Sunday, October 4, 2015

Smile at Them!

Today, as I was watching my sweet little ones play, I was so touched by the beauty of childhood. Watching them warmed my heart and brought a smile to my face. I love to see them interact. I love that they are best friends. I love, love, love to watch them play. I love to watch them enter make-believe worlds that only they can understand. I love driving in the car and hearing the cute things that they say to each other. It makes me smile. I find that I smile a lot. And I think it's because I'm enjoying my little people so, so much. I often even smile when they are naughty...not always...but often.

It hasn't always been so easy for me to smile at my kids. It's a learned trait and it has come with age, perspective, time...and prayer. I've always been a basically happy and optimistic person, but I remember when I was a young mom, raising my first batch of kids, that I used to get much more upset and stressed out. Yes, I still enjoyed my older kids and I loved them just as much as I do my younger kids...but I remember that I had way less patience and was way more stressed. And the result was that I was often quick to anger.

I remember one particular trying afternoon. At the time I had 5 kids and my oldest was 7. I had a lot on my plate. I was trying to organize a large community event. I had church responsibilities that I needed to get done. The kids were fighting and being mean to each other. There was lots of crying and screaming. One of the older kids woke the baby up from her nap. We had people coming over in the evening and I was trying to get the house looking decent. I was getting NOTHING done (in fact, I was moving backwards--the house was getting more messy by the hour) and on top of all that, the kids were complaining, fighting, and being disobedient. I had had it! I was feeling so frustrated, overwhelmed and angry! I had spent the whole afternoon clenching my teeth, speaking sternly and giving the "evil" eye. As I got more frustrated, the kids' behavior deteriorated and I was, in turn, feeling more angry. I think we all are familiar with that lovely downward spiral! It stinks! So, before I did something that I would regret, I ran to my bedroom and locked the door.

With the muffled sound of whining and occasional pounding on the door, I sank to my knees next to my bed. I was tense, frazzled and angry. I knew I was not being an exemplary mother. In my head I knew that it was wrong for me to be feeling annoyed and mad at my sweet kids. In my head, I knew that it was mostly my fault, not theirs. Yet, I just couldn't turn this day around on my own. I knew I needed help. I knelt at my bed and prayed. I pleaded with my Heavenly Father to help me. I couldn't do this alone. I wanted to be a better mother. I wanted my kids to feel unconditional love from me, not annoyance and anger. As I whispered my pleadings, I felt a quiet peace come over me. And then suddenly I had a very distinct impression. It was clear as day.

I could  almost 'hear' the words in my head: "Smile at them.". What a simple thought! I immediately thought back through the day and realized that I had not once smiled at my children. I sat down on my bed and thought about the answer I had been given. I pray a lot and I believe that prayers are answered, but seldom had I witnessed such an immediate and distinct answer to a prayer. I knew that I had just received personal revelation from my Heavenly Father. I knew that He was aware of me and that He understood my situation perfectly. I still didn't feel like smiling, so I practiced smiling as I sat there on my bed. I said another prayer, thanking God for His wise answer to my prayer and asking Him to help me to smile. Then I unlocked my door and faced my kids with a smile on my face.

That experience changed me. It did not change me overnight, nor did it keep me from ever getting mad at my kids. But, it gave me some insight which resulted in growth. My sweet and loving Father in Heaven wants me to enjoy His children. He is all about joy. These sweet children are His children first! He loves them so much more than I can even fathom. As I recognize just how blessed I am to be entrusted with each of my precious children, I am filled with gratitude for the honor of being a mother.

Fast forward 15 years and three additional children, and I find that I still remember that sweet answer to my prayer just as vividly. Now, as an older mother of young children, I don't let the little things bother me as much. I better understand that each beautiful phase of childhood is fleeting and precious. I realize that I need to enjoy each moment to its fullest...not only the moments with my little children, but also each beautiful moment with my teenage and adult children. I'm better now at seeing these moments as the precious gifts that they are. And when I consciously notice these precious moments, I smile. I have a hunch that my sweet Father in Heaven is smiling with me. And when I'm caught up in these precious moments of motherhood, I often think back to the sweet and tender lesson I was taught so many years ago: Smile at Them!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day Thoughts

Well, like I said, today is Mother’s Day. I know a lot of moms have a hard time with Mother’s Day for various reasons, but I happen to love it. It’s the day I get to celebrate being a mother. It’s also a day that I like to think about and thank my own mother for everything she is and does. I consider being a mother the greatest blessing in the world. I’m so proud of each of  my kids and all that they do. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing each of them mature into selfless, kind, compassionate people.  Being a mom is the best job in the whole world. I dare anyone to find a job that is better than mothering. I recently read a book called The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It was fascinating. It talked about what makes people successful. I loved how the author pointed out that we don’t make ourselves successful. So much of our success is due to lucky (or-in my opinion-divine) circumstances and opportunities and attitudes and life-philosophies and expectations and genetics and culture and heritage that have been passed down to us…these are all things that were given us. It made me think about everything that has been “given” to me. I really can’t take credit for much, if any, of my success in life. I owe so much to my parents and my Savior. The fact that I have a knowledge of my Savior and that I try to live follow Him is an amazing gift in and of itself. That faith defines my life. It’s who I am. But it’s not something I can take any credit for. I thank my sweet great, great grandparents and their sacrifices and faith as they left their native countries in order to come to America to worship their new found faith. That legacy has blessed me more than I can even comprehend. I thank my parents for being faithful and making Christ the center of our home growing up. I thank church teachers and leaders for strengthening my testimony along the way. I especially thank my sweet mother for her strong and unfailing testimony of the Savior, for setting the example of always putting Him first in her life. I’ll never forget passing by her bedroom and seeing her on her knees praying for guidance or watching her make bread for someone who was sick or listening to her read scriptures to us as we hurriedly ate breakfast before rushing out the door for seminary. We always knew by the way she lived her life that she KNEW her Savior and that He was real. She has such a special gift…a gift of spirituality. I am the lucky (or blessed) recipient of that gift. So, I guess, my thought for today is that we really need to step back and take a good look at our lives. None of us are “self-made”, we all owe so much to those who have gone on before, to the loved ones who surround us, and, most importantly, to our loving Heavenly Father. He and his Son, Jesus Christ, are the source of all our blessings. It is Christ that brings us purpose, peace, joy, redemption, understanding, truth, hope and pure love. Everything that makes life worth living, we owe to our Savior. And all He asks in return is that we let go of pride (stop taking all the credit for our successes) and selfishness (just stop being so self-centered) and remember Him. We remember Him as we humble ourselves and acknowledge that we are nothing without Him. There is nothing weak about this kind of humility. This kind of humility brings out the greatest character traits that we can possibly develop, namely Christ-like attributes. So, as you go about this week, remember to put your Savior first. Look around you and be grateful for the many people and circumstances that the Lord has put in your life to bless you and guide you and help you along your way and acknowledge that precious gift. 

Today, I've been feeling grateful for my mother and her mother and her mother and her mother and on and on... and for the amazing lineage of motherhood that they have forged for me and for my daughters and their (future) daughters.... I have been thinking about the power and influence that our maternal lines have on how each generation is raised. I owe SO much of who I am to these amazing women. I am so grateful for their love, their devotion, their work ethic, their traditions, their talents, their strength, their patience and especially their strong faith. Happy Mother's Day to generations of mothers--because of you, we are who we are!!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Reflecting on Joy and the Atonement

Lately, I've been reflecting on what brings joy to my life. I'm not talking about mere happiness, like the happiness of finding an awesome pair of shoes on sale. I'm talking about joy...that beautiful, warm, peaceful, sweet feeling that seems to fill our hearts with a feeling of love and pure light. This beautiful, peaceful joy has filled my heart on many occasions, both during happy and during sad occasions. In fact, it's been during some of my most difficult, trying times, that I have felt this joy most profoundly. So, this joy is not dependent on my situation or my surroundings, rather it comes from having my heart in the right place. It comes when I open my heart and invite my Savior to fill it with His love. That love, Christ's pure love, is truly the most precious gift that one can possess. In fact, it's the only thing in this world that can guarantee joy. I like that thought. Nothing else can guarantee joy: Not riches, not beauty, not prestige, not popularity, not marriage, not children, not excitement, not vacations, not friends, nor any thing else. Because you can always find people who have those things, who are miserable and full of despair. But a heart full of the love of God will never and can never be full of despair, because God's love is full of hope and joy. God is the source of gratitude, compassion, humility, and all things good. No, we aren't always going to be "happy", but we can strive to always feel this joy. Even a heart that is aching with sorrow can feel this peace and love. God's love is a very real and physical feeling. It comforts and heals and fills us with true joy, a joy that can't be obtained from any other source. 

On that note, how do I find this joy when my heart feels dark and cold, when I'm angry and frustrated. I've been giving this a lot of thought. Every time I do something wrong...when I say something unkind, when I'm selfish or prideful...I feel awful. Sometimes, I'll justify my sin and not think about the consequences, and for a time I might avoid that awful feeling...but eventually, when I truly own up to what I've done, I feel yucky. I feel guilt and sadness.  I think about the consequences of my sin: How my words or actions have  hurt someone else or how my thoughts or actions have disappointed my loving Heavenly Father. Each sin has a ripple effect. It affects our character, our attitude, our reputation, our spiritual well-being, our ability to feel peace. It can also affect others. It can cause sadness and hurt to those who witness the sin and to those who have been directly affected by our sin. Every single sin that we commit does harm, whether to ourselves or others. And once it's committed, there's really nothing that WE can do to undo it. It's done. Our soul is stained with that sin. We have literally become a different person. We are changed for the worse. Our light, our integrity, is dimmed. The harm and hurt to others has been done. We can't do a single thing about it.  Each one of our sins has a heavy price. That price is the full effect of our sin, with all its suffering, sadness, and hurt...the entire negative ripple effect. I don't think we can even comprehend just how great that price is. We can feel bad for what we've done, but our feeling bad doesn't take away the effects of that sin.

Jesus Christ
This is where Christ's Atonement comes in. Think about it. What a wonderful plan! Our sweet and loving Savior came into this world and lived a perfect life. His soul was free from any earthly stains. And he willingly decided to pay the full price for each one of my sins, meaning that he suffered all the pain, hurt and sorrow associated with every single one of my sins. And not just my sins, but of every single person's sins on this earth throughout history. Just think of all the awful things that have been done, all the hurt, the abuse, the violence, all of it, every last terrible act...our brother, Jesus Christ, suffered and paid the full effect of each and every wrong ever committed. In all the history of the world, no other person has suffered even a millionth of what he suffered on our behalf.....But because He loved us so much and was willing to "buy" our freedom from the effects of our sins, we are free to repent. We no longer have to pay for our own sins (which we can't anyways), all we need to do is to acknowledge His ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, repent and commit ourselves to follow Him. As we do this, he washes the effects of sin from our souls and we are literally cleansed from all our dark stains. But, he can't cleanse us unless we choose to be cleansed. The choice is ours. He has paid the price already, but it's up to us to allow Him to into our hearts. We have to want His peace and love more than we want the praise of the world, more than we want our sins. We don't have to be perfect, but we do have to desire perfection. We have to want to be cleansed from sin. We have to desire to become more like Him and to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to Him. What a loving and beautiful plan. The most wonderful part about it is that when we follow Him, we are filled with joy. 
Anyways, as I have pondered these thoughts on joy and sin and repentance this past week, I've been overwhelmed with gratitude for my Savior, Jesus Christ. I'm amazed at what he's done for me and for each person on this earth. He provided a way for me to experience joy, real beautiful joy...and to return to a joyful state of heart even after I've been selfish and prideful and have done things that have hurt myself and others. He loves me so much, that He is constantly beckoning to me to choose His way...His joyful, peaceful path. His invitation is constant and all-inclusive.  He is the path to joy. All that is good comes from Him. He has asked us to be grateful, compassionate, kind, humble, selfless, service-minded, considerate, obedient and loving. All the things that He asks us to be and do, will eventually bring us joy. As we gaze with gratitude and wonder at our precious children, we are filled with joy. As we serve a stranger in need, we feel joy. As we humbly acknowledge our dependence on God, we are filled with joy. As we  bask in the beauty of God's creations, we are filled with awe and joy. That joy comes when we open our hearts and allow His love to flow into our souls. His precious love fills us with light and peace. It enlarges our character and our souls and allows us to experience true joy.

Feeling profoundly grateful today for my Savior, who is the source of joy.