Until

The sky was always that vast. But I didn’t know it until the clouds filled up the space.

Clouds showed the heights and depths, the textures and colors and aliveness of it all. 

The mountains always had the cliffs and valleys. But I didn’t know it until the snow dusted it’s dimensions.

Snow exposed the trees and crags, the barren areas and deep gorges, the texture of it all.

I always had love. But I didn’t know it until the family we made filled in the places where memories weren’t.

Our little family unearthed eternal instincts, lay bare deep rooted feelings and the wholeness of it all.

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Brother

last night as dusk ate up the day

my brother stopped by with time to kill

we were a several miles away

looking for deer out in a field

I told him to just go inside

to light a fire and read a book

I don’t recall when he last tried

it left me feeling a little shook

I smiled to think of him in my home

enjoying the quiet solitude

he’s one who appreciates time alone

like me – it improves any mood

after feeding my children dinner

the world was cold and black

I sat myself by the very same fire

when my brother then came back

faces glowing from the flames

we began to share old stories

we talked of taking back a name

and decades of old worries

we talked about forgiving

we spoke of faith and doubt

what it takes to make a living

and surviving spiritual drought

we dredged up memories good and bad

and felt the peace of sharing

the brokenness of what we had

the shames that we’ve been bearing

decades of lives apart

and different evolutions

yet coming from the same start

we found the same conclusions

with laughter and pain, pride and shame

there’s something deeply moving

in the kind of love that shares a name

miraculous enduring

Panel Questions

I was asked, along with 15 other people, to sit on a panel for Stake Conference. We were each asked to be ready to respond to a handful of questions that had been submitted by members of the stake. There were far more questions than there was time. So I only gave a portion of one of my answers. Which was fine by me! None of these are meant to be comprehensive answers. It feels kinda preachy to be giving advice like this, and as the subtitle of my blog says, I try to keep the sermons for myself. But I’ve had these notes in an unnamed document open on my computer for the past month or two and I don’t know what to do with it… so here you go!

Stake Conference Panel

1. Our kids have friends who have views and opinions which contradict what we’ve been taught by the Lord’s servants. These friends are themselves generally good people, and we’ve tried to teach our kids that you can “disagree without being disagreeable” and still be friends. But many of these friends aren’t returning the favor and are saying, “if you don’t agree with me, then you are a bad person.”  It puts tremendous pressure on our kids to either deny what they have been taught or to risk upsetting their friends.  I think our kids understand in principle what they need to do. But the actual practice is very difficult.

What would you tell youth who are going through this?  Does anyone have any personal examples where they’ve dealt (successfully or unsuccessfully) with a situation like this?

There is no simple solution to these situations. We need to let our kids know that they don’t have to have a ready answer for every conversation. Sometimes we all need time to consider an issue. It’s okay to ask someone for a raincheck on a conversation so we can give a thoughtful answer.

We need to model to our kids how to exist in uncomfortable situations and how to have awkward conversations. We need to show them how to work through conflict by example, and also assure them of our confidence in their ability to handle it. It may not go perfectly, and that’s okay. 

For hot topics that are likely to happen it might help to have practice conversations at home. Discuss it and maybe even role play with them if they’re willing. Simply asking them what they might say can help. 

Perhaps the most important thing we can teach our kids is how to love those who see things differently than us. If they hear us bashing people with different views than us, or judging people whose lifestyle isn’t in harmony with the gospel, we are not preparing them properly for the situations they’ll encounter. We have to model Christlike attitudes, which includes humanizing those who see things differently.

“We can stand firm in our beliefs and have a loving relationship with those who hold differing opinions. For example, I believe drinking alcohol is a violation of God’s law. So what do I do when I am hosting friends who do not believe as I do? My wife and I arrange to go to a restaurant with them where they can order as they choose to. And when they order wine with their meal, I do not get in their faces and call them out as sinners. 

Similarly, can I be friends with individuals who are living together without the benefit of marriage? Absolutely. And when I am with them, do I stand up in great indignation and call them to repentance, even though they are presently engaged in behavior I do not agree with? No, of course not. 

We can stand firm in our beliefs and have a loving relationship with those who hold differing opinions. Let us not forget that the plan of salvation offers the love and mercy of our Savior Jesus to all.” – Dale G. Renlund 

6.   Would you please share some examples of constructive ways to discipline and teach a child when they have done something wrong?

First, I just want to acknowledge that all of us are winging it in parenthood. None of us are always the parent we want to be. We have bad moods or a bad day. We have many stressors, and sometimes we get tired or hangry. All of that is normal. And we need to allow our children the same. Sometimes we jump right to punishment when really our kid is just having a hard time and needs connection and support. I’ve been trying to be better at this. I’m not great at it. But now, when I am having a bad day/mood and get snappy, my kids are offering me a hug, or asking me to come get some “fresh air” with them, or helping me out. They’re showing ME compassion because that’s what they see me do for them. 

If there is a behavior that needs correcting or consequences, I am trying not to throw out threats in the moment or lecture them while they’re totally disregulated and can’t take it in. I’m trying to wait to talk to them until we are both calm. I’m trying to take a step back and think about what would be a natural consequence for the behavior. ‘If you throw a toy at your sister, you can’t play with it for a while.’ My kids tend to learn better when the consequence is logically associated with the behavior. But more than anything, I’m trying to reinforce good behavior (with praise or rewards) and I’m finding we have fewer instances of bad behavior. Children will do almost anything to feel seen and feel connected. Period. When I see their behaviors as opportunities to connect and teach, instead of as irritants to squash, then the process of ‘discipline’ becomes mutually beneficial.

I mess up in disciplining and teaching all of the time. But I’m getting good at catching myself mid-situation, and stopping. It’s okay to change approaches. It shows our kids that even we are learning and trying to do better, and they can too. Same thing for apologizing when I’ve yelled or mismanaged a situation. By showing them my willingness to take accountability and try to do better, they become more willing to do the same. 

13.  How to quickly regain the Spirit in the home after a fight/children fighting? It can feel like a whopper sibling fight can derail the feeling in the house the rest of the day.  At what ages did your kids seem to stop fighting so much?

Fighting, or at least conflict, is normal and will never go away. But we can show our kids how to work through things and communicate respectfully. My girls are 4, 6 and 8 and they still fight all of the time. But there are a lot fewer murder attempts than when they were all toddlers. I used to referee every little squabble and it was exhausting and the girls just ended up more mad. I’ve noticed that a lot of times when they come to tattle on each other, they just need to be validated that something doesn’t feel good. I’m getting better at coaching them instead of refereeing. If you ever watch kids fight, you see that they say everything very unfiltered, which can hurt a lot. But also, they’re quick to forgive and soon they’re laughing together. So I might say something like “Whoa. Yeah, you didn’t like it when she did that. What do you need to say to work it out with her?” I am trying to focus on building the relationships instead of breaking apart any given situation. Af far as regaining the spirit in the home, I think that comes from the parents efforts to show love for all of the kids. Also, it makes for a great teaching opportunity once the kids are in a place to hear it “Did you feel that gross feeling after the fight?” 

19.  How do we teach our children it isn’t all about them?  It is ok if life is hard and they have to struggle sometimes.  Jesus Christ’s life was hard.  Life is hard. Give some examples.

There is no one right way to teach our kids but there are a million good ways to teach them. Something I’ve found helpful in building resilience in my kids is to develop empathy. For example, my four year old has severe asthma and allergies and has to take pills plus an inhaler twice a day. She has a lot of doctor visits and has had to go to the hospital several times. When she gets mad about all of this, I don’t dismiss it or tell her to suck it up. I acknowledge that its hard and not fun. Then when she is more calm (never in the middle of a meltdown) I talk about how everyone has hard things they have to deal with, and give her examples of people she knows. When someone else is going through something difficult, I ask my kids what that person might be feeling or experiencing. I ask them what we could do to support that person. When my kids complain about their chores, I help them see how they contribute to the whole household. For the record, I’m not great at any of these conversations. Still, I believe those clumsy attempts are why my kids are far more empathetic and patient than I am. And I think it helps them see themselves as important contributors to the household. 

22.  Time management is very important.  How is the best way to manage time with your children?  Please give some examples other than “Choose what is most important.”  

I’m a very scheduled person. I have specific days for chores, and my days all have a very predictable rhythm. If something isn’t built into the schedule, it’s not likely to happen. I do things like weekly meal planning so that my daily energy isn’t being eaten up by trying to make decisions or running to grab something for a recipe. But my focus on productivity comes at a cost. Sometimes I’m too rigid to embrace a great opportunity to connect with my kids or a neighbor because I want to get a certain thing done. Sometimes I accidentally teach my kids that productivity is more important than them. I’m trying to accept that there is no possible way to do all of the ‘essential’ things, let alone the ‘good’ things. So its a matter of what I am choosing to neglect at any given time. I can’t do everything all of the time, but I can do most things most of the time. The best time management skill I’m learning is to be okay with saying no to good things. As far as time management with kids, we allow our kids to have one extra curricular, and try to schedule those so that there are as many free nights a week as possible so that they have time to just be kids. Every family has to find their own balance. And that can change from season to season. But everyone I know could benefit from a slower pace. Preventing burnout can be the best thing we do for time management. 

Even though I spend a lot of time with my kids, not all of that time is “quality time”. And it doesn’t have to be. A few focused minutes with each child can make such a difference in the relationship, and in the child’s behaviors (bids for attention). I try to give focused attention, such as a warm greeting when they wake up, or when they come home from school. We have rituals built into our day that have become meaningful. Whenever we part during the day, we repeat our “four things”. “Work hard! Have Fun! Be Kind! I love you!”. At night, we do scriptures and prayers and often read books or do “special time” (a few minutes alone with each child where they pick the activity.) But even if we skip all that, everyone gets a hug and I say “Thank you for another great day!” which they always seem to repeat back to me. Every family can create their unique touchpoints of connection throughout their days. They don’t have to be complicated. But rituals of love can deepen a child’s sense of value.

Support

In a Yin yoga class I attended last winter, the instructor had us put a block under our lower back and told us to feel it supporting us. She said to feel it pushing back. RJ and I had been navigating something that week. In a revelatory moment I realized he was the yoga block. He wasn’t collapsing, he was supporting me by providing resistance and pushing back.

Bras do that too. They support by holding their shape when gravity is pulling things down. The arch of a shoe supports as the weight of your body keeps coming down on your feet. A supportive mattress is one that doesn’t sag but springs up when you lay down. All of these things provide relief by pushing back to maintain their strength. When they do more than support, they actually hurt. A pushup bra is one you rip off asap. Shoes with too high of an arch cannot be tolerated. No one wants a mattress that doesn’t yield at all.

When it comes to something physical, good support simply means something that can hold it’s shape when pressure is applied. It bears the weight.

I’m realizing that when we talk about emotional/social/spiritual/financial support, we sometimes expect something more. We sometimes expect someone else to help us be better off than we originally were. Or sometimes we want them to give in and be soft and cushy without pushing back.

I think this might be important for me to remember when I ask others for help. But also it might be important for me to remember when I’m offering help. Support is bearing the load and pushing back, not reshaping it into something it wasn’t, or simply providing comfort.

There are definitely limits to this metaphor. But there’s some value to it as well.

Impact and Validation

Part of me has always wanted to be the Emily Dickinson type, whose vast work wasn’t publicly known until well after she had died. The other part of me REALLY likes validation and would like kudos for my every effort immediately thankyouverymuch.

Certain areas of my career involved shadow leadership where, for different reasons at different times, I didn’t get “credit” for my work. I was mostly okay with it. The Emily Dickinson side of me was more robust back then. Also, there were miracles I experienced where I would never dare claim credit when I could see the hand of God in it all. But there were other times at headquarters where it was simply good hard work and my career stagnated perhaps because I wasn’t given proper credit. Nine years later and I still have twinges over it. But during General Conference I had a little moment where I felt God tip his hat to me.

One of my favorite parts of General Conference is when they mention the humanitarian work. My heart swells knowing I was a part of that for a short decade. But this time, in the opening talk, Elder Oaks listed off partner agencies that the Church works with, among which he named Water for People. It nearly knocked me over. The last year of my employment I had become fairly jaded about the state of development organizations (ours included). But I was so deeply impressed with Water for People that I made it my mission to forge an alliance. It was difficult to persuade them to work with a religious organization and even more difficult to persuade headquarters that this was a good thing, when their model was different than ours and we liked to call the shots. But when our first project went through, I felt like I had done something truly good. I felt relief, peace and hope. When I left to become a homemaker, I felt complete knowing that I’d done all I could, and that partnership was in place. Occasionally when I think about my career, I’ve wondered what became of that, but tried to push away those thoughts. So to hear, nearly a decade later, that the partnership was significant enough to be listed with the other heavy hitters, I kinda felt God pat me on the shoulder and say “thanks for getting the ball rolling.” No one else I worked with at the time is still around. And no one would ever remember the very pregnant gal who was dragging church executives out to Denver to make this happen. I don’t need my name attached, but knowing that the work is still going felt like such a payday.

Before I became a homemaker, a Facebook friend was constantly posting things like “I mopped and did 5 loads of laundry today!” and I could not roll my eyes hard enough. Really? This is the news you want to share with the world?

That was then. This is now: On Monday I texted RJ informing him that I would need some “oohing and aching” when he got home. I then listed off every task I had completed. As the kind (and wise) husband he is, when we reunited, he told me that when he walked in the house it just FELT so different. How, even in the dark, the house felt clean. He is a good man. And his attention made it so I didn’t need to post on social media about my stellar accomplishments in housekeeping and cause another young professional to roll her eyes.

The hardest part of adjusting from the professional life to being a homemaker was not the care of my baby girl and the home. It was the lack of validation. At work I had a steady stream of “good work on that!” and “We need your skills for this project.” I had annual performance reviews and raises. And if nothing else, work tasks generally had a clear start and finish. At least I could regularly get a sense of completion. But in motherhood and homemaking, there is no start and there is no finish. Everything is on repeat. And there’s no witness to say “Hey, you handled that diaper blowout/toddler meltdown/sibling squabble/unexpected question like a champion! Good work!” On top of that, the tasks that make up the bulk of my day are referred to by society as “mundane” and “unskilled”. A well meaning friend, referring to his wife’s new job, recently said she could now “outsource the unimportant stuff” to a nanny and housekeeper. I fully support those who outsource. Truly. And I get his point that parenting is the important stuff; much more so than housekeeping. I completely agree. And every family has to figure out what lifestyle works for them. There is no one perfect formula. Still, it kinda stung to think that how I spend most of my time is “unimportant stuff”. I’m sure he’d reword his message if he could. Still. Ouch.

In this day and age, our society measures impact in dollars and likes/shares/views. If it’s not quantifiable, does it count? What impact does your life have if no one knows what you’ve done?

I mean, I know in my heart that doing good matters whether or not its seen by anyone but God. But also, I think it’s very human to crave a little validation. After all, positive reinforcement is the best motivator!

Anyway, back to Emily Dickinson. She didn’t write her poems for praise or attention. She wrote them because they naturally poured out of her soul. Do I do what I do for praise or attention or because it naturally pours out of me? (If I’m being fully honest I think the answer is probably BOTH.)

We all want to feel like what we do matters. Validation from others is one way to get a sense that it does. But maybe not the best way. When I was transitioning from work to home life, I knew validation wasn’t going to come the way it did before in special assignments and promotions. And as fulfilled as I was by motherhood, there was also a sense of isolation in my days. So I prayed that God would take away my desire for it. Over the years I have come to feel even more fulfilled. But God never did remove my desire entirely. And I think I know why.

When we acknowledge the impact of each other, it builds our connection and it reinforces behavior. When I tell you how much it meant that you went out of your way for me, we become closer friends, and you’re more likely to want to do it again. I also get a boost from being grateful. I think God designed us this way – interconnection is mutually beneficial. I think Satan has taken this and exploited it to the extreme with social media so that we mistake ‘likes’ for connection. Our want for ‘likes’ is insatiable because our true need is genuine connection.

We sometimes unwittingly buy into the false notion that if our efforts aren’t trackable, they aren’t valuable. For example, I had a conversation with a friend who was feeling down on herself for being “unproductive” that day because she didn’t get tasks crossed off her list. Her day had taken unpredictable turns when she prioritized connection over productivity. She interrupted a task to call someone who was on her mind. An errand got delayed because she helped her mom pick out some outfits for an event. And the attempts she did make at task completion were hijacked by things out of her control (lack of inventory). Her feelings were totally relatable. And also, I think that day she placed value on the wrong things. Also, I’m guilty of the same thing all of the time. It’s just hard to put proper value on immeasurable things.

But ultimately, it’s in the seemingly smaller things that we have true lasting impact. And ultimately, that means what I do within the walls of my own home. My most powerful platform is the kitchen counter. It’s in the way I handle a tough conversation with RJ. It’s in the way I navigate a squabble between Flora and Georgia. It’s in the way I react to Millie’s fear. The way that I express and nurture our values day after day, over and over again are what shapes the way my family will see the world. How I treat those in my home becomes the standard by which they’ll measure every other encounter out in the world.

I remember being asked, when I was leaving my career, how I felt about leaving behind a decade of humanitarian work when the world had such drastic need. I replied that in humanitarian work, my everything was just a tiny drop in a bucket. But at home I could be somebody’s ocean. (Of course you can be a drop in the bucket AND somebody’s ocean. But I’m grateful to be able to focus on the ocean for now.) Every day I see direct and indirect proof of my impact on my children, both good and bad. I see it in their willingness to help others and their curiosity about the world. And I see it in their anxieties and perfectionism. In spite of my failings, I feel overwhelmingly grateful to be the one who gets to raise these girls. I feel grateful to pass on to them what good I can, and try to empower them to break the cycle in areas where I lack. My role may not provide regular validation. But it provides ample satisfaction and purpose. It pushes me daily to model what I want them to have; self-compassion, grit, faith and love. In my best moments I’d choose purpose over validation.

There’s a children’s book we love called Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed. A little girl performs an act of kindness. Her act inspires 5 other people to do something kind. And each of them affect 5 more people, and so on. It’s point is that the everyday things we do have great and far reaching impact. Mary’s deed eventually returns a kindness to her. And I agree that what we put out in the world comes back to us, and we rarely know what impact we have.

While I may never shed my desire for accolades and accomplishments, I’m slowly embracing that my deepest impact is made by what I do day after day, hour after hour, for those in my small circle. And even when they don’t see/appreciate what I do, God does. And even if he didn’t, I want it to be enough that I’m doing good. Maybe I don’t even need posthumous credit like Emily Dickinson got. Maybe I can get to where whatever pours out of me can be worthy and good even when it’s never seen. Because validated or not, our impact moves forward for generations.

Snaily and Bob

As a teenager, (and well, always) I ached to be an artist. But my clumsy hands could never create what my mind saw. And in truth, my mind rarely saw anything truly unique; just adaptations of images that reality had shown me. (Perhaps this is why photography appealed to me. I didn’t have to create, only capture beauty.) But words have always felt like art to me. So the doodles in the margins of my homework were typically flourished words. Then one day in Sophomore English, we studied the poem Chambered Nautilus, which was well beyond my depth and connected with me not at all. But I found myself mimicking the shell shape along the side of my paper. As one who was easily freaked out by marine life, it’s no surprise that the shell quickly transformed into the ultimate terrestrial creature. A little snail drawn in silvery lead creeped onto the page. Henceforth and forever, snails have explored the margins of every paper upon which I doodle.

During my bachelorette life in Salt Lake, I often ran sections of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Along the bench of the Wasatch mountains I was bemused by the smattering of thousands of tiny white snail shells imbedded in the dry soil. They looked more like they belonged to water snails than land. They made it easy to imagine the prehistoric times when most of the area was submerged by Lake Bonneville. In my mind I could see the Lake dry up overnight and leave these poor things stranded on the shore. I mean that’s not what happened. But still.

Decades later, very pregnant with Millie, Georgia and I went on our first walk in our new neighborhood. Everything still wet with morning dew, a garden snail was inching across the sidewalk, though it’s trail made it appear as if it had hopped. Georgia and I knelt down and examined it. Somehow, this slow moving gastropod that evoked happy panting and tiny squeals out of Georgia also made me feel a peaceful burning in my chest. It’s presence felt like a spiritual welcome telling me that this new home would treat us well.

Over the years, we encountered dozens if not hundreds of snails crossing the trail. Millie and I were occasionally heartbroken to find one crushed into the dirt or pavement. Millie began a crusade of snail rescues and there were days where her compassion caused us so much stop and go as we moved them off the path that our pace was, well, snailish.

Last Spring I thoroughly enjoyed a book titled The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. A woman was bedridden for a couple of years, and her main companion was a snail that a visitor had plucked from the trail and brought for her entertainment. The woman’s poignant observations and learnings were mixed with scientific and poetic references to snails. It was a blend of nature, spirituality and hardship that is totally my jam. Like this:

“Slime is the sticky essence of a gastropod’s soul, the medium for everything in its life: locomotion, defense, healing, courting, mating, and egg protection. Nearly one-third of my snail’s daily energy went into slime production. And rather than making a single batch of “all-purpose” slime, my snail had a species-specific recipe for each of these needs and for different parts of its body. It could adjust the ingredients, just as a good cook would, to meet a particular occasion. And in a catastrophic accident in which a snail is squashed, it can release a flood of lifesaving, medicinal mucus packed with antioxidants and regenerative properties.” 
― Elisabeth Tova Bailey, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

These days, with Georgia and Millie in school all day, Flora joins me on the trail a couple of days a week. But it’s not like the previous years where the trail was our big daily outing. Transitions can be hard for me. While I’m happy they’re in school, part of my heart worried that they’d lose the connection to Earth that they’ve developed spending every morning on the trail. So in August, when Millie came home from Landon’s house with a snail in a jar, calling it her new pet, I humored her. It certainly helped that I had a soft spot for snails and the book had romanticized them even more for me.

My identification app, iNaturalist, told us that Snaily is a Cuban Brown Snail. The girls would come home from school and see what it was up to. I would report on all the things I’d seen it do during the day. I was checking on it every time I happened to be in the kitchen. I was amazed at how gravity doesn’t seem to apply to snails or their poop. I loved watching it drink and I strained my ears, desperately hoping to hear the sound of it eating.

At first I thought she could enjoy it for an afternoon and then set it free. But after watching it for a while, I became more intrigued than the kids. I found our first fish tank in the garage and converted it into a terrarium with soil and branches and weeds. The girls found something we could use for water, and “Snaily” (the girls tend to keep it simple when it comes to names) took up residence next door to Swish the fish on the kitchen counter.

I must have talked about it a lot, because a week later, Connie brought over a Garden Snail to keep Snaily company. Georgia named it Bob, and we crowded around the tank to watch them interact. At first they didn’t show any interest in each other. But within the hour they got up close and personal, touching tentacles and crossing over each others’ slime trail. Soon, though, they went back to ignoring each other.

Maybe they had late night rendezvous we didn’t know about but I worried they just didn’t get along. During the day, Snaily and Bob both preferred to hang out upside down on the lid of the terrarium, always facing opposite directions. At night when they were more active, they would occasionally meet for a drink. But on Friday nights, we treated them to a date night. It was never planned in advance, but somehow the girls and I seemed to crowd around them on Friday nights. I’d sometimes take off the lid and let them run wild a bit. And they did! They’d zoom up and over the top edge as quickly as a one footed thing can, chasing each other and exploring. My favorite was when they would meet on opposite sides of the glass and follow each other. An hour would pass in a blink as we gathered around to watch life move at a slower pace.

RJ, who was the motivator behind all previous pet acquisitions was, at best, uninterested in the snails. And at worst, slightly grossed out. Although he has no problem cleaning out the chicken coop, or the filthy and stinky fish tank of our overgrown goldfish, I would catch him trying to hide a grimace when he glanced at the tank. Where he saw hundreds of tiny black spirals of poop, I saw wonderfully rich soil that could do wonders for our garden. Although I will give him credit for feeding them a carrot which produced orange spirals of poop. That was cool. And the fact that their poop defied gravity. Also cool. I did my best to wipe down the walls every few days, and to freshen up their terrarium with clean water and new plants so RJ’s nose wouldn’t scrunch up. Millie always found good mushrooms for them. I’m pretty sure Georgia and Flora never actually touched the terrarium except to peer in. RJ tolerated them well, but was mostly just surprised to see ME take such interest in a pet. He teased that I did more for those snails than I had done for any of the other pets combined. While that isn’t true, he’s right that they certainly had more of my affection than that huge swimming thing with fins next door. Yuck.

August through October are busy busy months where I often feel overwhelmed. But peering in at Snaily and Bob made the world slow down. While cleaning and cooking and doing hair and homework, I’d catch them on the move and stop what we were doing. Suddenly we’d be hypnotized for a few minutes; just long enough for our heart rates to slow and our breaths to lengthen. They became an unintended but much needed meditation.

Also, their prolific production of poop had me constantly thinking about the cycles and systems of the earth and how we are all connected. Snails role in decomposition got me thinking a lot about dirt. A LOT. so much so that I started reading about compost and started talking a lot about compost. This isn’t a topic many people enjoy, but that didn’t stop me. One day, I was driving Blake to the airport and rambled on and on about dirt. At one point he replied “Wow” and I had instant shame wash over me. How long had I been talking about dirt? How long had he been humoring me? I stopped what I was saying and tried to regroup. I wasn’t sure how to shift the conversation to a more interesting topic. But the pause started him talking about dirt! I started laughing in relief that we had friends who were genuinely into dirt the way I was.

A week or so later a giant box arrived on my porch from the Jacobsons. I couldn’t figure out why they would send anything, let alone something so big. But when I opened the box to discover a compost tumbler it reconfirmed that we are true friends indeed. RJ stood there completely baffled as I laughed, guffawed, snorted and rolled with laughter. I continued to laugh for the next hour as we assembled it. Finally, my laughter faded to chuckles and absolute gratitude for our amazing friends. Indeed, I will have the loamiest garden in all of the land. Even my kids are talking about dirt to their friends now. Heaven help us.

Anyway, back to Snaily and Bob. As much as we enjoyed them, I started to feel anxious about keeping them indoors for winter. Both were seeming to lose their luster and I worried they weren’t healthy or happy. The kids asked that we wait a week before freeing them. I did. The following week I couldn’t bring myself to free them. Another week passed. I promised myself that I would free them before our conference camping trip. Friday morning was weird. It started with our life insurance physicals at 7am. I was doing the girls’ hair with one hand while the lady drew my blood on the other arm. A neighbor called in the middle and needed to drop off her kid for me to take to the bus. I was yelling through the bathroom door for the girls to put on their shoes as I did my urine sample. I finished signing the paperwork as the girls jumped into the car. Once Millie and Georgia were at school I only had a few hours to do all of the camp prep I should’ve done all week. I was packing the camper, prepping the meals, gathering supplies, and of course, because it’s me, I was doing random procrasti-projects like sorting the sock basket. At 10am Megan and I were outside laughing that the other neighbors must’ve thought us lazy in hour pajamas at that hour. But I was sweaty already and didn’t want to create more laundry! So in my old lady nightgown and RJ’s polka dot socks, Flora and I mowed the lawns. I wanted the girls to have a chance to say goodbye, but there just wasn’t any more time. Snaily and Bob were both on the terrarium lid, so I carried it outside, wondering where to re-home them. They’d get eaten by the chickens in our yard. The wooded lot across the street has too many magpies. But the tiny forest diagonal from us is home to songbirds. It seemed like the safest place.

I traipsed over and crunched through the leaves from years past. In the shade of old scrub oak I tugged at Bob. They have some powerfully strong slime, and as gently as I pulled, Bob’s shell softly crunched. I felt awful. Maybe his diet in the terrarium was too low in calcium? Maybe the climate had been too moist? He needed to be back in his natural habitat. I remembered that they can regenerate, took a deep breath and set him into the leaves. Snaily slid off the lid easily and I placed her about 6 inches apart. (For the record, snails are often hermaphrodites so my assigning genders is exclusively from the names the girls gave them). Anyway, they were perfectly camouflaged in the rust colored leaves. They would be safe here. As soon as I set them down, they made their way to each other and looked like they were kissing goodbye or just kissing in relief “We made it! We’re free!”

Admittedly, I got a little emotional. As I walked back home I was glad the street was empty because I’d look like a crazy person in an old lady nightgown, men’s polka dot dress socks, garden shoes and crying over snails. But of course Jeff Speechly drove up and said hi. Thankfully, he already knows I’m crazy.

It’s been a week and a half since I let them go. The counter feels barren and lifeless (don’t tell Swish I said that). Life is too fast without something slow to watch. But at least the compost tumbler is full. And every time I walk by the wooded area I left them, I think of it as their home and I smile.

Snaily and Bob reminded me that all life is connected and part of a great whole. They reminded me to let things take the time they take. They reminded me that decomposition, the breakdown of things, may seem crappy but can be really good at nurturing new growth. Plus, they were just cute.

The High Uintas

Campsite reservations for the year begin in January on a rolling 6 month calendar. So to get into an area we wanted, I had to set an alarm and log on at 6am to fight other campers online for the coveted spots of a holiday weekend in July. Alas, my internet was slow and I got one of the last remaining spots in a campground I didn’t know. But it had been years since I’d been in the Uintas. And by golly, I wanted my kids to have memories there too.

July turned out to be a celebratory explosion alongside busy summer days. A family baptism, Independence Day, big projects, puppy sitting, girls camp, camping at Bear Lake, an eye infection, several birthdays, church commitments, keeping friend’s kids for a few days, an urgent medical situation, houseguests, a family temple trip, a mammogram, sending off a nephew on a mission and another coming home… Not to mention daily life of exercise, chores, piano lessons, cooking and parenting; all in 100 degree heat. It was one of those months where all of the fun started to feel like work. So by the time Pioneer Day weekend came around, our long awaited trip to the Uintas felt like another thing to get through.

The girls normally count down “How many sleeps until camping?” But none of us had enough mental space to even look forward to it. We threw our stuff together haphazardly and hit the road. In spite of the beautiful drive, I was grumpy. And my cycle was determined to keep me that way. So I didn’t exactly show my best side when kids were arguing over listening to a book, needed snacks and potty breaks right away, and complained about the heat. I’m sure RJ was thrilled to spend a weekend in tight quarters with me.

As we drove the Mirror Lake Highway, a thousand memories ran through my mind. From childhood trips to my Great Aunt’s cabin, to a dozen trips with friends and boyfriends, to different service projects. Yet as those flashbacks came and went, this familiar place felt unfamiliar. I was pregnant with Georgia the last time I’d been there for United Way’s day of service. A lot has changed in those 8+ years. Mostly me. And as grumpy as I was (we all were), I was so ready to make memories with the 4 people who own my heart.

The truck was thinking about overheating as we climbed the mountain, but thankfully never fully decided. Thousands of massive but very tidy piles of logs were evenly spaced in the nearby woods, as if an army of perfectionist beavers had come to clear out the old growth. An alpine lake flanked either side of the road as we turned into Lost Creek Campground. Sunlight glittered on the water while heavy clouds moved in. Other than the road, there wasn’t a space you could walk that wouldn’t trample a wildflower. The temperature was a good 20 degrees cooler than at home and the air smelled of pine. I think we took a collective deep breath.

When RJ realized that our particular campsite was facing the opposite angle as the ‘one way’ road, he started holding his breath. The asphalt pad was wide, but it sloped dramatically on either side. But as we all know, there’s nothing RJ can’t do. I blocked the road while RJ backed it in perfectly. Unfortunately, we had hit and bent one of the stabilizers when pulling out of our driveway and couldn’t use it. Things were off to a rocky start, but by gum, we were there.

As gentle rolls of thunder echoed against the mountains, we walked to the campground’s namesake, a lost creek. The girls chased the tiny fish darting around and made their voices echo through the pipe under the bridge. The scenery was incomparable but the company was sick of each other and tired from too many late nights. Someone had to go back to the camper for the bathroom. Someone was mad about a fish-catching situation. Still, we were awed by the tiny creek feeding the lake, a bald eagle soaring overhead and then finally, a timid rainstorm.

On our walk back to the camper we tried to identify the dozens of different types of wildflowers.

As we prepared dinner, RJ and I noticed that the whole campground was so quiet that it felt like we needed to whisper. No generators. No motors. Only the sound of gentle rain, which came and went minute by minute.

After dinner it seemed like we could attempt a campfire, but the off and on rain got a little heavier and snuffed it out. There were more squabbles. But RJ pulled out his tricks and played ‘shark attack’ (a game he made up) and stoplight. Millie had noticed a boy wearing a Pokemon hoodie at an adjacent campsite and finally worked up her nerve to introduce herself. Soon, all three girls were chattering about their new friend. He was about their age, raced around on his big trike, and was very smiley. He communicated more with expression and sounds than with words. That’s no barrier for kids, so they played and chatted endlessly. Georgia led a rousing game of pirates using the back of the truck as their ship. I wanted to ride the motorcycle, but as it felt so sacredly quiet in camp, I didn’t want to ruin it. Millie and I also spent a good while in the river. Alas, the evening and rain eventually pushed everyone inside.

The grumpies seemed to have lifted a bit by bedtime. We played Uno and told stories until the thunder lulled the girls into silence. RJ and I whispered until we too fell asleep.

When the rain got stronger, Millie woke up worrying about the people in tents. Were they too cold? Were they wet? Would they be okay? Trying to keep the others asleep, I lay next to her and we took turns telling stories. Our whispering must have been a bit too enthusiastic, because soon Flora and then Georgia were listening in. Once Millie’s brain had recalibrated, she told the most enchanting story. We went several more rounds with stories until we got everyone back to sleep.

After breakfast the clouds began to burn off and blow out but the forest was still dark and wet. It certainly seemed like the place for fairies and mythical things. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the girls were determined to look for treasures left by “Rumplestiltskin.”

As much as I tried to explain that he only visits the particular place we camp with the Sinfields (cough cough Andrea), they were all the more convinced he had left something for them. As we slipped around on moss and slick rocks, and climbed over decaying logs, they were equally disappointed in Rumplestiltskin as they were awed by the forest. I’ll call it a win. And frankly, I don’t want a weird guy leaving anything for my girls in the woods!

As the sun warmed things up we loaded into the truck to do some exploring. The kids weren’t thrilled but RJ knows this is my favorite part and rallied the troops. We spent a couple of hours stopping at overlooks, trailheads, lakes and points of interest. We oohed and ahhed. Lilly Lake, felt secluded among trees as we bounced the spongy grass over to its waters, positively bedecked with blooms, the whole scene tinged with green, and nary a soul in sight.

We looked at tiny bugs and distant peaks. We talked nature. The kids may have complained a little but I was happy so it didn’t bother me. Finally, when the kids were ready for lunch, we headed back to camp. We passed a few groups of backpackers and I chuckled at how every scout master I’d ever known bragged about how they “did the High Uintas.” How exactly do you DO the High Uintas? Since we were sleeping on mattresses I’m pretty sure we didn’t DO the High Uintas. Maybe we just went to the middle Uintas?

After sandwiches, the girls each wandered off to their own pleasure. Flora had pulled a sturdy weed and spent a solid hour standing in front of a tree, just whacking it, lost in some sort of happy daze. Millie played with Pokemon boy. I took everyone on motorcycle rides. We followed Lost Creek to find Lost Lake, which was the quintessential alpine lake with granite peaks contrasting with the silvery water and fishermen pulling in trout. It was almost too cliche that a kayaker paddled over to point out a bald eagle perched above us.

Georgia and RJ stayed there to have some one-on-one time. Flora and Millie and I walked a hundred yards away to another small lake that was like the lovechild of Lost Lake and Lilly Lake (how fitting it was nestled between them). Millie encouraged Flora to come swim in the water and I watched them from shore, amazed at their confidence in exploring, their sisterly bond, and the fact that I was their mom, and the one to be creating these spectacular experiences for them. I don’t get a lot of things right in parenting. But in that moment, I felt like I’d done something good.

Once we all reunited at camp, the girls played with their friend again while RJ and I made dinner. The evening was relaxed, and we got a little more campfire than the night before, though the rain came back in the afternoon just like it had the day before. It felt so good to be NOT sweating profusely for the first time since April, and to be far from the busy life we love at home, and its accompanying pressures and responsibilities. Laying in bed that night, Flora gurgled songs endlessly to herself, which was a pleasant lullaby for us all. Millie got scared again, but once armed with the amber glow of my book light, she found herself empowered enough to get to sleep for a few hours before smooshing between us until morning.

Sunday was more of the same, though we had to hustle back for a church meeting in the afternoon. It wasn’t a perfect trip. It had plenty of lows. But boy, it sure had a lot of perfect moments. I get grumpy. The kids squabble. RJ gets tired. But in the midst of all that there is magic. Not in spite of all that. In the midst. And sometimes because of all that. Like when Flora and Georgia are at each others’ throats and then apologize and laugh their heads off. Or when I’m snarky and RJ makes a joke out of it and I can’t help but laugh. Or when Millie wakes up scared during a rainstorm and worries about people in tents and we make up stories and she tells me about ‘the wind singing, the stars dancing, and the darkness becoming (her) friend’. I’d never want to miss the magic, so I’ll take whatever comes with it too.

I Think You’re Wrong But I’m Listening

(Title stolen from one of my favorite books)

One morning this week Flora and I found ourselves at odds. Something she’d done had made me sad and I asked for a few minutes alone to make lunch. When I went to get her, she was under her bed crying. She thought that because her actions led to my sadness, she was “badder than anybody in the whole world” and that “No one can love (her) anymore.” I wrapped her in a hug and told her there is nothing in this whole world she could do or say that would make me stop loving her. I told her that STUFF doesn’t matter, she matters. That I can love her when I’m sad and I even love her when I’m mad. We had a sweet reconciliation and she went to preschool knowing she is cherished. My heart is heavy that my precious daughter ever questioned that she was loved. But I’m so grateful she was willing to share her feelings. It was a good chance for me to reflect on how I treat her and I plan to make some changes.

Most of us tend to avoid conflict. We hide our feelings and pretend like everything is okay when it’s not. We often feel that conflict is a sign of problems in relationships. In truth, conflict is inevitable. Conflict is evidence of our connectedness.

All relationships have roughly the same amount of conflict. It’s HOW we deal with it that determines the health of a relationship. From my personal experience, the best way to develop intimacy or connectedness is actually from REPAIR. I feel closest to RJ and my kids when we have worked through a conflict. I feel most disconnected from them when we ignore a conflict, or let it fester and turn into jabs and snark.

When my kids fight, my instinct is to shut it down fast. STOP FIGHTING! But when I get over my own discomfort at how they’re doing it (and maybe coach them just a smidgen), I’m amazed at how they work things out on their own. They share all of their unfiltered thoughts. They make compromises. They forgive. They are laughing in 5 minutes, closer than ever.

In scripture, Nephi explains to his beloved son that we need opposition in ALL things or life would be without purpose. Opposition itself is essential for the plan of God.

 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

2 Nephi 2: 11-12

In day to day life, though, conflict doesn’t feel like the wisdom of God. It feels like everyone who doesn’t see things my way is an idiot. We are at the point now that controversial conversations happen one of three ways. Either we don’t talk about it, or we only talk about it with people we know agree with us (pushing us further into our closed minds), or we blast each other like two countries in a nuclear war. These approaches are dangerous at best and catastrophic at worst.

Modern American culture makes us hate our neighbor because of a single Facebook post. The same neighbor who would rescue you from a burning house is now “what’s wrong with America” because of who they vote for. (For the record, I’m absolutely guilty of this kind of judgment. I’m trying to repent.)

We have gotten to the point that our labels (Republican/Democrat, member of the church/non-member, white/minority, etc.) have become such key parts of our identity that we think of anyone else as ‘other’. We forget that all of us are part of the same human family; all of us children of God. We forget that those who have a different worldview have come by that perspective through a lifetime of experiences just as valid as ours.

Different perspectives can enrich our lives. Close one eye. You can still see pretty well but you’ll soon realize your depth perception and range of vision are limited. Hearing each other’s perspectives are like two eyes looking at the same thing. With enough other perspectives, we’re like bees with their compound eyes!

Debate is not a dirty word. Dialogue is not the same thing as contention. Whether it’s talking about abortion or the “right way to fold towels”, we have to learn to respectfully tolerate different ideas. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Which is a whole blog post of it’s own as it benefits every area of our lives. Growth doesn’t happen in the comfort zone.

A lot of hot topics happen at the intersection of religion and politics. We often feel like our values and principles are being threatened by the “other side” and we need to stand up for our beliefs. Something I believe would help is to remember that principles and policies are NOT THE SAME.

When I was working for my church, there were several significant changes to programs, and to the Church Handbook of Instructions. Sometimes these changes were not received well. I often found myself talking to people about how programs and policies change depending on circumstances and/or how we interpret principles and doctrine. Programs/policies are intended to support principles/values which are drawn from doctrine/core beliefs. We do our best, and God blesses our efforts. But as circumstances change, so do programs and policies. And also, sometimes we flat-out get them wrong. (Like when the church withdrew priesthood rites from people of color. It was not because of doctrine. It was because of the political environment and persecution the church was receiving at the time.) I’m grateful to know the difference between policies and doctrine.

In politics it gets even messier. We often attach our values to specific policies. i.e. “If I believe in the sanctity of life I have to be pro-life.” But policies are not the same as principles and cannot encompass them. If they could, in this one example, someone could not be pro-life AND pro-death sentence AND pro-gun rights. In reality, someone can believe in the sanctity of life and feel that banning abortion is not the answer, but instead there should be better ways of preventing the demand for abortion. To every principle, and to every policy, there is too much nuance. But in public dialogue there isn’t much space for nuance. And who has the bandwidth to fully understand every issue?! So we ask our political party to do it for us and we wave their flag assuming they’re making virtuous policies that align with our personal beliefs. That’s too much to ask of a policy or a political party. It cannot do all of the thinking for us. So let’s stop hating our neighbors because they vote differently. When we prioritize our differences over our sameness, it makes it pretty darn hard to keep the great commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself.

When sensitive topics come up, be they personal or public issues, we often feel like we need to have a ready answer for everything. Maybe we don’t want to appear uninformed. Or maybe we have just become generally reactive or overconfident in our own thinking. But it’s okay to need time to process an issue and revisit it when we can ACT intentionally instead of REACT to the moment. Even mid-conversation it’s okay, and maybe even wise, to ask for the space and time to metabolize something.

Not every conflict has a solution. Sometimes we have to continue forward with no compromise. This is uncomfortable. But we can be caring and compassionate without agreeing. When we model for each other that the relationship is not threatened by the conflict, we can find workarounds. But sometimes conflict tells us that the relationship needs to end. And that’s okay too. Conflict is an indicator of each party’s willingness to connect.

I’ve taken those quizzes to identify my “love language” and I’ve tried to figure out the love languages for my family members too. I wish there was a quiz to tell me the “fight language” of each of us. Is it to shame each other? Ice them out? Shut down? Be passive aggressive? Recognizing my own, and my loved ones’ tendencies for conflict would be so helpful in overcoming them and reaching understanding. Maybe I wont figure that out. But if I remember that I don’t need to manage and control and fix them, that should help. If I remember that we generally share the same objectives, even if we go about them differently, that helps. If I remember that connection is deepened not through perfection but through repairs, that helps too. And what helps most of all is to just shut up and listen, without readying my rebuttal. Or in the wise words of Sarah and Beth from Pantsuit Politics, “I think you’re wrong. But I’m listening.”

See something. Say something. Sorted.

May 2022

As we pulled our luggage into the London Euston Station, I heard the wailing cries of a miserable child. I assumed it was a toddler who was overtired and hungry from travel, with a loving parent attending them.

As we rounded the bend into the waiting area I saw that it was no toddler and there was no loving attendant. She was a little girl around the age of my own daughters. Well dressed and hair well plaited, but wildly screaming and thrashing about. The woman I assume was her mother held her by the wrist and screamed at her.

The scene was not a momentary situation but kept on for several minutes. I looked around in shock as literally hundreds of people ignored the situation entirely. One woman adjacent to the scene did lean over to say something to the mother. Maybe offering help? But the others, nonplussed, acted as though it didn’t exist. At one point the mother pinned her to the floor with her foot while holding her by the wrist and using her other hand to talk on the phone. The woman’s body language was not one of stress. This was normal.

I couldn’t stop staring. My chest was tight. I had a lump in my throat.

I could think of likely scenarios. This might be a child with autism who was highly disregulated. This might be an immigrant family whose culture normalized more physical discipline. But in none of the scenarios could I find justification to pin a child to the ground with your foot while they screamed.

I kept saying “What can we do?” when Megan pointed to the Transit Police sign that says “See something. Say something. Sorted.” I quickly messaged them. Our platform was announced and we hustled on our way.

I wasn’t a hero. But I didn’t do nothing.

Across the pond in my home country there was a far worse situation unfolding. Yet another school shooting took the lives of 19 children and 2 adults. Kids who were celebrating the last week of school are now dead in an instant.

And just like the train station where no one knew what to do so they did nothing, our lawmakers and citizens stand around quietly.

When I attended ‘Back to school night’ before Georgia entered kindergarten I walked through the school with the gruesome thought ‘how easy it would be for a killer to get into this classroom’.

They have active shooter drills. And the school has since installed a locked door. Helpful responses to symptoms but nothing to address the root issue. It’s like ‘preventing’ rape by telling girls to wear modest clothes instead of teaching boys to control themselves. It puts the burden on the victim and not on the perpetrator.

Yes, we should do our best to protect ourselves from unexpected harm. But I feel like we often ignore the root causes of the harm because they’re too big. They’re systemic. There is no clear (or agreed upon) path forward. Maybe it doesn’t feel like ‘our’ problem to solve. So we do nothing. And at such a cost.


July 2022

It’s been 7 weeks since I wrote those paragraphs. Since then, dozens more shootings have taken place. I had been losing sleep over these. I had been mourning the senseless losses of life as I watched my beautiful girls move through the world, safe and free. For a few weeks I would enter a public space with eyes wide open, making a mental plan for escape or protection, trying not to appear nervous to RJ or the girls. I couldn’t go anywhere without envisioning guns, blood, and bodies. But the invisible tragedies, thankfully, unfolded only in my mind. In public, high alert was my baseline.

And then, kind of like the pandemic, I just kind of went back to normal, when things still aren’t “normal”. Yes, I called my representatives. Yes, I had conversations with my kids and others. But just like at the train station, my actions felt grossly inadequate. They were barely more than nothing.

Covid continues to take lives. Mass shootings continue to take lives. But it’s no longer new news. And because it’s not new, and because it’s not (currently) personal to me, it doesn’t feel as urgent. But to those who have lost loved ones, it will stay fresh forever.


September 2022

These words have languished in my ‘drafts’ folder because I don’t know what to do with them. It’s all so depressing. I don’t have an encouraging quote to make it okay.

And maybe that’s okay. Maybe I need to stay uncomfortable with this. Life isn’t as easy as the UK transit police make it sound. There’s a problem? See something, say something, sorted!

I wish saying something was enough to get things sorted. I do believe that words have power. But mostly because words impel me to DO. I think words are the spiritual creation of something and then doing is the physical creation.

But maybe there’s something to the transit police motto. Maybe it is a formula for a path forward. First, identify the issue. Second, talk about it. Third, sort it out – DO SOMETHING. We don’t have to rally for every problem we identify. We can’t be the change-makers for everything. But we can do more than nothing. Even if it’s only a little. For some issues, maybe all we can do is text the transit police. For another issue maybe we confront the abusive mother. For another maybe we lobby for new laws. Only we can decide what we are called to do.

But we can do more than nothing. If it’s something we are willing to see (acknowledge) and say (complain about) then we can sort it (do something. Anything.)

We can do more than nothing. Maybe that’s not enough. But maybe it is.