Little kids and church are rough. Kids want to play and not sit still and parents want to listen to the speakers and often these things don’t mix, which can be very frustrating for everyone. Over time I found a few things that were helpful to make Sundays in church a little more pleasant. One of the things was to have a bag of quiet, small toys that they could only play with at church. By not allowing them to play with the church toys any other time it kept their interest in the toy, it wasn’t the same thing they got to play with every day. I also had a bag of Sunday toys that I would rotate every few weeks so they wouldn’t get bored with the same toys to play with every Sunday. I also found the Friend magazines had fun stories or activities to do for some of my kids who were a little older, and since a new one came every month it was easy to rotate them. At one point my kids were fighting over the crayons to use with the Friend so we went to just pencils for a while. When I let them have crayons again they did much better but if it ever became an issue I gathered up the crayons and brought out the pencils, which weren’t nearly as much fun. If my kids acted out I would take them out to the foyer but they had to sit on my lap. I didn’t allow them to run around. I would remind them of this while we were still siting on the bench by telling them they could sit on the bench and look at the Friend or play with the toys, or they could sit in the foyer on my lap without any freedom or things to do. Usually they chose freedom on the bench to having to sit on my lap in the foyer. Of course sometimes they were so worked up that I had to take them out but I kept them on my lap until they calmed down and then gave them the choice to continue to sit there or go back to freedom on the bench. Most of the time they chose to go back into the meeting. These simple things usually worked but sometimes nothing worked and I wondered why I even went to church some Sundays just to be out in the halls or foyer. As my kids got older I realized that it was just a short time in their lives that this occurred and that establishing the pattern of going to church, partaking of the Sacrament and showing reverence or love for our Heavenly Father far out weighed the hassles and problems of younger kids in church. It showed my kids that despite the frustrations that church was the place to be on Sundays.
Recently on a very hot day I had a conversation with one of my daughters in which I said, “I know God loves me because of air conditioning.” Mostly I was trying to be funny, but it got me thinking about the ways that I truly do know that God loves me. I remember a time a few years ago when I had spent days working in my front flower garden. It took me many hours to trim, weed, clean out the old and plant new flowers. When I was finished I stepped back and looked at the amazing display of colors, varieties and textures as well as sizes and shapes. I felt complete satisfaction and joy at looking at the result of my hard work and in that moment I felt my Heavenly Father’s love for me. I realized that He didn’t have to make so many varieties of flowers and colors with different shapes and textures but that He made, through His Son Jesus Christ, a beautiful world to please His children and to give them an amazing place to live. When I looked at those flowers I felt His love, and there are many other ways I also feel His love. Even though I have an average sort of singing voice, whenever I sing church hymns I also feel it. There’s something about the words and the music that combine to touch me deeply and I recognize that sacred music not only allows me to feel the Spirit but also communicates His love for me. Sometimes this is a hard concept to not only understand but to feel. I once had a conversation with someone where we were talking about charity and how it is the pure love of Christ. We talked about the Relief Society motto “Charity never Faileth” and he expressed the thought that sometimes charity does fail because people aren’t perfect and sometimes let him down. I explained to him that it is God’s love that never fails, not people’s love. People make mistakes and aren’t even close to perfect but God’s love for us is perfect and it never ends. I could see from his face that it was a new concept to him. It doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do, He loves each of us personally and individually. God shows His love to each of His children in different ways and if we will look for it we will see how He tells each of us individually and personally that He loves us.
When I was 17 I went with my mother to another state to visit a woman who was my mother’s best friend when they were teenagers. They did everything together, as best friends do, and they both married very young, at age 16. My mother eventually moved to another state with her husband and one day missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knocked on her door and she immediately was interested in the Church. She was baptized and set about trying to become a better person through applying the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ in her life. On this trip, when I met this woman I was immediately struck by how coarse and crude she was. She was probably the most vulgar woman I had ever met, and it seemed to me that she even cackled when she laughed. In that instant, even at age 17, I had a clear understanding of how the gospel helps to refine a person. I could clearly see the difference between my mother and this woman who was once her best friend, and I could see how if my mother had stayed on the same path as her friend that she would have been similar to how her friend was now. In essence, I could see how my mother’s life and thus mine would have been without the refining power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ, when we let it, helps us to be better and do better. It teaches us that as disciples of Jesus Christ we are to become like Him in every thought, word and deed. Sometimes this is overwhelming to think about especially if I look at all of the things I’m not doing right yet and how long it will be before I’m even close to becoming Christ-like. Yet the thought that I focus on mostly is not the end result but the journey from good to better. As I try to become more Christ-like my attitudes and desires change and I take joy in simpler things and in my journey there is more happiness along the way and in my life. As I see progress in my life it gives me hope that I can do it and I am strengthened to accomplish very hard things. As I am battling sins and bad habits in my life that I have been battling for years, I have decided that even if I don’t completely master in them in this life that I will die still trying because giving up is not an option. I want to live with my Heavenly Father and family again.
I have a friend who told me a story of how she was once driving down the street when a spider dangled down from the ceiling of her car in front of her steering wheel. She started swiping at the spider trying to get it out of her way without any luck and it kept flying back and forth in front of her while she’s shrieking and panicking. Meanwhile she’s still driving down the street and naturally ran into something because she was no longer paying attention to where she was going. As she tells it she let herself become distracted from what was important by something that was unimportant. Unfortunately I do this all too often and even though I know what my goals are, what I need to be doing to achieve them, I focus on unimportant things such as playing games on my iPad or watching too much TV. It is so easy when I want a break to play a game for a few minutes that turns out to be for a couple of hours. What I could have been doing instead! Joseph Smith said in 1842, as quoted by Wilford Woodruff, that “a man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.” There is so much that I do not know and not just about the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are so many relationships to foster, so many people I could be helping, and family history to be done but it is easier to play games or to watch TV. Easier does not lead to better! Every time I channel my efforts to discipline myself and do something worthwhile I increase my strength and ability to do more worthwhile things. My capacity is enlarged and I become more than I was before, and I develop more self-discipline. Distractions from things that are important leave me feeling wanting even though they are momentarily fun. As I work to become more focused on the important things of life I find that my desire for the unimportant diminishes. I do better and feel better, and slowly become better.
I have a daughter with Down Syndrome. She is a delightful, fun, smart person and because she is the youngest of my 8 children her brothers and sisters have grown up with her and recognize that having Down Syndrome is not a curse but just another way of being. They know she has her strengths and her abilities as well as weaknesses and things she’s not great at doing, just like everyone else. Many people assume that having Down Syndrome is a negative thing, that it is a hardship and that people with Down Syndrome have a very poor quality of life, that it is something to be pitied. I know I did before my daughter joined our family. But now of course I know how wrong I was in my thinking. One of my daughters married a man who has a son with Down Syndrome and they have custody of him, and my daughter loves him fiercely. You don’t ever want to mess with this mama bear and her cub. Sometimes when she tells other people that he has Down Syndrome their response is something like “oh, I’m so sorry” and you can see she wants to thump on that person to even imply that he is something to be pitied. I have told her that when people respond this way to see it as a chance to educate them. Most people don’t know the joy of having a child with Down Syndrome in their lives. They don’t know the blessings of having a person in their home who is usually loving and kind, sympathetic to others and who is funny as well as who loves to learn and try new things. Someone who trusts their parents completely and takes joy in simple things. Of course these traits are not unique to just people with Down Syndrome and not all people with Down Syndrome are exactly like each other but most people with Down Syndrome are loving and kind. They often have a zest for life and an implicit trust in those they love. My daughter with Down Syndrome believes what I tell her, which is a joy and a responsibility. Most of us have challenges in life and have situations in our lives we didn’t plan on, and there are people who don’t understand those challenges or situations. Taking time to educate others about some of our life’s circumstances increases understanding, empathy, compassion and often helps others in their own circumstances.
There is a wonderful thought attributed to Mother Teresa entitled:
Do It Anyway
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
I love the concept of this message because sometimes I worry that in writing this blog people will think that I think I know everything, or that I think I have all of the answers or that I consider myself wise. Sometimes I worry about what I write and if it will really help others, or worry about talking about religious stuff too much. Sometimes I worry that I am deluding myself about the efficacy of the blog and the expense and time involved are worth it. Sometimes I wonder if this is really, in some small way, making a difference. Maybe there are things you are wondering about in your life too. Wondering if in the ways you are contributing to your family, neighborhood, church, employment and life is enough, if it is good and if you are making a difference in the world. Wondering if in the small way you contribute good to those around you is enough. Sharon Eubank in General Conference in October 2017 said “Any small thing you do to light real happiness in others shows that you are already carrying the torch…” and she went on to talk about turning on your light. Small can be significant and good, and it is so easy to second guess ourselves and let worry or fears get in our way of doing something good, and to worry about what others think or how they will react. From these thoughts I learn to just Do It Anyway and maybe you will too.
In world news lately we have learned of a group of boys, who with their leader, are trapped in a cave in Thailand, and they have been trapped there for over two weeks. When they entered the cave to explore it, it wasn’t raining but when it started to rain it sent water flooding into the cave trapping the group inside. In Thailand it is the rainy season and logic would tell you that this cave floods during this time yearly and that poor planning and decision making were involved in deciding to take this group to explore this cave at this time of year. Yet despite this, the world is reaching out to help this group. They have sent in food and other supplies for them and are trying to figure out the best way to help free them from the trap they are in, and they have been able to free 4 of the boys. They have not said “you used poor judgement and got yourself in a serious bind so we are not going to help you.” In spite of poor planning there are many working to help this group, and one had died in attempting to rescue them. In thinking about this there are many gospel parallels that come to mind. Often the troubles we find ourselves in are of our own making. They come from situations in which we used poor judgment or ignored the potential consequences or sometimes didn’t care about what could happen until it did. Despite this there are many who stand ready to help us out of the traps we have created for ourselves. Christ, our ultimate rescuer, has not said, “Well, you caused your own problems and used poor judgement so I’m not going to help you.” Instead, we are taught in the scriptures that “His hand is stretched out still.” He is waiting to rescue us when we need help and turn to Him, and even those trapped in that cave have to want to be rescued. And didn’t He give His life that we might be fully rescued? Despite our pride, our disobedience, our blatant disregard for His teachings, all we need to do is reach out and take hold of His proffered hand, and we have to want to be rescued, be willing to work hard to change, and recognize that He is the Great Rescuer.
I have given some thought about prayer and why we are instructed to thank our Father in Heaven for our blessings before asking for the things we need. When I express in my prayers sincere gratitude for the things I have in my life I feel a change in myself and in my attitude. I become more humble and in tune with the Spirit, and I can feel a difference in how I approach my problems, how I see others around me and I feel a greater desire to help them. James E. Talmage said “Gratitude is the twin sister to humility.” Sincere gratitude leads to humility and when I sincerely thank my God for His love and blessings I definitely become more humble and then I am in a better position to ask for the things I need, and then often the things I need are no longer things. When I really focus on my gratitude in my prayers I also end my prayers feeling happier, and closer to my Heavenly Father, and sometimes I feel the Spirit intensely. For me gratitude is closely linked with happiness and actually with most of the desirable traits of life, and it gives perspective to my life. Not recognizing the hand of God and the blessings He gives us in our lives often leads to coveting, jealously, and unhappiness and for me being grumpy, because I am usually feeling dissatisfied with my life. When I was a student at BYU there was one semester when I decided my prayers were boring. I felt like I was saying the same things over and over so I decided that I would find one new thing each day to be grateful for. I remember one day walking to class and seeing the most beautiful monarch butterfly. It flew along with me as I walked and I noticed how graceful it was and how delicate. That night I thanked my Heavenly Father for that butterfly that seemed to have been sent just for me to enjoy. That semester at school was one of the happiest times of my life and I think it was because I was actively looking for things to be grateful for. Being truly grateful leads me to be more humble and happier, makes my prayers more meaningful and draws me closer to my Heavenly Father. We are commanded to be grateful but isn’t it interesting that just like all of the other commandments, it is to bless our lives. God doesn’t need us to be grateful but oh how we need to be grateful.
Many years ago when my oldest was about 7 years old she asked me where babies came from. Knowing that this question would arise some time I had spent quite a bit of time reading books on how to discuss this topic with my children, so I was really prepared. I told her all of the information I thought was age appropriate but made sure I included enough details so she basically had the information and afterwards I was really proud of myself on how I handled it and had answered her questions easily and just generally did a good job. I felt like I deserved a gold star on my parent chart for that conversation. Several months later she asked basically the same questions and I was confused. So I asked her if she remembered the conversation we had before on the same topic and surprisingly she said no. I’m thinking, “wait a minute, you don’t remember that masterful job of teaching I did?” So I was a little frustrated but I explained it again and I eventually learned that most topics that parents need to teach their children about need to be taught several times. Usually there are many conversations that are needed to cover important topics because we learn in small doses. I do this with General Conference. A speaker will say something that my brain latches onto and I am no longer listening to what he is saying but thinking about the one thing that struck me. When I finally tune back in I have missed all of the in between stuff. Fortunately we have the Ensign to read the talks or can listen to them through media outlets. Children are the same. They need to be taught the same thing over and over until it sinks in, and they do better being taught in small doses. After they have learned one thing well they are ready to learn the next component, and you can usually tell what they are really wanting to know by asking a few questions. So even masterful teaching requires being done over and over again, whether it is the birds and the bees or other things.