Friday, November 30, 2012

Angel Team Six

One evening I was standing in the laundry room amidst the Himalayan mass of unclean clothes that four children and one husband produce, wondering just what I had done to deserve the special privilege of dealing with that mess. With furrowed brow, inhaling the scent of Downy dryer sheets and dirty socks, I reveled in my own little pity party. Exactly 13 seconds into my self-inflicted funk I was interrupted by a ruckus going on in the living room next door. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with the classification levels of familial dramatic events, a ruckus is right between a commotion and a full blown riot. As my ears swiveled around to locate the exact nature of the aforementioned ruckus, the door burst open and in galloped a pink dog; a pink dog wearing a tutu. The canine was closely followed by two shrieking children, one three year old boy who was not wearing a stitch of clothing, and the other a six year old girl who was covered in pink paint thus explaining the unusual color of the dog. 

The three of them flew through the laundry room in a high speed blur, circled me two-and-a-half times and then exited at rocket velocity. I immediately headed out the door in hot pursuit. 

I arrived in the living room to witness my small clothing deprived son climbing up the front of our large entertainment center as deftly as a lemur going up a tree. As he reached the third cubby hole up on the center he grabbed hold of a large round fish bowl we were collecting change in. It was nearly full and was approximately the same weight as a baby elephant. 

Before I could even process what was happening the fish bowl started to slide off of its perch and directly towards Sam’s small head. Panic set in and I lurched towards my baby, knowing that he was probably going to be killed by the impact of the falling object. 

Then something incredible happened. Somehow, someway that defied the laws of physics, my little boy jerked to the right as if pulled out of the air by an unseen force. The fish bowl continued on its path downward and smashed into the hardwood floor with sickening explosion. Sam landed softly on an armchair well out of the way of any harm. 

My husband Buns said to me after this experience that there must be Swat Teams of angels that are assigned to toddlers and I think he is not far off. The same little boy who had this happen also managed not long after to punch through a 75 year old plate glass window and came away with only scratches. 

Knowing how the Lord feels about little children, it isn't such a stretch to think that the best and brightest would be sent to watch over these precious little ones. And not just any angels will do, they are most likely people who know and love those children better than anyone else, their family. 

Elder Kent F. Richards recounted the following story. “Thirteen-year-old Sherrie underwent a 14-hour operation for a tumor on her spinal cord. As she regained consciousness in the intensive care unit, she said: “Daddy, Aunt Cheryl is here, … and … Grandpa Norman … and Grandma Brown … are here. And Daddy, who is that standing beside you? … He looks like you, only taller. … He says he’s your brother, Jimmy.” Her uncle Jimmy had died at age 13 of cystic fibrosis. 

“For nearly an hour, Sherrie … described her visitors, all deceased family members. Exhausted, she then fell asleep.” 

Later she told her father, “Daddy, all of the children here in the intensive care unit have angels helping them.” 

What can be difficult to remember as we are thrown against the realities of life, is that we ourselves are children. 

“Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. 

Fear not, little children, for you are mine…” 

The great creator of the universe has the same love for us that he has for these sweet and wonderful little children. He sends the same help for us that he does for them. This doesn't mean that bad things never happen, that pain and loss and devastation will never touch us, but what it does mean is that he sends love and help in the form of ministering angels and a lot more often than we are aware of. 

“Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near. Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private. Occasionally the angelic purpose is to warn. But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, guidance in difficult times.” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland)

I know this to be true. I've seen and felt the presence of departed family members in times of need as well as times of joy. I know that they have protected and warned and celebrated with us. They are not far from us and undoubtedly they shield us. It is comforting to know that the Lord sends the best Special Forces in the universe to help and protect us. 

How grateful I am for their assistance, now if I could just get them to convince Sam to keep his clothes on. 



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Serious Post

Over the blissfully free-from-work-and-school Thanksgiving break my eight year old daughter Bella accidentally dropped a large can of beans on her big toe. (The ranch style beans with brown sugar everybody loves.) Any other kid would have howled in pain and run immediately into the arms of a comforting parent. Instead Bella calmly walked to her bedroom and cried into her pillow. Once in control of herself she put on her socks and shoes and limped back to her usual activities not telling anyone about the mishap. 

Later in the day I asked her why she was wearing her shoes in the house. This was not normal for her but she told me that her feet were cold and gave me the Bella look that means “don’t ask me again”. Rather than get into it with her I let it go at that.

Two days passed and she began limping rather noticeably. She continued to hide her injury until Buns and I physically pinned her down and made her let us look at her foot. Once we got her sparkly tennis shoes and color coordinated socks off it unveiled a twice the normal size, throbbing, purple ghoulish toe.

I tried to keep my face calm but inwardly I was screeching and flailing my arms around. “Holy cats! How have you not been writhing on the floor in agony with that monstrosity?” was my thought.

When we told her we needed to go see the family doctor to have it checked out huge tears began to run down her cheeks. “Oh baby, he’s just going to look at it. No shots.” I promised, hoping desperately not to be a liar. She didn’t say anything, just continued to look at me with those wide-open tear filled brown eyes that transmitted the fear she felt like an electric current.

The next morning I loaded her in the car and we drove to the doctor’s office. She sat quietly in the back seat and didn’t say a word as I tried to tell lame jokes and take her mind off what was coming. I could tell she was hurting and afraid of what was going to happen. A sad sigh would escape now and then and I could see the tears welling up in her eyes in the rear view mirror.

We arrived and after a miraculously short wait we found ourselves in the small examination room with the doctor. “Wow, what happened to you?” he said with a smile. This was more than she could handle and finally collapsed into a sobbing mass on the table.

Once it was determined that the bone wasn’t broken he told us that all the pain was coming from pressure under the toenail and that it needed to be lanced. He would heat up a needle and make two small holes in the nail to let the blood drain out.

Bella was really brave as this was all going on and consented to let him go ahead. I stood up by her head and held her so she couldn’t see as she went through what seemed to me to be some kind of medieval torture that had been tweaked into a modern medical practice.

As soon as the doctor pierced the nail blood began gushing out of her toe. This continued as he made the second and then applied pressure to finish the job off. Amazingly, there was almost an immediate reprieve on Bella’s side, although I was near hyperventilating. “Oh that feels better” she said with relief in her voice. She was bandaged up by the nurse and sent home much happier.

That afternoon as I contemplated the situation I realized that there was a message in that situation that I needed to hear.  

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to cover painful incidents in my life with achievements and completed projects. Instead of dealing with the unpleasant emotions that came from the trials of my life I did my best to bury them. I’ve done this by deliberately not thinking about them and frantically wrapping them up with accomplishments and other behaviors as I try to banish the pain those circumstances caused.

The state of affairs with Bella helped me to see that because I’ve been avoiding these thoughts and feelings, I’m not allowing the Savior to do what is needed to heal me. I'm limping around with a bruised and battered spiritual toe refusing to let anyone look at it. I am going to have to be brave and let Him lance it so that the pressure that has been building up over the years can come out.

This is going to require humility, which I am no good at, and faith. Something I thought I had in abundance but now realize needs some work. I’m going to have to stop giving lip service to the atonement when it comes to emotional pain, and actually trust Him to let it work in my life. No more counterfeiting.

With this in mind, last night I got into the car and went somewhere that will help get me on the right track. It was terrifying to admit to others that I was indeed an actual mess and not just the funny one I pretend to be. That with all the incredible things the Lord blesses me with, I still struggle deeply to trust Him when it comes to this area. It was freeing, it was honest, and there were people there just like me.

Today I’m hopeful. I feel good. This is going to be a challenge and it is going to hurt, but with God's help I know it may be one of the best things I ever do and the first step has already brought relief.  

It’s time to finally see the doctor and heal this toe.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Great Expectations

Tomorrow my oldest son David turns sixteen. 

For this momentous occasion he will be having a “sweet sixteen” party. (Ok, I'll admit, he isn’t calling it that but his mother most certainly is!) After doing a little research on what is expect of a modern sweet sixteen party I found that my pocketbook as well as my heart were going into cardiac arrest. It seems that to be considered a responsible parent these days a sweet sixteen party must include the following.
  •  The rental of the hottest nightclub in the area
  • A live performance by Cee Lo Green
  • Limo service for Dave and all his friends to and from the club
  • A finger food buffet of truffles and gold plated Big Macs
  • A fireworks display that will make the 4th of July Spectacular in Washington D.C. pale in comparison
  • A performance by the troupe from Cirque du Soleil 
  • Live tigers to ride around the party
  • A bounce house made out of money 
All of these requirements were going to be a little hard to come by since neither Buns nor I are secret millionaires, not to mention as far as I know Cee Lo's schedule is booked.

When I informed Dave that we were not going to be able to pull off the above list he just looked at me with a gaze I know well, the “mom, you are a lunatic” expression.  “Why would I want any of that anyway?” was his reaction.

Instead he opted for a BBQ with his friends and video games. What a great kid. It’s something I’ve always known.

Sixteen years ago, after 14 hours of the most painful experience of my life, the doctor gave me a 10 pound 4 oz. tank of a baby boy to hold for the first time. That moment was one of the most influential spiritual experiences I have ever had. His personality and the power of his spirit impacted me in an incredible way. I knew that he was special. Heavenly Father had saved him to come down just at that time because he was going to be courageous and make a huge impact on the world he lived in. I knew it just as I knew that we had an enormous responsibility as his parents to make sure that we taught him correct principles. If we would love him, and do our job something great was going to happen.

I had this experience three other times as Andrew, Bella, and Sam made their way into the world. 

I have already seen the strength that is in the youth of this generation. David and his siblings are the only members of the church in their school and they field questions, comments, and sometimes bigotry in an awesome way. They are good examples to their friends and have already had an influence on the people around them. Kids know not to swear and talk about inappropriate behavior in front of them. They make this happen in a non-judgmental way and explain matter-of-factly why it isn’t a good idea. They’ve helped others to know they are valued children of their Heavenly Father. 

They aren’t perfect but on the whole they are so much stronger and better than I was at their age. They have understanding of truth that absolutely blows my mind some days. I’m proud of them and blessed to be their mother. 

As of tomorrow David will be embarking on the ability to drive, and date. Buns and I are sending him to the edge of the nest and watching him take off on his first solo flights. I know he’ll do great. He will mess up and have to make corrections from time to time but I have great expectations for he and his siblings because I know who they are and where they really come from. 

So happy birthday David, you’re an incredible kid with far more potential than you can possibly know.  We love you and always will.



“I wish we could promise you that the world will be safer and easier for you than for us, but we cannot make that promise, for just the opposite is true . . . Your challenge is much greater than was ours. Few of us would trade places with you . . . 

But, oh, what a wonderful time to be young! You have knowledge of many more things than we needed to have. It is my conviction that your generation is better and stronger than was ours—better in many ways! I have faith that you young men and young women can meet the world on its own terms and conquer it!

You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!” (President Boyd K. Packer).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

You're a Good Man Charlie Brown

In the 3rd grade I loved music class. Once or twice a week my wiggly com padres and I would be lined up and marched down the hall to a room filled with tambourines, bongos, and recorders. It was one of my favorite times of the school day, when we would sing and clap and dance. One of the songs that our teacher taught us was a song from a Charlie Brown special called Happiness Is…

I loved that song. I sang it all the time. I identified completely with Charlie Brown. Honestly, there was a kid who called me Charlie Brown for years because I had a “big head”. I was awkward, bigger and stronger than most of the others including the boys. This made me self-conscious and I felt like an outsider.  I was constantly sticking my foot in my mouth and was terribly insecure. I found that the one way I could relate to other people was by telling them funny stories. Made up stories, real stories, anything I could think of that would get a laugh.

As a teen this morphed into sarcasm. I was still making people laugh so they would accept me and it allowed my pessimistic outlook on life to peek through as well. It was the best of both worlds. My pessimism came from a turbulent childhood; I didn’t believe the future would hold much happiness because up to that point the past hadn’t shown me much of it. I believed that life was unfair and you couldn’t control that, might as well just become cynical and accepting of the fact that you were going to be miserable.

And yet, somewhere deep down my soul was still singing. “Happiness is finding a pencil, pizza with sausage, telling the time.” Simple things made me happy even though I didn’t want to admit it. Despite all of my self-loathing and quivering insecurities there was a fire burning somewhere down deep that kept telling me that the elusive happiness I had given up on was all around me if I could just open my eyes.

Once out from under the rules of my parents’ house my pent up rebellion and pessimism exploded onto the scene. God obviously didn’t care about me and I was going to do anything I wanted. Living the commandments had not fixed my life. They hadn’t made my problems disappear; trying hard to follow the Gospel had not made people stop acting in hurtful ways and so I decided to try to find happiness elsewhere.

Elsewhere included all kinds of idiotic behaviors and temporarily it numbed all the thoughts and feelings I had been trying to get away from for so long. But it didn’t last. I soon found myself in a black hole of miasmic night. All the light had gone out of my life and I was truly wretched. It was so dark and desperate that there were times I felt it would be easier to just not exist anymore.

One night when I felt like I was being consumed by the darkness my mind caught hold of a thought. “It doesn’t have to be this way. You are not alone.”

That flash of hope started me on a path that led to a loving bishop’s office. That bishop helped me to begin a very long and trying repentance process. It took years of trying, faltering, and trying again to get me back to where I knew I was where God wanted me to be. 

As arduous as that path was, and as many times as I fell down, I slowly came to realize that the Savior really did love me. I found that after each struggle I could look back and see that He had been patiently helping me along and that I was a bit stronger. He had not made it easy but He had made it possible. And He had helped me to see His love expressed in a rainbow, or a good friend, in silly things my kids said, relationships with my family, words of the scriptures, in the lyrics of a song, and everywhere I looked if I had my eyes open.  

Life is still difficult. There have been moments that brought me spiritually and literally to my knees. There has been pain and stress and from time to time wavering on my part. The difference between now and my early life is that as I live the commandments the best I can and keep trying to improve; I have a peace inside and know that eventually all will be well. I have also learned to recognize the love that is all around me, even when things are as bad as they can get. I really can find happiness and comfort in something as simple as “a warm blanket”.

I think that part of the Savior’s plea for us to become “like a little child” may in part be asking us to seek for the ability see His love in little achievements and everyday wonders. Flowers on the side of the road, a hug from a five year old, a good joke, a rain storm.

Happiness is… feeling God’s love for us. That is what makes this messy, difficult life bearable. People will fail us, problems will come, we will be hurt, and lonely, and scared but please know that God is there and He is telling you He loves you in a million ways. Just open your eyes.



P.S. After reading this a day later I realize that I made my childhood sound like a dour, terrible experience and that is not totally accurate. Although some of it was no picnic I was blessed wonderful and loving people who were a major influence on me for good. My mother who was unflinchingly faithful in the face of overwhelming adversity, my dad who by the end of his life was a shining example of the transformation that can take place in a person when they take hold of the atonement and allow it to work in their life, and many others.

I know for a fact that the experiences of my life and the people in it have made me who I am today and I'm grateful for it and wouldn't trade it with anyone.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

If Ye Love Me Keep My Chore Chart

As a kid I was a slob. My room usually looked like the aftermath of when an F4 tornado goes through a Piggly Wiggly.  Rock collections, books, wrappers, stuffed animals, clothes, you name it, and it was on the floor. It was dangerous to enter without climbing gear and there were times my mom would send in search and rescue teams in to find me amid the rubble. This situation although highly upsetting to my mother, didn’t even register as an issue for me. I was perfectly happy in my mess and didn’t see any logical reason to clean it up, other than the fact that there seemed to be a lot of threatenings about it issuing from my maternal parental unit. 

This lack of organization spilled into other areas of my life like school, where just about every report card had notes on it like this: “Brenda is bright; she just isn’t applying herself and isn’t prepared for class. Lots of papers seem to go missing.” Groundings would ensue and life just wasn’t very happy because of my slobbiness. 

Then sometime in early adulthood reality dawned on me; being neat and organized makes life easier. You can accomplish so much more when you aren’t always endlessly searching for things like they were buried treasure. Not only that, but once children enter the scene if you aren’t organized and have your house up to par life comes grinding to a halt for everyone. Organization is the antidote to most types of frustration.  If only my 12 year old self had known this!

Now I’m no Martha Stuart but if the house is a mess I can’t relax until it is cleaned up. To help with our busy schedule I created a chore chart that rotates the daily jobs from person to person. If it is followed the house is taken care of and stuff gets done when it is supposed to. 
Homework, check. 
Baths, check.
Family prayer and scripture study, check.
Dishes, dogs fed, living room straitened, check.

With everyone doing their part we operate effectively and efficiently and stress levels go down. When we don’t follow the framework things start to fall apart.

I say to the kids, “if you love me then please stick to the chore chart! If you want me a sane and happy mama, instead of a raving maniac who is overwhelmed by the enormous amount of work our family has to get done each week then please, for the love of Pete, do your chores!” 

Luckily, I have quite a wonderful family who in most cases follows the framework and views their mother’s mini-meltdowns with humor. What I had not realized was that this is exactly what the Lord is asking us to do by following the commandments. Obviously He isn’t like me but what He has done is set up a way for the human family to work efficiently and effectively in a way that takes care of everyone in the best possible way. It allows for growth and love, and it allows for tremendous amounts of work to get done without burying anyone. In the same way that I set up a chore chart for my family to reduce stress, conflict, and help us move forward, He has done the same thing only in a much more perfect form. 

Think of what the world would be like if everyone followed the Ten Commandments. Families would be happy, war would not exist, people would take care of one another, and trust would abound. It would be an absolute paradise.  Then add the Sermon on the Mount and latter-day revelation about the plan of salvation. That is what heaven is. It’s just family working together, following the chart because they love the Lord and He loves them. 

That’s it. 

“If ye love me keep my commandments.” It is simple and beautiful and hands down the way we will be the most productive, happy, and able to navigate the turmoil of this world. Now if I could just go back and teach the twelve-year-old me this.



"The foundational principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ can affect our life’s direction for good, if only we will apply them." -Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Regrets and Resolutions", Liahona and Ensign, November 2012

P.S. The main idea for this post was brazenly stolen from a phenomenal talk given by our Relief Society President last week, although I don't think she mentioned the Piggly Wiggly... I just like saying it. Try it. Piggly Wiggly. :)
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