Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

17
Mar

Heroes

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff

 

When we think of this word, I imagine most of us think of the firemen who lost their lives saving others in 9/ll. If we are of an historical frame of mind, we may think of the prototype—Odysseus in Homer’s, The Odyssey. Or we may think of a president we admire, a person who has mentored us, the founder of an orphanage in an underdeveloped country, an astronaut, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, Winston Churchill, or General Eisenhower. These people are all undoubtedly heroes. When we study their lives, we are influenced by their courage, their optimism which refused to lie down in the face of great odds, their ability to rally people and change their hearts—giving them courage.

I have a personal hero who dedicated the best part of his life to me and my survival. He came into my life unexpectedly and didn’t look like a hero at all. In fact, he was not even a member of the church and was somewhat tipsy at the time. But, he listened to a little voice which, oddly enough, told him that I was the woman he was going to marry. He came right over, and in a manner which I have since found to be totally antithetical to his character, introduced himself and laid all his life’s innermost secrets at my feet. I was a bit overwhelmed, thought him way too intense as well as far more handsome than anyone had a right to be (I had an innate sense of distrust toward handsome men), but used the opening to bear my testimony of the Gospel. He asked me to church. I declined. (The only church he knew of was a Presbyterian Spanish-speaking church, which may explain my reluctance.) However, since I lived in a distant city and had returned there, he began a letter-writing campaign and I learned that he was 1.) possessed of a quirky sense of humor, 2.) a devoted correspondent, 3.) trustworthy and completely honest, 4.) a poet, 5.) to be relied on in any crisis, 6.) a wonderful artist, 7.) for some unknown reason completely intent on my happiness. His presence was not intrusive, like that of a stalker, he was just making himself known and, after about six months, his letters became a fixture in my life.

Then he started calling. Every day. Several times a day. Then, seven months after our first meeting, he flew to Washington, D.C. from Chicago for our first date. It lasted all weekend. Oddly enough, I had broken a date with the man I was planning to marry to go out of town and check internship locations for the next year, just to meet this friend who had intrigued me. (That was the end of the other relationship!) My visitor went home, and in an action he had thus avoided in his long dating life, wrote a letter declaring his love. I fell apart. This could not be. When he asked innocently, "Why?", I told him it was because he was not a member of my church. His reply was, "You don’t know that I’m not going to join!" And that he did. Ten minutes into the first discussion, he gained a never wavering testimony of the First Vision. I was the first LDS person he had ever met.

What neither of us knew at the time of our marriage was that I carried the genes of a very serious illness. This man, my husband, David Vandagriff, was destined for a heroism that would try him to his very core (see I Need Thee Every Hour: Learning to Apply the Atonement in our Daily Lives, Covenant Communications). In the years before and during my illness, he served as a bishop twice and the member of a Stake Presidency with huge geographical bondaries. No one who has seen me ill, and then seen me well in the past five years (the woman he married) can believe that he had the compassion, the generosity, the strength, and the courage to descend into the bi-polar Valley of the Shadow of Death with me, many, many times, always gently pulling me back to some semblance of safety. This is not what he signed up for. He was married to a woman he didn’t know. This is how he describes it: The depression began to change her. The illness did not appear suddenly. G.G. was the sun in my life, and the onset of her illness was like an extended sunset. First, the color of the sun changes, turning slowly to red as it drops lower in the sky. Then, the horizon begins to take slices from that sun, one after another, and the sun grows smaller an smaller until it disappears from sight. In the sky, there is a glow, a memory of the sun, but soon that glow begins to fade. Shadows collect in ravines and behind rocks. Those shadows grow and spread, slowly covering the landscpe. Soon the world is dark, then black, and a long night begins. (I Need Thee Every Hour: Applying the Atonement in our Daily Lives,( Covenant Communications, 2010, p. 44)

That darkness lasted twenty-five years. Certainly, long enough for him to forget that little whisper, "That is the girl you’re going to marry"–the girl with the long brown hair in the ugly bridesmaid dress. It took him to places he never thought he’d go—psych wards, emergency rooms, therapist’s offices. He had to practice law, provide for his family financially and emotionally as I was sick most of my children’s years at home.

During those twenty-five years, he evolved from a happy man to a man of many sorrows and acquainted with grief. It was an Abrahamic trial. But, he did not overcome this trial on his own. After years of endurance, and times when he would have given up, but for timely intervention from the Lord and his helpers here on earth, David and I were both finally witnesses to my miraculous healing. I came back to him, not the woman who had left, but a woman much stronger and closer to my Savior in every way, having fought "tooth and nail" to stay alive.

But, the Lord gave me a hero, because he knew that’s what I needed. David didn’t see himself as heroic material. He definitely would have opted out if the choice had been given him before marriage. But he believed in covenants. He believed that if he did his part, the Lord would perform his—he would enable David to go on. And David did go on.

And we both learned that heroism comes, not from what we do ourselves, but for what we allow our partner and Elder Brother in suffering to do for us. Though there is an element of heroism in both our stories, for us there is one overarching Hero—our Savior, Jesus Christ.

4
Jan

In This World of Shifting Values, Where is My Foundation?

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff

My husband and I have been studying the topic of “faith” in great detail.  It seems that the circumstances of our lives have never been easy, and that one trial of our faith has instantly followed upon the heels of another.  You might say that we have been blessed with a “steep learning curve.”  This is undoubtedly because we are 63 and there isn’t much time left!  Seriously, I am sure that the real reason has more to do with the Lord’s desire to prepare us for the increasing trials of the last days.

A scripture during our study entered my heart with full force.

It occurs when Helaman is advises his sons Nephi and Lehi before they go out on their missions.  He said:  And now, my sons, remember, remember that is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yeah, his shafts in the whirlwind, yeah, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down into the gulf of misery and endless woe, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman5:12)

Following this advice from their father, the following event occurred during their missionary labors: And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, [their enemies]went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them. And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch theat they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear, lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned. (Helaman 5:23)

Now, of course, we may not be in danger of this literal burning, but what about the trials that face us in this day?

Will they cause us to be "dragged down to the gulf of misery and endless wo? Will "hail and a mighty storm beat upon us"? Will we be shafts in the whirlwind"

I am using this new year to quietly assess all my values and all the activities that I chose to use my precious time on. Are these activities building my foundation? Are they tied to my Redeemer? Or are they frivolous wastes of time, that have no connection to the daughter of God within me?

If my life, in every respect, is built upon the Savior, then I can expect to prevail, though the winds be strong, and the gulf of misery deep.

How do we build this kind of foundation?

As I attempt to do this, I realize that the first, and most vital key, is to listen to my Redeemer’s words and counsel, whether they be by personal revelation, through the scriptures, or (most often) through the words of the living prophets. My husband I have been doing companion study for several weeks now, studying the attributes of the Savior in depth, and evaluating our behavior next to his. We now feel we need to turn our attention to the great atonement sermons of Lehi, Jacob, King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, and Moroni. These will point the way to our achievement of our goal to take upon us the attributes of Christ. Next, as a companion to our New Testament study this year, we plan to read Jesus the Christ this year.

In doing this in the early morning, we have found that the practice sets our compass in the right direction for the whole day. We do first things first, and down our list of tasks with joy, because our daily goals have been made through consultation with the Savior in our morning prayer and scripture study.

When, on the few times that we have failed in this, we found we are blown about from task to task, achieving little, and certainly making no progress in building our foundation.

The second thing is prioritizing, and this is very important, because we both have ADD. We may get blown off track because our minds skip around so much, but we achieve extra help in staying on track through the Enabling Power of the Atonement (see Bible Dictionary under Grace), which helps us make up for our extensive weaknesses.

When things don’t go well (as often happens), we look back to the promise that the Savior gave through Lehi (and in many other parts of the Book of Mormon) and know that as we are attempting to build on a sure foundation, we will eventually be blessed, even if we have to go through the fire first.

For all of us, our lists of priorities will be different. But there are certain things that our prophets have told us must be the same:

 Love of the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength (which entails humility, repentance, prayer, meditation, studying about Him, and accounting for our actions, remembering Him each week as we take the sacrament).

The second great commandment the Lord has given us, requires moving out of ourselves: raising our families in the Light, and doing our visiting teaching, home teaching—bringing the Spirit of Christ into the lives of those for whom we are Christ’s hands. It also involves service, not only in our callings but "in doing many things to bring to pass much righteousness." Some of us may be ill (as I was for many, many years), homebound, or deluged with business, but if we are prayerful, the Lord will show us how this can be done, using His "enabling power" to increase our personal abilities.

 Our talents were given to us to magnify the Lord. As we spend time developing them and using them to build Zion, we are adding to our foundation, and blessing others.

As I plan my days with my little computer-generated task list next to my calendar, I pray that I will be sensitive in choosing between my comprehension of my priorities and the Lord’s. I pray that each day will meld me with more fastness to the Rock of the Lord.

18
Dec

How Much "Soul Space" Do You Have for Christ?

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff

Today my husband, David, and I viewed the Carl Bloch exhibit at the BYU museum of art.  It included several altarpieces ensconced behind “faux altars” constructed especially for the exhibit.  There were chairs placed in rows in front of these “altars” so we could sit and meditate upon the major paintings:  Christ in Gethsemane being comforted by an angel, the resurrected Christ holding a child to his side, and the resurrected Christ with arms outstretched, surrounded by people who were hurting either physically or emotionally, as though begging them to come to Him and find that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

We were tremendously moved by the exhibit.  As I commented to David, after our recent European travels, it was like a drink of living water to see paintings of Christ triumphant instead of all the variations on the crucifixion that we saw.  The painting of Christ praying in Gethsemane was the most personal to me and seemed to possess a genuine power about it that radiated the message “He is suffering for me, because of the things I did wrong, but also so He can understand my pains and sufferings as a mortal.” (Alma 7:11-12).  I felt as though the Savior himself endowed those tragic, painted eyes with life and a sense of benevolence.  “I am bearing this only because of how much I love you.  No one else can do this for you but me.”

As we left the exhibit,  we encountered a group of adults that appeared to be on an excursion from a group home for the mentally handicapped.  I immediately thought of how happy the Savior must be that someone had made the arrangements for them to take this outing.  I thought how happy it would make them to see the images of Christ.  Then a startling thought entered my head, “They know Him better than you do.”

A metaphor came into my mind.  I saw myself as a measuring cup, standing next to one of those mentally challenged adults.  I was filled, probably up to the two thirds mark with the blessings of an active intellect that understood many things of temporal importance, a husband who loves me, three healthy, happy adult children who are faithful, and two grandchildren who bring joy and happiness into my life.  I am average-looking, with no outward problems that might make people aware of my inward struggles.  I have enough to eat (too much!), nice clothes to wear, and a lovely home.  The reason I was only filled to the two thirds line and not all the way full is because I am mentally ill and always will be in this life.  I depend on the Lord daily that my medicines will continue to work, that we will be able to afford them, and that my skewed body chemistry will continue the same, so that we won’t have to start experimenting with medicines again as my life hangs in the balance.  I also depend on Him daily to make me a better writer than I am, to reach whatever level of talent He desires of me to celebrate Him unto this secular world.  Thirdly, and most importantly, I depend on Him for His atonement, which is the only thing standing between me and a life with Satan in the Telestial Kingdom for eternity.  Christ enables me by filling my cup to the full line, making up for me what I have no control over and can’t do myself.

The measuring cup of the mentally-challenged individual appears to me to be at the one quarter line.  He can see, hear, and feel, but cannot really make sense of the world as an ordinary adult.  He is living apart from family and will never have one of his own.  He appears different than other people.  He probably has no artistic talent that will contribute to the world in a recognized way.  Because of these shortcomings, three quarters of his soul can be filled with love for and dependence upon Jesus Christ.  If Christ were here this moment, one of these handicapped adults of His would go to him, would recognize Him, and He them.  These seemingly lacking individuals know in a practical, not theoretical, way all about the enabling power of the atonement.  This little group of people are alive and able to get from day to day through the grace of God. I suspect they know the giver of that grace in a way we don’t understand.

Years ago, when my children were growing up, we knew a Down’s Syndrome girl named Lori.  Like other Down’s children that I had known, some even in my extended family, Lori’s life and personality were a delight.  Her cup of joy was filled to overflowing.  She especially loved our oldest son, and embraced him heartily whenever he came to visit.  Lori eventually became Homecoming Queen of her high school.  As she walked across the stage during graduation, she held both thumbs up as the whole school cheered.  She recently friended me on Facebook.  She was so full of the Light of Christ that she made everyone around her happy.  Contrast Lori with another teenager, not so challenged, that you may know.  Likely, they are very self-conscious, full of undisclosed angst, worried about themselves and the state of the world they are inheriting.  Unless taught by parents or missionaries, they have no knowledge of Christ, and their self-absorption leaves no room for Him.

I have always secretly pitied really beautiful people, famous people, and fearfully intelligent people.  So many of life’s paths are smoothed for them that they have no outward need for a Savior.  They think their world is complete, that they are entitled to everything they have, just because of who they are.  Their characters can become hopelessly warped and narcissistic.  Ultimately, many of them make a horrible mess of their lives, for they are only intent on themselves.  They miss key signposts that point down the roads of self-sacrifice, a solid work ethic, hardship, and the limitations that would cause them to live their lives in such a way that would bring blessings to others.

During college, my husband was well acquainted with a very beautiful woman who was a gifted actress and went on to have a splendid career in television.  She was continually featured on the covers of all the women’s magazines, very vocal about the fact that her career came first, even after her daughter was born.  She left her TV sitcom, convinced that her star was brighter, that she was made for better things.  After starring in several box-office disasters, her career tanked.  I recently googled her and found a pitiful website bemoaning her failed suicide attempt, complete with photos of herself “in her prime.”

Contrast this with the tales we always hear from the missionaries about the people in underdeveloped countries who have almost no material possessions, but are cheerful, selfless, and quick to embrace the truths of the Gospel.  Among the early converts to the church, it was difficult to find anyone who was very prosperous in a material sense.

Because of their needs, they all had room in their hearts for the Savior.

As I have said many times in this forum of ideas, I count my trial with mental health as the greatest blessing in my life.  Were it not for that, I would doubtless never have learned to rely on the Lord to literally keep me alive from breath to breath as I battled PTSD and severe depression.  I wouldn’t have survived in a handcart company, but my testimony is similar to those who endured those trials.  I have come to know the Lord through my extremities. I am deeply grateful that my cup is only three fourths full of  "myself."  As I age and become subject to things such as hip transplants, sagging eyelids, and short term memory loss, I realize that I am actually pouring out some of "myself" with each new day.  Now I know why my old and bent sister/friends that I served with in the temple were so happy despite their widowhood, their poverty, and their poor health.  They had lost nearly everything they had and filled the void completely with the love of Christ.

I can only pray that I will live long enough to be so humbled.  In the meantime, I am going to try very hard to humble myself so that the Lord will be welcome in my soul, especially during times of happiness and prosperity!

1
Nov

PTSD: The Secret Storm in the Soul

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff

[This will be the homepage for a new website scheduled to be up on November 8]

I am a writer. I knew this long before I knew that I was a PTSD survivor. When I began writing the book that came to be titled The Pieces of Paris, I was in the process of learning to write "from my bones." Until that time, many events in my life were contained under a virtual lead shield. My conscious mind sent them into some dark spot inside me that I did not visit.

However, good writers are required to be emotionally honest. I had cultivated a cheerful, passive disposition, but when I began to write this book, I found myself writing a story about a deeply concealed trauma in my own life—the death of my fiancé in Vietnam. For twenty years, I had been having frequent nightmares and waking flashbacks as my nervous system mourned this heartrending loss in its own way.

As I endeavored faithfully to follow my characters through lives so interwoven with my own, I had a life-changing experience. As I sat down at the computer on what I thought was an ordinary day, I was shocked at what spewed forth from some hidden well inside me. Anger! Such anger that I had never felt anything like it in my life. It was the scene where the young man, drafted to serve in Vietnam, turns suddenly vitriolic, venting his real fears and rage on his hapless fiancée. He tells her that he is going to die—that she must get away from him, not wait, and that he is unilaterally severing their bond. He warns that if she does not leave him, she will have to watch him drown himself in the river. I wrote with tears pouring down my cheeks. Tears I had never cried for my lost love who, turning into a brutal stranger before my eyes, claimed, exactly like my character, that he would die in Vietnam.

It didn’t happen exactly like that. My ex-fiancé would endure a three-year coma, during which time I held him like a child in my arms and rained kisses and tears upon him. We cried together, his face contorted in sorrow. By the time he died, I had been married only a matter of months. Fearing disloyalty to my husband, I had never allowed myself to grieve.

I knew nothing about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had no idea that I was a ticking time bomb. From those moments of anger in front of the computer, my rage grew alarmingly. Too late, I became a Vietnam war protester, writing a livid novel that worked all those buried feelings out into the open. My natural grieving process had been stalled on the denial setting for twenty years. Now I experienced rage followed by soul-ripping anguish and despair. As happens to my heroine, Annalisse, my one-time fiancé stalked me. I could feel his presence. I could feel him watching everything I did. I came to believe, like Annalisse, that I was living life for the two of us.

Gradually, my feelings leveled out into normal sadness that continues to this day. It wasn’t for another ten years that I learned that in writing that novel (which I decided I could not publish) I had experienced what was called "PTSD."

But that was not to be the end. In my fifties, a bigger land mine inside me exploded with crying jags that seemed to have no trigger. They went on for months and would begin any time, any place for no discernible reason. Eventually, pain that had hidden under my lead shield from the time I was a child descended upon me with a ferocity that felt like crawling naked through broken glass. The full weight of every buried horror from childhood through adolescence visited me all at once. I held onto life by only a sliver of will. For twenty years, I had been living in a depressed state, but nothing like this had ever happened.

I know now, that there were angels in attendance who saved me. Living friends held me while I wept, and people from the other side of the veil of mortality intervened, carrying me along, sheltering me from self-harm until finally my rage and my pain were spent.

I said at the beginning that I was a survivor. But, I am more than that. I am victorious! Step by step, I felt my way to forgiveness of those who had caused my long-buried pain. I could not have done this without the understanding of a Savior (or as many would say, "a higher power") who stood as a perfect protector, friend, advocate, and mediator. As I became more devout in my understanding of Him and His plan, I began to make rational sense out of the world around me. My shield finally dropped away, and I learned for the first time to trust and to truly love. That shield that had kept pain in for so long, had also kept love out.

Once I felt that love and its honey-sweet healing power–from my Savior, my husband, my family, my dear friends–all I wanted to do was share it with the world. I had no desire so great as to heal people of the pain I had experienced. My tool was my pen (or my computer, to be more accurate).

Like I said, I am a writer. Tolstoy said that the task of real art is to carry the reader inside the author’s characters to such depth, that the reader will virtually experience everything the characters do. Recently, I realized that everything I have written is related to recovery from PTSD. My series of mysteries chronicles the recovery of a woman who was rejected by her parents and then lost her husband in a terrorist attack. ( http://ggvandagriff.com )The Last Waltz: A Novel of Love and War, is a story of another heroine’s progress from a starry eyed debutante in the Vienna of 1913 through the hell of World War One and its aftermath. Although she had no control over history, she had control over her reaction to it. Changing from the inside out, she came to know and to express the deepest reaches of that love that redeems.( http://last-waltz.com)

Then it was time to do something about that ancient manuscript about the Vietnam War. It was old news by now. In the rewriting of it, to bring it into the present day with a more timely trauma, I found deeper meaning in the journey of my characters. I realized that my opening paragraph, written far before I understood it, characterized PTSD perfectly:

It was the simple things that undid her, Annalisse had discovered. Something as ordinary as the scent of lilacs when the air was heavy, a brief measure of Tchaikovsky, or a dream. A dream like the one she’d awakened from last night—so real she could smell the Paris Metro in it. Any of these things could revive in a moment the memories she’d spent the last six years burying. They crept under the leaden shield around her heart and found the small, secret place where she still had feeling.

In Pieces of Paris, Annalisse and Dennis’s trial of their marriage became, with my added understanding, an epic similar to the first chapters of Genesis. They learned, as we all must, that there is no Eden in this life. When Dennis decides to put such notions of perfectionism behind him, he chooses honest love, just as we all must if we are to find the joy mortality has to offer. Love redeems, love purifies, and love makes us fit for heaven.

And, after all that’s said and done, life’s very purpose is to shape us, using pain as a tool to enlarge our souls so that we can serve as we are served and love as we are loved.

Do not ever put your life’s journey on hold, or cut it short. The best times occur along the way, as you come to know the higher power, and how magnificent and all-changing that power can be. As you take it into your lives and do your best to emulate it, you will enter a sphere of peace in this troubled world.

I think T.S. Eliot said it better than I ever could: In order to get to where you are to where you are not, you must go through the way in which you are not.

Courage. You are not alone.

4
May

Narcissistic Love vs. Real Love

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff

I recently realized that many of the male characters in my novels were narcissists.  Most of us know that this type of person is full of self adulation and grandiose self love.  However, one the  most deleterious characteristics narcissists is listed on on HealthyPlace: America’s Mental Health Channel (http://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/malignant-self-love/narcissistic-personality-disorder-npd-definition/menu-id-1471/)

"Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special and favorable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations"

I am well acquainted with this side of narcissism, as I was raised with it.  The problem was made more intense by the fact that my parents had opposing goals for me and so I was in constant danger of enraging one or the other of them.  However, this same article also claims that this kind of disorder is usually bred in people when they are very young as a protection against trauma or abuse.  I truly believe that that was the case with my parents, so I know rationally that I cannot judge them. 

The problem of many children of narcissists, including me, is that we confuse narcissism with love, as that is the only kind of love we are familiar with.  In my case, I was blessed with a husband who was as far from a narcissist as anyone could be.  However, it was an adjustment, because I was constantly looking to him for cues as to how he wanted me to behave.  He gave none, nor would he venture opinions on such things as how I dressed or wore my hair.  I had to adjust and find out who I really was apart from other people’s expectations.  It took me years to discover my own personality.

I suppose that is why narcissism always comes up in my fiction as a form of "false love."  However, my heroines are always strong enough to ward off the "love" of such men, continuing to be themselves.  And usually, though not always, the men guilty of this behavior, reform, learning over time to love the heroine more than their "ideal" of her. 

Romance novels are full of narcissistic men who are changed by their beloved objects.  Two of the greatest and most beloved classics, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, have the supreme narcissists: Rochester and Darcy.  And why do we love these novels?  Because they show the tremendous power of real love to redeem and change people for the better.  It has become formulaic. 

However, one needn’t look far in today’s society to see that this form of entitlement has become rampant.  I dated far too many narcissists who were shopping, like men in a grocery store, for just the right delicacy.  In my forthcoming novel, Pieces of Paris, my very likeable, but narcissistic hero has to face a common problem: his wife is nothing like the image of her that he had fallen in love with.  He must face the decision, usually summed up as "I didn’t sign up for this.  This is not the person I married.  Do I stay or do I go?"  And we weigh his character by his decision, as we do Rochester and Darcy.

In complete contrast with this, is Christlike love.  What is its greatest characteristic?  That it is unconditional.  That He does not impose His will upon us.  That we are free to choose.  And He loves us so much, that even if we choose wrongly, even if we harm others in our choices, He still loves us and still wants us to come back to Him, and so He provided a way, through His atonement, for the penitent. 

When seen in this light, the Love of God is mighty miracle.  And yet, I have seen it in my life.  When I turned out to have a grave illness and to be a much different person than my husband "signed up for," he did not leave me.  As mentioned before on this blog, he chose instead the heroic choice of honoring his covenants.  He stood by me and helped me to find wellness.  This is Christlike behavior.

And so, as I have been nurtured and loved by a hero, it is now my turn to forgive those who were unable to nurture and love me properly as I was growing up because of their own problems with receiving true, redeeming love in their lives.  It is my turn to forebear and forgive.

And that is why this theme of the reformed narcissist is a recurring theme in my fiction.

     

 

I was very interested to read the Church’s statement on what members could do to help mitigate the tragedy in Haiti. 

“Money is not the only need in Haiti. People are frightened, bewildered, and wholly uncertain about their future. In addition to what people can do in helping with food, water and shelter, there needs to be a calming influence over that troubled nation. We invite our people everywhere to supplicate God for a spirit of calm and peace among the people as urgent aid and reconstruction efforts continue” (lds.org/Newsroom 22 January)

The only balm for disaster in our lives is the Spirit.  I think of those patient, stunned children lying in the road in Haiti, too ill and dehydrated even to move.  I know they are traumatized, but I also know that they are not forgotten.  The Light of Christ is within them, and should they die from this horrendous event, they will be clasped in the arms of their Savior and know more love than they ever thought possible.

How can we apply this to our own, equally fragile lives?  Should we fear?  Should we be anxious?  The answer comes in the above scripture from the Lord to Oliver Cowdery.
Fear, doubt, sin, and pride .are the greatest stumbling blocks to faith.  So, as part of following the standard advice, “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear,” we need to concentrate not only on disaster preparedness, but most importantly on spiritual preparedness. 

It is past time that we set our spiritual houses in order.  For many years, I was beset by fear and anxiety that totally crippled me, and prevented me from gaining the faith I needed to be healed from a long illness. I had repented and continued to repent from every sin I could think of, and my illness had humbled me to the dust, but I held on to my fears.  I could not give them up.   However. the more I came to understand the atonement, the more I realized that to “look to me in all things” meant that we had to develop trust.  We aren’t looking to Him in all things if we are concentrating on our checkbooks, our children’s faults, the news of the world.  Looking to him in all things means literally that.  It is a form of consecration. Consecration of our hearts, souls, and minds, so that we are conditioned to pray each day about all our fears, worries, and concerns and lay them all on the altar, summoning the faith in the atonement to know that “I can do all things through Jesus Christ which strengthened me.”  If we truly take this as our watchword, we will have the faith necessary to feel the peace of the Spirit, and will be enabled through the grace of the atonement of our Elder Brother to endure what must be endured, and to do what must be done.

I learned this lesson in a very dramatic fashion.  As soon as I finally understood the reality of grace to help me trust my Savior in all things, I put my whole life’s worth of worries and fears on the altar.   I felt them physically leave my body.  My chest was no longer constricted.  My breaths were no longer shallow.  And then, within the week, the new medication that dramatically healed me was found and administered to me by my doctor.

A habit of a lifetime of worry cannot be easily overcome, so I spend many hours in the Celestial Room, trying to be very quiet in my heart and soul so that I can identify new worries and give them to the Lord.  At the same time, I often receive instruction.  But, always I leave with the warmth of the Spirit comforting me, validating in my mind and heart that no matter how things appear to me, the Lord of the Universe is in control.  I leave my doubt and fear at the doors of the temple, and strengthened beyond my own capacity, go out into the world and do what is requisite for the mission and responsibilities the Lord has given me.

30
Nov

What Lies Behind the Fantasy Craze?

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff

It is no news that ever since Harry Potter, fantasy books have been in high demand. New authors are sprouting up all the time. Adults are even reading children’s fantasy books, and the adult fantasy market is burgeoning. Why?

Obviously, people are looking for escape from the world they live in and are looking for alternate realities. What characterizes these realities? Almost all of them have a clearly defined sense of good and evil—something that is missing in today’s society. Good and evil still exist, of course, but they are not acknowledged. In the fantasy world, there is no such thing as political correctness!

People are hungry for heroes. So often fantasy has "Christ figures"—a character who will perform an act that will set the fictional universe to rights. By the number of people who crave these stories, it is quite obvious that we possess an internal archetype that knows good and evil and believes in the possibility of redemption. So, while politicians and media pundits are trying to eradicate a belief in absolutes, people are buying more and more books that deal in absolutes.

If the world we live in today were a fantasy, how would things be made right? It is certainly possible that an author would allow things to play out until they became much worse. Until we were on the brink of total annihilation. Then there would be an apocalyptic ending, where the evil are destroyed and the good redeemed.

My novel, The Last Waltz, (http://last-waltz.com) tells the first half of this story, the decline and fall of Austria as a world power that eventually embraces fascism. Something that isn’t very well understood is that Hitler was seen as the hero of the fantasy that all could be restored to rights. Only a very slim part of society saw Hitler for what he really was. Watching the film "Triumph of the Will" reminds me of a scene in Star Wars where the evil Emperor’s storm troopers are marching on display. It is indeed chilling, and one can see how so many people were deceived by its pageantry.

Germany and Austria’s intellectuals, who might have saved the day, had given up on God and morality and embraced decadence as a way of life. After the horror of World War I, they could no longer believe in the code of ethics that had guided Europe for so many hundreds of years.

This disenchantment with the past also gave rise to socialism as an answer: let’s demolish the class system and nationalism altogether. The socialists represented an alternative to fascism that was very attractive to many intellectuals, including Americans who fought with the Communists in the Spanish Civil War in the early ‘thirties.

So history tells us that we must be careful when we choose our heroes. And the present day preoccupation with fantasy tells us that we must be careful not to confuse fantasy with reality. If "thinkers" give up on the real world, who will save it?

11
Oct

Florence-Day 5, The Sabbath

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff

This is going to be a different kind of post.  I apologize beforehand if it offends anyone.  However, the massive good will and spirit we felt in the Firenzi Second Branch this morning, was thoroughly bludgeoned by reading an article by my favorite columnist, Charles Krauthammer called “Decline is a Choice.”  Being “out of the world” these few days has been heady and exciting, however Krauthammer’s words recalled me to the state of things in my own coutry.  Decline of power may be inevitable (though Krauthammer says it isn’t, despite our present direction), but what I lament is the moral decline.  I am glad most WWII vets are dead or dying so that they don’t know the hell that they trudged through so heroically was “morally wrong.”  I hope that anyone who doesn’t believe evil exists, will take a refresher course and read The Last Waltz.  Fascism was born in a world where people had given up on morals, largely because of the waste of life that was World War I.  Germany’s revenge focused on the Jews and the Slavs as their worst enemies.  We know about the wholesale slaughter and the death camps.  They were unconscionable.

But what about our own society?  What have unborn fetuses ever done to us?  Surely, in all the world, they are the most innocent of beings.  Yet they are being murdered by the millions.  This is not a political choice, it’s a moral choice, and that’s what worries me about America.

The only choice we have really is to change our own hearts to be submissive to Christ, and to preach this unpopular doctrine everywhere we can.  We must be courageous. We need not be angry about political misdeeds, and resigned to our own downfall.  We must continue to do good, to be righteous, not to be ashamed of our Savior, even if it is “politcally incorrect.”

Those of us who are writers are in a unique position to teach truth.  And all truth is centered in Jesus Christ.  Let’s not lose our perspective in this climate of rage and fear.  Let’s take a leaf from our prophet’s book and “be of good cheer,” spreading that cheer as broadly as we can.

It has been many generations since we, as a Church, have needed the kind of individual relationship with the Lord that we need now.  Each of us must internalize guidance from the Spirit to keep us optimistic and headed in the right direction to build the Kingdom. This is a critical time.   There is something required of each of us.  That something can most often be found as we fight to overcome trials and in doing so forge the faith that the pioneers had.  Our true identities do not become clear while we are living a life of ease.  They only become clear when our way has become so difficult that we must take the Savior’s hand and follow him through the rocky terrain.  The feel of our hand in His, the presence of Him in our lives, will sanctify us.  If we stay true to the covenants we have made to sacrifice and consecrate, we will find that we have power for good that we never dreamed of.

Nephi said, speaking of our day: "And I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant  people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory." (1 Nephi 14:14)  Where do we become the "covenant people of the Lord?"  In the temples.  So as riots rage, and tempests storm upon the wicked, if we are faithful temple-goers, we will not only be spared, but even t in our scattered state we  will be armed with righteousness and with the Power of God in great glory."

In the temples.  So as riots rage, and tempests storm upon the wicked, if we are faithful temple-goers, we will not only be spared, but even t in our scattered state we  will be armed with righteousness and with the Power of God in great glory."

The most important thing I did today was not to fear and tremble.  The most important thing I did today was to take the sacrament and remember my covenants.

23
Sep

What Makes a Historical Novel Great?

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff

[I had to write an article for a magazine for my SEO tasks, and this is what happened.  Thought I would share it with you, after adding the last two paragraphs]

I grew up on a diet of historical novels, mostly the romantic with a small r kind. However, when I graduated to the classics, I knew I had found my real genre. "I was born in the wrong era," I thought.

And then, I became a writer, and I entered an historical era of my dreams, tip-toeing softly, gathering atmosphere, facts, foods, language—a zeigeist entirely different from my own pedestrian existence. And, still I didn’t get it right. It wasn’t until I studied why those classic novels were great that I could dare to presume to publish The Last Waltz.

Tolstoy, Hugo, Dostoevsky, Gaskill, Bronte, Austen—what made them so great that they still continue to be relevant, dramatized, and studied? I truly believe the answer is that they wrote of redemption of character. The authors believed in a universe where the hard questions of life had answers. They believed in right and wrong.

Margaret Hale, of Gaskill’s North and South, is my favorite heroine. Up against the hard questions posed by the English Industrial Revolution—class barriers, poverty, and greed—she managed to redeem all those in her small circle of existence with her love and her righteous principles. Her influence traveled beyond her circle and redeemed strategic characters in an industrial town in Victorian England. This was not a fairy tale. It was very real, because it depicted love as it really is—a devotion that acknowledges flaws, but works past them, appealing to the innate goodness of man. Elizabeth Gaskill believed in innate goodness, as did Tolstoy, Hugo, Bronte, etc.

Why is it that the current young generation is turning to fantasy literature in overwhelming numbers? Because fantasy worlds are built on the existence of good and evil. Until this age of relativism, that was the nature of art. And deep within, we still know this.

World renowned critic, John Gardner, explains this far more eloquently than I, in speaking of my favorite author and his work. "Leo Tolstoy knew about the universe of despair and endured a perhaps similar spiritual crisis [to that of Sartre], a crisis certainly profound and all-transforming. He came out of it not with a theory that every man should make up his own rules, asserting values for all men for all time, but with a theory of submission, a theory which equally emphasized freedom but argued that what a man ought to do with his freedom is be quiet, look and listen, try to feel out in his heart and bones what God requires of him—as Levin does in Anna Karenina, or Pierre in War and Peace."(Gardner, John, On Moral Fiction, Basic Books, Inc.: New York, p. 25)

Gardner further asserts that great art always builds, seeking to improve life, not debase it.

Why was Les Miserables one of the greatest stage productions of the modern era? Because it was heroic. It made us believe and embrace the idea that man could change, could be redeemed, could love enough to want to sacrifice, even in a time of great blackness and despair. Though the mid-nineteenth century French revolution failed, Valjean was victorious in his heart and soul.

So when I wanted to write a novel about the triumph of the soul in dark times, I took a lesson from the Greats. I set it in the past, where it would not be unfashionable. Is it too late for us? Genre fiction still deals with good and evil. Should not literary fiction take a lesson from the popularity of such books, possibly even finding a mission there?

Certainly, we as LDS authors and readers should. Remember the Orson F. Whitney prophesy: "We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. God’s ammunition is not exhausted. His highest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God’s name and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven, though its foundation may now be low on the earth." ("The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord," Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, 1976.)

Inspired by this quote, the LDStorymakers have instituted the Whitney Awards for excellence in fiction. Why not support those LDS writers most in keeping with this revelation by going to http://www.whitneyawards.com and nominating your favorite books?

3
Jul

The Fourth of July

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff

By G.G. Vandagriff

 

On this fourth of July, our country is once again in its history at a precarious crossroads.  One of the many themes in my recently published novel, The Last Waltz, is how democracy was lost in Austria.  The Austrians tried to make a democracy out of imperial remnants, while we Americans have made it out of whole cloth.

In Austria, they were used to having a “divinely appointed” emperor who controlled absolutely.  In America, our founders took care to specify God as our king, and made the people free to elect their own rulers, who would only rule under a complicated system of checks and balances.

As America has secularized, most people don’t go to God anymore to work out their problems.  They expect the government to do it, to make things right.  And so they have elected representatives that believe in big government.  When one party rules the senate, the house, the presidency, and the judiciary, we have what is almost a dictatorship, whether it be from the right or from the left.  Everything depends on the righteousness and wisdom of those in power.  But when these people have divorced themselves from the principles of the founding fathers, then they take the constitution hostage.  This is the same road the European nations have traveled.  They are all secular socialist countries.

We started out with so much wisdom on that Fourth of July long ago.  Let us return to the principles that made our nation great.  Let your voices be heard in favor of true democratic principles.