Thursday, December 3, 2015

No Need to Fear

San Bernadino shooting yesterday.  When I first saw the story I got angry.  Not again.  More lives lost.  More hate.  More pain.  More sorrow.  And the media and the politicians spin it.  We need gun control!  We need to close our borders to refugees!  But clearly the problem is here, or there wouldn't be more than a dozen people dead in a city that is probably more like mine that I realize.

Someone told me that the solution is to arm everyone.  If all the good people have guns too, maybe the madness can be stopped.  But it's only a matter of time until the madness overtakes us all.  The perpetrators of these horrific events are human, after all.  And we all have human frailties.  So the solution doesn't lie in relying on the goodness of the people you arm.  That goodness is fallible, corruptible.  There is truly only one solution:

Alma 31:5--"And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God."

In a world that is increasing in darkness, the only protection is to fill ourselves with Light--the Light of Christ.  He is the Light, the Life, and the Hope of the world.  His gospel brings true and lasting peace.  He can offer peace in times of suffering because he suffered all our sorrows and took upon him all our sins.  He can offer hope in times of loss, because he overcame death.  He can heal our hurts, our anger, our hatred, our fear--if we will turn to him.

One of my favorite stories in the Book of Mormon is that of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.  This was a group of people who, when introduced to the gospel, had such a desire to follow God that they were willing to give up everything--riches and sins.  They had been a hate-filled, war-like people, but when they learned the good news of the gospel they rejoiced in it, and covenanted with God that they would never take the life of another person.

Their faith was put to the test when they were attacked by an army because of their new beliefs.  But they went unarmed to the battle field, and as the army fell upon them, they fell to their knees in worship of the Almighty God.  More than 1,000 were quickly slain, but just as quickly, the attacking army was stung with the awfulness of the murders they had just committed.  More than 1,000 of the attacking army were converted.

I'm sure there was great sadness in the loss of these 1,000+ righteous men.  But the record states that the sadness was swallowed up in the joy of the gospel because those left behind knew that their loved ones were saved in the kingdom of God.  And adding to their joy, the lives of these men were not in vain because of the number brought into the kingdom of God because of their worthy lives.

Their faith in God did not keep them from dying.  Faith in God won't keep anyone from dying, ultimately.  But it takes away the sting of death.  It can remove all fear.  Later in the story, the faith of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis was so great that it literally did save the lives of their children.  But only because they did not fear death.  Their faith in Jesus Christ cast out all fear.

I do not need to fear because God is at the helm.  He is in control.  I do need to make efforts to fill myself with his light every day.  I do need to listen to the promptings of his Spirit, and follow them.  I know that as I look to him that I will live, regardless of the length of my mortal life.

There is hope.  There is peace.  There is goodness in the world.  Find it.  Cling to it.  Share it.  And have faith that God will take care of the rest.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Home school challenges

Home school has been a challenge lately.  I thought--years ago, when I was planning to home school all my children--that I had it all figured out.  That I understood what it would take for me as the mom to teach my children life-lessons AND acedemics. That I would be able to handle--even predict--the challenges that lay ahead.

Not so much.

I feel like a complete novice.  The baby steps as I go through this learning process are difficult, because I expect to be immediately successful at everything.  Often, when I'm not, I give up.  That's not an option in this situation.  For whatever reason, my daughter needs to be home, and for whatever reason, I need this experience with her.  It is heartwarming and bittersweet to hear her pray in the mornings, thanking Heavenly Father for this home school opportunity, knowing that at some point during the day she will probably melt down and scream at me because she doesn't like what she's learning.  I can hardly blame her.  She is learning the hardest lessons there are--she's learning self control.

A few weeks ago, I pulled out my Thomas Jefferson Education and the supporting materials, trying to figure out how so structure our home school.  I didn't really get very far.  I did review Core Phase, which is exactly where we are at, and exactly what we need.  Core Phase focuses on the most basic of basics: right vs. wrong, true vs. false, good vs. bad, relationships with family and God.  Part of that, particularly for us, is self-government.  Through much prayer and searching I finally got the message that THIS is why we're homeschooling.  Without a solid foundation in good vs. bad, relationships, and self-government, any other learning won't get you very far.  I've decided to be patient with myself, and with my daughter.  But still there is a nagging feeling that I should be doing more. Fortunately, I know that feeling is not from God.  It makes it easier to listen to what He IS telling me.

This phase--the tantrum phase--won't last forever.  I can feel subtle changes in my daughter.  She is learning.  I am learning.  We have much more to learn.  But we have a perfect and loving Tutor.  I'm learning to shut out the world's noise so I can hear the voice of the Spirit teaching me.  I have had some sweet and touching experiences, both with my daughter and with my Heavenly Father.

A friend of mine shared this meme on her Facebook timeline, and it boosted my spirits.  This truly is my goal when it comes to home school. (I don't have anything or anyone to attribute this to; if I find it, I'll post it later.)

I am thankful for the mentors God has sent to me, for the learning I have experienced in the last few years that has prepared me for this moment in my life.  I'm at a critical juncture with my daughter. Thankfully, as unready as I feel, I know that I am ready.  I know that a step in the darkness is sometimes necessary in order to get to the light.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Home School Days, Home School Days...

Our home school adventure has begun again.  I guess it never really ended, since all of the kids were home all summer.  Like it or not, believe it or not, home IS school.  But this is official home school, the file-an-affidavit-with-the-district kind. And I've been dreading it.

We started home school for our 3rd daughter last year, mid-way through the school year.  After fighting several times a week every week about whether or not she would even go to school that day, I finally went to the Lord in prayer (though not for the first time on this subject).  The fighting between us couldn't go on.  It was destroying our relationship, and driving the Spirit out of our home. I told God that the only solution I could come up with was to withdraw her from public school and teach her at home.  For the first time in nine years (which is when my desire to home school began), I felt His approval.

It wasn't easy.  I didn't do a good job of it.  I also had a baby at home, and a work-from-home job to take care of.  But I knew that the reason she was home was not because I would be better at teaching her math or science.  I knew there were other lessons for her to learn.

I was a bit lackadaisical about it, perhaps, partly because I didn't know what the next year (this year) would bring. But here we are, homeschooling, and I think I'm finally starting to figure a couple of things out.

This child does not like book work.  She loves to read books of her choosing, but give her a simple worksheet, and the struggle begins.  She loves to be active, and hates to be made to do things.  How do you school a child like that?  Since I rather like book work, and I don't love being active like she does, what was I to do?

I pulled my copy of A Thomas Jefferson Education off the shelf, with some of the accompanying materials I had.  I turned kind of randomly to a page, and got direction I knew I needed, but I wasn't sure still what to do with it.  Teach what is "mine," it said.  What do I have that is of worth or interest?  Put in the effort to get a great education yourself, it said.  What was I busy learning? Nothing.

It was a short time later that the answers came.  I DO have something of worth.  I can teach her the laws of thought.  I can spend time with her in the scriptures.  I have a great personal need to strengthen my body through healthy eating and exercise.  I can do those things with my daughter, teaching her as I learn.  I can teach her to govern herself, and to look far enough ahead to anticipate what the consequences of her choices will be.  I can teach her to love and revere motherhood and womanhood, and to look to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to discover her worth.  I can teach her to look for her personal mission, and to recognize that the things she struggles with are preparing her for important things to come.  I can take every one of these lessons and learn it better myself as I teach her.  I can give her a solid foundation so that when the time comes to focus more on academic subjects, she will know why study is important, and will want to put in the effort.

Our home school doesn't look like "school" as I have always understood it.  I struggle with that in a lot of ways.  But I also know with certainty that the Lord is guiding this educational process for my daughter, and for me.  He knows just how important self government and healthy eating and biology and multiplication facts are to this child's life and personal mission.  He will not direct me to do something that will short-change her in any of these things.  I have to trust Him.  I'm certainly not smart enough to do this on my own.  How thankful I am that His interest in me and my family extends to helping me understand how to love and parent these beautiful children.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Heavenly Father, are you really there?

I have been taught to pray all my life.  I have been taught that God hears and answers prayers.  I have been told what an answer to prayer feels like, and because I have taken questions to God in prayer, I also have personal experience with receiving answers.  I know what an answer to prayer feels like because I have experienced it first hand.

I have also struggled with prayer.  I don't always pray as regularly as I ought to.  Sometimes I pray as fervently as I know how, truly desiring an answer, and I don't feel like I get one.  Or I fervently pray, feel like I receive the answer, and then a short time later, the answer seems to change.  The answers that change have been the most challenging to my faith, but I have learned a little something about those answers and about prayer, and it's something that I've learned because I stuck with it.

Years ago, about the time my oldest child was three, I started investigating home schooling.  I had been introduced to the concept during my time in the Teacher Ed program in college.  I was fascinated by it, and I wanted to provide the best educational opportunities for my very bright little girl.  I studied it, I developed new ideas about education in general, and I found a method that struck me as being THE method, at least for my family.  I was excited.  I found like-minded friends, I did my best to implement the principles I had learned, and I prayed.  It was such a good thing!  I felt confident that I had discovered the Lord's path for our family.

Fast forward a few years, to the summer of 2007.  My oldest was now six, and was begging to go to school.  I was in turmoil.  For the first time in my life as a parent, I was questioning my earlier decision, and I wasn't sure why.  Clearly my six-year-old didn't have the capacity to make that kind of decision for herself.  I talked things over with my husband.  He was concerned about my ability to give the proper attention to our daughter's schooling and take care of our two younger daughters, one of whom was just a baby.  I brushed his concerns away.  With God, I could do anything, right?

I prayed about what to do.  So many years later, I'm not sure what I asked for in my prayers, but I did yearn to know with certainty what the Lord's will was for me.  About a week before school was to start, my mom was visiting.  She has always supported my desires to home school.  So it was rather unexpected when she looked at my daughter who was playing nearby and said, "You know, she would really thrive in school."  I started to cry.  "I know," was my reply.  It was even more unexpected than my mom's comment, but the instant I said it, relief washed over me and I knew what to do. It was a most certain answer to prayer.

Sometimes we feel that when we get an answer, that the struggle is over.  For me, that was just the beginning.  I knew God had answered my prayers.  But it wasn't what I wanted.  Oh, it was fun to shop for school clothes and supplies, and to take her first-day-of-school picture out on the front lawn. But every time she struggled with school or teachers or friends, I wanted to pull her out and teach her at home.  I had spent years studying and forming opinions about public school and home school, and I was emotionally invested in it.  Now, with my heart in home school and my daughter in public school, I didn't know who to be.  Should I join the PTA?  That's what good public school moms who care about their kids' educations do.  Isn't it?  Should I find a charter school that would push her academically?  That's what good moms who believe in school choice do, isn't it?  In the end, convenience won out.  The bus stop was two houses away.  I didn't even have to take my kid to school; the school district did that for me.  And I did not join the PTA.

Two years later, I revisited the question.  It was always a question for me.  I felt very strongly that I had been divinely guided to study home school, and it didn't make sense to me for that to be the case and then send my kids to public school.  My oldest was preparing to enter third grade, and my second daughter was getting ready for Kindergarten.  I didn't want them to go.  I wanted the benefits and blessings of home schooling my children, and I couldn't have them if I sent my kids to public school. I spent the summer in fervent prayer.  I knew what I wanted.  I knew it was good.  I felt strongly that it was right.  So I made plans to make home school our reality.

The first and most important step in the process was to discuss the matter with my husband.  He and I have several subjects where we really don't see eye to eye.  Home school is one of them.  But I knew that for home school to be right, we both had to be on board.  I asked him to pray about it, to study about it.  I felt confident about the direction we should take, and confident in his ability to receive answers to prayer.  I told him that whatever he felt was right, that's what we would do.  I knew there was a possibility that he would get a different answer.  While I was certain that his answer would be the same as mine, I also made the determination to stick by my word and follow my husband's counsel.

The entire summer passed.  I would occasionally broach the subject: "Have you gotten an answer yet?"  "No, not yet."  I was discouraged.  If I was going to home school, there were things I had to prepare! But I didn't want to push or nag.  I took the matter to the Lord in prayer.  He told me to trust my husband.  So I tried to calm my anxiety over the matter, and waited.

Traditionally, the night before school starts, my husband gives our children father's blessings.  As that night rolled around, my husband's answer still hadn't come.  He gave our daughters beautiful blessings, promising them that their year in school would be good.  I was angry.  He had blessed them to have a good year in school.  After our littles were tucked into bed, I asked if he had received his answer, and he had.  He told me that as he blessed our girls, the answer had come for him, and he knew that school was the best place for them to be.

Now I wasn't just angry.  I felt devastated.  I had made a promise, and I had promised to abide by it. But the worst part was that I had felt so strongly that I had received an answer to my prayers, and it seemed to have somehow changed.  I was sure that my husband's answer from God was just that--an answer from God.  I was also certain that I had been receiving answers--different answers--all summer.  How could that be?  I knew what the Spirit felt like, didn't I?  I knew how to receive answers to prayer.  How could we both be asking the Lord the same question for the same children and getting different answers?

I started doubting.  I didn't doubt the Lord, but I doubted my ability to receive answers from Him.  It felt useless to pray if I wasn't going to get what I wanted.  And there was the rub--what was my purpose in prayer, anyway?  To receive answers from the Lord?  Or to be right and get what I wanted?

It's been nearly eight years since I first received the answer to send my daughter to school.  And I've learned so much about prayer and answers in the intervening years.  The subject of home school is not one that will be a vehicle for spiritual growth for most people I know, but it has been the perfect learning tool for me.  And as this post is not really about home school at all, but about prayer, here is what this experience has taught me over the years:

  • When answers change, it is because circumstances have changed.  I prayed a lot about home school when my daughter was young.  The answer to send her to school did not come until she was at the age where she was legally required to be enrolled in school.  The answer didn't come when I asked, but when I needed it.
  • Sometimes the purpose for our experiences is different than we expect. I felt divinely guided to study home school.  Because that inspiration came when my oldest was young, and because I was so concerned for her education, I assumed that the reason was because home school was the best option for her.  That didn't turn out to be the case.  That doesn't mean that I was not divinely inspired to learn about home schooling, it just means that the purpose for it was different than I thought.
  • Our prayers for one answer can lead us to another.  My intention in asking my husband to pray about home school was because I thought that was what our children needed.  But what my children need more is a mom and dad who are completely united, and who seek to know and follow the counsel of the Lord.  This has been a critical learning experience for me, and it crossed over into my "home school lessons."  More important than where my kids go to school is that my husband and I make these decisions together.  (I'm sure I'll be writing another post on this subject!)
  • Sometimes we get in the way.  When we are so invested in things being a certain way, we may truly desire to know the will of God, but we aren't in the right place to receive the answer when it comes. I've learned over the years that being wrong is a really difficult thing for me, especially when I have drawn conclusions after a lot of study and effort.  It feels like my efforts were wasted.  It feels like I must be stupid for having drawn those conclusions in the first place.  Neither of those things are true. But in order to really know God's will, we have to be willing to give up our own.  Not feeling peace over an answer?  Are you willing to choose the opposite of what you want?  When I have been humbled to the point of being willing to give up my deepest desires, that is when those big answers have come.  It has always been painful in one way or another.  But the rewards and the peace have always been greater than the pain.  The peace and certainty that comes with an answer to prayer has gotten me through many difficult times--every difficult time.  I rely on it every day.
  • God is in charge. He is not controlling my life.  I can make my own choices.  I could have, at any point, abandoned my prayers on the subject and just home schooled my children.  But what would the consequences of that choice have been?  There would have been a serious rift in my relationship with my oldest daughter.  There would have been an even more serious rift in the relationship with my husband, one that could have been irreparable.  I'm certain that there would have been a serious toll on my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  But I would have gotten what I thought I wanted.  In reality, what I want most is a sweet and loving relationship with my husband, one where we are completely united.  I want a healthy and positive relationship with each of my children.  And I want to trust in the Lord and follow His will.  The Lord is blessing me with those things.  He sees the path for me to get those things. When I wanted home school, all I could see was home school.  I didn't see how it intersected with all the other desires of my heart.  But God did.  And in giving me "no" answers sometimes, what He was really doing was giving me "yes" answers to the things I want most.  I just didn't have the perspective to see it.

My struggles with prayer have changed over the years.  Each new struggle is a part of my growth. As I have worked through each struggle, my testimony of prayer has been strengthened.  Each "no" answer is not really about what I've been praying for.  It's about God teaching me important lessons to help me develop my full potential, both in this life and in the eternities.  I am so thankful for His perfect knowledge and wisdom.  I am so thankful for His love for me.  I am so thankful that He knows what I can become, and that He will tell me "no" when it will serve that higher purpose.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Traditions of Our Fathers

I have some pretty big biases in my life.  I have a "crazy right-wing" tendency, which I really have to work sometimes to shut off.  I was raised in a family where the more traditional view of things was not dismissed, necessarily, but also not blindly accepted.  As I have grown, I have discovered that when I "research" an issue, I usually am not doing anything of the kind.  I am really looking over a whole lot of information, and the pieces of information that resonate with me are the ones that support my already firmly established opinion.

A particularly difficult and firmly-held belief of mine was challenged recently, in a way that didn't address my bias, exactly, but did bring a question into focus for me: is my way of thinking about this issue correct?

I had to pray about it.  It was a hard prayer, because there was a real chance that I had been wrong about this belief.  It was an attitude that had been passed down for generations, and changing my mind about this one issue touched on a lot more than just the issue itself.  It meant changing me.

As I prayed, I asked about the traditions of my fathers.  Were there attitudes, beliefs, biases--traditions--that my fathers had passed down to me that were wrong?  Could these attitudes be the very ones that I cling to most tenaciously, making them part of who I am?  Are these attitudes benefiting me and expanding my abilities to serve God and His children, or are they holding me back?  Most obviously, what would God have me do about this issue I was praying about?

I realized that in my years of praying about this issue, I had never really felt peace about my decision. However, I feared the alternative.  I think the traditions of my fathers interfered.  I wasn't entirely comfortable with either decision, but instead of moving forward and trusting in the Lord to make everything okay, I was staying in my comfort zone, which wasn't really all that comfortable.  I was so tied to not "following the crowd" that I couldn't get a clear answer.

Thankfully, the Lord is gentle and patient.  When we have hard lessons to learn, He is there to support us and to soften the blow.  How I love Him!  How thankful I am for His Son!

I am concerned when I see people on their soap boxes, berating and vilifying people who don't see eye to eye with them.  I have been on the soap box, and I have been vilified.  I have compassion for people who are doing their best to make good decisions and aren't always getting it right.  What's more, I see that often the decision isn't so cut and dried, and often there is a lot of conflicting information to wade through.  How do you make a decision when there are valid points on either side, and both camps are mud-slinging? When I have struggled with those kinds of decisions, I have felt that I had to hide a part of me, that people would not be understanding or even keep me as a friend if they knew the truth about me.

And so I have a plea to make: before you berate a person or group for any "wacky" belief, remember that we all have stuff to learn here.  We all have traditions that have been passed down to us that are incorrect in one way or another, and we all have to sort out for ourselves which traditions are good and which are not. We all are doing the best that we can.  Do your best for you and your family, and understand that people who make decisions you don't agree with may be doing the same.  Remember that behind every "stupid" decision or remark is a person with feelings, one who is likely struggling with lessons that you may not understand.  Having struggled in those ways, I pray that those around me will be compassionate.  And I pray, too, that I may remember, and extend that same mercy and compassion to others.