Category Archives: Musings on Life and Beauty

To Make the World a Little Better

A little over two years ago my family and I faced a challenge that changed us.  We’re not unique; life is supposed to do that for all of us in some way.  It left me reeling emotionally for some time, and it’s still hard.  There was a sudden need for a Plan B that hadn’t been written, that I didn’t want to write, and a road ahead that looked bleak.  I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t know how I would get through it, or even if I wanted to.  It was tough.

As we’ve walked the road now for a couple of years, I’ve learned that you do get through it – even the things you would give anything to avoid – and that there is a gold mine of opportunity to learn, ask questions, grow and overcome.  The interesting thing about growth is that much of it is invisible on the outside.  From the outside, some might think our family has more holes than ever, and from their perspective they may be right.  But on the inside, where so much is happening that really matters, my heart sings gratitude.  When life requires you to live on a really deep level, it’s natural that things on the surface won’t always look perfect, and it’s also natural that you don’t worry so much about that surface that once seemed to tell the entire story.  It’s an inaccurate reading.

Even so, I have times when I worry and wonder and doubt.  A few months ago I was feeling vulnerable and concerned when the voice of the Spirit came into my mind.  This is what I heard:

“Never in the history of the world has there been a family exactly like yours.  Why are you worried that yours looks different from all the others you can see?  Quit looking around!  Spend more time asking Heavenly Father what he wants your family to look like, to be like.  Let Him teach you about your potential and what he wants you to do.”

This lesson hit me like a thunderbolt.  It was one of those things that I knew, but in being told it was like hearing it for the first time.  It’s true.  Like every other family out there, mine is unique.  We’re not supposed to look like every other family.

And so I’ve been asking more.  Asking Heavenly Father what he wants our family to be like, what things I need to start or stop doing, or do differently.  Interestingly, the conversation has been a lot less about the specifics I thought I’d learn, and a lot more about service.  So far my biggest lesson has simply been that God wants us to be serving.  He wants us lifting, blessing, and strengthening others.  He wants us working to make the world a little better.

I was asked last-minute to teach a class in Church today, and the topic is service.  The lesson is full of quotes from Gordon B. Hinckley, who is one of my heroes.  When I read this quote everything inside me went still.  He captured my heart:  “I wish to be up and doing.  I wish to face each day with resolution and purpose.  I wish to use every waking hour to give encouragement, to bless those whose burdens are heavy, to build faith and strength of testimony.”

I want so much to be this sort of person.  I didn’t want to teach the lesson and forget a few weeks later how much these words meant to me.  So I dusted off my pen and practiced some lettering.  This handout was the result.

If it resonates with you, too, feel free to download the PDF, which includes a full page and a half page format.  The world would be a pretty amazing place if we all lived each day with this desire in our hearts!

Download PDF HERE

 

Into the Woods

I am not a camper.  It is absolutely not my thing.  I grew up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and they’re majestic and beautiful but I’ve never loved being in the mountains.

It could have something to do with motion sickness.  I don’t remember a single childhood camping trip that didn’t result in being carsick on the drive.  My parents did everything they could think of to prevent it, but I always felt miserable.  And in spite of growing up in the mile high city, the higher altitude, combined with my roller coaster stomach, always left me feeling a little lightheaded and just not myself until after I got home.  The motion sickness has never improved.

In 20 years of marriage we’ve camped very little.  Each experience remains etched in my memory.  Like camping at 8 1/2 months pregnant (not something I recommend), or heading to a camp out on my daughter’s birthday after spending three days in blazing heat at a soccer tournament.  We ended up behind schedule so she opened her gifts in the car on the way up the canyon (total win for carsickness right there!) and once we arrived she came down with a fever and ended up delirious in the night.

The best one was several years ago at a family reunion.  My dad scheduled a camping trip in a historic area near my childhood home in Colorado.  Our surroundings were the ruins of a historic manor house on the old stagecoach line, huge red rocks, and beautiful meadows where elk wander peacefully.  We had several elk grazing just yards away, totally unconcerned about us, and that should probably have been my first warning.  All through the night we listened to elk calls, combined with what sounded like aboriginal screaming coming from somewhere on the massive rock above us (probably someone’s crazy graduation party) and I lay there in my tent with toddlers rolling over on top of me as I watched the north star rise, pass over the top of our tent, and then slowly dip toward the horizon, all the while wondering how anyone in the other tents were managing to sleep.  It was the longest night of my life.

So you can imagine my enthusiasm when my husband announced his desire for us to go camping to celebrate his birthday.  It was actually a very sweet gesture, made for our recently turned 20 year old son who wanted to go camping for his birthday the week before, but who had to work.  All eight of our kids had different reactions.  The teenagers had conversations something like this:

Parents:  We’re going camping as a family on Friday night.

Teenagers:  But it’s Friday night.

Parents:  Yes it is.  It’s also your dad’s birthday.

Teenagers:  But I have plans.

In spite of attempted negotiations for permission to wander up the canyon sometime after midnight to find us  (such an interesting illustration of the adolescent brain), we all drove up together in the late afternoon.  Our payment for their company was to say everything they could think of saying – in the loudest voices possible – that might shock us, make us wish the younger children weren’t around to listen, provoke us, and make us fervently wish that we’d never invited them to come.

It almost worked.

I had the thought that I should have had a video camera rolling so I could send it to my parents and provide an opportunity they richly deserved:  to watch another generation dishing it out to the generation that dished it to them about 25 years ago.  I know I’d be laughing if I wasn’t the mom.  Seriously though, teenagers have naturally sharp skills to make you pay for subjecting them to the dreaded “family time”, especially when it comes at the cost of time with friends.

We got to our campsite, unpacked and set up, endured the continued commentary (delivered, of course, at a volume that would also carry to other campers while their younger siblings stared at them and another sibling found a quiet place to cry) and started cooking dinner.

At this crucial moment we discovered that I had somehow forgotten to pack ketchup and mustard, which is basically the equivalent of committing high treason in this family.

Naturally that calmed everyone down.  I apologized, they ate anyway, and actually things did eventually settle in.  I stayed to watch the fire while Eric and the kids went for a hike, and everyone came back friends.

We made s’mores, sat around the fire, talked a little, and it was nice.  So nice that for a minute I forgot the part that comes next:  trying to sleep in a tent, on the ground, with wind blowing, and all the noises that come with sleeping outdoors and being within earshot of other campsites.  I didn’t mind the yelling and the occasional crying of babies – I just didn’t sleep.

The best part about camping:  when it’s just light enough that you can decently get up and moving!  It’s torture to lay uncomfortably still all night, waiting for the morning light.

We packed up, headed home, unpacked and raced to our various desitnations:  tennis lessons, baptisms, etc.  It was a quick overnighter that, surprisingly, I was a little sad to see end.  I kind of want to do it again this summer, which is really weird.

Here’s why I liked it:  even with mutiny in the hearts of a couple of them, it got us together.  Together in a place where nobody was on a phone and where being together was the goal.  The days of having all ten of us together are numbered – I’m getting close to counting the remaining weeks on just one hand – and it’s kind of killing me.  Our family dynamics are about to change forever (again) and it’s bittersweet.  So no matter their moods, I’m soaking up every minute we spend together with gratitude.  It’s funny, stressful, exasperating, surprising, silly, and heartwarming.  And I’m loving all of it.

Edit that Story!

It happened yesterday.  I was in my kitchen washing dishes and cleaning when suddenly I realized what I was doing to myself.

I had a couple of experiences recently where things were said to and about me that were unkind, and suggested a complete lack of ability or effort on my part to be good enough.  In the moment I handled them fine.  I didn’t retaliate, I didn’t get upset, and I didn’t explain my situation to someone who didn’t deserve to know the inner workings of my life.  I moved on.  Or at least, I thought I did.  What brought me up short in my kitchen was the realization that as I was doing good things, I was listening to the person’s negative remarks over and over again.  I had someone else’s critical voice on repeat in my head.

I stood there a moment, considering the contrast.  On the outside I was working hard in positive ways.  But in my private, personal thoughts I was letting someone else tear me down.  The outer story was one of positive action.  The inner voice was the opposite.

Why do we do that?  Why do we let the thoughtless, unkind comments become a part of the story?  Why was I letting someone else’s voice override my own and decide who I was?  And WHY was I being a repeat audience to the performance?

There can be lots of reasons.  In this particular instance, there was a bit of truth in the criticism.  I know I can do better in that area.  I’m not as confident about it as I am about other things, but it’s an area in which I’m deeply invested and want to succeed.  I am aware of my shortcomings.  Still, the unkind words were wrong.  They were spoken in judgment without any effort to look at other factors or to offer me the benefit of the doubt.

Hearing criticism from someone strongly tempts me to lay the circumstances of my life out on the table in defense, so they can understand the parts they cannot see and recognize that I am trying.  I suppose the urge springs from hope that if my efforts and constraints are understood, the criticism will cease or be withdrawn.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in the past couple of years is that having someone notice and want to discuss a deficit in my life doesn’t give them any right to know the inner workings of my heart or my challenge, and it certainly doesn’t place them inside my circle of trust.  If they’re already inclined to misjudge me, giving them more information isn’t likely to help.

So on the outside, I’ve learned to handle these experiences just fine.  Yesterday I took a hard look at how I handle them on the inside.

Do I take a compliment home with me and let it replay over and over in my head as I clean my house?  Nope.  So why on earth did I let it happen with an insult?

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I think we all tend to do it.  It got me thinking AGAIN about stories, how we tell them, and who we allow to be the voice in them. And how those voices on repeat can undo us.

Yesterday I had to shake off someone else’s voice and dig a little to find my own. Here’s my re-write on that kitchen sink experience:

“I am a daughter of God with a unique combination of talents, strengths, and weaknesses.  I am also a busy wife and mother with a great deal on my plate.  In spite of my mess-ups, it’s amazing how much I remember and accomplish.  It’s ok that choosing to do something important sometimes makes a temporary mess in another part of life, and it’s ok if others can’t see the good I AM doing because they’re focused on what I didn’t do.  I am learning.  I am growing.  I am trying.  I am praying.  I am relying on my Savior.  I am loved.  And with His grace, I am enough.”

End of story.  A bit more awesome in my bucket.  No more criticism on repeat.

What story do you need to re-write today?

 

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