Sunday, December 27, 2015

Finishing 30-Day Contemplation

Only three days to go!  Yes, I know this is a 30-Day Challenge, but since December has 31 days, I figured I'd round out the month with a bonus day of contemplation.  Besides, St. Ignatius was not around when living apostles were on the earth, so he didn't have the chance to reference the reading I've added for Day Thirty-One.  You will find a link there to a document written 16 years ago.  It is the testimony of the fifteen men that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sustain as prophets and apostles for our day.  Whether or not you subscribe to the belief that God speaks to prophets in our day, I encourage you to read their words and see how they jive with how you feel about Christ.

I think these last Exercises are particularly fitting as we draw to the end of a year.  The new year is a popular time to make resolutions to change.  What I love about the most important work of Christ's life--and it continues today--is that He continually invites us to change and turn to Him.  I encourage you to contemplate what you can change about your life, commit to a plan to make that change happen, and then do it!

Day Twenty-Nine
Question:  How have I changed this month as I have searched myself in relation to Christ and His example?
Read:  John 17:3, 11:25-27, and 14:6
Ponder:  Can I set my spiritual sights higher?  If so, what particular steps do I want to take?

Day Thirty
Write what you feel about Christ now that 30 days have passed.  Compare what you wrote with your first entry.
Read:  Isaiah 40:5 and Psalms 119:24
Ponder:  What is most precious in my life?

Bonus!  Day Thirty-One
Question:  What more do I want to learn about Jesus Christ?
Read:  "The Living Christ: The Testimony of The Apostles"
Ponder:  How can I get to know my Savior personally?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Order Obeyers and Boundary Breakers

One of my dear friends is a boundary breaker.  We had been friends for several years before I began to realize the extent of her shenanigans.  During that time, she had related her kidhood stories of cutting school or sneaking into bars as an underage teen, or inadvertently causing property damage through her pranks.  (Name withheld to protect the repentant.)  She has a great sense of humor about those wilder days, and the stories are all the more funny because she turned out to be a nice--but still fun and funny--Mormon mommy today.

Her one story that hit me profoundly, though, had nothing to do with getting into trouble.  It was how she got out of it.  As her high school graduation approached, this friend of mine knew there was no way she was going to graduate with the grades she then held in her classes.  But she also knew that she held a secret power; a gift that had served her well and saved her many times before.  She went to her teachers and sweet talked her way into passing grades.  And then, because they knew of her gift, two of her cronies asked her to talk to their teachers about their grades.  "Sure, why not?" was her reply, and so she cajoled three diplomas for students who had not earned them.

That story rocked my world.  I was not a cajoler.  I obeyed order.  I was the student who knew how to get straight As, and so I worked and crammed for them.  My parents had told me at the beginning of my high school career that I would be paying for my own college tuition, and I could do that either through a job or through scholarships.  Scholarships sounded easier, so I got really good at the game of schoolwork and tests.  I had no idea there was an entirely different game being played by those who didn't care about school.

I thought rules were rules and success meant working within that framework to receive their highest reward and result.  The fact that my friend proved that some rules were arbitrary and associated rewards depended more on the discretion of authority figures than on adherence...well, it has given me pause.

As an adult, I've appreciated that the laws of man are themselves often arbitrary.  I once observed in small claims court a self-admitted speeding driver argue that she shouldn't be ticketed because of the circumstances.  She and the police officer agreed that she had been over the speed limit on a city street by about six miles per hour.  But it was after ten p.m. in a commercial area where most stores had been closed for hours.  The judge agreed and dismissed the ticket.

I thought the judge got it right in that case, which surprised me.  This was about the time that I realized adults don't really know what they're doing with society.  Politicians might pass a law...and a judge will later overturn it when it's been tested.  Business owners will try one strategy...and it may sink their business or attract a conglomerate buyer.  School administrators will swear by one curriculum...and then trade it in for the next trend in teaching.  Everything is fluid.

Like my friend, my own #3 realized this truth at a much earlier age than I.  I have referred to her as "Little Miss Loophole" because she loves to push boundaries.  I've discovered that trend is actually one of her traits.

Last week was spirit week at the charter school she attends.  Monday was Jr. High vs. Sr. High, and each group was to dress respectively in either all red or all blue.  Two minutes before heading out the door, I saw my eighth grader wearing all blue--the Sr. High color.  I questioned her, and she said no one would care.  I mostly just cared that she get out of the house that morning, so I let it go, figuring her teacher/s would call her on it and she could deal with the consequences.
I was right.  So was she.

During advisory, #3's science teacher--who has known #3 for four years and knows she is a smarty-pants as well as a smart-aleck--came into the classroom.  She noticed #3 and called her up.  "Why are you wearing all blue?" she asked.  #3 lied, "I got confused about which color our grade was wearing today."  "Uh huh."  The science teacher didn't buy it.  "You got confused?"  "Yep."  "Well, you're out of uniform.  You'll need to go to the front office and borrow a uniform."  #3 was not going down that easily.  She looked to her advisory teacher, "Do I really need to go change?"  The advisory teacher clearly had not been bothered by #3's so-called confusion, but she also wasn't going to undermine another teacher.  She sent #3 to the office.

Pushing uniform boundaries
way back when.
The school's secretary, who also knows #3 well and probably would have made her change clothes, was gone for a funeral, so #3 spoke with someone filling in.  The conversation went something like this:  "How may I help you?"  "My advisory teacher sent me here to get a uniform because I'm not in uniform today."  "But you're wearing all blue."  "Yeah, but I'm in eighth grade.  I mixed up which color I was supposed to wear."  "Then you just won't be counted in the total for spirit week."  "Yep."  "Do you want to change?"  "Nope."  "Okay, then don't worry about it.  Just go back to class."  #3 went back to class, was relieved that the science teacher was gone, and was not surprised that her advisory teacher said nothing.

I was somewhat disappointed, but not too surprised, to learn that only one teacher was willing to enforce the school's own rules.  I called her out on her lying.  #3 distracted me with another story.

At least ballroom dancing won't
tolerate rule bending.
Riding in the school's elevator is against the rules.  The school has a keyhole underneath the elevator button, which works to divert children at the elementary school.  The students there all assume the doors won't open without a key, so no one abuses the system.  At the secondary school, however, it didn't take long for students to learn that the elevator works just fine without a key.  Students routinely press the button as they walk past, and so the doors are often open when #3 is making her way to the staircase.  She and her friends began accepting the literally open invitation for a lift.  Apparently, the rest of her schoolmates are boundary (and button) pushers, but ultimately order obeyers: they open the elevator, but don't ride it.

A few weeks ago, the elevator carried #3 and friends upstairs and opened right as the school's director was walking by.  In telling me the story, #3 admitted to feeling startled.  The director stopped and watched the girls as they hid their panic and brazenly said hello on their way out of the elevator and down the hall.  Mr. Director called #3 by name, "Miss White, could you come back here for a moment?"  She knew she had finally been caught!  She turned back to bow to her fate while her friends ditched her for their classrooms.  (I was silently cheering as she related the story to me.)  "I need to ask you," the director continued, "How are you feeling?"  "Uh, fine."  Fine as in rattled and anxious!  "Good.  I know you got checked out for a headache a day or two ago.  I'm glad you're doing better."  Phew, escaped!  "I am.  Thanks."  She gave him a weak smile, and he returned a genuine one.  Then, she turned around and went to class.

So much for authority figures.  #3 is the dangerous combination of smart and not caring about rules that don't matter.  She has a bright future ahead of her.

Oh yes, and happy birthday #3.  I love you, you little boundary breaker.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Week Four of 30-Day Contemplation

Going through the Exercises this month, there have been a few times that I've thought the day's topical question seems, at first glance, to not apply much to me.  I've thought, "If these Exercises have been created for the general public, then of course there will be some that I don't struggle with."  However, as I study, I find that each day does hold something for me personally.  (I guess our individual mortal  experiences all fit into the same general categories.)  It may be that I remember past experiences that remind me that I did struggle with a certain vice earlier in life.  Or, more often, I find that I hadn't given the topic a fair consideration.  A first-glance look at things doesn't take me very deep, so I'm glad to be going deeper.

I had this experience recently with the topic of being a peacemaker, which is the question of Day 23 this week.  One of the value experiences I completed in October for the LDS Young Women's Personal Progress program (Divine Nature #7) is about becoming a peacemaker through study, habit, and prayer.  In Matthew 5:9 (sermon on the mount), Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Before I studied the topic deeply, I hadn't considered that bearing peace is part of our divine nature.  Heavenly Father is a being of peace.  Christ's atonement makes peace possible through repentance and forgiveness. The Comforter speaks peace to our souls.  Children of God know who they are and they carry peace in their hearts and share it with those who accept it.

As we celebrate Christmas this week, you might consider adding to your contemplation that day.  Elder Christofferson, a current Apostle of the Lord, encourages us this month "to sit for a few quiet moments and let the Savior's Spirit warm you and reassure you of the worthiness of your service, your offering, and your life."  (Go here to read his invitation in a short article, "Be at Peace".)  Please also enjoy this two-minute video, a reminder to be at peace with your Savior.  



Day Twenty-Two
Question:  How can I be sure the friendships with married people of the opposite sex are just that and not adulterous?
Read:  1 Timothy 5:11 and Proverbs 6:32
Ponder:  If I am married, am I working to make my relationship satisfying for both of us?  If I am single, am I pursuing relationships in a Christ-like manner?

Day Twenty-Three
Question:  How can I be a peacemaker?
Read:  Mark 5:34 and Colossians 3:15
Ponder:  Do I act as mediator with family members who are having difficulty getting along?  Do I go around at a low "boil" most of the time?  Do I hold grudges?

Day Twenty-Four
Question:  Am I truly changing the way I think and act as I strive to become more like Christ?
Read:  Ephesians 3:16-19 and Matthew 6:21
Ponder:  Am I experiencing a mighty change of heart?  Am I clearing my mind with meditation and listening for His voice?  Am I taking action when I do hear His voice?

Day Twenty-Five
Question:  If I believe in the Second Coming of Christ, what am I doing to prepare for the Lord's return?
Read:  Matthew 24:42, 46
Ponder:  What changes do I have to make in order to be ready for the Second Coming?  Am I willing to entertain the thought that His return may be in my lifetime?

Day Twenty-Six
Question:  How can I help from becoming discouraged when I fall short of my spiritual goals, such as controlling my temper or being judgmental or negative about those around me who are striving to live Christ-like lives?
Read:  Matthew 6: 1-15 and Titus 2:14
Ponder:  Do I believe that I can be perfected through Christ?  How can that happen?

Day Twenty-Seven
Question:  Can I imagine the tender look of love in His eyes when Christ says my name and reaches out to hold my hand, when I "knock" as He has commanded?
Read:  Luke 11:9 and Revelation 3:20
Ponder:  If He is just on the other side of the door, why don't I knock more often?  What is it to entertain the presence of the Lord?  How can I prepare myself for the real meeting with the resurrected Lord?

Day Twenty-Eight
Question:  As I read about His life in scriptures, how do those incidents resonate with me?
Read:  1 Corinthians 14:1 and John 13:15
Ponder:  What patterns of the Lord's life are those I would and could emulate as I walk in His footsteps right now in my life?  What characters do I identify with?  Why?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Week Three of 30-Day Contemplation

Week Three!  We're about halfway through our month-long exercises.  How has it changed you, or what have you gained from it?  I'd love to read your thoughts and comments (below).  I am two days behind, and I should have known that would happen in December.  If, like me, you have missed some days, just come back where you left off and finish whenever you finish.  The days that I have given enough time to these exercises, I've really enjoyed the study and focus.

Here are the exercises for this week.  I also found this photo quote on LDS.org.  I think the Atonement applies to the focus for several of the next seven days.

Day Fifteen
Question:  How can I forgive someone who has really betrayed me or hurt  me?
Read:  Colossians 3:12-17 and Matthew 5:44
Ponder:  Am I enjoying at some level the negative feelings that this hurt has provoked?  Do I want to hang on to them and seek revenge?  Could my self-condemnation be preventing me from coming to Christ?

Day Sixteen
Question:  Am I valiant in my belief of Christ?
Read:  2 Timothy 1:7-8 and Revelation 12:10-11
Ponder:  Do I counter negative comments about Christ?  Do I speak of the teachings of Christ in the company of non-believers?  When asked, am I ready with my testimony of the Church and of Christ?

Day Seventeen
Question:  How do I know my Heavenly Father loves me?
Read:  John 3:16-17, 1 John 4:7, 10 and Jeremiah 31:3
Ponder:  Do I project the negative feelings I have for authority figures onto my Heavenly Father?  Do I seek Heavenly Father in prayer and ask to feel His love and counsel?

Day Eighteen
Question:  What is the pure love of Christ?
Read:  1 Corinthians 13:1-4 and John 10:9
Ponder:  Am I willing to live in a greater and deeper state of happiness and joy?  Am I willing to discipline myself spiritually, so that I experience the pure love of Christ on a daily basis?

Day Nineteen
Question:  How can I recognize Lucifer's enticings in my life?
Read:  Romans 16:18-20 and Luke 22:31
Ponder:  Being in constant contact with the Lord is the strategy that keeps Lucifer and his minions from bothering me.  Do I recognize the pattern of discouragement and enticement as part of his campaign?  Am I willing to fully resist?

Day Twenty
Question:  Do I spend as much time learning about the Savior and meditating on His words as I do watching television or involved in other electronic media?
Read:  Romans 10:14 and 2 Peter 1:3-9
Ponder:  What books about the Savior and His teachings could I read this year to increase my knowledge?  Will I search for ones that interest me so I have the desire to read them?  Am I willing to share what I am learning with a friend or family member who may want to read the same book at the same time?

Day Twenty-One
Question:  How can I resist being envious of the success and belongings of others?
Read:  Romans 13:13 and 1 Timothy 6:4
Ponder:  Do I realize that I have a spiritual purpose in this life?  If so, what am I doing to pursue that path?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Week Two of 30-Day Contemplation

*Please read the two posts in November for an explanation of this post.

If you have stayed with the daily schedule, then you are almost one week into the Exercises.  Here is the next set of topics for days eight through fourteen (Dec. 8-14).  If you are off schedule, as are some of our family, just pick up the next exercise and finish in January, or whenever you finish.

I think I understand why St. Ignatius originally set this up as an all-day-every-day-for-30-days method.  I've found that I want two or three days to ponder each topic, so the pace is a little quick.  That said, I do like that after spending several days thinking about Christ, we are now transitioning into evaluating our own standing before and with our Savior.  I especially look forward to Days 12, 13, and 14 this week.  Those are Exercises that take years to get a handle on, let alone mastering.

Some of these exercises encourage meditation.  I usually meditate to silence or to spa music.  However, I've found an app with free guided meditations, most of which I like.  One of the five that I've listened to mentioned Christ and one of his teachings.  It is "Class One: Meditating With A Candle".  It goes well with yesterday's question, "Who am I really?"  That particular guided meditation is helpful in letting go of darkness and tension, and recognizing the light that we each have in ourselves, which is the light we all share as children of God.  Give it a try if you're interested.

And now, for the next week of exercises:

Day Eight
Question:  What is really happening when I take the sacrament?
Read:  John 6:54 and 1 Corinthians 11:26
Ponder:  What promises have I made to Christ?  How will my life change if I truly take on His name?

Day Nine
Question:  How do I guard against pride?
Read:  Proverbs 6:16-17 and 8:13
Ponder:  Am I being truly honest with myself?  With others?  Do I do the right things for the right reasons?

Day Ten
Question:  Whom can I serve?
Read:  Joshua 24:15 and Galatians 5:13
Ponder:  Am I overlooking family members or friends in order to serve in my church or my community?  Or, am I too focused on family and not offering my skills to a wider community?  What answers do I get when I pray to the Lord about this?

Day Eleven
Question:  How do I control physical passions or addictions?
Read:  1 Corinthians 10:6 and 2 Timothy 2:21-22
Ponder:  How can I take my Savior's hand and rise to set a righteous example for others who also struggle?  How can I build a spiritual network of support when I am tempted?

Day Twelve
Question:  How can I stay in a grateful frame of mind for my many blessings for just one week?
Read:  2 Corinthians 9:15 and Ephesians 5:20
Ponder:  What ten things would I list as the most important blessings I have received from my Savior?

Day Thirteen
Question:  How can I elevate my thoughts?  Find a mountain of dispassion to climb and rest upon?
Read:  Psalm 119:99 and Exodus 26:30, 34
Ponder:  Do I really want to work to keep all idle, unclear, or negative thoughts out of my mind?  Am I willing to discipline myself to practice meditation techniques to rid myself of these?

Day Fourteen
Question:  How can I withdraw my negative projections from individuals and institutions so that I do not gossip or think negative thoughts about them?
Read:  Matthew 5:11 and Proverbs 21:23
Ponder:  Do I project onto the world my own unfinished or unresolved issues?  What can I do to work on them?  Can mediation help with the detachment necessary to accomplish this task?  Should I get counseling help to accomplish this?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Multipotentialitism and NaNoWriMo!

It's been almost a year since I defined motherhood as my purpose until my kids are grown.  That adventure has continued to be fun and fulfilling.  In the past year, I've delegated more of the demands of my church calling and I've passed along to others half of my responsibilities at work.  My time is now more balanced and I can enjoy the seven afternoon and evening hours with my family without feeling like I'm neglecting other responsibilities.

Last year, I mentioned that I might dabble more in writing.  I've recently received some encouragement to write more blog posts, which I very much appreciate because I've been toying with the idea of becoming a part-time writer, semi-professionally...maybe.  (I'll go ahead call myself an author when I someday get published.  When that day comes, I'm also going to color my hair so my photo for the book jacket is a little more interesting.  I'm thinking lavender highlights: they look natural at first, but on second glance, you think, "Wait, hair isn't supposed to be purple!")


This past summer, I listened to Gretchen Rubin's audiobook of Better Than Before, and it held an idea that resonated with me: When you were in fifth grade, what did you want to be when you grew up?  The point of that idea is that at about age ten or twelve, we have a good gut feeling for our interests and abilities.  Over time, though, money needs, job opportunities, and well-meaning advice complicate things and we often take a different course in adulthood.  But what if we listened to that kid in us who knew years ago what we probably would still like to do today?

I suppose I've always known that I would grow up to be a multipotentialite.  (See Emilie Wapnick's TEDx talk for the definition of this career path, of sorts.)  From fifth to seventh grades I added multiple interests in my answer to "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  I wanted to be a writer, an inventor, an artist, a game show hostess, an attorney, and/or a hotel manager.  As college leered, the hotel manager seemed the most realistic of the five very different career interests.  I declared a major in business management and never looked back.  But now I am.

Listening to Gretchen's book, I realized that in one way or another, I've continued to play in each of the arenas on my list.


  • Management:  I didn't go into hotel management, but I did get a business degree in finance.  I very much enjoyed the subject, and I've worked as a bookkeeper/treasurer in a couple of small businesses.  More importantly, I've used the principles I started learning in business school to lead in my church and to manage my household.  My tagline as a business-minded mother is that I am running my family on purpose, rather than off purpose.
  • Attorney:  I've coached four mock trial teams at Freedom Preparatory Academy and Provo High School.  Thinking like a trial attorney is so much fun!  I've loved teaching teens to think critically and to explore both sides of a case, forming arguments for and against, and sleuthing for dubious details.  I also realized that pursuing a career as a real attorney would probably turn me into a negative person, always looking for ways to snare people with their words and actions. I'm glad to have not taken that course, but to still have some fun with it.
  • Game show host:  I didn't realize I was fulfilling this one until I thought back on the various games I've created for teaching and for fun.  In the past eight months alone, I organized four group games to rotate through at a ward party; I put together a Jeopardy-style game for our LDS Primary's teacher training; last week I held a competition at the charter high school to help the students with a business-writing assignment; I've helped student body officers create a two-week-long, customized game of Assassin (we called it Target Tag) as a fundraiser; and I made two video quiz shows to cover all seasons of "Malcolm in the Middle".  (If you want to play that one sometime, I'd love to host!)  I love playing games, and I like creating them too!
  • Artist:  My artistic talents were never great, but I LOVE designing and building furniture.  #3 and I are planning to make a large piece of artwork to hang over our piano.  And every time I hear a concert violinist, my soul sheds tears, so I'll be pursuing violin lessons in the near future.
  • Inventor:  Patent attorney fees have gotten in the way of this one a bit, but I have designed re-usable display boards that my children have put to use through years of science fairs.  I'm constantly coming up with business and product ideas...and trying to convince my children to run with them since I don't have the time right now.
  • And then there is writing.  Writing!  I only recently realized that I've practiced this skill consistently, from the multiple journals I've kept since high school, to my lengthy emails (I apologize if you've been on the receiving end of any of those), to scripture study notes that become drafts of church talks, to blogging about our family.  When I am a dissatisfied--or highly satisfied--customer, I always prefer to write a letter or an online comment rather than being verbal in person or on the phone.  I just really love writing.
For 21 years, my writing has been mostly utilitarian.  I haven't done much creative writing since high school.  In my 10th and 12th-grade years, I had English teachers who showed me how to pull creative thoughts from my brain to a page.  Going back to the magic age of fifth grade, I remember very well the praise I received for a few short stories I had written...

My family was headed to a reunion of sorts, and my parents knew my great uncle would be there.  He was a writer and poet who taught at SFSU and the University of San Francisco.  My parents encouraged me to grab my little portfolio of stories on my way out the door, so I did, though I didn't know why it mattered.  That afternoon, as we relatives all sat around chatting after the meal, my dad told me to show my folder to Uncle Stan.  It was one of those few moments that stand out clearly.  I remember the room we were in, the chair that my Uncle Stan sat in as he held my blue vinyl folder and perused my work.  He praised my writing, and suddenly it clicked that I had a professional praising a work I had very much enjoyed creating.  It was thrilling!  My favorite story in the portfolio was based on a drawing I had seen.  My fifth-grade teacher had brought a series of pencil sketches to jog our creativity.  We were to choose one and write about it.  In the picture, a woman was sleeping in her bed.  A book lay open on her nightstand.  (Are you ready for the creepy part?!)  A plant was growing from the open pages on her book, it's trailing vines cascading toward the bed and floor.  Was this a twist on Jack and the Beanstalk?  Did the plant represent the woman's dreams that were formed by what she had read as she fell asleep?  I took it a different direction.  I wrote a story about a murderous plant that would slowly elongate its tendrils to strangle people in their sleep.  

*For the record, I had a happy childhood and I don't like horror movies, so I don't know where that dark angle came from at such a young age.*

Thanks to the encouragement from authors, family, and friends, I've decided to give writing a serious go.  I had a dream at the end of this past September that prompted a story line.  Kent and I spent a weekend conversing about the plot and characters.  In October, I tagged along with Kent on a two-day business summit where I holed up in the hotel room and wrote for thirteen hours.  I cranked out eight chapters that weekend, and couldn't wait to get back to my keyboard!  At home I found myself stealing twenty minutes here and there to go write a little more, because it always energizes me to put words on paper, er screen.  I soon discovered that I can get by on six hours of sleep pretty easily for five days out of each week.  So now I wake at 5:00 a.m. to write for an hour each day--and I'm not taking that hour from my family time.

In mid-October, Kent introduced me to a podcast based on a writer's manual of the same name, The Story Grid.  I've made both resources part of my daily and weekly education to develop my skill.  One episode mentioned Scrivener, a software for writers.  It was the fourth or fifth time I had heard this software recommended by other writers, so I decided to use their 30-day trial.

My timing was interesting.  Scrivener is a sponsor of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and they offered a 50% discount of their software for anyone who successfully completed the NaNoWriMo challenge to write a 50,000-word novel draft in the month of November.  I figured, if I can't (yet) get paid for writing, at least I could save $20 on the hobby, right?  So I accepted the challenge.  And I disappeared for a month.

My November's numbers:  50,000 words (which equals about 200 book pages) in 30 days is 1,667 words per day.  I quickly found that it took me about 90 minutes to write my daily quota.  I could happily spend three hours at a time writing, but that was rarely an option.  Near the end of November, when I was also updating my front room...
Bookcases!  For the first time in eleven months,
our front room is not under construction.
...I missed a few days of writing and had to make it up with several long sprints over Thanksgiving Break.  November 30 I was still down by 4,175 words, and I had to have it done before picking up my kids from school at 3:00 p.m., because nothing productive happens after that point.  I wrote from 5 to 6 a.m., then for two hours after breakfast.  I set an appointment for an oil change and showered, figuring I could write while I waited for my van to be serviced.  At the shop, seven minutes after plugging in my clunky, hand-me-down-laptop that only holds its charge for half an hour--but it handles word processing!--I was joined by an older gentleman who regaled me with his stories for the next hour.  (Argh!  But yea!  I have more material for future stories!  And he has nearly convinced me to go into intelligence work.  My fifth-grade self never considered being a spy...but maybe.  Hmm.)  Back home, I snarfed lunch and got back to my keyboard with an hour to spare.  At 2:38, I finished what I thought was my last chapter for the day...and I was 49 words short.  At 2:47, I finished a scene and uploaded my draft for NaNoWriMo's confirmation that I had done it!  I hadn't.  Their word count software was different from mine, and I was about 180 words short.  Grr.  At 2:50, my calendar notification reminded me to pick up the kids.  I ignored it.  At 2:55, it reminded me again.  At 3:03, I uploaded the new draft with the beginning of a new scene...success!  NaNoWriMo acknowledged my 50,015 words and sent me this lovely, digital certificate:


At 3:07 p.m., I texted success, "Done!", to my friend, Mindy, who had been checking on me all month.  Then I may or may not have broken the speed limit to get to the school, hoping the children hadn't minded waiting in the cold.  They didn't.  It took me at least ten minutes to round them all up.  (Why had I hurried?)

My manuscript now stands at 73,385, including my words from October.  I still have a character to kill off and a twist on a love triangle to write.  Looks like I'll be cutting out about 20,000 words before I'm ready to publish a 400-page women's fiction novel.  Luckily, the self-publishing prize codes from NaNoWriMo don't expire until June, so I can take a break from break-neck writing and its consequential driving habits, and maybe try out another new interest.  (Just kidding--I'll wait until January to start violin.)  I'm going to spend the rest of the year enjoying the festivities and supporting my multipotentialite husband and children in their many and varied interests.  Happy busy December!
 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Week One of 30-Day Contemplation

Are you ready and excited to start our 30 days of contemplation?  Please comment all week to let everyone know how you're doing, to ask questions, or just to share your experience.  Here we go!

First, I should say that this 30-day exercise can be done in more than one way.  I am going to make it part of my meditation practice.  I will begin at 6 a.m. with five to ten minutes of prayer.  Then I will write any insights or relevant experiences from the previous 24 hours before I  read the new day's scripture verse.  Again, I'll write any thoughts that come as I read.  Then I will assume a meditation pose for about ten minutes.  Personally, I like to sit cross-legged on a cushion, but you can also sit upright on a chair.  I will focus on my breath; not on controlling it, but just on noticing it.  Once my mind is quiet, I will repeat the day's question in my mind with each breath.  I'll close the practice by recording any thoughts that come during that quiet, meditative time.

You could skip the meditation and breathing exercise, and simply take ten minutes of contemplative reading or writing.  Feel free to share in the comments the approach you are taking.

We are starting on Tuesday, December 1.  I will simply enumerate the days so you can catch up if you miss a day and not worry about figuring out what the date would have been.

Thank you to Dr. Pam Blackwell for this adapted version of St. Ignatius' month-long meditation.  You can find more on meditation from Dr. Blackwell in her book (pictured).

Before or on Day One:  Write in your journal what you think of Christ.  Be sure to date the entry.

Day One
Question:  How can I follow in His steps?
Read:  1 Peter 2: 9, 21
Ponder:  How can I follow in Jesus' steps today?  In all my decisions, I will ask, "What would Christ do?"  I will think of myself as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Day Two
Question:  Am I seeking Christ's help?
Read:  Proverbs 3:5-6 and 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Ponder:  Am I seeking the Lord's help in all I think and do?  Do I pray enough?  Do I pray with integrity?  How can He help me overcome my weaknesses?

Day Three
Question:  What do I need to do to be closer to Christ?
Read:  Isaiah 55: 6 and Hebrews 10:22
Ponder:  What do I need to give up to be closer to the Lord?  What can I do to 'remember' when I was with Him?  List Christ's personal characteristics.

Day Four
Question:  Do I really love Jesus Christ?
Read:  John 13:34-35 and John 14:15
Ponder:  Do I keep ALL the commandments, or am I guilty of 'selective' disobedience?  Have I put another god before Christ?

Day Five
Question:  Who am I really?
Read:  Psalms 8:5-6 and Isaiah 13:12
Ponder:  What can I do daily to stay in touch with my 'true' Self?  How can meditation where I clear my mind of all thoughts help me find myself?  Why does Christ care about me?  In what ways do I see His  hand in my life?

Day Six
Question:  How can the Holy Spirit help me to be more like Christ?
Read:  John 14:16-17, 21
Ponder:  Do I really desire the Holy Ghost to be my constant companion?  Do I listen and act when I hear the still, small voice?

Day Seven
Question:  Do I believe in the Atonement of Jesus Christ for my sins?
Read:  Luke 5:20-24 and Ephesians 4:32
Ponder:  Can I forgive myself for past mistakes today?  Can I forgive others who have done harm to me?  How do I get rid of guilt?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Meditation and Our 30-Day Contemplation

Quick, understated history:
Meditation has been around for a long time.

A little more background:
In different forms, meditation is part of many religious and non-denominational spiritual practices.

My background:
I remember doing a guided meditation in a high school class one time.  Fifteen years later, Kent and I felt guided to start meditating about five years ago.  We simply focused on our breath, learning to be present.  I got serious about the practice when I decided to prepare a lesson about meditation for my LDS Relief Society group.  I studied the scientific research and the recommendations from experienced yogis and my own prophets and church leaders.  I was delighted to find so much support from my own religious leaders for a practice that many who haven't tried consider to be new agey at best, and downright weird or possibly dangerous at worst.  I've gone off and on with the practice these past five years.  I know it's a good habit, and it makes my mind stronger.  I find it relaxing, and I've found some Christian guided meditation downloads that are enjoyable.  Twice I've had a profound spiritual experience while meditating.  I truly feel that through meditation and prayer, I can connect with the Divine and with the divinity inside of me that I've inherited from Him.  I don't always connect spiritually, but I can.  So it is a useful tool in feeding my spirit, and I want to be more consistent with a daily practice.

A cool tidbit:
Search the internet for habits of happy people, and you'l find meditation, mindfulness, or prayer on many of those "Top Ten" lists.  (I sometimes throw yoga into the mix, but to me, that is different than sitting quietly in meditation or a mindfulness practice.  Prayer is also different, but it's pretty closely related to the practice, and I always precede my meditation with a prayer.)


The challenge:
Most teenage girls in the LDS Church participate in what is called the Young Women's Personal Progress program.  (Follow the link to learn what that entails.)  Mothers are encouraged to work through the experiences and set goals alongside their daughters.  I challenged myself to complete one of the eight values each year that I would have daughters in the program.  This includes a ten-hour value project each year.

Recently, in my study of meditation practices, I came across the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The Exercises, composed 1522-1524 AD, were originally meant to be practiced as a 30-day retreat of silence and solitude.  Jesus Christ is the focus of the Exercises, and they are meant to bring the practitioner closer to Christ, to help her/him become a better disciple.

This seems like a perfect project to develop my value of Faith.  I have decided to practice these Exercises in the month of December 2015.  Since I can't disappear for the month, I will be following an adapted system that can be completed in 15 to 30 minutes each day.  I am following the system outlined in Dr. Pam Blackwell's book, Christ-Centered Meditation: Handbook for Spiritual Practice.
Each day starts with a question, followed by a Bible scripture reference, and more specific questions to ponder.  Dr. Blackwell gives the following five suggestions for each day's contemplation:

  1. Read and study each lesson in order.  Commit to making time for this each day.
  2. Spend 15 minutes on each day's activities.
  3. Keep a log, writing at least one page each day.
  4. Don't give up if you miss a day.  Just pick it up again the next day.
  5. Try to do this work at the same time each day.  (For me, that's 6:00 a.m., when my mind is relaxed but alert.)
My teenagers have committed to also go through these Exercises in December.  I am hopeful that we will all draw closer to our Savior.  I expect that doing so during the month of Christmas and looking forward to the new year, we will experience support and an enhanced experience through the many messages of Christ we receive at this season.

My reason for posting this on our blog is that I hope a lot of people will join us in these contemplative exercises next month.  I will post a week's worth of exercises each Sunday.  I invite you to come back to this blog and write in the comments any experiences or insights that you would like to share as you practice this Contemplation yourself.  We have five days left in the month of November.  Take tomorrow to be grateful and to voice your gratitude and your love for others.  Then, commit to joining us in these spiritual exercises by commenting on this post.  And spread the word!  You don't have to be LDS or Catholic or even identify with a religion to practice these exercises.  You simply need the desire to invite the love of God into and through your life.


P.S.  Kent wanted more context.  Here is the first assignment and Day One of the Exercises:

Before or on Day One:  Write in your journal what you think of Christ.  Be sure to date the entry.

Day One
Question:  How can I follow in His steps?
Read:  1 Peter 2: 9, 21
Ponder:  How can I follow in Jesus' steps today?  In all my decisions, I will ask, "What would Christ do?"  I will think of myself as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bedtime

Does your family struggle with bedtime?  That is one battle that doesn't exist in ours.  Bedtime is actually funtime around here--at least for us parents.

Our standing rule has been that Kent and I are done with kids at 9 p.m.  We encouraged them to go to bed at that time, but ultimately, they are in charge of giving themselves enough sleep.  Last year, I had two high-schoolers who would drag themselves home in the afternoon and nap for a couple hours because they were too exhausted to do anything else.  They would perk up around dinnertime, do some homework, and then--too well-rested from their naps--stay up too late with friends either in person or virtually.  In line with our Benign Neglect parenting style (Kent coined that term--I prefer to call it Love and Logic), we figured that one day they would learn the benefits of getting more than five hours of sleep at night.

Eventually, we realized our mistake: teenagers' brains do not work correctly.  Especially brains that are sleep deprived.  So I came up with a simple, elegant solution.

I was already driving the three younger children to their charter school each morning.  The charter's elementary and secondary campuses are less than a five-minute drive from our house, so no busing is provided.  But it's a 30 to 40-minute walk, which is just far enough that a ride is almost necessary.  #s 3 and 4 have both tested my driving mercy in the past, and they know I don't have any.  They know it's preferable to be in the car when I leave, or they will be left behind to get a nice morning walk.  It's a notably effective consequence in our Utah winter months.

Here's a big parenting tip: once your child is too big to sit on your lap, you cannot control her actions.  However, you have some control over location and circumstances, and complete control over your own actions/responses.  My elegant solution to help #s 1 and 2 choose to get enough sleep was that if they were in bed (location) with the lights off (circumstance) by 9:30 p.m. (circumstance), then I would drive them to school at 7:30.  If they stayed up too late, they were welcome to catch the 7:00 a.m. bus, which meant heading out the door by 6:54 a.m.  (They had the timing down!)  I call this solution elegant because it cost me only a few extra minutes of driving in the morning, which time I enjoyed talking with my teens, and it gave them an extra 45 minutes of sleep in the morning, not to mention probably 2 1/2 hours more sleep before midnight.  It worked!  Moods were improved, I enjoyed spending time with my conscious children in the afternoon--and #s 3 through 5 imposed the same rule on themselves!

Fast forward to this year.  #1, now a senior in high school, gets a ride each day with friends.  She must find time to sleep during work release, because she is still quite cheerful and productive every day.  (Maybe she's grown into her adult brain early!!!)  #2's friend ride is less consistent, so she works hard each evening to gauge whether her friend is coming in the morning, or whether she should fetch her pajamas around 9:15.  This is where the fun comes in!

With interesting conversation--and good shows on Netflix--Kent and I have been enjoying our 9:00-done-with-kids time.  Often, we miss the 9:30 check and don't make it down until 10ish to investigate the situation downstairs.  Once in awhile, though, we're on time.  We keep it random enough that its pretty unpredictable.  I love hearing "She's coming!" as the children recognize my footfalls on the stairs and quickly turn off the computer screen in the family room to make a run for their beds.

Last night, I was tired by 8:30, so I watched my smartphone for the moment 9:30 blinked on the screen.  As I stood to head down for the nightly check, I remembered that #2 had asked if there was room in the van for two of her friends who also needed a ride to school.  Yes!  An increased measure of desperation for a ride meant she would surely be in bed on time.  Suddenly, I was not so tired.  I gleefully went clomping down the stairs, bellowing, "Here I come!"  I was pretty sure I heard footsteps running across the kitchen's tile floor, but I was being a little too loud with my put-the-fear-of-Mom-into-them "Bwah ha ha!" that I couldn't be sure.  (Retelling this story to #1 who has no mom-fear any longer, I learned that #3 had indeed been lounging in the family room, glued to her iPod when she heard--through her earphones!--me coming.  She must have been speedy in her flight, because I never saw sight of her.)

Earlier that evening: #4 playing cards,
Curious George-style (shoutout to Leilani!)
My first stop was the bedroom of #s 2 and 4.  Their light was on.  (Strike one.)  #4 was standing on top of her bed (strike two) with a look of terror on her face (icing on the cake).  #2 was nowhere to be seen (strike three).  I don't play ball, so it only takes one strike for consequences to be enacted.

Me:  "This is great!  I don't have to drive either of you to school in the morning!"

#2 from behind the adjacent bathroom's closed door:  "No Mom, wait!  I'm ready for bed!  I'm just finishing flossing."

Me:  "I'm glad you're taking care of your teeth.  I'm also glad you can get some exercise tomorrow."
(She might enjoy the brisk walk.)

#2:  "Maw-um!"

Me, flicking off their light as #4 dropped to the bed and cocooned herself in the covers:  "Goodnight!  Love you guys."

I turned for the three strides across the hall to the bedroom of #s 3 and 5.  Their door was shut, and no light emanated beneath it.  I opened the door a crack to...silence.

Me, mellow:  "Goodnight you guys."

I began to shut the door.  Then, just for kicks, I opened it quickly and flipped on the light.  Simultaneously, I heard a teenage body drop onto the top bunk.  With the lights on, I saw my 13-yr-old lying face down on top of her covers, her head at the foot of the bed, and the boots that were still on her feet lying on her pillow.  (In the retelling, I learned that she had sneaked into her room when I was checking on her sisters.  She had hit the lights and was standing in the dark next to her bed when I came to their door.  When I opened it on a whim, she had launched herself over the side of the bed and belly flopped.  I wish I had seen it!  But hearing it was still pretty great.)

#5 was wrapped in his bedding, smiling sweetly at me.  He's the one child who actually wanted some sleep, so I turned off the light to let him get some.  But then, the pull of the teenagers is too great.  I fake shut the door again, and then flicked the light back on.  #3 dropped from an almost-up-dog pose to a dang-it-you-caught-me pose.  (The first one is a yoga pose, which you can google.  The second is a child's pose; not the yoga kind, the parenting kid, which you just have to experience.)  Still, she was in bed with the lights off.  I reminded her that lights out included screen lights, and she needed to put her iPod away and perhaps remove her earbuds to avoid strangulation in her sleep.  Then we shared a knowing smile, and I wished them both a good night's sleep, turned off the light, and shut the door (for realsies).

I turned to find the bathroom now dark and empty, and #2's bedroom door closed and dark at the threshold.  As she heard me shut her siblings' door, she called to me.

#2:  Mom, I'm in bed and it's 9:30.

Here's another good parenting tip: choose your battles wisely.  I knew I had already won this one, so I decided to engage.  I opened their bedroom door to find both girls under their covers with the lights out.

Me:  Actually, it's 9:32.  At 9:30, you weren't even in your room.

#4:  But I was in bed at 9:30.

Me, turning on the lights:  No, you were on your bed at 9:30--with your lights on.

#4 started getting teary eyed.  We're only one term into school, and she's had to bum a ride from friends a few times already, which usually means she misses breakfast.  I'm big on breakfast, so my heart went out to her, though I wasn't ready to admit that yet.

#2:  But I promised my friends a ride to school tomorrow!

Me:  That's great!  I'm happy to drive them.  You already told them I'm picking them up, right?

#2, sitting up dramatically to stare me down (teenagers are so predictable!):  Mom!

Me:  What?

#2:  I need a ride to school.

Me, after taking in #4's sad face:  You know, [#4] is softening my heart a little with her tears.  Maybe if you were crying, I would feel like driving you tomorrow.

#2, with a smile indicating she had a solution:  Okay.  Do you have something I can burn myself with?

Me:  You're the one with all the c...

#2, interrupting with her epiphany:  I have candles!

#2 was obsessed with scented candles last year.  She probably has 20 candles on her shelf.  She likes to come home and light one each day while she reads.  Her room always smells good.  She usually smells good, too.  As she leaned forward to spring out of bed and fetch a pain-inflicting candle, #4 sat up and offered assistance.

#4:  I can pinch your nipple.

(!!!  Where do my kids come up with these ideas?  !!!)

#2, sitting back down, started to laugh nervously:  O...kay.  Hee hee.

#4 turned to her sister and stretched out her hand.  #2 was rethinking now.  She crossed her arms in front of her chest and laughed some more, trying to build courage while also appreciating the situation.  I just stood in the doorway, smiling, and also appreciating the situation.

#2 pushed out her chest:  Okay, I'm ready.  Hee hee...ha!  Okay, go ahead.

#4's fingers clamped on, tweaked, and let go.

#2, crossing her arms over her chest and doubling over:  Ha ha-ow...ow!  Ha ha!
She was now rocking and holding herself and sort of howl-laughing while she smiled and tried to cry.

Me:  That's not crying.  That's laughing.

#4 with a blank face stated simply:  I can do it again.
She reached her hand toward her sister.

#2, still trying to cry:  No!  Wait...okay...no!

Deciding this had been funny enough, but not wanting it to get any weirder, I turned off the light:  Okay, I'll give you both a ride tomorrow.  Goonight!  Love you guys.

Then I headed up the stairs with a great story for Kent.  I'm telling you, kids' bedtimes can be both fun and entertaining!

Here is our opening song for our evening devotional two nights ago.
Maybe this is why our children aren't very sleepy at bedtime?
(You gotta' check out the moves at the 30-second mark.)



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Crack for Mormon Housewifes

I thought I was stronger than this.

I thought I had beaten the odds.

My recovery program had been working so well.

And then, two nights ago, my own sisters undermined everything.  They slid me a plastic bag containing more than 200 grams of the good stuff, and my willpower was gone.

The problem started for me in high school.  My mom, a Utah Mormon housewife, was the pusher.  She had always made after-school snacks for us.  The onion bagels with strawberry cream cheese were easy to repel.  One day though, she found a recipe for peanut butter bars, and I was hooked.
A college roommate told me a story once that has stuck with me all these years.  The story goes that her mom's friend, a Mormon housewife in Phoenix, made a sheet of these habit-forming peanut butter bars for her own kids.  The family ate half the bars that day.  (Such restraint!)  The next day, while she was alone at home, she found herself picking at the remaining half sheet of this tantalizing treat until it was nearly gone.  The bars in her tummy were supposed to be waiting for her children at the end of the school day.  She couldn't own up to eating an entire half sheet of peanut butter bars, so to cover the evidence, she made another full sheet recipe.  A full sheet would invite too many questions, so there was nothing left to do but eat half the sheet again.  She ate two half sheets of peanut butter bars in under seven hours!

I know her pain.

And here's the thing, they don't just have peanut butter.  They're topped with chocolate!  A wonderfully wicked combination indeed.  We Mormon housewifes might easily defy coffee and tobacco, but wave chocolate and peanut butter in front of our noses, and we are goners.

Luckily for me, when I  left home to take on adulthood, I was too poor to buy the ingredients, so my obsession with peanut butter bars ended.  I thought I had kicked the habit.  Looking back, I realize I had only transferred my problem to a softer substance.

In college, I worked at BYU's bakery for six months.  In that short time, I put on 27 pounds (no joke) because I couldn't just let the mint-brownie rejects go to waste!  I dabbled in Texas-sized dougnuts and the occasional butter-smeared sourdough, but at least 25 of those pounds were from brownies.

I doubt I'm the only one to have battled the brownie bulge.  Livestrong.com has issued the following warning: "Brownies can be tasty but eating too many can have consequences for your health."

Well, thanks for that helpful head's up.  Notice the subtle omission of whether those consequences are negative or positive?  I wonder if Lance Armstrong informed that article with his own experience.  Oprah probably never thought to press him on his possible use of baked goods.

Fortunately, according to the article, there are ways to hide brownie doping.  Livestrong.com recommends 13 minutes of jogging or 26 minutes playing volleybal to burn the calories of one brownie.  No mention of cycling, though.  It probably takes just a couple Tours de France.

Then, there are those who don't even try to hide their actual brownie doping.  I've never explored the darker side of the internet, but in my research for this post, I was surprised at the recipes I found blatantly posted for all the world-wide web to see.  I didn't even have to leave Pinterest to find this helpful cookbook (pictured at right).  Drugs are still illegal, aren't they?  Poorwhitefarmer on International Cannagraphic's website tells how his granny wasn't much concerned with exact portion size, and simply used her spatula to cut servings of AAAA trim.  Some recipes call for budder--and here I had always just used butter!  Others call for bubble hash or finely ground Durban.  Some reference grass or weed, though I'm pretty sure I can't harvest what's growing in my lawn to make brownies.  I do like grasshopper brownies, though.  Maybe my innocent, Mormon interpretation of these recipes is the cure: actual grass-weed-and-grasshopper brownies would likely put an end to these cravings!

So, now that another piece of my Mormon-housewife naivete has been taken by the internet, back to my story.

As I write and reflect, I realize my so-called recovery has always been forced on me.  I got over peanut butter bars when I moved away from home and my mom failed to supply my after-school snacks.  My brownie problem halted when the BYU bakery relocated and laid off its student employees.  But quitting has never been my own choice.  And so, the pull is still there for me.

Sunday night, my sister, Carolyn, showed up to our family dinner with a full baking sheet of the hard stuff, and all my years of abstinence evaporated.  To make matters worse, three of the adults in our extended family aren't currently eating gluten or sugar.  In order to support their commitment, and to let Carolyn know that her efforts weren't wasted, I felt obliged to make a considerable dent in her dessert.  By evening's end, there was a formidable  half sheet of peanut butter bars sitting uneaten on the counter.  I thought of my roommate's mom's friend in Phoenix, and I couldn't bear the thought of what might happen should we let Carolyn take all that temptation back to her house, alone.  My Whole30 sister, Christy, must have had the same thought.  She filled plastic bags with bars and distributed them with the lie that, "Actually, they're good for you.  You get oats, and the peanut butter has protein."  I quickly rationalized, Christy runs marathons.  She must know what she is talking about.  It is so easy to believe a falsehood when it is topped with peanut butter and chocolate.

Yesterday, that little baggie of provocation stared me down.  I may have had a three-inch square bar while my lunch heated up.  I may have indulged a second bar while I put lunch back in the microwave for 20 more seconds.  (Soon thereafter, I may have put half my lunch back in the fridge because I was too full to finish it.)  I did show some restraint and kept five bars for my kids to finish after school.  Stupid me, relying on my kids to take up my addiction.  They, instead, all went for leftover chocolate cake.  After their snack time, I may have devoured another bar or two.

I hadn't realized that I was setting up a reverse sting operation, but now I know that I have one child who shares my propensity.  When I casually strolled into the kitchen to check on the status of the stash, I discovered that one of the two last bars had disappeared.  I quickly recalculated who had eaten which treat for snack, and then I may have freaked out a bit.  I may have shrieked, "Who ate one of these peanut butter bars?!?!"  My piercing, mommy radar was answered with only silence and dread on the faces of my four daughters.  #5, however, took off running to hide.

Be careful my boy.  It's a slippery slope.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

#NeverAgainIsNow

These books helped me start seeing
how communities look away
and thus allow violence.
When Kent and I were freshman in college and dating seriously, his brother and a friend decided to test my worthiness of Kent and their family through a series of interview questions.  The one question that shook my 19-year-old self was, "If you were a German in the 1930s and '40s, would you house and hide Jews?"  I had grown up learning in school about Anne Frank, Native American maltreatment, black history and oppression, and at church about persecution of the early Latter-day Saints.  I had always wondered how communities and nations got to the point of--and then got away with--persecuting and killing whomever belonged to those deemed the wrong demographic.  The friend who posed this question with my future brother-in-law had herself fled Poland as a young teenager and ended up homeless, trekking across the U.S.  The struggles of Eastern Europe were real for her, making the qusetion poignant for me.  Part of me wanted to shout, "Of course I would hide Jews.  That's the right thing to do!"  But the part of me that was planning a future marriage and family wondered if I would--or should--endanger them in such circumstances.  I didn't know what I would do.

I didn't realize until years later that such worries and fears, held by the masses, are the reason why Evil gets away with its atrocities.

Three weeks ago, our family took our annual service trip to Mexico.  During the drive, we listened to an audio book, Castaway Kid by R. B. Mitchell.  It is the author's story of his childhood in an American orphanage, and of finding God in young adulthood.  His  home life in the orphanage was very much like that of the children we serve in Mexico.  We (at A Child's Hope Foundation) partner with orphanages that operate as close to a family life as possible, sending kids to school, church activities, and teaching them to give back to their own communities through service.  Rob had these things in the American orphanage where he was raised.  Still, he struggled with hurt, anger, and rage throughout his childhood, trying to understand why his mother would abandon him there, but still visit occasionally, and why his extended family wouldn't take him in and raise him with their own children.  For me, listening to his experiences was a glimpse into what the children in the Mexican orphanages might struggle with.  A few of them are true orphans.  Most, however, are there due to neglect or abuse of some sort at home.  Their parents can come for visits, but they rarely release their parental rights, and because they never fix their own problems, the children are raised in the orphanages.

There is one group of five siblings in particular that my heart has become attached to.  They are really great kids, always positive, fun and affectionate when we are there.  One boy in particular, Santiago, has a dynamic personality.  I have watched him from a distance as he's grown from a fun-loving young boy to a sweet (but still cool) teen.  A few years ago, one of our work project volunteers fell in love with these five siblings and began the process to adopt them.  Because Mexico keeps almost all their adoptions in-country, she used her half-Mexican ancestry to gain Mexican citizenship so she could be these kids' mom.  When it came down to it, though, their own mother wouldn't relinquish the parental rights, and the adoption fell through.  The siblings were never told that someone was trying to adopt them, and so they'll likely never know that they could have stayed together, being raised by loving parents in Hawaii.  (The volunteer and her husband were able to successfully adopt two sisters from Nicaragua the next year.  They continue to send monthly financial assistance to Buena Vida Orphanage that is taking care of the kids they love.)
Santiago and #5 in 2011
Saying goodbye at the orphanage last month, I thought a lot about Santiago and whether his experiences parallel Mr. Mitchell's.  I started wondering if there is a way that Santiago could live with our family as a high school exchange student.  If he could learn English, that might put him in a position to secure a bright future.  As I thought about our family dynamics and whether we have the space in our house, creeping thoughts of concern came to mind: if he has hidden emotional or anger or other issues related to abandonment or abuse, will I be able to help him, since I don't even speak his language?  It feels like the same argument, on a smaller scale, that I fought within about the hypothetical situation to house Jews.  Do I put my own family at risk to help another?

I am mature enough now to recognize these concerns for what they are: fear.  Labeling fear for what it is, and knowing that "there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear", I can put my heart back in the right place.   If an exchange program is possible, I will move forward to bring Santiago into our home for a school year--if that's what he wants too.

Graffiti identifying the family in this
Iraqui home as Christians.
Glenn Beck has recently raised the issue for me in a different way.  Last weekend, at the Restoring Unity event in Alabama, he promoted efforts to rescue Christian refugees in the Middle East.  Those Christian families have been marked for death as Followers of the Nazarene.  The violence being committed against these Christians make the Nazi gas chambers look humane.  I won't go into it here, but Glenn Beck has described the violence, and this unaffiliated blogger gave a fair and powerful look at what is happening and the #NeverAgainIsNow movement to rescue these families.

Vernon Brewer, president and founder
of World Help, displaying "nuun" in
solidarity with Nazarenes.
I haven't listened to Beck's show much over the summer, but I am continually impressed at the charity he promotes through Mercury One, the non-profit arm of his business.  They have helped immigrants who are suffering at our border, given aid in Nepal and other locations of natural disasters, and funded covert operations to rescue children from sex slavery.  I did tune in yesterday and caught the last few minutes of Glenn's monologue asking church congregations, neighborhoods, and individuals to donate toward the goal of $10M to bring 2,000 Christians away from the horrors of ISIS.  He is asking for families who can't give money  to consider whether they have space to house a refugee family.

As I listened and envisioned inviting another family to live with us, the same old little fears about what that would look like on a daily basis began to creep in.  Would they have mental health problems as a result of their suffering and loss?  Would one of their children need to cope with having been in a rape warehouse.  How would that affect my family?  But the words of our common Master keep coming back to me: "Perfect love casteth out fear."  So what can I do?

What I realized yesterday is that even if I can't bring a family into our home right now, I can give to Mercury One's Nazarene Fund right now.  This Sunday is the LDS Fast Sunday.  The first Sunday of each month is our family's opportunity to go without food for a day and donate to our Church the amount that we would have spent on the two skipped meals.  Our bishop uses the funds to give relief to our neighbors in need.  It is a day to give and to strengthen our spirits as we set aside the wants of our hunger in the interest of others.  About 15 years ago, Kent and I realized, with prompting from the Spirit, that we needed to give more than the cost of two meals on Fast Sundays.  We needed to give enough that it hurt a little, making our giving a true sacrifice.  As we've followed that direction ever since, God has taken our little sacrifice and returned blessings to us.

This month, my church will get less as I give part of our fast offering money to help my fellow Christians in the Middle East.  I wish I could buy one of the houses for sale in our neighborhood to give to a refugee family.  I would love to bring them here to this place of hope and neighborly kindness.   For now, though, my action for #NeverAgainIsNow (a call to remember the world's vow of "never again" at the conclusion of the Holocaust) is a simple monetary donation.  I encourage you to match or exceed my $100 donation to the Nazarene Fund, and to pray for those suffering at the hand of Evil.  For me, this is a step away from my thoughts of doubt and fear and towards love and goodness.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Second Day of School

I used to be one of those moms who took pictures of my kids on their first day of school, and who made teachers pose with my child when we met for parent-teacher conference.  I'd still like to have those photos, but life has sped up and the school years have blurred into summer and back into school.  We pick up our new school-year routines like we had a break for only a few days, and as I drop the kids off at their three schools, I realize another year has passed and I suddenly have a senior in high school.  How did this happen so quickly?!

I did manage to snap a picture this week of #s 4 and 5 as I dropped them off for school breakfast.  It's slightly better than the snapshot I remembered to take last minute as they hopped out of the van a year ago.
 
They look pretty much the same, right?  I can probably just take a picture every other year.

My Jr- and High-Schoolers have not been so cooperative with pics.  #2's BFF has been catching a ride with us this week, so I thought maybe I'd capture their second day of school photo together...until the following exchange took place.

First, some background.  (Actually, first a disclaimer.  #2 is not mentally ill.  She just had a bad couple of days.  We've all had a day like the following, right?)  So...#2 began her first day of school by staying up too late with friends the night before.  (She disputes that, but I think 10:45 is too late to be coming home on a school night.)  #2 woke the next morning with a head cold that aggravated her tired state.  After school, she took some 24-hr. cold medicine to reduce the congestion and suppress her headache.  That night, she got a bloody nose that didn't want to quit because the antihistamines made the blood clot slowly.  The nose and the lack of sleep combined to set off a highly emotional and distraught sophomore.  Her sobs became increasingly pathetic as she leaned over our master bathroom sink that night, holding a bag of frozen corn to the bridge of her nose, and letting the blood flow down the drain for nearly 20 minutes.  (I considered taking her to a clinic, but the all-knowing internet said not to take that step until after 20 to 30 minutes.  She clotted just in time!)  

#2, in tears at 10:30 p.m.:  I'm so tired!  I just want to go to bed.

Parents:  Your nose will stop bleeding soon, and then you can go to sleep.

#2, high-pitched and sobbing:  I can't go to sleep!  I still need to take a shower!

Parents:  You can shower in the morning.  You just need rest tonight.

#2, with a low-pitched wail:  My hair is a mess. [Pause for some gasping sobs.]  There is blood everywhere!  I need to take a show-ow-er tonight.

Mom, pulling #2's hair back into a couple of improvised ponytails:  There is no blood in your hair.  Just calm down.  Are you pinching your nose?

#2:  Yes, it won't stop!

Mom, feeling faint and nauseated watching all that blood run freely, turned the back rubbing over to Dad, who said:  [#2], I'm setting my timer for ten minutes.  The bleeding will probably take that long to stop.  It's going to feel like a long time, but it's only ten minutes.  You just have to wait for it to stop.

#2, still crying:  I'm so tired!

And so the conversation went.  When the bloody nose finally stopped around 10:45, #2 stood and looked at us miserably, with a wide path of red clinging from under her nose to down her chin: I need to take a shower tonight.  I didn't get one yet today.

Parents:  You need to get some sleep, and just take a shower in the morning.

After some resistance about not having enough time in the morning, and having blood on her pillow from when she originally tried to go to sleep (without a shower), we finally convinced her to just lay out some towels on her bed and get to sleep.

The next morning was the second day of school.  #2 was sad that I forgot to wake her up early, but she hopped in the shower nevertheless.  I was glad she had perked up.  (It was not to last long.)

#2, post shower, with 20 minutes until departure, approaching me in just her underwear:  I don't have anything to wear.

Me:  I just did laundry two days ago.  You have plenty of clothes.

#2:  My clothes weren't in the laundry.

Me:  I'm sorry to hear that.  You could check the basket of unclaimed clean clothes.

#2:  I did.  [Pausing to let her frown deepen.]  I have nothing to wear!

Feeling the mood returning, I walked away and heard #2 ask to wear her sister's clothes.

Me, two minutes to departure:  Two minutes everyone!  Grab your bags, get your shoes, get in the van!

#2:  I haven't done my makeup!

Me:  Just do it in the van.  We have to go.

#2, in the van, and putting on a brave face in front of her BFF:  I look horrible.  Look at my hair.  It's still wet.

Me:  You look just fine.

#2:  I didn't even have time to put in my contacts.  I can't find my deodorant.  Do you have any?

Me:  Not in the van, sorry.

#2, getting agitated:  It's so hot!  This shirt makes me extra sweaty, and I have no deodorant.  I'm going to stink all day!

Me, sensing that this might not be the best morning to ask her to pose for a second-day-of-school picture:  You'll be fine.  You're not going to stink.

#2, before crossing her arms in a silent huff:  I have dance first period.  I'm going to stink the rest of the day.

Me, a few minutes later, pulling up to the school:  Try to have a good day.   I love you.

#2, as she and her friend gather their things to climb out of the van:  Okay, love you.  [Pause.]  Wait!  Oh no!  Today is school picture day!!

I exchanged a concerned glance with #2's BFF, silently wishing her friend good luck with my distressed daughter.  She returned the glance with  a weak smile.  The last glimpse I had of poor #2 was her blotchy-red, tear-stained face as she turned to face a building full of teenagers.

The second day of school can be rough.  I guess the yearbook will be a painful reminder of that nine months from now.  Maybe we'll get a good pic for #2's junior year!

Update: Clearly, I was wrong.  #2 brought home her school portrait package for me to preview.  No blood, sweat, or tears!