her enthusiasm and willingness to let us get to know her better. Click here for parts one, two, and three.

What is something no one would expect about you?

I was a baton twirler.  I don’t think anyone would expect that little bit of trivia, though I often feel like I fit the part.  You know…dimples… always smiling… and ‘oh so pleasant.’ 

I learned to twirl in the second grade.  I was painfully shy and felt quite invisible, but as I played with my baton during recess, it attracted attention.  Suddenly I felt I was unique.  I could do something others couldn’t.  I discovered that I loved to perform and twirling helped me overcome my shyness.  I carried my baton everywhere.  It took me into Jr. High School and gave me the opportunity to perform during basketball games.  I was feature twirler in my sophomore year of High School and head twirler for the squad during my Senior Year.  I made up and taught the routines to the other twirlers, and encouraged them to compete locally.  

This steel stick became a good friend, a bandaid for shyness, and also a useful weapon when guys I didn’t like tried to hold my hand.  Ah…the usefulness of developing a talent…gotta practice!  Who would have thought I would have carried that thing into my childbearing years!  As a stay at home mother I searched for ways to earn my own wages.  It occurred to me with the help of a friend, that I could actually teach baton twirling.  My motivational sales tactic was fessing up to my awkward younger years and revealing the story of how developing this talent helped me overcome shyness and build self esteem.  I was a woman with a mission…to help all struggling young girls become confident and realize they are special and have unique talents.  

I’ve had many rewarding experiences with some pretty fabulous kids, but I’d like to share one experience that I particularly remember that makes those ten-plus years of teaching very worthwhile: 

Sarah was eight years old and joined my Silverspinner School of Baton along with her younger sister, age five.  The five year old could do no wrong in her parent’s eyes; however I couldn’t help but notice the continual browbeating that was inflicted on Sarah.  Her parents constantly pointed out how cute the little one was and how clumsy Sarah was.  They’d tell her she wasn’t listening to me and ridicule her for that and I witnessed this girl slowly disappear before my eyes.  Finally, I put the kibosh on parents sitting in on lessons and decided I would undo the damage made to this sweet girl – whatever it took.   

From the moment she signed up for lessons, and for months after, she could not make eye contact with me and she continually stared at the floor.  But I worked with her, complimented her and acknowledged her achievements continually.  We were getting ready for what I called a ‘showmanship’ contest which allowed me to have my advanced twirlers compete against my new students…and the new girls could actually triumph over the advanced twirlers since the competition was based solely on showmanship.   

I had the girls marching in a square pattern, as John Phillips Sousa’s march played its cadence.  “Point your toes, head up, smile” I encouraged, then, I took the opportunity to comment on Sarah.  We’ll call it positive reinforcement.  I excitedly announced “Everyone look at Sarah!  She’s pointing her toes and has her knees up and looks really good.  Look at Sarah!  Her arms are swinging and her chin is up!  This is the way I want you all to look!  You’re doing a great job Sarah!”  All of a sudden, for the first time in the months since I began instructing her, Sarah looked up and made eye contact with me as she gave a big smile.  I was able to break through years of ridicule and self doubt for this one moment.  I can’t explain the excitement that came over me as I saw the light within this beautiful girl brighten.  What a wonderful gift to be able to witness such a change.  From that time on, during class, Sarah always looked up.  We saw eye to eye the beauty that comes with a little encouragement.  

If my high school friends knew I still twirled decades after graduating from school they might laugh.  But I believed in my cause and I’d witnessed young awkward feeling girls blossom.  I chased twirlers down parade routes to find out who their teachers were, and gathered them together to form the Baton Boosters of Utah, an organization to encourage baton twirling in Utah.  We held competitions, and even had an occasional “showmanship contest in the park”...just to give all girls an equal opportunity to shine.  It was gratifying on many levels, but nothing compares to the blessing I had of witnessing the miracle of transformation in a little girl named Sarah. 

Thanks again Cynthia!

Interview with Cynthia Joan Mitchell: Part 3

Welcome back to my week-long blog series with Cynthia Joan Mitchell. Click here for parts one and two.

How have your family's stories influenced you as a mother and grandmother?

I wouldn’t say my family stories have influenced me, but rather, that family members and the life experiences I shared with them have influenced me greatly.  Sadly, it seems we don’t recognize the most meaningful lessons from loved ones till they’re gone, but keeping special memories within our heart, keeps them alive and with us in a way.   From these experiences, I have learned valuable lessons in how to treat people and respond to different situations.

My father in his later years had lost much of his vision, and suffered dementia.  Both my parents had difficulty getting around, so with a sincere love for them, my siblings and their families’ got together, and we decided to build a ramp, clean leaves from the rain gutter and do yard work.  With the help of our families, we looked like a beehive swarming with activity.  Dad got up from his recliner several times and hobbled to the garage which was being cleaned and organized, and each time he was led back to his recliner and told “We’ll take care of it…you just rest”.  I will never forget the image of my father as I entered the house.  He was standing in the middle of the room with tears welled up in his eyes as he sadly said “They won’t let me do my thing…I’ve got to do my thing!”  My father has always been a tower of strength, and I have never seen him confused or upset the way he was as he stood before me.  He needed to help.  He needed to feel useful.  All we needed to do was put a broom in his hand and the story would have been much different.  

This experience has taught me how to really serve others.  We need to consider the circumstances and real needs when we offer assistance.  Sometimes we do a greater service if we allow those we serve, to assist.  Sometimes helping someone feel useful as we serve is the best service of all.
As mother of grown children, and especially as a grandmother, I feel I can make a lasting impact on my family if I keep treasured stories, memories, special experiences and life lessons alive by sharing them.  Recording these experiences within my journal is nice, but finding the right time to share these things with my children and grandchildren may allow these life lessons carry on. 

3) How about as a writer?

As a writer, I’ve been able to capture emotion within my stories by tapping into my personal feelings.  Mind you, this is not always a good thing.  I recently completed a children’s historical fiction about a pioneer girl traveling west with a wagon train.  I was feeling a little pain from a toothache, and as I wrote the next chapter of the book, oddly enough the main character’s mother had the same problem.  Back then, in the 1850’s the dental experience was not as enjoyable as it is today, so her tooth had to be extracted with tools that would make a grown man cry.  She ended up dying from infection that spread into her body.  The pain that Eliza, my main character, felt from the death of her mother was captured in the pain I felt when I lost my best friend.  The temper tantrum I long awaited to throw occurred within the pages of this book.  In fact, I can recognize several of my family experiences within the pages of this book as my own emotion swelled within the experiences Eliza faced.

Interview with Cynthia Joan Mitchell: Part 2

I hope you are excited to find out more about Cynthia. For part one, click here. Here is another question I asked her.

In your biography you mentioned that you've caught the Spirit of Elijah. What events lead you find so much joy in your family history? 

I became of member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at age 25.  As a new convert, everything was exciting and bigger than life, and this enthusiasm extended into researching my family history.  

My father’s parents died when he was 12 years old.  This was a painful experience for him and he never wanted to talk about it, so I asked my aunt if I could ask her questions about them.  When I showed up with my tape recorder, and list of questions, she just turned it on and we both relaxed as she shared memory after memory with me.  It was as if I could see the pages of history unfold before my very eyes.  Then she said, “You know, I just might have some papers you’d be interested in.”  She went into another room and resurfaced with my grandfather’s Catholic Baptismal Certificate and a couple letters he had written to his sister who stayed in Spain with his parents when he came to America.  All the documents were in Spanish and I couldn’t wait to have them translated, which gave me three generations of names I would otherwise never have had access to.  It doesn’t take a lot to light a fire under me.  This enthusiasm only increased as the kindled flames of the Spirit of Elijah grew as each new piece of my family history puzzle was discovered.  I never had the privilege of knowing my father’s parents, but as I transcribed the loving memories of my aunt, I grew to know his parents well.  I would even go as far as to say I would know them and feel our kinship when I see them in heaven.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.  I have a great grandmother (whom I never knew) who was the family historian of her time.  She did extensive research on my mother’s family line, and my appreciation of this labor of love is immense when I realize the difficult process she went through in writing to government officials, churches and such to obtain information.  Family history then was costly and a lot more time consuming as you’d wait and hope for responses to letters. 
I live in Utah, and whenever I went to Denver to visit my parents, I stayed in the spare bedroom in the basement.  Late at night, when the lights went out upstairs, the lights went on in my bedroom.  Mom had a bookshelf with multiple journals written by both my great grandmothers.  She also had a dresser drawer filled with old photos.  I stayed up into the wee hours of the night with pen in hand as I copied family history information onto the pages of my notebook.  As I read her journal one night, I discovered ‘my’ name written within its pages.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  She knew me.  Though we lived states away from each other, and I had only visited with her at the tender age of five while on vacation with my grandmother, she remembered me, and through correspondence with my mother and grandmother she kept track of my life.  From this moment of shocking realization, my love for her has grown immensely as I find I share her interests.  Through the pages of my great grandmother’s journals I found that she had a deep love for her Heavenly Father, she loved to write and she loved Genealogy. 

I think of her many times as I add new pieces to my family history puzzle, and with her help, I am seeing a much larger picture now.  We are connected through shared interests. 
My great grandmother was a postmistress and a teacher.  She also wrote columns for her local newspaper, sneaking in bits of family history wherever she could.  She was sharp as a tack as she worked on her family history well into her eighty’s; consolidating duplications and carefully pasting her final organized work into a large scrapbook.  She placed it into a box (along with her black shawl to cushion the precious contents) and wrote this note which she tucked into the cover of her scrapbook:  “I have completed my life’s work and now leave this with you to carry on.”  Though there are other members of her family it may have made more sense to mail this package to, she mailed her life’s work to my mother.

For years I pleaded with my mother to not throw away any family records, and if she ever wanted to get rid of them, to please let me have them.  With my family history research they would be of great value to me.

Years later, my mother decided to ‘de-clutter’ and finally agreed to let me have the journals and old photos.  I was thrilled beyond belief as I carefully packed these things into two large boxes.  Then my mother retrieved another box from the closet shelf and opened it up.  It contained my great grandmother’s scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings that contained family history, and two letters.  One was a love letter from my great grandfather to his wife stating he hoped the war would end soon so he could return to her.  The other was a letter to my mother from my great grandmother stating she had completed her work and made a copy to send on…and wanted my mother to keep the original records.  As my mother read this she stated “I don’t know WHY she sent this to ME!  Family history is the FURTHEST thing from my interest!  Instantly I had the realization, I know exactly why she sent it to you.  It was intended for me!

Doing the extensive work she did, and being the spiritual woman she was, I’m certain my great grandmother prayed as to what to do with her life’s work...her genealogy.  The Lord works in mysterious ways and the Spirit of Elijah is alive and well.  Is it any wonder I’m on fire with the love of this sacred work?

Women I Admire: Interview with Cynthia Joan Mitchell

I'm so excited for you to meet Cynthia Joan Mitchell. I was first introduced to her when she sent me a story for A Circle of Sisters. She's an amazing writer and I totally fell in love with her mother-in-law, who the story was about. Since then she's sent me several more stories and that left me both laughing and teary-eyed. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to hear she was willing to do this. Since the interview was long and there is just so much fun stuff to learn about her, I'm going to post bits of it through out the week. I hope you love getting to know her as much as I did.

Phase One: Lets Have a Little Fun

I asked my mom and little brother for suggestions for questions to ask. I bet you can guess how helpful that was. Here's what they ended up with:

1)What's your favorite color?  
Razzmatazz…really, Google it or look in your Crayola box.
2) Why? 
I just love saying it.
3) How does that color make you feel? 
Pretty flashy! 
It went on and on until it ended with this:
4) What song does your favorite color make you think of?
Wow!  I can’t think of one so we’ll just have to make one up.  Are you with me???
Sing along with any off key tune you can think of.  (That’s generally how I sing roll.)
Razzmatazz is so much fun
I like to say it when I run.
Razzmatazz makes me feel great
I’ll say it quick before it’s late
OoOoOH….Razzmatazz….You’re so fine!
I’ll sing this verse another time.
                                                       ….how was that???

Perfect. ;)

Honestly I was hoping to go a little deeper than that with my questions, but now that I consider the fact that Mom wasn't feeling well, and little brother is, well, little brother, I think I might have got better results consulting my four year old.
So now I will:

1)What games do you like to play? (He mentioned, transformers, or hunters, or Star Wars, just to give you some ideas)
I like to play Hide and Go Seek…You count to 100 and then come find me…don’t miss any numbers now!  Note: Pretty good game…With a good hiding place you can take a nice little nap.
2)Would you like to play transformers, or hunters, or Star Wars?
I would love to play Star Wars with you if you let me be Chewbacca.  He’s a little hairy but I think it would be fun to sway back and forth and make weird sounds.
He followed up with this "And that's all of the good questions I can give to tell you. I can tell you some more tomorrow." (No that is not a typo. He really said it like that.)
With that promise, I'll post my more serious questions tomorrow!

The Races We Run

I spent this weekend at the LDStorymakers conference. I think it was the best one I've been to yet. I'm excited to try all the new ideas I got. I met authors and editors and made new friends. One of the most exciting moments for me was meeting Kimberly Griffiths Little, author of The Healing Spell. I love the voice and imagery in her books. I picked up Circle of Secrets, her newest novel. She talked to me for a while when I went to get it signed. I think I've mentioned before that I've been surprised at how kind and helpful most of the authors I've met are. She was no exception.

This morning I decided to read a conference talk while eating breakfast. I read Elder Holland's "The Laborers in the Vineyard" from the April 2012 conference. As I read, I couldn't help but recall the writing conference and the atmosphere I felt there. Elder Holland talked about not envying others' successes. He said "We are not in a race against each other to see who is the wealthiest or the most talented or the most beautiful or even the most blessed . . ." 

When I think about life like that, I feel peace with my own steps and progress. In the writing world, its easy to be dragged along that race. We think, what if someone else has an idea similar to mine and gets it out there before me? What if I don't become the next Stephanie Meyers or even, what if the Publishers already have too many books being published this year? The list of doubts and worries goes on and on. I think these kinds of worries are found in other places in our lives too, not just writing.

The thing of it is, if we really trust Heavenly Father to have a plan for us, to be able to use us for what He needs, then none of that matters. If one person is changed by what we write, say, or do, then we've been an instrument in His hand. Elder Holland promised this: "There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized."

Maybe we won't be the next J.K. Rowling. Maybe the only success we have will be a single reader who was inspired by our work in progress. In the Eternal Plan of our Father in Heaven, I don't think He values any less our actions, kindness, or words, whether they reach millions or never go further than the baby wrapped in our arms.

Maybe this is why LDStorymakers is often remarked about as being different. Imperfect as we are, we all have felt that there is more to life than the money we earn (which is nice, I know,) or the fame we gain. God's work is about people, the one soul. Ours can be too, no matter what we job we do.

As an aside, I wanted to share this music video someone recommended to me this week. It's powerful and so beautiful. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It's called "I Will Rise."