Parenting by Persuasion and Connection

Talk given in Burch Creek 3rd Ward

March 21, 2021

The great war in heaven was between two sides. Satan wanted us to come to earth and be forced into obedience. Everyone would be worthy to live with God again because they couldn’t make mistakes. Sounds good, except it negates the purpose of life – to LEARN. Without the ability to make choices, we cannot learn.

Christ wanted us to come to earth and be able to choose for ourselves if we would love God. We would make mistakes and many would lose their way. But through moral agency, we would LEARN. And Christ would overcome sin and death so that if we repent, those mistakes wouldn’t keep us from returning to God. 

Everyone born onto earth chose Christ’s plan. But sometimes, especially, as parents, we start thinking maybe Satan’s plan sounds pretty good. 

Early in my parenting, I tried my hand at coercion and force. I remember having toddler Georgia strapped into her booster seat for nearly two hours until she would swallow one bite of something she didn’t want to eat. For two hours, she kept it chipmunked in her cheek. For two hours I wouldn’t let her out. In retrospect, of course I realize this was a huge mistake. But sometimes as parents we get so stuck on the idea of compliance that we think Satan’s idea wasn’t so bad.

President Russel M. Nelson said “To rule children by force is the technique of Satan, not of the Savior. No, we don’t own our children. Our parental privilege is to love them, to lead them. And to let them go. 

Another parenting expert expounded on this idea. L.R. Knost said “If controlling another human being is the goal, then force is necessary. Fear, intimidation, threats, power-plays, physical pain, those are means of control. But if growing healthy humans is the goal, then building trusting relationships, encouraging, guiding, leading, teaching, and communicating are the tools for success.” 

I believe that when we teach children through persuasion and connection, instead of by force, we not only teach them to trust their own bodies and minds, but also help them to learn to heed the Holy Ghost. As they are empowered and trusted by us, they learn to trust themselves and can heed that feeling in their heart advising them between right and wrong. 

The scriptures are replete with examples on how to teach by persuasion and connection. One way that is often repeated is by Heavenly messengers asking questions. When Nephi wanted to better understand his father’s vision of the tree of life, he is asked repeatedly “What desirest thou?” Each time, because Nephi asks for more, he gets more. But nothing is forced upon him. He gains knowledge and understanding by asking, line upon line, precept on precept. 

Before I had kids I was driving some friends to the airport. Their daughter kept asking “why” questions. In spite of the parents’ warning, I began answering, to see where it would go. I was delighted to see that this 4 year old, through her curiosity, started out asking about what a mountain was (not from Utah) and eventually I explained plate tectonics to her. Her parents rolled their eyes when I said that I hope my kids went through a “why” stage. 

Well, I got my wish. And it’s usually in the car when they pelt me with WHYs. And, mostly, I still love it. Most of our gospel teaching happens because of their questions about mundane everyday things. Now, getting in the car has become a trigger for my daughter Millie’s curiosity. I am amazed that she always phrases her questions through the lens of faith. “Why did God make birds?” “Why does God let people be mean?”

 As we value curiosity, Children ask more questions. Through their questions we have the chance to not only teach them, but nurture our connection. We can become a safe place for when the questions get really big and scary. Our reaction to the little mundane questions build the foundation of trust we need to talk about huge moral concerns. 

The story in 3rd Nephi 17 is another formula for how we can connect with our children. 

Christ explains that it is time for him to go, but that they still aren’t ready to hear everything God requires him to teach them. He tells them to go home, meditate on what he’s said and pray. They look at him, begging him to stay a little longer.

This story sounds A LOT like bedtime at my house. I tell my kids it’s time for bed. I know that there is still a lot that needs to be done. And even though they are obviously tired and need sleep, they beg for just a little longer.   

That’s where the similarities end. Because Christ then has compassion and begins an incredible act of ministry. Me, I just tell them to GO TO BED. 

Christ heals the sick and afflicted, one by one. We too must offer healing and comfort to our loved ones. We may not have Christ’s powers, but we do have empathy. 

Then he calls for all of the little children to be brought forward. With the children close to him, he explains he is troubled by the wickedness of people, then “prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written…Neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the father.” verses 16-17

We too must pray earnest and heartfelt prayers in the presence of our children. Not just the typical group prayer. Real SOUL prayers. 

Christ then commends them saying his joy is full because of their faith and then weeps. So first he is troubled by wickedness, then weeping for joy. This tells me it is GOOD for our children to see our emotions. It’s good for them to see us cry, be joyful, and even be troubled. 

Christ then blesses each child, and prays for them, ONE BY ONE, then he weeps again! I’m a cryer, so I really appreciate hearing that Jesus was too. Also, we need to remember that our kids need ONE ON ONE attention. 

And then finally, he says BEHOLD YOUR LITTLE ONES. To behold isn’t just to look at something. It’s to really take it in. To give it your full awareness. We must prioritize times to regularly BEHOLD our children.

A week or so ago I was trying to get a lot of things done for primary. I had been busy trying to put the videos together, distributing flyers to families and other things. By all measures I was magnifying my calling. But Flora, my 3 year old, was getting frustrated with my unavailability. She asked me to play, then said “I know, IN A MINUTE.” That humbled me and so of course I dropped everything to play with her, but sweet Georgia had piped in, “I’ll play with you!” And Flora chose Georgia and huffed away from me. 

I was so busy doing things FOR children that I hadn’t prioritized doing things WITH children. Yes, work is necessary. But it must not prevent us from BEHOLDING our children. It must not stop us from connection. When it comes down to it, all of the other work we do only matters if it is leading us and those we serve to a better relationship with each other and God.

Back to 3 Nephi 17. 

The chapter ends with angels coming down and encircling the children and ministering to them. Even if our physical “village” is limited, we are not alone in caring for our children. We too can call upon angels to come down and help. We can ask god to enlist angels on our children’s behalf. HE WILL SEND THEM. I testify that this is true. 

There are countless reasons Christ told us to “become as little children”. As we spend time beholding them, and we guide them with connection instead of force, we will find out many of the reasons why. I’m grateful to be serving in Primary so that I can be blessed by the faith of these little ones.  Adulting can be so hard and frustrating. Thank goodness for the magic of childhood. Not all of us have the blessing of living with these little teachers, but we can all bless and be blessed by them. 

And boys and girls, I know I was talking to the adults for all of this time, but I have a message for you too. Remember that Heavenly Father loves you, and so do we. 

That’s Not My Job

I often talk about how I admire RJ’s natural way to “See a need, fill a need.” I love that, unlike me, he doesn’t hesitate, overthink, or wait until he has developed an intricate plan. He sees a need and he jumps in. But there’s a second part of that which I never recognized until today, and which I desperately want to develop in myself . He doesn’t “see” every need. He sees the ones he can do something about and doesn’t obsess about the rest. RJ is a hammer looking for a nail. He knows who he is and what needs he can fill. He doesn’t try to act like a wrench or a power drill. He just goes around hammering nails. This is not to say he doesn’t develop new skills. He has always known how to power in a railroad spike but he is now learning to gently tap a tiny nail into a delicate surface.

As disciples of Christ, we have covenanted to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Many of us have taken that too far. We think we need to fix those in need of fixing and heal those who stand in need of healing.

I was discussing this with my friend the other day. She is a powerhouse who shares RJ’s “See a need, fill a need” tendencies, but takes it one step further. She wants to be EVERY tool, not just a hammer. And she doesn’t just want to fill the need, she wants to solve the root issue. She wants to fix everything. I absolutely relate, I just don’t have her ambition and tenacity. So I complain about what needs to be fixed and she obsesses about actually DOING something. Still, we share the problem of fretting a lot about things beyond our control. It’s exhausting.

Another dear friend was just called as Bishop of his ward. We were talking about counseling others through life’s challenges, and how essential it is for him to have empathy, yet not be totally weighed down by their burdens. It reminded me of my first year working with refugees. Each of my employees were from different countries. Sudan, Burma, Bosnia, etc. Each of them had personal histories that were full of trauma. There are phrases from their stories that still haunt me “cut off their arms in front of us” “river red with blood” “raped us every day”. Although these were things in their past, it was fresh to me, and cut me deeply. That first year I was emotionally overwhelmed. Over time, I had less and less emotional response to each story. I thought I was experiencing “compassion fatigue” or that I was just becoming calloused. Maybe there was some of that. But now I see that something else was at play. I had learned that suffering was universal. And I learned that God is an alchemist who purifies suffering and, if we let him, turns it into something beautiful.

There are so many unmet needs. There is so much suffering. The world can seem so hopelessly broken. Yes, we should do our best to “see a need, fill a need”. But we need to learn what our limits are. We need to remember that we are nobody’s savior. That is Christ’s job. Not ours. Our job is to love and support. His job is to heal and fix.

But even Christ, during his ministry on Earth, didn’t heal and fix everyone. He healed the leper, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, cured the paralytic. He turned water to wine, filled the fishermen’s nets, and fed the hungry multitude. But even Christ left many needs unmet.

I have to assume that Christ didn’t “fix everything” because there is purpose in suffering.

President Nelson said “Turbulent times are opportunities for us to thrive spiritually.” I have considered what it means to ‘thrive spiritually’. I don’t think it means that our troubles are easy for us. It probably doesn’t have to look like “thriving” from the outside. We may cry, we may struggle. But what *I* think it means to thrive spiritually, is that we put our trust in Christ, and we lean on grace. I think “thriving spiritually” probably looks like Mosiah 4:

2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
3 And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.

The reason why Christ didn’t eliminate all suffering and why its not our job to either, is because mortality and its accompanying struggles are what grow us. Spiritual thriving is a product of faith filled tribulation.

Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.”

None of this is to say that we should SEEK suffering. And none of this is to say we shouldn’t RELIEVE as much suffering as we can. This is just a reminder that our job is not to be the Savior. Our job is to love and comfort one another, and lead one another in love to He who is the ultimate healer.

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

2021 Word: Self Compassion

People think meditation is this sublime experience that causes rainbows to burst out of your face as you peacefully chant “Ommmmmm.” Well I’m here to tell you that’s a load of crap. (Sorry, Ginny. Another dollar for the bad word jar.) Meditation, in my experience, has been a lot of mental wrestling, a few encouraging “A-HA! and a handful of emotionally violent experiences. But the dividends are worth it. Meditation, even when it’s a struggle, leaves me improved as a person.

A couple months ago, one of my darling daughters was developing an irksome habit of acting a bit “know-it-all”. I wanted to FIX it. But that week, during a meditation, I had an epiphany. Her behavior was a protective shield against my criticism. In an instant of clarity, I saw that she felt like she needed to prove herself. In the next instant, I saw myself as a child – developing unhealthy coping skills from awful circumstances – and I saw that in order to heal my daughter, I needed to heal my own inner child. I stopped meditating and just sobbed. RJ held me as I sobbed for my precious daughter, who I love exactly as she is, but who maybe doesn’t know that. And I sobbed for young Christy who has layers and layers of festering wounds from childhood.

No, I’m not openly belittling my kids. But what I’ve been doing is problematic. Here’s an example. During “special time”, each girl gets to choose any bonding activity to do with my undivided attention for the allotted time. Sometimes its tic-tac-toe, or playing catch, or cuddling and telling stories. Anyway, one night Georgia chose to to do gymnastics. “What trick do you want me to do, mom?” Thinking to myself that she was soooo close to mastering something and wouldn’t it boost her confidence if we could nail it together? I said “How about a back walkover?” “Ugh! NO, mom!” Instantly, I realized my mistake. For special time, she didn’t want me to help her improve. She wanted me to delight in her AS SHE IS. And instead I rubbed salt in the wound of the one thing where she just didn’t quite measure up. My intentions weren’t malicious. But that’s not the point. I’m so anxious to help them grow that I sometimes fail to show them that they are, currently, ENOUGH. Why do I do this? Because I do it to myself ALL DAY LONG EVERY DANG DAY.

It was that week I felt deeply impressed that my word of the year for 2021 needed to be SELF-COMPASSION. I’ve since read books on it, purchased a workbook on it, and done dozens of guided meditations on the topic. I feel like I’m beginning to understand it. But it’s going to be a painful process as I learn to practice it.

Self-Compassion isn’t the same thing as self-esteem. It’s not “I’m awesome! I can do anything!” Self-compassion is “It’s okay to make mistakes. Keep trying. You are loved.”

When a tot is learning to walk, we expect there to be countless stumbles. We don’t berate them for it. Instead, we kneel close with our arms outstretched, cheering and clapping for them. We laugh off every stumble and celebrate every step. But when it comes to our progress as adults, we criticize our very normal stumbles and forget to celebrate our successes. Somewhere between toddlerhood and adulthood we trade compassion for criticism. How would life be different if we exchanged our self-inflicted lashings for an understanding chuckle, or outstretched arms? I can’t speak for everyone, but criticism has never kept me motivated. But you know what has? Appreciation. An ounce of appreciation is worth a pound of criticism. When someone thanks me for something, I do it more. When someone congratulates me for something, I feel a little bit more like that thing is part of my identity.

But do I do that for myself? Of course not. If I praise myself, it’s very general. “You’re a decent mom.” “You’re a hard worker.” But if I criticize myself its very specific (and often full of ALWAYS or NEVER superlatives.) “Why can’t you ever figure out the computer?” “You cook meals every single day and you still suck at it.” “You don’t spend nearly enough time teaching the children the gospel.”

Now maybe I missed something. But I don’t recall a single story about Christ where he nagged or criticized someone into repentance. I remember a lot of “Neither do I condemn thee” and “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” But I’m pretty sure there aren’t any “Ye are an idiot.” or “Verily, verily I say unto thee, thou art an utter failure. Go thy way.”

There is actually a scripture commanding self-compassion! “Love they neighbor as thyself.” We are commanded to love not just our neighbors, but also ourselves. Those same people that we are commanded to forgive, loan to, and turn the other cheek to – we are supposed to love ourselves the same way! With charity… which “never faileth”!

It may not be divine truth, but my experience with my kids tells me that I can’t fully love and accept my children or my partner as they deserve unless I learn to love and accept myself. So that’s the goal for 2021. I’m going to learn to be gentle with myself. I’m going to learn to take a compliment without adding a “yeah, but…” to counter it. I’m going to have patience with my progress. I’m going to stop pushing myself to be BETTER BETTER BETTER and sometimes just delight in how I am right now. And with any luck, my inner child will teach me how to treat my own family with the same respect.

That’s What Family Does

When I had purchased my 1901 bungalow, I was baptized by fire into homeownership. A minor example:  the water heater had stopped working during my first week there. YouTube and the maintenance guy at work were awesome coaches, though. I was able to diagnose and replace the thermocouple myself. I AM UNSTOPPABLE! I HAVE NO LIMITS! I never called repairmen until I had given every effort to figure it out myself. Okay, “myself” is a loose term. I consulted often with George, Gary, Luke…. But let me be clear:  I DON’T NEED NO (paid) MAN FOR NUTHIN’! (Except when I do.)

Years later, during our engagement, my water heater went out again. I’d been taking showers at the gym for a couple of days and  It wasn’t a big deal. I planned to call a repairman but hadn’t gotten to it.  I mentioned it to RJ and within 20 minutes, he and his dad were driving through the canyon in a blizzard. They ran into Home Depot as the doors were closing for the night. 

I had tried saying “This is totally unnecessary. I’d love your help this weekend! No rush! I’m really fine!” But nothing was stopping RJ and Rod. They lugged a new water heater through the snow and into the house. Late into the blizzardy evening, they grunted and worked while I tried not to hover. When they finished, I was trying to pay them for the water heater, or feed them, or do ANYTHING to recompense their efforts. All of which they absolutely refused with a simple statement. “That’s what family does.”

THAT’S WHAT FAMILY DOES. 

The statement floored me. I couldn’t get over it. It floated around in my head for days and weeks after. I mean, years really. Considering that it’s been a decade and I’m writing about it now. They really expected nothing in return. It didn’t need to be an emergency for them to go WELL above and WELL beyond. I was important to them, so it was a no-brainer. They just did it. 

I had been independent for so long, always trying to prove that I could handle things myself.  Handling things alone was sometimes overwhelming and scary. But I wasn’t alone anymore. Someone else was invested in my well being. Someone considered me family. And family takes care of each other.

I can’t say the transition was seamless. There were a lot of times I pushed off RJ’s help because I didn’t want to be a bother. But slowly trust grew. I doubt I’ll ever forget that water heater and how it made me feel love and trust on a whole new level. It made me feel safe, cared for, and for the first time in a long time, not alone. 

When I was single I’d go hiking a lot by myself, without anyone to tell where I was going. Also, I lived alone in a sketchy part of town. I was busy and I was an introvert so even when I had boyfriends, I wasn’t always talking to them every day. I was used to fear. I was used to feeling alone. I would often joke about how pathetic it was that if I were to go missing, my boss would be the only one to notice. And since I traveled a lot for work, even that could take a while. When RJ and I got engaged, that changed. But it wasn’t until the water heater that I really felt the significance of that change. 

Rod and RJ taught me that FAMILY means you’re connected. Family means you don’t face trials alone. Family means sometimes you’re the giver, but you also have to learn to be a gracious receiver. Assuming healthy boundaries, we offer up whatever skill, resource, and love we’ve got for the betterment of the unit and not just the self. Family means interdependence. 

I’ve long since abandoned my independence. Heck, now I don’t even go to the bathroom alone. But also, I no longer feel like a burden when someone serves me. When I need help, instead of feeling inadequate and indebted, I feel gratitude. I feel cared for. This extends beyond the legal/blood ties of family. I’m learning that a close cousin of FAMILY is COMMUNITY.

When we stop keeping score, or worrying about proving something, and just start caring for each other, amazing things can happen. Needs are met, which is nice. But more importantly, there’s a feeling of security and belonging. Together, we are more than the sum of our parts.

Unmothered part 2: My story

A few years ago I wrote an essay entitled “Unmothered” that was picked up and published on another site. I was making the point that each person’s story of motherhood missed or motherhood lost is uniquely painful. In it I gave tips on how to talk to someone struggling. One of those tips was to not immediately assume that someone struggling will be encouraged or feel your compassion by hearing your story of loss. I do believe that sharing our painful stories can connect us, but timing is important. So I wrote this post at the same time but didn’t want the one to be too close to the other. Well, since it’s been lost in my drafts folder for a few years, I suppose enough time has passed. I don’t share it with any current emotion. But I also don’t want to sweep it under the rug. I believe every person’s story has value. Maybe my children can read this one day and understand me better when they’re explaining their crazy mom to their therapist. This post does not take into account the magic of motherhood, which absolutely outweighs the hard stuff. This is just an acknowledgement of the hard stuff. There’s no lesson. No bright side. This is just a list of depressing things. Feel free to skip this post. Seriously. I don’t need empathy for it at this point. And I can’t think of any of you who needs to read an outdated (2.5 year old) venting session. But it was already written and it felt weird to just delete it. 

Right before my first miscarriage, a dear friend experienced one. I had no idea what to say or do for her. I didn’t know if she needed space or needed to talk. I tried to do both, but I doubt I did it very gracefully. She was the first person I knew while they were going through it. A few weeks later I was in the exact same situation. When I went in for a routine check-up, we found the baby had died a week prior. A D&C surgery was scheduled for two days later. I was devastated. I was embarrassed. I was angry. I was lost. To top things off, my body had deceived me. Even after I knew the baby was dead, morning sickness (ooh, I should have called it mourning sickness) was raging and I was still puking my brains out, and measuring perfect for 13-14 weeks.

I could have never anticipated my grief. I had never reacted to death with such anguish before, even when my mom, or Gary died. I didn’t want to talk to anyone (except Rachelle who had just been through this) for days. Maybe even weeks. We had just announced our pregnancy, so RJ had to break the bad news to everyone. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hide away and was therefore faced with the well-meaning sympathy of others. Most were so incredibly kind. Many wanted to share their own stories of miscarriages (What? Where did all of you come from! Has EVERYONE had a miscarriage?!) and some were just…well-intentioned stabs at the heart. “At least you know you can get pregnant!” “At least you wont have a baby with chromosomal problems!”

It was at this point I determined that any time I was tempted to start a sentence with “at least” that I should attempt to keep my mouth shut. The most healing response I received was from dear Mike Patton, a longtime friend. He said simply, “I’m so sorry. I love you.”

To add insult to injury, I had complications with the D&C. My heart stopped while under anesthesia. When I woke up, the post-op guy greeted me with a shocked “Whoa! You’re awake?!” It took several hours of being unconscious for my heart rate and blood pressure to stabilize so I could finally see RJ. Meanwhile he was sitting in a waiting room, where the lullaby song would play each time another baby was delivered. I had an arrhythmia for about 6 weeks afterwards. Thinking back on this period still makes my throat tighten and my eyes sting.

A short while later, I was pregnant again. Gun-shy, I didn’t tell anyone. Anxiety ridden, I checked for bleeding constantly. And angrily, because of my distrust for my body, I puked and puked and puked. Because morning sickness is a cruel beast. Then around week 9, on a beautiful evening in the temple, dressed in all white, and seeking divine assurances, I had an unmistakable sensation. So much blood. The baby was gone. I spent the weekend in pain on the couch. To my astonishment, my reaction was wildly different than the first time. Although it was physically much easier, emotionally it was much harder. Instead of hiding and avoiding everyone, I desperately wanted to talk it out. But we hadn’t told anyone so it felt awkward to say “Hey! Guess what! I’m pregnant. Just kidding. It died. Mourn with me?!” Even RJ had no idea how to comfort me. I felt desperately alone. And scared. And bitter. Grief is so unpredictable. You can’t can’t anticipate how you will respond or what you will need to get through. 

Many women, while experiencing infertility/miscarriage, note that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD is pregnant and having babies. During this time, social media is flooded with the happiness of these people and several baby shower invitations come in the mail. Now, I see that this depresses most Unmothered women. In spite of my jaded attitude and deep pain, I actually found comfort in celebrating new life with others. It was a reminder that things can work out and not everything ends in agony.

But life continued. Work, RJ’s graduate program, church callings, and outdoor adventure filled up our time. But as the trimesters passed, darkness grew in me where babies were supposed to be. My naive optimism and hopeful idealism about the world in general were replaced with jaded frustration, or what people often call “realism”.

For Christmas I surprised RJ with new backcountry skis and a New Years trip to Jackson Hole/Grand Teton National park. On New Years Eve, we chose a longer 10 mile route out and back to Jenny Lake. The air was so crisp and cold that your nose hairs instantly froze upon exiting the car. The sky was clear and blue. The magnificent Teton mountains were a stunning backdrop to the white path before us. Our conversation started out cheerful and light but within a mile or two, something inside me broke. Soon, despite the most stunningly happy views, all of the darkness began pouring out of me. Tears froze to my eyelashes and on my cheeks. RJ told me to stop and he put his arms around me as I sobbed. He had somehow not realized the darkness I had been growing. I was too tired, physically and emotionally, to carry it anymore. So I delivered the darkness, full-term, there on the trail. The rest of the way to the lake, and the entire way back were easy. Light. Speedy. I had actually left the darkness there. Not all of my anxiety was gone. But the darkness was.

It took a year but we finally got our “Rainbow Baby”. That pregnancy was terrifying. Also I puked through the whole 41 weeks.  The only time I could breathe easy was when I was watching her heartbeat on the monitor. Otherwise I was playing out worst-case scenarios in my head. But she came. Like a rocket blasting through everything in it’s path (namely my body). And my world changed forever. My previous life and identity evaporated in an instant and I took on the title I had wanted my entire life: Mother.

I don’t know what it would be like to be a first time parent who hadn’t struggled to get there. I imagine the learning curve is just as steep. But when you add loss to the mix, maybe there’s an extra layer of anxiety. Georgia was a featherweight and had GERD and colic. Stressing about every ounce she wasn’t gaining and agonizing over her discomfort and crying was awful. The pediatrician had us on an intense nursing schedule where I had to feed her every hour throughout the day. She was a lazy eater and entirely refused a bottle, so I basically lived with my shirt off for months. My entire life revolved around feeding her, yet I always felt like she wasn’t getting enough. Now in retrospect, I realize she was just a featherweight. She still is. But I didn’t know that then. Also, as we moved cross country after her birth, I didn’t follow up with an OB/GYN in Maryland. I didn’t know that you shouldn’t still be bleeding 6 months postpartum. There’s just a lot I didn’t know. 

Fast forward and we were lucky to get pregnant with Millie right away. Soon after her birth, which was marked by severe nerve damage and a spinal injury, we discovered a growth on my cervix. In the few weeks before cancer was ruled out, I went through all of the stages of grief a few times, as I mourned that I might not have any more children. I hadn’t been prepared for Millie to be my last. It was determined to be pre-cancerous so the doctor wanted to remove it, but the removal would compromise my ability to have more children. He said “Its now or never if you want another one”. Having already reconciled that I wouldn’t have any more, the possibility of one more child felt like an abundant and generous gift from heaven.

Month after month, we tried and failed to get pregnant. There were a few late periods that were extra painful. As I had refused to take pregnancy tests, we’ll never know if any were early miscarriages. Every period felt like a loss regardless. I accepted that we would have no more kids. I was almost ready to just have the cervical stuff removed. But a month or two later I had a spiritual experience that told me we’d have one more. Two months after that, we were pregnant with Flora.

This is what I had prayed for. This felt like a miracle. So you’d think I was happy. But no. Instead I spent two months with the blues. Prenatal depression! I felt guilt and shame for not being happy. There were definitely happy moments. But chemical depression isn’t something you can shake off just because you know it doesn’t make sense. Thankfully, the blues lifted fairly quickly. Knowing that this would be my last pregnancy, I began to thrill at it. Instead of agonizing about the puking, I just kind of accepted it, and approached my triggers with curiosity instead of resentment. I relished in the discomfort of my massive belly. I cherished when she punched and kicked my organs or got hiccups at 3am. 

Flora’s birth was the “easiest”, though it did leave me bruised and swollen. And it was so much easier to enjoy her infancy because I knew she was my last. Also because I had the experience to know I could keep her alive. And I knew how quickly the time would go by. But her first four months were not without bumps. When we was a month old I had hemorrhoid surgery. Which was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced.  A month after that I had the cervical procedure. A week after that, an artery in my cervix blew and I hemorrhaged, leading to a scary emergency surgery. Three weeks after that, my abdomen was like “WHAT THE HELL?!” (I’m sorry Ginny, but it really did cuss.) And there was an emergency appendectomy! So yeah, I gave birth then had 4 surgeries in less than 4 months. IT. WAS. AWFUL. 

So now my uterus is just sitting there, useless. Except that every month it sends me a week of weepiness, bleeding and cramps. The jerk. I know I should be grateful for it, since it brought me 3 perfectly formed babies. But it’s given me 27 years of awful periods. And did I mention the time it took me to the emergency room with burst cysts when I was only 12, and two male techs had me naked and alone on a surgical table and couldn’t get in a catheter while I blacked out from the pain? Years and years of trouble and only 3 babies. Because of the precancerous growths, and my mom’s cancer that started in her uterus, I feel like it’s a ticking time bomb. I mean. I am grateful. But I’m also so DONE with that thing.  

No woman has it easy. In fact, thinking about those who read my blog, there are a few who have endured much more than anything I’ve written about. Last month I read Pachinko (don’t recommend) and the main message of the book is “Women are born to suffer”. I hated that premise. But it is true. The only redemption I find is Newton’s third law. For all of our suffering, there is equal and opposite joy. 

Anyway, there it is. Having a uterus is hard. The end. 

Pain is not the problem

My former running buddy was just telling me how she has been experiencing significant pain in her left knee during her runs. Her baby has been teething, and therefore has spent the last few weeks glued to her right hip. As her knee pain on the left increased, she used her right hip even more. After some YouTube research on patella tendonitis, she learned that it can be caused by uneven strength. Her right hip was stronger and it caused her left side to weaken. She switched which side she carried baby on, and within a few days she could run again, pain free.

A few years ago the physical therapist told me “Pain is a symptom. But pain is rarely the source of the problem.” He evaluated the alignment of my body, noting areas where my foot rolled outward or my hip turned in or my shoulders were uneven. Without me telling him what symptoms I had, he accurately predicted where I was hurting. Rather than treating the pain, he worked to correct the misalignments. The pain would then cure itself.

I have never been to a chiropractor, but I asked the physical therapist. As both seem to be working toward proper body alignment, what was the real difference? Among other things, he said that, generally speaking, a chiropractor may make some adjustments that will provide instant relief. But he viewed his job as a physical therapist as training and strengthening the body to hold itself into proper alignment. Both sound useful to me.

There are certainly limits to this metaphor. But there are maybe some useful applications of it as well.

Pain in one area of our life might be caused from overemphasis in another. Pain in a relationship might be caused by misaligned boundaries or misaligned priorities. Pain might be an indicator that routines or habits need to be reevaluated where your energy is getting pulled too far, and you’re overcompensating elsewhere.

Pain sucks. Don’t get me wrong. But there is purpose to it. It is a warning. It is a call for help. Rather than numb the pain in our lives with “pain killers” that let us keep doing the same thing but never solve the problem, let’s look for the origin of the issue. Which may not be where the pain is. Pain is inevitable, but we don’t have to turn it into long-term suffering by ignoring the root cause. Just like our bodies which are constantly changing/aging/adapting, our lives need regular evaluations to check for misalignments.

Pain isn’t the problem. Misalignment is. Maybe we need a ‘chiropractor’ for an acute issue. Or maybe we need ‘physical therapy’ to retrain and strengthen in proper alignment. All I know is that we don’t get extra points for suffering. But we do get extra relief by making a change.

Good Enough

House hunting in Maryland was DEPRESSING. We were earning what we thought was a healthy income. Yet the houses in our budget left a lot to be desired. We were looking at homes three times the cost of my place in Utah. And they weren’t better. No garage. No closet. No furnace. No dishwasher. Super long commute. Etc. As any realtor will tell you, a person usually knows their next home in the first 20 seconds of a walk-through. I’d spend 20 minutes and say “Well this would be adequate!” Both RJ and George began cringing at the word adequate. Six years later and RJ still takes it as a swear. He thinks it means I’m settling or giving up.

But here’s the thing. In life, you don’t always have the resources to get the perfect thing. Sometimes the “ideal” thing would require a greater sacrifice than is worth it. Hear me out.

When we were pregnant with Flora we were shopping for vans. I never wanted a van. They’re not sexy. They’re expensive and most don’t have AWD which, to me as a 4 time Subaru owner, was a dealbreaker. But life with kids means you embrace what is most practical. And a van was most practical. With our finances at the time, we could either take out a loan and get an older Toyota Sienna with AWD, or we could pay cash and get a newer Chrysler Town and Country with fewer miles and therefore potential issues. You know me, I hate debt. So the answer was easy. RJ worried I was settling for “adequate”. So I had to persuade him of the beauty of GOOD ENOUGH. Sure, the Toyota would have been a slightly “cooler” van, if that’s even a thing. But it wasn’t worth taking out a loan when I knew I could be equally satisfied with the Chrysler. I still do not regret choosing “good enough”.

For nearly every birthday or celebration, we eat at Tony’s. Is it delectable cuisine? No. Is the ambiance incredible? Also no. But for about the same price as fast food we can sit down and be served. We aren’t embarrassed because our loud children are drowned out by the din of a noisy restuarant. We can enjoy a satisfying meal of soft bread, salad, sodas, pasta and meatballs, and even spumoni AND take home leftovers that will feed us all again! It’s not a restaurant with food that is to-die-for. But it is wonderfully GOOD ENOUGH. And our children will grow up with happy memories of Tony’s that carry no hint of “adequate”.

I would looooooove to travel the world with my family. I’d love to introduce them to natural wonders, new cultures, and see everyone bond over the thrill of new experiences. But there’s a pandemic. And a budget. And a husband who hates travel. So we bought an old camper! Sometimes when my brain isn’t required elsewhere, I daydream about the mini-adventures we will take it on this summer, or little ways I can spiff it up a bit. That’s right, I daydream about GOOD ENOUGH.

Not everything has to be perfect. Not all of our desires need to be realized this instant. We don’t have to be disappointed that we don’t have it all right now. Sometimes, we can weigh all of the factors and be truly satisfied with good enough. I’m not talking about adequate. Adequate means (to us) that your heart isn’t in it. This isn’t settling. This is making the best choice available to you, with a grateful heart.

So back to house hunting. When we ended up back in Utah, we looked at several houses that were all MORE than adequate (in the same price range as Maryland). They were spacious and updated and had every amenity I dreamed of. But they didn’t feel like home. Then one day we walked through this quirky house that needed to be COMPLETELY updated. But within 20 seconds I knew I was home. Was it perfect? No. I curse at issues in this house all of the time. But I love this place with my whole heart. And it is absolutely, heartwarmingly GOOD ENOUGH. I am so grateful for this good enough house. And in spite of a thousand more projects it needs, it becomes my dream home a little bit more all of the time. Because it has good bones.

I guess that is how you know if you’re settling for adequate or embracing good enough. If your choice is good enough, you’re grateful, and you wanna put more into it and see what blossoms.

Trusty Red

The trees were budding and a few had bravely burst forth with tender green leaves but a crisp chill still lingered in the air. A white padded envelope was propped on the mailbox that hung lopsided on the gate of my 110 year old bungalow. My name and address were written in a cheerful handwritten font with black Sharpie. This just happened to be the first wedding present that we received. It felt so unnatural to be holding it, standing alone, in front of the house that raised me from girl to woman; my “bachelorette pad”.

Inside was a set of red plastic measuring cups. Red has never been my favorite color. As a child, I associated it with blood and abhorred all things red. As an adult, I associated it with confident women who “loved red” and had red accent walls in their homes, red high heel shoes, and sometimes made me feel “less than”  because I’ve never been overly feminine or fashionable. In spite of my bias, these red cups seemed bright and friendly. They weren’t fancy but they were certainly an upgrade from the dollar store cups I’d been using.

At  28 years old, I still wasn’t savvy in the kitchen. In fact, I was downright awkward. Recipes were intimidating. Cooking was time consuming. I had a full schedule and spending time in the kitchen didn’t thrill me. For the first year or two, these cups got used for a few blundered meals and a batch or two of cookies and easily retained their glossy finish.

When Georgia was born, the cups were boxed up and moved with us to Maryland. As a newly minted homemaker, I took it upon myself to get comfortable in the kitchen. I advanced from pasta, sandwiches and omelets to cooking daily, with slightly more elaborate dishes. Baking became a weekly occurrence. These cups witnessed a few disasters, a few wild successes, and many mediocre outcomes.

In the summer of 2015, the red measuring cups were once again boxed up and returned to Utah. Our home in South Ogden didn’t feel like a starter home. And I no longer felt like a beginner chef. My belly swollen with a nearly full-term Millie, I involuntarily held my breath as I reached into the box and pulled out my cups. They were now housed in my “baking center” and within a short time, the 8 ounce cup became my loyal companion.

Along the way I’d also acquired a few other sets of measuring cups. One was an adorable gift; a Russian doll version from Anthropologie. Another was a solid set made of stainless steel. But invariably, I reached for my red 8 ounce cup. My assortment of other measuring cups were thrown together in the baking center, but Trusty Red held the high and lonely honor of residing in the bowl of the mixer. She helped me make hundreds of cakes, dozens of pans of enchiladas, and a billion other things. She fit my hand perfectly, was easy to scoop and also scrape out with a spatula. She was, well, perfect. Even if she was red. Even if she was plastic. I have no memory of when the KitchenAid brand logo wore off, or when the 8 ounce marking wore off. And it didn’t matter. She had become more than a kitchen implement to me. She became a partner. I would rather wash and dry her between ingredients than use a second measuring cup. Rarely did I pull out the 1/4, 1/3 or 1/2 cups. I just estimated by her. Because I trusted her.

Sometime last year, perhaps on her thousandth trip through the dishwasher, the overuse and the heat of the dishwasher finally compromised her. A tiny pin-sized hole appeared. She began to leave a puddle of oil or water on the counter. I ignored it for several months. Finally, it was time for her to retire. It honestly pained me to put her in the garbage. I felt like she deserved a more respectful farewell, or to become a decoration/trophy, reminding me of our humble beginnings together. But ultimately, she was trashed. I still kinda regret it. I shopped for a few months looking for an exact replacement. I settled on ‘close enough’. It’s red plastic. It’s also KitchenAid brand. It stays in the bowl of the mixer and gets used as much as Trusty Red. But its not the same. And it doesn’t feel like a friend. At least not yet.

As I write this, I want to turn this into some sort of life lesson. Like “Take care of what you love. Don’t take it for granted. Nothing can keep giving and giving if it’s not properly taken care of. It’s not a partnership if one partner’s needs aren’t being met.” Or maybe “The true worth of something is not in it’s ‘value’ but in it’s usefulness.” or “Even something common can become one of a kind.” Or “You never know who could become your best friend of you spend enough time doing good together.”

I’m sure there’s a lot I can still learn from Trusty Red. But honestly, I don’t care about the lessons. I’m just sad she’s gone. Although maybe there’s a lesson about grief in that too.

Pace Your Soul

“Stop treating people like you’re always in a hurry and stop treating opportunities as burdens.”

I had been desperately praying for answers to specific questions when that revelation came so clearly and distinctly into my mind that it caused my head to tingle and the energy passed through all the way to my toes. Unmistakable answer. Though, at the time, it seemed unrelated to the questions I’d been asking (Should I begin that masters program? Should I accept that assignment in Africa? What should I tell the guy who gave me an ultimatum?)

Frankly, I didn’t think I was treating people like I was in a hurry. I thought I was simply efficient! But God knew. And that direction changed my behavior on a day that became the most significant decision-making day of my entire life. It caused me take a phone call when I was running late to a meeting… a phone call from my ex-boyfriend of 1.5 years whom I hadn’t spoken to, yet who I was still dreaming about. Within a few hours of that phone call he was on my doorstep, and proposed marriage. I told him how he’d broken my heart so many times before and he was a total jerk and YES I would marry him. Had I not had that revelation at 5am, I would never have taken his call at 4pm. Slowing down and welcoming opportunities just for a few hours led to my greatest joy – a decade in a strong marriage and 3 marvelous daughters.

Sometimes I refer to Georgia as the dawdle queen. She isn’t slow, she’s just delighted by distraction. She loves to insert a dozen other activities into the task at hand. (I can feel RJ’s accusing eyes saying I do the same thing. Whatever.) Together we are learning that we don’t always have the luxury of functioning at the pace which comes natural to us. Even if we could, I’m afraid that would be a challenge for me because my spirit and my body seem to be running at two different speed settings. My body is fast. My body wants efficiency. My body is impatient. My body loves movement, checklists, and completion. My spirit is slow. It wants serenity and quiet. My spirit craves internal stimulation through the power of words and stillness. Most of the time, my body wins the battle. In theory, I want to sit and watch the spider spin its web. In practice, I’m usually like “Wow. Cool. Gotta go.” And I rush around like whatever I’m doing is just en route to the next thing. I struggle to be IN THE MOMENT.

But kids. They are sooooo in the moment. Partly because their spirits and bodies work in unison. Partly because they have no real sense of time. “Yesterday” could be two years ago and “last year” could be yesterday. And when you say, “It’s time to go. Get on your shoes.” their magical little brains suddenly fill with ideas. “I need to build a fort first. Will you read me a book? I’m thirsty. Look how my thumb glows red when I put it on the flashlight! Look! I’m naked again!” Transitions from one activity to the next can be tricky because they’re so focused on their present moment and the future is nebulous to them. Millie, for example, doesn’t understand that preschool isn’t happening all of the time. When she wants to go, she thinks her classmates and teachers should all just BE there. Explaining that they’re only there certain days and hours doesn’t click. I have DAILY conversations with Millie and Flora, explaining rhythm and sequence to try and help them understand time. The Sun comes up and it’s morning! Our first meal is breakfast! After lunch you go to school! Daddy comes home at dinnertime. When the sun goes to bed, so do you! (Except in summer.)  Still, they’re constantly asking “Is it morning?” at dinnertime and “But we already had dinner, why can’t I go to school?” One day it will click. But when that happens, sadly, their natural ability to be totally present will start to diminish. Once they understand time, they’ll start to be controlled by it. Which I wouldn’t wish upon them. STAY WILD, little ones!!

Until then, I need to learn from their examples how to pace my soul. I need to learn how to shut off the mental clock and learn to just BE HERE NOW. It is a process of daily striving. 

On the trail I want exercise, but I also want them to learn to love nature. So occasionally, I stop pushing the pace and I let them stop and play until THEY are done. Sometimes that’s a few minutes. The other day it was 2.5 hours. Of course, I wanted to be purely present, but my brain was glitching. I was making lists. I was listening to a book. I was losing my mind. I had hesitated to join them because I didn’t want to direct their play and ruin the magic. Finally, I joined in. I started building a fort out of fallen limbs. They turned it into a gateway into an enchanted forest. And time became nebulous while I was lost in their world. 

There is a place for running from task to task. But there is actual LIFE in being in the moment. That’s where the good stuff is. That’s where the memories are. Slowly, I’m learning that the best way to be in the moment is to connect my body and my spirit by engaging the senses. When the kids are fresh from the bath and smell like soap and lotion, their wet hair tickling my cheek as we snuggle and read a book. Savoring a piece of chocolate. Sitting on the porch to watch the sun crest the mountain. And those moments can even happen when we’re on the go. As we rush to Costco, it’s the breeze in my hair as I run the cart full of giggling girls down the hill in the parking lot. It’s three minutes before Georgia needs to catch the bus and we finish a kitchen dance party, trusting that there is enough time to dance and catch the bus. 

Somehow I’m going to figure out how to pace my soul so that I can get things done, and still savor a moment. Somehow I’ve got to figure out how to more frequently lose sense of time without actually losing sense of time. Even if I never master the skill, I’ll never regret the times I followed the kids’ lead and allowed a good dawdle.

Those words from that fateful February day in 2011 changed the course of my life. And if I let them sink in every day, they’ll keep changing it. “Stop treating people like you’re always in a hurry and stop treating opportunities as burdens.”

Algorithm

We are miserly frugal. We had a Hulu subscription for a while, but only the cheap one where you still have ads. It struck me as somewhat comical that the ads we saw were 90% medications and insurance. “Ha. They think we’re geriatric.” Clearly they didn’t know us. (We were fooling ourselves. We are definitely the target audience for medication and insurance.)

But at the same time the ad bars on the side of my internet browser or within social media are scarily targeted to us. All I have to do is *think* about something and I am blasted with ads for it. If I actually search for something, then I even get email ads for various options. I’m sure all of us have been creeped out by this in recent years. Our computers and phones know us better than we know ourselves.

Digital algorithms track how long we linger on an image, what we tap on or interact with, and what we ignore. They use this information to customize our feed with more of what we may like. If you want to stop seeing certain things that keep popping up, you have to stop interacting with it, or better yet, tap the corner to block it. Your device learns from you and soon what you don’t want will evaporate from your feed. Day after day, you find what you look for.

Our brains work the same way. When we repeatedly do something, or think about something, our brain forges and reinforces neural pathways. If we do/think something enough, that pathway becomes like a freeway, and our brain has a hard time NOT doing/thinking that way. Our bodies, our senses, and our environments all reinforce this. So day after day, we find what we look for. Maybe not what we WANT. But definitely what we look for.

How many bright yellow cars do you think you see driving by every day? If you’d have asked me that question a couple years ago, I’d have answered maybe one a day, if that. I don’t remember how it started, but Georgia started yelling “Bingo!” every time we saw a bright yellow car. It’s become a friendly competition as we run errands who can spot them first. Shockingly, we see SEVERAL between home and Costco, or home and preschool. SEVERAL. Who are these people? I don’t know, nor have I ever been personally acquainted with someone who owns a bright yellow car. They were previously invisible to me, but as soon as Georgia started the game, they are EVERYWHERE. You find what you look for.

So how do we rewire our brains so that the things we LOOK for are positive? How do we build our neural highways to lead to hope instead of cynicism and compassion instead of criticism?

Rewiring our brain is hard. But neuroplasticity is wonderfully real. We *can* change the way we think, feel and act. And because the way we think, feel, and act have a big influence on our relationships, jobs, and health, rewiring our brain can change EVERYTHING.

In elementary school during our library time, other kids would be finding books to check out, and I’d be over at the dictionary, (giggling as I looked up naughty words) flipping pages to learn new words. I was hesitant and clumsy the first few times I used a word, but within a few uses, it would start to come easily and naturally. Learning Spanish at age 21 was easier than I expected, in part because I loved learning new words and wasn’t afraid to stumble over them. I delighted in my brain rewiring, reprogramming my algorithms.

One of the best way’s I’ve found to retrain my brain is FAKE IT ‘TILL I MAKE IT. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. Maybe I should rephrase that to SAY IT UNTIL I BELIEVE IT. About once or twice a year I evaluate the false or limiting beliefs that I hold and I come up with affirmations to counter them. I print them off and tape them into my shower where I read them every day. Double bonus, RJ reads them too, so when I’m buying into my limiting beliefs, he can throw an affirmation at me. Slowly, I find that those affirmations become part of my true beliefs and its time to reassess and use new ones for the next false belief that crops up (darn weeds they are.)

Here are some examples:

Body image struggles —> I am strong and healthy. My body does so much good. I am more than a body.

Parenting exhaustion —-> I am a loving mother. Kids don’t need perfection. I can always find one golden moment in the day.

Anxiety about life —-> Focus on the good and the good gets better. We have sufficient for our needs. This is hard. This is normal. This will change.

Words have so much power. I will never forget the harsh comment I overheard about me at 8 years old that was likely forgotten the second it was said. Also, I will never forget the compliment I got at 21 that changed how I defined my self-perception. So choose good words, and repeat them every day. Let them retrain the algorithm in your brain!

“Alas your mind is a garden. Your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.” -Author unknown