Thursday, August 10, 2017

Who Is Influencing You?

We have really been going the rounds as a family.  Fighting, bickering, blaming, yelling, screaming, shouting (and that's just Mom!).  We've tried talking about the inappropriateness of the behavior, emphasizing positive qualities of our kids to their irritated siblings, and praying for guidance as to what to do.  We have made efforts to increase our family prayer and scripture study, relying on the promise that increasing our time in the scriptures would increase the Spirit in our home.  To be fair, those efforts have all but disappeared during the summer, but it was a serious concern for us even as we made diligent efforts.  The contention seemed to be ever-present, even when (even while!) we were regularly studying. But in talking to one of my daughters about this problem, I may have hit on an aspect of it that we haven't addressed before.

She was particularly upset with one of her sisters.  I asked her how she thought Heavenly Father felt about that sister.  What words would He use to describe her?  She replied with loving, kind, happy.  Is that how she felt about her sister?  NO!  Then I asked how Satan would describe her sister.  As she thought, I asked her another question: are your thoughts and feelings about your sister more like Heavenly Father's?  Or more like the adversary's?

God, being our Heavenly Father, knows us perfectly.  He has known us for far longer than we have lived here on Earth.  He knows our weaknesses, sure--and we all have them--but how do you think He really sees His children?  When introducing His perfect Son to those present at His baptism, to the Nephites, and to the boy Joseph Smith, He called Him Beloved.  I think that's how He sees all of us, too.

So if that is not how we see each other, then who has influence over us?  Prior to this discussion, we talked as a family about anger and how it can trap you (for a really good analogy of this, read the first part of chapter nine in Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls).  I think that for our family, our natural feelings of anger have made us susceptible to Satan's lies*--"That person is so lazy."  "He is so irritating!"  "She is so bossy."  "He hates me."  "She always...." "He never...." And the list goes on and on in a seemingly endless, negative cycle.


Once we recognize Satan's lies for what they are, we can dismiss them.  We will still have angry moments.  Those negative feelings are part of this mortal experience.  They can even be helpful tools in personal growth.  The problem comes when we accept them, when we choose to own them, and when we falsely identify a person with a character flaw that they may have, but that is not in keeping with their TRUE nature. Particularly for parents, who want to help their children become their best selves, it is important to SEE them as their best selves--to recognize, emphasize, and celebrate the positive qualities that are their special gifts from God.

There was another thought that struck me as I considered this possibility for my family: what if, by accepting and holding on to these false ideas about our family members, we have been less able to identify the feelings of the Spirit?  If we are harboring feelings of anger, then how can the Spirit reach us?  Have we been missing out on spiritual blessings because we have been unwilling to let go of our negative thoughts and feelings about one another?

*I believe that the same things apply to the negative things we say and feel about ourselves.  Who is feeding us those lies?  If we believe them, who are we listening to?  I've struggled with this (and continue to!) but at least I am certain that my Heavenly Father sees me in a positive, loving way. With that assurance, I can banish those negative thoughts!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

“I am determined to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery is dependent upon our dispositions, not our circumstances.”

This has been my favorite quote for many years.  I have most often seen it attributed to either Martha Washington or the ever-wise “Anonymous,” but I haven’t been able to authenticate either.  Regardless, it is a truism that I have experienced in my life.  When I was first introduced to this quote at 15 years old, my Young Women’s leader challenged me to look at myself in the mirror while I repeated this quote with conviction.  I did.  After several weeks, I recognized that I was seeing things in a more optimistic way.

Today as I was thinking (as I am apt to do), this quote led to a broader truism: the greater part of my happiness or misery is dependent upon my own thinking.  When I think and act in accordance with natural law, I experience happiness.  When my thoughts and actions run contrary to natural law, I experience misery.

At our Stake Conference last Sunday, our wonderful Stake President spoke about repentance.  It was an excellent talk!  One of the things he said was that he is so grateful for guilt.  Guilt is a gift.  These are bold and confusing statements when you consider how much effort we as a society put into NOT feeling guilt.  But he reminded us that guilt helps us to recognize a need for change, and then to seek it.  If we continue to make choices that violate moral or natural law and expect positive results (i.e., happiness), we will be miserable because such a thing is impossible according to natural law. 

As I was pondering these new thoughts, I watched one of my daughters become angry with her sister (again.  It’s an ongoing battle!).  I recognized immediately that this principle was at work: if my daughter would change her thinking, she would not have to experience so much frustration with her sister.  We accept so much as “normal” (sibling rivalry is “normal”; the generation gap is “normal”) that really could be changed by a change in our thinking.  It is most certainly “normal” to encounter these feelings, but we don’t have to invite them to be our constant companions.  We can recognize them as invitations to discover a train of faulty thought, and then correct that faulty thinking.  Believing this—acting on this—makes happiness attainable in every circumstance.  Instead of an emotional state that we hope will happen to us, happiness becomes a choice.  It is available to us anytime we choose. 

I remember once as I read over this favorite quote again, I got stuck on the word determined.  For the first time, I didn’t like the connotation.  It’s possible to believe that this quote is encouraging us to use our determination to power through feelings of sadness or frustration, and make ourselves feel happy instead.  Pushing away those negative feelings in an attempt to be happy is trying to force something contrary to natural law.  To read this quote in that way will yield more frustration and more disappointment.  But if we remember that to determine something means to make a choice, then we can read the quote like this: I have chosen to be happy in whatever situation I may be…

It makes a difference.  It is choosing to tap into the power that will bring happiness, rather than trying to force happiness when it isn’t there.  It is choosing to feel and experience negative feelings, and to use them as tools to rediscover happiness, by identifying and changing our faulty ways of thinking.  Happiness cannot come just because you will it to be so.  Happiness is a direct result of living and thinking rightly, according to natural law.  I will not just “happen” for anyone, but it is available to everyone.
(I happened upon this unfinished draft this morning.  I wish I had published it back in December when it happened.  But it was still a good memory, and a good reminder, especially as Easter is not far away.  We can remember the Savior and make a difference any time of the year.)

This year (2016) we have been participating in the #LightTheWorld campaign with a little success, though certainly not perfection.  Day 6 was, "Jesus read the scriptures, and so can I."  I know this, because we had just decided to forgo our family morning scripture study due to oversleeping, and just pray instead.  We checked out what the activity for Light the World was, and when we saw "read the scriptures," the reminder couldn't have been clearer.  Even on hurried mornings, the scriptures MUST be a part of our lives.  They are a vital protection to our family every day.  But I digress.  A post on the scriptures is for another day.

This post is about feeding the hungry.  I wanted to donate to a food bank for this activity, which is one of the suggested activities.  But a busy day of schoolwork, teaching, and chauffeuring my kids from place to place got the better of me.  Ahh, intentions.

In the middle of chauffeuring, I found myself at the grocery store with my oldest daughter.  We bought a few things that I had missed on my weekly grocery run (which happens every week, btw), including a sack of apples.  As we left the store parking lot on our way home, a man stood near the street with a sign--"Anything helps."  Hannah pulled an apple out of our sack and gave it to him, and he accepted it with gratitude.  As we pulled away, Hannah turned to me and said, "Today was 'Jesus fed the hungry.'  We just fed the hungry."

I was so thankful for the opportunity to make a small difference, when my intentions to make a big difference didn't pan out.  Even my efforts to make a "big" difference would have been small, comparatively speaking.  But even the Savior, who makes all the difference, took time to make a small difference to just one.  Over and over, he reached out to one.  And this individual attention is what makes the difference, still, for each one of us.

One hungry person.  One apple.  One very good reminder.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lessons from the Grinch

Last December we planned a family outing to go Christmas shopping.  For years we have taken the kids to the dollar store to buy presents for each other and the parents.  It has become a favorite family tradition--dinner at McDonald's, and shopping at the Dollar Tree across the parking lot.  But I'd grown weary of receiving dollar store gifts to try and treasure.  I decided that perhaps we had "graduated" to a "nicer" discount store where we could have a bigger selection of gifts.  Yes, our budget would need to increase, but the gifts would be better!  So we tried Big Lots.  Meh.  Yes, bigger gifts.  Better--maybe.  This year, instead of Dollar Tree or Big Lots, we would go to our favorite local big box store--Shopko.  It would definitely be better here.

Ugh.  Worst family activity night!  The store was so big that it was hard to keep track of everyone. The selection was so big (and the prices) that it was difficult for our littles to stay within their modest budget.  They needed a lot of help from mom and dad.  And the kicker--the coupons that we brought to use had all either expired the day before, or were not valid until the next day.  We had confused the dates as we looked at them before leaving the house, so this was a check-stand discovery.  Andy was fuming, mostly about the coupons, but also over the frustration of the shopping trip.  Everyone else was ornery, and I suddenly remembered a line from How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!  "Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.  Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

Had I really made the same mistake as the Grinch?  Had I really become so selfish that I couldn't see my children's gifts to me for what they were?  All they wanted was to share in the joy of giving, and to see a smile on my face when they gave me a heart-felt gift.  And, at least for a few years, I had been more focused on the gift than on the giver.  I was embarrassed over this new discovery.  And with everyone else's unhappiness over the "fun" family activity we had just (not) enjoyed, I asked some questions.

"Did anyone have fun tonight?"  (The answers were mixed, but there was definitely whining involved.) "Was it more fun tonight?  Or was it more fun when we used to go to the dollar store?  I don't ever remember coming away from the dollar store with this feeling."

Everyone agreed.  We had spent more money and time, and had less fun.  Andy had considered taking everything back and using the coupon to re-purchase, but I had a different idea.

"We used to have fun doing this activity.  What if we take back all the stuff, and re-do our Christmas shopping at the dollar store?"  There was some disappointment, because these girls had worked hard to pick nice gifts.  But instead of having to draw names and buy for just one sibling, they would be able to buy for everyone.  And the fun we used to have with this activity would return.  The feeling in the van changed.  Everyone calmed down.

A few days later, we went to the dollar store.  The girls wandered around, dropping hints about what they would like as they worked to pick the perfect gifts for their family members and stay out of sight.  Everything in the store fit into their budget.  They all got their own money to take and pay by themselves.  No coupons were involved.  And it was a small enough place that they could wander freely without getting lost.  The fun was back.  I got a puzzle, a dishtowel, a fancy bar of soap, and some floral patterned pens.  And a truly fun family memory.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Some Things Are Worthy of Quitting

I have always loved to write, and fancied myself as a professional writer from a young age. (I imagined myself on a successful book tour at the ripe old age of 12.  I could just see myself on talk shows answering the hosts’ burning questions about my incredible book, and my amazing talent.  Oh, I planned to be so famous!)

I must not have been as talented as I imagined, because my dream of success at 12 didn’t happen then, and still hasn’t happened (not for the writing dream, at least).  But the dream persisted, and led me to take a correspondence writing course where I was mentored by a published author.  I had to submit a writing sample as part of the application process, and I was very flattered to be accepted.

It was fun, at first.  But it got hard pretty quick.  I wasn’t used to having someone find fault with my work.  I had a difficult time coming up with plots for stories.  I felt so unable to relate to kids or teens—the audience I was writing for—that I became discouraged.  And then I had a baby.  Trying to find time for writing while taking care of a newborn was a real challenge.  I got to the point that I dreaded the class work.  I no longer enjoyed writing.  I no longer wanted to get published.  I just wanted to be done.

So I quit.

I didn’t think I regretted it, until a few weeks ago.  I received a letter from the writing school, offering to let me back in to their class to finish what I had started. 

Again, I was flattered.  They wanted me back!  They saw potential in me!  Maybe I had quit too soon. 

Maybe I was a quitter.

That was the idea that took hold in my brain and wouldn’t let go.  I have certainly had other experiences where, when the going got tough, I quit.  The writing class was only one example.  I didn’t want to be a quitter.  Didn’t I want to teach my children to do hard things?  Didn’t I want to push through the hard times to get to the reward of success on the other side?  Aren’t those important life skills?

I convinced myself that they were, and I signed back up.

My first assignment was due this week.  I tried to write it.  The words would not come.  And when I finally sat down to put some real effort into it, I realized that I no longer had time to put together a good attempt.  That’s okay, I told myself.  I’ll just submit something from the blog.  But there was a nagging question—why do I want to do this?  DO I want to do this?  What is the end game?  What do I want out of this?

Answer: I am not a quitter.

That was my end game?  I am not a quitter?  That was why I was adding unnecessary stress to my life was to prove that I was not a quitter?

Lightbulb moment: I am not a quitter already, and some things are worthy of quitting.

There is a vast difference between quitting because something is hard, and recognizing that persisting in something will not help you to accomplish your goals.  I am a big advocate of doing hard things.  I am a big advocate of personal development.  Sometimes developing character means doing hard things that don’t have a fiscally measurable return on investment.  Sometimes it will be hard to remember why we are doing the hard thing in the first place.

And sometimes, we need to quit.

Seeing value in doing hard things doesn’t mean that we need to do ALL hard things.  We don’t need to sign up for something just because it’s hard.  Life is generous in that way—we’ll get plenty of hard things to do just by virtue of being alive.  We don’t need to pile it on ourselves.  Conversely, having a goal, a really hard goal, even, can be a great and important thing. 

So how do you know when it’s time to quit? 

Honestly, I don’t know.  But I do know that my biggest goals, my eternal goals, are to return to live with my Heavenly Father some day.  To be with my family for eternity.  To make and keep covenants.  To be truly united with my husband as we lead and love our family.  Any goal that distracts me or directs me away from those things is not in keeping with my chosen destiny, and is not worthy of my time and effort.  And sometimes, it requires the assistance of the Holy Ghost to know when that is the case.

Those are the things that guide my steps every day.  There are a lot of opportunities that come along in the course of this mortality, and I’ve attempted to pursue some of them.  More often than I would like, I feel a nudge away from the things I have chosen, with an oh-so-subtle whisper that what He has in store for me is so much better than what I am attempting.  So I retreat.  I let go of my dreams, hoping that His plan for me will be as fulfilling as my plan would have been.  Letting go of my dreams has been heart-wrenching.  Every time I do it, there is a mourning process to go through.  It is as much a loss in some ways as my miscarriages have been.  But, as with my miscarriages, there is a peace that God is in control, and He knows what He is doing.  And He knows far better than I do. 

In the last week, especially since General Conference, I have had the feeling that if I will take care of things here at home, these experiences will prepare me in exactly the ways I need for what is ahead.  My job now is to be okay with that, and to trust God to direct my steps.  I don’t need to rush things.  I just need to be willing to follow.  And He will lead the way.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Beautiful Easter

(I started writing this for on Easter Sunday.  It is no longer Easter, but the blessings of the Resurrection are not only for one day.  So I'm posting it late, because the blessings of the Atonement and Resurrection are for every moment, every second.  And it's my blog.)

Beautiful Easter today.  My toddler woke at 4 a.m. and wouldn't go back to sleep.  My husband and I took turns for four hours, trying to keep him occupied and quiet, so that our sick daughter would be able to stay asleep.  It was a valiant effort.  I tried to pour out my tired soul in prayer, but I got as far as, "I'm just so tired.  Please help me understand what my children need, and give me strength to get through the day."  At least toddler napped for an hour or so before church.

We made it to Sacrament Meeting, and we were almost completely settled into our pew before toddler started wailing for his milk.  We did manage to make it almost through the Sacrament with him before Dad took him out.  *Sigh.*  I struggle with Sundays.

The ward choir sang.  It was lovely, but a little bittersweet, since my sick 15 year-old was supposed to accompany the choir on her violin.  I love to hear her play.  Just as the music ended, Dad returned with toddler.  My turn.  We tried walking around the church.  Several times he flopped onto the ground and just lay there, letting people step over him, and I think he was licking the carpet.  Gross, but he's a boy.  I've stopped caring so much about the things that go into his mouth.  It takes way to much energy to worry about most of it.

A friend of mine was also in the hall, and started to chat with me, but toddler was having none of it. "I don't know why I'm here," I confided.  "You should just go home," she said.  "I'll sub for you in the nursery."

I didn't even think twice, not letting the guilt in, even though I read through the Ensign about parents who are diligent with their fussy children, walking the halls for most of the three hour block, but at least they are in the right place!  I should be one of those diligent parents.  Instead, I take my little one home for a nap.  But we try.  Every week we try.

It doesn't sound like such a lovely Easter, does it?  But it was.  I prayed in anticipation of a family dinner, knowing that some of our family members are struggling with heavy burdens.  It breaks my heart that they have chosen a path away from the church, away from faith, and away from the Savior, but it is what it is.  I prayed to be able to say something to one family member in particular, and to have the words given to me.  I didn't have the opportunity for a conversation with this person, but I was asked to say the blessing on the meal.  I wasn't sure I was in the right frame of mind, but I prayed.

I wondered as I prayed whether or not I should mention the Resurrection and Atonement on this Easter Sunday.  How would such a prayer be received by those in our family who don't believe?  On the other hand, how could I pray and NOT express my gratitude for my Savior?  I had to say what was in my heart, regardless of how the other members of the family would feel about it.

It wasn't until I left that I realized that the Lord had answered my prayers.  Usually Grandpa calls on someone to pray.  This time, Grandma suggested that I say it.  I haven't prayed at one of these family gatherings in a very long time--usually it's one of the grandchildren.  But I was given the opportunity to bear my testimony through prayer to family members who wouldn't hear it any other way.  I don't know if it will make any difference to them, but it did to me.

I left wanting to shout my testimony from the rooftops.  HE LIVES!  Hallelujah!  He lives!  Because He lives, all of the difficulties of my day are fleeting.  Because He lives, all the pain, sorrow, exhaustion, turmoil, confusion, and strife can be overcome.  It can all melt away as I strive to be still and listen to what He is telling me.  And not just me, it can be that way for you.  He died for YOU. He suffered for YOU. He LOVES YOU.  He is there, waiting, for YOU.  The more I let Him in, the more my life changes for the better.  The more I change for the better. And if you will let Him in, your life will change, too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Get Behind Me, Shoulder Devil

My kiddos are huge Studio C fans.  Our Monday night Family Home Evening schedule is pretty strict, to make sure that we are all ready to watch Studio C at 8:00.  It's fun, clean humor, which I really appreciate.  Recently, though, it had more than just a humorous application for my family.

One of my daughters has a particularly difficult time controlling her temper.  She is extremely sensitive, and very spiritually mature, but get her in a bad mood and none of that matters.  I try to calm her to the point that she can make better decisions, but when she is mad, she seems determined to stay that way.  She expresses a desire to not feel so out of control (when she is in a contrite state of mind), but how to help her with that has been somewhat of a mystery to me and my husband as we try to love and teach her.  Finally, my husband expressed that perhaps she is more than just sensitive to THE Spirit, maybe she is sensitive to all manner of spirits.

I had had the same thought.  This girl is strong.  She is powerful.  She has a faith that is unusual for a child her age.  How to help her put off these negative emotions?

Enter Studio C and the Shoulder Devil.

I asked my sweet daughter if she ever felt like there was someone trying to persuade her to do wrong or feel badly. She answered that she did.  I then reminded her of the Shoulder Devil skits, and told her that these menacing emotions were like the Shoulder Devil.  Most importantly, she could identify them and command them to leave.  We have worked to identify these spirits by name--the spirit of contention, of belligerence, of vitriol, of discouragement, of rancor--and then she commands them to leave her in the name of Jesus Christ.  When she does this, her countenance changes immediately. She feels great relief, and is once again in control of herself and her actions.

Another blogger I know of, Tamara Laing, writes about "chasing darkness," and how it has helped her daughter.  Her Mental Health First Aid page talks specifically of this, and contains helpful tools she has used to help her family members (it also describes some of the other tools that have been helpful to me and my family).  Her book, Healing Arts, has been especially helpful to me in understanding energy healing from an LDS perspective. Get more information about Tamara's book here.