General Conference Book Club Week 4: President Monson (Priesthood)

This may seem like a strange pick this week, but unfortunately the reading schedule is somewhat dictated by my own needs.  President Monson gave the talk “School Thy Feelings, O My Brother” during the Priesthood session of General Conference.  I absolutely do not question his judgment on this, but I just want to add that anyone who thinks anger management is largely a men’s issue has not spent much time in the mind of a stay-at-home mom.

I struggle with anger.  I do not have temper tantrums.  I do not hit my children, scream violently, or throw objects, but I get mad.  And it is a challenge for me to let those feelings go so that I can move on with my day.  At a point of great humility, I went to Borders and asked the info desk for a book on Anger Management for mothers.  He eyed me suspiciously and probably wanted to push the red Child Protective Services button under his counter, so I tried to explain that it wasn’t about violent anger, just angry feelings.  Basically, I wanted to get past looking at my children with exorcism eyes.  Anyway, enough about me . . .  How does this talk speak to you?

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“If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry.”

“Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything.”

“May we make a conscious decision, each time such a decision must be made, to refrain from anger and to leave unsaid the harsh and hurtful things we may be tempted to say.”

President Monson’s talk was delivered during the Priesthood session.  You can read it here, or watch it here or listen to it here.

If this is your first stop at our book club, click here for more information.  Join the fun.

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My vacation to the dark corners of my soul

Matt went out of town for a job interview.  On a whim, to compensate for my anticipated loneliness at home, I decided to meet up with my brother and his family from Tennessee in Nauvoo, Illinois.  I have traveled by myself with the children before, but it has always been to a parents’ home, where there were lots of helping hands.  I figured I could handle it.

I was wrong about myself.

My post title might be a little over-dramatic, but it didn’t take me very long into the trip to realize that I don’t have the fortitude for such journeys.  I can’t figure out what made it difficult for me.  I do things alone with my children all the time.  My husband works full time and goes to law school at night.  Practically everywhere I go is by myself with children in tow.  But something about this trip kicked my trash.

Believe it or not, the seven-hourish car trip was not too bad, thanks to a stockpile of snacks, toys, coloring books, and the modern wonder of DVD players.  We arrived at the little cabin on the banks of the Mississippi River that, by providence, I had randomly discovered online.  The sunset view in the evening gives a (false) sense of peace and quiet in our little family cabin:

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My kids were out of control.  Was it because of all the time in the car?  Was it vacation excitement?  Was it the fact that dad was a thousand miles away?  I don’t know, but I’m quite sure that I was useless.  Imagine a cabin with three children, ages 6,5, and 2, totally unsupervised.  Try to get a good picture in your mind of the energy, chaos and noise.  Now add a frazzled mom in the picture running back and forth barking things like, “Stop screaming,” “Hands to yourself,” “I said put on your pajamas,” and “Get in bed now.”  Repeat four thousand times.  Here’s the weird thing: that mom was invisible.  No one listened.  No one responded.  The anarchy continued unphased by commands of the might-need-to-be-institutionalized-soon mother.  I even spanked.  I don’t spank.  I don’t think anyone was harmed by my whimpy whacks, and certainly no one was deterred by them.  I had feelings of rage and despair that I think might rival much more intense and life-threatening activities than readying children for bed.  I finally “succeeded” and they were in bed, but I was left simmering in my own dark feelings.  I hated that I couldn’t control them, and hated more that I couldn’t control myself.

This scenario repeated itself several times throughout the trip.  I’m sure my children were just being “normal,” but I felt like they were just so disobedient when I would ask them to stop something over and over and over again.  And then this yucky feeling of failure and anger and disappointment in myself would become heavy.  There were lovely moments in the trip, too.  Natalie and her cousin dressed as pioneers, and could they be any cuter?

DSCF0036We had studied the Doctrine and Covenants in preparation for our trip, and the boys were excited to visit Carthage Jail, the location of the prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.  Can you sense the affection they felt for Joseph and his brother Hyrum as they clamored to this statue when we arrived?

DSCF0026And Natalie returned again and again to this statue of Jesus Christ.

DSCF0042We have a tradition of a donut-picnic at the temple whenever we travel:

DSCF0045And there’s no denying that the cousins loved each other’s company.DSCF0044So in all fairness, I have to say it was a good trip, and I think my children will have good memories, and perhaps even some key testimony-building moments, but for me… well, for me, I saw the ugly side of myself– the impatient, not long-suffering, and definitely not joyful and carefree side of myself.  And the I’m-a-fool-if-I-ever-think-I-can-do-this-alone side of myself.  I felt like such a dork when I would visit these historical sites and think of the sacrifices the early Saints made and the trials that they would endure as they tried to live their faith while faced with real problems.  My issues seemed so stupid by comparison.  So the trip was one of those refiner’s fire, soul-shaping adventures for me.  The kind that hurt a little, but you know something better can and should become of you.  (And the kind that makes you think that just maybe you should put your kids in time out for a month when you get home.)

Perhaps the most poignant moment for me was when I got lost on my way to church.  I was trying to get directions over the phone, but the kids were being loud and silly in the car, and my phone lost signal.  In a moment of peaked frustration, I turned around and yelled, “EVERYBODY QUIET!!!”  I am not a screamer.  But I screamed.  My children all froze in place and looked at me with wide eyes.  We silently continued toward the church.  Natalie said quietly, “Mommy, you scared me.”  I was so upset (again, mostly with myself), and the thought occurred to me that perhaps today, more than any other time that I could recall, I really needed the Sacrament.  I was acutely aware of my weaknesses, and boy, did I need grace.  I needed the power of repentance, the assurance of forgiveness, and most of all, a new start.

One of my favorite statues I saw at the visitors center in Nauvoo was this depiction of the Savior walking on the stormy sea:

DSCF0043When I think of those waters as my stormy feelings– the darkness, the chaos, the difficult-to-harness anger, I know that the Savior is the one who must calm the elements.  I need him.  Again, the lesson of my “vacation” hit home– I cannot do this alone.

We’re back home, and we survived.  Next week I’ll probably think it was a fun trip.  It was great to see my brother and his family.  My testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith and the restored gospel was strengthened.  In the meantime, Matt is helping me remind our children why they should listen better, and we’ll work on that as a family.  Because another vacation like that one, and I might lose my mind.

Hitting myself where it hurts

Maybe you react to anger very responsibly.  I on the other hand, tend to temporarily enforce a semi-silent treatment, or roll my eyes and make glaring mean-mom faces, or start lots of sentences with “Why can’t…?” in an accusatory

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voice. Oh, and I do lots of really grumpy sighs, too.  Yah, I know, really mature.

I read a book last week that made me look at relationships a lot differently.  The author made a really cool analogy that I’ve thought about several times since.  He pointed out how after dislocating a shoulder, the main character did not get angry at the shoulder or treat it roughly as a reaction to the pain it caused him, but rather nursed it and cared for it gently.  It was a part of him, and had to be treated in a way to make his whole being better again.  This story was then tied in to the scripture in the Bible (1 Corinthians 12) about the body of Christ:

12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.      •  •  •

27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

Anyway, since our goal is to be at one with Christ, and at one with each other, we should be much more forgiving and nurturing towards others even when they hurt us or cause us pain, like He is with us.

Naturally, the people I should be the most “at one” with are my husband and children.  This analogy opened my eyes to the fact that I sinfully tend to give them the cold shoulder or use my “I’m annoyed” tone of voice or give thoughtless sarcastic answers with them when they (probably unintentionally) bug me, hurt my feelings, or cause me inconvenience.  But I would never try to act gruffly like that to an injured part of my own body, even if it were hurting me; I would care for it and give it even more nurture than normal.  Well, I feel like I haven’t been able to explain my self well, but I hope it made some sense to someone.

The point is, in the last little while, I’m trying to work on reacting to my own “suffering” with a greater dose of kindness toward the cause of that suffering.  Just one more thing to work on in the quest to become a little more Christ-like.  (That grumpy sigh part will be tricky to overcome.  Wish me luck.)

(This entry was originally posted Sept. 3, 2008.  I’m rebuilding my lost archives.)

The Angry Mom sign

So I’m suffering a little from post-vacation stress disorder.  The one where you come home and there aren’t doting relatives taking care of your children’s needs anymore, and as a result they have turned into little monsters, plus you are so angry that it’s snowing again that you could spit, and getting back into your old boring routine just bites.  Other than that though, things have really been alright.  Today was nuts, but despite the chaos, I feel good that I did manage to get a few things done.  I’ll share my greatest success in a minute (because it might just be something you could love too).  Anyway,  everytime for the last two days that I ask my children to do or not do something, I have recieved one of three responses:  1) They argue. “But, I just want to…”, 2) They whine.  “Nooooooo.  That’s not fair (each word becomes three syllables).”  or 3) They flat out disobey.  “Hmmph!”  (then proceeds to do what I just told them to stop).  So I’ve had enough of that.

When something does not make me happy, I make a sign.  Oh yeah?… Well, (scribble, scribble, grab tape, slap on wall) take that!” Here is what I made today, and affectionately call the “angry mom sign.”

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Like the angry eyes?  Whenever they started up, I just pointed to the kitchen wall and said, “Please read the angry mom sign!”  I don’t know if it worked or not, really, but it at least saved me from repeating the whole, “I am sick and tired…” speech.  It’s hard for me to count the number of times today I thought of this quote by Neal A. Maxwell:

“Like our faith, our patience is to be tried as well in order to be developed.”

And I am convinced that this is why Heavenly father saw fit to give me children.  I had totally unchallenged and undeveloped patience.  Except for particularly hard weeks on my mission in Argentina, or the year that I taught high school Spanish, my patience by and large had not been tested too much.  But then I became a mother.  And I think about my son’s kindergarten parent-teacher conference where Grant’s teacher told me “Continue to challenge him in these (such-and-such) areas,” and I can’t help but suspect that in my heavenly parent-teacher conferences, God is making similar plans for me– plans to challenge me in areas where I could stand to grow, even excel.  Especially in the area of patience.

So the good thing I got done today was making six pans of baked ziti for the monthly Make-ahead Meal Exchange I have at my house.  It’s awesome.  We get together and swap meals and walk away with 5 new dishes made by friends.  We eat a snack, share our recipes, and hang out and talk.  Let me know if this sounds remotely intriguing to you, and I’ll draft up a future post with all the details of how we make it work.

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite limerick.  I hid the results because I’m wicked and controlling like that, but there are several that are neck-to-neck for the lead.