Category Archives: What matters most

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. 

Here’s to Mother Eve

I was on a walk today at a park, pushing my son in his stroller and listening to a podcast that mentioned something about Eve. I don’t remember what was said specifically, but my thoughts started to wander as I thought more about Eve and the example she set for the rest of us mothers.

Eve had it pretty good, in the beginning. She was in a beautiful garden. She didn’t need to worry about cooking or folding laundry or shopping or making sure her children did their homework on time. She didn’t need to vacuum or clean toilets or break up sibling squabbles or pay the mortgage. She just had her husband and a lovely place to dwell. Paradise, you might say.

So what was the problem? We don’t know how long it took, but at some point Eve looked at the fruit she had been forbidden to eat, and she thought, “What if there is more to life than this?” She somehow came to the conclusion that it would actually be better to know good from evil, to feel sorrow so she could truly know joy. So she transgressed the law, meaning she crossed over the limits God had set. She did it because she knew that happiness was more than endless, frictionless sunny days.

I like frictionless, sunny days. But I like them especially after a storm. I feel so happy when my children are playing nicely together, because I have seen them fight. I love having a clean house, because I have seen it torn apart. I relish a delicious dinner, because I shopped and chopped and cooked and got it on the table for my family to enjoy. And I feel gratitude when I hug my healthy kids, because I have cared for them when they’ve been sick.

Here’s to Mother Eve who understood. She knew that there was more to life than a beautiful garden. She knew that hard times and work and children would bring frustration and sacrifice, but that they would also be the means to indescribable joy.

Here’s to the mothers out there, including the incredible women in my life. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your love and your work and your patience. Thank you for seeing the bigger picture and for helping us all grow. Thank you for everything you do to make the world (with all its thorns and thistles) a better place.

Raising resilient kids

I love the story of a pioneer woman who worked all day making jam, then left the jars out a little too long in the sun. She realized the jam had fermented and was no longer good to eat. She figured she could at least give the jam to her chickens, who devoured it happily. A few hours later she came back to find her chickens lying motionless all over the yard. “I killed my chickens!” she moaned. She sat for a minute and then figured she couldn’t just leave them like that. She did the only thing that made sense. She plucked out all the feathers so she could cook the chickens. After hours of plucking, the woman went to tend to something else and came back to find the chickens back on their feet, running around the yard again–naked. (Apparently the chickens had not actually died but had only passed out temporarily from the fermentation). Naked chickens would get too cold with winter coming on. So she did the only thing that made sense. She knitted a sweater for each and every one.

I can’t think of a better example of resilience. This woman didn’t let a setback (or two or three) get her down. She didn’t fester on what a failure she was or give up entirely because it was too hard–although it would have been easy and understandable to do either one. Those early settlers were made of some tough stuff, and I, for one, would love to gain more of whatever it was. What makes the difference between someone who responds to adversity with courage and optimism and someone who feels incapable of going on?

We live in an era where mental fatigue in the form of depression and anxiety is growing rapidly around the country, especially for young people. According to a 2016 American College Health Association survey, nearly 37 percent of college students reported feeling so depressed at some point during the previous year that they found it difficult to function. That’s a 40 percent increase from 2008. Kids are having a hard time facing the challenges of life. Some of these challenges come in the form of chemical imbalances that can only be addressed with counseling and medication. But some of these challenges are just life’s way of pushing us ahead in our journey. We can get passed them if we have developed a resilient soul.

“Resilience,” is a word that can be used to describe a material that bounces back quickly when it is stretched. Defined another way by renowned psychologist Adam Grant, “resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity.” As he explains in his and Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, “It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.”

I’d love to help my children strengthen those muscles so that when they face obstacles in this crazy, complicated world, they’ll know what to do. In the next 10 years, my kids are going to be stretched by school, jobs, relationships, technology, social media, sickness, peers, temptations, and all sorts of other challenges. If I have a child that at some point faces a mental health challenge, then I will do my best to help them find the resources to get through it. But even the healthiest of children will need to know what to do when their best friend moves away, or they fail a test, or they lose a job, or they trip on stage, or they miss the game-winning goal, or they just flat-out mess up. Is there anything I can do to prepare my kids to walk away from these challenges successfully? Experts say yes. Here’s how:

  1. Let them fail. This sounds counterintuitive. I don’t want my kids to fail! At least, not big failures, or long-term failures. Yet small failures help us to grow. We all have to fail at some point. If our little ones can figure out how to work through some of the smaller challenges now and see that they can come out on top, then they will know what to do when bigger failures come down the road. As David Bush, Director of Utah State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, put it in an interview with BYU Magazine: “If you do too much for the child, you actually cripple them and undermine their confidence and ability to be self-reliant.” We can’t always stop our kids from falling down when they are small or they won’t know that they can pick themselves up when they are grown. We want our kids to believe in their ability to succeed after they fail. I mean, where would we be without Thomas Edison’s failures? He just chose to look at things differently. “I have not failed 10,000 times,” he said. “I have just found 10,000 ways that it won’t work.” Let’s reframe the concept of failure.
  2. Let them feel. Have you ever been in the middle of a really painful experience and had someone say to you: “You’ll be fine.” Trying to push someone past their feeling doesn’t allow them to work out the emotion of the moment or let them know you are their to share the pain. Sheryl Sandburg, whose husband recently passed away unexpectedly, said in an interview on the podcast On Being that hearing people say “You’ll get through this” wasn’t helpful because it didn’t acknowledge her experience. She didn’t know whether she’d get through it so how could they? What did feel supportive and helpful was when people could say, “I don’t know if you’ll get through this, but you won’t go through it alone. I’m here with you.” That’s a helpful reminder to me that when one of my kids gets hurt I shouldn’t be too fast to tell them they’ll be fine. Sometimes all they need us to say is: “I know it hurts, but I’m here with you.” Then, when they are ready, they can move on.
  3. Teach them about grace. Matthew 5:48 says we should “Be ye therefore perfect” but we have to understand that perfection comes only with the saving grace of Jesus Christ. We do our best, and He fills in the gaps–every time, no matter how big the gaps. Apparently kids who understand this concept have an easier time with adversity. According to a recent survey of 574 BYU students, ancient scripture professor and psychologist Daniel K. Judd found that students who believed their salvation was primarily up to them had dramatically higher levels of anxiety and depression than the students who embraced the principle of grace (that Christ already has our salvation covered, as long as we try our best). It’s a reminder to me that I need to help my kids understand they can make as many mistakes as they need. Christ has already taken care of it.
  4. Praise the effort, not the outcome. As much as I want to jump up and down and clap when my son finally plays (almost) perfectly the piano piece he has been working on for weeks, I have to remind myself to praise his struggle along the way. Rather than saying “That piece sounds awesome” I try to say while he’s learning “Great job working out that tricky part. I love seeing you try that over and over again.” Then he learns that I am proud of him for working through something hard, not just performing it well. That’s something I learned from a conversation with a neighbor who has been involved in educating children for decades. As she said, “We have a hard time with the perfectionists who only receive praise when something is finished well. It makes them afraid to try new and hard things because they think they might not be able to succeed.” Let’s praise their effort instead.
  5. Teach mindfulness. Mindfulness is the exercise of being aware of what is happening with your own internal experience, free of judgment. According to the American Psychological Association, people who regularly practice mindfulness have lower levels of depression and anxiety, have more positive feelings, healthier relationships, and have an easier time focusing. Teaching kids to be still and listen to their own body can help them notice when they are feeling anxious about something in the future or keep them from ruminating on something in the past. When they can sense emotional turmoil coming on, they can take steps to acknowledge and then resolve it in a healthy way (say listening to music, going for a walk, or talking to a friend) rather than in a destructive way (such as extensive video gaming, pornography, or binge eating), which only leads to more stress.
  6. Teach and model healthy habits. We can’t feel well emotionally if we don’t feel well physically. After all, the brain (which processes all our thoughts, emotions, and reactions) is just an organ. Have you ever noticed that your kids fight more when they are hungry or tired? I have. Everything seems better after a snack and good rest. Talk with them regularly about how this works. Let them know–sleep, exercise, and healthy eating is a trifecta that can make us strong for our whole life. Oh, and guess what works better than telling them? Show them how it’s done!
  7. Make their voice important. As Adam Grant said in an interview with On Being, “They need to know they matter. They need to have a say.” If we are always telling our children what to do and what to think and how things should be done, then they won’t learn to trust their own voice. It’s as simple as asking them around the dinner table, “How do you feel about this idea?” Or when they have a problem, starting with “What do you think you should do?” The more practice they have trusting their abilities now when they are young, the more capable they will feel later in life.
  8. Encourage them, but don’t push. We want our kids to feel strong and capable. Being there to support and love and answer questions is great. Pushing them, shaming them, or causing guilt over things they didn’t do right will probably backfire. Kids need to know we believe in them. That’s not to say we can’t insist on follow-through. I love the way my tennis teacher once put it when I asked her how her son became such a great tennis player. “Did you ever push him?” I asked. “No,” she said. “I didn’t push. But as he moved ahead, if he ever wanted to quit or go backwards, I was always standing right there behind him.” I like that visual. I’m far from perfect but I hope to be the cheerleader my kids need in this life–letting them know I believe in their endless possibilities.

Yes, depression and anxiety are rising, possibly because life has never been quite so complicated. My kids are still young, and I have no idea what kind of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual difficulties they will face. But I’m a big believer that I can help them have a few tools ready for the oncoming battle. I can teach them to make mistakes, take a deep breath, shake it off, and try again–when they are ready. After all, we all have mountains to climb. Sometimes we rise and sometimes we slip. My goal is to help myself and my kids keep moving ahead.  And every once in a while, we can look back, enjoy the view, and be darn proud of how far we’ve come.

What is my success story?

As a mom, it’s hard to know how to define success. I am in charge of four beautiful, smart, spirited little children, whose decisions I don’t control. I love these people and consider them my greatest treasures. But I’m not going to lie–there are some hard times, and I occasionally find myself asking: Am I succeeding?

On Thursday, my two year old, Sam, had a neighbor friend over to play. Literally (I kid you not) every toy this little neighbor touched was received with “That’s mine!” I spent an hour and a half trying to keep my son from making our neighbor cry.

On Friday, I had to ask my daughters three separate times to take space from each other because my 9 year old, Ellie, kept making my 7 year old, Addie, cry with her “mean look.”

On Saturday, we were running late to get to Addie’s soccer pictures so I pulled up at the red-painted curb, turned off the car and ran her over to her team. I got back four minutes later to move the car and found a police officer pulled up, writing me a lovely parking ticket. Apparently, someone had called earlier to complain about all the cars parking in the red area. I tried to plead my case. “Are you a mom?” I asked. She chomped her gum and handed me the white paper. “Consider this a learning opportunity,” she responded. Gee, thanks.

On Sunday night while Ellie was trying to teach her well-prepared family home evening lesson about “seeing the best,” my 11-year-old son Zach couldn’t keep from flailing his arms around to make Sam laugh, despite our repeated requests that he stop so Ellie could finish her lesson.  We ended up asking him to go upstairs. We finally wrapped up around 9:00–half an hour past everyone’s bedtimes–and past the time when Mom’s patient energy disappears.

I finally got everyone into their beds and found my husband asleep on our bed, breathing deeply after a full day of serving our neighborhood as a member of the bishopric and wrapping up preparations to leave town for work. That’s when I laid down, closed my eyes, and asked myself–“Am I doing this right?”

I have a quote on my fridge by Ralph Waldo Emerson about what it means to succeed. It ends with this line: “Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition. To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.”

I like that last phrase. One life. I got up off the bed after a few minutes and went into my children’s rooms to kiss them one by one as they slept. That is one of my favorite parts of the day. My last stop was at little Sam’s mattress on the floor (where he’s been sleeping since he started climbing out of his crib at 18 months). He lay there snuggling his favorite blue bear, sucking his thumb. Peace etched on his face.

It’s easy as mothers to see what we are not doing right, and to see what others are doing well. It’s easy for me to find my anxiety level rising just a bit when I get to church on Sunday and see another mom with daughters in matching dresses and lovely bouncing curls. Some days I have that going for me. Some days I don’t. Either way, I don’t think that’s how I want to define success.

For me, success isn’t about the size of my house, the make of my car, or the price tag on any of my family’s clothes. It isn’t about whether my kitchen is remodeled (it’s not) or how many Facebook likes I received for my last update. For me, success is that I made dinner last night when what I really wanted to do was keep reading my novel on the couch. Success is that when my daughter yelled this morning that she would NOT do her cello scale one more time without the blanket covering her fingers, I rolled with it and opened her music book. Success is snuggling up at night and reading two pages of our current chapter book, even though it was past bedtime. It’s going out to throw the football with Zach when he asks me to, and it’s taking Sam for a walk around the park to pet the dogs we see (his favorite thing), even when I have a long to-do list. Success is laying next to my tired husband at night and reflecting on our 17 years of doing this amazing adventure together.

I’m not afraid of failure. Those hiccups are how we all learn. And when I am in charge of four imperfect people who are learning a whole lot every day, I’m not going to set perfection in any area of life as my daily target. I just want to know that, because I was here, these favorite people of mine can say they breathed a bit easier. That, as Mr. Emerson would say, is to have succeeded. I’m going with it.