Category Archives: Children

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 events.at 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.

Image result for rainbow in a storm

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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlB0WoF18V0

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

Every day joy

I recently finished a wonderful book called “The Shell Seekers” that captures the story of three generations of family members. Some I fell in love with and some made me cringe. Within the family there are a few characters who prioritize material possessions, money, and status. Other characters find happiness in things like spending time in a garden, at the beach, enjoying a piece of art, or time with people they love. The book got me thinking about how often we chase the wrong things in the name of happiness. A shiny new car, another new outfit, a big promotion, a checked-off to-do list. Usually, though, joy is simpler than that. It’s right there in front of us, waiting to be picked up. Kind of like shells in the sand. Funny how good I used to be at picking up shells with my bucket on the beach. Grownups sometimes forget.

One day recently with this book on my mind, I was on a run with my dog. It was a sunny day and he was just leaping around in front of me, exploring the trail and bushes, stopping to look back at me periodically with his tongue flopping out the side of his mouth. I swear he can smile. I was listening to an NPR podcast about research on joy. Scientists, the host explained, had discovered something interesting about joy in a recent study. They had asked hundreds of people what brought them joy. The results were surprising. Joy, they found, wasn’t anything grand or complicated. People reported finding joy in little moments when time just dissolved. Maybe it was watching a child play with bubbles, or seeing hot air balloons in the sky, or sipping a cup of hot chocolate, or meeting a friend for lunch. I slowed down and thought about that for a minute. How easy it might be to miss those moments.

For me, as a stay-at-home mom, I probably have hundreds of moments in a day where I could pick up a little joy. Yes, at any given time, I might have laundry to fold, dinner to cook, bills to pay, a carpool to drive, dishes to do, a doctor’s appointment to make, a leaking fridge to address, and a toilet to unclog. But when my little four year old son came up to me recently and said, “Mom, would you snuggle me?” and gave me that look with his big brown eyes, I had a choice to make. I could think about what I wouldn’t be getting done, or I could pick him up, and lay down with him in the sunny spot in our window alcove and just snuggle together. Which is what I did. I enjoyed. En-JOY-ed. I wonder how many of those moments I miss.

For today, and hopefully tomorrow, I am recommitting myself to joy. When I have a minute to sit and listen to Ellie tell me about school, or when Addie asks me to brush her hair or play Uno, or when Zach wants to show me the latest dog meme that made him laugh, or when Sam asks for just one more bedtime story, I am going to say yes. I am going to pick up that tiny shell in the sand and know that this is what life is all about anyway. The lengthy to-do list can wait a few more minutes.

beach shell

Family adventuring in the Caribbean

A few months before Christmas we warned our children that we did not want presents to be the focus of the season. We were going to think about what we wanted to give. No lengthy lists of all the items they wanted for Christmas. This season was going to be about the Savior and what we could do to be more like him. Shocking us, one of our children actually said, “I think that will help us all be happier.” Wise little souls they can be.

What we didn’t tell them was that our family Christmas present was going to be a surprise trip to Mexico, leaving the day after Christmas. On Christmas morning, they unwrapped a few little gifts they had gotten for each other and opened their stockings with treats from Santa. Then they each got one gift bag from Mom and Dad. As they looked inside and found a swimming suit, flip flops, and snorkel set, they got a little suspicious and all looked our way, waiting. We sat there and just said “Merry Christmas!” They stared. We giggled and then said, “OK, we have one more thing.” Then we gave them each an envelope with a bow. Inside the envelope, each child found a copy of a plane ticket to Cancun and a few photographs of the white sand, turquoise beaches we’d be enjoying for the next week. They jumped and screamed and Ellie even said “I knew you were going to do something like that!!” She’s very perceptive. So we packed our bags that day and took off the next morning for the Yucatan.

We had lived in Mexico when our oldest was just a year and a half and spent a month enjoying one of the most beautiful, geologically diverse places I’d ever been. Underground rivers, cenotes, tropical forests, beautiful beaches, Mayan ruins…it’s an adventure paradise. So I couldn’t wait to bring the kids back to explore. We decided to do our lodging on the cheap through Air BNB, which worked out great. Nothing fancy (as in, our place was on the fourth floor and the elevator only worked about 1 out of every 5 trips and when it stormed one day we had water leaking through window onto the bedroom floor). Still, we had a great view of the ocean from our balcony window, an infinity pool pool to enjoy, and awesome boogie boarding waves just steps away. The kids were in heaven.

Because we felt great about the money we were saving on our accommodations, we decided to splurge a bit on a couple of day-long excursions. Our first big outing took us an hour and a half south to an eco-adventure park called Xel-ha. The first thing I loved after we walked in was knowing we could go to any restaurant and eat whatever we wanted–and not have to worry about dishes. (I’m a mom cooking and cleaning for 6 daily so you see the draw.) Now we were on vacation! Zach got the biggest kick out of the soda stations where he could just stop, get a drink of whatever he wanted, leave his cup, and carry on to whatever cool activity was next on the agenda.

The park is nestled on the edge of the ocean where a giant, clear lagoon works its way to the coast from a ways inland. We rode bikes to the top of the lagoon, then snorkeled down. We floated in tubes, we zip-lined, we cliff jumped, we rode a giant waterslide down from the top of a lighthouse, and we zip biked through a rainforest (basically riding a bike in the air attached to a cable above so you can soar over cenotes, through caves, beside waterfalls). The girls and Scott even got to do a dolphin interactive experience, which they loved. We kept all our stuff in lockers so we could just walk around in swimsuits, playing, swimming, and stopping in restaurants when we got hungry. The weather was lovely, and after a short afternoon shower we even looked up to find a rainbow arching over the place. Heavenly.

We left Xel-ha wet, happy, and full of delicious Mexican food then spent the next day relaxing back at our condo. Then we were ready for another adventure. We had heard about a tour company called Alma’s LDS Tours, which offered a specific Book of Mormon emphasis to some of the Mayan ruins. We decided that sounded just right for us. The tour bus picked us up at 7 a.m. and we headed back down south to explore the ruins of Tulum and Coba. Tulum was a gorgeous civilization built between the 13th and 15th centuries right on the Caribbean coast. Our wonderful tour guide Arnie shared the history of the area and then pointed out interesting LDS tidbits, like the many carvings of what has been dubbed the “descending God,” a figure that looks like it is coming down from heaven to live among the people. Book of Mormon scholars think that the Nephite civilization could have been just south of this area so the story of a God coming down from heaven sounds a lot like 3 Nephi, when Christ comes down to heal and teach the Nephites.

In the ruins of Coba, first settled around 100 A.D., we found more Book of Mormon similarities, such as a carving of a tree with two men that looked rather unhappy and turned away from the tree, and another two men walking toward it. Lehi’s Tree of Life perhaps? Our tour guide also asked Zach to read from the Book of Mormon where we learned about raised roads that paved the way between cities (see 3 Nephi 6:8).

We read this scripture standing in an area where there is evidence of an ancient road raised off the ground (or “cast up” as it reads in the Book of Mormon). How cool is that? The Book of Mormon is a record of an ancient civilization that would have been near the ancient people of the Yucatan. I loved thinking about these histories and the way the people lived and loved and worshiped many hundreds of years ago. Plus, it’s significant to remember that Joseph Smith hadn’t been on vacation recently to the Yucatan when he was translating the plates. He just wrote down what he saw. Coba wasn’t officially discovered in modern times until 1926, 82 years after Joseph Smith died.

Our last stop was at a beautiful cenote (or pool of water in a cave fed by the underground rivers that run through the Yucatan) where my kids completely peer pressured me into jumping off the highest platform I ever have into the water below. I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Check. We drove home, first stopping to drop off another family at an all-inclusive place that we were told cost $800 per person per day. The kids asked if we could do that next time. We laughed. “Um, probably not.”

All in all, the trip was an incredible success. We got everything we were looking for: family time, warm weather, the beach, culture and history, and lots of adventure. It wasn’t easy getting on the plane and realizing that in four hours the temperature outside was going to go from 80 degrees to 20. Luckily, these sorts of experiences don’t completely get left behind with the weather. We keep them in our minds and hearts and remember them forever. I have a feeling that this December we might just give our children the same warning that we will not be honoring wish lists for toys and clothes. We want to give something more–something that last a lifetime.

We are priceless

I recently was in a teacher training meeting where we saw an object lesson that I couldn’t help but go straight home and replicate for family home evening. It’s a message that I think will stick with me for years to come, and one I hope my children will remember too.

The message required a crisp $100 bill, which I picked up from the bank. We gathered our children around the dining table and asked them, “How much is this worth?” They ooh-ed and ah-ed for a moment, as I’m not sure any of them have actually seen one. Then they said “100 dollars.” Yep! “OK, now let’s pretend this bill is you. What things have you accomplished that you are proud of?” I asked. They said things like this: “I’m good at piano, lacrosse, soccer, dance. I am kind. I got 100 percent on my spelling test. I am a good big sister or brother. I am a happy person. I got three merit badges last month.” For each of the things they said, I put a little sticker on the bill.

“Now how much is it worth?” I asked. Zach, calculating the price of the added stickers said, “100 dollars and 25 cents?” We laughed, and then I said, “It’s still $100.” No matter all the accomplishments and amazing things we do in our life, we are still ultimately worth the same.

“OK,” I said. “Now let’s talk about our mistakes.” I put the $100 bill into a plastic bag and grabbed a cup of dirt. “What mistakes have you made?” Their answers included things like, “I’ve been mean. I’ve forgotten to do my jobs. I’ve lied. I’ve been whiny.” For each answer, I poured a little dirt on the $100 bill. The kids were a bit flummoxed, thinking surely I had protected the bill in another bag. Nope. The bill was getting filthy. I topped it off by pouring water into the bag with the dirt and shaking it up.

“Now how much is the bill worth?” I asked.

The kids looked at each other. They looked at me. “Still $100?”

Yep. They got the idea. I pulled out the bill and rinsed it off. (Thankfully, it has dried just fine and will be returned to the bank pronto.)

We ended the night be giving them a paper that says “25 things I appreciate about me.” We handed out pencils and asked them to write down things they liked about themselves. It took us all a few minutes to do. And some of us needed some help and ideas from each other. I was so happy to see that each one of us was able to come up with 25 things we liked or appreciated about ourselves. I don’t think we usually let ourselves spend much time considering the neat qualities about ourselves. I did notice that our 13 year old seemed a little more cheerful after doing the exercise. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of what we have to offer the world.

Here’s what touched me most about our evening together, as a bit of an A-type overachiever. Ultimately, our accomplishments don’t change our value. Our mistakes don’t either. Our Heavenly Father finds us absolutely priceless no matter what we do. Isn’t that incredibly comforting to remember? Even if we have done every stupid thing imaginable, our Father still loves us and sees who we really are and who we can become. And it doesn’t matter so much to Him whether we make the dean’s list at Harvard or the cheer team in high school or become President of the United States. I wanted our kids to know that. Sure, we like them to learn new things and do their best and find joy in their accomplishments. And we expect them to make mistakes. They will probably end up with a few ribbons, and a few scars. But at the end of the day, I hope they know that they are priceless, no matter what. I hope I remember that too.

D&C 18:10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

My privilege

It was one of those days where things weren’t going super well at home. I can’t remember the specifics, but I think one of the kids wasn’t remembering to turn assignments in at school, two of them were fighting all the time, and one of them was peeing on the floor for the 19th time, despite all my best potty training tricks.

After that blessed hour where all four were finally asleep, I crawled into bed exhausted and discouraged. I started saying a prayer with some level of complaining. “Why is this so hard?” I remember asking. I asked for help knowing what to do and how I could help these precious kids find their strength and happiness. That’s when a thought came into my mind, and I’m quite sure it wasn’t just from me. It said clearly: “This is your privilege.”

I thought back to the night before, when we held a family home evening on the topic of becoming like Christ. We watched a great video about some of the attributes of Christ: He was kind, selfless, forgiving. Then we emphasized this message to our children: We aren’t perfect now, and that’s OK. No one expects us to be perfect now. We are simply trying our best to become more like our Savior, and we get to make as many mistakes as we need to on our journey. He is the North Star, guiding us to where we want to be.

These thoughts swam around in my mind until I saw exactly what my job is as a mother. I am here to help my children through all the weakness and struggle and all the failure and challenge. I am here to help them learn to become like Christ.

Over the past few weeks that message has popped up again and again in my mind through the hard parts of mothering: the temper tantrums over not getting ice cream after lunch at Chick-fil-a because the line was too long. The fighting pre-teen girls who seem to only see the other person at fault. The repeated conversations about why it is actually important to wash your hair when you shower. The struggles are how they learn to be patient, how they learn to work hard, how they learn to forgive. The weakness is how they learn to depend on and become like Christ. My job is to love them and be there alongside them, reminding them that this is all part of the plan. And sometimes, reminding myself too.

I love this scripture: And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27).

Our children have weakness for a reason. How blessed I am as a mother to be there while they struggle and learn to turn those weaknesses into strengths. That is my privilege.

Image result for mom and child on porch

Finding Family Love for Valentine’s Day

I used to think Valentine’s Day was all about mushy love notes, chocolate, and flowers. I actually got upset the first Valentine’s Day Scott and I were married because he didn’t give me anything. I feel pretty silly about that now. Those things don’t matter so much to me these days. Don’t get me wrong–I like all of those things. But after 17 years of marriage and a family of two that’s turned into six, I’ve learned a thing or two about love.

First off, love is hard sometimes. And it’s not always about having good feelings toward someone. I have to remind my children about this regularly. Loving my husband is pretty easy. I don’t have a hard time seeing the good stuff in him–because there is so much of it. And at our age we’ve learned to talk through our disagreements without calling each other names (though we may still need to take a break sometimes when we aren’t getting our way!).

My kids are still learning about love. They didn’t get to choose each other the way I got to choose my roommate. They fight. They say mean things. Their personalities sometimes clash. They ask regularly why they can’t have their own room. Sigh. Those times are hard. They are heart-breaking for a mom who’s maybe a little oversensitive. I know they always love each other. Sometimes it’s just really, really deep down there.

Ah, but then there are those other times. The times when, like last night, my two older kids were up talking and laughing at the dining table way past their bed time. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt them, even though I knew they’d be tired in the morning. These are the moments when they are putting deposits into their sibling bank accounts. My job is to just take a breather when they decide to pull out some of those deposits–because tomorrow there is a very good chance one of those kids is going to tell me they’d prefer their sibling move to a different planet. We’ll get past it.

But for Valentine’s Day, I wanted to see if we could focus for a little bit on what it means to be a family. I sat them all down and said, “I know it’s hard having siblings sometimes. And it’s hard having parents sometimes” [this was particularly directed to the 12 year old who was mad at me for not buying him the $70 Vans his friends have!]. “But the great thing about this family is that we will be together forever, no matter what. And the people around this table are going to love you forever, no matter what. How great is that?” They looked around at each other. One person rolled her eyes but the rest sort of smiled and nodded. (I guess 5 out of 6 ain’t bad!)

Addie, my 7 year old, then passed a big paper heart to everyone at the table. On each heart was the name of someone in the family. “Here is the plan,” I said. “On this heart is someone’s name. You have one minute to write everything you love about that person. Go.” Addie set the timer and we started writing. When the timer went off, we passed the hearts to the right. It was cute to see them want more time. After everyone had a turn writing on every heart, Addie passed the hearts to their owners. I loved seeing everyone take a look at what their siblings and parents had written. Siblings who had fought earlier were writing things like “You’re a great sister!” and “You are so funny!” and “I love you. You are a great big brother.” I think everyone enjoyed taking a minute to realize how much they are loved–no matter what.

Today, the hearts still sitting on the dining table made me think of a book I wrote that came out a few months ago called “I Can Love Like Jesus.” I always thought it looked more like a Valentine’s book, but I hadn’t picked it up and actually read it for a couple of months. Today while I was snuggling up with Sam for his nap time, we read the book. It reminded me of why I wrote this book. It’s all about Christ’s love.

I wanted to capture the idea that we say “we should love like Jesus” but we don’t often talk about what that actually means. I loved cuddling Sam while we read about service, and forgiveness and thinking of others before ourselves. That’s what love is really all about, and we have the perfect example to learn from. [Side note–I love how this author captured how we live in the world today but can still love others the way Christ did 2,000 years ago. And I love that the kids are fighting on the couch–perfect! Thanks Chase Jensen!]

My plan for Valentine’s Day is to focus on what love really is all about. Not so much the chocolate (though I will be enjoying some of that) or the paper valentines (though I will be helping my kids make those) but real, no-matter-what, so-glad-you’re-part-of-my-life, you-couldn’t-get-rid-of-me-if-you-tried love. That’s the kind of love I want to celebrate.

Heartbreak and hope in Sandy

This is hard to write about. But my head and heart are swimming with so many emotions that sometimes the only thing that I can do is write everything down.

Last Tuesday, my girls came home from school after their usual half-mile walk up the hill on Alta Canyon Drive. But their knock when they arrived home was more urgent. I opened the door to see their white faces and heard them say that they had just seen a car accident and a man with a gun who started shooting at the bottom of the hill. Then they had run. Over the next several hours, we learned what had happened to our neighbors.

Memorez Rackley, and her 6-year-old son Jace along with her 11-year-old son Myles had been walking home from school when a crazy, obsessive man started harassing them. They tried to get help from a woman who pulled over her car. Then the man started shooting. Memorez and Jace were killed and Myles was shot through the shoulder, neck, and jaw.  Another girl was shot in the leg. Dozens of children and parents were right there in the chaos. Our neighborhood was broken apart in a way I had never thought possible.

Some tragedies are the result of forces of nature or sickness beyond our ability to control. But some happen because there is evil in this world. I don’t have words to express the sadness I have grappled with as I have thought of the Rackley family, or the children and parents who watched these events unfold, or my own children who were so close to it all. I don’t have words to explain how a man could use this kind of violence here. I don’t know why this all happened. My heart breaks for this family every time I picture their faces, or look outside my front window, across our quiet cul de sac, to their lovely suburban home.

There is evil in this world. But the days following the incident have shown me how much goodness is here alongside it.  I saw it in the “Good Samaritan” who pulled over to help this scared mother and her children. I saw it in my neighbor who pulled over just behind the scene and screamed for my son and his friends to get in her car so she could drive them to safety. I saw it in the police officers and first responders who were so quick to arrive at the scene, but who have expressed their grief that they were too late to stop it.

I saw goodness in the woman who let a bleeding girl into her home and cared for her while they waited for paramedics. I saw it in the church leaders who immediately went to the hospital to be with the Rackley family, and then spent hours working on a plan for how to help them and the community heal. I saw it in my husband’s willingness to stay up until 4 a.m. organizing and communicating a plan to help our neighborhood. I saw it in the makeshift memorial on the sidewalk, full of teddy bears, flowers, and balloons and in the vigil at the school where floating lanterns were lit and counselors were available for anyone in need. I saw it in the Interfaith meeting held two days later to help us all learn how to grieve and heal together.

I saw goodness in the phone calls and texts and meals and gifts brought to my family, with notes and words of comfort. I saw it in the community gathering held to release blue balloons into the sky (Myles and Jace’s favorite color) and to tie hundreds of blue ribbons on every tree and post in sight. I see more goodness every day as I drive through our neighborhood, past those ribbons signifying our unity, our heartbreak, and our love.

There is a form of Japanese pottery called kintsugi where a broken pot is sealed back together with gold adhesive. Potters cherish the end result for its unique beauty. The pot, after its cracking and subsequent sealing, is stronger than before. I suppose our neighborhood has been through a sort of kintsugi–broken and sealed back together in a way that quiet possibly makes us stronger than we were. I know that after this experience, beyond the grief and fear and pain, I feel grateful for an incredible community of heroes.

I have seen darkness this week beyond anything I have ever experienced.  I have seen the destruction that one person is capable of.  I will continue to pray and ache for the Rackley family. But I will also feel the incredible power of the goodness and love that has taken place here. I feel hope. For now, the words from Sunday’s congregational hymn will remain as an echo in my heart:

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;

With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.