29 September 2011

Don't Forget to Be Patient With Yourself!

I want to tell you something that I hope you will take in the right way: God is fully aware that you and I are not perfect.
Let me add: God is also fully aware that the people you think are perfect are not.
And yet we spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others—usually comparing our weaknesses to their strengths. This drives us to create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts because they seem to be less than what someone else does.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
It’s wonderful that you have strengths.
And it is part of your mortal experience that you do have weaknesses.
God wants to help us to eventually turn all of our weaknesses into strengths,1 but He knows that this is a long-term goal. He wants us to become perfect,2 and if we stay on the path of discipleship, one day we will. It’s OK that you’re not quite there yet. Keep working on it, but stop punishing yourself.
Dear sisters, many of you are endlessly compassionate and patient with the weaknesses of others. Please remember also to be compassionate and patient with yourself.
- President Dieter F. Uchtdorf,
2nd Counselor in the First Presidency of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Last weekend was the annual General Women's Broadcast for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I look forward to this all year, because the messages always seem to be exactly what I need.  This year was no exception.  I especially loved President Uchtdorf's message.  I'm certain he wrote it specifically with me in mind! (You can read the whole message here.) 

I'm sure many of you can relate.  I know I'm not the only one who spends far too much time comparing my weaknesses to others' strengths.  But why do we do that?  If we can forgive the small mistakes and weaknesses of our friends and family members, why can't we forgive those same mistakes and weaknesses in ourselves?

I'm fully aware of my shortcomings.  I feel like I need to apologize for my house whenever anyone comes to visit, because there's always a pile of clutter in a corner somewhere that I haven't dealt with yet.  I'm embarrassed to admit that sometimes I serve cold cereal (without the cut up slices of fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, juice and milk that the commercials show as "a complete balanced breakfast") when I'm too tired to cook a real dinner.  I don't think I'll ever attain a model-thin body, no matter how much time I spend at the gym.  And I sometimes let my kids watch TV when they have a day off from school, because I didn't take the time to come up with a fun and educational family field trip. 

Everyone else seems to be so much farther down the road to perfection than I am!  I spend most of my days furtively looking over my shoulder, waiting for my friends, family and casual acquaintances to point out all the ways that I'm disappointing them, because no matter how hard I try, I keep falling short. 

But instead, I often hear comments like: "I wish I could dance like you, but I have 2 left feet."  "I wish I had long, pretty hair like yours, but mine gets too frizzy if I try to let it grow past my shoulders."  "You cut your daughter's hair yourself?  It's so cute! I could never learn how to do something like that."  "You should really think about selling those cute bags you make.  I wish I could do something creative like that."

These are all things that come easily for me, or they're skills I've spent enough time mastering that I don't think about them as true accomplishments anymore.  But the thing is, we all have things we're good at, things we still need to work on and (sadly) skills we will probably never master.  That's okay!  We can use our own strengths to lift and help others where they may be weak, and they can do the same for us.  That's why we're all on this earth together!

26 September 2011

My Sister... My Friend

Today is my big sister's birthday (Happy Birthday, Carin!), but we live in different time zones, and it's sometimes nearly impossible to get in touch with each other.  Today was, apparently, one of those days.  I had to be content with leaving birthday messages on her facebook page and voicemail and hoping that she knows how much I love her.

It's kind of ironic...  Carin and I were the bitterest of enemies when we were kids.  We took sibling rivalry to monumental extremes, and I don't think either one of us believed our parents when they told us we'd be best friends one day.  In fact, the only time we ever really cooperated with each other for any extended period of time was when we were "pulling one over" on dear old mom and dad. 

Our parents used to punish us for fighting by sitting us side-by-side on the couch with strict instructions that we weren't allowed to speak to one another.  Then, they would leave the room.  Of course, we would immediately show dear old mom and dad that they couldn't make us do anything we didn't want to do.  We didn't have to do what they told us to do!!!  So, just to spite our mean, horrible old parents, we would start talking to each other.  Just in whispers, mind you.  We knew we'd be in bigger trouble if Mom and Dad ever found out we were "openly" defying them like this. 

But the point is, we WERE defying them - even if they didn't know it.  Before long, we were laughing and giggling about how sneaky we were, and how clueless our parents were.  Because THEY NEVER FIGURED IT OUT! Every single time we got in trouble for fighting, the punishment was the same.  Every single time, they put us together on the couch and made us sit silently together. And Every Single Time they left the room and forgot to pay attention to whether or not we were following the punishment they were trying to give us. 

It was really easy to fool Mom and Dad, because they always got busy doing other things in another part of the house, so they were always gone for a really long time (at least 10 minutes!), and they always announced "I'm coming back in there, and you'd better be sitting quietly like I told you to!" before coming back to check on us.  So we could easily stop talking and pretend we had been quiet the whole time.  We even managed to disguise our giggles and laughter with scowls and frowns, so that our clueless parents never knew we'd tricked them!

These days, Carin and I don't worry about that old, silly sibling rivalry.  These days, she's one of my best friends.  We learned to love each other in spite of our clueless parents' attempts to teach us "valuable lessons."  And now, I look forward to spending time with my big sister, because I know we don't need to compete for anything. 

Besides, I know I'm really Mom and Dad's favorite child (it's obvious - whenever they want to see me, they spend hundreds of dollars on plane tickets to fly out to see me, and they stay at my house for weeks at a time... they never even spend the night at Carin's house!), but I almost never point out how much they love me more.  I even let my big sister believe that she's the favorite, just because they come over to her house for Sunday dinner almost every week... 

22 September 2011


I recently read an amazing book: THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMAN SCHOOL, by Dori Hillestad Butler (2008). 

                Zebby and Amr want to write important articles for the school newspaper—articles about curriculum and student council elections and bullying.  When Mrs. Johnstone, the newspaper’s faculty advisor, refuses to approve any articles except “rah, rah, isn’t our school great?” pieces, Zebby and Amr decide to create their own web-based newspaper: truthabouttruman.com, where anyone can post articles and photos.  When someone starts using the site to bully a classmate, Zebby and Amr don’t know what to do.  They aren’t comfortable with the mean-spirited postings, but they aren’t sure if they should remove them from the site.  After all, their rules state that anyone can post to the site, as long as they’re telling the truth as they see it.  Before long, the true articles Zebby and Amr wanted to write are forgotten as truthabouttruman.com becomes a social hub for gossip, blurring the lines between truth and fiction, and the two friends must find a way to stop it before it’s too late. 

Weaving together the stories of everyone involved, Butler explores the truth about bullying, both online and in person and its devastating consequences.  Whether they’ve experienced the trauma of dealing with a bully, bullied someone themselves or simply stood by and watched as a classmate suffered, readers are certain to relate to this story.  It should be required reading for all middle school students, their teachers and parents.

11 September 2011

Remembering... 10 Years Later

Everyone has a story, everyone knows where they were and what they were doing when the terrorist attacks occurred on September 11th, 2001.  My story, like those of many Americans, isn't incredibly spectacular.  I wasn't in New York City.  I wasn't even on the East Coast.  And I hesitate to add to the flurry of "what I remember" tales, because mine wasn't one of the "important" stories of that day.  But this morning, as we were driving to church, we saw several people standing alongside the road, holding large American flags.  My youngest daughter asked what they were doing, and we explained that they were there because today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

"What's 9/11?" she asked.  And I struggled to sum up the importance of this day we remember so vividly in a few short sentences before her mind wandered to the next topic of interest.  I'm not sure how well I explained it this morning, so I'm going to try it again now:

9/11 was the day, 10 years ago, when our country changed in the wake of a terrible terrorist attack.  It's the day when some terrorists tried to destroy our country, our people and our entire way of life by filling our hearts with fear and paralyzing "what ifs?"

9/11 was also the day, 10 years ago, when we came together as a nation and fought back against the terrorists.  It's the day when people looked terror right in the eye and refused to let it take hold.  It's the day when we opened our doors and windows and got to know our neighbors.  It's the day when we took a look around and counted our blessings, when we held our loved ones close and knelt together in prayer for people we didn't know and would never meet - and we meant every word.  It's the day when we stopped thinking, for a moment, about all the things we didn't have and took the time to appreciate all the things we did.  It's a day when ordinary men and women stepped up to become great heroes. 

9/11 was the day when a group of misguided people thought they could destroy America with a well-coordinated attack.  But they were wrong.  As long as we remember who we are and why we are here...  As long as we never forget that America isn't about buildings and places and politics... As long as we remember that we, the people, make this country strong... As long as we remember to reach out to our friends and neighbors and lean on each other for strength... We can pull through anything.  That's what I learned 10 years ago.

09 September 2011

Hershey Park, Hurricanes and Facing our Fears

Two weeks ago, my husband took a day off of work so we could surprise the kids with a trip to Hershey Park for the last official day of summer vacation.  Only 1 of our 4 children had been to Hershey Park (part of a school field trip last May), and our youngest had never been to any kind of amusement park at all, so we were all full of smiles and excitement as we piled out of the car and trekked across the parking lot to the front gate of Hershey Park.
Once inside, we studied the map carefully, trying to decide which ride to hit first.  Emily (the one with Hershey experience) declared that our first stop had to be The Lightning Racer - a double roller coaster, where the 2 trains race each other along side-by-side tracks.  It was her favorite ride when she and I went with her school group in May (when we rode 3 times in a row), and she was certain that everyone else would love it as much as she did.

So we started our trek across the park to the roller coaster.  On the way, however, we saw a ride that Katie just had to try: the Starship America - a ride much like the Dumbo ride at Disneyland, where you sit in a spaceship and it spins around while you use a lever to make your ship go up or down.  Katie, Becky and Ben loved it.  They had so much fun zipping their spaceships up and down.  Emily thought the ride was fine, as long as she could keep her ship riding as low as possible, because raising it up was just too scary to even think about.

Then, Ben insisted that we stop at the Pirate Ship ride - the one where you sit in a "boat" which swings back and forth like a giant pendulum.  Becky and Ben thought it was amazing and so much fun!  Emily and Katie decided that you absolutely couldn't pay them enough money to even go on this ride.  They were scared, even watching us from the ground!

We finally made it to the Lightning Racer.  Katie was nervous, but Emily assured her that this roller coaster wasn't too scary.  We were sure that we'd finally found a ride everyone could enjoy.  We were wrong.  Katie cried through the entire ride, and for about 5 minutes afterward.  She didn't enjoy her first roller coaster experience one bit.  ("That was way too scary!  I hated it!") 

And so it went throughout the day. At almost every stop, someone was afraid and someone else thought the ride was the best one ever.  On the Wild Mouse (a roller coaster that gives the illusion that you're going to zip right over the edge of the track before it whips you around in a sharp 90-degree turn), Emily and Becky teased Daddy when his fear of falling manifested itself.  We simply couldn't find anything that everyone could truly agree on. 

Finally, I suggested that we ride the Ferris Wheel together as a family.  I reasoned that it's a nice, slow ride and we could all sit together in one of the gondolas and look out over the park.  What could possibly be scary about a ride like the Ferris Wheel?  Emily was nervous, because it seemed awfully high, but she agreed to go, and we joined the line.  About halfway through the line, Ben started teasing her about how high it went, and she lost her nerve.  When Daddy agreed to sit out the ride with her, Katie got out of line too, leaving only Ben, Becky and I to ride the wheel.  Becky and I thought it was great.  We pointed out rides we'd enjoyed, rides we wanted to try, and rides we hadn't even noticed on the map.  We marvelled at the beauty of the setting sun, and we chatted about all the fun we'd had throughout the day.

Ben sat as still as possible, holding onto the support bar in the center of the gondola with a death grip and praying for the ride to end so that he could "get off of this infernal contraption."  When Becky got overly excited and started bouncing around in her seat, causing the gondola to shake a bit, he pointed out that we were suspended high up in the air connected to the wheel by only the center support bar, and we weren't even wearing seatbelts!  When the ride ended, he literally bent down and kissed the ground, then declared that he would never ride another Ferris Wheel as long as he lived.  I laughed and teased and told him it was kharma ("I guess you shouldn't have teased Emily about her fear of heights!") until Daddy pointed out that Ben wasn't playing around.  "He's really scared, honey. You need to stop talking about it."

Only Becky wasn't scared.  She gleefully rode each ride, never sitting one out, and never losing her smile.  By the end of the day, we were all calling her "Fearless." 

But no one is truly fearless.  The next day, when Hurricane Irene came sweeping through our little corner of the world, my little "fearless" Becky cried for hours at the sound of the strong winds whipping through the trees.  And I had to remind myself not to laugh at the absurdity of her fear, as we sat, tucked in, all warm and cozy in our house, listening to gusts of wind that never got higher than the winds I grew up falling asleep to in wonderful, windy Wyoming.

Fear doesn't make sense.  It's silly and illogical, and more often than not, we can't pinpoint a definite reason for our fears.  Yet everyone has something they're afraid of.  We've all heard about the importance of facing our fears.  We know that we can't live our lives in terror, that sometimes we have to take a deep breath and do something we don't want to do.  So when we notice that someone we love is afraid of something truly silly ("how can you possibly be afraid of insert-name-of-your-biggest-fear-here???"), we want to help.  We point out that airplanes are statistically safer than cars.  We reassure each other that the bridge over the bay is highly unlikely to collapse while we're driving across it.  We drag each other to events designed to make us "face our fears." 

We all know that, if only our friend, sister, father, or neighbor-next-door truly understood, they wouldn't be afraid of the silly things they're afraid of, so we laugh and poke fun and make jokes to show our loved ones how truly ridiculous their crazy phobias are.  Perhaps, instead, we need to remember my husband's wise counsel.  "He's really scared, honey.  You need to stop talking about it."  Remember, you're afraid of something too, and I might think your fear is just as silly as you think mine is. 

Personally, I'm terrified of snakes.  I worry that they're having little snake conventions where they plot and scheme and make plans to attack me as soon as I let my guard down.  I don't read books about reptiles, I don't watch Discovery Channel specials, and when we go to the zoo, I wait patiently outside the reptile house while the rest of the family goes in to look.  My kids have learned not to even mention "the s-word" in my presence.  My phobia doesn't make sense to them, but they love me enough not to make fun of me for it (too much).  They know that "There is no afear in blove; but perfect clove casteth out fear: because fear hath dtorment." (1 John 4:18)  Maybe that's something we all need to remember.

03 September 2011

Being Prepared

It's been quite an interesting couple of weeks here on the East Coast.  First, we had an earthquake, which by West Coast standards, wasn't a big deal - just a "little" 5.9 quake.  But as my California-born-and-raised mother pointed out, people don't grow up preparing themselves for earthquakes on the East Coast.  Buildings aren't constructed with large-scale earthquakes in mind, so property damage is worse in "little" quakes back east than it is in the west, and with 100 years or so between shake-ups, people here have never gotten into the habit of expecting regular quakes.  So when this one hit, damage was done, people were scared, and it made big news.

Then, coming right in on the heels of the earthquake, we had Hurricane Irene barrelling up the East Coast, leaving all kinds of destruction in her wake.  The damage wasn't as bad as we expected in my little corner of the world (we didn't even lose any tree branches in our yard, but our next-door neighbor's giant pine tree toppled over, pulling up the roots and all), but lots of people weren't as lucky as me.

Unlike the earthquake, we all saw the hurricane coming.  We had time to prepare as best we could.  All the hardware stores sold out of generators and back-up batteries for sump pumps, some grocery store shelves emptied rapidly, and everyone checked to make sure they knew where the fresh batteries were for the flashlights.  We also had plenty of time to play the "what if?" game.  "What if we lose power and it's gone for days?"  "What if that big tree in the back yard comes down in the storm?"  "What if the roof blows off my house?"  "What if my basement floods?"  "What if my patio furniture blows away?"  "What if we have a medical emergency during the storm and no one can get to us in time?"  "What if??"

In a way, this game of "what if?" is a good thing, as long as we do something about preparing for those worst-case scenarios.  A little bit of preparation goes a long way toward eliminating fear.  I talked to several friends in the days leading up to the hurricane, and in many cases the story was the same: "We've pulled everything that could blow away inside, we've stocked up on flashlights and fresh batteries, we filled our freezer with bags of ice in case we lose power.  We're ready for whatever comes." 

I saw people on facebook and twitter sharing tips and reminders with each other on how to prepare themselves for the storm, getting ready to step in and help each other if the need arose.  And although many of us were nervous, there wasn't an all-out panic as we prepared for the impending storm.

We were prepared, and some of us were extremely lucky.  We didn't have as much damage as we could have.  (If my neighbor's tree had fallen in a different direction, for instance, it could have come right through my bedroom window, instead of simply filling the empty driveway between our houses, but as it was, we had no damage to speak of.)  Others weren't so lucky.  My daughter's best friend's family was without power for 5 days, and they lost everything in their fridge and freezer, probably hundreds of dollars worth of food.  My friend's sister, who just spent thousands of dollars on a sump pump that was supposed to keep running even if the power failed, discovered that it didn't work at all and had to spend an entire weekend frantically bailing water by hand.  Down the street from my gym, I passed a house where a giant tree had fallen across the driveway, smashing a fairly-new-looking car.  A friend told me about another friend of hers who experienced flooding so badly that her entire house had slid off the foundation.  She lost everything.

Still, as this same friend pointed out, even those who lost a lot in the hurricane and its aftermath didn't lose as much as it might appear.  Her friend that lost her house and all her possessions?  Didn't lose her family.  They escaped the flood by riding it out in the treehouse her husband had built for their children until rescue crews arrived to help them.  No one was injured.  And that was so much more important than the stuff they lost.  My daughter's best friend's mother, when she realized that they were going to lose all the food from their freezer, fired up the grill and invited all the neighbors over for a massive barbeque.  Yes, they lost their food storage, but they gained a closeness with their neighborhood that they didn't have before.  So it wasn't the tragedy it could have been. 

The damage from Hurricane Irene was extensive, and we're still working to put things right again.  It will probably be a long while before things are back to "normal" again.  As I've sat here typing this, our power has flickered on and off several times, and I expect to see it happen again and again as the power company frantically works to restore electricity to everyone still without it.  Some roads are still closed as they work to remove fallen trees and other debris.  13 schools in our district didn't open last week as planned, because they still have no power in the buildings... 

We have a ways to go before we get back to pre-hurricane status.  But we were prepared.  We knew this one was coming, so we took steps to get ready for the rebuilding before the damage even happened.  The Lord said that "if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear," and He's right.