Stop, Look and Listen

We were playing in the front yard as a car drove down the street. One and half year old Millie darted into the road. Sprinting, I snatched her from the asphalt. In a moment of fear, I did something I’d never done before and spanked her tiny bottom, scolding her “NEVER GO IN THE ROAD WITHOUT MOMMY!” She cried, and I cried. It wasn’t either of our proudest moments, but we have never made those same mistakes again!

Last Sunday on a family walk, Millie sprinted ahead of us toward the intersection. As I saw her at full speed only a few feet away from a fairly busy road, I had a moment of panic. Millie stopped suddenly with her arms flailing upwards, both toes exactly on the crack where the cement meets the asphalt. She turned around and smiled at me while we caught up. When we were together, we did what we always do. “Stop, Look and Listen” “Is it safe?” Then we crossed the road holding hands. Sweet Millie has learned how to control her impulses and stay safe.

Monday morning was rainy. I came home from the gym a few minutes before the girls woke up so I started some bread dough and began scrubbing the bathrooms. In my cleaning reverie, a clear impression came to my mind. “You need to be a better listener”. I had, in years long past, considered myself a good listener, so this came as a bit of a rub. But I pondered on it.

My self-evaluation was conclusive. There is definite room for improvement. Motherhood has helped me hone several skills. But listening is not one of them. I’ve begun to assume I know the whole story, tune out, become minimally responsive to the constant clamoring, or even cut them off and launch into correction-mode, telling them what I think they need to hear.

After receiving that gentle nudge from the Holy Ghost, I listened to a fantastic podcast that talked about helping kids with big emotions.  They said that times of big emotion, especially negative emotion, are great opportunities for CONNECTION.  That is a considerable mind-shift for me. Of course I relish the good big emotions, but those negative storms – sheesh – I don’t always receive those graciously. But on Monday, I made the determination to choose connection over comfort, and embrace the big emotions of all sorts.

It was a transcendent day. “Opportunities for connection” were plentiful, and I welcomed them. For unknown reasons, Millie seems to be having a rougher patch, and so most of those moments were with her. When I was scrubbing toilets she pleaded to sit atop my shoulders, and Flora was determined to help. It wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t sanitary, but it was a sweet moment I would never have otherwise indulged. Tantrums were averted and memories made. After I finished the bathrooms and got in the shower with Flora, and Millie went to play with Georgia. A squabble ensued and she came to me, tearstained and barely able to express what happened through the sobs. Instead of my usual responses, I simply listened and validated her feelings. When she was through I asked if there was anything I could do for her. She took a deep breath, and said “No, I’m okay, mom.” and walked out of the room calmly. Who knew that 3 year olds were just like adults and sometimes just need someone to LISTEN not fix?! During the witching hour, Millie did end up losing her mind over something. It was absolutely trivial, but I was able to comprehend that it was major to Millie. I couldn’t convince her of anything so I just sat quietly until her flame went out, then she snuggled into my lap and I just held her for a few minutes. The whole day was full of moments where my responses lead to peace. It was incredible. AND EXHAUSTING. By bedtime I was absolutely wiped out. And proud. And determined that henceforth and forever I shall be a LISTENING MOM!

Tuesday was okay. Wednesday was halfway horrible. Thursday was rotten. There were stressors outside of the home that may have consumed a lot of my emotional energy. Maybe the hormone shift from weaning sapped me more. Sleep deprivation probably didn’t help. Why couldn’t every day just be a repeat of Monday? Why couldn’t I just be nice?

Thursday night, I prayed, nay, BEGGED Heavenly Father to help me not be so angry. Friday I awoke renewed to Tuesday levels. A vast improvement. We had dear friends , the Stutz family, over for our Jerusalem Dinner. Theresa and I were sharing our war stories of the week and she gave me a fitting analogy. My spiritual impressions and the success that followed on Monday was a bicycle lesson with Heavenly Father holding onto the back of my seat, cheering me on. On Tuesday, the training wheels were taken off. I crashed and burned. And forgot to wear a helmet. But I know what it feels like to ride, and I’m learning how to balance. I can keep trying. I can learn to listen, eventually with more stamina.

What I learned in my bike lesson, though, was powerful. When I STOP jumping to conclusions, and really LOOK at the person I’m with, I can LISTEN with true empathy and pure love. Sometimes listening, alone, can be a solution. I can often prevent a breakdown by noticing emotions when they are small and choosing CONNECTION over convenience. And when my best efforts aren’t enough and compassion runs out before the hard moment is over, I can always say I’m sorry. I can always try again. A little quiet and a little fresh air usually refuel me wonderfully.

Advertisements

The ‘Roids

If the saying “Poop or get off the pot” makes you uncomfortable, then I suggest you log off now. This is all about uncomfortable poop. You’ve been warned. (This is the part where RJ walked out of the room cringing, begging me not to post this. Ginny, I’m guessing this is where I leave you too.)

IMG_7498.jpg

Politics, religion, white or wheat or gluten free bread… So many big divisive issues. But there is one thing I believe few will admit to openly, but everyone can agree on. Taking a nice, healthy poop is one of life’s sweet pleasures. You feel lighter, cleaner, energized and (lets be honest) accomplished. You walk out of the bathroom with a slight spring in your step, and feeling powerful… maybe even proud.

Children, bless their hearts, have robbed me, one by one, of so many of life’s sweet pleasures. (Yes, yes, they’ve also added millions of life’s sweet pleasures but that’s not what this is about.) In the process of forming and then “rocket launching” three children (my OB’s description of my births, not mine) I have suffered many an injury. Of course there is the standard ‘cross your legs before you sneeze’, there are the “tiger stripes” (stretch marks) accompanied by extra squish, the better to hug me with… There was even the nerve damage that had me temporarily in the depths of hell. But then, there were THE ‘ROIDS.

Hemorrhoids just sound gross. As a kid, I didn’t know what they were, but I knew it was something old people were embarrassed about. When I learned that it was basically your bum falling out, I was horrified. Also, lets be honest, a little curious… I mean, what does that even mean?! But of course I was never so curious that I would actually try to find the answer, because HORRIFIED. Now, knowing what I know, I think a Google search of the word should, by law, also turn up results for therapists to help you process any images you see.

But then, thank you blessed little babies of mine, it happened to me. Keeping hygienic, thankfully, wasn’t an issue as mine were mainly internal. But being robbed of a quick and healthy evacuation was quite depressing.  There went that spring in my step. That power. That PRIDE! With each child the pain and constipation got worse. Food waste has to go somewhere, though. So instead of coming out, it packed itself onto my hips and thighs. Glorious. Add insult to injury. Thanks.

After Flora was born I was thrilled about the prospect of  reclaiming my body one piece at a time, starting with my derrière. I clearly remember the surgeon casually saying that recovery would be painful for about a month, but oh, how a sitz bath would make things right! I’d be good as new and a happy crapper in no time!

I had just miraculously formed a perfect human being out of my own guts and then launched her out into the world with the power of KEGALS! Basically, I was invincible. This would be nothing.

HOW WRONG I WAS.

If I ever see that surgeon again, there is a high probability that I punch him him in the throat. Or maybe just break down and sob. In my post-baby-pre-surgery haze, I didn’t fully absorb the description of the surgery. It had sounded perky! I remember words like umbrella and relief! Afterwards, the visual description of it would haunt me. First, they would insert a long tube into my tailpipe, whose purpose was to gather all of the internal vessels that were so painfully inflamed. Then they would send up an umbrella that would pop out of the top and CLAMP down on said vessels, shearing them off, and simultaneously staple around the full circumference. (I just had a nasty shiver pass over me as I typed that.)

Surgery happened on a frozen December morning. In the murky waters of anesthesia, I swam towards consciousness, unaware of anything but how cold I was.  Shivering uncontrollably, I tried to open my eyes, scanning for help. Through the haze I saw a nurse beside me looking at a computer screen. YES! Someone with unlimited access to those splendidly sterile hot blankets that wrap you with sunlight and joy! I didn’t yet have access to my voice, but I turned my head to her in pleading desperation, sure that she would bring me the lifesaving warmth of those scratchy, sterile bits of heaven.

With the bedside manner of a spooked porcupine, she maintained her glazed stare on the computer and snapped “Stop shaking!”  Yes, obviously this was a thing I was doing for fun. Clearly it was my attempt to spoil her solitaire game.  She held her gaze on the monitor. I continued my rebellious shiver. A few minutes later she growled “Seriously, just hold still.” In retrospect, I realize she was the perfect greeter to welcome me at the gates of hell.

A moment later, I forced Nurse Porcupine to look at me by exuberantly vomiting the remnants of my optimism. The following hour felt as if they had frozen me in that critical moment when babies were crowning – intense pressure –  combined with the fiery sensation you have after a week of diarrhea; RJ Calls it “Sting Ring”. For added intensity they included the feeling of having a regular sized bladder full of one gallon of tiny liquid knives.

Because of her graciousness and our close bond (or hospital regulations), Nurse Porcupine accompanied me to the bathroom, no less than a dozen times, where in spite of the gallon of tiny liquid knives and my determination to expel them, I was continually incapable of urinating. In my medicated state, my soul was shattered by this. Shattered. After each failed attempt I returned to my hospital bed to puke or shiver. As you can imagine, this endeared me further to Nurse Porcupine.

That would be the least of my troubles.

I was discharged and sent home as the anesthesia was wearing off. The combination of wonky head and anal agony was enough to make me regret every bad decision I, or anyone I knew, had ever made. I prayed with fervor, begging forgiveness for that time I lied when I was 8, for that time I was rude to my Sunday School teacher, and for not always picking up litter when I see it. I begged forgiveness for humanity.

Somehow there remained a sliver of optimism that I would be okay. It took me a couple of hours to realize I couldn’t feign wellness at dinner with all of the Bishopric and their wives. While RJ went to dinner, indicating that I was home with the children, Valerie came over to make sure the children and myself stayed alive. All I remember is laugh-crying. That’s it. Sometimes amnesia is a blessing.

Now for recovery, there’s a few background pieces of information that will help you fully appreciate what I experienced. The aftermath of childbirth,  how Millie and I developed empathy for each other, and then don’t forget my description of the first hour after surgery.

Any woman who has given birth understands that there is no fear like the fear of the first poop after birth. A semi-truck has just driven itself through your body, crashing on its way out, leaving you bruised, swollen, bleeding, and nothing in its rightful place. Then you’re supposed to let a car drive through the debris, without an epidural, and hope it doesn’t kill you. You’re sure it will. Much more could be said on this matter, but just remember FEAR AND PAIN.

Now, let’s back up about one month. Georgia and Millie were downright pumped about having a baby sister. But everyone warns you that kids will show signs of stress when a new baby comes. Georgia was unfazed. Millie, who loved Flora more than anyone and was more cuddly than ever, suddenly became anal retentive.

In addition to my full-time job as milk-maker for Flora, I took on the side-hustle of being a Poop Doula for Millie. As soon as I noticed Millie’s not-so-subtle signs that she had one coming, I’d pull back my hair, kneel down, and start coaching, usually while still nursing. There was the delicate art of encouraging her to the toilet. Millie had become easily spooked and very resistant, so I attempted every form of persuasion known to man to coax her to the toilet. By the time she was willing, it was nearly always because her body was in crisis mode. But as I learned from sleep training her as an infant, there is NOT A SOUL on the planet with a stronger will (or sphincter) than Little Millie Bea.

Once she was on the toilet, I kicked into labor coaching. While she was red-faced and screaming “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!” I was cheering “You’ve got this, Millie! Here it comes! PUUUUUUUSHH!! Thats okay, we’re almost there! You’re crowning! PUUUUUUSH! HURRAYYYYYYYY YOU DID IT!!!!! YAY MILLIE! ICE CREAM FOR EVERYONE!!!” Then I would hold her as she trembled and cried, recovering from birthing a baseball made of pain.

IMG_7497.jpg

For about two months, and then sloooooowly, slowly slowly diminishing over the next few months, there was not a single moment that I wasn’t intensely aware of my rear end. Every. Single. Second. For months, without any relief, I had that crowning/sting-ring sensation, and LIVED in that first-poop-post-childbirth fear.

Sitting was tricky. Getting around was awkward. Even strangers were asking why I was walking funny. When people dug hard enough, I would eventually tell them why. Nearly all of them blushed and stopped asking questions. Their embarrassment was cute. Perhaps I should have been embarrassed. Prior to this surgery, I thought motherhood had stripped me of any remaining dignity I had ever had. Now I know you can actually go into dignity debt. I am now dignity bankrupt.

Millie, having been on the receiving end of my doula/birth coaching, was now qualified to be on the giving end. A few times a day she would follow me into the bathroom and cheer me on “You tan do it, Mommy! Dood job! You deeeyittt!” while I cried and shook. I would instantly jump into a “sitz bath” where the pain would subside from a 10, to an 8, and all three of my daughters would be present to witness my sobbing. Thankfully, I had already relinquished my privacy and dignity, so instead of being mortified by this, I was actually impressed with their empathy! They called me BRAVE! and TOUGH! and cheered me on. God bless those precious little creatures.

I’m glad we took a handful of pictures because I have no memories of Christmas. All I remember from that month was pain. Surgery destroyed me. Or maybe it made me invincible. After that, nothing fazed me.

In January I went under the knife again, to remove pre-cancerous growths from my cervix. Easy.

A week after that, an artery blew in my cervix and I began to hemorrhage in the middle of the night. I was passing hamburger sized clots and joking with the medical staff as they put me under for emergency surgery. They suggested I stick around to rest a bit, but I checked myself out, took a shower and nursed Flora, and went immediately to Morgan to listen to my amazing Mother in Law speak in her ward. So worth it.

IMG_7500.jpg

Four weeks after that, I had an emergency appendectomy, after which my oxygen and blood pressure wouldn’t rise and I had to stay in the hospital. RJ brought Flora to nurse and I remember relishing that moment, that I was able to support life, even after my own had been at risk twice in a month. I left the hospital and went to my niece’s baptism and the next day we blessed Flora. All of this before she was four months old.

IMG_7499.jpg

And then, slowly and quietly, normalcy returned. I could once again prepare REAL meals for my family. I was allowed to lift up my kids and shop at Costco again! I could keep up with my chores again. I could walk without people thinking I was trying to hold a grapefruit between my thighs. I COULD EVEN GO TO THE BATHROOM WITHOUT CRYING! Glory be. Life was good.

So was my hemorrhoidectomy  worth it? Giving up all shreds of dignity, feeling as if my bottom was the site of a terrorist attack, and lowering my standards of living to nearly third world levels?

Ummmmm. Well….

If you notice a spring in my step I guess you’ll have your answer.

IMG_7496.jpg

 

Dear Returning Missionary

The last few days in the mission all seem to tattoo themselves into your memory, vividly, right as they’re happening. Everything seems so poignant and nostalgia for RIGHT NOW heightens your senses, as you take in every sight, smell, and feeling for the last time. No matter how ready you are to be home, you want to finish strong.

You’re excited – and scared.

And then WHAM.

It’s over.

Forever.

You are greeted by a boisterous crowd at the airport (or, for some of us, nobody. And that’s fine too.)  You report, which feels incredible, except that then they release you, which feels…. ALL the feels.

And then you’re supposed to wear “normal” clothes. Your old clothes probably don’t fit as well, and that seems symbolic too. Like your soul has changed shape over the past couple of years and you are now trying to put it back into its old container. It doesn’t feel right. But shopping seems weird too. You feel weathered and new at the same time. How do you clothe a new soul when it feels so out of place? (In that vein… Aunt Ginny says when I cam home, I stood in the shampoo aisle for half an hour, smelling them all and being too overwhelmed by the options to pick one.)

People are so happy to see you, and you’re happy to see them too! Yet there is this unsettling empty feeling with each interaction. Maybe if you could just share a little scripture or say a prayer with them you’d feel better. But that’s not as socially acceptable without the little black name tag. A few people you served with contact you and you can talk for HOURS. With them you can process the memories and relive the glory that it all happened. You love your family and you’re so glad to be with them again….Family is like a Thanksgiving feast but mission friends are cold water to a parched throat.

So life starts. You hang out with friends. You look for a job, or sign up for school. You feel like you’re living a dual life and part of you is still there, back in the mission.  Those relationships and experiences seem more natural than forcing yourself back into your old life, which in reality has died, although no one knows that but you. But you forge onward, even though you’ll probably still be measuring time in 6 week “transfers” until companions all come home. You know its over, but things still feel unfinished.

As soon as the first greetings are over, you get a little frustrated. Everyone is just living their ordinary lives. WHY ISN’T ANYONE OUT PREACHING FROM THE ROOFTOPS?! Its like all of these “good people” have forgotten how important the gospel is. Don’t they know they should be sharing the good news, loudly, with every person they encounter? Don’t they know how lucky they are to have a temple so close? Why on earth would they spend so much time watching TV and so little time studying the scriptures?! And they think *you* are weird?!

Oh, returned missionary, some people want you to “get back to normal” as fast as possible. Don’t.  HOLD ON TO THAT WEIRDNESS AS LONG AS YOU CAN. That craving for scripture, that anxious willingness to serve others, that NEED to be God’s hands… It will shift and morph and, sadly, diminish as the months go on. So BE weird. For as long as you possibly can. Get up early to study. Go to the temple a million times. Talk to strangers about Jesus. Heck, wear dressier clothes. Wait to rejoin social media or social circles until it feels right. It’s fine. “Normalcy” will be there when you’re ready for it. Keeping yourself as ‘missionary’ as you want to be can soften the blow of reality.

Some lucky returned missionaries fall right back into step and follow a linear course of progression: School, marriage, kids, career. But for many of us, it felt more like two steps backward, one step forward, three steps sideways, twirl 8 times, two steps forward. The mission had a very clearly defined purpose and structure. You absolutely KNEW if you were doing the right thing, minute by minute and month by month. You could often see that obedience brings blessings and exact obedience brings miracles. After the mission, things get more nebulous and the future feels so vast. There are a million “right things” a million more unknowns, a million ways to lose your way or at least feel like your “purpose” has gone missing.

Just know, returned missionary, that this dark, cloudy, vast unknown, has a purpose of its own. It will, if you reach for Him, connect you to God in new ways. When you feel alone, you can connect deeply with the Savior as he said “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When you don’t know which decision to make, you can stretch your wings of agency and see that the Lord will bless your efforts. When you find yourself in a stupor, you can simply keep trying until something feels right. THAT my friends, is true faith. Feeling your way through the darkness is how the faith you gained in the mission becomes cemented and real.

It may be hard to believe, but the best part of your “mission” is yet to come. You just became your own investigator. Be gentle with yourself, because conversion, that great BECOMING, takes time.

love,

Christy

Paid in Full

We moved into this house when I was 6 months pregnant with Millie. When it was built in 1989 it was, most certainly, the trendiest house on the block. Honey oak from top to bottom, flashy brass fixtures in every room, floral wallpaper, pink carpet, pink tiles, pink toilet, pink jetted tub, and of course, multiple phone jacks in every room – especially by each toilet. They thought of everything.  If Pinterest had existed back then, you’d have pinned every room on your “dream house” board. Or maybe you would now. Pink is timeless. Brass says class.

I have little regard for class, so my first objective upon moving in, was to change EVERYTHING but the bones of the house. Compelled by my unstoppable nesting instinct, I hoisted my whale-esque body onto ladders to replace light fixtures. I grabbed screwdrivers out of 18-month-old-Tornado-Georgia’s hands right as they entered electrical outlets.  I sanded and stained bathroom cabinets. I spent days reaching around my yoga-ball belly with a razor blade and scraper in hand to remove wallpaper. I hauled a dozen 5 gallon buckets of paint up and down stairs, and enlisted the family army to help me paint ceilings and walls. I ripped up carpet. (Okay, okay, RJ probably helped. A little. Or a lot. And maybe some other people worked their guts out too. Whatever. This isn’t about them. But seriously, THANK HEAVENS for them.)

In spite of our intense productivity, the most important task of painting the kitchen cabinets just wasn’t getting done. What kind of impression would it make on this precious baby if she was welcomed into a home with HONEY OAK CABINETS?! No. Something had to be done. I scoured the internet for painters with good reviews and acceptable prices. I got bids. I selected the contractor who could get the work done the week before Millie was due, and also had the lowest price.

To my delight, he called saying he was “ahead of schedule” and would like to start working two weeks before Millie was due. Each day at the appointed hour, I waited with bated breath (or maybe just short breath – there was a massive creature smashing my organs and lungs). Each day after a few hours I’d call him and he’d have an excuse. Contractors, right?! Typical.  Finally, on Millie’s due date, when I’d been in labor for 18 hours, he calls and says he’s on his way. Blessed be. Perhaps he could get a lot of the work done while I was in the hospital. Aunt Ginny is leery. She questions why I hired an octogenarian whose breathing sounds like if an accordion and a bagpipe had a baby and that baby had emphysema. I am unfazed. Nesting, remember. THE WORK WILL GO ON.

We brought our precious bundle home and opened the door to a maze of plastic curtains – the kind you see in movies where either a serial killer or a person in a hazmat suit emerges. The cabinet doors were missing, and so was the contractor. For days.

Finally,  he shows up and paints a little bit. Around lunchtime he gives RJ a desperate story about taxes being due that day and something about legal/financial troubles with an ex wife. RJ is filled with compassion. I am filled with distrust and irritation (and also milk and pain… you know, from childbirth)  This gentle old man is surely good for his word and will finish the work this week. He’s cleared his schedule for us! As you know, RJ’s compassion is equally matched by my nesting instinct. He wrote a check to pay him in full.  He left to cash it immediately.

A week passes with my calls going unanswered and unreturned. Finally, enraged, I leave a strongly worded voicemail about how we had done him the huge favor of paying him in full and he needed to fulfill the contract immediately or ELSE. An hour later, I get a return call. From his daughter.

He’s dead.

Could we please stop harassing his family? They’ve got a funeral to prepare. RJ meets the widow at the shop and picks up our cabinet doors (first layer painted).

So yeah…. that’s the story of why, three and a half years later, my cabinets still need to be finished, and why you should always, always, listen to Ginny when she says something is a bad idea.

BUT THEN…

A few months later, the 3-stories-high pine tree that was placed smack-dab in the middle of the open grassy area of the backyard was really irking us. I’d had a bid to have it felled, but we hadn’t acted on it. I was in SLC when RJ called and said a “very strange looking man” had knocked on the door and asked if we needed any trees cut down. His bid was a little less than the REPUTABLE, LICENSED AND INSURED company. I asked RJ if he was licensed? No. Insured? No. Will he give us a written contract? No. I reminded RJ of the time I hired an unlicensed company to cut a tree for me and how they tied up my neighbors chicken UNDER the tree, strapped themselves with ropes and chainsaws dangling over my neighbors fence, and how I swore I would never do that again.

So obviously he hired the fellow, paying half upfront. Soon I’m getting videos sent to me of the “very strange looking man” attacking our tree with as much logic as my toddler would use. In the process he broke his chainsaw, and asked for the rest of the payment so he could go buy another one. RJ, now wary of anything “paid in full” before completion of the project, instead loaned him ours, which was inadequate for the job. But he managed to get partway through the tree. In a chaotic and powerful moment, the massive tree splintered and cracked. With a dramatic whoosh, the evergreen giant fell. Exactly on our apple tree, splitting it down the middle and leaving a mix of evergreen and apple limbs and stumps across the yard. Look! A two-for-one tree removal!! He needed to leave for a minute, but he’d be back shortly with a truck to get rid of the debris… unless maybe we could rent one for him and deduct it from the final fee? No? Oh, okay.

He never came back.

When I try to give RJ a hard time about this incident and his over-trust in “strange looking” people, do you now what he says? “AT LEAST MY GUY DIDN’T DIE!” I try to rebut with a comment about not paying them before the work gets done. But it gets overshadowed, you know, by death.

The overgeneralized moral: Contractors will stoop to any level, EVEN DEATH, to screw you over.

The real takeaway: RJ is a compassionate soul who hopes for the best in people and doesn’t let past burns taint new experiences.

I guess, in the end, what really matters works out.

I’m Still Me

Early childhood – running until my breath failed me. Then laying in the grass watching the periwinkle sky put on her diamond earrings, then necklace as she changed into her black velvet dress. Carefree. Living through my senses. Insatiable appetite for life.

Middle childhood – A sponge unintentionally absorbing the contents of adult conversation; a job lost, someone’s undesirable weight, responsibility. Saturated with tensions yet never worrying. Trusting that in the end, it all turns out okay.

Early Adolescence – A crocus, blooming well before spring, only to be plucked and torn apart by reckless boys, death, and abuse.

Adolescence- Like a burn as it heals, slow and painful, though tenderly anointed and dressed by loving hands.

College and mission – a second childhood, vibrant and carefree, though gladly tethered to responsibility.

Single adulthood – Deliberate but wild, determined to better the world, responsible but naive.

Married – Surprised at how healing it is to be loved and what ‘family’ really means, warm.

Motherhood – absorbed and transformed by the magic and wonder, enraged in a moment and bursting with love the next.

 

My life has progressed with a staccato rhythm, each stage a note sharply detached from the last.

Looking back at dramatic moments from each stage is like walking through different collections in a museum: Impressionism, surrealism, abstract, contemporary… Each so different in style, even though they all consist of paint, canvas and frames.

Its peculiar, then, that in spite of the sharply contrasting settings and stages, something has remained constant all of this time. Beneath the evolution from child to woman, beneath the experiences good and bad, beneath the rainbow of emotions, there was always me. Naturally optimistic, treasurer of words, adventure seeking, marveler of nature (especially mountains and chubby birds), propelled by faith, friendly introvert ME.

My sweet sister Rachel tells me often what I was like as a baby. She might as well be describing me now (even the squishy thighs). Sure, I’ve become a lot more complicated,  but my “essence” and core being are basically the same as when I was born.

I can still get lost in the evening sky. I still love running until my breath fails me. I still die for homemade rolls with jam on them. I still trust that, in the end it’s all going to be okay.

My Eternal Child

My eyes rest on your face, and I understand that eternity is a circle. Past, present and future are simultaneous .

Past:  In your ever changing self I see the thousands of iterations that you have already been as you transform from day to day. I see my own childhood through your eyes. I see all of the minor decisions that silently and forcefully led from my childhood to your current existence.

Present: I see past and future as wings of a hummingbird, moving wildly in coordinated effort to allow the bird to float in space, drinking from the nectar of the flower that is NOW. I see past and future converging in this one, spectacular and ordinary moment. I see the sunshine sparkling through your hair, the mirth dancing in your irises, the softness of your hands.

Future: I see infinite possibilities of how your strength, your will, your goodness may take shape and roll forth, washing over the world in a slow flood, from each of your experiences and interactions. I see infinite possibilities of how you will be tried, stretched, and think you are broken, and yet you will continue to draw grace and lessons from each trial, trusting in good things to come. And they will come. I see you looking into the eyes of your own child, so full of love that you finally understand me, and forgive me, for my imperfect efforts to love you so completely.

My precious, eternal child, I was your first home, and you are now mine – a traveling extension to my soul. But I cannot rightly claim you, for you are yours alone. I cannot take credit or blame for all that you are. But I can feel the impact of it, because you continue to reshape me from the inside out, starting with the trail you carved with your body as it rearranged my organs and joints, and continuing as you expand into the world and guide me down paths I never braved before.

What is Worth Saving?

Perhaps its silly that I feel this tightening in my chest each time I throw away a ziplock bag. The waste. It could have had more life, but I chose convenience. I’m at odds with my conscience. “It’s just a bag” vs “its our planet”.

The cheap plastic debris of childhood: Treasures to them, clutter and waste to me. How long must I tolerate a specific “treasure” floating around the house before I can make it disappear?

A tiny shoe is worn until there is a hole in the toe. A shirt is covered in paint that will not wash out. A book falls apart at the spine. Toss. Toss. Toss. Even when Great Grandma’s handmade ceramic is broken and not easily repaired we say “So sad, it’s okay. It’s only STUFF.” 

My little sponges are so trained in this routine that sometimes without my involvement, they will have a moment to mourn over a broken “treasure” and dispose of it themselves.

I’m too practical to fully embrace the “Zero Waste” movement, but I’m too sensitive not to feel uncomfortable with my overflowing garbage can.  Our one-time-use culture is destroying our planet. But I don’t have the time or money or discipline to use only non-disposables.

Sure, we recycle. We favor items with minimal packaging. We shop at and donate to thrift stores. We mend favorite pieces of clothing, and of course, do weekly repairs to Teddy’s disintegrating pink fur. Whenever it’s reasonable, we give new life to old things.

But I can’t help but feel that my overall message to my daughters is that nearly everything is disposable or replaceable; convenience is a priority over sustainability.

“Easy-come-easy-go” is just as much a part of their vocabulary as “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle”

How do I teach them to be good stewards and choose sustainability in the midst of cheap abundance that is nearly impossible to avoid?

How, when I myself am the queen of convenience, can I teach them that our fleeting choices impact generations?

How do I teach them that STUFF doesn’t matter but people do? But at the same time, stuff DOES matter? How do I teach them that some things aren’t disposable? How do I teach them that some things are worth saving? How do I teach them to discern what has value and what doesn’t?

How do I teach them that THEY aren’t disposable? That THEY are worth saving?

I only have pieces of those answers. But maybe they can help me discover the answers.

Yet

In honor of today being the 8th anniversary of RJ showing up on my doorstep and proposing, after nearly a year and a half without speaking, and while we were both seeing other people, and flipping my entire world upside right.

Yet

I once said that to love someone is to let them break your heart over and over again. “How sad;” you replied, “The one you love should never hurt you.” No, no. Of course they shouldn’t want to hurt me. But to love someone is to give them power. To love someone is to be vulnerable to their influence. To love someone is to embrace not just their beauties but accept even their flaws. You thought I was jaded. I thought you were naive.

Yet we loved one another.

Years, even decades, have past since that conversation. We have hurt one another; a thoughtless word here, an underestimation there, a misplaced priority here, an unmet expectation there.

Yet our love has grown.

Sometimes you don’t trust me with your feelings. Sometimes I ask too much of you. Sometimes we are more like roommates than lovers, or crew members of the same ship during a storm. Sometimes we feel alone together.

Yet our love gets stronger.

You push me to be more “me”. You give without resentment or entitlement. You laugh when it would be easy to yell. You don’t let me become invisible in my supporting roles. You FEEL when you would rather not. You ensure that as we each evolve, we grow more together, not apart. 

Slowly, like blending ingredients of a cake, we are becoming one. We are made of such different stuff, yet the years, the laughter, the experiences and the choice of loving… they are the mixer, the leavening and the oven. And we are making something so, so good. 

Yet there’s more to come.

And I am so, so glad.

Fear Not I am with Thee Oh Be Not Dismayed

Talk given in Burch Creek 3rd Ward, February 10, 2019.

There are many dramatic scripture stories where the covenant people were in major peril, but were miraculously saved by the Hand of God. The Israelites were saved from the Egyptians by Moses parting the red sea. Jonah spent a couple of days in the belly of a fish… 

Its easy, for me at least, to oversimplify these stories and feel as if these were perfectly righteous people who never doubted God would save them and whose faith was quickly rewarded with salvation. 

Im fairly certain it was more complicated than that. 

Moses, even as he was called by God, doubted his ability to lead and teach. He worried about the way he talked and that people wouldn’t believe him. The people he led also tended to make some bad choices, idolatry being one of them. Moses and his people were, like us, subject to fear and temptation. Yet a loving Heavenly Father still saw fit to save them, multiple times, in ways that uniquely met their needs.

I wonder, though, if their salvation seemed as miraculous to them at the time as it does to us now. Or if maybe, even in the moment of being saved, things still seemed hard. Perhaps they had to endure being whipped with sand as the strong East wind held back the Red Sea for them to pass through, leading them to an unknown future. I imagine the Israelites were scared.

And then there’s Jonah. God told Jonah to go preach to Ninevah. But he feared being hurt by the savage people of Ninevah more than he feared God and decided to go the opposite direction. God called him to repentance with a storm, and gave him three days in the belly of a fish to repent. Which thankfully he did and finally fulfilled his duty in Ninevah. But even with his second chance, Jonah didn’t soften his heart. Instead of rejoicing in his successful missionary efforts, he was mad that the people repented and God didn’t destroy them. Jonah was frustrated things didn’t pan out the way he hoped. 

These bible stories aren’t examples of people with perfect faith and good prevailing. They are complicated stories of flawed individuals whom God had called, and how God used both miracles and trials to teach them and convert them, oh, and also save their lives. They weren’t granted the knowledge that things would work out. They might not have fully recognized God’s care for them in the moment. 

Each of us is part Moses, part Israelite, part Jonah, part Ninevite. Our stories are complicated. We aren’t all good or all bad. God calls us to do hard things. Maybe we have been called to forgive, 

or endure.

or to deal with chronic pain or mental ilness

or take a stand 

or to wait for desired blessings

or serve people we don’t like

or to overcome a weakness or addiction

Like the people from these bible stories, God uses trials not to punish us, but to soften and teach us. His response is rarely what we would personally select. Often, the way He helps or saves us is a trial in itself. It’s anti-logic to think that a loving God would want us to struggle. He doesn’t want us to suffer, he wants us to grow. And sometimes those are inseparable. 

Georgia’s fifth birthday was this past Tuesday. At her birthday checkup the doctor felt a mass in her abdomen and scheduled an ultrasound. Of course I was full of anxiety for my sweet girl. The drive home was snowy. A snowplow slid and was blocking the road and I had to turn sharply and hit the gas to try and get up the hill. The van couldn’t get up the hill and there was a car directly behind me with the same problem. If I let off the gas I’d slide into them and we’d all get smashed into the blade of the plow. At that moment of emotional stress and physical danger, a friendly face, Michael Christensen, saw the problem and quickly pulled over and jumped out, pushing my car to safety with the strength of angels. When I pulled into the garage, the girls and I said a prayer of gratitude. That scary drive was a blessing because in my emotional state, I got a poignant reminder that God knew exactly where we were, down to the second, and down to the inch, and he had my back.  (Don’t worry about Georgia, though, turns out they were feeling her vertebrae through her belly. Skinny kid problems.) But the experience was not lost on me. That minor trial strengthened me. 

Each of us faces fear-inducing circumstances regularly, some momentary and some much bigger. In Isaiah 41:10 we are counseled: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

Let’s break it down:

Fear thou not: Fear is a natural reaction and sometimes it protects us from harm or taking unnecessary risks. It’s hard to fight our instinct and NOT be afraid without the following line of that scripture.

For I am with thee: We are not alone. He knows exactly where we are. In many scriptural accounts, during a time of major trial or conflict, God reminds His people of the previous miracles He has performed.

 For example, Alma 29 reads: “then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.

11 Yea, and I also remember the captivity of my fathers; for I surely do know that the Lord did deliver them out of bondage, and by this did establish his church; yea, the Lord God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did deliver them out of bondage.

12 Yea, I have always remembered the captivity of my fathers; and that same God who delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians did deliver them out of bondage.

13 Yea, and that same God did establish his church among them; yea, and that same God hath called me by a holy calling, to preach the word unto this people, and hath given me much success, in the which my joy is full.

This is an excellent practice for us as well. When faced with a trial, we would be wise to make a list of how God has helped us in the past and let it comfort us that he is with us now. I love that this scripture is in present tense – I am with thee – We are, even when we feel abandoned, faithless or unworthy, in His care. When we consciously look for His hand, we easily find it. 

Be not dismayed: in other words, actively choose happiness over anxiety. When our brains are inundated by too much information, it thinks it is under threat and scans the world for the negative first. Because the brain is limited, whatever we attend to first becomes our reality. A recent study said that when we choose to be positive, our intelligence rises and we stop diverting resources to think about anxiety. Our creativity triples. Productive energy rises by 31 percent. The likelihood of promotion rises by 40 percent. Sales rise by 37 percent. Being positive statistically increases the chances of good things happening! But it takes concerted effort to BE NOT DISMAYED. We must not indulge in negative thoughts but replace them with gratitude, scriptures, and positive thoughts. 

for I am thy god: The same God that loved the imperfect Moses, Israelites, Jonah, Ninevites, and still worked miracles for them. The scriptures often say “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob”… That same God of miracles is THY God and loves you wholly, as you are, NOW. 

I will strengthen thee, Yeah I will help thee: The wording on this part of the scripture should be carefully noted. He doesn’t say He will remove all of our obstacles. I think of an egg hatching. The poor little chick struggles for hours, wildly pushing and pecking to get out of it’s shell. But that process is what the chick needs to survive. If the shell were broken for it, it’s lungs couldn’t climatize to the atmosphere out of the egg without the slow process of the shell being cracked a little first. The work of pushing its legs against the shell are essential for it to be able to walk without dislocating its hips or messing up its spraddle. So often the Lord helps us by making us stronger. It may be a struggle, but it may be essential to our emotional and spiritual survival or progress. 

I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness: Now, you lefties, I hope you don’t take offense, but being on God’s right hand connotes being in God’s favor. But I’m going to take a different view of this scripture. God doesn’t say he will uphold us with HIS hand, he says with THE right hand of HIS righteousness. 

It is with our right hands that we make sacred promises in sacred places. Perhaps one interpretation of this scripture is that, through keeping temple covenants, God will uphold us – or in other words, protect and empower us. 

I’d like to share a poem about how we can Fear Not. It is titled “Let Peace Be Enough”

“Wear this, do that, travel here, be seen!”

drowns out the voice of our Heavenly king

Busy-ness, lists, so much to do

but softly He calls out to you.

Through prophet and scripture and Holy Ghost

He offers what you need the most.

Inspiring, encouraging, warning of danger

He speaks through nature, friend or stranger.

Your head is full of clamoring noise

amid billions though, He knows your voice.

Do you know His? He’s speaking now.

He can calm your storm and peace endow.

In one heartbeat you’re shown a vista eternal

then filled with love divine and supernal.

But trials persist and life is long-

We often forget how to hear His song.

So many blessings He’s withheld.

So much pain He hasn’t quelled.

Kneel down. Speak. Or even just listen

You may sense it but there is no division.

God travels at the speed of thought

and loves you fully (though you believe He ought not).

He’s here. Feel Him. See His love.

Shut out the din and let peace be enough.

May we work this week to choose to see God’s hand in our life, to choose positivity, and to be strengthened by our covenants. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

January Challenge: Dolla Dolla Billz

Y’all. Y’ALL!!! Y’AAAALLLLL!

BIG NEWS OVER HERE!!

I think I’m figuring out how to adult.

I know, I know. I’m a few decades late. But I think it’s starting to click. A little.

So, if you had to round my age to the nearest five, I’d be 40. Okay, so its still 4 years away. But RJ keeps saying “We’re almost forty” so it feels imminent. Perhaps I should begin  doing some of the things grown-ups do. And it’s time I got a basic knowledge of Politics (eww), finances (zzzzzz), and computers (blech).  I mean I’ve gotten along this far without knowing the difference between a megabyte and a gigabyte. But who knows, maybe success and enlightenment are hidden behind that gateway of knowledge? (For reals, though, my computer knowledge ends right where they taught me about typing in the QWERTY zone in the early 90’s.)

Aaaaanyway. I spent the month of January focusing on family finances. And now we’re super wealthy. I figured it all out. Move over Jimmy Buffet. Or wait, it’s Warren Buffet, right? Hometown Buffet? Whatever. I’m a financial wiz now.

So here, for all of you poor people, I’m going to outline the things you’ve all been doing for years and should have taught me, you jerks what I accomplished this month. Basically I’m looking for validation. Actually, I’ve just been so amped up about budgeting that I think I need to write this to get it out of my system. Then maybe I’ll shut up about it. Let’s hope. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a 20-something out there who could use a tidbit of my newfound expertise.

Create a budget simple enough for me to actually follow

Almost every year for two decades I’ve made a spreadsheet (or used Mint or YNAB) to create a monthly budget. And every year by the second month I’m at my wits end with dozens of categories, trying to figure out if toothpaste is “Household” or “Grocery” or “Personal Care” and trying to split up receipts. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Those spreadsheets are typically abandoned after being created. I’ve always managed to spend less than we earn, but lately we’ve been nickel-and-diming ourselves so much we haven’t been able to put anything into savings. So I cracked down, and dumbed down.

Our bills don’t fluctuate much, but our spending does. Instead of drowning in spending categories, I have ONE category for all of our ‘spending’ (food, entertainment, gas, gifts, etc). Instead of having a monthly budget, I have a 7 day budget. It resets every Monday. If I run out of money on Thursday then we don’t buy a single thing until Monday. It’s forcing me to plan more carefully… and mostly just forcing self-control at Costco. I also put in a buffer. So for our small family in Utah’s cheap cost of living, our weekly goal is a modest $200, but we can spend up to $250 if need arises. In 5 weeks, we’ve used the buffer twice. There is no splitting up receipts or careful tracking. When RJ wants to go out to eat or do some “fun” grocery shopping I just check the credit card charges for the 7 day period and tell him how much is left. It’s the first time we’ve actually enjoyed budgeting. FYI- I got that weekly amount by giving $100/person/month for food then doubling it for other stuff.

Reduce costs

I was able to lower our internet bill  and increase our speed, and lower
my cell phone and double my data. All this took was a little online research and switching from outdated plans. There are companies like Billshark that will negotiate your bills down (and charge 40% of your savings) but I’d like to keep all my savings, thankyouverymuch. The biggest way for us to save, though, is for me to not shop at Costco. So help me, they lure you in with cheap romaine and rotisserie chicken, then they suck you dry with their irresistible products. Why yes I DO need those $20 dark chocolate covered coconuts handpicked by spider monkeys in Madagascar! Before you know it, those luxuries are necessities and that oversized cart is full to the brim with worldly pleasures. Seriously though, you walk in there for sour cream and  walk out of there spending $100 and you’re not even mad. Am I right?

Invest in the stock market

RJ and I both did/do the employer match with our retirement plans. Once a year we glance at how those are doing and give ourselves kudos for our well balanced (but very inadequate for retirement before 80) portfolios. Neither of us had ever personally bought shares. On a good day I could recognize one in five words associated with investing. A few articles and this fantastic podcast gave me enough to get going though. I opened an account with Vanguard because they are the only investment company that runs like a nonprofit and has the lowest fees (and most transparency). Then I started buying shares of ETFs (index funds). This was great for us because they’re already diversified, and unlike mutual funds, you don’t have to start with like $10,000. I bought our first 3 shares for a total of $400. We’ll keep buying one or two shares a month and rebalance once a year.

Amp up our Banking Game

We started automating our savings (again after a year of not doing it) so that each month money is regularly transferred from checking into our money market account. Also, we opened a second money market. Our bank lets us rename our accounts online. Our first money market is named “Emergency Savings”. We have a goal to have 6 months of living expenses so we put a larger amount into that each month. Our second is named “Big Purchases”. We put a little in there each month, but once we hit our emergency savings goal we will put more into this one, which is earmarked for everything from biannual insurance premiums and home repairs, to vacations. (There isn’t much cash in there, but there’s a lot of big dreams in that one.)

After doing some shopping around, I made sure that we got the highest earning money market possible. Even from the same bank the rates are different between types of money market accounts (online money markets earn the most).

Also, we pay off our credit card every month but by requesting a higher line of credit, we use a smaller percentage of our available credit and that boosted our credit rating. Plus I finally figured out how to redeem our ‘cash back’! Free MONEYYYYYYY!!! Last little thing I did was make sure our checking would pull money from savings first if we were to overdraft, rather than charging us interest with standard bank overdraft protection. We’ve never done it, but it’s good to be prepared.

Pay Down Our Mortgage

When we bought our home 3 years ago, our mortgage was a couple hundred dollars less than our rent had been in Maryland. To help pay it down faster, we just paid the same amount we’d been used to in Maryland. Also, we put our tax returns straight to our mortgage, which is painless because it’s not money we count on. By doing this we’ve cut off more than 10 years of our loan. This month we realized if we paid just a little bit more, we could have the house paid off in 10-12 years. The earlier in your mortgage that you pay it down, the bigger the impact overall. The idea of being mortgage free when Georgia heads to college is enough to motivate me. Goodbye Costco and eating out on Fridays, hello no mortgage! Georgia may complain that I’m stingy about buying her Happy Meals now, but when she gets a little help in college, she’ll be glad she missed out on those plastic toys.

In summary

I’m sure anyone older than me who is reading this is like “DUH!!!!!! NONE OF THESE ARE NEW IDEAS and also don’t you know about X, Y, and Z?!” To which the answer is “No, actually. Please tell me. I’m finally listening.”

Adulting is hard. I wish I could have figured out this way to budget years ago. And investing too. And all of it really. It seemed overwhelming to me and therefore I pushed it off and pushed it off. Finally, something clicked and I got motivated and inspired. It helped to have candid money conversations with others who are having success. I don’t know why we get so embarrassed talking about money. I wish I’d had more of these conversations a decade or two ago. Maybe my openness will inspire my successful friends to share tips or encouragement with more people like me.

Paring back on our expenses has surprisingly not made me feel like we are living a spartan life, but instead has made me more grateful for what I have, more mindful of my consumption, and more aware of what actually adds value to our life. We are very fortunate to be in a position where our finance goals are FUTURE focused; investing and saving rather than paying off credit cards, school or car loans. I recognize how truly fortunate that is, and how quickly things could change with any calamity.

Getting a better grip of our finances overall and minimizing what we “need” to spend has been empowering so that I’m more in touch with our real needs, and less afraid of misfortune.

“If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” Doctrine and Covenants 38:15