The Lord is My Shepherd

My grandmother, Elizabeth Weidner Martin Pompa, was born a hundred years ago—January 5, 1911, to Peter Weidner and Ann Auer in Cincinnati, Ohio. Elizabeth died December 13, 1980, while I was home from college on winter break; I had no real opportunity to know Grandma Pompa as an adult, but as a child, going to Grandma’s house was magic.

Her house in rural Norco, California, shared an acre-plus lot with another house. Between the two houses lie wonderland: a geodesic-domed, walk-in aviary housing exotic, colorful birds; a corral with several horses, a palomino and an appaloosa; and everywhere wandering Bantam chickens. Grandpa Pompa always seemed to be watching bull fights on their tiny black and white television set with rabbit-ear antennas. Grandma always seemed to be cooking: tamales and menudo from Grandpa’s Mexican heritage, and stuffed cabbage from her own German/Hungarian roots. She loved crafts; she loved to play Scrabble and Yahtzee at the linoleum kitchen table. It was a settled, predictable paradise for the child that was I.

Elizabeth’s Father, Peter Weidner, in His Shoe Shop

Years later when I delved into family history, I discovered how unsettled Elizabeth’s life had actually been. Her parents had emigrated west as flotsam of the Mormon gathering; a cousin by marriage, Johann Schweberger, had been one of the first Hungarian converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Johann founded the Royal Shoe Repairing Company in Salt Lake City in 1908, and recruited Elizabeth’s father to come west to work for him; in 1918, the family moved to operate a branch in Milford, Beaver County, Utah.  Milford was a rough, frontier town, even then. It had blossomed to support the boom of the nearby silver mine in Frisco, had later grown to accommodate nearby livestock ranches, and in time became a divisional station of the Utah Southern Railroad. In 1918, each of those industries still strove in the streets of the small town.  Whether due to an uncertain economy or some other lack, Grandma’s family was very poor: the parents and 14 children lived in cramped quarters behind the shoe store.

There is no record of Elizabeth’s life in Milford, but there are family whispers of incest and abuse. Elizabeth married Edward Harry Martin on April 20, 1929. He was the local mechanic and a confirmed alcoholic. Elizabeth was barely 18; Harry was 39 years old. One family story says that she seduced her best friends’ husband. Another says she was sold to him to pay a debt her father owed. Elizabeth gave birth five months after their wedding to a baby girl, and my mother the next year, and another girl the year after that.

Melquiades Pompa, Elizabeth’s Second Husband

Edward Harry Martin, Elizabeth’s first husband

After six years and five children, Elizabeth left Harry and took up with Melquiades Pompa, a Mexican national who worked for the railroad in Milford. His work took them back and forth to California, at which times she would leave her children with their father or Melquiades’ sister.  Eventually, custody of Elizabeth’s children was taken from her and given to Harry, as a court judgment deemed she had abandoned them.

When I knew my grandmother, the passions or demons that had driven her choices had abated. I knew that she cheated at Yahtzee; I knew that my mother struggled with feelings of abandonment. But when my mother passed on to me some of my grandmother’s treasures, I was delighted to find this lovely wall hanging. I believe the work says as much or more about her as what I have gleaned from dates and details I have researched.

Psalm 23, made by Elizabeth

This piece of lace is large—it measures 24 inches by 28 inches—and obviously represents hours of meticulous work: the carefully ordered grid; stitches counted to make solid pieces and open squares; the sum of which constitute a psalm, perhaps a prayer.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23).

My grandmother cannot tell me where she came from, the milieu she did not choose, a nexus that colored her choices and thrust her through much chaos and pain. Women of her day were offered few options and little opportunity; for Grandmother, lack of power could only add desperation to burdens already thrust upon her at too young an age.

But given a chance to choose, Grandmother chose this: a tribute to order, to faith, to godliness.  Her work, whispering from the dust, gives me a glimpse into her heart; it forms a bridge from she who inhabited wonderland that I knew as a child, to the woman who knew heartbreak as I do and passed on to me much of who I am.

For this, I thank you, Grandmother.

 

 

Watching with Christ

ENJOY “WATCH WITH ME,” AN ORIGINAL SONG BY TONI THOMAS AND DIANE TUIOFU.

In Greek and English, the verb “to watch” is derived from the word wake, literally meaning to stay awake. Whenever enemies abound, men have found it necessary for at least one person to remain awake, to watch, especially through the night when people are most vulnerable in their sleep. In our time, we tend to feel safe sleeping through the darkness. We are protected by locks and burglar alarms and trained police officers that patrol our streets.

And yet, Christ has commanded: “what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” (Mark 13:37) As our world hurtles through the last and spiritually darkest hours that precede the millennial dawn, our very salvation depends upon our remaining awake, or as the case may be, that we wake up.

In Gulliver’s travels, when the shipwrecked Gulliver stumbled ashore onto the land of Lilliput, he promptly fell asleep. While he was sleeping, the six-inch tall Lilliputians found him and bound him fast with stakes and ropes such that when he awakened, he could not move. His chest was bound fast, his arms and legs and even his hair were fastened by hundreds of tiny ropes, mere threads in his grasp, yet sufficient when combined to hold him fast.

Satan knows that he, like the tiny Lilliputians against the giant Gulliver, is no match for an alert, covenant-empowered child of God. Satan knows that his best shot is to catch us while we are fast asleep. As Lehi warns:

“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. . . . Others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” (2 Ne. 28:21-22)

Satan’s wiles appear first as comely silken cords; it is only later when we are fettered by habit and consequences that we realize that they are “awful chains.” Some of these chains begin as a fear of what people will think; a fear of total commitment to the Lord; a fondness for possessions that allows them to possess us rather than vice versa; apathy or forgetfulness.

If unresolved these weaknesses lead to vice and betrayal both of ourselves and our Savior. We cannot be halfway into the Kingdom of God—it requires our whole commitment.

Four thousand five hundred years ago, the Brother of Jared heard the warning call of the prophets and gathered his family, friends and supplies and fled Babel, literally Babylon, and the tower they were building. They traveled into the wilderness, crossing rough, untraveled terrain and large bodies of water. At all times they were led by the Lord as He appeared to them in a cloud.

Finally, the Jaredites came to the great sea where they stopped on the seashore at a beautiful place they called Moriancumer. I imagine during that time life was good: they had peace, for they were alone, and they could fish and surf, get a tan and maybe even plant some crops.

I’m sure the Jaredites would have been content to stay there on the beach for the rest of their lives. In fact, during this time of respite, even the brother of Jared became complacent and forgot what he was about.

At the end of four years, the Lord appeared to the brother of Jared and chastised him for three hours for failing to call upon the Lord. God reminded him of his promises—The Lord had much more in store for them than the beach at Moriancumer offered; He had prepared half a world as an inheritance for them and their posterity.

Now, I know what it is like to live near the beach here in sunny San Diego. In these last days, I am concerned by how close I live to the beach, metaphorically speaking. I have successfully fled Babylon; by living the Gospel I have escaped many of the woes that plague our world today. My physical, and temporal needs have been met, and the spiritual ones tend to seem less pressing, less urgent.

And yet fleeing Babylon is only halfway; the other half of my journey is setting off for and obtaining the Promised Land. I have a work to do for the kingdom as well as the individual necessity of purifying, perfecting and sanctifying my life to make it fit for the presence of God. I can’t afford to remain asleep on the beach when I still have so far to go, so much to gain, knowing that such a great price has already been paid for my success.

“A man is but a beast,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says, “as he lives from day to day, eating and drinking, breathing and sleeping. It is only when he raises himself, and concerns himself with the immortal spirit within him, that he becomes in very truth a man. Bethink ye how sad a thing it would be that the blood of the Redeemer should be spilled to no purpose?” (The White Company, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1962, pp. 58­59).

When our Redeemer entered the Garden of Gethsemane, he knew in one sense what was expected of Him, having agreed before the earth was created to be the One to bear the imperfections of a fallen world. However, as a Man with a body of flesh and bones, when faced with the awfulness of the task before Him, He “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy,” (Mark 14:33) Mark tells us. Christ was surprised at the reality of the suffering that began to descend upon Him, and He became afraid that he would “shrink” (D&C 19:18) or draw back from the work that only he could do.

A Photengraving of Carl Bloch's image of Christ in gethsemane

Christ in Gethsemane

In His deep anguish, Christ reached out to the three men closest to Him, Peter, James and John, saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death” (Matthew 26:38). Who could resist such a heart cry from a beloved friend? Christ bade them watch and pray, be with Him in His hour of extremity. He Himself went in alone unto the grove of olive trees, and fell on His face. He plead, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” That is to say, Father, everything is possible to Thee. If there be any other way, any other options, please let Me not have to do this. And yet Christ also said, “Thy will be done.”

After sometime Christ returned to where He had left His disciples and they were asleep. They could not watch with Him in that fateful hour.

Christ describes the suffering He bore:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.” (D&C 19:18)

He took upon himself all the sin, all the injustice, every pain, every sorrow, every illness, every ugly or ungodly thing that this and all worlds have suffered. In one great and Godly act of love, he bridged the gap that separates where we are from where God is and wants us to be.

At some point during that night of agony, an angel came to strengthen Christ. I don’t know who that angel was, but I would like for it to have been me. In that moment of ultimate love and suffering, I would have wished in some small part to show my gratitude by comforting the Savior, by expressing my love, by weeping with Him. I’m painfully aware however, that most likely, had I been on the scene, I would have been asleep in the shadows, with the other disciples. Despite my best intentions to step up to the work God has given me, I am often weak, inadequate, and he must continually prod me, and wake me up.

Peter, James, and John went on to do a mighty work for the Lord. Perhaps there is hope for me, also.