The parable of the Ranch dressing

I had a meltdown yesterday.  A put-my-head-down-on-the-desk-and-cry kind of meltdown.  I also cried in the kitchen and again in my bathroom, and up and down some stairs and halls.

I’ll tell you why.  (This may sound a little bit like complaining or self-pity.  That’s because it is, but I’ll get over it by the end of the story.)

I went to bed too late and my children woke up (as usual) too early.   I lay in bed listening to them crack each other up with jokes you have to be in kindergarten to appreciate.  Grant came to my bedside to tattle that Clark was playing the game downstairs that they’d been grounded from yesterday.  I sent him back to deliver a warning, and a few minutes later I could hear them both playing that same game.  I heard (and felt) bumping, laughing, wrestling, fighting.  They finally progressed to breakfast and scavenged around in the kitchen because I was so out of groceries.  The noise, scuffling, and lame jokes continued.  I tried in vain to hush the boys so that they wouldn’t wake up Natalie.  They did.  It was one of those mornings where I dreaded getting out of bed and starting the day.  (This happens occasionally when the day begins out of control before I’m even awake enough to face it.  It usually fades once I get up and start moving. This time it didn’t.)

Dishes in the sink. Cottage cheese on the floor, table, wall, door.  Grant couldn’t find his library book.  Hurry, you’re going to miss the bus and I’m not taking you. It’s so cold outside and I’m in a constant state of chill, even in my house.  No food, no milk, can’t put off grocery shopping any longer.  If I’m going out to the store, I should go to the Post Office too (dread, dread, dreaded task) to mail Christmas cards and a package that I’ve been meaning to send for at least a week.  “Matt, is the printer working yet?  I need to print the address labels for my cards?”  He’s been studying for finals and couldn’t get it to work since our Internet went down last week.  On his way out the door, he handed me a network code on a post-it note and claimed it would be easy for me to punch it in somewhere and make the computer recognize our printer.  I was bathing Natalie and told him to put it on the desk.

As I walked downstairs, I passed the waist-high reminder of laundry that needs to be done.  Sigh.  And, oh great, look what the boys did to the playroom this morning.  Where’s that blasted post-it note?  Not on the desk.  Called Matt.  Finally found it on my bed.  Tried, tried, tried to get printer to work.  No clue.  Frustration.  Called Matt again.  He can’t really help me over the phone.  Frustration again.  I tried a few more things and somehow managed to disconnect the Internet all together.  Huh?  Tried again to fix it.  Nope.  No Internet.  No printer.  No labels.  No Christmas cards.  Too late, will never get mailed on time.  I spent too much money on them.  No internet?  Now I can’t even transfer money to my account to go grocery shopping either.  That’s it.

I hit a wall, dropped my head on the desk and cried.  Pretty  hard.  Clark wanted to ask me some questions and I answered the best I could, but I wanted to get away.

The phone rang, and I composed myself.  It was my neighbor who wanted to borrow some Ranch dressing for her boys’ lunch.  A wave of frustration set over me because I remembered I had NO GROCERIES.  I told her I didn’t know if I had anything, but I’d check.  She assured me it was fine if I didn’t.  I opened the fridge and found some.  I told her I had less than a quarter bottle.  And it wasn’t even regular traditional Ranch, it was the three-cheese kind.  I sort of apologized I didn’t have more or the right kind, and she said it sounded totally fine.  We agreed Clark would drop it off when he got on the bus for kindergarten.  Then Matt called and asked about the printer.  I started to cry again and he (wisely) decided he’d just call back a little later and promised he’d help when he got home.  I managed to keep my tears to a minimum while I fed Clark and Natalie a piece-meal lunch and got him out the door for school.  I put Natalie in her room for quiet time, and the flood gates opened again.

There was no place to hide.  Every room had some glaring pile or reminder of something else I needed to clean or do or wrap or fix or fold or put away.  More crying.  I thought about my grandma who had a nervous breakdown once, but she had nine children and lived in an old drafty home and had no money to buy groceries.  My life is so much easier than hers was.  What is wrong with me?  All my thoughts started with “I can’t . . . I can’t . . . I can’t . . .  I  just can’t.”

I was melting down.  I stood at my window and stared out across the street.  I saw into my neighbor’s house where she was feeding her children lunch at the table.  With my ranch dressing.  This is what my brain said (and I know it’s dumb, but this is really what I thought):  You know, Stephanie, maybe you’re like that ranch dressing.  It didn’t seem like enough, and it wasn’t the “traditonal” kind, and you assumed it wasn’t what was wanted or needed.  But it was.  It accomplished exactly what it was needed for, and everything’s fine.  It was enough.

I took a deep breath and thought, “What does Satan want me to do right now?”  (It seemed a little more concrete at the moment than “What would Jesus do?”)  He probably wants me to crawl into bed and never get out. I did get in bed, but I said a prayer.  I told Heavenly Father I can’t do this on my own– even stupid laundry and wiping cottage cheese off the door.  I needed help outside of myself to get this stuff done.  I sat up and the first thought that came to my mind was, “Start with the red coat.”  I looked at my coat on the floor by my closet for a minute and felt grateful that God gave me a place to start because I just felt too overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I needed to do.

And little by little, I made progress.  When the kids got home from school, I had some warm banana chocolate chip muffins waiting for them, and a long list of chores and three dice.  They rolled dice and did the chores with the matching numbers.  We all worked together for a couple of hours, and we got a lot done.  I felt lighter and lighter, and by the end of the day, I was myself again.  I felt silly about my meltdown.  It’s only happened two or three times since I got married a full decade ago, but it happened.  And it might again, but God helps me crawl out when I finally break down enough to admit how much I need Him.

And I don’t think I’ll ever see a bottle of Ranch dressing again without remembering that no matter how little I have to offer or how different I feel from what I think I should be, I am enough (with God’s help) to accomplish anything that really needs to be done.


This is a really good post. You should read it.

While walking the treadmill at the gym with my good friend Shantel the other day, we had a conversation about two things that are frequent themes on my blog:  the often misunderstood, nevertheless eternal importance of motherhood and the sometimes crushing sense of underachievement we women tend to drag around with us.  Amidst the pathetic huffing and puffing, our conversation turned to the scriptures.  I can’t speak for Shantel (who usually knows everything already), but I had a major lightbulb moment.

I’m hoping I can share it well because the principles are awesome. (Hence, the incredibly demure title of this post.)

Women are pulled in so many directions, our expectations dictated by an ever-demanding society and our own overactive sense of self-judgment.  We are bombarded with thousands of skills, ideas, practices, habits, philosophies, and even possessions that are somehow advertised as necessary pieces of the puzzle that is the “fulfilled modern woman.”  Give me a break.  Even when we can see through all the smoke and mirrors and try hard to focus our priorities on what we know really matters, we hear spoken and unspoken messages suggesting we should really be doing more with our lives.  Making a difference.  Making a name for ourselves.  We’re told we can be better mothers if we fulfill ourselves in myriad areas of our lives (like a career, for example) and focus on our own needs (“Spoil yourself.  You deserve it.”).  Elder Ballard taught recently:
“Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children.”
His message refers, I think, mostly to our spiritual reservoirs and certainly also to allowing ourselves opportunity to develop talents and interests.  However, society has twisted and abused this point to mean that women should do everything and anything we want to do or are capable of doing, or we’ll have nothing valuable to offer.  Anyway, all of that was more of a rant than the actual lesson I learned.  Here is what a couple Bible stories taught me about the simple glory of being a stay-at-home mom, or at least the best kind of mom and woman I can be.

Marys_Anointing_of_Jesus_small From Matthew 26:

6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,
7 There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.
8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.

Now, this woman brought the finest she had and shared it with the Savior.  The disciples called it a “waste,” suggesting she should give it to the poor or use it in a way to do so much more good in the world.  The Savior rebukes them and reminds them that He is a worthy recipient of her good works.  Think of this in terms of taking all our education, our precious time, our talents and resources that could maybe make us powerful or famous or of great influence elsewhere in the world, and yet, we wipe noses and wash feet.  Like the disciples, others may say or we may ask ourselves, “Don’t you wish you could do more with your life?”  Think of the Savior’s assertion just one chapter earlier that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  The same account in Luke tells us that she was also a sinner.  She was not perfect by any means, but the Savior accepted and honored her offering, deemed it better than any other way she could have spent herself, and he accepted her.

GREENE_Nathan_Martha_and_MaryFrom Luke 10:

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Martha was trying hard to do what was right, but she also tried to impose her version of what-should-be-done onto Mary.  She even complained to the Savior that Mary should be doing more.  He gently pointed out that by simply focusing on Him, Mary’s “doing less” was actually doing more; a personal relationship with Him was– and still is– the good part.  Society and even well-meaning friends, family and peers may try to impose upon us their standards for our success, but what the Savior measures us by is solely our attention and response to personal revelation from Him as we act out our part in life.  He, and He alone, sets the only “rules” that matter.  We can try to meet everyone else’s expectations, and even our exaggerated own, until we are blue in the face, but it’s not supposed to be that hard, and we might just end up missing out on the needful good part.
So in a world of mixed messages and voices that tell us we are never enough, I’m thankful for Jesus Christ, who asks so little of me by comparison.  I feel bold enough to say that what I often see as mundane He will (and does) crown with glory.  He loves my children even more than I do, and my heart is enough for Him.  And really, that’s all that matters.

I’m ashamed to admit it…

… but I think I’m in a post-Conference funk.  I felt so uplifted and even fired up as I watched General Conference this past weekend, and my mind was swirling with goals and self-improvement– in an honestly hopeful way that was buoyed up by the Spirit of it all.

But today I’m not feeling it.  Maybe I’m just discouraged because I’m no different than I was last week.  That’s, admittedly, a little ridiculous.  I guess I just have not figured out any specific ways to implement all the good ideas I felt, so I’m kind of limboish— stuck between the same-old-me and the me-I-felt-inspired-to-be.  Hmmm.

I just sat here and stared at my last paragraph for the last few minutes and these are the two thoughts that came to my mind:

1.  In April General Conference, President Uctdorf shared a story about a man who was struggling with his faith.  President Uctdorf mailed him a letter with suggestions of things to do, and then received a letter from him in return only a week or so later.  The letter said, in essence, “I tried what you said.  It didn’t work.  What else have you got?”  President Uctdorf went on to explain that you can’t rush matters of testimony, and I suspect you cant rush matters of change or improvement or repentance either.  It’s a process, like much of the gospel is, and perhaps requires more patience than I’ve been willing to grant myself in this short period of time.  And right now my thoughts hopped to Elder Bednar’s counsel to “Be Consistent.”  Don’t give up, keep trying, and wait patiently for the “change” to come.

2.  Michael McLean has a song called “Gentle.” (Unnecessary tangent:  When I was in junior high and high school, I was a squeaky clean kid who would come home from school, plop down on my bed with my pink and green backpack, pop in a Janice Kapp Perry or Michael McLean cassette tape, and do my homework until I fell into a peaceful nap.  I still like several genres of Christian music, but now I can hardly stomach that stuff from my youth.  The whole cheesy, emotional, psued0-spiritual sap kind of makes me nauseous.  But I do still like this one song.  Anyway . . .)  These words just did a little tap dance across the stage in my brain:

We’ve been hurt by others often.  We’ve forgiven and forgotten.  We should be more gentle with ourselves.

Oh, apparently there’s one more thought:

3.  Pray about it.  Duh, Stephanie, pray.  Some day I will learn to think of this first.  (It would probably prevent pathetic blog posts.)

I do feel a little better just for having purged out the frustration and getting some clarifying thoughts back in return.  Has anyone else had this same struggle this week?  What helps you to get through it without backing off your 4- or 5-day-old conviction to rise up and refine yourself?

Guilt: The Motherload


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

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:


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.