Showing posts with label Spiritual Thoughts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spiritual Thoughts. Show all posts

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Joyful Service in Our Homes

The work and service that we do in our homes can be some of the most stressful and physically and emotionally demanding work that we do. It can be mundane, repetitive, tiring, and thankless. It can be downright exhausting.
I remember a particular exhausting time in my life: We had just moved to Texas from BYU where I had just finished my masters degree (and writing my thesis with 2 nursing babies and a one year old). Too say that I was "spent" from that experience is an understatement--but that's another story... I graduated on a Friday and we drove our U-Haul down to Texas over the weekend so that Karl could start school on Monday. Karl was just starting graduate school (MBA) and because of the demanding program, he was not able to work his first year. We were dirt poor. We had maxed out all our school loans and there was no money left after tuition. All three of my babies were in diapers…cloth diapers (that I washed myself) because we couldn’t afford disposable diapers. The financial stresses were very real. Our Christmas budget for all three kids was $10 and that was a stretch. I remember my 3 year old being invited to a birthday party. I started crying because we couldn't afford to buy a gift (home-made play dough saved me). Because there was no extra money, we were on WIC so that I could buy milk and cereal for my babies. Taking care of 3 babies was hard and I was constantly exhausted. And then, to our surprise, we found out that we were expecting again. Now I was doing all these things, but I was even more exhausted because I was pregnant. When #4 (Dallin) was born, my oldest (Ben) was 3, and the twins (my first set of twins) were one. Let me restate that: We had a 3-year-old, two 1 year olds, and a newborn. It was at this point, that I realized what it meant to be truly exhausted. Karl wasn’t able to take off more
Four kids 3 and under
than a day or two of school. I didn’t have any relatives around to help…so there I was, with a brand new baby, a weak and recovering post-pregnant body, two 1-year olds (who were literally into everything), and a hyper, active and busy 3-year old and I had no choice but to go on. I had to keep cooking, feeding, nursing, washing, cleaning, and caring and it just never ended… I would fall exhausted into my bed each night (after sweeping and mopping the kitchen to ward off the Texas cockroaches), just to wake up countless times with my newborn, and then had to be up at the crack of dawn because of my early rising 3-year-old (who would climb out of his bed and up on mine, and bounce on me until I got up and made him breakfast.  I remember wondering why my stomach and my insides were hurting…and it dawned on me that it was my body just aching from fatigue and exhaustion.

Christmas Picture 1996--Little did we know that this
was only half of our family!
So, like I said, “service in the home” can be physically demanding. It can also be extremely emotionally demanding.  What constitutes service in the home? There are a lot of different ways we serve in the home. There’s the household to take care of: dishes, laundry, picking up toys, dusting, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning bathrooms, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, repairing the leaky faucet, sorting laundry, grocery shopping, cooking and more dishes, and more laundry and more cooking, and more cleaning…it doesn’t ever end. And then there’s the people: Staying up late with sick kids, changing diapers, helping with homework, driving kids all over the planet to get to their various activities, taking injured kids to the ER, helping a spouse with a project, taking care of an elderly parent, waiting up for a teenager to return home from a date, worrying about and praying for a child or relative who is making poor decisions,  listening to 9-year-old knock-knock jokes for hours, going out of your way to show your love for your spouse, oh, and it doesn’t stop there. There’s also the occasional sick dog, chicken, goat or other furry or feathery or scaly friend that needs attention and care. The list is literally never ending. We will never, ever be caught up. We will never get it done and it will never be as good as we want it to be. No wonder it’s easy to get stressed out and overwhelmed…and no wonder we sometimes have a hard time feeling joy.
Some days it seems so stinking hard to find the joy in the piles of dirty clothes, the cranky kids and the endless lists of things to do? How do we lift ourselves out of the mundane to see the glorious big picture?
And what is this big picture???? The big picture, of course, is that you and I are children of a loving and caring Heavenly Father who have been placed on this earth IN FAMILIES so that we might develop Christlike characteristics through serving and loving those around us. Families are crucial to the Lord’s plan. This service in our homes (for our families) is THE most important, noble, powerful and influential work that we will ever do in this life. And all of the little (seemingly mundane) chores and responsibilities are the building blocks that shape our families. We read in Alma Chapter 37 verse 6-7 that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means (doing the dishes, making a dinner, listening to a problem) the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” The work we do in our homes for our families is important! There is nothing more important!
But How do we get from feeling stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, sad, impatient and maybe even angry to being able to serve our families with charity and joy?
It isn’t always easy. On top of all the little things, there are often big things. There are so many who are battling depression, who are struggling with grief, who have fragile marriages or broken families, whose children are wayward, who have serious health issues and huge financial stresses—these are serious, hard, difficult issues. And many of these issues are not easily “fixable”. Sometimes, we just can’t make the situation go away. And, in the case of serious depression, our perception maybe be altered, making it difficult to feel peace, love, joy or any of the fruits of the Spirit. These situations require huge amounts of faith…faith to continue doing what you know in your head or what you once knew in your head (but can no longer feel in your heart) to be the right thing…trusting that your righteous actions will lead to eventual joy and peace. Mental illness does not make joy impossible, but it can sometimes delay our ability to feel the joy.
In any case, the questions remains: Is joyful service possible even when life is tough? And How do we see the big picture? We CAN find joy…But it takes effort. And it takes humility, gratitude and love.
First, we need a good dose of humility so that we can admit that our own view of life is ALWAYS limited. We need humility to admit that the Lord ALWAYS knows what is best for us. He is the source of truth and light. And in order for us to be filled with that light and truth, we have to humble ourselves and have the faith to admit that we are wrong, that we don’t see things, situations, or other people, as they really are. That includes the misconception of thinking of ourselves, our families and our homes as ‘not-good’ enough.  As we trust in Him and replace our misconceptions with His light and truth, we will see ourselves, our family members and our homes through His eyes. We will see ourselves as beloved sons and daughters of the God. We will understand our worth and the value and worth of our families. The mundane will become honorable and noble. We will be filled with gratitude for the privilege of being a part of a family.
That leads us into the importance of gratitude: There is nothing quite so magical and attitude-changing as gratitude. Have you ever had one of those totally THANKFUL days? Where you wake up and think: I’m so grateful that I have a comfortable, warm bed to sleep in! Then you haul your body out of bed and think: I’m so grateful that I have a body that mostly works—even if something doesn’t work on my body…there are WAY more working parts than there are unworking parts!! Then you get in the shower and praise the invention of hot water heaters and indoor plumbing. How amazing is it that you can turn a dial and be drenched in warm water! What a blessing! And then you come downstairs to your dirty kitchen and think: “I am so grateful that I HAVE a kitchen and that there is food in the kitchen (and on the counters and on the floor).” So, maybe you’re not that grateful for the cheerios on the floor… but really truly THINK ABOUT IT! There are so, so, so many people in this world who don’t have a kitchen to clean, who don’t have food to eat, who would give anything to have our dirty kitchen with its food (even the food that’s on the floor).  If we just open our eyes, we will see that there is so, so, so much good all around us. There are SO, SO many things that could go wrong each day that don’t go wrong. The same goes for the people in our lives. When we are grateful for what they ARE and stop focusing on what they are not, then our love and appreciation for them will grow. But it’s not enough to just count our blessings, it’s also crucial that we acknowledge the GIVER of those blessings, as we do this we are filled with a deep sense of love and awe for our Father in Heaven.
And that brings us to charity (or love). As we exercise humility to see ourselves, others and our situations through the Lord’s eyes, and as we recognize our many, many, many blessings and acknowledge our loving Father in Heaven as the Giver of those blessings, our hearts are filled with charity. We are filled with love for our Heavenly Father and our Savior. In turn, we are able to comprehend their great love for us. This love softens our hearts so that we are, in turn, filled with love for others. This perfect love expresses itself in a feeling of peace and joy. And this joy changes everything. It changes the mundane chore into something glorious. This joy that comes from humility, gratitude and love will change our perception of the people around us. It changes the way we serve. And ultimately it changes and transforms us. This joy isn’t dependent on our situation, on having enough money or things, on our health, our body size, our family size or house size… this joy is simply a result of allowing God’s love into our hearts.

I think about those exhausting years as a young mother of young children (as opposed to my current status as an old mother of young children), It’s funny how I don’t remember feeling miserable at the time (tired, yes). I mostly remember feeling incredibly blessed. No, it wasn’t always fun and I wasn’t always “happy”, but I cherished my role as a wife and mother. I was grateful for the little things. And, yes, I sometimes complained and I was by no means perfect in my joyful service. But, when I look back, those were some of the best years ever. I remember feeling joy. And, even today, with all the additional challenges of life—I still don’t love to cook, do dishes or laundry. I can think of a million other things that I’d rather do—And, no, I am not the not the best homemaker, wife or mom, but I love and I value what I do and I’m trying hard to be better…and I know that as I put the Lord first and humble myself, as I count my blessings and show my love to my family, that I can and will continue to find joy as I serve at home. 

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.