Category Archives: Musings on Life and Beauty

Extraordinary Ordinary

A pile of ordinary seashells.  I’ve been collecting them for almost 40 years.  Southern California beaches aren’t known for beautiful seashells, but as a young girl it didn’t matter how ordinary they were – to a child from Colorado they were treasures, beautiful little miracles totally unlike anything I’d seen at home.

Extraordinary ordinary shells.  The experience of walking, looking, bending, holding, examining, wondering about these shells became my greatest pleasure on our annual trips to the ocean, and it never lost its charm.  I still find myself examining these ordinary shells with a wonder that makes them extraordinary to me.

Yes, they are similar and there may be hundreds of them strewn across the sand.  But if you really look closely no two are the same.  Each has slightly different markings, color, chips, scuffs, symmetry and irregularity.  The more you look the more you find as each shell becomes something to marvel at.

People are like this.  We come in different shapes, sizes and colors, yet we are so like one another.  Most of us are simply ordinary people living ordinary lives, spending much of our time doing ordinary things.  And yet we’re not.  If time is taken to examine any one of us we will find an extraordinary story just waiting to be heard, an extraordinary person hoping to be loved.  We find that we are unique and of infinite worth.   We are extraordinary ordinary people.

My shell collection over the years has expanded to include larger, more exotic shells I purchased and enjoy displaying during summer months.  They are beautiful and unique as well, but somehow it’s the common shells that really capture my heart.

I’ve kept them on my kitchen table all summer, a reminder that people matter, that everyday moments matter, that the ordinary is extraordinary, that I’ve got to keep my eyes open so I don’t miss the simple beauties of family life, so I can see people for who they really are.

Our world feels so torn up right now:  natural disasters, sickening reports in the news, so much suffering and death and loneliness, disagreement among decent people about how to fix it all.  I worry that in the tension and stress of everything we may forget that the ordinary person on the other end of the interaction is more like us than different, someone worth getting to know, someone whose story and perspective matters.  My shells are all just that:  simple shells, but each made their own journey to the beach.  We are simple people, each on our own journey through life.  The journey matters.  We matter.

My family and I received a gift of mercy recently at the hands of two ordinary people who began as strangers, but a few hours later were people I’ll never forget.  The string of very simple things they did, motivated by a sincere desire to understand and do the right thing – to be good – became a powerful act of kindness and mercy.  I’ll never forget it.  We all have power to do this in our individual sphere of influence.

We are extraordinary ordinary people.

Today I re-dedicate myself to living in a way that honors this truth.  I commit to love my family, to love and serve my neighbor, to see the good in others, to be kind to a stranger.  My prayer is that my simple efforts can help infuse the world with a little more goodness and love.  Will you join me?


Lessons from the Beach

No summer is complete for our family without a trip to Newport Beach, California.  I love it because it’s a calming week for me.  We slow down, I get to park my car for several days without touching it, and as we all relax into vacation life I learn lessons from the beach.

My favorite activity is my long early morning walks along the water’s edge.  I love waking up early to enjoy the low tide and this summer a few of my children requested that I wake them so they could join me.  We had some wonderful early mornings discovering sea life, exploring holes in the sand, and hunting for seashells.

During low tide we explore the landscape that remains when the water recedes.  We see how the beach has changed, hunt for sea life that is usually submerged in water, and best of all – we learn what gifts the sea has to offer that day.

Visiting the beach is “low tide” in my life, and these walks at literal low tide remind me how wonderful it is to have a small break and reflect on the changed landscape of my heart.  As my hungry eyes take in the tranquil setting, I begin to sift and learn from the pounding we take during everyday life in Utah.  This is where I learn lessons from the beach.

This summer I learned four lessons:

First:  The waves keep coming.  Sand shifts, dips appear in new places on the ground, shells are washed up and swept back away.  The beach is a new place every day, and by day’s end it is not as it began.  It’s always changing, renewing, and yet it stays the same.  Some waves are gentle, some powerful, and occasionally they’re overpowering.  Some days the water is like glass, other days it’s choppy.  But the waves keep coming.  This lesson reminds me that every day is a new adventure – I can expect to get slammed sometimes and to struggle to keep up with how swiftly things are changing.  Change keeps life fresh and new, yet the basic patterns of life are predictable and comforting – the sun will set and in the morning it will rise to bring a new day.  I get to keep trying!  We as people change so much and yet we also stay the same.  Life will keep happening and things will work out.

Second:  Notice and appreciate the gift.  We don’t get to choose what the ocean leaves for us to explore and discover each morning.  It changes.  I’ve been visiting this beach all my life and every year seems to have a different theme.  Sometimes it’s jellyfish, or stingrays, or dolphins everywhere.  This year we saw a beautiful white heron and watched it as it walked around near us.  What beauty!  For the first time, we also found living sand dollars, and more dead sand dollars than I’ve ever seen in Newport Beach.  But we had to go look for them, to get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. while on vacation, spend a couple of hours walking, and slow down enough to really look around us.  It was so worth it!  This experience makes me wonder what gifts await me at home in my everyday surroundings.  How can I really look around and notice them?

Third:  Once we have eyes to see, with patience we will find treasures.  Once we spotted these living sand dollars, we discovered they were everywhere!  I loved watching the excitement of my children as they spotted dozens of them, scattered across the beach waiting for a wave to sweep them away again.  We also discovered dozens of dead sand dollars on the beaches, sitting in plain view, but we didn’t recognize them until we knew what we were looking for.  One of my daughters developed a system for spotting them.  Her system kept her far behind the rest of the children, but her patience paid off and she joined us carrying treasures the rest of us had walked right by without seeing.

I want eyes to see, not just the physical beauties around me each day, but the spiritual gifts and lessons just waiting to be noticed.  Discoveries waiting to be made about ourselves, about those we love, about living life wholeheartedly.  We had to train our eyes to pick the sand dollars out amidst other shells.  In life we must train more than our eyes – our hearts, minds, and spirits can be trained to carefully choose the right treasures.  Treasures of knowledge and understanding, precious memories, eternal relationships, all of these can be ours if we have eyes to see and patience to work at it.

Fourth:  Make room in the day for beauty.  My grandpa never missed a sunset.  Every night he walked out to the beach to watch the sun set up the coast.  Sunsets at the beach are glorious, as they are in most places.  At the beach we made time to go out and watch the sun set every night, but so often at home I only notice it if I happen to be outside at just the right moment, or if it catches the attention of one of my kids and they come running in to get me.  Being at the beach reminds me to make room for everyday beauty in my life.  Yesterday’s solitary drive reminded me again, and I like the gratitude and inner wholeness that comes with it.

Because beach life is so different from daily life at home, it is a place of learning and pondering for me.  The trick, I suppose, is to be as happy a student of everyday life as I am when visiting the sea.  As I watch the season change from summer to fall, I find myself pausing for a backward look at summer, and motivated to move into a new season with an open heart.  I want to take my lessons from the beach and live better by applying them here where God has planted me.

Is there a season or a place that you learn from?  What lessons are you carrying forward as the season changes?  How do you remind yourself?

Have a lovely day,


How Many Loaves?

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus, Greek philosopher

Yesterday I left on a mini day trip to see my daughter at college and thus found myself alone in my car early in the morning.  The change of season has begun and a misty fog hung over the landscape, obscuring fields and pastures as I drove.  It was a beautiful sight.  I watched as the sun steadily rose over the mountains at my left to light the valley at my right and was amazed at the breathtaking beauty of this transition from night to day.

The feeling of gentle awe continued as Emmeline and I went to take care of our objective, discovered a problem with her car that I was able to help with, and a quick grocery shopping trip allowed us to visit longer than I planned.  I felt grateful that I’d made the drive, that Heavenly Father brought me there on the morning neither of us knew she would have car trouble, that we were able to get everything arranged or taken care of in the amount of time I had available.

The drive home was equally beautiful, the sky a deep cobalt blue against now white-capped mountains and puffy white clouds.  The road stretched out before me, punctuated by the occasional barn and birds soaring in the sky.  Three hours of driving alone provided ample time to reflect on my blessings and God’s goodness in my life.

I made it home with three minutes to spare before the next time-sensitive commitment of the day – more gratitude!  My top priority task of the day was completed – gratitude! I needed to find something for another teen-aged daughter which proved difficult to track down, but with prayer and persistence I located one, had time to run buy it and made it to the school in time to drive the carpool home.  Again, more gratitude!

There is never a day that goes according to plan, but I have learned that Heavenly Father is faithful in helping me with the day-to-day hiccups of family life.   Many of the things I take care of each day must be taken care of again tomorrow, or replaced with an entire new list of urgent needs.  My thoughts centered last night on the consistency of the Lord’s help in my life, the grace that is evident in the flow of the day and the gift of a new morning.

As a family last night we sat together and followed the counsel of Thomas S. Monson to “pause and contemplate our blessings.”  We sat quietly and each of us wrote in our journals the things we are grateful for, then shared some of them with one another.  We talked about the ten lepers whom Jesus healed (Luke 17), about how we can be like the one who returned to give thanks and was made whole.  We talked about the miracle of Jesus feeding 4,000 in the wilderness (Matthew 15).  When Jesus stated his intention to feed the multitude, his disciples asked “Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?”  So often I am like them, seeing only what is lacking and being intimidated by it!  But the Savior, once again, set a perfect example and asked “How many loaves have ye?”  Seven.  That’s it.  Seven loaves and 4,000 people.  He was not overwhelmed by what lacked.  He took what was available, GAVE THANKS FOR IT, and the miracle began.  All the multitude ate and were filled, and seven baskets of food were left over.

How many loaves have ye?  That question is on repeat in my head.

Yesterday I was reminded that God’s economy is one of abundance, that he can and will provide in ways that have no logical explanation, but which are often unlocked by using what is available to us and giving thanks for it.  When I focus on what I lack, fear always follows.  When I focus on how much I already have, happiness rushes in.

This morning I feel determined to keep the happiness of gratitude alive in my heart, to use what I’ve been given and give thanks for it – creating a shield for myself against the things I fear.  I am watching for the ways my Heavenly Father will intervene and direct my life.  I am thrilled to be given another day of life.

How many loaves do you have?  How can you use them for good?  What are you grateful for today?


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