Payoff.

Actually, I do have a post that’s not about my book.

And two posts in one day? Cue the apocalypse.

The last few weeks have been very, very busy, plus my husband has been out of town. In all this chaos, I have made a marvelous discovery. My children have actually learned some of the things I’ve taught them. I have spent years and years repeating the same things over and over to them.

“Do your chores and homework first.”

“Finish what you started.”

“Clean up after yourself.” or the common, “Don’t leave Clark tracks.” :)

Etc., etc. You’re no stranger to these things, so you know what I’m talking about.

Now, I’m not saying I’ve arrived, but it dawned on me that they are starting to get it. Finally! They are doing their chores and homework and actually earning their privileges, with less and less complaint. Grant is suddenly taking a lot more personal responsibility for his homework. Natalie will sometimes come and report to me that she finished doing a task that I don’t even remember asking her to do. This morning, Clark stuck his face in my room while I was still in bed and told me, “I’m starting on my chores early so I don’t have to do them after school.”  Seriously? There must have been an alien abduction. Or an angelic visitation. Something.

Anyway, I just wanted to offer hope. If you find yourself saying the same things over and over and over again and wonder if they will ever get it…. well, they just might. And won’t you be surprised?

Yesterday, Clark walked into the office while I was on the computer and I could immediately tell he was hiding something in his hand. “What do you have?,” I asked, “Hands up! Drop it.” He did, and it was a napkin, folded up. I opened it and this is what I found:

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(written in yellow highlighter: “I love you.” and a little heart)

“Oh. Thank you,” I said.

I think I like these kids.

Coping and Mothering: Overcoming Discouragement

I went to lunch several months ago with some friends.  During a side conversation, one friend said to me, “That’s the worst part about growing up: learning about everyone’s problems.”  I don’t even really remember the context of our discussion, but her comment has stuck with me.  It’s so true.  As a child, we have a very limited view of the world at large, and most of my memories are happy and carefree.  As we grow older and our view of the world around us expands, we are exposed to more and more pain, suffering, and sadness– sometimes our own, but often in the lives of others too.

Over the last several weeks, Matt and I have been struggling with watching people we know and love go through some really hard things.  Not just one or two friends, but several.  There are marriage troubles, there are health issues, there are fears and anxieties.  It has made us heavy-hearted, and frankly, a little discouraged.  We want to fix things and we just can’t.  We want to help, but feel so helpless.  It kind of makes us want to hide from the whole scary world so we don’t fall into the same pits, but where and how?  We start to wonder if everyone else on the planet has some deep, dark secret pain going on, and maybe we’re the only people who have “normal” trials, like bad days at work or budget woes or struggling to keep up with the demands of busy lives.  (Does anyone else feel like that sometimes?)  It of course puts your own trials into startling perspective, but it leaves you feeling a vicarious pain for what everyone else seems to be going through.  And even though your own life is relatively “easy,” it’s not easy to watch the pain that’s happening around you.  It hurts.

I’ve noticed it’s difficult to brush those feelings aside and deal with the matters at hand, like helping children with homework or finding socks or making dinner.  They have no idea about the hard things going on in the lives of friends and family.  You certainly don’t want to make it their burden either, but it’s hard to put on a happy face and go on like nothing’s wrong.  This morning, after I got the boys off to school, I tried to get Natalie occupied with her own activities so that I could just crawl back into bed and think.  Rest.  Decompress.  She kept coming into my room every 5 minutes to ask for help with milk or TV buttons or questions.  I was losing patience quickly.  It’s really hard to heal and mother at the same time.  I wasn’t very kind.

I don’t have any real answers to this.  I’m still working through it, but I wanted to share some of the things I’ve been thinking about and learning about in the meantime.  Yesterday, I had a rare opportunity to be in the car by myself in between some carpooling drop-offs and pick-ups.  I wanted something to listen to in the car that would help me focus my thoughts, and I remembered that I had an old general conference CD set somewhere.  I scanned the bookshelf in the office, found it, and grabbed it.  I really wish I had some kind of system in my car where I could just hook up my iPod and listen to whatever I want whenever I want, but I don’t.  And it seems really dumb to invest in that kind of stereo equipment when my van is pushing 160K miles.  Anyway, I had general conference CDs from 1998, and I popped them in and listened while I drove.

This morning I had to go to the dentist, and the CD was still in when I turned on the car.  I heard the end of one talk that was nice.  They had all been nice, but nothing had jumped out at me so far.  Then I heard this talk:  “Overcoming Discouragement” by Elder Val R. Christensen.  Here are some of the things that I learned:

Many of us face significant challenges. Even the great prophet Enoch experienced sadness when he viewed the wickedness of the world: “And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look” (Moses 7:44).

There are at least three steps to take when striving to overcome discouragement:

  1. You can work on changing your attitude toward the problem. Even though you can’t change the circumstances in which you work or live, you can always change your attitude.
  2. You can receive help from those who are close to you—your family, friends, and ward members, those who love you the most.
  3. You can develop a more powerful and complete trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even before he started explaining his three points, I knew that there was truth in them.  I felt the Spirit– enlightenment and hope.

By looking at a problem in a different way, it may be possible to reduce discouragement. I have been impressed with the pioneer story told about Zina Young. After experiencing the death of parents, crop failure, and sickness, she was encouraged with a spiritual experience that changed her attitude. While attempting to seek divine help, she heard her mother’s voice: “Zina, any sailor can steer on a smooth sea, when rocks appear, sail around them.” A prayer came quickly: “O Father in heaven, help me to be a good sailor, that my heart shall not break on the rocks of grief” (“Mother,” The Young Woman’s Journal, Jan. 1911, 45). It is often difficult to change circumstances, but a positive attitude can help lift discouragement.

One morning, several days ago, I got some bad news from one of my friends I’ve been worried about.  I lay in bed in the quiet early hours of the morning and my heart just hurt.  I could feel a real, tangible sadness.  While I thought about that pain, I was reminded of something I’ve taught many times before in a lesson about the Atonement.

“I believe, to use an insurance phrase, we must pay the deductible. We must experience sorrow enough, suffering enough, guilt enough so we are conscious and appreciative of the heavier burden borne by the Savior.” (Elder J. Richard Clarke, in Conference Report April 1993, 10)

In that moment, I kind of got it.  What I was feeling was just the tiniest piece of what the Savior felt when He took upon himself the pains of the world.  It was pain from sin, but also every kind of sorrow.  It is His pain.  Not mine.  Not hers.  It’s His.  He bought it with a price and I need to give it back to Him. I don’t need to keep it.  So, I determined then that all I can do is hand the burden back and then pay close attention to what He wants me to do.  He can show me how to help and how to move on.  So in the several days since, whenever I’ve felt the weight of sadness, I try to replay this same scenario in my mind and let it go.  Here’s another snippet from Elder Christensen’s talk:

I’ve talked about changing attitudes and receiving help from others. Now, let me mention the need to put more trust and faith in the Lord. I once talked to a woman who received help with her discouragement. While waiting for a temple session to begin, she picked up a Book of Mormon to read a verse. Her eyes fixed upon Alma 34:3: “And as ye have desired of my beloved brother that he should make known unto you what ye should do, because of your afflictions; and he hath spoken somewhat unto you to prepare your minds; yea, and he hath exhorted you unto faith and to patience.” The scripture in Alma was an answer to her prayer. The message was simple: the problem she faced was going to take a long time to solve. If we place a little more patience in the process and a greater amount of faith in the Lord, our challenges will find their way toward successful conclusions.

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read this: “If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication, that your souls may be joyful” (D&C 136:29).

Some of these things will take time to work themselves out.  I have faith that some of them really will work out just fine, but it may take a while.  There may be long periods of down before the up figures itself out.  So that’s what I’m working on right now: finding joy and optimism despite sad things happening around me.  When the talk was over, I turned to Natalie in the back seat and said, “Natalie, I’m sorry I wasn’t very nice to you this morning when I was in bed.  I was frustrated because I just wanted some rest, but I still should have been kind.  I’m sorry.”  She, being the epitome of childlike forgiveness, simply smiled and asked what was for lunch.

Anyway, I’m sorry if this post doesn’t have a cute little conclusion that makes it all better. I’m still working on it, but I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far, and hopefully it can be helpful to someone who’s dealing with or feeling some of the same things.

GCBC Week 15: “Waiting upon the Lord: Thy Will Be Done” by Elder Robert D. Hales

I remember being very moved as I watched and listened to this talk during general conference.  I did not know that Elder Hales had been ill, but his changed appearance made it clear that he had undergone some kind of serious medical circumstance.  Even not knowing all the details, but recognizing that he has been through some significant struggles, I felt deeply the words he was teaching about being patient through hard times. As I listened to it again today, I was touched again by his sweet testimony of the Savior and his meek attitude toward enduring.  A great example to be followed.

Waiting upon the Lord: Thy Will Be Done  by Elder Robert D. Hales

“I have often pondered, Why is it that the Son of God and His holy prophets and all the faithful Saints have trials and tribulations, even when they are trying to do Heavenly Father’s will? Why is it so hard, especially for them? . . .  These mortal challenges allow us and our Heavenly Father to see whether we will exercise our agency to follow His Son. He already knows, and we have the opportunity to learn, that no matter how difficult our circumstances, “all these things shall [be for our] experience, and … [our] good.” “

What messages from this talk were meaningful to you? What did you learn? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

To anyone who is checking out GCBC for the first time, the goal is to read one General Conference talk a week and discuss it together as an on-line “book club.” If you want to learn more, go here, and join the discussion here each week.

Surviving Summer (in a nutshell)

I have a love-hate relationship with summer.  I will explain.

I love the sunshine and the absence of snow.  I love the parks and the leisurely pace and the fun summer family programs.  I love the freedom to schedule outings and day trips and vacations completely uninhibited by school calendars.  I love building a schedule made up of all the priorities I don’t seem to have room for during the school year.  I love my children having time to play outside and play with each other. I love the longer days, and I love that the kids get more playtime with dad. And I love watermelon, strawberries, and popsicles.

Now for the parts that are harder to celebrate. . . .  longer days mean later bedtime, and, frankly, after I’ve spent an entire day with all three children by myself, I’d kind of go for a 6 p.m. bedtime.  Vacations are fun, but they are hard work.  As in, if you’re a mom, the only things that really do “vacate” are your brain and your energy.  Plus, has anyone else noticed that children are just really naughty for several days after a vacation?  It’s exasperating.  I find it difficult to coordinate babysitting or go to appointments or make some time for myself when all my children are at home all day.  The gym, for example.  (Have I mentioned before that I loathe gym day-care?  I have issues.)  And since I never have any quiet time during the day, I stay up too late at night wasting my brain on mindless stuff just because I’m relishing my alone time. Oh, and let’s not forget that when siblings get to spend oodles of time together, they fight like cats and dogs.

Sigh. Sorry my cons paragraph seemed quite a bit longer than the pros.  I tend to get a little dramatic when I complain.  Anyway, in light of this summer paradox, I have a few questions:

  1.  Do you think that maybe there’s a really fine line between children being naughty and children just being annoying?  I think I lump it all into the naughty category and get more fed up than I need to be.
  2. One thing that saves my sanity is scheduled and enforced reading time.  My boys are 6 and 8 and both read really well.  I’ve found that a lot of books that are at their reading level have kind of inappropriate content.  They’re not quite ready for pre-teen literature.  Do you have any suggestions for some good chapter books or series for boys?
  3. Any post-vacation tips?  Because, seriously, we have a few more coming up and I don’t know if I can handle the sassy, lazy aftermath.
  4. We have a lot of great kids in our neighborhood, but I don’t know much about the rules of play date “etiquette.”  If a child invites another child to play, is it presumptuous to want to play at the home of the invited?  I always think it’s kind of odd when a kid shows up and says, “Can so-and-so play?” and you say yes, and then the kid just comes on in.  Oh, you meant here?  On the other hand, I know my own children would like to go play at their friends’ houses, too (One word: Wii.), but I never want them to invite themselves over.  Am I being weird about this? because I worry that I’m making more of it than I should.
  5. We like to do several small weekend camping trips during the summer.  After Elder Perry’s last general conference talk, I committed myself to make sure that even when we are traveling, we should always go to church and take the sacrament.  This past weekend, we took a wrong turn on the way home, lost some time, and didn’t get back in time to take the sacrament.  I feel sad about that.  I need the sacrament.  This is not a question.  I’m just saying how it is.
  6. I’m hoping it’s normal to be in a summer blog slump.  I don’t know if there’s less time for writing or if I have less ideas, but I dont’ feel very bloggy productive.  And reading blogs?  Only minimally.  Anyone else feeling that way?  I’m sorry if anyone I love has been feeling neglected.
  7. Last question.  Do you have any favorite quotes or scriptures about patience?  I’d love to hear/read them.

GCBC Week 12: “More Than Conquerors through Him That Loved Us” by Elder Paul V. Johnson

We have a special request for GCBC this week from one of our participants, Michelle:  Would you consider Paul V. Johnson’s talk for this next week? I have been asked to speak in Sacrament on the the 26th…would love others insights as I prepare. 

So, let’s hear your best thoughts, GCBC folks…  I know you’ve got some great ones.

“More Than Conquerors through Him That Loved Us” by Elder Paul V. Johnson

What stood out to you as you read?  How can we apply his message?  Share your some conversation in the comment thread below.  If you’re new to GCBC, check out the club here.

My morning prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

I’m not sure I have the energy for today, so I’m asking for your help.  Please bless Natalie to take her medicine without screaming, gagging and throwing up so she can get better.  I need courage to start the job of helping my children pick up the playroom.  Again.  Help Matt to be ready for his finals and get done all the papers and work he needs to do so he can graduate in January.  I need my husband back in the evenings so that I don’t harm my children when I put them to bed by myself every night.  How do you do it, Heavenly Father?  How do you not lose your temper when no one listens to you?  Help me to be more like you.

Every time I think about all the laundry I need to do, I want to run away.  I know it’s a silly thing, but please give me the discipline I need to actually start it.  I’m thankful I have a washing machine.  I remember washing all my clothes by hand in Argentina, and I know I’m blessed, but I still need help to tackle the job ahead of me.  Help me to remember that my children are not adults, and they are not like me.  They don’t care if the house looks as clean today as it did yesterday.  Help me to be patient and understanding, but still teach them responsibility.

I’m running out of Thanksgiving leftovers, so I should probably start cooking again.  Help me to plan and be resourceful so I don’t get overwhelmed at dinner time when the kids are all crazy and I have no ideas.  I’m thankful we have food.  And a warm house.  Seriously, Heavenly Father, I’m so glad that I have a place to stay warm and comfortable when the weather is so cold.  Please bless those who aren’t as lucky; help them find the shelter and care they need.

Finally, Heavenly Father, help me to relax and face today with a good attitude.   Forgive me for my mistakes and childish pouting.  Help me be worthy of the blessings of my covenants because I need them.  Help me to remember how much I love my children and how much you do too. Bless me with the patience and kindness and charity I need to give them a good example and teach them all they need to know.  Help me to turn to you again when I start to forget.  I’m sure we’ll talk again really soon.  I love you.

Amen.

This too shall (come to) pass.

I want to talk about stages of life.

Since early 2003, concepts like “personal space,” “alone time,” and “R&R” have only been dreamed about.  Fantasized, even.  Small children are parasites.  They cling on you, suck the life out of you, and basically consume you– blood, sweat and tears.  Of course, they’re also darling little bundles of spirit and light that shape our souls like nothing else, but that’s not the point of this post.  Mothering small children is hard.

Today was the first day of school in my neck of the woods.  Early this morning, Grant got up and excitedly got ready for his first day of first grade.  He gathered all his stuff (and made a weird face when he was supposed to say cheese).

DSCF0081We all went outside and waited at the neighborhood bus stop with a gaggle of school-goers and their siblings.

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Then we went back inside and began loading up Clark’s backpack with all the goods he would need for his first day of kindergarten, half day in the afternoon.  He and Natalie played nicely together for most of the morning and we had a little lunch and readied him for his big moment.

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He was the most excited about finally riding the bus.

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And he was off.  Natalie and I walked inside and she was ready to begin “Mommy School.”

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We hopped in the car, went to the store, purchased cupcake ingredients, zipped back home, and made pumpkin cupcakes for the boys’ first day after-school snack.

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She finished dumping the batter into cupcake liners, washed her hands, and I put her down for her afternoon nap.

The house was quiet.  I paid bills.  I made phone calls.  I signed up the boys for swimming lessons.  I checked email.  Fifteen minutes before the afternoon bus returned my boys, Natalie woke up from her two-hour nap.  We frosted the cupcakes and went outside to wait for her brothers.

They arrived, happy and excited.

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Natalie proudly shared her surprise.

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They told me about their day, called grandparents and repeated themselves several times, and we took a trip to the library.  Now they’re all in bed, asleep.

It. Was. Awesome.

Ladies and gentlemen, I did it.  I graduated to a new stage.  A stage I thought would never come.  I now have some free time every day.  I have quiet.  I have personal space.  I could take a nap!!

So, I just wanted to bear my testimony that the stages in life you long for really do come. Did I feel a twinge of regret about the things I probably should have done with them, the things I should have taught them better, all those years while they were practically surgically attached to me twenty-four hours a day?  Yes, I won’t lie.  But mostly, I got an unexpected lesson about my stewardship, and realized that with this new stage comes a new level of accountability.  All those important things that have been left undone for years because “there’s just no way” need to become part of my new reality.  Either that, or I’m a hypocrite.  I need to be responsible with the time I’ve been gifted and use it in ways that make me proud and still bless my family.  My “calling” as a mother is still the same, and I need to hold tight to my priorities now more than ever.  I don’t want to waste my new-found freedom.

And some day when I hit other stages, like all my kids at school all day, or they’re off to college, or Matt’s finally retired, my responsibilities will rise to the occasion.  A few scriptures come to mind, including, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven, ” and “It is not requisite that a [woman] run faster than [she] has strength, … therefore, all things must be done in order.

So, this is basically a rally-cry to all you Stage One moms:  Stage Two really will come! And to all you Stage Two moms:  Let’s do this right! And to all you Stage Three and Four and Five moms:  I hate you. Just kidding.

The stuff we suffer will pass.  The stuff we hope for will come to pass.  Stages in life are good.  They are tangible markers of the progress of our souls.  I hope I leave a good mark.

“Hopefully you will find joy in your womanhood during all stages of your life.”  — James E. Faust

“The challenges you face, the growth experiences you encounter, are intended to be temporary scenes played out on the stage of a life of continuing peace and happiness. It is your understanding and application of the laws of God that will give your life glorious purpose as you ascend and conquer the difficulties of life.”  — Richard G. Scott