Ordinary Shells

Each summer when our family visits the beach, the most restorative activity I look forward to is a solitary early morning walk on the beach.  This year it wasn’t until our last day of vacation that I was able to enjoy that time.  It fills me up in a way that nothing else does.  I love the low tide, the sky, the color of the water.   My thoughts slow down and I always find myself being tutored by the sea.


Inevitably my eyes are drawn to the treasures near my feet as I make my way to the pier.  These shells aren’t unique or amazing yet I love them.  I’m drawn to their simplicity and their flaws.  I like the holes, the jagged edge, the discoloration.  I’m not bothered by their small size or the fact they’re so common.  A few of them are always tucked away in my pocket for safe-keeping, a reminder of all I learned on the walk.

I feel a kinship to the shells.  I, too, am common and flawed.  I have holes and jagged edges.  Like my shells, I bear the marks of my journey as I strive to fill my purpose in this life.   Surprisingly, it’s the imperfection in my shells that compels me to examine them so closely.  Their imperfections make them beautiful.


The shells in this second photo are tiny – not quite 1/2 inch in diameter.   Hardly worth mentioning – and yet… they make me stop and think.

Today I read the words, “We are going to do something extraordinary.”  Emma Smith declared them in 1842 at a gathering of women that could hardly be called extraordinary by most standards.  But I love that she said it.  And the women gathered with her believed it.  That group of women became the Relief Society organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a women’s organization that now has more than 5.5 million members worldwide, and which has accomplished far more good in the way of humanitarian aid, relief and charity than the original members could have imagined.

Can I do something extraordinary?

In my office hangs a quote by David A. Bednar.  It says, “Ordinary people who faithfully, diligently and consistently do simple things that are right before God will bring forth extraordinary results.”

It’s funny how often we trick ourselves into thinking that life is about to get easier – right after we clear the next hurdle in our path.  It makes me smile today to remember how sure I was of that “fact” when I sent the children back to school in August.  Surprisingly – or perhaps I should say, not surprisingly, instead of getting easier it has felt that more is required of me every day than was required yesterday.  The stakes seem to get higher as well.  I have looked at that quote many times in the past 6 weeks, taken a deep breath, and done my best to do recognize what is right and then do it.  I mess up often, and there aren’t any results to see.  But deep inside I feel different.

It’s a pretty common thing for me to feel completely out of emotional energy long before the day is done.  The demands of my family at this stage are exciting but taxing.  Yet it never fails that a simple prayer for strength is answered as I move to the next task and soon enough the day is over and I realize the strength came.

It always comes.

The grace and power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ get me through.

I am like my shells.  Common, ordinary, flawed.  I often feel small as well.  But I am learning that the Master isn’t so bothered by these things as I’m inclined to believe.  He finds beauty and value in me despite them.  He knows the journey that has left it’s marks on me.  He works with me and in behalf of me.  He asks me to be faithful, diligent and consistent in my efforts to do what is right.  It’s simple and hard and amazing all at once.

“We are going to do something extraordinary.”

Do you believe it?  I do.

Making Space


Today is March 20th, the first day of spring.  I discovered my first daffodil in the yard a few minutes ago and thought that I’ve got to hurry up and get outside to deal with my yard!  There is work to do and miracles to watch as everything comes back to life.

I was scanning one of my Pinterest boards a few months ago, noticing that many of the home decor pictures I’m drawn to in the last year or so are more sparsely decorated than my own home is.  It made me wonder if my style is changing, or if the craziness of my family made these really simple spaces seem calming to me.  The question has been floating around in my mind for a while and I concluded that it’s time to act.

I set aside the month of March to go through everything we have in storage in our house and get rid of as much as possible.  Keeping my commitment to myself has meant zero sewing (yet still my brain is scheming) and lots of 15 minute time segments going through another box or pile.  I want our family to learn a simpler way of living, one that leaves margin in every area.  I want more space for people, for things that matter, for spontaneity, for reading and writing and dreaming and talking.  I know I’ve said this before, and I realize that it’s probably an ideal I’ll always chase with varying degrees of success, but this month my goal has been creating margin in our living space.  Less, less, less.    While I know that getting rid of “stuff” won’t solve the larger challenges we’re facing, it’s my first step in trying to tell the Lord that I’m willing to do whatever He wants.  In having less “stuff” to take care of/clean/store I’m hoping I’ll also make space in my mind for more important things and room in my schedule for more service.

And then my husband went snowboarding and crashed on his head.  We were grateful – very grateful – that no serious injury was sustained.  His ribs were bruised but not cracked and his neck and spine seemed fine.  Until 4 days later when suddenly his legs had no strength.  Today, 10 days later, everything seems to be ok.  He’s banged up but fine, but it took a toll on me emotionally.   A new (and dreaded) assignment at Church came his way and all of a sudden I felt like I’d been pushed off the emotional cliff I’d been so carefully backing away from.  The irony of it all is that lately I’ve been studying the life of Abraham and particularly his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.  I’d taught a lesson on the subject and had prayed for the ability to be like him.  And then there I was, facing something I had no inkling belonged on the table and I did not want it.  At all.  Now that I’ve had several days to process it (and feel certain that his health is fine), I’m sure things will work out, likely for our good, but I’d be lying if I said this chapter began with a willing heart.   Oh well.  I’m obviously no Abraham.  Thank goodness for repentance!

Today I feel trapped because the next steps in my mission to make more space for life require another set of strong arms, and they are all at school.  I keep walking into my sewing room, wanting to start something but not knowing what to work on.  So here I am, blogging!

I’m not sure I’ll accomplish all the tasks on my list for the month, but it’s been a great experience.  I sort of informally started the 40 bags in 40 days thing, and have already said goodbye to more than 40 full bags.  That’s a good thing, because I have no intention of taking a 40 day break from sewing!   I chose to start in all the areas where I have primary stewardship (plus the basement) and make sure I’m setting the right example for my children, who will be asked to do the same thing in their spaces when I’m done with all the other rooms in the house.   I’ve had a clarity of thought that makes my heart sing.   I find myself lingering in the areas where I’ve accomplished my goal because I love how they feel.  I think it’s working.  I’m making more space for the life I want.


The Beginning of Something


I’m really loving these colors lately – yellow, gold, peach, coral, pink.  They remind me of a sunrise as glowing colors chase away darkness, full of promise and clarity for the coming day.

There was a pause in my afternoon that could only be properly filled with a prayer of gratitude.   I began the year with a burning desire to conquer myself, to seek self mastery and discipline in the deepest parts of myself where my particular bundle of characteristics, gifts and gaps leave me lacking and especially in those areas that affect my family.   For the first time in years I haven’t spelled out specific goals, seeking instead a destination that I don’t see yet but sense is there waiting – beckoning – to me and my family.   Like those first golden rays of day, I feel like I’m at the beginning of something wonderful.   It seems like there should be a destination, but what really beckons me isn’t a what or a place but a WHO.  My calling at church right now has me flying back and forth through my scriptures – Genesis to Galatians, then to Helaman and on to Revelation, then back to Abraham and in the end I sit in the center of it all, my mind spinning and reaching and reeling.  And yet still.  Perfectly still and centered on the reality of Jesus Christ and his Atonement.  His atonement for me.  For my family.  For the lady sitting in the pew behind me who I’ve never met but when I introduce myself tells me her story and has me in tears before the meeting starts.  For all of us.  And like Hannah, I think to myself, “There is no other rock like our God!”

He is where the sunrise comes from.  I’ve been on my knees more, seeking help with challenges much bigger than I am, trying to place EVERYTHING on the table and hold nothing back, almost desperate for the recipe – both ingredients and ratios – he has for my family.  I feel willing to change anything he tells me to change if it means my children will be drawn closer to Him.  It’s so interesting to pray, try, fail, pray, try, fail and then suddenly to have more clarity than I can act on in one day.  It happened this weekend and it felt like a sunrise.  It would be easier if there was an overall need to pull in, or the prompting to push out in all directions – a simple shrinking or expansion of a circle.  Instead it’s a pull in here, a stay steady there, a bump out in one spot and a major push in another.  I think I understand my instructions but get going and make a mess anyway, then go back for more instructions.  The thought occurred to me this week that maybe the Lord is drawing a circle after all; I just never knew how misshapen mine was to begin with.  I look around at other parents who have seen teenagers through the tunnel of adolescence and into the light of adulthood and wonder if this intensely personal experience is really a rite of passage for all parents, the quiet that lives behind the gritted teeth and quiet determination I’ve sometimes sensed.

Here I go again making everything solemn and serious and important (one of those fundamental parts of me that I’m trying to master).  There’s so much more to it than that!  As I type this, my 16 year old son laughs and chases his 11 year old sister across the room to pick her up and swing her in a circle.   My oldest daughter sits at the piano working on her piece for an upcoming recital and I remember that not once have I asked her to practice and yet her music elevates everything, adding a layer of beauty to us all.  My 13 year old curls up with a book while the younger three girls sit quietly drawing.  The almost eight year old boy who never eats dinner asks if he can make another sandwich.  The dishes are done, the floor is swept, rooms are tidy.  If you walked in our door right now you might feel like you’ve entered a storybook of sorts because in this moment we have a beautiful family culture.  But it wouldn’t tell the story of this afternoon’s fight between two brothers, of the food that flew across the kitchen during dinner from the wildly waving fork of that youngest boy.  You would have missed the ill-timed nap of the four year old who awoke an emotional wreck or the accusations of teenagers about how unreasonable their parents are.  You never saw the girl whose cell phone isn’t working right nearly hurl it across the room.  The mess I made preparing dinner is gone and the stress of getting everyone up an hour earlier for school in the morning (daylight savings time)  has been delayed a day thanks to some random day off of school.  Which is precisely why I’m relaxed enough to sit here and type instead of being militant about bedtime.  I’m reminded of something Howard W. Hunter said many years ago about the story of Jarius who sought Jesus as his little daughter lay near death:  “I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.”  President Hunter said, “These are not only the words of faith of a father torn with grief but are also a reminder to us that whatever Jesus lays his hands upon lives.  If Jesus lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives.  If he is allowed to lay his hands on the family, it lives.”

I want my family to live.

The bubble has burst and the moment is gone like the last traces of sunset in a now dark sky.  Someone is screaming and someone else is poking their neighbor in the back.   I think back over my week and see pieces of many things:  A conversation with a friend who carries an invisible but crushing burden with such grace and faith that she looks glorious to me, a school teacher reaching out to a struggling child, a boy weeping over his struggles, a little girl curled up on my lap fighting a fever.  I wish I’d kept count of the number of women I watched as they went about doing good, each of them teaching me something.  I did some things right and a lot of things wrong.  I talked too much (another fundamental flaw).  Yesterday I needed to repent and felt so good when I’d done it.  I remember teen-aged boys showing up at my house for lunch, another boy being humble enough to do what was asked of him, a little girl who worked hard to earn a privilege that was important to her.  I ran into a friend and my heart broke to hear firsthand her journey in recent months.   My heart felt broken for my little sister.  A far away friend shared a touching summary of recent months for her family.  Again and again I was struck by how hard life is for all of us, by how tremendous our burdens are, but also how perfectly tailored they are for our development and increased happiness.  I heard determination, faith, optimism and hope fighting their way to the front of their lives (those glowing colors again!) as they, too, reach for the promise and clarity that Christ has to offer.

He is where the sunrise comes from.  The beginning of everything good.  A journey worth taking.

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