Thursday, October 17, 2013

Getting To Know Yourself

I've always had a struggle with feeling refreshed, even after a relaxing evening with my husband or girl friends. Even after a quiet afternoon when the babies are napping and I've been able to complete a thought and accomplish things around the house. Even after a whole week's vacation away from real life.

And I didn't know why none of those things left me feeling like I was ready to jump back in and tackle my responsibilities.

You always seem to hear that these kinds of things are the stuff people seek when they're looking to relieve the stress in their lives. And they seem to work for other people...

Why not me?

I honestly don't know the answer to that, but what I have discovered is that there is a way to find out what works for each of us, when the things the world offers just aren't working.

Our family situation currently sees five little people scoot out the door throughout the day to school. The youngest scooter leaves for the afternoon to attend Kindergarten, leaving baby brother and I at home. Alone. (insert the hallelujah chorus here)

He takes a nice long nap during that time, giving me a prime opportunity to replenish my personal stores and be ready for the evening dashing. 

But I was finding that closing my eyes for a few minutes or catching up on emails while listening to the money guy on the radio or folding laundry while watching a favorite "mommy" show, wasn't leaving me the kind of refreshed I wanted it to. All of those things are wonderful and I enjoy each of them, but I was looking for more.

So, in a certain kind of frustration that comes from doing what you know should be working but isn't actually working, I started talking to God. 

"Lord, what should I do? What is right for me?"

The answer came quickly. It, in and of itself, is less important than the fact that it came, but what I heard was "you need quiet".

I knew what that meant ~ it was more than just the background quiet I was enjoying with everyone off doing their own things. I needed the kind of quiet that comes from stillness, from sitting, pondering, listening to both my heart and the voice of the Lord in my mind. 

All of this happened not very long ago, but I'm so impressed with the results already. 

And I LOVE how we can continually get to know ourselves, by conversing with the One who knows us perfectly. 

I am sure that the Lord is in the details of our lives and that His concern for us reaches to every nook and cranny and thought and care and concern that we might have. 

He loves us and we have access to His power, simply by asking.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Sabbath Day

As the universe was organized, on the sixth day, Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden. God the Father and Jesus Christ then "rest from their labors for a season" and leave Adam and Eve to tend to the Garden. It was a peaceful time, free of the cares of the world yet to come and full of quiet comtemplation.

This "day of rest" is of course today our Sabbath Day, or Sunday. I love that we have the example of the Garden of Eden as a model for our Sabbath Day observance and that it can be quiet and wonderful and spiritually strengthening.

We've created a list of Sabbath-friendly activities as our children look for things to do with their day. These come after "go to church", which is always the day's first priority, in order to partake of the sacrament, which we feel is the most important thing we do with our Sunday - renewing our baptismal covenants.

The rest of our list includes journal writing, Personal Progress, watching or reading a conference talk or session, taking a walk, and helping to plan FHE. I should also say that "take a nap" is on the list, and that is often a favorite!

Your list of activities may differ from mine. And these aren't the only things on our list, but a representation of the list overall.

My point in sharing some of the things on our list is only to help to find things that are restorative and strengthening, so that our Sabbath day observance is one that is beneficial to us.

How have your Sundays gone recently? With small children, "quiet" isn't usually a good word to describe the day, but we can make sure that the common e-mail-checking things that occupy our time during the other six days of the week aren't taking over and not leaving time to renew and refresh ourselves.

The Sabbath is such a blessing if we let it be.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Follow Dad

We have a variety of sizes of little people in our family, with the youngest being a very energetic 2-year old. I noticed recently when we're walking together as a family how often I say "follow dad" to any number of my short ones. Because he has longer legs, he'll typically take the lead and I will bring up the end of our little group.
From one of the first times that I said it, I've always been grateful at how fabulous it is that the instruction I give my children to "follow dad" doesn't just apply to physical things. He is a great role model and example and worthy to be followed in so many ways.
But last night, as we were walking to the van from the water park, I realized there's a little more to this sweet observation than I'd noticed before.

Dad was carefully making sure those precious little people were following after him, too.

It was a simple gesture and I'm sure he's done it most every time we fall in to this pattern. But last night as I told them one more time to "follow dad" (thus getting their attention back to crossing the parking lot safely), he turned around and made sure they were behind him, with a quick "come on guys" to keep them moving in the right direction.

In addition to my heart swelling at little at this amazing man I married, I can't help but think that this is how our Heavenly Father works as we follow after Him.

We have to listen to the teachings of His prophets and our other leaders to follow after Him, but of course he is ever-checking in and concerned that we are where we are supposed to be. And because, like my children can trust their dad to lead them to safety, we can trust our Heavenly Father to lead us safely, following after Him always brings blessings and peace to our lives.

Are you in the right place today, following after the One who promises peace and joy?


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Rolls We Play

Each of us represents certain groups: as a Being, we represent the human race; as a woman, I represent womanhood; as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I represent the Church. Not in an official capacity, but as a member.

Just yesterday I found a list of actors who were Mormon. Some were obvious - the Donny Osmond's of the group. But there were others that were a surprise. There were those whose body of work didn't exactly lead me to think that by their work their membership was obvious.

And it got me thinking about how well I represent the groups I am a part of. Am I a productive member of society, guarding humanity and my fellow humans? What does the world see in me regarding my femininity and how I represent womanhood? Is it obvious to those I meet that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

I hope so.

Of course there are things I want and need to do to improve in all of these areas, but my hope is that as each of us looks at and examines the rolls we have to play ~ human, woman, church member, wife/sister/daughter/mother/aunt/grandma etc. ~ we will do our best to represent those rolls well. To do good by the titles we have been given, or that we've taken on ourselves.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Moms and Prophets

Not long ago, I finished a project I'd been working on to read the biographies of the 4 men who've served as prophets since the time I joined the church in 1992.

I didn't read them in order (Benson, Hunter, Hinckley, Monson), but instead finished with President Hunter's biography, by Eleanor Knowles. What stood out to me in this final episode of my project was the Prophet's ability to accomplish so much, even while going through serious personal hardships and trials. Life was not continually easy for any of these men, but they were certainly blessed as they went about doing the Lord's work.

I wondered how they made so much use of their time and how they were able to do so much. It was easy to see that it was because they were in the right place, at the right time, choosing to do the right things, as the Lord needed them to do them.

In addition to their "I will go and do" attitude was a pledge to dedicate themselves to the work. What the Lord asked of them was, to them, going to be accomplished, no matter what.

As a mother, I long for accomplishment to each day. But motherhood doesn't necessarily bring with it a neat little checklist of things that are tangible enough to be recorded. While I treasure special moments with my children and am so grateful for the chance to be their mom, the intangibility that can be on-going (and sometimes feels never-ending) becomes a challenge to my love for lists.

Is that a familiar feeling to you, too?

You can read about how my scriptures became the brick to my day here.

What occurred to me after spending a minute admiring President Hunter (and all of the prophets) for his (their) productivity was that being prophet was his calling in exactly the same way being a mom is mine. And as such, I am entitled to the same kind of direction and inspiration that will allow me to make the most of the time I have each day. Just like these prophets demonstrated the ability to magnify time, when I am on the Lord's errand, I will be able to accomplish all I need and want each day.

Will I get everything done on my list every day?  No.

But like Sister Weeks said in her book "Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman", our satisfaction of each day will increase and improve simply because we're putting first things first and are dedicating ourselves to our priorities.

I can pledge myself to the work I am called to do in the very same way each prophet has done, and then reap the benefits the inevitable time-magnification brings. 

It's so easy these days to be distracted by all the good things available to us. It's also easy to withdraw and neglect those priorities in order to have some extra "me" time or because we feel like if we spend so much time keeping our children occupied, there won't be any time left for other needs, but most especially wants.

What I've learned is, even though it's counter-intuitive, when we dedicate ourselves to the service the Lord needs us to render, our time will be magnified in such a way that all of those other things will be within our ability to accomplish. Maybe not in the amount of time we thought or planned, but they will be doable.

It's surprising though, how much of those must-do's and want-to's fall off our list or out of our memory when we are focused on the things the Lord puts on our list. Satisfaction remains and little is really missed with their loss.

Our challenge then is to see our calling in the same way each prophet has seen his; to pledge ourselves to the Lord's work, continually seeking guidance and direction from Him. And then, to never lose sight of it all.

Is it easy to lose sight of the divinity of our role as woman, wife and mother? Especially with the messages the world sends today?

Most definitely: YES.

So even greater then is our charge to stay focused, to not let those distractions hinder us and to pledge ourselves to the work we're called to do, remembering who it is that has called us to do it.

Heavenly Father loves us and is aware of our unique situation and each of our challenges. He sent us here to succeed.

Something one of my daughters pinned recently comes to mind...

And it's true.

We can find great happiness when we work to align our desires with those the Lord has for us. In fact I think that's where our greatest happiness will be found.

May we be blessed as we seek to know our purpose and then work to live so it can be fulfilled.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

It's Mother's Day this weekend and Elder Holland has some great encouragement and counsel for each of us.



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Powerful Medicine

The scriptures are powerful medicine, both for preventive purposes and for restoration.

After reading Emily Watts' adorable book, "Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman" again a year or so ago, I decided that the scriptures could become the thing in my day described by Sister Watts as the BRICK of everyday.

The BRICK (my emphasis added) is that one thing that gets done, no matter what else does, and by doing that one thing, the entire day is not a loss, even if there's nothing else tangible accomplished.

For those of us who are "achievers" and "accomplishers", this is a really great concept!

For me though making my scriptures the non-negotiable item of my day has meant so much more than feeling a sense of accomplishment on any given day. It's more than a check mark on my day's list. Like we are promised, reading daily has been, for me, both healing and a protection.

While pregnant with my sixth child, I found myself at the edge of my ability to handle all of my responsibilities and often I would retreat to my room to lie down for a few minutes. I thought I was doing a good job of keeping things under control, all things considered. My sweet husband was working two full-time jobs, the other kids were happily busy with their activities, and I was looking forward to the birth of our precious baby boy. It was a very busy, wonderful time.

In addition to the "normal" kind of busy-ness, within 3 months my husband had two separate knee procedures and on the day of the second one, about six weeks before my due date, as I sat in the waiting room while he was in surgery, I had what I know now was an anxiety attack.

I felt as if my insides were ripped open and a horrible kind of terrification took over. As I sat there, I felt the wave of that emotion coming and tried to stop it, but it would not be stopped. From that point it would be about 7 months of living with that raw wound gaping open, before I finally sought and received some help.

In hindsight, I remember a quiet nagging feeling leading up to that time and that initial attack, urging me to read more of my scriptures. The feeling made an impression that I can still remember, but at the time I felt too overwhelmed to open those books too often.

I can only wonder now if paying better attention to that tugging feeling would have spared me, even a little, from the experience I have dealt with.

Now, I know enough to know better than to say that my anxiety is my fault. I also know enough to know better than to say that the absolute solution to prevent and end anxiety is to read your scriptures. I wish either or both of these things were true because then there'd be a blame and an answer for it happening to any of us.

What I want to accomplish by sharing a small part of my experience is to bear testimony of the power of the scriptures: to heal and to protect by bringing the spirit into our lives in a way nothing else does.

The scriptures are full of promises of protection, strength and power. I know that those promises are true and they have become more meaningful as I have taken more seriously first the commandment to read, study and immerse and second, to have faith in those promises.

For me, setting the scriptures as the BRICK in my day helps me envision a kind of fortified shield that protects me. I feel a sense of peace knowing that I am doing something the Lord has asked me to. They (the scriptures) have helped me in my journey to find the kind of emotional well-being I enjoyed before that first attack at the surgery center that day. And I feel confident that my regular reading has strengthened me emotionally and spiritually (along with prayer, temple attendance, priesthood blessings, and time).

Will I be spared another emotional upheaval like I've been through, thanks to my reading? I honestly don't know. I'd like to think so, but more than that just doing the right thing and being in the right place on a regular basis means the most to me. I do believe that the scriptures have power to prevent us from experiencing difficulties, including overwhelming temptations. We know we're promised that we won't be given more than we can bear, as long as we seek to have the help of our Heavenly Father.

These days my anxiety is mostly a quiet din in the background. Sometimes it tries to make it's way back to a more prominent place in my thoughts, but thankfully those days are few. Thanks to the help I've received and the protectors I've put in place (like my scriptures), I don't fear a resurgence but instead feel capable of dealing with whatever comes, when it comes.

I feel strongly that the scriptures are vital to our long term well-being. We can fortify ourselves and ward off unknown hazards, and we can help heal those scrapes we've already encountered.

Like any learning trial, I wish it wouldn't have taken what it's taken for me to have this testimony of the scriptures. As a side-effect, I'm grateful that this has come out of the horrors I went through.

I know the Lord is close by, that He loves us, and wants us to take advantage of the tools we've been given so that we might have health and strength and the ability to handle whatever life throws our way, even though challenges will still come.

If it's been a while since you've picked up your scriptures, see what you find in them today. I promise you'll feel better after you do.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Thinking On Purpose

Time Out For Women has been doing monthly challenges this year and in February it was Mary Ellen Edmunds' turn to challenge women to "Think on Purpose". You can find that article here.

I love MEE and I loved the idea of trying to take on the challenge, but I wondered how I'd do it when most of the time my thoughts are caused to be focused on tiny people and interruption after interruption after interruption. Finishing a thought isn't really something my brain is even very good at anymore.


It feels as if the stars aligned the other day, giving me some extra quiet moments that allowed me to take MEE up on her challenge to “Think On Purpose”.

On a recent Saturday, I had volunteered to take my daughter’s Science Team (they call themselves the “Ninjas”) to their Quiz Bowl in a neighboring town. It was about a 30-minute drive to and from their destination, and the drive over was full of cheery 12 and 13 year olds, chattering about all that is important to those of that age. I tried hard to be invisible and just listen. I loved much of what I heard.

Separately, I had volunteered to take another daughter’s Honor Band members to their rehearsal, in the same neighboring town. As luck would have it, these separate acts of volunteering ended up being for events on the same day! Now it would be FOUR round-trips, 30-minutes each way. Five if you wanted to include the trip back for the band concert we would attend that evening.

The band members’ conversation was as entertaining, on a cooler, 14-17 year old level. Again though, I worked hard to be invisible and so much of what I heard was adorable. I do love being with kids this age!

It was on one of the return all-alone-in-my-12-passenger-van trips that I took Sister Edmunds up on her challenge.
I had been reading Sister Olson’s TOFW book, “Too Much To Carry Alone”, and had nearly finished when MEE’s challenge came along. Sister Olsen talks about meekness in her book; how the Savior is our perfect example of this quality and yet it isn’t something you hear about people listing meekness as a trait they desire to obtain. However, meekness has a valuable promise given to us by the Savior: that the meek will inherit the earth.  Because of this promise and as it's a quality the Savior exemplified, we really should be looking to add more meekness to our lives.

So here was where I began to Think On Purpose. Sister Olsen did a great job of defining meekness, but my thoughts led me to wonder how is it that I (or anyone) could be more meek?

I felt what is so often described as “pure intelligence” flow through me and I was careful to listen so I could jot down the impressions at the next stop light. I felt impressed that meekness is not weakness, though the world would define it that way. Meekness is a quiet kind of strength, like Jesus had.

My question, ‘How do you “achieve” meekness?’ was met with the quick answer: “you don’t”. Instead, meekness is a by-product of other behaviors: gentleness, kindness, a quiet voice; by following the Savior’s example.

It was just a few minutes and the impressions were simple ones, but what I felt was powerful and I was reminded again that Heavenly Father is always listening. I know that the more we choose to put ourselves in circumstances that allow the Lord to speak - like Thinking On Purpose – the more we will hear His voice. And with those experiences will come added strength and surety as we build our testimony and deepen our conversion.

What a blessing MEE is, and what a blessing the challenge to Think On Purpose has been for me.

What would happen if you took a few minutes to Think On Purpose?


Monday, April 22, 2013

My Little Gratitude Journal

Our good Relief Society Presidency challenged us this year to write daily in a gratitude journal they gave every sister at Christmastime. As the year began we did a 60-day "test" where the plan was to come together at the end and see what happened to each of us.

Keeping a gratitude journal is not a new thing to me. I have a running list, started a couple of Thanksgivings ago, that I keep in my calendar and add to every now and again. I'm up to nearly 300 things, all meaningful, though many are very small. Things like "flannel" and "the color brown" are on the list. More recently "hot rollers" and "garage door openers" were things I logged. I love and appreciate each and every item.

But, I wanted to do this challenge and so I took a little time at the end of most days and wrote. I discovered more small, meaningful things. Things like the cycling shorts my husband bought me for my birthday (if you're a cyclist you KNOW what a blessing these are!); then my mother-in-law's "Little Green Machine" that took care of my favorite 4-year old's accident on her bedroom floor.

I tend to look at things to be grateful for from the point-of-view of where would I be without that thing? I'd be a lot more sore without those shorts and my daughter's carpet would be worse off if not for the carpet cleaner. All worth being thankful for.

And while my 300-somethings list includes the things I hold most dear ~ each member of my family, the gospel, the scriptures, the temple, my marriage, etc., it's important to me to not stop with those big things, but to also find the littlest of little things ~

So at the end of those 60 days I discovered something I was not expecting: Contentedness.

I wouldn't have said that I was lacking in contentment before, but by paying attention throughout my day and then recording the special things that had made a difference for me that day caused me to better understand all I am blessed with.

Were my days always easy? Of course not.

Were there days I was grouchy, didn't get to shower, didn't get things done like I'd hoped at the beginning of the day? Yep.

But there was ALWAYS something to be thankful for.

With that contentedness came a greater satisfaction in what I accomplished each day and I also found a greater sense of humility for all that I've been given, because I'm paying more attention to those things each day. 

One day's entry was in gratitude for my husband. Well, there were many days I wrote his name, but the entry I'm thinking of was on a day when he stepped in with love and understanding for our daughter who would NOT have found her mother so kind.

I also hope she is as grateful for him...

Looking back on those entries now, I find pages of writing. Pages of gratitude that are a treasure now. I continue to write in that little book and look forward to filling it. I know this year will be one I remember a little bit differently because of this journal.

On the cover of my little journal our Relief Society put these words of President Monson's:
                   "Gratitude is one of the noblest of virtues. Cultivate within your heart an attitude of gratitude."

We know that the Lord encourages gratitude. He knows the benefits. He knows when we focus on our blessings there is less time to fuss over our challenges. And by doing that, we will be happier.

My contentedness is not unique to me. It's something anyone might find by participating in an exercise like this one.

If you don't already, consider keeping track of the blessings in each of your days. I promise good things will come.