Beginning my Spiritual Journey of the New Year

Some of the thoughts that have been on my mind at the start of this new year include a gratitude for the Savior, a desire to study better and know Him more, and a hope to teach my children the gospel and set as good of an example for them as my parents did for me.

To help me accomplish this desire and hope, I have set a goal to write more about the spiritual impressions I have. Often, I am overwhelmed with thoughts of a spiritual nature that I want to ponder. I have constant dialogues running through my head of things I want to write about and thoughts I want to record. But of course, when the time finally arrives that I have a moment to sit down and try to capture some of those reflections, my brain is immediately void of any and all coherent thought.

Some of the topics I have been pondering on lately include: temples, priesthood (Ammon’s ordination), Jesus as the ONLY source of healing from the deepest, darkest trials (Brother Shelton’s death),  my desire to live up to my parents example and becoming a gospel scholar (Dad’s Origin of Man Sunday school lesson), the Book of Mormon as the cornerstone of my life and how I can and should use its teachings to find answers to all of my questions in life starting with and most importantly the questions I have in parenting.

Tonight I am too tired to elaborate, even to myself, what some of my thoughts on these topics have been. But I want to record for myself, and more importantly, for my posterity, that I have a strong conviction that Jesus is the Savior of the World and that he leads the people of the world through living prophets and apostles. I believe in the restoration of his priesthood authority on the earth. I believe in personal revelation. I believe the Book of Mormon is a true account that is meant to testify of Christ and validate the teachings of the Bible. Most importantly, I believe that we have a loving Heavenly Father who created a perfect plan whereby we can and will be saved. Through the atonement of Jesus Christ, we will all be able to overcome physical and spiritual death.

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A Grateful Mother

trickortreat2015My sister-in-law once made a passing comment that I had always seemed to find so much joy in each phase my children were in. She was right – I have delighted in my role as mother and I took a certain level of pride in hearing that my passion for motherhood was apparent to others. It was never an act, or image I was trying to present. Just my simple reality: I love being a mom.

But lately, I have been struggling in the mothering department. The most difficult days have been when I have two toddlers under foot. That is just completely exhausting. But really the struggle has been greater ever since I’ve gone back to work. I have loved my job. I enjoy the work I do, the sense of accomplishment that I get, and of course the extra income which still seems to be not quite enough. But I get less sleep, am less patient, and in turn, find myself more quick to feel overwhelmed with the little ones and frustrated with the big ones.

I’ve spent some time pondering what is going wrong. Am I just too old for this toddler phase? Do I need to not be working? Something needs to give, but what?

And then I look around at this amazing island we are on. Just a few short months ago I relished in the joy of getting out and enjoying the beauties that surround me. That was when my baby would buckle up happily in her stroller and I could walk around in peace. Now I have my toddler and an extra who are very strong willed about where they want to be and they want to get their on their own two feet. My leisurely walks no longer exist and I sometimes feel like I am wasting the time I have in this beautiful place.

I find myself longing for the days of empty nesting – something that is so contrary to my nature. I am not a person who seeks for tomorrow. I generally embrace the good of today and find the joy in it. But in these moments of weakness I yearn for days of time where I can just have my husband to myself, and enjoy walks around the island without worrying about where the kids are, whether or not homework is being done, if the house is clean enough, what’s for dinner etc.

I guess these are all pretty normal wishes for a mom of youngsters. But I hate that I have them.

Last night at Stake Conference a sister in the congregation was asked to spontaneously get up and share her testimony. One of the statements she made was, “I am a grateful mother of…” she then listed the number and gender of her children.

Somehow her statement connected with my spirit and I knew that, in part, it was my answer. I had lost my gratitude for motherhood. Instead of recognizing as the gift that it is, I have felt burdened. My appreciation for this great role has somehow changed and shifted to become burdened murmurings.

So today, I am pledging to change. Because I AM a grateful mother.

Along the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the relationship I have with my husband, my children are my most cherished and significant blessings. I need to do better to remember how precious they are to me and how fortunate I am to be called Mom.

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The Power of Forgiveness

All of my life I have heard that forgiveness isn’t really for the person I am forgiving, but for me, the person who needs to forgive. After all, I am the person who gets eaten up inside by the bitterness. The person against whom I hold a grudge may not even be aware of it.

But the benefit of forgiveness goes deeper than that. It is impossible for me to forgive without being changed. Through the process of forgiveness – something that often requires prayer and divine intervention – I become more like my Heavenly Father.

Forgiveness is an event. I cannot just “decide” to forgive. A transformation has to take place. That transformation is bigger than me. It comes from a power greater than my own. It is impossible to explain, but powerful to experience. The opportunity and ability to forgive is a blessing from my Father in Heaven. It is a gift.

Because I have felt the ability, given from God, to forgive others, I can trust in His ability to forgive me.

And so it is – I forgive so that I can be forgiven. Not because Heavenly Father is teaching me a lesson about justice in all things, making sure that the score cards are even. Rather, forgiving makes me forgivable. It helps me become more like Him and it teaches me to trust in His power.

The Atonement is real.

Matthew 18:24-35

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Inspired Leaders Serve

One of two men, in a room full of women, he stands in front of the dozen or so of us who are here and gently asked, “What is on your minds?”

He explains, “I have notes prepared of things I would like to discuss, but before I do that, I want to answer any questions or concerns that might be weighing on you right now.”

We are caught a little bit off guard. The meeting had opened with an inspired message from our Relief Society President who just shared a tearful testimony acknowledging the turmoil that so many of the sisters in the branch are currently experiencing. A good half of these sisters are facing immediate uncertainty about employment and where on the globe they might be as current jobs are set to expire in the next three months. Most of them know they will be moving, but have no idea where they are going or if they (and/or their husbands) will have a job when they do. For those of us who don’t have the heavy strain and stress of our own lives being tossed and turned, we still feel the impact of these sisters leaving. Half of our branch will be missing. And ultimately, our hearts ache as the sisters we know and love are facing such big and overwhelming trials.

And so, after an uncertain pause, one sister replies that what was on her mind is moving. We are certain that it isn’t really what President Youngberg is looking for nor is it what he is expecting to hear. But it is what is on ALL of our minds. He dutifully writes “moving” on the board and turns back to the women for more input. Someone half jokingly asks, “Can we put a check after that?” He immediately answers affirmatively and moves towards the board to add the mark. As he does, a third sister calls out, “I think you need to add about five checks.” Five more checks go on the board.

We all breath a bit easier. Just putting that out there – seeing it in print on the whiteboard – somehow acknowledges our turmoil – helps us move forward and more questions begin to fill the board.

“How do I know it is the spirit and not just my own thoughts?”
“How can we make big decisions if my husband and I don’t agree?”
“How do we forgive someone who has betrayed us?”  etc.

There are questions about gospel doctrine and there are questions about gospel application. The list begin to look longer than what we have time for.

Our inspired priesthood leader thoughtfully writes the questions on the board. They stop rolling in and so he steps back and looks at the list. I feel certain he won’t be able to address them all. I expect him to jump in and give quick answers – the kind of self-assured “textbook” answers that popped into my mind with several of those questions – the kind of answers that would show us how “wise” and “knowledgeable” he was in the gospel. The kind of answers that would allow him to check them off the list and move to the next one. But he pauses; I can see him reaching for revelation.

Instead of giving his own answers, he listens to the promptings and gives us the answers that are coming from Heavenly Father. He isn’t worried about getting the “right” answer to his “interpretation” of the question. He is focused on helping us connect to the windows of heaven. He is making himself invisible as he allows us to be taught by the spirit.

He is here as our leader, but rather than making any attempts at grandstanding or exertion of authority, he takes himself out of the equation, disappearing into the background as he serves us and genuinely becomes, “a window to His love.”

It’s been a few weeks, now, since we’ve had this experience, but I, like several others who were there that day, reflect on that meeting with awe, gratitude and reverence. Going forward, I hope that I can remember President Youngberg and try to become a true servant of the Lord the way he was for us that day.

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Bleached Bones

I pull an old book off the shelf and begin to peruse the pages. The pictures are beautiful and the message is personal. 21 Days Closer to Christ, it says. I remember starting the book once or twice, but I never actually completed the 21 Day process. With Easter quickly approaching, I think the timing is perfect.

I notice in the introduction, the author suggests that this book can be more flexible than the title implies. It doesn’t need to be 21 days. The book can be read as quickly or as slowly as desired. Weeks, instead of days, is one example.

I think of the 40 week adventure my baby sister recently began. Her own journey into motherhood. I want to share this book with her. What better time to draw nearer to Christ than we you are preparing to shoulder the responsibility of welcoming a precious child of God into this world?

I think of other women I know – women who are currently carrying heavy loads in life. I know that the Savior can make those burdens lighter. In several cases, He is the only one who can provide the healing that they need. Suddenly I have a list of five, six, seven women with whom I want to share this book. The list keeps growing. “Maybe I can do this,” I think. It would be a budgeting splurge, but I look up the price of the book to see how many I can afford to buy. The book isn’t new, so perhaps the price has gone down since it first came out. A quick internet search immediately dashes my hopes. I don’t know that I can justify spending my family budget on even one book, much less the several I am suddenly wanting. Still, I want these women to know they are loved. What can I buy them, surprise them with, send them?

As the day ends, these questions are still weighing on my mind. I pray, “Heavenly Father, there are so many amazing women with such heavy hearts. Please let me know how to help. What can I do? Who do I need to focus on first? Where do I start?” I feel helpless and overwhelmed. I’m just one person with finite time and resources. But I’m willing. I am a member of the Relief Society. I have a divine mandate to “reach out and help those in need.” But how?

Life continues. The questions fade into the background. I read a book. I spend time with my family. I live my life.

Then it happens. Unexpected opportunities start to present themselves. A conversation here, a gathering there. Reaching out to a friend online. The thought to send a card in the mail. An invitation for a walk that leads to the discovery of real needs that I can easily help with.

It takes me several days to notice, but in simple and ordinary ways, my prayer is answered. Subtle, quiet, simple promptings help guide me to places where I really can make a difference. And it feels good.

“Every day, Relief Society sisters around the world experience the entire range of mortal challenges and experiences. Women and their families today live face to face with unrealized expectations; mental, physical, and spiritual illness; accidents; and death. Some sisters suffer loneliness and disappointment because they do not have families of their own, and others suffer from the consequences of poor choices made by family members. Some have experienced war or hunger or natural disasters, and others are learning about the strain of addictions, unemployment, or insufficient education and training. All of these difficulties have the potential to bleach the bones of faith and exhaust the strength of individuals and families. One of the Lord’s purposes in organizing the sisters into a discipleship was to provide relief that would lift them above “all that hinders the joy and progress of woman.”

~Julie B. Beck

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Women of Christ – Young and Old

I have a passionate love for Relief Society. I love the words of our declaration which tells us we are beloved, and that our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction. I love the united nature of the organization as we strive individually and collectively to serve the Savior. I love the reminder that we are women of faith, virtue, vision and charity who have specific actions and attitudes that we are focused on aspiring to as women of Christ. We increase, seek, dedicate, find, delight, love, stand for, sustain, rejoice, understand and strive. What empowering words these are!

Lately I have been thinking about the connection between the Relief Society and the Young Women’s organization and am delighted to realize how harmoniously they flow together. In Young Women we are instructed on the foundational values that we can and should develop individually. Relief Society takes those values and turns them into actions.

Charity is the motto of Relief Society. We know from the scriptures that charity is “the pure love of Christ.”

I don’t know if it is possible to truly have that pure love of Christ for others if we don’t already have the foundation of realizing that we are of individual worth and have a divine nature. Knowing and believing these things about ourselves is a fundamental precursor to being able to see our brothers and sisters for the kings and queens they are truly meant to be. It is only from this spiritually gifted understanding that we are able to then extend love to others without guile or jealousy. That is when our love is able to be transformed into something more than we can offer on our own. We must have already developed our own faith in Jesus Christ and have enveloped virtue as a key aspect of our own life before we can expect to purely love others as the Lord loves them.

When I was newly married I remember my husband feeling downtrodden, overwhelmed and discouraged at the circumstances of our life. He wondered if Heavenly Father noticed him, cared for him, or would be willing to help him. He felt lost, empty, insignificant and discouraged. I felt so differently and I remember him asking me how I could feel confident that life was going to be ok. That was when I realized how positively impactful my time in Young Women’s had been. By that time in my life I KNEW that I was a daughter of a Heavenly Father who LOVED me. It had long since stopped being a recitation of words every Sunday and had become a strengthening reassurance that I mattered in the most important way.

On Sunday I heard a comment about Relief Society being like Young Women on hormones – simply a continuation of the good times and joyful experiences in a setting more deeply enveloped by the genuine heartaches and joys of womanhood. In the same vein, I envision the Young Women organization as being like Relief Society on training wheels. The values I learned to develop in my youth became the foundation for the goals I aspire to in womanhood. But however you look at it, both the Young Women and Relief Society organizations are a great blessing to the women in the church and dovetail beautifully to help us achieve our highest potential – exaltation in the Kingdom of God.

Young Women Theme pink flower

WE ARE DAUGHTERS of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him. WE WILL “STAND as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9) as we strive to live the Young Women values, which are:

Faith • Divine Nature • Individual Worth • Knowledge • Choice and Accountability • Good Works • Integrity • and Virtue

WE BELIEVE as we come to accept and act upon these values, WE WILL BE PREPARED to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.

The Relief Society Declaration pink flower

We are beloved spirit daughters of God, and our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction. As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar. We are women of faith, virtue, vision, and charity who:

Increase our testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study.

Seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

Dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes.

Find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.

Delight in service and good works.

Love life and learning.

Rejoice in the blessings of the temple, understand our divine destiny, and strive for exaltation.

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In the General Conference Priesthood session of April 2012, President Monson said, “There are feet to steady, hands to grasp, minds to encourage, hearts to inspire, and souls to save. The blessings of eternity await you. Yours is the privilege to be not spectators but participants on the stage of service.”

He continued, “Let us learn and contemplate our duty. Let us be willing and worthy to serve. Let us in the performance of our duty follow in the footsteps of the Master.”

The Savior exemplified a consistent pattern of service. He served in both word and deed nourishing the body and the spirit. This service was offered to those He knew and loved as well as those who were strangers to Him. The Savior fed the 5,000. He washed the feet of His disciples. Jesus performed miracles of healing and even raised people from the dead. He taught and clarified doctrines, testified of the Father, set the example of righteous and obedient living, and ultimately sacrificed for our sins that we may be worthy to gain exaltation.

Because we want to follow the example of our Savior and our goal is to strive to become like Him as much as we possibly can, we must strive to do our duty and serve others. President Monson quoted a poem that I think beautifully articulates how this translates into our reality. The words read:

I slept and dreamt

That life was joy

I awoke and saw

That life was duty

I acted and behold

Duty was joy.

President Monson also quoted Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “I know what pleasure is, for I have done good work.”

How do we transform the mundane duties and seeming required service in our lives into this joy and pleasure President Monson talks about?

In some cases, the transformation is inherent. Often when we serve others are efforts are met with appreciation and gratitude. Other times we are rewarded with a personal sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, however, the benefits of our service don’t come as readily. When that is the case, I have felt particularly grateful for this simple reminder by Nephi who said, “… ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ that He will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.”

A few years ago we lived in student housing at the University of Utah. Although there were a handful of students working on graduate and doctorate level degrees who were closer to us in age, I felt like I might as well have been the grandmother of the ward for the age difference. I was over 30 and many of the sisters I was rubbing shoulders with were young 20’s. One or two of them hadn’t even entered their 20’s and had literally just moved out of their parents’ home for the first time, freshly back from their honeymoons. This particular demographic in our ward brought into focus the struggles and exhaustion associated with raising a very young family. Many of these women were first time mothers or had multiple very young children under tow. Often discussions in Relief Society centered on the seeming thankless, mundane and repetitive tasks of meal preparation, diaper changing, and dishwashing – which, by the way, we all did by hand as the student housing wasn’t equipped with dishwashers. During that time, this scripture jumped out at me and I learned that even things as simple and routine as serving in our families can become great blessings that really are, “for our good” if we take the time to ask Heavenly Father to consecrate our efforts. When we do this, our loads are lightened, work becomes less cumbersome, and the joy of service enters our hearts.

Another important aspect of service is love. Service and love are much like the chicken and the egg. It isn’t really clear to me which comes first but in all honestly, the answer to that question is irrelevant.  When we serve someone our love for them deepens. When we love someone it is easier to serve them. Similarly, when we recognize the love we have for our Heavenly Father and feel a sense of gratitude for the blessings he has poured down upon us, we are more willing and eager to work and sacrifice in an effort to serve others.

There are times when service requires huge amounts of dedication, sacrifice and effort. Of times like these, Elder Hales shared a personal story. He recounted an experience he had while in Harvard business school:

I was at Harvard Business School. I was stretched to my capacity. In the first year of that institution, the teachers take away every bit of self-confidence you have, no matter what your background is before you get there, so that you learn what it’s like to have to achieve more than you’ve ever done in your life before. The program is designed to teach you how to think under pressure. They try to duplicate real life.

He said, “It is the only time in my life that I ever questioned an assignment. I went home to talk to my wife and told her, ‘There is a chance of failing in my schooling if I become an Elders quorum president.’

He continued, “She said to me the words which have helped for many years: ‘Bob, I would rather have an active priesthood holder than a man who holds a master’s degree from Harvard.’ But,” he said,  “as she put her arms around me, she said, ‘We’ll do them both.”

With that example in mind he instructs, “For every woman and man here the question will come in life, ‘When is the time to serve? When is the right time?’ The only answer I can give you is, ‘When you are asked.’”

Answering a call when we are asked isn’t necessarily always comfortable, or, as Elder Hales pointed out, convenient or easy. To that end, President Monson said, “At times the wisdom of God appears as being foolish or just too difficult, but one of the greatest and most valuable lessons we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.”

My son Ammon was a good example to us this week as he was extended a call to serve. On Friday I received a message asking if he would be willing to talk in primary. I called him in from the room where he was playing and asked him if he would accept that assignment. He fudged for a moment and thinking out loud he said, “Well… I shouldn’t say no… but I don’t know what to say.” Pleased with his desire to serve, but understanding his reluctance, Andrew and I were both quick to explain that he would receive a topic and we would help him know what to say. But neither of those things would have made a difference if he hadn’t had a willing heart. Similarly, we may be asked to accept callings that feel too big for us or have us concerned that we may not adequately fill them. But as we move forward in faith, the enabling power of the atonement can compensate for the areas in which we lack. As we work in partnership with the Lord, we will be able to accomplish things we wouldn’t have expected of ourselves.

Other times our service may come more simply and not require as much from us. Although I think that Heavenly Father does present us with service opportunities designed to help us broaden our talents and grow who we are, I think that the majority of the time, he wants us to use our inherent and already existing gifts to serve others in a way that only we can do. Service can be simple and joyful. We had an example of this shared in Relief Society recently when one sister spoke of having seen a friend mention on Facebook that she had been having a bad day and just really wanted to indulge in some ice cream. Without giving it much thought, this relief society sister figured that was an easy wish to grant and she grabbed some ice cream from the store and delivered it to her friend. What seemed to be so easy and non-assuming to our relief society sister proved to be a touching act of service to the recipient.

I was once on the receiving end of such a gesture. About a year ago, eight months pregnant and freshly planted in south east Alaska after having spent most of my adult life within a twenty minute drive of my entire extended family, I became miserably ill with a cold that continued to progress until not only my pregnant bladder was keeping me up and night, but I was genuinely unable to lie down and sleep because the cough was so constant and extreme. I felt miserable and unable to function. I’m not the best housekeeper to start with and things got even worse. One day a simple knock on the door helped me know I wasn’t alone. It was a sister in the ward. And though I don’t think I would have appreciated her help any less if she had been, she wasn’t there on assignment. She wasn’t in the relief society presidency nor was she my visiting teacher. She was a sister in the ward who just wanted to come see how I was doing. I almost didn’t answer the door – I was still in my pajamas and feeling pretty miserable. I think my curiosity must have gotten the best of me, though, since I didn’t know anyone and wondered who would be there. She saw the state I was in and immediately invited herself in to clean my kitchen. If I hadn’t been so sick I would have been mortified. The counters were piled with unwashed dishes and the floors were in desperate need of sweeping. It seemed like it should be awkward to have this woman whose name I barely knew and had only just met once or twice come into my home with it and me in such a state. But she was cheerful and kind and willing to serve me in a way that brightened my entire month. Her simple act of service seemed like a saving grace and came at just the right moment.

Sometimes I wonder about her version of the story. Had she prayed that morning to know who might need her help? Was she a person who felt comfortable knocking on a strangers door, or was that a challenging act of faith? Did she know beforehand why she was coming to my house? How did she determine how to best serve me and do it in a way that seemed so natural and comfortable to me when it would normally feel so awkward and embarrassing to me and potentially to her as well?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that the spirit of revelation can help us in our service. At one point I had the opportunity to be responsible for the personal ministry of the women in my ward. There was one particular sister who had been facing several health and financial challenges. The focus in serving her had been in addressing these very big concerns. As I went to her house one evening, I felt prompted to shift gears and spend more time focusing on her spiritual needs. I found myself led to share a specific scripture and followed it with my own testimony of the things taught in that verse. The spirit was strong as our hearts were opened up to each other. Tears of healing and peace were shared. I was able to answer questions she hadn’t realized she had. The answers she received helped her recognize privileges in the gospel she wasn’t taking advantage of– something she determined to remedy. She later wrote me a sweet thank you note. My memory of that night – sharing a scripture and simple testimony, along with the thank you note she gave me, is a highlight of the time I spent in that calling.

But even these examples are more complex than service might be. When we moved to Ketchikan last year, we were happy to be there. We felt that our decision to go there was incredibly inspired and previous experiences had led us to be very confident that if it was Heavenly Father’s plan for us, we would be blessed more abundantly than we could imagine. That said, there was the part of us that was sad to leave our life behind. Just 15 months prior to our move we had FINALLY bought our first house. We LOVED our little house and expected to live there indefinitely. We had visions of spending 20+ years there. So even though we trusted in the Lord, it wasn’t without some melancholy.

The day we closed on our house was especially poignant for me. It should have been a great day of celebration – we came away from the sale with a significant chunk of change. But the sale of our house suddenly made everything seem real and final. We weren’t just on a fun new adventure – we were really carving out a new life away from everything and everyone we knew and loved. I was overcome with nostalgia for my old life and I expressed some of my feelings of homesickness on Facebook. One of the sisters in the ward responded with a kind comment and said that she would be sure to give me a hug in church on the following Sunday in an effort to abate some of my homesickness. Just that simple gesture buoyed me up and I was grateful for her kindness.

By the time Sunday rolled around I had all but forgotten the whole situation. I really had adjusted to Ketchikan quite well and despite those moments of missing the life we left behind us, I was happy to be there. But after Sacrament meeting I was approached by a sister who explained, “Sister ____ said she promised you a hug today. But she had to hurry to primary to be ready for her class so I am here to take you to her.” And before I knew it, I was being drug through the church building in search of my hug. I have always been touched with how determined this sister was to make sure I felt cared for and loved – a hug was a simple gesture, but one that she was certain to not be careless about and meticulously followed through with.

Service is something that can bring peace and blessings into our lives. Several years ago I found myself feeling pretty sad about the course my life had taken. I was getting to an age where I felt pretty sorry for myself that I had “only” two children without any more seeming forthcoming. I am the oldest of six children, had always imagined myself mothering a larger family. I missed the chaos of a full house. After some deliberation, I decided to “borrow” my nieces and nephews and offered to host a weekly playdate with the cousins on Friday nights. At that time Andrew was working those evening, so date night wasn’t an option for me anyway. I offered free babysitting to my siblings and they were delighted for the opportunity to get some child free time. This service was healing for me. I found joy in the time I spent in charge of 5+ kids ages six and younger. During that phase, instead of those more quiet times with just my two boys being a painful and poignant reminder of what I was missing, the contrast helped me appreciate what I did have. I became more content with the blessings I had been given and more willing to trust my life to the Lord. I found joy in my service and was blessed with an increased gratitude for my own circumstances.

Sometimes service is big and noticeable and takes huge efforts. Other times it is simple and easy. Often times it is quiet and subtle and goes unrecognized by most despite the fact that it takes real time and work. Sister Dalton, previously the YW General President, shared an experience she had with the building of the Conference Center. She said:

Several years ago, as this Conference Center was being built and nearing completion, I entered this sacred building on the balcony level in a hard hat and safety glasses, ready to vacuum the carpet that my husband was helping to install. Where the rostrum now stands was a front-end loader moving dirt, and the dust in this building was thick. When it settled, it did so on the new carpet. My part was to vacuum. And so I vacuumed and vacuumed and vacuumed. After three days my little vacuum burned up!

She continues

The afternoon before the first general conference in this beautiful building, my husband called me. He was about to install the last piece of carpet—under this historic pulpit.

He asked, “What scripture should I write on the back of this carpet?”

 Sister Dalton told her husband:

 “Mosiah 18:9: ‘Stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.’”She concluded:

Years ago when I was vacuuming this carpet—trying to act well my small part—I didn’t realize that I would one day stand with my feet on the carpet under this pulpit.

Like Sister Dalton, we don’t know what Heavenly Father has in store for us. But if we create in ourselves a pattern of service I know that He will use is in ways that we wouldn’t have imagined for ourselves. Whether our assignment be as seemingly lowly as vacuuming so hard that our machine breaks, or as intimidating as speaking from the pulpit in General Conference, if we follow the promptings we receive and accept the callings we are extended we will be blessed. Through our service, we will become instruments in His hands – able to do His work. In fulfilling that duty, we will be filled with joy.

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Smile – Even When You Are Alone

I remember a time in middle school when my mom drove me to school. We were both a bit groggy in the morning and things were quiet until my mom randomly  murmured, “Huh,” under her breath.

Then the silence resumed.

Naturally her muttering caught my attention and I asked what her remark was about. She explained that we just passed a woman she knew. Mom felt like this woman was insanely cheerful and over the top happy. She confessed to me that she had long since concluded that this woman was a phony: no one could really be THAT happy ALL the time. But, much to my mom’s surprise, that woman had just driven past us, alone in her car, still in her pajamas (probably dropping off her own middle school student,) and she was SMILING. After the initial surprise of seeing this woman looking happy when she was apparently alone and had no one to put on her pretense for, my mom sheepishly admitted, “Maybe she really IS that happy.”

Somehow my mom’s observation always stuck with me. I determined then and there to be a person who was authentic and genuine. I want people to know and believe that I am a person who chooses to find the happiness in life. I want that joy to be real. And so I practice – a lot. When I am alone and I catch myself without a smile, I quickly turn that frown upside down.

Sometimes I really am smiling off a moment of sadness. My husband has caught me in this state more than once. Apparently those smiles come out looking strange and contorted because he will look at me with concern and ask, “Are you OK?”

“Yes, I’m just smiling!” I think to myself feeling slightly put out. And to him I nod an assurance that I’m fine.

Quite honestly I have long since stopped worrying about who might see me or what their impression might be when they do. But I learned years ago that I am happier because I smile – even when I’m alone. In those moments I know that the smile is completely for me, and it feels good.

This morning I read an article that gave great insight on things we can do to increase the happiness in our lives. All of these things have brought me greater happiness at one point or another in my life. Most of these are things that I still have lots of room to improve on. But this list seemed valuable enough that I wanted to share it:

Ten things that supremely happy people do:

1.       Happy people surround themselves with other happy people. Joy is contagious. People are four times more likely to be happy in the future with happy people around them.

2.       Happy people try to be happy. When happy people don’t feel happy, they cultivate a happy thought and smile about it.

3.       Happy people spend money more on others than they spend on themselves. Givers experience what scientists call the “helper’s high.”

4.       Happy people have deep in-person conversations. Sitting down to talk about what makes a person tick is a good practice for feeling good about life.

5.       Happy people use laughter as a medicine. A good old-fashioned chuckle releases lots of good neurotransmitters. A study showed that children on average laugh 300 times a day versus adults who laugh 15 times a day.

6.       Happy people use the power of music. Researchers found that music can match the anxiety-reducing effects of massage therapy.

7.       Happy people exercise and eat a healthful diet. Eating a poor diet can contribute to depression.

8.       Happy people take the time to unplug and go outside. Uninterrupted screen time brings on depression and anxiety.

9.       Happy people get enough sleep. When people run low on sleep, they are prone to feel a lack of clarity, bad moods, and poor judgment.

10.   Happy people are spiritual.

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Jumping Into Week 2

We survived the first week of home school. Actually, that isn’t the right way to say it at all. We ROCKED the first week of home school. Not in the, “I accomplished every goal I had,” sort of way, but in the, “there was a tangible difference in my home,” sort of way. A part of me is still trying to decide if the change I felt was a product of home school itself, or simply a blessing of obedience to the prompting we had to home school. But I found myself surprised at the unexpected nuances that changed in our home this past week and the peace that this choice has already brought to our family. I am so grateful for personal revelation.

I am excited to improve some things for next week. Last week we had Peter take off on his math. Ammon spent the bulk of his time reading. The subjects I feel went well last week are: math, reading, spelling, grammar (this is the most iffy on the list) and science. Geography was OK. Social studies didn’t happen much and needs some help. Writing is in desperate need of attention. We did great at adding a morning family prayer to our routine – something we have never really done in the past, but need to work on incorporating an actual scripture study and follow through with a religious course. I also want to add music into the equation but I think I’m going to wait at least one more week to tackle that one.

I checked out some books at the library that I am excited about. I had seen them floating around and hadn’t paid much attention. After bringing them home and looking through them, however, I decided to buy my own copies for each boy in his respective grade. The title is something along the lines of Everything Your ___ Grader Needs to Know. I am especially excited because it gives me some specific stories, poems, and sayings to review with the boys which I think adds a great depth to their educational experience here at home. It also gives me a starting place with social studies, geography, fine arts etc. All in all, it just seems like a great supplemental source that helps me feel like I am more complete in my goals.

Another thing I decided this past week was to try to take things slow. Some of the materials I have looked through have left me thinking, “We can get through that in no time!” But one of the things Ammon studied this week was Bernoulli’s Principle. We were fairly thorough in listening to lectures via YouTube, reading about it from a variety of sources, watching online experiments and conducting experiments of our own. We did all that in one day and the next morning Ammon was able to give a really nice explanation about what Bernoulli’s Principle is. Three days later, however, he wasn’t so sure. It made me realize that repetition and additional time on topics is what will really help them sink in more deeply.

My goals for this week are:

  • Keep math and spelling on pace – they are doing great do I just need to keep the momentum
  • Supplement grammar with additional language arts lessons from my new books
  • Do daily family scripture study
  • Have the boys each learn a new poem – this will be writing and memorization for the week
  • Do at least two days of science, two days of social studies and one day of geography

Wish me luck!  🙂

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Making the Home School Decision

June, 2014

Last year I had some friends start homeschooling.  I respected that choice, but it wasn’t anything that I had any desire or intention to implement in my own family. At that point I was just finishing up my Bachelor’s degree and hadn’t yet discovered I was pregnant. Rather than increasing my involvement in my children’s education by home school, I was excited to get to the point where both of my kids were both in school all day and I could easily take an active role in volunteering in their school and classrooms. I always assumed that even if I wanted to home school (which I decidedly had no interest in doing) it would not be an option because it just wouldn’t work with Peter’s personality which thrives on being socially active.

So that was the education plan: get more involved in knowing what the kids are learning by volunteering in their classroom.
Then I found out I was pregnant.
Then we moved to Alaska.
Then I had a brand new baby.
I have never been so happy in my life to see my kids walk out the door every morning and not come back until 3:35 in the afternoon.
Every Friday I praised Alaska for NOT having short days.
I’ve been very content with public school and although having a baby altered my focus a little bit and made volunteering in the boys classroom return to the back burner, I had no complaints about their school.
The teachers gave me the impression that the boys were both quite ahead of their peers.  But they were also making accommodations for that.  Their school uses an online curriculum as supplemental material.  Ammon had finished the 4th grade material so the principal went ahead and loaded 5th and 6th grade work to his profile.  Peter is way ahead in reading but his teacher meets with him privately three times a week to instruct him on his level.  He has seen TREMENDOUS growth in reading this year and I really attribute it to the efforts of his teacher as much as anything. I am really appreciative of all the extra efforts the teachers and administration are making to keep my boys learning.
Every once in a while I would have this random thought about home school that would just pop into my head.  It was easy to ignore – until it wasn’t.
On what seemed to be an unrelated note, I have been trying to figure out how to help my boys learn to play the piano.  I’d also like to see them involved in more extra curricular activities (sports) but honestly scouts and church leaves our evenings feeling full and hectic enough.  Even with the functions that our involvement in those two things entail, I feel like trying to fit in a regular FHE schedule, scripture study etc is really hard on us.  We are great about having family dinner pretty much every night, but Andrew doesn’t get off work until 6:15 so we generally aren’t eating until 6:30 at the earliest.  Sometimes we aren’t eating until 7:00.  On good days we get homework and things done in the afternoon, but sometimes the boys come home and I feel like they just need some downtime.  But then we run out of time after dinner.  And hey, we haven’t even mentioned taking on chores and other responsibilities.  So to add extracurricular activities into our life just sounds overwhelming and impossible. I think a lot of families are able to make a routine that works and accommodates a lot more than what I have been able to feel comfortable with. But every family is different and for a variety of reasons, our family just needs to have a lot of built in down time.
I can’t lay out the exact timeline because everything happened at once.  Over general conference weekend I prayed that I would find some answers about how to accomplish some of our family goals.  I may have even been that Sunday night, or soon after, that I said to Andrew, “Just so you know, I think we *might* end up *looking into* home school *someday*.  I just keep having this thought about it.  But it isn’t anything I want to do right now and I’m not really that interested in it.  I just wanted you to know that it is a consistent impression I’ve been receiving and I think it will come up in our future.” And to myself I added, “Like, the DISTANT future… maybe for our grand kids or something…” because really, this is something I never had any desire or intention to pursue.
A few days later I was watching Peter work on his homework.  He gets a math worksheet to do every day after school and it takes him about 5 1/2 seconds to complete.  As I looked closer I realized that it is pretty much the exact same math he was doing at the beginning of the year.  Like I said before, his teacher has spoken to me about the fact that he gets math taught “to his level” from their computerized curriculum, and she has apologized for the fact that his homework is so remedial to him.  But for some reason, she is still required to have him do it.  Well, he had this super remedial homework and then next to him was Ammon coasting through math that was way more interesting.  It caught Peter’s attention and so the next thing I knew, Ammon was teaching Peter how to do Ammon’s math.  Peter totally got it, and for Ammon, the most interesting part of the entire exercise was explaining it to Peter because the math itself wasn’t at all challenging to him.
Then came the light bulb.  My boys are learning at school.  But they are also wasting a TON of time.  Basically the “on level” education they are getting is just from time when they are separated away from their classmates.  On the other hand, I am feeling like I need MORE time that I can structure and use in ways that will be better for my family.
From what I have been told over and over and over again, people doing home school typically spend 2-3 hours a day doing a set curriculum.  In the past having school be “only” 2-3 hours a day sounded AWFUL.  I could just imagine my children spending 10 hours a day watching TV and playing computer games. But if I can establish some routines with how that time is used, I feel like we can be better educated both academically and .spiritually not to mention be more involved with extra curricular activities and be MORE socially active.  All of this WITHOUT over stressing and over scheduling the family.
Andrew came home that day and said, “So what was that you were saying about home school?”  I told him that I had been feeling prompted about it but that I wasn’t really interested in doing it, but that I had just realized some really great reasons why we really might want to consider it “in a few years”.  But after I told him some of the thoughts that I had been having and the realizations I was making we were both really excited about the whole situation and decided to consider it for next year.
There are some other reasons why we think it will be nice for us:
1 – In the winter I can let the kids play when the sun is up and do school when the sun is down.  Last year they were going to school at sunrise and coming home at sunset.
2 – If/when we move, they won’t have to change “schools”.
3 – We will be more free to travel out of Alaska in the winter and stay in Alaska to enjoy the summers.
4 – I found out later that the state of Alaska will reimburse school expenses to home schooling families.  This includes paying for piano lessons, sporting activities etc.  They have calculated how much money they spend on kids in the public school system and consider that money to be there for the student.  If the child isn’t using it in the public school system, they can use it for home school.
5 – We can adapt curriculum to meet the individual needs of my kids – speeding up when they understand something and slowing down when they want to dig deeper or need more time to understand.
Anyway, that’s kind of how it all played out.  I’m excited but nervous about it. Fortunately I have two boys are ENJOY learning so I don’t feel like I’ll have to torture them or be tortured by trying to teach them.  And hopefully we can just create a better schedule and family discipline in general.
August, 2014
WHAT AM I THINKING??? I am sooooo ready to send my kids back to school. This homeschooling idea is ridiculous. Why am I CHOOSING to torture myself. Is this going to be the worst thing ever? Why do I feel so prompted to do this? It’s a good thing I feel pretty confident in my ability to receive revelation these days because this seems CRAZY. I do not want to do this. I do NOT want to do this. This is like bullet to the head stupid.
September 1, 2014
Today was our first day doing home school. My kids have no idea that “regular” school doesn’t actually start until tomorrow. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that it was Labor Day and Andrew was home to help juggle the three kids while trying to create some level of structure for academic achievement.
We didn’t do any typical back to school shopping. No new clothes, no new backpacks. In fact, my laundry is more out of control than it has been in a long time (and that’s saying something). There is practically nothing clean in the house. Late last night I decided we’d better do something to make it special. We DID do a FHE about learned. During church yesterday I decided that we should have a family theme for the year. I chose 2 Nephi 9:29 “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the teachings of God.” I decided that we should still do our traditional “back to school” pictures even though they seemed a little silly without the backpacks and new outfits. And just to make a new tradition specific to home school, I decided that we would surprise the boys with donuts. Our back to school picture this year is the boys sitting on the couch with a pile of books. Peter is in pajamas and Ammon is wearing dirty pants. But they were excited about school and we had donuts.
I really wasn’t ready for school, and a lot of our day was figuring it out as we went a long. We have a math curriculum (teaching textbooks) that the boys are really enjoying. During our FHE I had them set a goal for what they wanted to accomplish in math this week. They basically assigned themselves three lessons a day. I think that they each exceeded that goal today. I have a spelling curriculum that I am already in love with. I did it with Peter early in the day. He only had three words on his list today and he got them all right so we went ahead to the next list. He only missed one on that list. Ammon kept putting it off, but eventually got it done in the afternoon with Andrew. He had five words on his list and passed them all off. Unlike Peter, he didn’t want to be an overachiever and go on to the next list. He was content to just do what he was supposed to do and call it good. They both did some geography work. Ammon did some formal worksheets and Peter and I memorized the Pacific states and the Mountain states. Peter did art work, Ammon did reading. They both did science but it was just a make-shift assignment because I haven’t actually ordered the science curriculum we plan to use. They both did some sort of PE. Ammon and I walked to the grocery store and took the long way home. Peter did some jump roping and running around in the yard. I did grammar with Ammon but I don’t think Peter did his. I am excited about social studies which is US History, but we never got to that today. I want to get the boys going with piano lessons, but I don’t have a keyboard yet and haven’t flushed out my piano lesson plan but Ammon did do some practice with reading notes on an app I have.
I don’t feel like any of this is worth it if we are doing ONLY academics and not improving our spiritual fitness as a family. In our combined 5th Sunday meeting yesterday we talked specifically about family prayer and even more specifically about MORNING family prayer. We have pretty much never done morning family prayer, so we are turning over a new leaf with that one. And as much as FHE would be better on Monday night, at least we had it this week even if it was yesterday instead. Technically we didn’t do our family scripture study today, but I do have a New Testament curriculum that we will be working on and Andrew and the boys started it this afternoon, so scriptures were a part of our day although not as much as desired.
The day was busy, fun and ultimately EXHAUSTING. But I LOVED having my boys home and having the chance to cheer them on, praise them, be with them, and be involved in their lives the way I was today. I expect that we will have our struggles among our successes, but today I can honestly say that I am happy that we made the choice to home school.
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