Goals. And trying. And failing.

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I like New Year’s resolutions. They do feel like a fresh, new start. And with the exception of a few superhuman individuals, the rest of us don’t always accomplish our goals with the same kind of perfection we intended. You know what? It’s fine. Really. Fine. The trick is to not be such a perfectionist that we abandon goals completely because we don’t like doing them less than perfectly. Sure, we can be more “perfect” by having fewer goals, but growth comes from the effort–from the stop and go, from the oops and up again, and from analysis and course correction.

My sister recently asked me about diminished motivation when goals start going sour, so I did a little research and found some great talks and articles that might be helpful in rekindling your goal-fire.

First, President Uchtdorf shared a recent New Year’s message called The Best Time to Plant a Tree. He says a lot of great things there, but this was one of my favorites:

“Another thing we need to remember when it comes to setting goals is this: We almost certainly will fail—at least in the short term. But rather than be discouraged, we can be empowered because this understanding removes the pressure of being perfect right now. It acknowledges from the beginning that at one time or another, we may fall short. Knowing this up front takes away much of the surprise and discouragement of failure.”

See? Permission. Here are a few more great talks to study, and some quotes from each.

Elder Ballard’s talk Keeping Life’s Demands in Balance reminds me to keep my goals in line with true priorities and treat those successes as the most important.

Many people have heavy demands upon them stemming from parental, family, employment, church, and civic responsibilities. Keeping everything in balance can be a real problem.

A periodic review of the covenants we have made with the Lord will help us with our priorities and with balance in our lives. This review will help us see where we need to repent and change our lives to ensure that we are worthy of the promises that accompany our covenants and sacred ordinances. Working out our own salvation requires good planning and a deliberate, valiant effort.

In Because of Your Steadiness, Pres. Eyring is mostly talking about home teaching, but he reminds me that a little more attention can help my efforts move from occasional to more consistent.

You may have learned endurance playing a trumpet, or throwing a football, or riding a bucking horse, or drawing a picture. But you learned what we all did. Effort only “now and then” didn’t take you far. The dreams that turned into reality stuck with you nearly all the time. You worked at them, either in fact or in your thoughts, every day and almost every hour.

President Uchtdorf is a master at reminding us to get up, get over it, and move on. In You Can Do it Now, these words encourage me to keep working on my goals for my own growth and not worry about the rest:

No one likes to fail. And we particularly don’t like it when others—especially those we love—see us fail. We all want to be respected and esteemed. We want to be champions. But we mortals do not become champions without effort and discipline or without making mistakes.

Brethren, our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.

Finally, the talk Stay on the True Course by Elder Carlos Asay reminded me that I am more likely to be successful if I keep my eyes on the Savior and trust that when I do fall, he will be quick to save and get me on my feet again.

The need to remain focused on eternal goals is illustrated in the biblical account of Jesus walking on the sea and Peter’s desire to do the same. Peter progressed over the water so long as he looked to Christ. But when he diverted his gaze away from the Master and allowed fear and doubt to enter in, he began to sink. … We must reaffirm the goal that matters most and press toward it “looking forward with an eye of faith” (Alma 32:40).

So if you’re in a mid-January state of disappointment, pull out your resolutions again, get on your knees again, and get back to work. And give yourself permission to repeat the process as needed. I think we might be doing better than we give ourselves credit for.

Merry Christmas.

Today I’m feeling so much about Jesus Christ.
So happy he was born.
So awed he died.
So grateful He lives.
He is All that is Holy and Good.
There’s nothing to do about that except celebrate and follow Him the best I can.

This is my favorite Christmas song, “What Child is This?” My favorite part (while thinking about all He is and was and will be): “This! This is Christ the King.”

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Baby, the son of Mary.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The baby, the Son of Mary.

Merry Christmas.

My favorite Christmas picks from Deseret Book (+a giveaway!)

Here are a few books that I’m using around here to a) celebrate Christmas or b) give as Christmas gifts or c) keep for myself. I wanted to share what they’re about and give you a chance to win some Christmas music too!

If you have someone on your list who likes inspiration with a no-nonsense approach, I recommend this new book by President Packer:


This book includes some of President Packer’s most significant messages, delivered over a span of twenty-five years, on such topics as the plan of salvation, listening to the voice of the Spirit, spiritual growth, and marriage and family. Typical of his unwavering style, he tackles some of the challenges the world faces in the 21st century, such as the disease of profanity and the need for personal responsibility. He thoughtfully and powerfully address many major doctrinal, moral, and social issues of our day. At a time when the adversary has succeeded in “confusing the choices of man,” President Packer shares timely insights gained from many decades of serving as a special witness of Jesus Christ in the highest councils of the Church.


If you enjoy biographies or books with a journal-style, this new book about President Henry B. Eyring’s book is really charming. I love the drawings he did and the sweet way he talks about his family and the hand of God in his life.

Years of his journals form the backbone of this intimate biography, a candid look at his walk through life with his beloved companion, Kathy. “The journal shows how a good-but-imperfect man works each day to win divine approval,” write the authors, and this window into his past provides unforgettable insights about the man the Lord has shaped him to become. Henry B. Eyring’s professional, academic, and personal experiences all combined to make him uniquely qualified for the responsibilities that would become his. And Kathy, always at his side, matching his intellect and spirituality, has influenced him profoundly and contributed to his life mission in unmatchable ways. Their story, told largely in his own words, vividly demonstrates the power of the Lord and the example set by one who strives to follow His commands.


If you spend any time online, you have probably seen some buzz about the place of women in the Church. Some of the confusion comes from voices claiming that women should hold the priesthood. I happen to think that women already have a lot of power–both within themselves and within the Church–and already have access to all the power and blessings available through the priesthood. (I’ve written my own thoughts here and here about some of that.) Well it turns out that someone else has already written about the real doctrine behind this issue, and done it well. I’ve long been a Sheri Dew fan because I think she’s a great example of a powerful woman–even by the world’s definition of power, but most especially in the spiritual sense–who uses her gifts and stewardship to truly influence the world in righteous ways. I have to admit I have not completely finished this book yet, but I have found myself spending all my time in it so far by nodding, saying, “Yes. Yes.,” and highlighting and underlining things. So I feel safe in giving it a hearty recommendation. Definitely ask for it or buy it for yourself for Christmas.


For those who seek greater understanding about women and their relationship to the priesthood, Sheri states that the place to start is with the core doctrine of the Church. In this book she discusses the eternal truths that women are vital to the success of the Lord’s Church, that God expects women to receive revelation, and that both men and women have access to God’s highest spiritual blessings. Sheri writes that studying the doctrine of the priesthood will help people find the answers they seek about women and the priesthood, about women in the Church, and about the vital influence righteous women can have in the world.


I love to collect Christmas picture books. This year I got Christmas from Heaven, which tells the very cool true story of a WWII bomber who dropped candy down from the skies to suffering children below. It’s heartwarming and has cool vintage-style artwork. The book makes for a great read-aloud along with good discussion about kindness, giving, and sacrifice–all appropriate Christmas themes. It also comes with DVD (info below)!

Christmas-from-Heaven_Berlin Candy Bomber

Christmas from Heaven is the story of the humble beginnings of what became a beacon of hope to a war-torn land, the story of Gail Halvorsen, a young pilot in the US Army Air Corps who was assigned as a cargo pilot to the Berlin Airlift, in which US forces flew much-needed supplies into a Soviet-blockaded Berlin. Fashioning small parachutes, he and his crew sent them floating down as they approached the Berlin airport, wiggling the wings of their C-54 as a signal to the children that their anticipated cargo would soon arrive. Word soon spread, and donations of candy and other supplies poured in to the “Candy Bomber” from sympathetic Americans. Lt. Halvorsen’s small idea became a great symbol of hope not only to German children in a bombed-out city but to all those who yearned for freedom.

Famed broadcast journalist and author Tom Brokaw brings this remarkable true story to life in a stunning live performance with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, captured on the accompanying DVD. Also included in the book is a template and directions for creating your own “Candy Bomber” parachutes.


And finally, what is Christmas without good–really good–music? Nothing is more classic that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir belting out Christmas favorites. The only thing that makes it better is when they team up with amazing individual talent: in this case, Alfie Boe of Les Miserables fame. I could listen to the “Bring Him Home” track on repeat for hours.  Deseret Book has offered to do a giveaway for my readers. Yay!!

Enter by leaving me a comment below telling me what is your very favorite Christmas song and you will be entered in a drawing. Two individuals will be chosen to win the DVD or CD of Home for the Holidays. Drawing will close Sunday night at 11:59 pm.

Home for the Holidays DVD Home for the Holidays CD

As seen and heard by more than 80,000 people in the LDS Conference Center, Home for the Holidays is the live recording of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2012 Christmas concert. This year’s release features internationally acclaimed TV personality Tom Brokaw and Tony Award–winning Les Miserables tenor Alfie Boe.

The Choir also welcomed surprise-guest Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, the renowned Candy Bomber of World War II. Together with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, these three special guests delivered an unprecedented excitement to the stage that brought all in attendance to their feet more than once during the night.


Good stuff available from Deseret Book for Christmas, folks. Make a comment below to win Home for the Holidays, and all these items are available at your local Deseret Book or at their website.

Book Review: My Name Used to Be Muhammad

This is a book review by my husband, Matt. I occasionally get offers to receive a book in exchange for an honest review. I only accept if it’s a book I’m interested in reading anyway. I saw some pre-promotional material for this one and showed it to Matt. He volunteered to read and report. I will only add that I knew he liked this book quite a lot because he started it one night, read until late, and spent almost the entire next day on the couch reading it. He couldn’t put it down. Here is his review.


We are all God’s children, and after all is said and done, we are not that different from each other. Regardless of where we were born on this Earth, what circumstances we face, what religion we belong to, we can know this surety: He loves us and will help us. These are the thoughts I have after reading Tito’s book.

The book is well written and flows easily as we follow Tito from chapter to chapter. There are times of intense affinity, such as growing up in a small, close-knit religious community; striving through early adulthood to remain chaste; leaving home for years to attend to religious training and duties; intense scripture study.

I realize that as an American, there are some places I can’t go on this Earth or I’ll be killed, because of my nationality, my religion, my government, or my race. After reading Tito’s story, I appreciate now that those would call me an infidel and spill my blood share a great many commonalities with me and others of my culture, race, religion and nationality. We are not as different as we suppose. We all share similar devotion, faith, hopes and dreams.

Reading about Tito and his preparation from a young age to serve God, and attend a religious university doesn’t sound so that foreign to me. Watching Tito court his girlfriend, as they talk about their faith and plan for a life together, try to keep their religion central in their lives, and face temptations and struggles together, nothing out of the ordinary from my own experience. There were times I wanted to shout out, “No, Tito! Don’t do it!” and other times I was dumbfounded by the amazing circumstances of Tito’s deliverance.

Tito’s story also left me with a deep appreciation for blessings I enjoy: freedom of religion, speech and expression; a national Constitution providing equal protection of laws and due process; a nation ruled by laws not men.

Tito’s story has left me with a deeper understanding of my own faith, God’s love for all His children, and despite some of the horrors of his story, a greater understanding of those who wish the United States would burn to ashes. Thank you Tito for sharing your story, for your courage and endurance, and ultimately the sacrifices you’ve made on your journey of faith.

The book is available on Amazon and at Deseret Book. I was touched by this photo taken at the launch party.

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The Moral Force of Women: Some connections

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I’m supposed to be working on my class for tomorrow. I actually am, but I made a cool research discovery, so I wanted to share. For the last couple of days, I’ve been studying Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s most recent conference talk, “The Moral Force of Women.” I’ve long felt that women have a certain power (beyond childbearing) that cannot be duplicated or replaced. It’s not just nurturing (especially in the too-narrow ways we often define it), but it’s more like a binding power. I recently listened to a radio interview with M. Russell Ballard where he claimed that women have a special gift with one-on-one relationships. I’d never thought of that before but I think it’s true, and he said that men can learn a lot from women about that subject if they will watch and listen. Anyway, back to Elder Christofferson’s talk. He said,

“As grandmothers, mothers, and role models, women have been the guardians of the wellspring of life, teaching each generation the importance of sexual purity—of chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. In this way, they have been a civilizing influence in society; they have brought out the best in men; they have perpetuated wholesome environments in which to raise secure and healthy children.”*

Something about that quote rang really familiar to me, mostly the phrase “civilizing influence.” Little by little, my old and tired brain started putting pieces together and I remembered it had something to do with Australia. I know. Weird.

So I’ve been trying to research it out and track it down, and–tonight–I found the connection. The whole thing is pretty amazing, but just read this one very cool account as told by Elder Bruce R. Hafen at the World Congress of Families in 1999. By no small coincidence, the title of his speech was “Motherhood and the Moral Influence of Women.”

Consider now, in summary, a true story from Australian history that illustrates the power of women’s moral influence as mothers of hope, women of fidelity, wives of commitment, and nurturers of human ties. In its early decades as a British colony, Australia was a vast wilderness designated as a jail for exiled convicts. Until 1850, six of every seven people who went “down under” from Britain were men. And the few women who went were often convicts or social outcasts themselves. The men ruthlessly exploited them, sexually and in other ways. With few exceptions, these women without hope were powerless to change their conditions.

In about 1840, a reformer named Caroline Chisholm urged that more women would stabilize the culture. She told the British government the best way to establish a community of “great and good people” in Australia: “For all the clergy you can dispatch, all the schoolmasters you can appoint, all the churches you can build, and all the books you can export, will never do much good without . . . ‘God’s police’– wives and little children–good and virtuous women.”

Chisholm searched for women who would raise “the moral standard of the people.” She spent twenty years traveling to England, recruiting young women and young couples who believed in the common sense principles of family life. Over time, these women tamed the men who were taming the wild land; and civil society in Australia gradually emerged. Also, the colonial governments enacted policies that elevated women’s status and reinforced family life.[23] As one historian said, “the initial reluctance of the wild colonial boys to marry was eroded fairly quickly.” Eventually, thousands of new immigrants who shared the vision of these “good and virtuous women” established stable families as the basic unit of Australian society more quickly than had occurred “anywhere else in the Western world.”[24]

This striking story of women’s moral influence grew from a conscious design to replace “the penal colony’s rough and wild ways” with “a more moral civilization.” The reformers intentionally capitalized on women’s innate “civilizing” capacity. [25] These women made Australia a promised land that flowed with a healthy ecosystem of milk and honey. And the milk, literally and figuratively, was mother’s milk–the milk of human kindness. That milk nurtures those habits of the heart without which no civil society can sustain itself.”

I. LOVE. THAT. Innate civilizing capacity. The milk of human kindness. Power. Force. Influence. Elder Christofferson quoted Elder Maxwell (he and this quote are both long-time favorites for me).

“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”

Sigh. I love being a woman. God has made His sons and His daughters powerful. He needs us both, and we can both do more with His help.

*Lest anyone get all worked up into a tizzy about women not being responsible for the morality of men, let’s agree to agree. Later on in his talk, Elder Christofferson acknowledges, “In these exhortations to women, let no one willfully misunderstand. By praising and encouraging the moral force in women, I am not saying that men and boys are somehow excused from their own duty to stand for truth and righteousness, that their responsibility to serve, sacrifice, and minister is somehow less than that of women or can be left to women. Brethren, let us stand with women, share their burdens, and cultivate our own companion moral authority. Dear sisters, we rely on the moral force you bring to the world, to marriage, to family, to the Church.”

Busy brain, idle hands?

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Do you ever have a mind full of ideas and wishes and goals and projects, but get hung up in the execution?

It’s so easy to get distracted. In some ways, I guess I’m like my own kids, and when there’s too much to do, I shut down a little bit and do … too little. That’s what I’ve been struggling with lately. I am getting things done, but we know ourselves and know when we can and should do more. Then we get frustrated.

I think it’s important to forgive ourselves in these situations and pat ourselves on the back just for being aware and being willing. I loved Elder Scott’s recent general conference talk when he said that the Lord sees weakness differently than he sees sin. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. When we sin, He wants us to remove it from our lives. Get rid of it. Go clean. With weakness, though, we have to stare it in the face and work on it. Like repentance, work is hard, and in both cases, we need the help of the Atonement.

I recently found this talk by Elder Maxwell (love him!) about weaknesses. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Now may I speak, not to the slackers in the Kingdom, but to those who carry their own load and more; not to those lulled into false security, but to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short. … Even prophets notice their weaknesses. Nephi persisted in a major task “notwithstanding my weakness.” (2 Ne. 33:11.) … Thus the feelings of inadequacy are common. So are the feelings of fatigue; hence, the needed warning about our becoming weary of well-doing. (See D&C 64:33.)

And then, he said some of the coolest things ever about how to deal with those common feelings and yearnings to do and be better. So the rest of the credit for this post goes completely to Elder Neal A. Maxwell whose inspiration helped me out again today.

What can we do to manage these vexing feelings of inadequacy? Here are but a few suggestions:

1. We can distinguish more clearly between divine discontent and the devil’s dissonance, between dissatisfaction with self and disdain for self. We need the first and must shun the second, remembering that when conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon.
2. We can contemplate how far we have already come in the climb along the pathway to perfection; it is usually much farther than we acknowledge. True, we are “unprofitable servants,” but partly because when “we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10), with every ounce of such obedience comes a bushel of blessings.
3. We can accept help as well as gladly give it. Happily, General Naaman received honest but helpful feedback, not from fellow generals, but from his orderlies. (See 2 Kgs. 5:1–14.) In the economy of heaven, God does not send thunder if a still, small voice is enough, or a prophet if a priest can do the job.
4. We can allow for the agency of others (including our children) before we assess our adequacy. Often our deliberate best is less effectual because of someone else’s worst.
5. We can write down, and act upon, more of those accumulating resolutions for self-improvement that we so often leave, unrecovered, at the edge of sleep.
6. We can admit that if we were to die today, we would be genuinely and deeply missed. Perhaps parliaments would not praise us, but no human circle is so small that it does not touch another, and another.
7. We can put our hand to the plow, looking neither back nor around, comparatively. Our gifts and opportunities differ; some are more visible and impactful. The historian Moroni felt inadequate as a writer beside the mighty Mahonri Moriancumer, who wrote overpoweringly. We all have at least one gift and an open invitation to seek “earnestly the best gifts.” (D&C 46:8.)
8. We can make quiet but more honest inventories of our strengths, since, in this connection, most of us are dishonest bookkeepers and need confirming “outside auditors.” He who was thrust down in the first estate delights to have us put ourselves down. Self-contempt is of Satan; there is none of it in heaven. We should, of course, learn from our mistakes, but without forever studying the instant replays as if these were the game of life itself.
9. We can add to each other’s storehouse of self-esteem by giving deserved, specific commendation more often, remembering, too, that those who are breathless from going the second mile need deserved praise just as the fallen need to be lifted up.
10. We can also keep moving. Only the Lord can compare crosses, but all crosses are easier to carry when we keep moving. Men finally climbed Mount Everest, not by standing at its base in consuming awe, but by shouldering their packs and by placing one foot in front of another. Feet are made to move forward—not backward!
11. We can know that when we have truly given what we have, it is like paying a full tithe; it is, in that respect, all that was asked. The widow who cast in her two mites was neither self-conscious nor searching for mortal approval.
12. We can allow for the reality that God is more concerned with growth than with geography. Thus, those who marched in Zion’s Camp were not exploring the Missouri countryside but their own possibilities.
13. We can learn that at the center of our agency is our freedom to form a healthy attitude toward whatever circumstances we are placed in! Those, for instance, who stretch themselves in service—though laced with limiting diseases—are often the healthiest among us! The Spirit can drive the flesh beyond where the body first agrees to go!
14. Finally, we can accept this stunning, irrevocable truth: Our Lord can lift us from deep despair and cradle us midst any care. We cannot tell Him anything about aloneness or nearness!

And that is why we should read something from the scriptures or words of the prophets every day. My busy brain feels so much better.

I hope it makes you feel better, too.

Nostalgia. Not.

I already posted this on Facebook today, but thought I’d immortalize it on the blog. The following is an email my mom forwarded to me today. Matt wrote it to her in August 2004. She had just gone home from helping me after Clark’s birth, and wanted to know how we were holding up now that I was on my own. Grant was 19 months old. Behold:

“I just got a call from Steph. By 9:58 a.m. today, Grant attacked Clark with a strangle throwdown chokehold, off the couch. This led to immediate spankings. Grant sneaked off and ate the nightlight lightbulb from the nursery. Fortunately, he didn’t swallow it. Grant hid behind the recliner while Steph fed Clark. He wrapped the baby monitor cord around his neck. When he started crying, he wouldn’t come over to Steph. She got up and found him ‘plugged’ to the wall, unable to move.

While Grant was destroying something in the nursery, she laid Clark on the bed for a moment. He projectile vomited 5 feet across the new duvet cover. Grant then scattered all the diapers in the linen closet down the hallway. At least 100 of them. For his midmorning snack, Grant tried eating Clean & Clear face lotion.”

All that in about two hours’ time. And this was a typical day. This, my friends, proves that it is a miracle that we are all still alive and that I did not turn to whiskey. And by the way, I don’t ever remember spanking my kids, but after reading this, I don’t feel guilty one bit.

And then, in a conversation with another friend about abhorrent car behavior by children, she asked me to repost this gem from 2008:

Evil Genius

Step aside, Super Nanny. I’ve found the trick to controlling children’s behavior in the car.

Don’t look so surprised. Oh yes I did. And there’s a button for it.

When your children are acting like crazy freaks in the car (yelling, wiggling, kicking, fighting, etc.), just point out the rear defrost button on your dashboard. Warn them that your vehicle came with an eject button that can shoot them out the window. If they act dubious and say, “you’re just kidding, right, mom?,” let them take a close look at the button. There are clearly three lines representing three children being thrown out the window.

defrost button

Then spend the next five minutes in peaceful solitude while your children begin to let this new reality sink in. Imagine the phone calls that will come soon from Super Nanny’s producers. You’re welcome.