Sunday, December 7, 2014

He is the Gift - Greatest blessing in my life and a good reminder this time of the year

At this time of the year, with the heavy burdens we sometimes place upon ourselves in the hectic nature of Christmas, we sometimes look past the greatest gift of all, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He is the reason, I have hope. He is the reason I can be forgiven and he is the reason I serve as Stake President of the Salt Lake Rose Park Stake.  I love everything about the birth of the Savior, his birth to a caring and virtuous mother, cared for by Joseph who soon learned his responsibility to the Christ child and his life of teaching and caring for those most in need.

In my role as lay clergy in the LDS Church (Mormon Church), I see on a regular basis the power of his atonement in the lives of others and witnessing that strength as individuals make changes in their lives, reminds me that the greatest gift I can give to others is to introduce them to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you haven't seen this video, I would encourage you to do so, and share the gift with others.  Merry Christmas to you and thank you for letting me be a small part in your life.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Mom helped me fix the vacuum cleaner

A walk along the Jordan River Parkway in the last year of my mom's life
with Jessica & Sarah my daughters and our dog Daisy
The title of this blog entry would keep you wondering about how my mother, who passed away in July of 2004 could have helped me fix my vacuum cleaner?  I do think it deserves some background and explanation.  I came home from work and received report that when Sarah had tried to use the vacuum earlier that day, it began to spark where the cord goes into the vacuum and quit on her.  While the vacuum doesn't owe us a lot, it wasn't something high on my list to replace and I had other places where the money could go.  I decided to take a look at it, and began to see where the cord had become separated and a wire broke.  I took the back off, cut the wire, re-spliced it and placed that new connection within the protective area and shortened the cord by about 4 inches and secured it into the vacuum, just like new.  Before putting the cover back on, the thought hit me, that it was my mother who had the insight for me to learn and the patience to work with me, that gave me the confidence to fix it.  I cried a little with gratitude for having such a great mom, who taught me to have the confidence and knowledge to face life.

Growing up in home where my father had died when I was 10, I was faced numerous times with things that were broken in the house or projects that either my mom wanted done or something I wanted to tackle.  It was not uncommon when I needed something, for my mom to put me in the car, take me either to Samons Plumbing Supply located on 900 W where a grocery store now exists, or Sutherland Lumber over on Redwood Road.  She wouldn't have any idea generally what I was buying, but would let me try and figure it out and then pay for it at the cash register.  I sometimes would end back there two or three times during a project.  Mom was always willing to let us try and fix it and try more than common sense would suggest.

Seems like we were always engaged in a project.  This was a time with my
Mom, my nephew Evan and nieces Noelle and Emily as we cleaned out
my Dad's home in Richfield after my Step-Grandmother passed away.  I drove
this 1964 GMC truck during High  School (the gas gauges never worked).
Mom always liked to have a truck around
Sometimes, I would get frustrated with a plumbing or electrical project and tell my mom to call Frank Dahn, a plumber who was a retired firefighter, or my uncle, MC Laird to see if they would come fix the problem.  Half the time, they would instruct her to put me on the phone, indicating that I could fix it and try and talk me through it and then would say, "Call me back if you can't get it".  In the case of Frank, didn't he ever want to have a paid job!  Frequently I would then figure it out, and we would be on our way.  Years later, I realized both had the insight to see a widow who needed help and then training me was a way for them to succeed in doing so.

In the years that followed my father's death, Mom had three rental homes and a basement apartment.  I ended up fixing a lot of things over the years, and later would help wire a garage, greenhouse, or assist siblings, family or friends with their remodel projects.  I will on occasion see a need with some of the single women I home teach in the Mormon Church and really it's my mom helping to do the work.

For the record, the vacuum is running well and lives to see another day.  While Mom never was that mechanically inclined, she knew how to raise children to think for themselves. I just wanted to tell Mom thanks for helping me to fix the vacuum.
Mom at the demolition of the Court House on Library Square in preparation
for the construction of the new Main Library.  I'm holding Sarah as a baby.
Mom participated in the Mayor's Capitol Advisory Board that led to the
building of a bunch of facilities I ended up tearing down!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Meet the Mormons - A movie you should watch!

Attending the premier of Meet the Mormons, with Cathy and having our picture with
Jermaine Sullivan, Bishop of the Atlanta Ward
and one of the members of the LDS Church profiled in the movie.
It's no secret to friends and readers of my blog, that I love my faith.  (I guess friends could also be readers of my blog...)  In fact, I love to share my faith with others.  However even more important for me, is for others to understand who we are as a people and who we are not.  It's tough to always explain and many avenues in media often do a horrible job with that task.  Sometimes it's done in jest, a little self humor or someone having a little fun about you, usually works.  We all need to laugh at ourselves.  However there are times when people truly are insensitive toward one another both in the Church and outside.  Mormons don't have an exclusive right to be idiots and those outside of our faith, aren't always insightful in their interpretation.  The reality is that most members of the LDS Church or Mormons have many characteristics of others and what we don't always share in belief, we hold in respect for one another.  I need to do a better job understanding others and I hope they would do the same.  For those wanting a better insight into those of the LDS faith, the movie premier this weekend of Meet The Mormons allows one to do just that, within the safety of their local theater.

This movie, while originally created to be shown in the Legacy Theater of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and other visitor centers throughout the world, was found to be effective in helping others understand us for who we are or in other ways, who we want to become.  We are not a perfect people, but we aren't villains either.  Meeting tonight my friend Mitt Romney, reminded me that during the 2012 Presidential Election, how much people misunderstood our faith.  While this movie will not resolve all questions, it gives a wonderful overview of the personal challenges and lives of six wonderful members from different areas of life, who share a hope of being good people and love and respect their families.

Take a minute out of your schedule this weekend and go to the movies.  Any net proceeds from this effort go to the American Red Cross, no profits will come from the effort.  If this movie was originally created for a visitor center why show it in a theater?   Why not.  We watch a number of other movies about different aspects of life, should this be any less?  In fact, what better and more neutral venue to watch it for anyone than a move theater.  You get to choose, you can even walk out if you want, or take a friend back to watch it again.  This is a ticket work every dollar you'll spend.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ogden Temple Dedication - Preparing the Rose Park Stake

On Saturday September 20th, members of the Rose Park Stake prepare our chapel
for the dedication of the Ogden Temple
As a Stake President, you have frequent thoughts about the welfare and needs within the membership of your Stake.  Some are general in nature, others more specific.  I try to act upon them when I feel prompted by the spirit of the Holy Ghost, but I am not perfect and sometimes I simply just miss things.  It is a challenge to say the least.  

A few weeks ago, after some leadership training for Stake Presidents in the area, and discussing Section 110 of the Doctrine & Covenants and the keys that were restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, I was thinking about the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and why so many of the members had such powerful spiritual experiences associated with that dedication.  One direction that is clear, came from their individual consecration in building that Temple and their personal sacrifice associated with it.  Joseph Smith also gave them instruction on how to come prepared both physically and spiritually including preparation of the building itself.  I felt impressed that not only should members come worthily (there is a worthiness recommend required for all in attendance) but the building as an extension of the Ogden Temple should also be prepared.  While the Lord might not walk within its walls I did hope that to the extent possible, it might be worthy of it.  On a Saturday evening session of our Regional Conference, I invited every member in the Stake to join us on Saturday afternoon prior to the dedication to help us prepare the building and grounds so that we might be ready for the Temple Dedication.  I understood that there might be conflicts and it wasn't necessarily a sign of individual commitment, but where possible, old and young alike were invited to help us prepare our building.

Chairs that had years of use were cleaned and polished
Cleaning assignments were prepared and distributed.  Wards invited members the following Sunday and individuals were invited through Relief Societies, Priesthood Quorums and by friends.  You are never quite sure when that time comes, how individuals will respond.  Yet you know that's the impression you received and an exercise in faith is in order.  At the appointed hour, 4 p.m. individuals started arriving of all ages, both as families and as friends and my heart began to be full of gratitude as I witnessed the faith and dedication of the members of the Rose Park Stake.  They were scattered through the building from Primary Rooms to restrooms, Chapel to the grounds.  Each in their own part, looked at spots in need of a deep cleaning that went overlooked during our weekly cleaning assignments.  Members helped each other and in a period of about one hour, the building looked beautiful.
While many rooms were not used in the dedication, they were
still cleaned so that the whole building would reflect
the sacredness of the event
I love the Rose Park Stake Center.  It was built originally by much sacrifice of the members of the Stake and refurbished extensively with mechanical and seismic upgrades in 2007.  However on Sunday morning, when I arrived for my 7 a.m. Presidency Meeting, I arrived early and walked down the halls of the building to the chapel and I felt a spirit that I have never felt before in my nearly 49 years of being here.  I walked into the chapel, sat on the stand and looked out and reflected upon the commitment of the members in not only preparing the building, but in their attendance that day.   I felt the Lord's acceptance of their work, it was an overwhelming feeling. Close to 700 members came during three sessions and I believe each one felt the sacred nature of the occasion.  It will be impossible to maintain the pristine nature of the building going forward.  While it will be kept clean, it is a building intended for a variety of uses.  However for this one day, it was reflective both physically and spiritually as an extension of the Ogden Temple.  I am grateful for the tender mercies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Seeing things with a great clarity is a great blessing in my life

Riding my bike without the need of glasses
is a wonderful reawakening
As I was riding my bicycle this morning on some of the great bike routes in my community and thinking how wonderful it's been to be able to ride without prescription classes.  It hasn't been that way, in fact, less than six months ago, I had some pretty heavy glasses with prisms that distorted things like stairs when you were trying to walk down them!  I've been blessed with a lot of things in my life, but great vision isn't one of them.  I actually did pretty well until High School, when I received my first pair of glasses.  I mostly used them for classroom situations.  By the time I returned home from my mission, I had to start wearing them more regularly and within a few years had to wear them all the time.  I was nearsighted, so reading was never a problem, but distance vision was the challenge.  Eventually astigmatism came into play and were followed with prisms.  Only good part of that, was that my children almost never put on my glasses because five seconds of them seeing double vision through them was enough to cure the problem!

About four years ago, my eye doctor indicated that my cataract problem in my eyes would progressively getting worse and would require surgery.  In 2012, he indicated, he could no longer correct through glasses and my vision and that within a year I would need surgery in both eyes.  Two of my brothers had surgery, that while successful, were followed with some other complications.  They in theory were not tied together, but it made me nervous.  In cataract surgery, they physically remove your lenses and place new ones in their place, so blindness, while minimal, is a risk of the surgery.  It's one reason they do both eyes at least two weeks apart, to assure you some continuance of vision.  The doctor warned me that my vision would get progressively worse and cloudy.  By the end of 2012, it was clear I would need to do something, but I waited until June of 2013 to maximize my insurance benefit and the city council would be done with most of their meetings.  The doctor gave me the option to replace my lenses with a toric lens, which had the potential of correcting my vision.  While I had options of how to correct my vision, I opted to become far sighted, thus requiring reading glasses.   Both surgeries were successful, and for the first time in nearly two decades, I had 20/20 vision.  Unfortunately my astigmatism remained.  However Dr. Miller indicated that since both eyes had done so well that I should consider an additional surgery to correct my eye muscle.

 I visited Dr. Peterson at Rocky Mountain Eye Center, who felt comfortable that with surgery, I might be able to go without glasses.  That surgery, while less risky than cataract surgery, would require them to sever the eye muscle, realign the eye to match the other one and then tie it up again.  My counselors in the Stake Presidency gave me a blessing and I felt at peace that things would be well.  Even when Dr. Peterson did a post surgery adjustment to my eye while out of anesthesia to get a better alignment, I was able to hold still and feel a peace that I didn't think I had in me.  My vision has corrected so well, that I seldom use reading glasses and if its about 30 inches away, I can see it clearer than when I had bifocal classes.  In a very literal way, my world has opened up to me in way, I never imagined.

In a similar way, since being called as President of the Rose Park Stake last November, I have been humbly grateful at the spiritual clarity that I feel and experience on a regular basis.  While my sixteen years of public service and even my current public service as an appointed official for Salt Lake County have been an incredible a rewarding experience, working with individuals and seeing the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ in their life is more rewarding.  It has hard moments, some of which I think about constantly because they are heartbreaking but God has not left me alone.  I find the sweet and overwhelming influence of the Holy Ghost in my life to be such a humbling experience that I frequently ask myself why God would choose me to have this experience.  I am grateful however and the clarity of the gospel and its truthfulness in how it changes people lives if they're willing to live it. It's even more clear than anything I physically see.   While this world has many challenges, it has wonderful opportunities as well. It's wonderful to see it with such great clarity!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Rose Park Stake has a flag flying again!

Flag pole at the Stake Center of the Rose Park Stake 760 N 1200 W

When I was a young boy, 10 to be exact, our Stake (a body of 7 wards or congregations - we now have eight) raised money to build a flag pole.  It was 1976, the 200th birthday of our nation and our building lacked a flag pole.  Many who helped raised money and helped build the building originally, were veterans of World War II who chose to call Rose Park home when they returned to start their families.  We have had many serve since in other ways, and frankly, Rose Park is a patriotic place.  Also that year, my father passed away in January of 1976 and had also served like me, as the Stake President of the Rose Park Stake.  The flag pole, which is tall like my dad, was to honor him as well.  The LDS Church had rightfully quit putting plaques on things to honor people but as they raised money, this was also indicated as a purpose.  Each week, as I attended Primary, then held on Tuesday afternoon, I took my money to put in the jar.  Many of the kids brought quarters but I always brought a dollar.  This was after all, something to recognize my father, who I just had lost as a young boy.  It rightfully has roses planted around it, the symbol of our community.

A few years later, lighting was added, but it fell into disrepair.  Out of respect for the flag, it was not flown 24 hours a day and gradually, it was seldom put up.  When I was Bishop of the Rose Park 9th Ward from 1993 to 1998 I would try to have a flag flown on Sundays but even that was difficult to have someone to remember to do it regularly.  With time, it almost never had a flag on it.  It always bothered me, and I knew it didn't reflect the feelings of our members but I didn't think we had an option.  I would often volunteer my family to maintain the bed that surrounded it, since it was included in our Ward's cleaning assignment.  I felt it was the least I could do.
Photo prior to my wedding reception with the lovely
Cathleen Nielsen Christensen by the flag pole
When I was married in 1990, I was serving as the Elders Quorum President of the Rose Park 9th Ward and wanted to have a reception in Rose Park as well as the one we had in Layton, where my wife lived.  There were many members who I wanted to attend, since we would be calling Rose Park home temporarily with living in my Mom's basement apartment.  I wanted a photo that would include a part of my father, since he couldn't be there with us in person, so we took this photo by the flag pole.  Needless to say, this part of our building was a sentimental thing for me.

As I was called as Stake President of the Rose Park Stake in November of 2013, 38 years after my father was released due to his cancer, I inquired about the flag pole as we reviewed maintenance needs of the buildings with the maintenance group that does such a good job keeping our buildings in repair.  I wanted to be fair in my asking of things to be repaired, since it is the Lord's money but was excited to understand that flag poles were a standard part of the package.  I inquired of ours, mentioned the challenges we had faced over the years, and the manager in charge, committed to trying to have it ready for the 4th of July.   True to his word, the lighting was fixed, a new flag placed, and a maintenance agreement in place that will keep it in good repair going forward.

I hope you'll drive by, especially at night.  It's beautiful to me.  I know I'm biased here, but I hope you'll accept it as a gift to our community as well as the members of our Stake.  I will have a few memories on top of it as well.  On this 4th of July, let me just express my gratitude to those who have worked so hard to give us the freedom we enjoy, including the freedom of religion that allows us to worship respectfully in our own way.  Thanks as well to the good people of Rose Park who have worked and sacrificed much to make this such a wonderful place to live.  Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Tribute to his son - Milton Chester Christensen

Milton, 1965, just before he passed away
If you looked for a complete family portrait for the Robert & Verda Mae Christensen Family, you can't find one.  I was born six months after my brother Milton passed away from aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder where your body stops producing enough red blood cells.  Milton was the third child in our family as you read in my father's tribute below, had a different approach to his life.  I learned a lot about him growing up and every year we paid respect to him at his grave site.  However I obviously never got to experience him first hand, but my mother tells a story about him during the last stage of his illness.  Milton was unable to speak and had to write conversation down on paper.  My mother was pregnant with me, wrote the following story in her autobiography:

That last night when he and I were alone, he wrote me another very special note:
"Is there someone else in this room?" it said.
And I responded, "Do you see someone?"
He nodded yes.
"Sometimes, when you're very sick," I said, "Heavenly Father sends special
messengers to comfort you, and this is probably whom you see."
I made out his next words. "Clayton's here, isn't he?" I had thought he might be seeing the spirit person so many people said came at the time of death. But Clayton was his next elder brother who was very much alive. So I dismissed the idea that he was seeing a spirit person at all. He was just delirious.
I had no sooner thought that than his next word came:
"You don't believe me."
I hurried to reassure him. "Oh yes, I do." Then it occurred to me that the person he was seeing might well be another family member from generations past, even my own father who had died when I was six and who looked a great deal like his grandson, Clayton.
Then Milton wrote another note. "Who is that in your lap?" it read.
"It's just a pillow," I said. And he said, "Oh."
But later on, I wondered. I was four months pregnant with our youngest child.
Who was it he saw in my lap?

I don't know if it was me, but I've always wondered.  Either way, I look forward to meeting him and was touched at the heart felt tribute that my father wrote, shortly after his death.  Fitting on this Father's day when we celebrate many happy moments and honors of being a father, but there are some heartbreaking moments as well and sometimes very difficult to pen.  I think like most parents, we don't entirely get over these kind of losses and while we do move on, they are tender moments with us forever.  I thought it appropriate to share my father's tribute to my brother Milton:

                No greater honor could be paid me at any time during my life, than to say I am Milton's father. For eleven wonderful years we played, worked, and worshipped together.  With Milton there were so many things in his life that did not fall into the usual pattern of a child's growing up.  Many things children normally do, Milton seemed less interested in. In other matters his interest was greater. He was so interested in some spiritual aspects of the Gospel: The visions of the prophets, death, the resurrection, the spirit world, and the three degrees of glory.
After an illness some years ago, on the way home from the hospital, Verda Mae remarked, "I wonder if we will be able to raise Milton to manhood?"
Milton delighted in the things of the Lord.  Every night he would ask me, "Daddy, tell me a story."  And in the hospital during those long weeks I told him ten times over the Church History and Missionary stories that he loved so well.  Through his bloody, swollen mouth, until the last day, he could still say, "Daddy, tell me a story."
His great love of going to work with me was a great source of happiness to him and me. In the hospital he would say to me, "Daddy, you had better get to work."  Or, "Daddy, you can go home now."  He always had a great concern for me.  He made simple cherished gifts for Father's Day, Birthdays, and Christmas.  This Father's Day on his hospital bed he wrote me his last love letter.
He was always delighted with a chance to serve someone in his own way.  He didn't want to be forced into doing things.  He didn't like the regimentation of a ball team, while a carefree ride on his bicycle filled his heart with gladness.
Milton was a beautiful child. He was always my Milty Boy. Many many times as I looked upon his sweet face as he played and worked and lay asleep, I wondered if , as he grew older, some evil  minded person could lead him astray into an unrighteous life, or some unholy teacher weaken or destroy his testimony  of the restored Gospel. As I had these thoughts I prayed diligently that this would never happen to him and that no person could have an evil influence upon him.
I have always so firmly believed the doctrine that children are heirs to the Celestial Kingdom.  For this Milton was fully prepared.  He had a beautiful body,  a saving knowledge and testimony of the gospel,  and in a few weeks he experienced more darkness,  sickness,  and pain than most men do in a lifetime.
During his illness the scriptures dealing with "Another Father's Son" kept going through my mind and took on great new meaning to me.
As I sat hour after hour, day after day,  wiping away his blood as it dripped from the pores of his body,  I knew what the Lord meant when he dripped "As it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. "
As I sat by his bed and watched him die, I was grateful for the privilege of watching and praying with him.  Many hours we prayed together as one before us, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, Thy will be done."
The will of the father was to take him home.  After so many days of awful suffering increasing in intensity hour by hour,  bleeding and infection spreading black throughout his body,  he finally laid his head on his pillow and in two or three heavy breaths,  as though to say, "It is finished," he instantly departed from mortal life.
When Verda Mae reached the hospital and we viewed his lifeless body, all I could say was "Behold thy son."
Milton bore this illness like a man.  On his last day after the needle used in giving him the transfusions had been removed from his foot, he motioned to me to lift him up on the side of the bed so his feet could hang down.  He put his arms around my neck and cried as if to say, "Father, why has thou forsaken me?"   Through his pitiful mouth he made out the words, "Daddy, take me home!"
Now after Milton's great advancement from mortality into the kingdom of the righteous spirits, I plainly see him in the full stature of his magnificent spirit, gloriously endowed with the great knowledge he had in the pre-existent world, living and laboring with our great family who now lives there, sealed up to enter the Celestial kingdom when the Lord calls him.
For Mother, Elliott, Clayton, Maribeth, Spencer, Bradley, Nancy Ruth and me, his greatly blessed father, there remains the living of our lives in the way the Lord has directed us. We must not fail Milton's expectations of our being able to join him as we have promised.

-Robert: M. Christensen
Family portrait taken in the home where I currently live.  Milton is back row
on the left with Elliott and Clayton.
Middle row is my mother Verda Mae Fuller Christensen, sister Maribeth
and my father Robert M. Christensen
Front row is my brother Brad, my brother Spencer and my sister Nancy in
my father's lap.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Verda Mae Christensen - My mother and a treasure in my life

My mother Verda Mae Christensen was always a
Queen of drama (photo courtesy of Ken Miles)
The other day, I finally finished going through some items that we pulled out of our attached garage in order to clean it.  (It only took me about two months to do it!)  One of the last items was a hand purse that my mother was using, shortly before she passed away in 2004.  I thought I should go through it just in case, and came across two twenty dollar bills.  By the look of the age of the bills, they have most likely been in that purse since my mother joined my father, in heaven.  I presented the two bills to each of my daughters, Jessica and Sarah and informed them Grandma had one last gift for them.  It brought some tears to my eyes and then I realized in looking at them, I could see elements that reminded me that more important than those bills, Mom's gift continues to be present in them and each of her children and grandchildren and now great grandchildren.  My mother had a profound impact on me, not only because she gave me the very gift of life, but because she was always there for me in the years that followed.  In the years after my father's death, she played a pivotal role in helping me adapt and even up to her last days, was not only my next door neighbor, but one of my best friends.  It was challenging emotionally to not only move into her home a few weeks after she passed away so we could rent ours and purchase her home, but in closing down and shutting off her physical life and all that goes with it.  I wasn't alone, my family helped a great deal, but I lived it almost every day.  I thought perhaps it was just me, but when the counselor called from the hospice service to see how I was doing, I had her crying by the end of the call.  I at least knew the feelings were real.
Mom with four of her five sisters on the family
farm in Canada.  Her father passed away
when she was six.
Mom was born the third of six girls in an agricultural community called Barnwell in Alberta, Canada.  Her parents had both come from the United States.  Her mother, who was a nurse and her father, who had come from the Chicago area with his brother to start a farming operation, met and fell in love.  These six girls were an outcome of that love and the last one, Fredora was born after her father's death.  My grandfather died unexpectedly at age 39, leaving a widow and six girls.  This could have easily been a Hallmark show, but for them it was real life.  Grandma was the only medical help for miles and it was not uncommon for the girls to be left alone and depend on each other while Grandma helped take care of others.  Education was important and thanks to a strong school principal and parents who cared, Mom received an outstanding education.  She skipped two years in her schooling, graduating at age 15 and went to BYU with her two older sisters to further her education.  Mom graduated at age 19 from BYU and taught for a few years as an English and Drama Teacher in South Summit and Tooele High School.  If she had she taken a job in Richfield, she would have been my father's sophomore English teacher!  She later went on to be a writer and producer for KSL Radio and even wrote their first TV commercial.
My mother outside the Salt Lake Temple on her Wedding Day with my
father Robert M. Christensen, her mother Ruth Fuller and my father's parents
Chester and Emma Christensen and Mom's sister, Dorothy & William Bolander
My father's brother Don Christensen and Mom's friend Iris Corry
Mom married on September 1, 1949 at age 27, having worked through World War II, and was ready to move on with having a family.  Not too unlike me, their dating period was short and they were married four months later.  Cathy and I only dated for six weeks before we were engaged and married after four months ourselves.  Mom and Dad had eight children with their third, Milton passing away at age 11 from a blood disorder.  She was three months pregnant with me at the time,  so we never had a complete family photo.  Mom in one way or the other kept herself busy in church and civic affairs.  She loved her friends and was usually talking to one of them.  She also helped us with our education and at times helped to make ends meet by doing some substitute teaching.  Mom loved projects, and my home is the beneficiary of many of them and she was always trying something new!
My mother thought we needed a Maypole and probably
would not be the subject of good safety procedures!
Robert & Verda Mae Christensen, married just over 26
years, when my Dad died in 1976
Mom and Dad were really perfect partners.  They complemented each other in so many ways with different strengths and weaknesses.  I think it was one of the many challenging things for Mom when she found herself widowed at 53 with more than half of her children to still raise and family to support.  However through it all, she returned back to school, received her Masters Degree in creative Writing, returned to teaching purchased three rental homes, and in 1987 was recognized as Utah Mother of the Year.  Somewhere in there, she served on the Library Board, co-wrote the history for the 25th Anniversary of the Rose Park Stake and also co-wrote the history book for the Salt Lake Temple's 100th anniversary.  The Community Meeting Room at the Day-Riverside Branch is named in her honor.
January 13, 1976 Mom said good bye to her husband and best friend,
Robert Magleby Christensen
I'm hopeful my own life is reflective of the wonderful qualities of my mom.  I miss her a lot.  Mother's Day is always a little hard for me, because I don't have her here still to recognize.  However there are times like Friday night when my daughter Jessica went through the Salt Lake Temple to receive her Endowments that I feel her and my father by my side.  I'm comforted by the fact that I know they live and that one day, I have the opportunity to be with them again.  In the mean time, I love seeing the gifts of my mother in the lives of those she loved.  Happy Mother's Day Mom, I love you.

Rose Park Wedding Reception with my mom, July 1990

Monday, April 28, 2014

Jessica receives her diploma from LDS Institute - the most valuable part of her education experience

Jessica has always been a great example to her
younger sister Sarah
Yesterday was a wonderful day.  I presided over my first Stake Conference and with my counselors, felt like we did our very best.  Feeling the spirit and conveying the feelings of your heart, is both emotional and physically exhausting experience.  However for me personally, the best part came later that day, as we traveled up to Logan, UT to watch our daughter receive her diploma for completing the requirements of Institute Graduation.  This semester, Jessica finished her classes with the exception of one this summer is set for graduation after she completes her assignments for student teaching this fall in Elementary Education.  I'll reluctantly acknowledge as a dedicated UTE fan, that her experience at Utah State has been the right choice and she has received a great education.  It hasn't been cheap or without some pain (thanks to Cathy's sacrifice to work to make it happen) but Jessica has also lived very frugally to make ends meet.  If theory holds correct, she'll graduate this December.
Cathy was looking for new wall paper for her phone and
rightfully has great pride in both her daughters
However the real joy of this whole experience has been her willingness to attend Institute and meet the requirements of her religious education.  Unlike some Church schools (including her two years at LDS Business College) where it is a requirement (rightfully so) this required her to take the classes on top of her normal class load.  None of her Utah State Grades depended on whether she followed through in attending class.  Even with attending an LDS Young Single Adult Ward, only a handful of the ward members actually received their diplomas or certificates for partial achievement.
Jessica with members of her Ward who completed a portion or all
of the requirements outlined by the Church Board of Education
Unlike her education that she'll likely to use periodically in her future employment, her religious education will be used every day of her life.  Don't get me wrong, her educational pursuits will be very helpful in her securing employment, mine was, but the benefit of her effort in religious education will be used every day in her life in how she interacts with people, in raising her own family and in sharing her testimony with those around her both in action and in word.  The cost of her obtaining this education was nominal, but the value priceless.  Congratulations Jessica!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Neil's Pro - a neighborhood gem with reliable service

Neil's Pro on the corner of 600 N and 1200 W - serving the community for over 55 years
You know when you go to rent a car and the car rental counter suggest you use your newest car's insurance and all you can offer is your 1996 Suburban that you realize someone has kept you going all these years. Ok, so I admit that I don't turn my cars over very often and until our recent acquisition of our 2008 Subaru Tribeca a couple of years ago, that was the case for me.  Part of the reason I could do it, is the honest and reliable service I've received over the years from Neil's Pro Service in Rose Park.  Originally started by Neil Draper in 1959, it has been a mainstay in our community.  They've consistently supported community events like little league baseball and now run by Neil's son Chris Draper and his brother Scott, the business continues to be a gem for those of us who are just looking for an honest answer.  Neil still opens up the shop every morning just after 7 a.m. and still does some minor repairs and helps around the shop.  His secret to longevity is a Coke and a snickers bar.  Not what my doctor told me yesterday at my checkup, but sure seems like a good idea!

In addition to my '96 Suburban and my '08 Tribeca, I have a '77 Ford Pickup.  They never wince when I bring them in (at least not to my face) and have always found practical solutions.  If they have safety issues, like my recent inspection of the Suburban, they told me.  On the other hand, they replaced my headlight on my Tribeca for half the cost of the dealership.  When my mother-in-law was told she needed a $350 car repair, I had her bring it down from Layton and Chris took a look at it.  He acknowledge the repair, but told her if she just checked her fluids on the car regularly and with the limited mileage she put on it, would be fine.  Four years later, it's still running and for a widowed mother on limited income, it was a real blessing.  Likewise, my sister-in-law had a similar experience and she lives in Murray.  We invited her to bring it down and today, she always gets her car repaired there and we take her to work.  A few months ago, we needed new tires for my daughter's SAAB before she went back to Utah State.  We checked a local discount warehouse and they couldn't get the tires in for a couple of days.  I went back to Chris at Neil's and learned my lesson.  He had them on later that day and for about $20 less a tire.  Never going anywhere else.

To the Draper Family's credit, they've made it through some tough and difficult times and weathered the ups and downs like most businesses.  However they've never cut corners, always been fair and honest.  If it's going to cost you, they give you the bad news.  If there is a practical solution that gets the job done, they give you that as an option.  I want to be fair with them, and they have been fair with me. If you haven't been to Neil's you should give them a try.  If you don't live in Rose Park, even better.  Come see what a beautiful community that has been home to a great business for over half a century.  Located at 1204 W 600 N, Salt Lake City, UT 84116 or you can call them at (801) 521-0604.  Tell them Carlton sent you.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fixing a toilet is a privilege!

The other day, I was visiting my mother-in-law Lois Nielsen and noticed her toilet didn't stop running after I flushed it.  After a little investigative work, I realized she just needed a new handle.  Fixing anything for her is never a burden, she is one of the kindest, most deserving people I've ever met.  She loves my kids for who they are, makes them feel valued and makes us quilts that keep us warm and remind us how important we are to her. Mom as I call her, always feels like she is troubling me when I fix something, but the reality is, I need the feeling of service in order to feel better about myself.  In fact, whenever I serve someone else, I almost always feel better about myself and to do it for someone I love and care about, makes it even better.

When the savior admonished his disciple in John 19: 26-27 as he worried about his mother and wanting to assure she was in good care, really set the example. I think about that often, when you think of the widows and others who would fall in the same category, not the least of which is our own parents, particularly our mothers.  I have a pretty good feeling that the Lord will hold us accountable on how we care for those special women in our lives.

It was my own mother, who helped me develop the skill sets to learn how to do repairs.  It wasn't that my mother knew how to do it, but she was willing to invest resources in me learning.  Frequently growing up, she would take me to the hardware store to get the necessary tools.  She was always having Frank Dahn, the plumber show me how to do things and my step-uncle, MC Laird, frequently would take me and show me how things were fixed.  As a fatherless boy growing up, my mother made sure I received the necessary training.  She was intent on my home not being subject to a home with a skill-less father or husband.  I've used those talents hundreds of times in the service of others, and each time, I do, I think of my mom and thank my Heavenly Father that she cared enough to have me care.

We have a fundamental need to serve. I do much on my own and in the community, but I also get the opportunity in my Church.  As a Home Teacher in the Mormon Church, I get called on frequently to help in service of others.  It's not a huge burden, but I know it's helpful when I'm asked.  On occasion, I also require help and am grateful the Church gives us both the opportunity to serve.  After all, it's a core element of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the end, we all have that desire to be needed.  Thanks to both my Moms for giving me the chance to serve!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My White Shirt Inventory is Growing!

Just in case you wondered what my shirt
size would be!

I've always had a supply of white shirts, but over my years in the city council service, I mixed them up with a variety of colored shirts.  However in my four months of service as Stake President of the Rose Park Stake in the LDS Church, my need to wear white shirts has increased!  If you take the ones that head to the dry cleaners, and have some to wear during that week, I've had to add about eight shirts to my wardrobe.  It's not that one is required to wear a white shirt, but it looks better and more neutral in its appearance.  It also makes matching ties a little easier!  The last four months have been challenging to say the least, but I have been blessed with two great counselors in Paul Fullmer and Brent Hyde.  Paul is an insurance adjuster for Met Life and Brent is a manger for LDS Church Security.  Both are two individuals who love the Lord, and serve faithfully.  None of us are paid, and when you look at a schedule that includes most of the day Sunday, a couple nights a week and frequent correspondence through most days, this is not a passive assignment.  However I've never felt the spirit more, have a greater insight of what Heavenly Father wants for the members of Rose Park Stake and amazed at the genuine goodness of so many people.  If this were just me, I would have been done in month two, but one doesn't do it alone and I can testify God's hand in the work that is done.

Not every moment is simple or without some heartbreak.  However when you watch someone decide to make a change in their life, see it begin to improve and feel of their desire to be a better person, there is no better experience in my life.  I've been blessed over the years to have some great experiences.  In fact, from my public service alone, I have five volumes of large scrapbooks outlining that service.  It will forever be a significant part of my life.  However it is pale in comparison to the work I now experience.  To stand in a congregation of a couple hundred people and feel a peaceful impression on the message I'm suppose to share with them, is such a humbling and touching experience that it has brought frequent tears to my eyes.

I enjoy my work at Salt Lake County and it is very challenging and demanding.  It's a great balance from my life coming from elected office to continue in some realm of public service.  However I truly enjoy serving in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to whomever I can associate with, either in words or example.  I'm far from perfect.  In fact, the list of needed improvement with me seems to grow each day.  I need to get in better shape, write more often in a journal, pray more each day, but nevertheless the Lord doesn't expect us to be perfect, just a broken heart that strives to be better.

I would be remiss to not mention how grateful I've been for my family.  Cathy and the girls have been there for me so often, and I cherish them. At the end of the day, they are all that matters.  So, if you see me wearing a few more white shirts, just know that I'm keeping busy, hopefully doing some good.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Salt Lake City has a new Fabric Store - and it's on the West side of town!

I've always wanted an apron, and Sarah
made this one for me for Christmas!
One of Rose Park's own, Carolyn Bradshaw recently used her talents and knowledge of sewing and fabrics and opened a new store, ...and sew on located at  1625 West 700 North #H, Salt Lake City, UT 84116.  As you probably can guess, I don't much of any talents in sewing, but I've been blessed over the years, by others who do, including my sisters Maribeth and Nancy as well as my wife Cathy.  They made everything from Cathy's wedding dress, a Kangaroo Costume for Halloween for me, to children's clothes for Jessica and Sarah.  I can't tell you how many times, I've torn my suit pant pockets on the arms of chairs and the list goes on.  Over the years, fabric stores have closed and those who know how to use these skills have diminished.  I worried that soon Salt Lake would have no options.

It was to my pleasant surprise, that we came across ...and sew on (yes that's the name of the store) and even more to find out Carolyn gives sewing lessons.  At a very reasonable price, which includes the materials for projects, our Sarah has taken a number of classes and really has developed skills that would have taken a whole year of school to obtain, and that's if she had that option.  Among Sarah's many projects were making aprons, and I'm wearing mine, which for the first time in years, protects my pants from any cooking projects!

I hope you'll take the time to stop by and see what Carolyn's new store has to offer.  Trying to start a small business always has its challenge, but having the opportunity to develops skills, particularly for our kids, is priceless.  Carolyn is located next door to Little Cesar's Pizza.  Who knows you might even develop skills, you didn't know you have!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Oxford Shop - Still a gem for SLC (and for those with big feet!)

In my many years of service on the Salt Lake City Council, I interacted a great deal with Richard "Dick" Wirick or Mr. Downtown.  His endless passion towards keeping downtown vibrant and his persistence in keeping his small shoe store open was unmatched.  That was the irony when he was tragically killed in an accident involving a UTA Buss before he ever got to see the opening of City Creek, across from his store on 100 S, just east of the Salt Palace.  It looked like for a while, that his store might not reopen, when his children didn't have an interest in continuing it.  In stepped in the brother and sister-in-law of Dick's wife, Gunter and Carol Radinger, who opened the business around the time City Creek opened.

I had purchased two pairs of Florsheim shoes, just before Dick was taken from this earth and in his usuall way, was ever so courteous with me, and I felt guilty when he gave me a discount.  They both have lasted a long time, but the black pair (I also purchased a brown pair) were wearing out, so I decided to go back and see if by chance they could order me a new pair.  That's when I met Gunter and Carol and realized what great shop owners they were in continuing the tradition of great service.  I had with me at the time, my daughter Sarah, who also has large feet, (I have size 18!) and both of us had been looking for some shoes.  I sometime have luck at the Nordstrom Rack, but it's very much hit and miss.  Carol Radinger, not only looked at her typical sources, but spent some time looking at different options for me and my daughter.  She called us back a few days later and we went in and for the first time, I not only had choices, but Sarah did as well!  Large shoes are seldom inexpensive, but just having a choice is a big deal.  The Radingers are very patient people, extremely courteous and helped us both get in shoes, where I think they only made a very modest profit for their troubles.  I use to have shoe options in Salt Lake City, but frankly they all went away when local stores sold out, or quit carrying them.  Even some online options have diminished, so what a welcome blessing the Oxford Shop is for Salt Lake City and especially those of us with hard to fit feet!

Whether you have a need for large shoes or not, give the Oxford Shop a try.  There is a good parking on the street at 65 West 100 South or easy access to City Creek across the street, where it's free for the first hour, or $1 for the second hour.  Be sure to tell Carol and Gunter thanks for staying in business!

Monday, January 13, 2014

My father passed away 38 years ago today

My Father's Funeral - January 13, 1976 - Standing with my brother Spencer
I am generally a sentimental person, my blog reflects it, but my father's death 38 years ago today, still bring tears to my eyes.  I had just turned 10 years old in the December prior, and my father was everything to me.  He was one of the kindest souls and treated me with such care and love that I really struggled in the years following his death.  However he was such a great example to our family, that his memory and influence stays with us still today.
My father in is father, Chester Christensen's military uniform from World War I
Dad was born in September of 1926 in Richfield Utah Chester & Emma Magleby Christensen.  Grandpa was a farmer, who was very frugal and a good steward of his land.  Dad frequently hired out to other farmers in the area in addition to working the family farm.  We always loved the stories of his youth and knew of his love for his home town. Because of Dad's size, and flat feet, he never served in the military during World War II.
Dad on his LDS Mission to Denmark, standing next to Danish Family relatives
My Dad attended the University of Utah, and later served a mission to Denmark.  He went into Denmark shortly after World War II and was one of the first missionaries to arrive following the devastation and hardship that came from the war.  My Dad actually preceded his Mission President by two months, a tough thing for a kid that had never been east of Utah and who also didn't speak the language.  However many wonderful things would happen for him while serving, and we loved to hear his stories from his mission.
Robert & Verda Mae, Engagement photo from 1949
Shortly after my father returned home, he was introduced to my mother, Verda Mae Fuller by his sister Ora Nell Folkman.  While not overly confident, my father really fell in love with my mother and she with him and they were engaged after a few months and married a few months later in September of 1949.  Dad was finishing up School and my mother was a writer-producer for KSL Radio and TV.  
Robert on his Graduation Day - standing in
front of their first Rose Park Home on 900 N, just west of 900 W
My Dad had left school with a few classes to go, intending to finish up by correspondence.  Some poor health and other challenges kept him from completing things and it was a few years later before he returned to finish up his schooling.  By then he had begun his career at ZCMI Department Store and soon started as the Division Buyer over Foods, including the snack bar, bakery, candy department and fine foods.  We were always found helping him to stock shelves and even today in my own food storage, the older cans are brought forward and labels are turned to the front!
For the wopping salary of a hot dog and chips, we frequently helped
Dad stock the shelves
Dad always loved doing things with the other kids in the neighborhood.  My friends loved his activities and he made it easy to be the favorite Dad among the crowd.  He seemed to just know how to communicate with children and always made you feel important and loved.
Dad doing one of his frequent activities with the kids, always
looking for simple ways to have us entertain ourselves.
Family picture on the bank of the Susquehanna River

Dad loved LDS Church History.  Many of our family vacations were to Church History sites.  In fact, it was his last trip in coming home and following the Mormon Pioneer Trail, that he started to show signs of being ill.  By mid August, they diagnosed Hodgkin Disease, a cancer of the Lymph system.  From August to January, he became increasingly ill and in November, he was released as Stake President of the Rose Park Stake where I now serve in the same position.  The final months, he held his first grandchild, Evan, son of Elliott & Jennifer
Dad dictating his life history to my brother Clayton
In a certain form of irony, my father's autobiography came back from the printers on the day he died.  It is one of my most cherished treasures.  I use it often to remind me of my father and more importantly, remind me of the lessons he taught us.  I wonder often how he might look at my life, and if it would reflect his hope for me.  I love him, he has been there for me often, even after his death. One belief I hold, is that our lives are eternal and if lived according to the Savior's plan, we can be together as families for an eternity.  I hold to that same faith and hope to live my life in such a way that I can once again embrace my father and tell him how much I love him and what an honor it has been to be his son.  One of the things I cherish most is his final testimony as he related an experience he had before his death.  From his history, it reads:

"On my first visit to the hospital in August of 1975, after being informed that I had a potentially terminal illness, I lay thinking over my life, my future and my family. A remarkable vision was given to me at that time. I first saw a large pile of goods, and I recognized them as my own physical possessions. With them were other worldly goods which I dealt with every day in my work at ZCMI. Suddenly, they disappeared from my view, and I did not feel the slightest desire to look for them or to inquire as to where they went. My vision then showed me three things: one was my righteous family, the second was my knowledge, understanding and testimony of the restored gospel, and the third was the work that I had accomplished in the building up of the kingdom of God. Then, as though the person were standing at my side, a voice spoke to me and said, “This is what life is all about. That’s all there is that is important. That’s all there is to life.” I was then filled with a very comfortable feeling that the Lord had accepted my work and my life.

I want my family always to remember this story, and to place their values on the spiritual rather than the material things. I hope they will live their lives in such a way that theirs will be the riches of eternity. I want my family to know that I know with all my heart that God lives and is willing to bless us constantly through our lives, and that he wants each of us to succeed in living the gospel so that we can return and live with him in the Celestial Kingdom. I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind, that he is the Lord of this earth and that he stands at the head of this church today. He reveals his will to his prophets and to every righteous priesthood holder and member of the church who seeks for divine guidance.
I have a great belief in the Holy Ghost, and on many occasions in my life, the power of the Holy Ghost has descended upon me and given me the knowledge and help which I needed in accomplishing the Lord’s work. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only true church upon the face of the earth. And it is only by membership in the church that we can receive the ordinances of salvation and the principles and doctrines which are needed for entry into the celestial kingdom. I believe in living prophets and that as members of the church, we need to follow the living prophets. While we glean much wisdom and guidance from the prophets of old, it is the living prophets who show us the way to go today. I leave this testimony for the guidance of my family, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."