A three-course post

Chris Dimino Keyboard Eat Arkansas

Appetizer:

I really think that someone who understands life as a mother of small children should invent a “stink detector.”  Lately, my days have been riddled with phantom odors that I can neither find nor identify.  It’s making me crazy.  If there were some kind of contraption with a raunch radar that could beep when you’re closer and closer and give you some kind of bacterial analysis and tell you what’s causing the smell, THAT is what I would call making the world a better place.

(Now wasn’t that appetizing?)

Main course:

Matt and I went out on a date last weekend and played this free “game” at Borders.  We had 12 minutes to go find a few books that the other person would just love, then we met up, showed each other our books, sat on a couch and perused them.  One of the books Matt picked for me was “Mother Teresa, in her own words.”  Anyway, I read almost the entire book while Matt flipped through tomes about Chinese characters, the founding fathers, and Native American historical sites.  She had so many great things to say, that Mother Teresa, but one that really jumped out at me was this (paraphrased, because I didn’t actually buy the book):

“God doesn’t expect us to be successful.  He expects us to be faithful.”

I’ve been thinking about that for days, and how true I think it really is.  God can be successful with or without our help; he’s omnipotent for heaven’s sake (no pun intended)!  He only needs our faith, our devotion, our heart.  Then He can work out our salvation.  It made me reflect on how much I’m always trying to “accomplish,” when really I should just be increasing and acting upon my faith in Him.  It was a quite liberating moment of enlightenment that ties in nicely to all the thoughts I’ve had recently (and we’ve discussed here in the comments and beyond).

And there was one other thing, too.  Mother Teresa worked with lepers and poor people tirelessly.  One person commented to her that they wouldn’t touch a leper “for a million dollars,” to which she replied (paraphrased again), “I wouldn’t do it for a million dollars either.  I wouldn’t do if for two million dollars.  But I would do it for the love of God.”  How cool is that?  It made me think of how so many women today opt out of motherhood because they wouldn’t make all that hard sacrifice even if someone paid them to do it.  I’m no Mother Teresa, but I have to agree that I do the hard things I do because of the love of God… the love I feel for Him, and the love I feel from Him when I do what he asks of me.

Dessert:

Behold, a little Clark video we made to share with grandparents.  Please do not tell me what a stellar mother I am, or how I’m doing a great job and all that other nice stuff you might be compelled to say (and that grandmothers are obligated to say), but you really should see this because it is SO sweet.  Also, don’t be distracted by the sound of a dropping toilet lid in the background.

This is seriously just a simple case of great kid.  (His idea, his testimony, his conviction.)

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Give me a sign.

I came downstairs the other day and found this paper on the playroom floor:

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At first I didn’t know what to think, so I decided to assume it was a spelling error.

After much thought, I realized that my children were beginning to take after me.  You may recall these photos from previous posts:

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I make signs.  To quote my earlier post… “When something does not make me happy, I make a sign.  Oh yeah?… Well, (scribble, scribble, grab tape, slap on wall) take that!”

Oh, and charts, too.  Here’s what my kitchen wall looks like now, with daily schedules for each of my children.  (Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as prison camp as it might appear.)

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So, I figured out pretty quickly that the party, thank goodness, was really for making signs, not sins.

And when I came home later that day after some child-free errands, that’s when I knew for sure that my children were becoming little mini-MEs in training.  Behold the party favors I found on walls (and refrigerators) throughout my home:

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Sigh.  I love my kids.

General Conference Preparation

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Wasn’t the Relief Society General Broadcast great?  I know different people learn different things, but this is the message I got (summarized in a few, brief sentences):  Simplify.  You can’t do or be everything.  Seek personal revelation and get inspiration and guidance from your local leaders.  Live the doctrines you believe, and be valiant in obedience and in your testimony of the Savior.  Pray for opportunities to serve and seek the gift of charity; you will influence your family and others in important ways.

So next week, it will be General Conference.  Man, do I love that time of year.  I have gained a strong testimony of the timeliness, truthfulness, and tenderness of the talks that are given at General Conference.  I know our Heavenly Father speaks to us through modern prophets and apostles.  They remind me what I know to be true and give me insight about things I can do just a little better, specifically things that apply to my life and my family’s needs.  And I always get more out of General Conference when I prepare for it.

This is an invitation to anyone who wants to join me in a week of preparation.  This is my goal:

  1. Pray everyday that my mind and heart will be prepared for any specific message that the Lord wants me to know.
  2. Read my scriptures and/or recent conference talks every day to keep me in the habit of inviting and recognizing the Spirit.
  3. Think about questions I would like answers to, topics I find myself struggling with, and write them down. Include them specifically in my prayers as I do #1.

On a larger scale, I cannot even hear anything at conference or concentrate if I don’t make specific plans to occupy and engage my children during those two days.  Earlier this year (my one claim to fame), I actually had an article published in the Ensign about how to prepare children for involvement in General Conference.  I’m no expert, but I can testify that around here my children love General Conference, and they’re as excited for this weekend as I am.  Here’s a repeat of some of those ideas (I called us family X here):

Participating in conference can be challenging for families with small children. When Matt and Stephanie X had three children under the age of four, they decided to watch general conference via satellite from their own home. Sister X knew that in order to view, hear, and enjoy the talks peacefully, she would need to make “substantial preparation.”

Like the [other mentioned] families, the Xs talk about the importance of general conference ahead of time. “We pray individually and with our children that our hearts will be prepared for the messages of conference,” Sister X explains. “We try to convey that we are excited about general conference weekend and that we look forward to it.”

Sister X knows that it can be difficult for children to sit quietly through conference, but she and her husband have found age-appropriate activities that engage their children in conference.

• They remove the center spread with photos of General Authorities from the most recent conference edition of the Ensign and hang it near the television. Each time a new speaker appears on the screen, the children study the poster and try to find the speaker’s picture. They are rewarded with a sticker to place on the poster or in a notebook of their own. “They quickly learn to identify the First Presidency and others by name,” says Sister X.

• The Xs set out a bowl of small treats for each session. Next to the bowl, they place objects that represent key words for that session. Each time the children hear one of those words spoken from the pulpit, they can help themselves to one treat. Sister X notes: “It’s surprising to see how much young children can and do listen. Their enthusiasm is priceless as you hear them say, ‘Mommy, he said temples!’”

• For the sessions that fall during typical mealtimes, the Xs prepare a picnic basket and lay out a blanket in front of the television. Brother and Sister X tell their children that they are like the families in the Book of Mormon who sat on the ground and listened to their prophet, King Benjamin, teach them about the gospel of Jesus Christ. “We thank our children for allowing us to listen and praise them for their reverence and attentiveness. We bear testimony throughout the day of the things we have heard and felt and reiterate our love for living prophets and apostles.”

• Brother and Sister X make sure they spend time with their children before and after sessions. They let them have active or outdoor play “to get out all their wiggles.”

Sister X says that these things not only help her children participate, but they also help her and her husband to be able to watch and learn from all the sessions of general conference. “There is a great sense of spiritual safety as we gather our family around the Lord’s messengers,” she says. “The Spirit is present in our home, and it is truly a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that “‘all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children’” (3 Nephi 22:13).

And here is a great link to a General Conference Packet or Workbook that your children can use during conference:

Oct 2009 General Conference Activity packet – from LDSResources.net

It has activities for different levels of readers and non-readers.  My boys love coloring the ties of each of the speakers, and they do the bingo for every session.  It’s a .pdf file that’s 20 pages long and easy to print and use.  It’s worth the printer ink.

I’d love to see in the comments 1) What do you do to prepare for General Conference or to get the most out of it?, and/or 2) What was one of your favorite thoughts from the Relief Society Broadcast?

Have a great week.  Next Sunday, we’ll start the General Conference Book Club again, with the first week just sharing our overall favorite bytes and take-away messages.

I’m not done yet. Or, continuation on a theme.

Your comments on Tuesday’s post made me feel happy and sad all at the same time.   Happy because Sister Beck’s words gave you comfort.  Sad because I wish we women weren’t so hard on ourselves. The devil is so tricky, twisting the freeing doctrines of the gospel and making us feel suffocated by them. He convinces us we’re not good enough if we don’t do it all.

Anyway, just as a continuation of yesterday’s theme, I wanted to share this excerpt from a VERY cool talk I just found today by Elder M. Russell Ballard. Read it. It’s worth your time. (Here’s a link to the whole article.)

My dear sisters, both young and not so young, speaking to you for a few minutes tonight is a distinct honor for me. I pray that the Lord will bless me that my remarks will be helpful to each one of you.

I am aware that you are a very diverse audience. Tonight I see beautiful young and innocent faces, shining with a zest for living. I also see white-haired grandmothers, who radiate a genuine love for the Lord. Undoubtedly some of you are newly baptized members, while others have spent their lifetime in faithful service to the Church. Among you are those who are married and those who are single, those who are divorced and raising your children alone, and those who are widows.

Many of you are healthy and happy and are in tune spiritually, while others bear the burdens of poor health and loneliness and may be struggling to find peace of mind.

Some of you very likely are striving to be “super-moms.” You feel a need to spend time with your husband and children. You want to be sure to have family prayer, read the scriptures, and have family home evening. You also feel the need help children with homework and music lessons; keep your home presentable; prepare nutritious meals; keep clothes clean and mended; chauffeur children and possibly their friends to school and to a variety of lessons, practices, and games; and keep everyone in the family on schedule, making sure they are where they should be when they should be there. And that is all within your family and home. It makes me weary just reviewing all of this! It doesn’t include PTA, volunteer service, or caring for family members who are ill or aged. You feel the need to protect you family from the many evil influences in the world such as suggestive television, films, and videos; alcohol; drugs; and pornography. You are committed to and faithfully fulfill you Church callings. In addition, many of you must earn a living because financial pressures are real and cannot be ignored. If anything is left or neglected, you may feel that you have failed.

To you who feel harried and overwhelmed and who wonder whether you ever will be able to run fast enough to catch the departing train you think you should be on, I suggest that you learn to deal with each day as it comes, doing the best you can, without feelings of guilt or inadequacy. I saw a bumper sticker the other day, sisters, that may say it all:

“God put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind, I will never die!”

Remember, sisters, we all have our own challenges to work out while passing the tests of mortality, and we probably often think ours are the most difficult. Recognize limitations; no one can do everything. When you have done the best you can, be satisfied and don’t look back and second-guess, wondering how you could have done more. Be at peace within yourselves. Rather than berate yourself for what you didn’t do, congratulate yourself for what you did.

And sometimes, yes, we do need to better (usually only in those few essential items that we tend to overlook while we’re trying to save the world), but that voice from Heavenly Father that is meant to encourage change says, “You can do better, and I will help you.”  He does help.  I have felt His help to shape me in loving ways so many times.  So let’s give ourselves a break, ladies, and stick as close to Him as we can; He’ll pull it all into focus for us and nudge us in just the right ways.


Guilt: The Motherload

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I consider myself a practical woman.  I don’t expect to be an all-encompassing superhero.  I scoff at the idea of quilting my own bedding, growing and canning my own vegetables, keeping my home in magazine-ready condition, scrapbooking in any form that includes more than sliding photos into plastic pockets, making recipes with more than four or five ingredients, and teaching all my children to play classical musical instruments.  Now I don’t scoff at most of these endeavors individually; in fact, I’ve dabbled in some of them and tried to learn new things.  But the concept that I should be doing all of them (or even several of them) in my life in order to be a “whole” woman is absolutely preposterous.  Holding yourself to a standard like that is emotional suicide.

However, I have a firm testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I want to be the best person I can be.  Sometimes I look at my world, and the acquaintances I have, and other people near and far that I know and love, and I have a thousand ideas of things I wish I could do to help them–  to do good deeds, to better fulfill my own responsibilities, callings, and commitments, to be a servant in the Christian sense, and to make the world a better place.  And then I have days where feeding my children and picking up one room and restocking the toilet paper in all the bathrooms is all I get done.  A lot of days are like that.  But in the back of my mind is a long to-do list of things to be and deeds to carry out.  And once they sit on that list for a while, they start to feel heavy to me.  They gnaw at me.  They turn into a feeling.  They become guilt.

I want to make clear that intellectually I know that’s not right.  I know that my work with my family is the most important work I can do.  But I struggle sometimes with realistic expectations about what else I should be accomplishing.  It’s difficult to gauge how much of that is my own wishful thinking, how much of it is inspired direction from the Lord, and how much of it is simply my fears about what someone else might expect of me or how I might be judged by others.  During my daily devotional time on Saturday (otherwise knows as a shower), I thought about this question and the thought that occurred to me and sort of clarified this issue for me is that the Lord does not expect more from me than what I have already covenanted with him– my simple promises that I made at baptism and when I renew those promises while taking the Sacrament or worshipping in the temple.  He doesn’t hold me to a standard higher than that.  I felt like this was a right answer and I had it on my mind most of the day.

That night, I attended a fireside by Sister Julie Beck, the General Relief Society President.   She was in town doing some training and invited all the local women to come and meet with her in the evening.  I love Sister Beck.  I’ve posted several times before about her and her messages to women, and how those messages have helped me in many ways.  She shared her testimony at the beginning of the meeting and then opened up the rest of the meeting for questions and answers.  Even though I felt like I had received an answer to my question that morning in the shower, I kept feeling prompted to ask my question out loud.  So toward the end of the meeting, I barely raised my hand in front of my chest, her eyes fixed on me and she called on me.  My best guess is that there were an excess of 2,000 women in attendance.  An usher wriggled his way through the crowd and brought me the microphone.

“You’ve touched on this a little bit in some of your other answers, how we go to church and read scriptures and learn so many things we can do, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.  I would like your insight on the role of guilt in an LDS woman’s life.  I know there is good guilt and bad guilt, but what role should guilt play and what role should it not play?”

I want to share some of her answers.  Part of it was in direct response to my question, and part of it came up throughout the rest of the meeting, but they all gave me greater clarity and direction, and feeling the Spirit as she shared these things confirmed for me that God was behind this advice.

  • Any thought that tells you “You are not good enough” is from Satan.  If the thought tells you “You can do better, and I’ll help you,” it is from Heavenly Father.
  • There will never be enough of you to do all your heart wants to do.
  • Pray, eliminate your distractions, and follow the Spirit.
  • We impose things on ourselves that the Lord would never impose.
  • Be an example of joyful gospel living.
  • Beg for miracles every morning.  Recognize and give thanks for them every night.
  • Navigate this experience you’ve been given with dignity, faith, hope and charity.
  • She recommended a three-column to-do list every day:  #1) The essentials (short list of things that are eternally important:  Pray, read scriptures, maybe some days the list will include temple or service or family time), #2) Should do (feed children, clean clothes, go to work, etc.), #3) Nice to do (wish list).   Whatever you do, make sure the essentials happen, and work hard on your should list, and you’ll be surprised how often you get around to things on your “nice to do” list.  She also said that women cannot work all three shifts in a day.  We can do one well, one pretty well, and we need one shift to rest and take care of ourselves.  She recommended deciding which shift was the most important time of the day when we need to be at our very best (for her it was the afternoon into the evening when kids came home from school and prepared for bed, etc.), and then use the other shifts to help us prepare for and get ready for the important shift (maybe prepare dinner in the morning, rest well at night, etc.).
  • Women are leaders.  “Influence is ultimate leadership.”

Anyway, I walked away from that meeting with a greater understanding of how much good simply doing the essentials in our life can do, and does do.  When we do them, we ARE changing the world for good. I also sensed that God is much more proud of what we ARE doing than he is worried about what we’re NOT doing.  And I also learned (again) that I need to pray harder and more sincerely to get specific direction each day, and to let the Spirit help me navigate my priorities.  I felt the confirmation that He will help me with that if I give him the opportunity.  And I learned to give myself permission to ignore the guilt and embrace the important accomplishment of simple obedience.  Guilt is totally overrated.

Image credit:  “The Responsible Woman” by James Christensen

General Conference Book Club Week 24!!!: President Uctdorf

First of all, Hooray!  This is the very last talk in our General Conference Book Club review of all the General Conference talks from the April 2009 General Conference.  I don’t have a good feel for how many of you actually stuck out the whole thing, but thanks to many of you for your intermittent comments and encouragement.  Regardless, I’m quite proud of studying each of the talks, and I’m excited that the October General Conference is just around the corner.  I plan to continue this book club because it helped me to meet a goal of re-reading every one of the talks and trying to make personal and family applications from their messages.  I hope some of you will join me for round two.

04_01_uchtdSo this last GCBC talk was given by President Dieter F. Uctdorf as the very first talk of the Sunday morning session.  It is called “The Way of the Disciple.”  I’m looking forward to it because I used to really like the talks that Elder Neal A. Maxwell would give about the commitments of Christian discipleship, and I’m interested to study President Uctdorf’s take on this same topic.

I was recently made aware of this new video where President Uctdorf testifies of the power of hope.  If you haven’t seen it before, I think you’ll find it really powerful.

Have a great week.  Next weekend is the General Relief Society Broadcast.  I will post a few ideas about preparing for General Conference and how to help our children get the most out of it.  (It’s super easy to participate in GCBC.  Click here to see how it’s worked in the past and join us in a couple weeks when we start all over again.)

This is the part where you’re supposed to validate me.

Seriously.  I need to know if I’m alone in this.

Girl Talk

Do you ever…

  1. Get half way through your shower and can’t remember if you already washed your hair or not?  Or wash your hair and then not remember if you used shampoo or Summer’s Eve?
  2. Spend 50% of your budget in the first two days after payday?  Because you’ve been showing spending restraint for ten whole days and just. can’t. hold. back. any. longer.
  3. Buy something you know is nasty for your kids (like Spaghettios) just in the hopes that they might like it and you will have one more less-than-a-dollar and less-than-two-minutes-to-fix item to add to your list of lunch possibilities?
  4. Stock up on clearance items that are two sizes too big for your kids even though you know it will make your budget tight this month, but you convince yourself it will save you a lot of money in the Spring of 2011?
  5. Have more pajamas and lounge pants than “real” pants?
  6. Carry on imaginary conversations in your mind with people that you don’t even know?
  7. Secretly wish that all your ex-boyfriends had a blog so you could pop in occasionally to remind yourself how lucky you are (and make sure that you’re cuter and more clever than their wife)?
  8. Buy something that is obviously unhealthy (like a small package of Lindt milk chocolate truffles, hypothetically speaking) and eat all of it all at once so you can just throw away the wrapper(s) and eliminate all evidence that you purchased/ate it?
  9. Ignore your children while they ask something over and over and over again because you hope they’ll just give up and think about something else?  (Admittedly, not very nice.)
  10. Just look at your husband, your children and your life, and think “HOW did I get this blessed?”

Because I do.  And I was just wondering if that was normal.