Sunday, February 22, 2015

Improving Ourselves: the Simpleness of the Way

"The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior" (Boyd K. Packer, Little Children, Oct 1986).
Yesterday as were driving to the temple, I had to smile at the peace I was still feeling even amid the (minor) stress and chaos of frantically getting everyone and everything out the door on time, when normally I might be feeling stressed and frustrated.  I began to reflect about some of my personal goals that I've set for myself in the last year or so and realized that I was making progress in them, but really without trying.  Things like slower to stress or anger, more patience, love, and compassion, etc.  Even things like more date nights with my husband and going to the temple more often.  I know that normally with goals you have to make them specific, have accountability and deadlines, and create action plans...and sometimes even with all of this our goals are not achieved.  So why were these weaknesses of mine being strengthened when the only time I remembered them was when I was failing miserably at them?

I thought of the scripture in Ether (Ether 12:27), and while it doesn't say exactly what came to my mind, it gets close to it. "...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."

Who makes the weak things strong? Sometimes we think we have to do everything, that it's all about how hard we work, but in the end, we are not the ones that strengthen our weaknesses. Christ does. If we come to Him, He works the magic through His grace.

As I pondered these things, I realized that my focusing a lot on my relationship with the Savior and understanding/using the atonement could be what was helping me.  I know I have a long ways to go, but it would seem to me, that as I draw nearer to Him, many of these things that I struggle with somehow seem easier.
"Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you, seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (D&C 88:63).
Finding Him, for me, has meant becoming more like Him.  Not perfect, mind you, not even close!  But I can actually see progress in areas that have recently been weaknesses.  He gives; He opens.  We like our checklists of things to do and too often we think we have to do it all to perfect ourselves, but from my own experience, I know that simply coming to Christ through prayer, scriptures, and with all our hearts, He does the perfecting and we are changed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Seeing Myself as I Really Am

I think about myself a lot. Not about my looks, my weight, or my awesomeness, but more about what I think, say, and do. I analyze it all in an attempt to better understand myself and everyone else, and perhaps, in a way, to understand God. I think I exert a lot of energy hiding myself from others in an attempt to be the person I think I should be or that they want me to be. But then I get frustrated that no one really seems to know me! I’m beginning to realize that if I want people to know who I am, I can’t hide myself, including my perceived weaknesses. And that includes hiding from myself.
“…being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual growth and well-being. If our weaknesses and shortcomings remain obscured in the shadows, then the redeeming power of the Savior cannot heal them and make them strengths. Ironically, our blindness toward our human weaknesses will also make us blind to the divine potential that our Father yearns to nurture within each of us” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Lord, Is It I?” October 2014 General Conference).
So my collection of posts right now are an attempt to face myself as I really am. Putting myself out there is a small step, even though my blog is super popular as evidenced by the floods of comments I always get. :)  My point is, for anyone reading this (and I really mean the one person who might read it…hi mom…), you may think I’m a little crazy and I have some serious issues. Just keep a few things in mind.

First of all, it is my weaknesses that I’m focusing on, so it will be a little one sided. Also, as I’ve gotten to know more people, I’m beginning to see that I am not alone. I have seen the signs in more and more people as I look around. We all have insecurities and anxieties. Yours may be different than mine and you may cope with them differently as well, but they are there. Oddly enough, my new-found recognition of this fact is helping me overcome many of the issues I struggle with, which also includes seeing the motes in others eyes. So last of all, keep in mind (along with me) the words of our Savior when he said:
“Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?...First cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3).
My children are an example to me of humbly accepting ourselves as we are and quickly seeking to change. The other night we read in the children’s version of the scriptures in Matthew 6 where Christ is teaching his disciples about prayer. It reads, “He said that some people say the same words over and over when they pray. They do not really think about what they are saying…” When my 6 year old heard that, he stated matter-of -factly, “I do that.” It was his turn to pray after scriptures and I noticed him really thinking about what he was saying and not just repeating the quick repetitions he often does. What a sweet and pure example of being able to recognize our faults, confess them without any shame or embarrassment and just fix them immediately.
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”
I realize there are so many things I could write about, so many social injustices or problems that need debating, but what would my voice on a blog that no one reads be able to accomplish? I believe that before I can change anything in the world, I must first change myself. Seeing myself more clearly and casting my weaknesses and shortcomings from the shadows is my first step to casting the beam from my eye and shedding my blindness to “the divine potential” that my Father yearns to nurture within me.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Confessions of an Introvert

I may be the only introvert on this planet that actually prefers group work. Actually, from recent conversations with others, I may the only person period, introvert or extrovert, that enjoys group work. As long as it’s a small group, I thrive with collaboration. I believe this is related to my previous post about decision making. When I’m solo, I’m the only one making decisions, which causes me incredible anxiety. I desperately need validation in decisions so if someone else thinks it’s a good idea, I’m happy with it. Whether everyone works together and gives input or I’m the only one doing the work, at least there are others to say, “ya, sounds great!” And that’s all I need.

A few weeks ago we had a family activity at the school with all the grades in the dual immersion program. It was super fun. The very last activity was one of those teamwork ones where you are given a limited amount of materials (uncooked spaghetti noodles, string, and tape) and try to build the highest tower in a given amount of time. For a few moments I played the part of an extrovert and I spoke first, spoke the loudest and spoke with the most confidence saying only one word: triangles. They believed me and everyone else worked off this beginning idea. I sat back the rest of the time allowing others to try their ideas and I helped build the tower. I’m proud to say we won! It was the perfect setting because I was allowed to contribute as much information as I felt confident to and I didn’t have to make all the decisions. The pressure of success was distributed among many and not just on me. Team work truly is the best.

Perhaps this is why I dislike bowling so much. Feedback is immediate and it’s entirely dependent on my individual ability. Add that to the social aspect where it’s usually around lots of people plus it’s in the evening when I’m tired and bowling is a one-way street to discouragement and despair for me. In fact, I struggle with a lot of card or board games perhaps for the same reasons. It’s silly really, I realize that, but I can’t seem to change the anxiety I feel in such situations. I have made small strides in this area, but if I can work in a group, I will. So if you wonder why I don’t seem very excited to do certain activities or games, consider my aversion to solo performance as a probable cause…and remind me to relax, it’s just a game!

(Now it’s all making sense…shopping. Don’t like it. Probably because of all the decisions!)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Driving Through Decisions

I was driving the other day and made a decision to switch lanes. I ended up behind a slower vehicle and then had to switch back to my previous lane to make a right turn. I was then three cars behind my original spot before switching lanes the first time. I wasn’t upset or frustrated (probably because I wasn’t in any hurry), but I did have the thought that I made the wrong choice and should have just stayed in my lane in the first place! That got me thinking about all the decisions I make while driving and how easy it is for me to make them, sometimes without really even thinking about. What time to leave the house, which route to take, which lane to be in, when to switch lanes, what speed to go, etc. I’m kind of competitive and I’m always evaluating the best option that will get me where I need to be the quickest. In the end, I’m well aware that most of these choices don’t really matter. So what if I’m three cars slower now? So what if I get to the next red light 1 minute sooner? Most of the time, the time I save in my strategic driving is either insignificant or ends up averaging out in the end. At times it makes a difference and I am the first one home from church or I walk into a meeting just in time. But mostly it’s just a fun game.

In some instances, however, such small and simple choices could have life changing effects. I could be in just the wrong spot at just wrong the time and someone could hit me. And no matter how careful I had been in making my choices leading up to that moment, I could not have had the foreknowledge to make any different decision. Sure, looking back I could say, “if only I had left five minutes earlier…” or “if only I had taken the slightly longer route…” But in the moment I can only make the best decisions I can based on a very limited amount of knowledge. And while there is potential for drastic results, that can’t have any bearing on my present choices…meaning stress or anxiety would be pointless. So I don’t sweat it. I make a choice and I live with it. I just keep driving. So how come that is so easy when I’m driving, but incredibly difficult with most other aspects of my life?

This is my confession time. I am incapable of making decisions. I hate decision making. I am beginning to realize that my inability to make decisions is a massive stumbling block in multiple areas of my life. I’m happy to say that I’m making a little progress. I am now capable of ordering for myself at a restaurant in a decent amount of time…without the waitress returning 5 times to see if we are ready yet. True story. I hate ordering at restaurants. I have to read the entire menu to ensure I am making the best possible selection. But like I said, I’m getting better. Especially with restaurants I’m familiar with. I don’t even have to study the menu online before we go. But it’s taken almost 30 years to get to this point.

Most of the time I don’t realize why I suddenly swell up with anxiety and feel my mind start to shut down. I could happily be sorting through a pile of papers and all the sudden I encounter items that don’t have a place and I don’t know what to do with and suddenly I can’t think and I’m completely overwhelmed and miserable and can’t organize anymore. Or I’m working on a project and I have to decide something and I can’t finish it. Give me a question with a solution and I’m happy to figure it out. Spend hours or days laboring over it. But a decision in which there is no real solution, in which it is completely subjective, and I’m rendered helpless. I analyze all the pros and cons and when everything seems pretty even, most normal people just make a choice and move on, since clearly it doesn’t matter. I, however, keep searching for some reason behind my choice. I can’t just choose at random; it has to be justified. Why the chicken when we have chicken almost every night? Can’t it just be because it sounds good?? Not good enough when attached to a con. Something has to tip the balance one way or the other. And this is the cause of most of my anxiety in my life.

So in driving, or even soccer for that matter, I am able to recognize the insignificance of my choices. So I pass the ball to the wrong person. No big deal, I’ll just get it back. So I switched lanes too soon. No big deal, I’m just 20 seconds slower. What’s the difference with life?? One difference is judgment. In many cases I fear others judgment. In driving, no one else knows or cares. In soccer, the moment is fleeting and I can do something stupid and immediately do something awesome that effectively cancels out the stupid. In life, it’s not that fast paced. Everything is in slow motion and pleasing the crowd is a lot harder. But sometimes, it’s not even about the crowd. It’s more just about being right. All the time. Always choosing the right. Not knowing if I’m choosing the right is overwhelming. I’m working on it. Maybe someday I’ll be able to navigate my life the way I drive, even if some would say it’s a little reckless.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Crying Babies and the Enabling Power of the Atonement

How do we use the enabling power of the atonement daily in our lives?  I had just challenged my Sunday school class to do this, but as the words escaped my lips, it occurred to me that in my 30 years of life I had not yet figured out how to do what I was asking of them.  As I pondered this query, I thought of how we access the redemptive power of the atonement: by making covenants through baptism.  It occurred to me that it was through the same process, covenant making, that we could also access the enabling power.  This is precisely what the anti-nephi-lehi’s did when they buried their weapons and covenanted never to shed blood again.  This covenant was so powerful that when the time came years later that the fathers were unable to defend their families and help the Nephites fight the attacking Lamanites, the Lord was able to strengthen and protect not only their sons who fought in their place, but the entire Nephite nation as well.  These young warriors were given help and strength beyond their own ability and probably beyond what the fathers could have done had they fought.  This was the enabling power of the atonement.  It helped them do more than they could have done on their own.  I realized that not only did I know how to use the enabling power in my life, but I already had.

*****

Is it possible to hear a sound so much that it engraves itself on the surface of your brain?  I swear that is what happened with my third baby’s cry.  It was so familiar I could hear it distinctly even in the rare moments that he wasn’t actually crying.  I thought I was going crazy.  Night time was no exception to this.  For five months my sleep was often broken up into minutes; I counted myself lucky to get 1 or 2 consecutive hours.  We could find no cause or cure for his incessant crying and apparent allergy to sleep. Being overtired caused more tantrums…in both of us.  With my house in shambles, my other two children mostly neglected, and me barely clinging to sanity, I realized that not only was I not enjoying motherhood, but I hated who I was as a mother.   Something had to change, but it seemed completely outside my control.

Somehow in this delirium, a covenant-making strategy came to me that I learned on my mission.  I realized I could offer a sacrifice before the Lord and ask for His help in those things beyond my personal control.  I spent a few days praying about what my covenant would be and pondering what it was I truly needed.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t sleep.  I realized that sleep was only a means to the end.  The goals worthy of a covenant with the Lord were to have a clear mind, energy to accomplish all my tasks at home and for church, and patience with my kids so I could enjoy motherhood again.  If this was to be accomplished by the baby sleeping, that would be great.  But if He were merely to give me the strength to endure like for Alma and his people (Mosiah 24:13-15), I would take that too.  I would offer my sacrifice, which was to get up early in the morning, regardless of how little I had slept, and do all I could in my power to achieve my goals by preparing myself for the day, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually.  I knew I would need no alarm clock, but would simply stay awake after one of the multiple times I would assuredly be up with the baby. I also knew this undertaking would be impossible without the Lord’s help due to my months of continued sleep deprivation.  I officially presented my plan to the Lord on a Sunday evening and went to bed ready to make my sacrifice, fully expecting to have to prove myself first.

The crying baby startled me awake. Again.  But something was different.  I felt a strange sensation, something familiar.  I felt rested!  I looked at the clock and did the math in my shockingly clear-ish mind.  6 hours.  The baby actually slept 6 consecutive hours!  I practically bounded up to his room for his morning feeding, my legs feeling slightly less lead-like.  Hope and gratitude flooded me that morning as I faithfully fulfilled my end of the bargain with the Lord.  I’m pretty sure He knew that I would not actually be able to do my part without His help first.  I eagerly did everything I promised and it was an amazing day!  But would it last?

The next night he slept 5 hours.  Two days of so many hours reminded my body how much it needed the sleep.  Tuesday I was a little more sluggish and while it was a good day, I knew it wasn’t enough.  I got on my knees and poured out my heart in gratitude for the miracle I was witnessing before my drooping eyes.  Then I proceeded to tell Him that it wasn’t enough.  I needed more.  Apparently the Lord understood my plight.  That night my baby slept 8 hours!! 

*****

From that first prayer, I was finally able to begin my sleep recovery and while the hours fluctuated for awhile, I received enough to keep my part of the deal and eventually he was consistently sleeping through the night.  I had always attributed it to the power of sacrifice and covenant making, but I had never realized that it was an example of the enabling power of the atonement in my life.  By making that covenant, I was drawing on the Savior’s atonement to enable me to do more than I was able on my own. 

When I remembered this miraculous experience, suddenly my mind ignited with understanding, filled with multiple examples in my life of times in which I had been enabled through the atonement and hadn’t even realized it.  The whole gospel started to come into focus and connected so perfectly with the Atonement at its center.  Nothing was really new in my epiphanies than what I’d been taught my whole life, it was simply that instead of having my face up close to each of the pieces of the puzzle, I had taken a step back and the picture began to make sense as a whole.  I began to see how everything connected with each other in relation to Christ and the atonement: prayer, commandments, blessings, covenants, obedience, faith, etc.  It became so much clearer that there really is only one thing for us to do, look to Christ (1 Nephi 17:41).  When we do that, everything else falls into place as he helps us make individual covenants and strengthens us to be more than we could on our own.

Sometimes we feel burdened and stretched with all the things we are supposed to be doing and being in our lives, but as we look to Christ in everything, everything else falls into place.  Alma counsels us to ask for help in everything…everything we do, everywhere we go, everything we think, and everything we feel, counseling with the Lord all day so that it is the last thing we do each night and the first thing in the morning.  We must look to Him constantly for everything and then obey the counsel we are given, just as Lehi’s family followed the Liahona (Alma 37:35-47).  “…do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us.  The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever…see that ye look to God and live” (Alma 37:46-47). 

The Lord wants to help us.  He wants to be a part of our daily lives.  All we have to do is look to Him and ask for His help and He will direct our paths to help us become more than we could be on our own.  This is the enabling power of the atonement and we have access to it in every moment of our lives.  Just as I covenanted with the Lord to commit to accomplishing important things in my life, we can all covenant with the Lord and partake daily of the miracles of the atonement.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sickness: Avoid It Like the Plague

My poor little three-year-old has had croup.  After crawling into bed with me this morning and pulling my face close to his, he would cough.  I kept trying to shield myself by turning my head, but his sweet little arm would wrap around my neck and force my face right in front of his.  And he would cough again.  This went on for a few minutes before he said matter-of-factly, "Mami, I not sick anymore."

I pondered briefly about what he was trying to say to me with this little statement of his.  It was true that his cough no longer sounded like a barking seal, he hadn't had trouble breathing at all the day before, and his voice finally sounded only congested instead of quiet and raspy.  His fever had been gone for two days as well.  So could he sense that he was on the mend? Perhaps.  But when I questioned him further, he alluded to the many times that he would get close to or touch his older brother who would then push him away saying, "stop!  You're getting me sick!"  His comment combined with our brief interaction of coughing and pushing away and him pulling me back, helped me see just exactly what he was trying to tell me.  Had he the ability, perhaps he would have said it more like this, "Mami, I am tired of not being able to touch people or be near the ones I love.  I don't like people pushing me away.  I want to be all better so I can be close to you and to my brothers and sister.  I don't like being treated like I am the disease."  I understood what he was saying and I pulled him close.

I, too, have felt the pushing away of others at times when I have been under the weather, but more often I have felt it when my kids are sick.  In our desire to protect our families, do we inadvertently alienate others in a time of need? Is a little cough or runny nose enough to send us running the other way? Surely there are safe ways to show love and concern to those who are unwell.  Have someone else watch your well kids while you bring over some already-made soup and visit. Or watch the sick kid so mom can do errands that can't be done with a sick child at home.  Maybe offer to take the well kids for a while so the sick one can get the attention he or she needs as well as giving the siblings some space to keep them from catching the bug as well.  Or just make a brief door visit to avoid contamination.  Do whatever you can to support and show love.

Let's face it, we will probably get sick somehow anyway.  He who has no germs, cast the first stone.  You can embrace the ill-one without embracing the illness.  As my little guy reminded me this morning, pushing away never made anyone feel better.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Breakfast! It's What's for Dinner

Preface:
One day this week I was particularly exhausted and was desperate for a simple dinner idea.  Someone on Facebook posted a recipe for Cinnamon Roll Pancakes.  Maybe my blood sugar was especially low (hence the lack of energy as well), but that sounded heavenly!  Yes, it involved dairy, but I could substitute.  When I began telling my husband of my plans, I suddenly had a flashback to lunch time.  My son had asked for cinnamon on his applesauce and I couldn't find it!  Scratch that plan; we were out of cinnamon!  My husband said we could just do regular pancakes, but I'd still have to make them from scratch if I wanted to eat since the mix has dairy.  Somehow, I just wasn't as excited. But, in the cooking process, I had some ideas that made them almost as exciting as Cinnamon Roll Pancakes...almost.

My Dad's Pancake Recipe
4 cups flour
4 Tbs sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
4 cups milk

1. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
2. Beat eggs in separate bowl, combine with oil, stir in milk, add to dry ingredients.

My changes (on purpose or accidental)

1. Half the recipe

2. Don't like having an extra bowl to wash, so I beat the egg in a bowl and added 1/4 cup of oil.

3. Realized that wasn't the 1/4 cup, but the 1/3 cup.  Oops.  Oh well.

4. Added sugar, baking powder, and salt (correctly halved amounts as far as I am currently aware).

5. After mixing well, I added the flour and then Almond milk.  Not sure if Almond milk cooks the same as regular cows milk.  Guess we'll find out.

6. Mixed just until moist, only to discover it was super thick (and I probably should have used a bigger bowl). Added more milk and tried not to stir too much since that ruins pancakes (don't ask me how I know that...).

7. At some point in the above process, a picture of our peach juice that we had recently steam-juiced came into my mind.  I haven't been sure what exactly to do with this juice and I had the sudden idea to make a syrup with it!  I quickly searched for a recipe online and discovered I needed just equal parts of juice and sugar for the most basic recipe.  I quickly threw 2 cups of each in a pot on the stove and stirred it until it boiled, turned down the temp a bit and had a helper stir it until the pancakes were made and everything else was ready to go (including a fruit smoothie consisting of frozen fruit, orange juice, and a banana).


Pancakes were served with at least one covered in peanut butter, sliced peaches on the side or on top, optional banana slices, and drowning in freshly made peach syrup!  It was a hit!  Turns out I maybe shouldn't have halved the recipe.  We had to resort to some older, left-over pancakes to fill the hungry little tummies. The only complaint was that I didn't make them in shapes like Grandpa does (Mickey Mouse, soccer ball, football, etc.).  Maybe next time I'll be more creative ;)

*Chef's Notes: Texture was a little off. Most likely the extra mixing when more milk was needed, maybe it was the extra oil, and maybe it was the use of Almond milk.  Still good though.  Also note the expensive dinnerware.