Monday, December 22, 2014

What IS the Magic of Christmas?

I have been thinking about this question ever since my family watched "A Christmas Story" last week. Before watching the movie, several of the kids said they couldn't think of anything they wanted for Christmas. They decided to donate presents to others the last few years instead of asking for anything (they still got a few things of their own). They came upstairs after watching "A Christmas Story" and a couple of them had thought of something they wanted for Christmas - and my husband asked, "Do you remember that magic of Christmas morning? When you woke up and saw all your presents?"

Interestingly, I had been reading a short story by Pushkin (The Queen of Spades) while they were watching the movie (I wondered if maybe I should be watching it with them for some family time, but I decided that I'd seen the movie enough times that I could still share in the conversation about it afterwards without having to sit through it again!) Anyway, this short story was about a man's obsession with getting something and the obsession betrays him in the end. It gave him misery instead of the happiness he wanted.

I didn't see the similarities  between the movie and this story (until the next day), but as I watched this sudden desire in my kids and this nostalgic comment from my husband, I wondered - what is the "magic" we want so much at Christmas?

I would love some insights about this, so far I have 3 theories - which do you think is right?

1. The "magic" is the belief in the impossible. We could call this "imagination". All great inventions and breakthroughs start with someone imagining the impossible and then making it possible. Imagination is strong in children - why shouldn't a man drive a sleigh with flying reindeer, squeeze through millions of chimneys and put toys under everyone's tree? If I can be a squirrel one minute and a Transformer the next, surely this is possible too.

I believe all good attributes are magnified as we grow in truth... so maybe we don't have to lose this ability as we get older. We just begin to understand that making the impossible possible takes a ton of work, so we choose to let it stay impossible. Or, if it means a lot to us, we follow that inspired dream with all of our might. Maybe the nostalgia comes because we've stopped taking God's hand and trusting He has a purpose for the desires in our hearts and He will help them come to pass if we jump forward in faith.

2. The "magic" is greed. The love of stuff is powerful. Wanting something badly and then getting it with no effort feels pretty good. Ask any compulsive gambler! This form of magic is deceptive. The temporary pleasure leaves you empty after a time - anyone familiar with these kind of after-Christmas blues?

3. The "magic" is love. Family time, games, dinners, conversations. Remembering Christ's ultimate gift and His love for us through music, story, art. Following His example by reaching out to others and looking for ways to cheer. Living less selfishly.

As I look at what the magic might be, I have to ask myself what kind of magic my actions and traditions produce in my home. I want to foster imagination, but I want to couple it with a hard work ethic and a faith in God. Imagination without these things is only wishful thinking. It will produce bitterness an cynicism.

Some of our past traditions have fostered greed. I understand that Santa Claus can be a symbol of Christlike charity, but for our family the belief in Santa seemed to foster greed and selfishness. We had to let him go. I am glad we did. We also took the focus away from the presents. We don't talk about them or ask about them (of course other people do ask so we get ideas about what they would like). I remember asking Bud, a couple of years ago, what he wanted for Christmas. As he racked his brain trying to think of an answer and got more self-centered in the process, I realized that I didn't really want to ask that question anymore.
Santa was at our church's Christmas party. The boys sat on his lap and when he asked what they wanted for Christmas, Gem (seeing his bag of candy canes) replied that he wanted a candy cane :-) 

I do know I want to foster love. That brings the kind of joy that keeps on building and never runs out. The love of God is an ever-running fountain. The love building traditions are the ones I want to spend my time and energy on.  I am still trying to figure out what these are. We have done some service, we have read some stories, we have slowed our pace and talked more spontaneously. We have gone to some family parties. It has been nice. I know I could be more purposeful though. What are some of your favorite love-filled traditions?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Work Hard and the same time

Happy Thanksgiving!
I ran 13.1 miles this morning. This was my third (and slowest) half marathon, but I wanted to share some things I learned through the somewhat painful process. Then anyone who reads this can learn what I learned and not have to run a half marathon! What a bargain :-)

Gratitude gives you energy
My favorite part of this race (besides running it with my husband) was the different signs along the way, expressing gratitude for different blessings. I honestly felt a burst of energy when I would remember my blessings as I ran. Gratitude connects you to God.

Relax and trust God
I learned this when I was training. I would set a goal to run as fast as I could to a certain spot, then walk, then pick another spot to run to. At one point I found I wasn't running all that fast and I would tense up and try to run faster. It hurt, but my speed didn't increase much. The I remembered, "Wait a minute, I know how to handle pain, I have had 7 babies! I just need to relax." I made myself relax, and I found I ran a lot faster and with less pain. I practiced this through the race.

It reminded me that while it is important to have a goal I am trying to reach, as I move toward it, I need to relax and trust God instead or relying on my own strength and efforts.

This morning I wrote an email to a friend about an issue I wanted to help her with. While I was running, I realized that in my efforts to help, I was a little worried and tense. I said some things I probably should have kept to myself in my desire to help her see what I perceived was the truth. During my run, I realized that even though my intent was to help, I would have been more helpful if I had only said those things I felt would help her want to seek truth from the real source of truth instead of being so blunt about my opinion. I was trying to follow the spirit, but I don't think the Spirit pushes thoughts on anyone without their consent. Maybe I wan't trusting God enough. I am not sure. But I do know I don't want to send emails anymore if I am in a state of worry.

Pay the price to be prepared
This may seem like the opposite of what I just talked about, but I think the two principles compliment each other nicely. I didn't train for this half marathon as well as I trained for the other two I ran. I was a little nervous that I wouldn't be able to finish. My time was 2:26. It was a lot better then I expected to get. But it was over 2 minutes slower - per mile - then the last half marathon I ran. For that one, nothing kept me home from going on a training run. I ran in cold, icy weather in the dark Baltimore streets. This time, I skipped runs if it was too cold or if I got too busy. It is okay - I had different priorities this time around. But it reminded me how each day I make decisions that determine how prepared I will be for the work God has for me to do.

When that work comes my way (as it does every day), I can be sort of prepared and unsure or I can be excited and well prepared. Preparation for a half marathon can be uncomfortable, inconvenient and not always fun. Especially when your house is so warm and outside is so cold! The decisions I make each day can be to do the comfortable and easy, but those won't help me reach my potential.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Do you Feel the Storm Brewing?

Does anyone feel a shift lately? I have talked to others who seem to be feeling it.  I don't know if it is general, but I know I am feeling a sense of a tempest in my midst and the necessity of securing my family.

It almost feel like the word is the ocean,  the Gospel - my life-jacket, my ability to swim and the sustenance I will need through the voyage...
and my home is the boat.

I feel this need to strengthen my boat - to patch up any holes, to make it sure and sturdy for my children.  Because they are going to need it.

The waves are towering high above us. I see youth I love getting thrown overboard and trying to swim back. I see my own kids getting tossed by the building waves and reaching out to me and their dad to take their hand and  help them hold on tight.

I think the ocean was more mellow just a few years ago.  We could swim around a little and swim back to secure our life jackets once in a while and be alright. But the ocean is full of eddies now, the waves are high and unpredictable, and the storm is increasingly intense. Our boat, or "barge", needs to be "tight like unto a dish" (Ether 2)

I am not saying any of this in a spirit of fear. I trust in Him who can walk on water and calm the storms. I just feel a sense of the importance of my role in making a safe place amidst the storm.

I sometimes wonder if Satan ever feels ashamed of himself at the ruthless ways he is attacking our youth. He fights dirty with no holds barred. I have been taken aback by the unexpected ways he penetrates my children's armor. He sneaks up on them - even when their intentions are good - and tricks them into traps. I am grateful for the open communication we have so far and that we have been able to see those traps and make an effort together to move away from them. But we have to be consistently vigilant.

So I am seeking to be guided in how to make my home a strong place of safety.  I am learning that it is not just the environment that needs to be uplifting - it is also the relationships. This means we need to spend time together, learn to forgive one another, and care for each other.* 
*I know many families are missing a father or a mother, but I also know the Lord makes up the difference in those situations and helps us patch up the boat to what it needs to be to make it through the storms. I have seen it numerous times.

I am finding that even the great adult-planned activities and classes offered in our community can distract from this more important purpose. We start to feel pulled apart in different directions and become too busy for one another.

Then there is the peer-directed activities! Spice is getting older and opportunities arise every weekend night to go be with friends. It is culturally acceptable, even in diligent families, to let youth hang out, unsupervised, in mixed gender groups for an evening out at an event or someone's house (where the parents are home, but no where to be seen). Initially, I too thought this was okay.  I have an amazing daughter and I trust her immensely. A couple of years ago, I went to one of these events with her and I watched all of these good youth there without parents. I then knew it was a cultural norm that was not approved of by the Lord (at least for my daughter - not speaking for anyone else). She will be dating in a year and will get to enjoy group dates and fun unsupervised social activities at a time approved of by the Lord. (By the way, before I get emails from well-meaning people about how I can't shelter my kids forever, I'm not saying she doesn't get to go anywhere without me - just that we are very careful about what activities we approve of and we make sure they are well supervised by a trusted adult.)

In the mean time, we are working on making our family relationships strong. We are working on having fun together, caring for one another and uplifting one another.  Sure, there is still contention in our home, but it is not accepted and we use it to teach important lessons. I tell my kids that if we can't get along with each other, we have no business leaving the home to be with friends.  Family relationships must be strong and secure. We must make sure our boat is leak-free before we go visit other boats :-) It is then good to find other families who are working to make their boats secure so we can help one another with our boat-building tips and tricks :-)

I know tough times are ahead. I know my kids will likely fall overboard at times and have to find their way back. I just want to be sure that I am doing my part to teach them to secure their life-jackets, to strengthen their swimming muscles and to know that their family will be there, paddling out to them, reaching out their hands to help them back on board to a place of safety.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The War for My Heart: An eternal love story

War was far from my mind as I walked through a trail near my home on a beautiful, fall day.  I breathed in the crisp, mountain air and smiled at flickering yellow aspen leaves looking so busy behind the steady, orange and red maples. “Much like my thoughts today,” I mused. It had been a frantic morning as I tried to prepare for this hike, and even so, I had left many things undone that I had meant to get to.
“Don’t forget to look for a pebble that represents you in some way,” I called to the group of youth trailing along behind me. As we reached the still, quiet pond that was our destination, we found a place to share and discuss the insights we had gained from our readings that week. At the end of our time, I invited them to find a quiet spot to think. I asked them to throw their pebble in the pond, watch the ripples, and quietly reflect on what sort of ripples they were sending to the world.
They went to their quiet spots and I found a relatively flat rock where I could try to ponder. I had my baby along and I wondered if I could think of anything worthwhile as she squirmed and grabbed my pen while I tried to write. Suddenly, a powerful thought flashed into my mind and I began to write:

"You may not see it, but there is war raging around you, even in this peaceful place.  Your heart is the price.  Unseen forces want to dwell there. You get to decide who wins the victory.  Your choices invite one of the two sides in."

As I watched these youth throw their pebbles in the pond, I understood why a heart is the ultimate price of victory for these veiled powers. If they can penetrate one heart - their influencing ripples will extend far beyond what we can see.  In the heart lies power. It is where ripples are made.
I looked back to when I had rippled frustration, annoyance, and selfishness that day.  I knew I had admitted the opposing force into my heart.  I reflected that because Christ died for me, I have the choice to let Him clean my heart from any evil at any moment.  And He would fill it with God’s love.  Gratitude filled my soul as I understood that because of Him, I get to choose who wins each battle for my heart.

The youth and I shared our parting thoughts with one another and began walking back along the trail. As we hiked down, the aspen leaves looked full of joy and life. I looked at the changing leaves, the deep blue sky, the sunny flowers. I felt God’s love for me speaking through their bloom.

I considered His love for each of us.  How I wanted His love to win.  I felt a great desire to let it reside so much in my heart that it can build fortresses, barricades, watchtowers and strongholds. I wished to ripple His love into as many hearts within my influence as I could touch.  They may even let it in.  And then it could ripple…

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Believes in Me

I have had a lot of self-doubt lately.  There are only so many times that I can fail at my inspired goals - (for no good reason other than lack of self-discipline) before I start to want to give up on having goals. I don't want to keep failing.  It is easier to go through the motions and not face the reality that I am so weak.

But today, as I pondered on my Savior's love and the terrible pain He suffered for my sake, I remembered that I cannot give up on myself - He never would.

Choosing to give up would be like saying to Him that all that pain and suffering He endured for me was in vain.  I know He believes in me.  If He believes in me than I can trust that I can overcome.  I can trust that I can be strong through Him. And that His atonement has the power to strengthen me through my weaknesses. My weaknesses are gifts that help me grow closer to Him and rely more and more on His grace and love.

As I remembered this today, my heart was filled to overflowing with the peaceful assurance that it is true.  He loves me.  He believes in me.  He wants me back home.  He has provided the path - and that Path is always there for me. It is always there for each of us.

I will try to always remember.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Grassroots Education

A couple of my friends from our homeschool group are moving.  They are looking to start a Vanguard scholar group in their area when they move.  As I think about the most important advice I could give them, I decided to write a blog post about it in case it may be of some use to anyone else thinking of starting a scholar group.

Homeschooling is growing so fast and it seems to be sky-rocketing as people are better understanding the "Common Core" program.  Maybe some of my experience will be helpful to some.

1. To narrow down the focus of your group, prayerfully figure out what is most important for your children to get from their education and focus on those things. There is more out there than any one person can learn in quite a few lifetimes, don't expect your children to know it all before they leave your home.

For me, this was: 
-A testimony of Jesus Christ, His gospel and His love for them
-The ability to find true principles in anything they read, see and experience and apply those principles to themselves
-The skills to take that truth and share it in a way that changes hearts
-A love for all people, and of freedom, beauty, and order
-The ability to think spiritually, from other perspectives, creatively, symbolically and logically 
-The desire to serve

I do know tests and making money is important, but I believe if my children have the abilities and skills listed above, they will be able to quickly learn what they need for any test and be able to provide for their families.  Besides, learning to think logically often involves doing some math...

2. Decide what you want to do at home and what is best done in a group setting. (For example, for us, math is best done at home, but group discussions are a powerful way to learn to find principles and see their evidence in the lives of our peers).

3. Pray for God to send you people who you can serve and who can help you with the vision He inspired you with.

4. Set up an information meeting (look for yahoo groups or other homeschool websites in your area) to tell people your vision and to let them know you are looking for people who like your vision and would like their youth to  participate and would like to help you see it through. Then read great books together and find true educational principles you want to apply to your group.

5. Learn and focus on true educational principles (and teach them to your students)
Such as:
-The Spirit is the real teacher - our job is to invite Him to teach us
-Going to class prepared to discuss invites the Spirit into our hearts and edifies others as we share the truth we learned. (This applies to teachers, but especially to students)
-Inspire as much as possible - students learn best when they choose to do it. Never force.  Sometimes ask for obedience when you see a need that the student does not yet see.
-Writing and speaking open communication channels to others and also to God.
-You can't inspire if you are not living the truth you teach (including a love for learning more than you already know and aspiring to live it)
-Extrinsic rewards (grades, treats, social time, etc) can distract and overpower intrinsic rewards. Use them very sparingly for skill or knowledge acquisition. Never to inspire a love of learning.
-Seek an education for the purpose of blessing others
-The deeper you follow a truth, the more connections you will find.  If you go deep enough, it will connect to all subjects or disciplines of study
-Classics teach you to think. A lot of curriculum focuses on information. In this age of google, youth are right when they feel they are wasting their time regurgitating information.  They must learn to sift through the data to find the nuggets of truth that will benefit them and others. Classics help them learn to do this.

6. Only plan assignments, lessons and activities that support your purpose, don't get distracted with all of the other good purposes out there.

7. Be okay with change, you may have found the perfect system for a semester, but it may need to be changed to fit different needs the next semester.  It is okay, and perhaps for the best, for your group to looks different every year.  Just stick to the true educational principles you know and be okay with changing the application of those principles as you are inspired or see a need.

8. Remember the principle of a council. As you lead a group, choose carefully who you want in your governing board, choose those who are close to the spirit and who live the truth they know. Then counsel with them when you need to make decisions.  Remember Elder Boyd K. Packer's words, "I have a deep, even a sacred, regard for councils; inspiration is evident in them.  If ever another course has been followed, trouble has followed as sure as night follows day. If we are to meet the great challenges...we must respect these principles. The Lord has said, 'I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine."

My favorite books or sites for finding true educational principles (just remember to apply them in your own way):
The Scriptures
Teach the Children by Neil Flinders
A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille
Norms and Nobility by David B. Hicks
Educating Zion
Increase in Learning and follow up books by Bednar
D&C 88 and 93
Gateway to the Great Books Introduction
The Great Conversation by Hutchins
Teaching Videos
Teacher Training
Arm the Children by Arthur Henry King
Ten Boom Institute

The list may look overwhelming, but the good news is most of the principles are the same in each book :-)  And it is hard to apply more than one principle at a time so just get started and apply the principles as you come across them.  Then the next time you come across one, you will see a way you can apply it even better, and you can just keep progressing in your educational journey :-)

Our youth need a great education. Schools are often (not always) failing them in this. Too often they are training instead of educating our youth. I think a grassroots effort to help these youth get a real education may be the best answer to this dilemma.

I love learning about learning.  If any of you are embarking on the great adventure of building community and helping one another inspire your youth, I am happy to help by sharing my experience if I can.  I don't claim to be an expert, but I do believe there is a need for better education out there and so I am happy to help in this endeavour when possible.  Have joy in your journey!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Great Thoughts From My Kids

Spice gave taught a lesson in YW today and she asked me if she could share a not-so-flattering story about our family because it taught her a lesson about grace.  She read it to me and I loved what she said so I wanted to preserve it and share her thoughts on here.

Based on a true story:
So I was babysitting my siblings. 
(Already crazy right? ;) )
And my little brother [Gem], is such a sensitive cute little guy, and he did not want my parents to leave. 
He was literally screaming and running out into the road as they drove off. 
I kinda stood there like 'we are both gonna die, child protective services is probably on their way..."  and then I ran up to him, and I attempted many strategies (If you can call them strategies...).
I tried forceful words, I tried a bunch of bribery, I tried pleading, but when I finally got him to come back with me, he was still reluctant in his words and I barely made it inside alive ( I'm exaggerating XD).
I later realized the one strategy I forgot, was that of Love.
But as we got inside, of course I had to fulfill all my bribes, and some of them included food, and you know how it is when one kid in your family gets a piece of food, its like a bunch of ravenous wolves stampede the kitchen, and everyone has to have some. So by this time I was kind of just like "Ugh!"
And then after the bribes were fulfilled, it was time for bed. So I got their pajamas on (In more realistic terms I wrestled with a bunch of angry gorillas and attempted to slap some clothes on them.) (Maybe not that bad, but you get the idea.)
But as I read some stories, and tried to put one kid in bed, while the other was screaming around, and I tried to tuck one in, while the other was singing at the top of his lungs, or as I read a book that one wanted, the other went ballistic because it wasn't the book he wanted to read, and as I administered 50 drinks, I got more and more frustrated by the minute.
But as I settled on the bed, with a kid each arm, reading a little fairy tale, I realized that THEY were JUST like me. 
Just little souls wondering around trying to find what makes them happy.
Just wanting someone to be there for them and love them.
And as I tucked them in, and said a prayer with them, I thanked God for their smiles, and their laughter, and I prayed that we could keep this spirit always. 
And then I turned off the lights and gently closed the door, knowing that if I were to have integrity, and use Christ's grace, I needed to see and love people as who they really are, and who they can become.
Only through Christ can our hearts be changed and it is only through His grace that our perspective and life can transform.

Sweet huh? While I am preserving memories, Bud gave a talk about the blessings of the temple today.  I really enjoyed seeing how he is developing a testimony of the importance of going to the temple.

Bud''s talk:
Blessings of the temple talk: 
I was asked to talk on the blessings of the temple so here goes,
There are many blessings of which the temple gives us... For example, this week  I was able to go to the temple 2 times and do baptisms for the dead. That was a blessing for me and the dead because I'm feeling the spirit strongly while I do them and it strengthens my testimony while it gives people who maybe didn't hear about the gospel a chance to have the blessings we have and have everlasting happiness.  
The temple is also like a portal to heaven. It’s a place where God can dwell because Satan cannot be there. The  veil is very thin in the temple so you can feel the spirit strongly there.
Eternal marriage is a great blessing of the temple to know that you will always be with your family forever.  
Can you imagine how terrible it would be to think that if a family member died  you would never see them again, ever. Thanks to the temple we can have eternal families and know that after a family member dies we can see them again and be their family forever.  
There is a spirit at the temple that makes you want more of it. When you go home, you want to have more of that spirit so you try to make your home better and that's a blessing so you can have a better home. When I was at the temple I had a feeling of happiness of serving because when you do baptisms for the dead you are serving.  
The temple is also a place where people can receive wonderful insights about spiritual things. When I was at the temple I felt a great love towards every one and that is a feeling we should take home.  Jesus said “love God” is the best commandment and “love your neighbor as thine self” the second best, so we should probably do them in our home. 
The temple is a great example of what we should make our homes like. The temple is a place where Satan can't be (as I mentioned before) so he can't get to you there, so if you are having trouble making a decision go to the temple and the spirit will guide you so that you know what decision to make. Since I went to the temple I want to be a better person because I can see what I can have and the happiness I can have if I be the best I can. I think Heavenly Father created temples to grow closer to him and to have everlasting life, and various other reasons. I think we become closer to him when we go to the temple because we’re strengthening our testimonies when we feel that spirit and know that the church is true. A temple is a place where we can feel closer to God and covenants can be made.  
Someone who was not our religion said "I feel the Mormon experience of the temple has restored the meaning to that meaning to the word “temple”, I thought this was cool because it shows that our temples can even show truth in other people’s religions so if people think that that's true maybe they'll find out more about our religion and think more things about it are true and more and more. Then they'll maybe join the true church - so that means the temple its self can be a source of help to missionaries. 
I like baptisms for the dead because it's so fun to do them. I don't know why it's so fun - the other day after I just had been to the temple the day before I had an opportunity to go again with my friends from our homeschool group, but I didn't want to go because I had been there the day before and I was thinking, “Well, I just went, so it's alright to not go today, but then I thought, “What if Satan is putting these thoughts in to my mind, I am not going to spend the rest of my days thinking things like, “Well, I just did that or I just did this so I don't have to do it again.” I don't think that's a good way to think - so I went. I was glad afterward because it feels so good to be there and do baptisms and be in the temple, and I was able to receive double the blessings of the temple! So if you have a chance to go to the temple - go! Because you want to have those blessings in your home. 
 Thomas S Monson said, "In the holy temple the precious plan of God is taught, it is here that eternal covenants are made. The temple lifts us, it exalts us, it stands as a beacon for all to see, and points us to celestial glory. All that occurs within the walls of the temple is uplifting and ennobling.  The temple is a place of . It is a place of kindness and love and light." We can learn a lot of things from the temple when we want our homes be like it.

This is getting long, but he also gave a talk to the boys who were turning 12 this year (and their parents).  I want to preserve that one as well, so here it is:

Things I can do in my life to help me prepare for the priesthood-
There's the basic stuff like reading scriptures, going to church every week, pray, family home evening. Some other things are like play with your brothers and sisters, don't be mean to them, do service aoround the house, don't do video games too much, listen to your brothers and sisters.  This stuff makes you more likeable and you have a better light around you.  I'd suggest that you should read the Book of Mormon at last once and have a testimony that it's true.  This stuff will help a lot in preparing for the priesthood.   
Be obedient to your parents, if you don't then why is Heavenly Father going to trust you to be obedient to Him?  If you have the priesthood you're gonna have to be obedient to Him or else why would He want you to have the Priesthood?  And we need to take care of our stewardships like our house, our pets, our bodies, our spirits.  We need to take care of our spirits especially because our spirits have to be taken care of or how is the priesthood gonna dwell in them?  So once we do this stuff we'll be more prepared for the Priesthood. 
Now I'm going to describe a boy who is worthy to receive the priesthood, as I do this, I want you to think if you are like this boy.  A boy who is worthy to receive the priesthood is quick to give, quick to repent, pays attention at church, turns to the Lord in his need, not away from him., keeps the ten commandments.  I'm going to read them because sometimes we forget them and I'm going to change them a little:
I have no other Gods before Him
I don't make any graven image
I don't bow myself down to them
I keep His commandments
I don't take the Lord's name in vain
I keep the Sabbath Day holy
I honor my father and mother
I don't kill
I don't steal
I don't bear false witness against my neighbor.
I don't covet
A boy who can say these things in his head and have them be t   rue is pretty worthy to receive the priesthood.  A boy who is worthy to receive the priesthood isn't selfish, has a strong testimony and shares it with others, doesn't judge, is quick to obey, is respectful.  He is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.  I don't know if that sounds familiar.  He listens in general conference and lives what he hears in it.
So how much does this apply in your life?

Okay, now that I'm on a roll, I will also put one of Spice's latest poems to finish off...


A hardened soul
From fear and war
Holding back
Scarred before.

A broken heart
A weeping face
Not letting go
Nor seeking grace.

An angry one
Building his own
Walls around
With cares of stone.

A hurt and lost
Person of pride
Not willing to change
The things inside.

A softened soul
Moves past the fear
Is progressing
For God is near.

A healing heart
A smiling face
Using every day
That grace

A praying one
Who seeks solace
Building his
Lasting palace.

A confident
Person of Christ
Open to change
For what is right.

The difference comes
Just with pure love
It's found above.

It's so good to see these kids learning and understanding true principles of the gospel.  May they always remember them!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Contemplating Social Norms for Teens

I am finding that raising teenagers is a very different ball game than raising younger children.  With my younger kids, things are more simple.  My job is to make their environment clean, good, beautiful and true.  I do this by keeping out bad things and surrounding them with good.  They absorb the beauty, truth and spirit.  I lead by example and by setting clear expectations and boundaries.  None of that is easy, of course, but it is simple.

Now that I am getting to raise teenagers, I am finding that I have to find that fine line between letting them learn for themselves and protecting them from harm.That line depends upon circumstance, the child's personality, previous circumstances, the level of trust, the evidence I see around me in how others choose to parent, and of course - the guidance of the Spirit.

I usually err on the side of freedom - I don't like to make rules unless I see there is a need for a rule (besides, of course, the basic rules and standards we live by).  I have never raised a teenager before and I have such great kids that I prefer to see how they handle things before I decide if I need to step in.  I am finding, though, that they are easily taken in by cultural norms (as am I) and it is so important that we work together to find true principles so we can make correct choices about what is appropriate for them.

There are several things lately that have made me question the appropriateness of some of the cultural norms around us and have make me realize that we need firm standards to fight this prevalent tide of potentially harmful normal behaviors...

Online Chatting:
I can't even imagine what a wreck I would have been if this had been around when I was younger.  I was so obsessed with boys that I would have probably hung out by my computer hoping one of them would get online and I could "chat" him!  Instead, I had to ride my bike by his house hoping to get a glimpse of him :-)  When my kids started "chatting" their friends, it seemed like a nice way to socialize a bit and ask each other quick questions about their studies (most of their friends are in their homeschool group and are studying similar things).  I started to realize there could be a problem with it, though, when I would hear the chat sounds during study hours and even in the evenings.  I would walk by a computer and see three different chat boxes.  Supposedly, they were all studying and chatting at the same time.  Wow - impressive, right? I have a hard time staying focused on something without the constant temptations of social interactions.

This wasn't the only concern though.  My kids have many friends that are the opposite gender.  I found that these online chats gave them opportunities to talk to these friends, one on one, with no supervision, with a screen to take away some of the awkwardness of saying some things to someone face-to-face.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I never saw them say anything inappropriate or wrong.  There is a lot of pressure from friends right now to divulge "crushes" and talk about those things, and they are both very good about keeping all of that to themselves and trying to be friends to everyone.  However, they do develop closer bonds to people as they have these private conversations and those bonds can be distracting from the better things they could be focused on right now (like their relationship to God and working to find and fulfil His work for them - you know - those things that will bring them the most happiness now and in the future).

So we've had to set limits on chat and google+ time.  We've asked for their input and have tried to talk through what's best. For now, we are allowing it during "social" time (time when the kids are allowed to play with friends after school hours): after 4 until dinner (around 5:30).  We are still working on enforcing this (it's hard to stick to your good intentions when it comes to social media!) - I check on it periodically to make sure they are staying within those limits.  The last few days that this has been enforced more strictly (the rule's been around for a while, but very lax) - I have seen more focus from my kids and better study.  Of course, I had to set the example by limiting my Internet use as well, but that has also been good for me and has helped me be more present.

Boy-girl activities:
One of the things I really enjoy about homeschooling is that my kids are able to make friends with people of the opposite gender in a good, non-awkward way.  I remember when I was in school - everyone was a potential crush and people would tease and giggle about each other.  Yuck.  I really like that my kids can feel okay about talking to either gender in a friendly way.

Spice started going to boy-girl activities that were planned with her youth group around the age of 12.  Usually, these were well planned and they had good interactions and healthy activities.  Occasionally there would be one where things were not so well planned and things didn't always go as well, but we learned and moved on.  Lately, her peer group is planning a lot of activities on their own... let's all go see a movie, let's get together for a birthday party, let's get together to work on Vanguard studies, let's have a game day, let's go to a dance, etc.   At first, I thought it sounded great that they were planning their own activities and building relationships.  I know these youth, and their parents, personally and know them to have good standards.

I came to find, though, that these activities also became a distraction.  Their scholar group became much more about the social aspect of being there instead of about learning and growing and encouraging one another to find their personal missions.  Their conversations started becoming less edifying and more about what activity they could next attend and who was going to be there.  This draw for girls to be with boys and for boys to be with girls was too much.  It has become too distracting.  We recently told Spice and Bud that they could only attend activities that were planned by adults (unless it was all-boys for Bud or all-girls for Spice) until they turned 16 and were ready to go on group dates.  And even the ones planned by adults would have to be done sparingly.  We discussed the reasoning and the principles behind our thoughts.  I am grateful for the principles we all learn during these discussions and for the standards we are figuring out together.  It is hard to navigate through what is right vs what is normal.

My kids' friends sure like to hug!  I come from a very huggy family and a very huggy culture (Hispanic) so I also love to give hugs.  This last summer, we discussed some relationship principles with the youth with whom we homeschool, and the question came up from the girls of whether or not it was okay to hug boys.  "Sure!" I said, "As long as they are just friendly hugs and not romantic ones."  I have learned some things since then!

The youth started with quick little hugs as they left activities.  Then they started giving each other quick little hugs after class as well, to whoever happened to be around when they left.  Then they started looking for people to hug when they would leave.  Then the hugs started getting tighter, then longer.  Now several of them line up to give hugs before someone leaves.  Goodness! One of my friends expressed it well, "I want my son to come to this scholar group and have deep, intellectual, edifying conversations with both genders and leave with a desire to learn more. But with all of the hugging after class, I think he probably goes home thinking more about that then anything."  I think she's right.  Another friend mentioned that a hug is something she gave a boy after having gone on a few dates with him - it was a sign of a growing relationship.  I find that I am rethinking my take on hugs. A friendly "goodbye" or pat on the back ought to be enough after an activity oughtn't it?

We've been trying to figure out how to choose the music that is appropriate in our home and for their devices.  For a while, Disney music and other similar pop music was being played (when Bud inherited his dad's old phone).  I didn't like it very much.  I need good, uplifting, spiritual music to help me be patient and loving with my many little ones. I'm also not a fan of headphones around family.  We had a devotional on music and asked them to only play uplifting church music for a week.  They agreed to give it a try.  After a week, they agreed that music is a powerful tool and that we need to use it wisely.  They did want to listen to upbeat music during work time, though, and church music is just not upbeat enough, they said.  Bud was awesome and deleted some songs on his phone just because he said he knew that the principle of music being powerful was a true principle and he wanted to make sure his music was good.  I still don't LOVE everything they choose during work time, but none of it is bad and I think they are learning to make wise choices so I hope to keep working on finding the right balance there on choice and protecting the home for my little ones.

Tablets and Phones
I'm trying to figure this one out!  It is something they will need to learn to monitor themselves on eventually, but they are addicting and I know I need to be very cautious in helping them make sure they are using them for good and not to waste their time.  We've gone back and forth on time limits with their input.  Right now, devices are supposed to be off at dinner until work is done the next day (except for music during work time), but Spice often needs hers to finish something she is working on (she does a lot of writing online).  I am deciding if I should just have her do her writing on paper.  I don't love the thought of them having Internet access alone in their room at night.  Bud likes to use his for an alarm.  For now, we have taken the browser off of Bud's phone just to be safe, and have told Spice that we will see how she does with the privilege.  We do have Internet filters.  I know they could access bad stuff anyway if they wanted to.  I'm just glad they do not want to, but I don't want to contribute to tempting them unnecessarily!

I have also been surprised by the forwardness of girls these days.  Bud has had some phone calls.  We discussed that it really wasn't very appropriate to be talking to girls on the phone at his age and how to handle it when they called.  He completely agreed, but I know he doesn't mind the attention.  I just hope he stays strong when the girls start seeming more appealing to him.  Moms, please don't let your girls call boys! It is the boys that need to be seeking the girls when the time is right.  It helps them become men and motivates them to prepare to fight those dragons.  Girls are so easy to come by these days.  I wish it wasn't so.  I'm grateful for those girls who stand with dignity, even though it is hard because the "forward" girls get all the attention.  Keep it up - you'll get the guys who are worth getting because they will be willing to work for you.

Your experience
Of course, all   of these guidelines are subject to change as the Spirit guides and as we learn and grow, but it is what feels right for us and our kids at this time.  They are so good, I don't want to throw things in their way to distract them from that light and goodness.  This time in life is a great time for us to discover all sorts of great principles about governing in a family, self-government and listening to the Spirit.

Thanks for reading through my ramblings.  If you have teens, I'd love to hear some principles that have helped you in raising them in this topsy-turvy time.  Just don't tell me that this behavior is part of being a teenager and that it is normal.  I know it's normal.  Normal is becoming increasingly wrong and I am looking for true principles to guide me - not social norms :-)  I have seen the fruits of the behaviors above with some of my children's friends - these are good kids - but the fruits of some of these behaviors are not good.  I know their potential and I see them getting distracted from it.  I know they will learn from it all and that things will work out alright, but if we can find true principles to guide us - we don't need to learn from quite as many mistakes.  I love the gospel and the true principles found there.  I think we'll start studying the Strength of Youth Pamphlet more deeply as well.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts or advice :-)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gifts and Happiness

I've had great intentions of writing a Christmas blog post with an overview of the year and I also want you write about Little Miss since we just celebrated her birthday, but I feel most compelled to write about a powerful insight that has been a rich blessing to my life. Hopefully I will catch up on the other things later. I am not sure where blogging fits into my life right now - but I know I love to write and I hope someday to do some good with it so I will try to make time for it.  We have early church now so maybe I'll be blogging more often.

The things I am going to share are kind of personal, but I want to share them in hopes that this blessing given to me may be of help to someone else. I hope it is read with the knowledge that this is my sincere intent.

We hear all of the time that everything we have is a gift from God - each day, each breath, our material things, but it has really hit me lately that it really is everything - our minds, capabilities, opportunities.  We don't earn any of it.  I don't know why this didn't register in my mind the first few hundred times I heard it, but I am beginning to understand what it means.

I gave one of my sons a kit for Christmas that had several pieces.  He took good care of it at first, but I found it scattered on the floor one day. My thought was, "When I see him treat his gifts this way, it makes me not want to give him more."  Then I felt the Spirit tell me, "I feel the same way about you."

Suddenly I realized that I don't clean the house just so it doesn't look terrible - I clean it to show gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the incredible gift of a home to live in.  I don't exercise just to loose weight - I do it to show Heavenly Father how grateful I am for this gift of a body.  I don't study just to be smart - I study to show Heavenly Father my gratitude for the gift of my mind...How well I take care of my stewardships is an indication of my gratitude for these gifts (and if I have more than I can take care of - then I need to give some of it away - someone needs it more than I do...we've started decluttering again).

As I have adopted this new truth to guide me - I feel gratitude so much more.  Almost everything I do feels joyful because I know for whom I am doing it.  When a child is yelling, I find myself feeling grateful that at least they have the gift of a voice. When I don't feel like going shopping and bringing in all of the groceries in the snow, I find myself feeling grateful that I am able to go buy food for my family.  It's not always easy, but the effort to feel and show gratitude is overwhelmingly worth it.  I feel a much more deep and rich connection to my Heavenly Father.

I turn off the radio in the car and pause to express my gratitude for a car and for a car with a heater. Then I notice my warm coat and feel grateful for that. Then I look at the view and feel grateful for the beauty of snow. Then I glance at my children in the rear-view mirror and I am overwhelmed with love for the gift of having them in my life. Joy and peace fill my soul.  I take in the moment.

I have been pausing more often to take in more moments as I go about my business. For example, I clean with just a little more care as an expression of gratitude for what I am cleaning and as I do so I remember even more blessings and I stop to take in the beauty and wonder of the moment.

This deeper connection to my Heavenly Father has also opened up my mind to hearing Him. I notice His tutoring hand as I go through my day.  I have thoughts that teach me and help me understand my role, my desires, and His incredible will and plan for me.  I felt so grateful the other day as I cleaned stinky water out of our broken dishwasher because it gave me the opportunity to ponder on some things that I would have been too busy to ponder otherwise. My kids did not want to be around the smell so they didn't interrupt my thoughts and I learned some things.  I don't know if I can feel grateful for any circumstance.  I hope I can - knowing that every circumstance can prepare me for the future blessing Heavenly Father wants to bless me with.  I know He can't bless me with them until I have learned some lessons or He would spoil me and He loves me too much for that.  I think this knowledge and His love can carry me through anything. I suppose time will tell if I can truly feel grateful through anything, but I do intend to live my life trying.

I didn't write New Years Resolutions this year.  I wrote a Gratitude List.  On one column, I wrote some things I am very grateful for (gospel, mind, body, sustenance, family, people) and on the next column I wrote something I would do to show my Savior my gratitude for them.

Just 6 things 2 of them are weekly and 4 are daily - easy enough right?  Well, if you've ever tried getting things done as a mother - especially when you have a baby - it is not as easy as you may suppose :-)  Normally, I end up frustrated with goals and then forget them, and I'll admit that I was tempted to feel that way after a couple of "unsuccessful" days and gave into that feeling for a bit (after all, if they are all righteous goals, shouldn't the way be opened for me to accomplish them?)  And then it hit me.  If this truly is a gratitude list and not a "goals" or "resolutions" list, and I am doing my best to work for Him, then I am on His errand and I can accept it and be joyful with it - even if a challenging morning with distracted children keeps me from exercising or if a phone call with one in need does not allow me to "move toward order" in my house or if I sleep in after a restless night with some little ones. By keeping these ways to show gratitude in mind - I am being anxiously engaged in a good cause (showing gratitude) and I can move forward with joy when things go differently then expected because I am on His errand either way, and I know He is pleased with whatever ways come up for me to show Him my gratitude (including showing love to contentious, disobedient children :-) )

The other lesson that has been ingrained in my mind lately is that since all I have is a gift from God - I need to share it freely.  He blesses me with it to see what I will do - hoard it and be selfish - or give it away freely to bless others as He has given it freely to me... but that is another topic for another post.

This attitude of gratitude (when I remember to keep it) has been such a blessing to me! I am grateful for a couple of books lately that have helped me see this more clearly - Hidden Treasures by Leslie Householder and Approaching Zion by Hugh Nibley.

"My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven." - Thomas S. Monson