Friday, October 26, 2012

Christmas Letters

Every year about this time I start thinking about writing the “Christmas Letter”. You know, the letter that you send out with an adorable picture of your kids telling all of your near and dear just how fabulous your family is. The Christmas Letter is sort of like a resume. You polish all of your collective accomplishments of the past year and play down the unsavory stuff to prove that you are indeed supermom of a near perfect family. You top it off with just a touch of appreciation and humility so that the people you send it to will give you their stamp of approval and not think you are too full of yourself.
The Christmas Letter is written partly as a misguided attempt to prove to the world that I'm striving to live up to the Savior's call to "be ye therefore perfect" as well as a defense against the letters I know are coming my way from my truly talented friends. It’s important to make sure that I'm performing at a level similar to them or I lose the game, and as a competitive soul I hate to lose.

The letter I send out usually goes something like this:

Dearest Loved Ones,

What a blessed year we have had as a family. Buns and I have been working hard,volunteering in the local school, supporting our talented and brilliant children in their pursuits, serving faithfully in church callings, and going to school ourselves with amazing results.

David is 15 this year and the star of the football team, Andrew is 14 and genius at the Baritone, Bella is 8 and a straight A student, and our adorable Sam is in Pre-K this year and may possibly be the brightest student in his class.

We wish you and yours a wonderful New Year and appreciate your friendship more than we can say.

All of that is generally true with some literary embellishment thrown in, but if we are going to be 100% honest it should read something like this:

Hey Everybody,

Holy Cats! Is it really time to write this stupid letter again? 

Anydoodles, it has been a busy year. Buns and I are keeping this whole operation going with sweat, sheer determination, and a whole lot of divine intervention.

Unsurprisingly, we were both roped into time consuming volunteer activities at the kids’ school and motivated to accept the positions mostly out of guilt. That’s what good parents do right? It’s fulfilling to help create a better school but most of the time it involves working at the concession stand for home games. Popcorn anyone? 

Along with full time work, school, being the town taxi, and trying intermittently to have Family Home Evening and scripture study, I cling to sanity and from time to time actually get everything done. Buns and I both have church callings that require quite a bit of prep time but mine usually gets about 30 minutes of attention early Sunday mornings followed by prayers of repentance that “next week I will promise to spend more time on this Father if you will only help me out this one time”.

The kids are great. David plays football but has spent most of the season out with one sort of injury or another. Injuries that make his mother hyperventilate to the point of unconsciousness. I am proud of him for sticking to it, but spend copious amounts of time trying to figure out what will happen if I tell my kid it is ok to quit something he has committed to. Will it teach him to abandon any difficult situation that comes up for the rest of his life, dooming him to live as a slacker in a van down by the river? Will it destroy his future as a competent member of society?

Andrew is an phenomenal baritone player in the band and spends ridiculous amounts of time practicing with them. All of which is required by the band teacher who seems to have no idea that parents actually want to see their children more than 10 minutes a week. I am proud of him and excited the band does so well but once again feel like a miserable parent for whining about the schedule they have him on.

Bella is a straight A student. This happens despite the fact that I forget on a regular basis to have her study her 2nd grade spelling words. I also allow her to watch idiot cartoons that will reportedly “rot her brain”. On top of this she basically lives on mac and cheese and grapes and I am too tired to fight her into eating her green vegetables. 

Sam is adorable and bright even though he is not read to every single day as Sesame Street informed me is required. We try, but like everything else it is an uphill battle. He is obsessed with tornados and draws a picture of one in school every morning. His teacher is convinced that we regale him with scary stories of storms all the time since he is so worked up about it. Really I think it comes down to the fact that we let him watch “Storm Chasers” with us, another parenting no-no. I’m sure in the official handbook it says something about not exposing 5 year olds to high drama reality TV.

Hope you are all surviving. Can't wait to get your letters so that I can compare my life to yours and realize even more acutely that I'm a terrible mother.  Merry Christmas!


Obviously when my brain takes me on this little adventure every year I have fallen into one of the great traps of the adversary. It is designed to get me to body slam my own psyche with piles of guilt and focuses me on all the wrong things. The Lord never said perfect meant that every minute of every day we have to live like a family of airbrushed catalog models. He asks that we follow His commandments which all comes down to loving others. 

Does the Lord want me to look like Heidi Klum, have an IQ of 212, have as much money as Donald Trump, and never ever make a mistake? Of course not.

What He wants me to do is love my family, neighbors, and even  my enemies. He wants me to spend time serving them. He wants me to strive to do that perfectly and even in that effort I am going to come up short.  Elder Nelson helps with this. "We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord. It awaits all who love him and keep his commandments."

So note to self. Drop the guilt, stop running yourself into the ground for not being June Cleaver, and just do what you can do. Your kids are going to turn out alright even if you're not Wonder Woman. Your family and friends will still love you if you're human from time to time.You'll get to perfection eventually, and with the Lord's help is is going to be awesome.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Faith to Move Mowers

Summers in Texas are hot. The outdoors feel a bit like when you first open an oven door and you lean in too quickly only to have your eyelashes curl up from the blast of hot air. For a good part of June, July and August the residents of this state race from air conditioned home to car, car to office, and back again. You do not spend any amount of time in the open; I think you might actually melt, which in my case would probably result in a puddle of butter on the sidewalk.

One of the only benefits from living in this furnace is that for 3 months you don’t have to mow your lawn. A few minutes after the temperature reaches the “hell’s kitchen” level on the thermometer, all your grass cries uncle, turns brown and stops growing. No matter how much water you sprinkle it with, it just lays there looking dead and so nobody even bothers to mow after a while.

The same is not true in the spring months of the year. During that time lawns make up for everything they know is coming in the summer by pretending they are located in the Amazon jungle. They are green, lush, and if you watch long enough you can see them growing.

This last year in April found Buns and I out on our little reincarnation of Brazil, complete with vines and flowers, having a discussion about the lawn mower. Not so much a discussion as an argument. Apparently if you turn a mower upside down to clean out all of the grassy gunk underneath oil pours into the gas tank and it will refuse to start. Who knew?

We loaded it up and hauled it to “Speedy’s” the local small engine repair shop so that we could be charged $100 bucks for being silly. Only a short 46 ½ days later they called to tell us that the repairs were complete. By this time the heat of summer had showed up with a vengeance and so we put the mower in the shed to wait it out.


In September when the grass resurrected itself, and had grown so high that the neighbors could no longer see our front door, I broke down and got the mower out to take care of the wilderness that was now our yard. Amazingly enough after sitting for 3 months it wouldn’t start. Buns tried, David tried, Andrew tried, the missionaries who were passing by on their bikes tried, our next door neighbor, the postman and even the lady walking her Shih Tzu came over and gave a couple of pulls on our obnoxious machine. No dice.


True to my stubborn nature I refused to give up. Vainly, I pulled and pulled on that mower until my face took on the hue of a ripe tomato. Huffing and puffing and growing angrier by the minute I finally kicked it nearly breaking my toe.


“Brenda” Buns said in his most soothing voice, “it’s time to give it up.” Buns knows that when I get in this state that one must tread carefully or my frustration can easily be turned on the nearest passerby or sweet husband. The only answer he got back was an “arrggghhhh!!!!” Yes, I turn into a pirate when I’m angry.


I stood there on the brink of absolute fury. “I just spent $100 on this piece of garbage! We don’t have the money to take it in again or buy a new one and our yard is starting to look like Honey Boo Boo lives here!” That, and some other thoughts that aren’t suitable for print cascaded through my mind.


Finally, I realized that my teenage sons were witnessing my mental meltdown. This was not exactly the best way to model controlling your temper.  I took some deep breaths and gave a couple of more pulls on the cord, still nothing. I then thought “if my dad was here he would be able to fix this.” My dad was a mechanical genius and passed away a couple of years ago.


Anger and frustration finally in check, I stood there in that yard and the idea came to me that if faith could move mountains then it certainly could start a lawn mower. I said a silent prayer in my head and while doing so exerted every bit of faith I had. I said “Father, I’m sorry I got angry. Please help this lawn mower to start. We are the only Mormons in our community and everyone in town knows we live here. I’m trying to beautify this little piece of Zion. Please help me.”


When I opened my eyes nothing happened. I gave a couple of more pulls on the cord and the mower did not spring miraculously to life. “Ok” I thought, “this probably isn't up there on God's list of stuff that makes any difference and I’m ok with that.”


Just as I was about to walk away a very clear thought popped into my head. “Pump the choke three times, count to ten, and then pull hard.” I immediately questioned this thought. “Is this me or something else?” Again the thought, “Pump the choke three times, count to ten, and pull hard.” In that moment I felt my dad standing next to me, just like he had done the countless times I had worked with him in the past.“Ok, here goes nothing.” I said and I followed the instructions.


The mower belched out a huge cloud of black smoke and roared to life.


I stood there with a stunned look on my face and watched my husband and boys levitate into the air, they were so startled by the noise. “What happened?” they all yelled across the yard. 


“I’m pretty sure grandpa just helped me fix the mower” I said with a laugh. All I got in reply was raised eyebrows.

Joseph Smith taught that "The spirits of the just...are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.” I have no doubt that dad was close by that day. He did know how to fix that mower and was allowed to help me in my time of need.

It’s not often that my prayers are answered so quickly and directly but that experience taught me an essential lesson. I know that prayers are heard and that they are answered, they really are. And if Heavenly Father loves me enough to be aware of something as minor as a problem with a lawn mower, then how much more help must He send me when the real trials and problems of life come along? 

There really are angels bearing us up, and in my opinion they are people who know and love us. How grateful I am to know that.



"And...I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angles round about you to bear you up." -Doctrine and Covenants 84:88
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