In which President Monson turned my stressful week around

Gas-CanIt’s early in the morning and I can’t sleep very well. I think I have Back-to-school jitters because it’s the first day of classes at BYU today. I get to teach two sections of Teachings of the Living Prophets and I’m so excited about that, but there’s always some anticipation and restlessness when it begins. As I lay in bed sleepless, I recalled an experience I had a couple weeks ago and felt like I should write it down before all the details elude me. I thought I should write it in my journal or something, but then I remembered I don’t have a journal. (I know, for shame.) Plus, the combination of my paltry blogging habits and the death of Google Reader in July has pretty much left me with a dozen readers who drop in occasionally to browse my archives. So to the few of you and my posterity when this blog eventually gets printed out in a pseudo-journal, here’s my story. It’s a cool one.

I taught at Education Week this year at BYU and it was a beautiful experience. Stressful, to be sure, but it stretched me in some important ways and reminded me how Heavenly Father can step in and do great things when we remember how much we need Him. On day two of teaching, I was still juggling all my preparation and nerves with all the responsibilities of getting my kids settled in to their first week of school. I was feeling overwhelmed but trying my best. I dropped them off at school, late again. Two for two so far. My gas light was on in the car and I had some serious doubts about whether I would make it to the school and back before I could hit the gas station. I rolled in on fumes and filled up and then headed to Provo, but even more behind schedule. I was just kind of in a wound-up state and my mind was busy with the frustrations and the obligations.

On my way down State Street, I moved into the left lane to turn towards Provo. On the right side of the road, I saw a man walking through the gas station parking lot with a gas can in his hand. Something about the way he was carrying himself made me think he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. My brain said, “you should go help that guy.” Now let me flash back a couple weeks when I was walking with my good friend and mentioned to her that one of the frustrating things about the world we live in is that sometimes it feels too dangerous to help people, especially as a woman. I might be driving along with my kids and see a man struggling in the rain, but the part of me who watches the news and wants to live says it’s just not wise for me to offer him a hand. The age of lodging strangers and picking up hitchhikers is past, you know. So when my brain told me to help him, I started rationalizing why that wouldn’t be a good idea. But the thought/feeling (let’s call a spade a spade: it was a prompting) came back, I felt a reassurance that it was okay and I would be safe. So I crossed the three lanes of traffic, pulled my car around into the parking lot, and pulled up to the surprised young man, now seated dejectedly on the grass by the road.

I rolled down my window. “Do you need any help?”

He just looked at me with some confusion, and mumbled, “No. I’m fine.” He was dressed in a mechanic’s jumpsuit and I’m guessing he was in his mid-twenties. He struck me as shy or soft-spoken.

“Are you sure?,” I asked. “You have a gas can in your hand. Do you need some gas?”

Still looking down, he shook his head no, and then said, “Well, I do, but I don’t have any money.”

Relieved that this was a very fixable problem, I told him, “Let me get you some gas.” He looked up with disbelief. “What?”

“Come on over to the pump and let me get you some gas. Meet me over there.” I pulled the car around. I watched him walk over to meet me, but he was incredulous. “Are you sure about this?” “Of course,” and I swiped my debit card and handed him the pump, “Here. Fill it all the way up.” He bent down to the ground and sat silently while the empty can took a drink. In my mind, I wished I had some cash to offer him so he could fill up his tank once he got back to the car, but I didn’t. I never have cash; I’m a mess. As he finished up, I heard myself offer him a ride to his car, but he declined. He screwed on the lid, and still without looking up, he said, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, “God told me stop, so He must have been thinking about you.” It just came out like that. There was a long pause, and then he spoke up, “Can I ask you a question?” Of course.

I don’t know what I expected him to say. Maybe “Did God really ask you to stop?” or “Why would you do that?,” but his actual question took me by surprise.

He asked quietly, “Do you think people can change?”

“Absolutely.”

Another pause. “Okay. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” And with that, he carried his gas can back across the parking lot, and I turned to my car. As I walked around the back and climbed into the driver’s seat, I felt the Spirit wash over me and I just knew I’d done something important. I climbed in, shut the door, and thought to myself, “Whoa. I just had a President Monson moment!”

You know how he’s always telling stories of doing and saying small things and being in the right place at the right time and how he learned to “never delay a prompting”? Well, I’ve had several simple experiences with that principle, but this was the clincher for me. I felt so . . . grateful, honored that Heavenly Father would use me as an instrument in that moment. I loved Him and I loved that man, and I could just feel God’s love all over myself. It was awesome.

The rest of the drive to campus was a totally different mindset. No more stress. No more worrying about my schedule. No more frustration. Just gratitude.

Since I was late and had already missed the first class I had planned to attend, I hurried to campus and went straight to the classroom I thought I wanted next. Once it got going, I realized that this wasn’t my intended class, but decided to just sit it out and see how it went. Part way through her class, the teacher mentioned, “Today is President Monson’s birthday.” Really? Whoa. I had no idea. And then she said, “This is how we are going to celebrate.” A few years ago, a reporter had asked President Monson what he wanted for his eightieth birthday from the members of the church. Her power point put this quote up on the screen.

“Find someone who is having a hard time or is ill or lonely, and do something for him or her.”

I don’t think my gas station experience was a coincidence. It was a way for me to unknowingly honor President Monson on his birthday and gain a testimony of his prophetic influence and the power behind his sometimes simple counsel.

Happy birthday, indeed, President Monson, and thank you for reminding a stressed-out mom what really matters.

Why I lay awake at night worrying about my book

[photo credit: image from tumbler.com, quote from Charlie Brown/Charles Schulz]

 

My biggest fear is that people will think:

Author about motherhood = Expert on motherhood

Promise me you don’t/won’t think that.

Just in the last 24 hours, I almost cried when I walked around my house and realized that all the hard work I did with my children a couple days ago has been completely undone, and probably made worse than when we started.

My status today on Facebook was: This morning I made my three children repeat together three times, “Yes Mother, right away.” I figure if it works in North Korea, I should give it a try.

And in an email to a dear friend, I wrote this: The kids are always hilarious. Unfortunately they are also completely unresponsive to any of my wishes, which seriously led me to consider running away at about 7:53 pm last night, but then I realized it would be incredibly embarrassing to publish a book on motherhood and then promote it while in exile.

So, yeah. I’m just trying to be as real as I possibly can. Some days I feel like a fraud, and then my (bad) inner voice says, “Who do you think you are? You’re a mess!”

And then I think about President Uchtdorf when he said, “Stop It!,” and then he said,

“We simply have to stop judging others [ourselves] and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.”

So that’s what I’m working on today. That, and gratitude, because really, being thankful is a huge healer that can cover whatever seems wrong (and there is so much to be grateful for).

What are you working on today?

Checklist for Clarity

It’s been a rough morning. Want to see the list? Of course you do.

  • I have a headache.
  • The pile of laundry I need to fold covers a space on my living room floor approximately the size of a Volkswagen.
  • In a moment of profound weakness, I gave in and let my children adopt a kitten that our neighbor found. I actually like her a lot more than I thought I would, but I took her in for initial shots and exam yesterday, and let’s just say I was not prepared for that kind of investment. This morning I got the notice-of-overdraft email from my bank.
  • We had our family picture taken last night, and my children were suddenly possessed by demons. Keep in mind that I do not have any more toddlers or even preschoolers, and yet… YET… I found myself asking them to stop flopping around on the floor and ignoring every bit of instruction offered by the photographer. Here is a photo I snapped with my camera phone during the studio process.
  • We are headed out of town (which is a great thing), but the process of getting everything ready is stressing me out.
  • I keep remembering last-minute tasks that I should have finished before we go.  (When?? will I get them done?)

So while all this stuff was swirling around in my head, I had to stop myself and change the list. I had to look for and recognize the reality that’s happening alongside my stress list.

  • Natalie is putting up Halloween decorations and singing Christmas songs. ?? Whatever, she’s festive.
  • Clark is curled up on the couch reading a book.
  • I still have some leftover caramel sauce that I made for a Relief Society activity.
  • Grant has been helping me switch over the laundry loads.
  • Some parts of the house are mostly clean.
  • We all kind of like each other, and everyone is pretty much content (if you ignore my own personal bad attitude).
  • Our home is warm and cozy, and we’re all enjoying decent health.
  • In less than 48 hours, I will be taking that cruise I WON over the summer. [You do not need to tell me to shut up already; I am at this very moment in a process of self-correction.]

Anyway, that was my clarity checklist. My stress (and probably my headache) is the result of looking at my life in an unbalanced way.  President Uchtdorf JUST said last weekend (I’m a slow learner):

Brothers and sisters, no matter our circumstances, no matter our challenges or trials, there is something in each day to embrace and cherish. There is something in each day that can bring gratitude and joy if only we will see and appreciate it.

So as I hung the picture on the wall today, it struck me as funny how we always look at family pictures and make all these assumptions about how lovely and put-together that family is. We can’t see the behind the scenes meltdown at the photo studio, nor can we see the laundry piles and headaches at home.  But despite all that, I look at it on the wall today and think, “You know what? It really IS a beautiful family.” Because even though I know every single detail of the back-story, I can still see it for what it truly is– the whole package, the gory and the glory all wrapped up in one.  My day will still be busy, and I’m bound to handle things more stressed-out than I’d like to, but I feel my eyes just a little more open to things as they really are … and there’s plenty there that’s better than fine.

A joy report.

After all those serious posts the last few days about how January bites and the world is falling apart, I realized that those of you who just started visiting recently probably think I’m kind of a downer.  I’m lucky enough to know that most of the rest of you who have been around for a while know me a little better and can just roll your eyes and think:  She’ll be over it in a couple days.

So here’s a report about some things that are making me happy lately.

Last weekend, we went to St. George.  Matt took the kids and hung out with his dad, and I stayed by myself all day to write.  I’ve been working on a book for a while, but I really needed some alone time to catch up.  It was wonderful.  I learned so much and wrote a lot, and honestly felt the Spirit a lot.  It was a great dose of invigoration.

I’m sure a small part of my writing success was due to having these on hand:

Next: I like to give parties.  I am not a really good party giver because I never take the time to scan Pinterest or Google for ideas to make my parties all they could be.  I don’t really decorate or craft or do much of anything for parties because I kind of feel like great company is what makes a good party (plus I’m lazy).  I just like to create an excuse for people to get together and then I like to enjoy those people.  So for the last two years, I’ve planned some kind of girls’ night out for February (probably to recover from January).  These February girls’ nights seem to have a recurring theme.  Last year, a group of us went to see the play Persuasion at BYU. And eat of course.  The year before, I did something I loved in Minnesota called a J.A.M. party:  A Jane Austen Marathon.  It was so fun, and since I obviously don’t get sick of Jane Austen, I’m going to do it again this year.  So if you live near Happy Valley in Utah, or are willing to drive that direction, you’re officially invited to J.A.M. Party 2012.  Here is a geographical hint.  (I’m so cryptic.)

The party is not actually in this building, because, well, that would just be silly, but it gives you an approximate location.  It will be February 24th.  We will watch Persuasion, Sense & Sensibility, and Pride & Prejudice, all in a glorious row.  And eat of course.  Email me if you want more details (address is on the sidebar in the “Nice to meet you” paragraph).  Once I have used my superpowers to determine you are not a creep, I’ll give them to you (the details, not my actual superpowers).  So anyway, yay! I’m excited about that.

Moving on.  I have been loving the Ensign and general conference, but duh.  You already knew that about me.

You may have noticed that in the aforementioned overly-serious posts, I used the word “hard” a lot.  Today I  drove Natalie to gymnastics.  She was recently invited to be in a higher-level class which is, obviously, more difficult.  She’s only been a few times, and she has a little anxiety about it.  It’s not as easy and carefree as her little preschool gymnastics were, so she tried to convince me that she doesn’t like it.  The thing is, I know she does like it.  She does cartwheels, roundoffs, handsprings, etc. around my house endlessly.  She loves it when people watch her and tell her how great she is.  She’s just nervous about the new class.  So I started reassuring her in all the ways I knew how, trying to build her confidence.  I said, “Here’s one thing I know about you:  You can do hard things, and you are smart and strong.”  She held back a grin and stared out the window.  When we arrived at the gym, her nerves returned and she didn’t want to go in.  I helped her change into her leotard.  “No peeking,” I said, and then I grabbed a pen and took her hands.

While we walked into the gym, she kept looking at her hands and giggling.  I told her to look at her hands every time she felt nervous in her class.

Then I started thinking some more on the way home about the stuff I already wrote about.  And I started giving myself my own lecture.  “I can do hard things, too.”  I remembered that Sister Dalton talked about that once, so I looked it up and found it.

Last general conference, I was called by President Monson to be the new Young Women general president. As I stood in the presence of a prophet of God and was given this sacred trust, I pledged that I would serve with all my heart, might, mind, and strength. Prior to this calling, I had a small plate inscribed with a motto that read, “I can do hard things.” That little plate bearing that simple motto gave me courage. But now if I could change that motto, it would read: “In the strength of the Lord, I can do all things.” 

And then I did something that will amaze you.  I made a printable. Or quote, or whatever.  I don’t know the real terms.  I only have the skill to make things out of Microsoft Word and Google Images, so if any of you have some old version of Photoshop you want to give away for Valentines Day, you know who to call.  Anyway, here it is:

(I was thinking about that one quote about not crashing your heart on the rocks of grief.)  So now that quote is making me happy, too.

Last item on the joy report:  I’m going to the temple tonight.  All those people I’m worried about are going right on the prayer roll, and Heavenly Father is going to take care of them.

How about you?  What’s making you happy these days?

Life is hard, so I’m thankful.

Life on earth is what it is.  It’s not easy.  Some days we feel awash with struggles that seem overwhelming.  I sometimes do, and then I feel ridiculous because my trials are so small in comparison to some of the crosses that others carry with grace.  And while the contrast makes me feel petty, the reality remains that we each face things that are difficult for us.  It is part of God’s plan.

Life hurts.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Seems like a strange juxtaposition, but I feel so grateful that God’s plan gives meaning, direction, and support through the bumps of mortality.  I love knowing that whether my challenges are large or small, they are challenges that are part of God’s plan for me, and He will hold me in His hand and help me become who I can be.

Don’t be alarmed; I’m not passing through any dark or secret trials. As I’ve tried to focus on gratitude this week in preparation for Thanksgiving, I’ve felt blessed beyond measure.  However, I’ve recently seen some heavy burdens in the lives of people I know and love.  I wish I could fix things for them, but I can’t.  Jesus can.  And if He helps me when I have a silly bad day, He’ll help you when life takes turns that feel more than bad.  That’s exactly what He’s there for.

I watched both of these videos this week, and they have helped shape this particular measure of gratitude I’ve been feeling.  I hope you enjoy them and that they take you a step or two further in thanks.

VIDEO 1: Elder Nelson testifies that there is hope in trials.

VIDEO 2: The prophet Joseph Smith declares that our challenges polish us in glorious ways and bring us to the Savior.

[I couldn’t figure out how to embed it, but go here to see it.  It’s so good.]

I’m thankful that Jesus Christ lives and that His love and His gospel help us navigate our way through the ups and downs of life. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

GCBC Week 19: The Divine Gift of Gratitude

This week we will study President Monson’s general conference talk,

“The Divine Gift of Gratitude”
by President Thomas S. Monson

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to discuss with an aunt her recent trip to Ghana to pick up her missionary son.  We talked about how amazing it is that people who have so little, and who spend their days solely in matters of sustenance– food, water, provisions, are so kind and vibrant and happy and generous.  It didn’t take long to turn our conversation to the sad reality of how blessed we are and how often we take our blessings for granted.  In short, when we have so much to be happy about, we are often ungrateful.

“My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.”

What did you learn and/or understand better from President Monson’s talk?  What did you feel like it encouraged you to do?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

(If this is your first time to General Conference Book Club, click here to learn more about it.)

Why Thanksgiving feels good

“A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.  . . . As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us.”  ~James E. Faust

Have a wonderful day as you take inventory of all your blessings.  After all, it’s the first day of new greatness.  (And there’s pie of course, which counts for at least half of the greatness.)