Choosing a Level 3 Christmas

The Christmas season is full of magic and wonder, gifts and memories, and, of course, a little stress and chaos. The other night brought some of the latter elements to our home. It had been a busy day for me full of shopping and driving and little sibling spats. It had been a stressful day for Scott, who has an overflowing plate of work and church responsibilities. I had just gotten home and had about 10 minutes to get dinner on the table. My 12 year old, Ellie, asked if she could use Scott’s and my shower because hers doesn’t get hot enough. “Sure,” I said, while rummaging through the refrigerator. A few minutes later Scott had just finished a desperately needed workout on his exercise bike and came to ask me “Why is Ellie in our shower? Can you please ask her to head out so I can change?” It seems simple enough. Before I knew it, Ellie was mad at Scott, Scott was mad at me for making Ellie mad at him, and I was mad at him for being mad at me for making Ellie mad. Then Addie started getting mad at the stick-on nails she had purchased that weren’t sticking, and Zach was mad that no one was ready to hear his family home evening message.

Christmas. I love Christmas. I love the presents, the cards, the tree, the lights, the songs, the smells….everything. Recently I was listening to a new book by John Bytheway called Born this Happy Morning that reminded me of the three levels of Christmas, as first described by Deseret News editor William B. Smart. Our family meltdown helped me put the Christmas levels into perspective.

The first level is the Santa Claus level. Gifts, lights, presents, elves. Check. We love the Santa Claus level.

The second level is the Silent Night level. This is where those beautiful Christmas hymns come in. This is the baby in the manger, the story of Mary and Joseph and a donkey long ago. We love the Silent Night level. So often, this is where Christmas stays. But the most important level of Christmas is level three.

The third level of Christmas is the story of our Savior not as a baby, but as the Redeemer of the world. This level of Christmas includes trying to be like him and remembering his gift to us. His gift is his life, his example, and his sacrifice. Now, because of him, we can have the family chaos, the mistakes, the mess, and ultimately we can know it will all be ok. Because of him, I can say sorry, and so can everyone else, and we can start over.

Eventually we all were able to apologize and forgive each other. The episode gave me a chance to reflect on what I want my Christmas to be about this year. This Christmas I plan to enjoy the Santa Claus level. We will sing carols and deck the halls and watch funny Christmas movies and eat treats and give presents. I plan to enjoy the Silent Night level. We will tell the story of Christ’s birth and sing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” my favorite hymn, and see our nativity on display. But most of all, I plan to do my very best to remember our Savior’s life and legacy. I want to lift burdens when I see them, give where I can, love my neighbor and my family (even when we are all much less than perfect). And I will remember every day that it is OK to have a little mess, chaos, and imperfection. Indeed, those are the moments where we learn to rely on him even more.

Family night scripture hero Jeopardy!

With four kids ages 5 to 14, it can be tricky to find an activity and lesson that everyone loves for family night. We recently discovered a secret gem– our kids love playing Jeopardy! So with a few paper cards and a little brainstorming, we put together a game with trivia about some of our favorite people in the scriptures. This is a great way to engage the kids and test their knowledge while reminding them of some incredible people. Every answer and questions opens opportunities for discussions of these scripture stories. If you’d like to re-create this game for your own family night, here are the answers along with their corresponding questions (set up in true Jeopardy! fashion). Have fun!

Topic: Cool Quotes (Who said it?)

100 “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” (Who is Nephi?)

200 “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me.” (Who is Daniel?)

300 “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I unto the world.” (Who is Jesus Christ?)

400 “And now it came to pass that when they had surrendered themselves up unto us, behold I numbered those young men who had fought with me, fearing lest there were many of them slain. But behold to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen.” (Who is Helaman?)

500 “Give me this mountain.” (Who is Caleb?–This one is a favorite family story. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can find the inspiring story of Caleb in Joshua 14.)

600 “Are you priests and pretend to teach this people? … If ye understand these things ye have not taught them…If ye teach the law of Moses, why do ye not keep it?” (Who is Abinadi?)

Topic: Bible Heroes

100 This prophet parted a sea to help his people escape from Pharaoh. (Who is Moses?)

200 He was thrown into a dangerous den because he prayed openly even when it was against the law. (Who is Daniel?)

300 He interpreted a dream about 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine. (Who is Joseph?)

400 This apostle denied that he knew Christ three times, which wasn’t true at all. (Who is Peter?)

500 This apostle turned in the Savior for 30 pieces of silver. (Who is Judas?)

600 They were protected by God’s power after being thrown in a fiery furnace. (Who are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?)

Topic: Book of Mormon Heroes

100 He was tied to a boat by his angry brothers. (Who is Nephi?)

200 When things got tough, they whined and complained. (Who are Laman and Lemuel?)

300 He prayed all day in a forest to know if his sins were forgiven. The Lord let him know he was forgiven and that his people would be blessed for obedience. (Who is Enos?)

400 This prophet preached repentance to an angry group of priests and was killed for his great faith. Luckily, one priest listened. (Who is Abinadi?)

500 This prophet preached repentance on a wall. He could have been killed by the angry attacks, but God protected him. (Who is Samuel the Lamanite?)

600 He came along from Laban’s castle and became a great, loyal friend of the family. (Who is Zoram?)

Topic: Wonderful Women

100 She fasted for three days for the power to save her people. (Who is Queen Esther?)

200 She wanted a child and prayed for help from God. Eventually, her son Samuel was born, whom she turned over to the Lord so he could grow up serving Him. (Who is Hannah?)

300 She was the first person to see the resurrected Savior. (Who is Mary Magdalene?)

400 This woman left all her worldly possessions behind to follow her husband into the wilderness. (Who is Sariah?)

500 Because of them, Helaman’s soldiers had the faith to fight and be spared. (Who were the mothers of the sons of Helaman?)

600 She helped convert a kingdom when she didn’t faint with everyone else. King Lamoni and his queen, she knew, had fainted because of God’s power. She ran to spread the news. (Who is Abish?)

I love learning about these incredible people in the scriptures and know that by sharing their stories (in whatever fun and create way we can) we give our children powerful examples of faith, courage, humility, and love and hopefully a testimony of what these heroes all stood for–their Savior, Jesus Christ, and their God.

Finding blessings in the wilderness

We are two weeks into home schooling, home churching, and social distancing and it’s been interesting. My son showed me a meme the other day that said: “Day 2 without sports. I found a woman sitting on my couch. Apparently she’s my wife. She seems nice.” That made me laugh. Oh what a unique experience we are having! Here are a few snapshots of life at our house with 2 parents and 4 kids at home:

—Her feet are touching mine!

—I miss my friends. 

—I feel trapped.

—It’s my turn on the computer!

—Can you stop making that noise? I am trying to work!”

—Stop touching me

—That assignment was due when? 

—I just want things to go back to normal

—And the low point when our printer stopped working and I had 3 kids needing homework sheets printed I got this message online: “You are now number 175 in line to speak with a representative.” I never got ahold of that representative.

It has been hard! We miss our normal life, our routine, our freedoms and predictability. I miss going out on date night with my husband and having a little quiet during the day. My kids miss their teachers, friends, and teams. We have had to cancel our spring break trip to Havasupai, something I’ve wanted to do for 20 years. It’s hard being cooped up together all day and all night when kids are still learning the art of conflict negotiation and respecting personal space. And yet, this is our new normal, for now at least.

Yes, it is hard. And yet, there are also some incredible blessings. 

A few days ago I was reading a scripture message with our kids out of a book called “Don’t Miss This” that expands on one verse at a time from the Book of Mormon.  Here was the verse that came up, from the perspective of Laman and Lemuel in the wilderness:

1 Nephi 17:21 “Behold these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea and we might have been happy.” Lehi’s family had left their comforts, their freedoms, their social gatherings, and everything they knew. They were in their wilderness with all its discomfort and isolation. Laman and Lemuel saw the hard stuff. It was uncomfortable and the food was boring and they missed their normal life.

Nephi on the other hand gave us an example of another way. Of the exact same journey, in the exact same chapter, Nephi writes: “great were the blessings of the Lord upon us.” 

We are having a wilderness experience. I actually looked up the definition of wilderness and this is what I found: “a neglected or abandoned area of a garden or town.” How true is that?  I’ve caught myself murmuring about the situation. And my hard things are really just minor inconveniences. There are people out there who are really sick. There are people who have lost loved ones. There are thousands who are being separated from spouses and children. There are missionaries who want to serve who have been sent home.

It is a challenging and scary time. 

Yet I believe we too can experience great blessings in our period of isolation and uncertainty. There will be miracles, even. Here are some of the little miracles I have seen so far:

—A prophet who knew we were going to need to depend on our own faith and diligence, who knew to prepare us with resources to study the gospel at home

—Watching my husband bless the sacrament and my son pass it to our family members in our own living room

—Siblings bonding over family outings, games, comedy sketches, and movies

—A newfound love of chess in our home—something we had never played with our kids before and now it seems they can’t get enough

—A neighborhood finding ways to connect through teddy bear hunts and pictures in windows and candles of unity lit on porches

—Acts of service and little gifts left on doorsteps

—More time to have family scripture study together along with time to pray and even meditate together. 

I have struggled with this new normal in many ways and I wouldn’t have chosen it.  At the same time I am so grateful for the opportunities my family is having to grow closer and stronger together. 

In Matthew we learn about ten virgins awaiting a bridegroom, who represents Christ. Five of the virgins had plenty of oil to keep their lamps lit, while the other five ran out of oil. They could not get oil from the others but needed to rely on their own preparation. This story is about us. The oil represents our own spiritual strength. This is our time to decide—will we be spiritually strong on our own? Are we doing what we need to do to keep our lamps lit in the darkness?

The Lord said in D&C 33:17  “Be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom.”

I am so grateful for my opportunity to fill my lamp at home during this unique season. I am grateful for a prophet who has prepared us. Our Father in Heaven is watching over us and he will bless us as we are faithful. We can choose to be diligent disciples at this crucial time. Life has slowed down. Gone are the hectic schedules and carpools and sporting we are being given is time and space to focus in on what matters most. God is essentially removing many of the obstacles that may normally distract us. We can work on filling our lamps while we wait to be done with this season of wilderness.

Here are a few ways we can do it: 

  1. Pray more and pray sincerely. We have time. Enos is a wonderful example of someone who didn’t say a quick repetitive prayer and turn out the lights. He poured his heart and soul out to God and waited for a reply. He was earnest and sincere in desiring to know the Lord’s will. He even described his experience as a “wrestle” to know. He says “my soul hungered” and that he cried all the day and then into the night to know if his sins had been forgiven. 
  2. Listen for a response. How often do we take time to listen and be still? Enos waited all day for his answer. Then God finally spoke to him and answered his plea. Enos asked how it was done and God responded “Because of thy faith in Christ.” Enos had that kind of faith to know if he listened and waited, and kept listening, God would show up. I think most of us probably aren’t very good at being still and listening. We live a fast-paced life where we don’t have to wait for much—thanks to things like one day delivery and instant streaming of our favorite shows. We are over scheduled and exhausted much of the time. But if we show up for God, he will show up for us. He has told us, repeatedly in the scriptures: “Ask, and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Now more than ever we have the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our Father in Heaven and His Son. 
  3. Study. What a wonderful time to take full advantage of our spiritual resources. They have been poured out upon us. We have the scriptures. We have a Come Follow Me online manual that guides us through weekly discussions of the scriptures. We have amazing Book of Mormon videos that we can watch with the click of a button on our computer. We have all the conference addresses that have ever been given in any form we want—we can read, listen or watch! 
  4. Tune in. Conference is coming up next Sunday. It was promised to be one we will never forget, and I already know that will be true. I don’t think I have ever been so curious and excited about hearing from our leaders than I am right now. We know we have a prophet who has received and will continue to receive revelation from on high. What an incredible blessing we have—to know we have a living, breathing church with all the guidance we need ready to be poured out upon us. 
  5. Serve. I am always struck by the last conversation Christ had with Peter before he left the earth. He asked Peter three times: “Lovest thou me?” Peter said yes repeatedly. Christ gave the same answer over and over again: Feed my sheep. What he meant was, take care of each other. You are my hands now. The more we seek to love and serve each other, the more of His Spirit we will feel. I have seen it already as people are reaching out to love from a distance. I have seen it in people who are showing up at work to help make sure we can still get our packages and groceries and medical help. I have seen siblings and friends and neighbors support each other with heart attacks on doors and letters of encouragement and dinners over FaceTime. As we do that, we will be blessed.

Yes we are in challenging times but with those challenges come wonderful blessings and opportunities. I hope that we can use our time well and fill our lamps. Let’s strengthen our own spiritual muscles and enjoy our time at home with our families. We can rise above the hardships and know that our Savior is always there for us. He promised us this:

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:26–27). … In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

That is so comforting to me. He is with us. He will see us through. He has and will overcome. We will get through this season and hopefully come out better and stronger and closer to our Father in Heaven for it.

Bonding in our time of isolation.

The rainbow comes after the storm

We have a handsome, intelligent, persistent, opinionated, resourceful wonderful young man in our home. A teenage man. I’ve read recently in a book hilariously titled “The Grown-Up Guide to Teenage Humans” that these teenage humans really, really need a few important things: belonging, fun, and control. In fact, they want these things so much that they will go out of their way to do the opposite of what their parents want just to assert their autonomy. Scott and I are learning about this delicate dance. I’m not going to lie–it’s a struggle sometimes figuring out how to be parents with rules and expectations while also allowing freedom to grow and choose. It’s extra hard for a set of oldest-child, somewhat type-A perfectionist parents. We are learning, I daresay, as much as our children as we go through this journey.

We expect a lot of our kids and we have a few things we insist on–family dinner, family scripture and prayer, a family date on Saturday, and church on Sunday are where we hold the line. Sometimes it’s pulling teeth to get everyone together. Regularly our cute teenage Zach says “Can we be done with now?” or “No, I’m not coming.” Or “I don’t want to go see Frozen 2 with you.” Or “I don’t feel like going to church–it’s boring.” We keep insisting. “Yep, come on up.” “Yep, it’s time to go.” Or “Yep, we’re going to give it a try.” It can be exhausting. Every once in a while I just want to cave and say “Fine, never mind. Do what you want.”

Last night it was a Sunday and we had gotten some good scripture time in during the day at church, and we said our evening prayer at the dinner table after a quick family council. It was late and I figured we could call it good. I had already gotten our super-social five year old, Sam, in bed and was walking toward the girls’ room down the hall with a hymn book to sing them a song as they were getting in to bed. Sam heard me mention something about a song and came running out of his room. “We need to do scriptures!” he said. I laughed and said, “Well we went to church today… but ok let’s do it.” Then Zach came in and climbed up to hang with his little sister on her bunk bed.

I read a quick scripture to them and sang a verse of one of my favorite hymns, “The Spirit of God.” I invited them to sing with me if they knew the words. No one knew the first verse, but during the chorus, Zach joined in singing with me. “We’ll sing, and we’ll shout, with the armies of heaven. Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb.” He wanted to sing! My heart was full already. But then, I said goodnight and asked Zach to come on down and go to bed. Then he said, “But mom, we haven’t prayed yet.” I was stunned. “OK great, let’s pray.”

We never know when all the little things we are encouraging are settling in and becoming habits that our kids actually love and want. To me, last night, was a little rainbow after getting through some rain. I know this doesn’t mean the battles are over and we have officially arrived. In fact, as Zach was leaving for his carpool this morning I said “See you after school!” and he looked back and said, “Don’t be late again” and walked off. I called out, “Want to say ‘Bye Mom?'” And he half-smiled and called back, “Bye Mom” and got in the car. We continue the dance. But I’ve had a glimpse that the efforts are worth every reminder, every invitation, every insistence. We’ll get our rainbows here and there, and they are beautiful.

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A Broken Bow Moment

Last week the kids and I were reading about Nephi’s broken bow. Everyone in this scripture account other than Nephi was complaining. I can imagine it. They are far from home, they are tired, they are hungry. And the last bow just broke. “This is awful!” they probably said. “It’s not fair! How could you have let this happen? Why me?” Not Nephi though. Nephi simply went to find some wood and made himself a new bow. Then he went to his father with the Liahona and asked, “Father, which way should I go?” Everyone has broken bow moments. It’s when things go wrong. We can either whine and complain and toss ourselves on the bed, or we can be like Nephi.

Two nights ago I brought Scott up to Tollgate Canyon near Park City for a surprise, romantic getaway in a rustic cabin in the middle of nowhere. I was following the directions up these long stretches of abandoned roads, and the snow was getting deeper and deeper. Suddenly it was too deep. Our tires were spinning. The car was stuck. I had been told by the cabin manager that I would need four wheel drive (which we had) but what I didn’t know is that four wheel drive wouldn’t cut it in the wet snow from that day. We needed chains or snow tires, which we didn’t have. Scott and I got out of the car and dug the snow out around the tires. We took turns pushing the car. Nothing.

Luckily, a few minutes after we had decided this challenge was beyond us, one of the few neighbors on the mountain came driving up the road. She had tow ropes. Then another neighbor came by with a truck and snow plow, and he was able to pull us out. It was getting pretty late at that point. The light was leaving and the snow was falling. We had to decide what to do. I was cold and wet and frustrated. But I really wanted to stay at this romantic cabin. I looked at Scott–“What should we do?” He didn’t hesitate. “Let’s go get some chains!” he said.

We drove to the Walmart in Park City and walked to their chain section. We searched through all the options for a good 30 minutes. They didn’t have our size. By now it was 7:30 p.m. We hadn’t had dinner and it was officially dark. “Should we just throw in the towel and go stay at some other hotel?” I said. But Scott wasn’t ready to give up. He knew I had worked hard to plan this weekend. He jumped on the phone and called an auto parts store in Salt Lake, 30 minutes away, and asked if they had chains that were the right size for our car. They did. “Let’s call it an adventure,” he said. Like Nephi, he just figured out what needed to be done and pointed us in that direction.

By 9:30 p.m., we were back at the beginning of the snowy trail laying out chains behind our tires. The air was freezing, snow was falling, and we could barely see. I held my phone flashlight toward the tires while Scott studied the directions for how to put chains on the car. Thirty minutes later, we were ready to take another shot at the mountain road.

The chains worked! We drove through the snow and made it to one of the most beautiful, romantic, rustic, cozy log cabins I’ve ever stayed in. We spent yesterday reading by the fire, playing a card game, snow shoeing, making meals, and soaking in a hot tub. Mostly, we’ve just enjoyed the reward of being together. Now I am writing this with a blazing fire in front of me and a beautiful sparkling snowy hillside out the window.

I’m so grateful that Scott didn’t give up at our broken bow moment. He had the confidence and courage and patience to keep moving forward, even though at each tricky, cold, frustrating challenge we didn’t know if we would succeed.

I figure life is like that. Things will go wrong. Probably at least once a day I am faced with something I didn’t expect or some problem I wish wasn’t there. I hope that the next time one of those moments comes along, I’ll remember to just point myself in the right direction and get going.

Knit together

One week ago today, I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. I usually ignore those calls, as 9 times out of 10, someone on the other end of the line is selling something. But for some reason I answered the phone. “Heidi, this is Lisa,” the voice said. It was a neighbor who lived down the street. “This is going to sound strange, but I think your son is hurt.”

Those are words no mother wants to hear. Ever. Lisa told me the that her grandson had walked past my 14 year old son, Zach, lying in the road. I got in the car and raced to the spot where I found him there, surrounded by several neighbors. He was breathing, but incoherent.

He had been riding the new electric skateboard he had worked so hard to buy just a few weeks ago. The helmet had always been a point of contention. “You need to wear your helmet,” we had said. We showed him videos about head injuries and had countless discussions. We let him choose the one he wanted. He wasn’t wearing it.

The first to the scene before I arrived was an off-duty EMT. Then there was a nurse. And a family practice doctor. All who just happened to be going by at that time. I wonder what their stories are.

A firetruck arrived next, and then an ambulance. The medics put Zach on a stretcher and loaded him in. I said I would meet them at the hospital. I took the fastest road to Alta View’s ER and arrived before Zach and the ambulance. I paced for five minutes weeping, waiting, in the lobby. A woman brought me a tissue. When he arrived the doctors and nurses rushed to examine him and do x-rays and a CT scan. My husband and mother-in-law arrived shortly after. The doctors told us Zach would need to go to Primary children’s hospital because there was a five inch crack in his skull and some bleeding on his brain. My mother-in-law, Kerry, offered to drive me while Scott went in the ambulance with Zach. At first I told her I was fine to drive but she insisted I just sit. It was the first of my trying to be strong and only after an act of kindness realizing I was not.

I cried the whole 30 minutes to the hospital. Out of fear, out of despair, out of guilt. How could we have let our son bring something so dangerous into our home? I cried. It’s my fault he wasn’t wearing a helmet. It’s my fault. Please let him be OK. I couldn’t even see straight. I’m so glad I wasn’t driving.

We learned at Primary’s that he had no broken bones. A second CT scan on Zach’s brain, 6 hours later, was required to determine whether he would need surgery. Thankfully, the scan revealed no further bleeding. Doctors told us they were confident Zach would heal with no permanent complications. We would just need to wait and see what his recovery would look like. The first day he only occasionally knew his name. He asked questions repeatedly that we had already answered. He didn’t know what month it was. He didn’t remember the accident. I was hopeful, and at the same time, terrified.

I’ve never really been in a position to desperately need the help of family and friends. I mean, I’ve been in the hospital when I’ve had babies and accepted gifts and meals, gratefully. But this past week, I truly needed to be carried through the trauma. At first, when asked, it was easy for me to say “I’m fine. I’ll be OK. I don’t need anything,” when people asked. But I watched as people didn’t take no for an answer. My mom and mother-in-law came to sit with me. A friend set up a “meal train” to bring our family dinners every night so I didn’t have to worry about cooking. Friends came to the hospital to sit with me and let me cry to them, and then brought me dinner. Zach’s football team dedicated their game to him and wrote his name and jersey number all over their arms and legs, then won 35-0. My mom brought us fuzzy blankets and cookies in the hospital, both of which made a dark situation a little brighter. My mother-in-law gave me her coat and socks because I left my house without anything and was freezing. Loved ones called and texted to ask how he was doing and how I was doing and how our kids were doing. People took over my carpools and offered to take care of my four year old. Our bishop and ministering brothers came to the hospital to give blessings and bring the sacrament. Our whole ward had a special fast for Zach. So many people offered prayers. I’ve never been on the receiving end of such intense love and concern.

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, recently spoke at BYU. He said there is one skill at the center of any healthy community: “the ability to see someone else deeply, to know another person profoundly, to make them feel heard and understood.” I have come to recognize that this is my village, one where people have seen me deeply and made me feel heard and understood. Brooks said that there are “weavers” among us who are able to connect with others and be emotionally available. The weavers around me have allowed me to be vulnerable and have helped me know that I am tied to something greater than myself or my little family. They held me up when I could have easily crumpled.

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma taught his people to have “their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21). I understand now that phrase more than ever. With every visit, with every phone call or text, with every meal, with every carpool taken over, with every shoulder to cry on, with every prayer, and with every warm fuzzy blanket, I have felt knit together. These individual acts of kindness may seem simple on their own, but they have sustained me during this trial. I will be endlessly grateful.

Zach is home now. He knows his name. He knows what month it is and can remember more than three numbers at a time when asked. It’s going to be a long road. He is extremely tired. His head hurts. He is moody, more than his previously typical teenage swings. His back is having muscle spasm that wake him up in the middle of the night and cause him to shuffle around like an old man. But he’s going to be ok eventually.

I know the trials we go through come for a reason. I know they make us stronger and teach us important lessons. I am trying to be grateful for trials. But what I know for sure is that I am grateful for the weavers around me who have let me know how much I am loved. Thank you, thank you, thank you for holding me up.

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The case for compassionate thinking

I love that I’ve been on the planet almost 40 years and yet I can still have “aha” moments about how to go about my life. There is just so much learning to do! I was talking with my dear sister in law, Lindsay Poelman, who is a life coach as well as a super intelligent, kind person. She taught me something that I think could be an absolute game changer in terms of interactions with close family members who are less than perfect (as much as we wish they were). In every situation we get to choose what story we tell ourselves about what is going on. We can choose to be annoyed or offended or bugged. Or we can choose compassion.

Here’s how she explained it to me. Say I really, really want my son (or husband or daughter) to take out the trash. I ask him to, and he doesn’t. I wait to see what is going to happen and guess what? He doesn’t take out the trash. Here’s where I have a choice. (As Stephen Covey puts it, what makes us different from animals is that between stimulus and response there is a pause.) What story will I tell myself? This one: “He is so lazy! He never listens! He expects me to do everything!” Yeah, I’ve been there. I hate to admit it but I have. I believe that’s sort of a natural, self-preservation gut reaction. But here is the other option: compassion. I could tell myself this story: “Poor guy. He must be stressed. He must have a lot going on. I wonder what is on his mind.”

Did you feel the difference? If I can respond with compassion, that can change everything. I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t take out the trash when they are supposed to. I am saying that I get to be in charge of my reaction. Lindsay told me about how she learned to respond to her husband (who was going through severe depression and anxiety) with compassion instead of resentment. That tweak helped put her on a path to free herself to be her best, most successful self. It also allowed him the freedom and love to start healing as well. I give her huge props for her strength and love and compassion. At the end of the day, we can’t control the people around us. And we shouldn’t try. What we can do is love them and help them to be the best they are capable of being, in their own way and time.

I am not perfect at this approach, but I’m trying. I had the opportunity to test the theory out the other morning. Scott had said something to me when he was in a hurry to get to work and my first reaction was to be offended. Then I told myself to practice compassion. “Poor guy,” I said to myself. “He must be really stressed at work right now.” Amazing the difference. Sure enough, just a few minutes later he apologized and told me he had a lot on his mind and was super stressed (with a crazy busy business to run and a scoutmaster calling that keeps him hopping). What freedom this new approach could offer! Talk about saving energy–I would so much rather give the benefit of the doubt to the people I love than waste time letting my pride get a grip on my emotions.

So going forward, I challenge you to stop before you react when someone has done something you dislike and ask yourself, “How can I react with compassion?” That’s my plan. I’ll probably get it wrong a lot, but when I get it right, it’s going to feel great.

Book Review: Finding Peace in Times of Tragedy

Finding peace in times of worldwide trauma is difficult, and finding peace in times of personal trauma such as a family death or tragedy can be overwhelming. Therapist Christy Monson professionally and compassionately describes how tragedy physically changes the brain and the body, and she provides powerful techniques to help heal those invisible wounds and cope with the turmoil of our day.

My review: I have never personally experienced a real tragedy. But I have gone through hard times, ups and downs, just like everyone else in the world. That is part of our experience and it is how we grow. Knowing how to handle our difficulties can make all the difference for our happiness afterward. Whether you have experienced a tragedy or would just like tools for dealing with hardship, Christy Monson shares great perspective both from her own experience and her knowledge as a therapist. I was fascinated by her discussion about how the brain responds to traumatic situations and by her clear demonstration of steps we can take to process difficulties in life. I appreciate the opportunity I had to review the book and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for insights to healing a troubled mind.

Christy Monson received her B.A degree from Utah State University, and a M.S. from University of Nevada at Las Vegas. After her six children were raised she established a successful Marriage and Family Therapy practice. For more information, go to

Book Review: Finding Temple Symbols

I just read the most darling book for children about finding and understanding symbols around the temple. It is so simple and sweet and yet has powerful information about the meanings behind everything from flowers below to Angel Moroni up high. Author Cami Evans does a wonderful job presenting ideas for children to think about: flowers remind us of all Heavenly Father created for us; spires remind us to look toward heaven; Angel Moroni reminds us that Christ will come to gather his people; circles remind us of eternity and sealing eternal families; sun, stars, and moons remind us of three kingdoms of glory; white is for purity, pillars are for strength, and the gate reminds us of the first step we must pass by on our covenant path to God, baptism.

I’ve never seen a book that so beautifully lays out for children the meaningful symbols of the temple and invites them to participate in not only discovering them but also understanding them. I plan to read this to my children regularly as they come to appreciate these beautiful places of heaven on earth.

All important voices in the choir

I’ve been thinking lately about how important it will be, as my children grow, for me to embrace each of them for who they are and not who I think they should be. This isn’t always easy. Let’s go back a good 20 years. I was the child that got a special award for being the only person in the elementary school to enter all four categories of the Reflections contest. I was the child who in 5th grade turned down going on Caribbean Cruise because I didn’t want to miss a week of school (I still regret that one). I wanted to get all As, I wanted to be involved. I aspired for greatness, but I guess you could say I was a little high strung.

I have one child in particular who has similar aspirations to achieve, and oh does that make my heart sing when I see her sign up and contribute and try her best. I feel some sort of pride watching her join Math Olympiads and the debate team and strive for excellence in her grades and with her music. I find myself thinking “Yes! You are aiming high and accomplishing! Good for you!”

But here’s the thing. Not all of my children are this way. They are motivated in other ways and get more excited to play and relax than to achieve. Sometimes I feel my younger self worrying. “But you can’t miss a day of school, or be late to class, or not study for a test!” Then I remind myself, “Oh, there are so many good ways to be in this world.”

Today I make a promise to myself to love each of my children for their strengths and their weaknesses, because both make them beautiful. And one of my most favorite scriptures (Ether 12:27) reminds me that it is in our weakness that we find our strength and that it is only through those weaknesses that we learn to rely on grace. Yes, my children are flawed. And that is by design.

For family night this week, we watched a video about a little bird sitting in a wet nest in the rain, waiting for his eggs to finally hatch while watching a beautiful, singing, hatching bird family next to him. The bird rolls his eyes in the drizzle and pulls out his cell phone, scrolling through images of other birds having fun and looking amazing. He tries to sleek his hair back to match one of the more handsome birds he sees, and his hair falls back flat in his face. He slumps down in the wetness. Just then another bird starts gathering a choir of all the birds around. The wet bird in the nest at first shakes his head no. Surely he has nothing to offer. But with a little encouragement from the choir director he finally flies over to join all the different voices. When he finally opens his mouth, he realizes he has a beautiful, deep baritone to contribute, making the music even better than before.

I love the reminder that we are all important and valuable exactly the way we are. God’s choir is meant to have many voices. We all have our good stuff and our hard stuff. As a mom, my job will be to keep that in mind as I watch my precious little ones grow. I’ll keep encouraging them to be their best, but I’ll try to remember that their path to happiness and their best self will be different than mine. They will turn into exactly the people they are meant to be, and thank goodness for that.

Son, Mother, Family, Mom, Bubbles