When one of my daughters was 2 I took her with me to go grocery shopping. As I was putting her in the grocery cart seat she reached up and touched my face. I didn’t think anything about that but just went on my way shopping, putting groceries in the cart and of course passing people in the aisles. After about 30 minutes in the store I went to the checkout where they had mirrors for people to try on sunglasses. It was at this point while looking in the mirror that I noticed a large piece of snot on my face. Not just a little piece but a huge piece which my daughter had put on my face when she touched it. I had gone through the whole store, passing people with a gigantic piece of snot very noticeably on my face. Of course I was embarrassed and quickly wiped it off. I wondered how many people had seen me this way while I was oblivious to its presence and I was very mortified. I have thought about this incident during the years and now laugh about it but I have also since wondered about what other obvious problems I have that others can see to which I am oblivious. What do others see that as I walk down the aisles of my life of which I am not aware? Sometimes I can be so unaware of myself, which is often merciful but not productive. Of course every so often I get glimpses in the mirror and see things that I am embarrassed about, things that I know I need to change, to improve upon (having children is a very good mirror!). And in thinking about it, thank goodness for mirrors that allow me to see myself, the good and the bad. Without mirrors there would be no growth, no change. Without periodically really looking at myself I would not notice what I need to be doing differently. So even though sometimes it can be embarrassing and hard to look in a mirror and see things I don’t like, I am also grateful that they exist for without them I would remain oblivious to the snot on my face.
A little over 19 years ago we moved to a different home. It was only 3 1/2 miles yet it seemed to be a lot farther than that. My kids changed schools, we had a new ward to attend and we left many good friends. I was surprised at how lonely I felt for a long time even though the people in our new neighborhood and ward were very nice and friendly. It was a hard adjustment and there were many days when I cried wanting to be with someone I knew well and felt safe with. I tried connecting with friends from my old neighborhood but it just wasn’t the same because they had busy lives. I would go to church in my new ward and see a lot of people who were always kind and welcoming and yet I just didn’t feel connected to anyone on a personal level. You can’t become good friends with someone in an instant. It takes time to develop deep friendships and connections, and everyone seemed so busy. The loneliness went on for about 6 months when I decided I would volunteer to help with the church Christmas party. There were two women who were in charge of the party and I don’t think I could have met better women. They welcomed my help and ideas, and right away I was involved. I helped set up, worked in the kitchen with other people and interacted with individuals in a more substantial way. I made phone calls to others in our ward to ask for help with the party. Volunteering helped me to get to know the good people of my ward and I felt more connected to them. After the Christmas party was over I could put names with faces much easier and felt much more comfortable chatting with people. A few months later they asked me to help with another church party. That really cemented friendships and from then on it wasn’t an issue. I learned a big lesson from this situation. People are nice and friendly but they can’t read my mind. They didn’t know how lonely I was and nothing changed until I did something about my situation. I learned that it’s up to me to reach out and do something to change my life. I also learned to be more aware of new people. Because I remember how I felt, I try to be friendly, inclusive and welcoming. Being the new person can be lonely.
Here is a list of some of the things I’ve learned along the way, and some of them the hard way:
1) Yelling at someone never accomplishes anything positive, but controlling my temper does.
2) Sometimes I do my best and it’s not good enough. Often God will make up the difference but sometimes people need to recognize it was my best and let it go.
3) Sometimes I’m the one who needs to recognize it was someone’s best effort and let it go.
4) Often I want life to be easier but anything worth having takes a lot of work, and that includes raising a family.
5) Don’t worry about the small things because they are small things.
6) Taking the long view always pays off.
7) When I’m feeling grumpy and snap at people it’s usually myself I’m upset with. Recognizing this allows me to take a step back and make adjustments.
8) When I’ve mastered bad habits it’s easy to slide back if I’m not vigilant.
9) People I love get to make their own choices and all I can do is love them, but it doesn’t mean I have to like their choices.
10) It’s better to listen to understand others instead of telling them how they should think/act/be.
11) Input from others is good but the bigger the group the harder it is to decide something.
12) Fair does not mean equal-each of my children get what they need and it’s not always the same or even the same amount as another one of my children.
13) It took me a long time to figure out but I have no control over anyone but myself and even that’s iffy sometimes.
Since I have learned these things and have applied them in my life I have been happier and life has gone better. But, and this is number fourteen-
14) Even if I am doing my best to live a good life, being kind to others and keeping the commandments I will still have challenges and problems. The only way to deal with life and be happy is through Jesus Christ and His grace.
A Not-So-Great Cook
My mom is a not-so-great cook. She’s told me she doesn’t like cooking, and it’s not intuitive to her. It’s a task to be done and not something she enjoys. Growing up I loved to eat at other people’s houses because their food had a lot of flavor, and I would come home raving about the food. She patiently ignored me and I don’t know if she felt bad about my comments. On the other hand, I have always loved to cook. As a kid I read cookbooks like novels. I got a feel for what spices and herbs went with what meats and vegetables. To me, cooking is a pleasure and an art and something I thoroughly enjoy.
She Called Them Hidden Treasures
After my parents divorced my mom went back to work and she eventually went back to school full-time too. But, before my parents divorced, my mom usually made us breakfast. We often had Cream of Wheat and no matter how she tried she couldn’t make it without lumps in it. Not just little lumps but some pretty big ones too. She called them “hidden treasures” and for a long time I thought that was how it was supposed to be made. They were chewy lumps that surprisingly added something to the hot cereal. I have thought over the years about how she made Cream of Wheat with lumps in it, but somehow made it an adventure to eat it by calling it hidden treasures. Kind of like turning lemons into lemonade.
Sometimes the Lumps Are Going to be There No Matter What
There’s a lot of things in life that I’m not great at doing or that for some reason don’t turn out right. There are some talents that I will never have but will have to do anyway, just like my mom had to cook for us. The lesson of the “hidden treasures” shows me that I can make these situations an adventure that can make life more fun. I too can turn lemons into lemonade because sometimes the lumps are going to be there no matter what I do so I might as well enjoy them. The funny thing is that even though I can easily make Cream of Wheat without any lumps at all, I kind of miss those hidden treasures.
When I was in my early 20’s I saw a sign that said “A Dreamer Lives Forever” and I thought it was a great saying. I did little doodles with this saying and put them on my wall, and I felt it was profound. Currently there are similar signs that say things like “Dream Big” or “Live Your Dreams” and other similar thoughts, but now I think the sayings are a little incomplete. Dreaming is only one part of the equation. Without work or effort dreams amounts to very little, as well as efforts without dreams also don’t mean much. Thomas S. Monson had a saying that I particularly like, from a talk he gave in 1989. “Vision without effort is daydreaming, effort without vision is drudgery; but vision, coupled with effort, will obtain the prize.” I like this saying because there was a time when it seemed that all I did was work, work, work! I was always tired and it felt like my life was drudgery as I went from one thing to the next. When I read this quote I realized what was missing: vision. I was working hard without a vision of why I was expending so much effort. I did some pondering about why I was working so hard, raising my children and keeping up my home, trying to be a good wife and a good person. I thought about what my purpose was not only as a wife and mother but as a person and a child of God. I thought about why I was here on this earth and basically, what my goals in life were. It took me a while but slowly I started to look at things differently. I’d like to say that all the hard work went away but it didn’t and sometimes I didn’t keep my vision in the forefront of my thinking so sometimes it still seemed like drudgery. But my attitude and thinking did improve and at least I knew why I was doing all that hard work. Over the years I have gotten better at keeping my vision, my goals in my mind. Even now, with only one child at home, when life is easier, I still need to have vision and goals. I still need to know why I’m doing what I’m doing. Dreaming is good, and combining it with effort will win the prize.
Years ago, when one of my daughters was about 10, she was having some problems. She was mouthy, argumentative and hostile. It seemed like most of our interactions ended up in tears, sometimes her and sometimes mine. She decided she wanted to go to a therapist to work on some personal issues, which I thought was a great idea. After several visits the therapist told me that she was a great kid but that she just needed more of my time. I was shocked because I thought I gave her a lot of my time and I dismissed what he said as irrelevant. It wasn’t until years later that I finally understood what it was that he was trying to tell me. Most of the interactions I had with her centered on things like telling her to do her jobs, asking her for help with other kids, telling her to hurry up or slow down, and telling her things to not do or to get done. Yes, I was spending time with her but it wasn’t the one-on-one individual time she needed. It wasn’t the kind of time that said I love you and enjoy your company and want to be with you. It wasn’t the kind of time where I go to know her heart, her hopes and fears, it wasn’t quality time. Fortunately, this daughter has grown up to be an amazing person in spite of my ignorance. She finds time for each of her children despite working full-time, probably because she recognizes the importance of it. She is the kind of mother I wish I had been better at. So, if I had another magic wand to undo some things I would leave my house a little messier, I would fix simpler meals and I would find ways to spend time individually with her and with each of my kids. I would get to know a little better what is important to each of them, get to know their hearts a little better. Hopefully they would each know that I loved them and enjoyed their company and wanted to spend time with them.
I have always worked hard to give good talks. Even when I was a teenager I tried to give talks worth listening to. People would tell me “when we see your name on the program we know it’s going to be a good meeting.” Now, I know these people meant this as a compliment but what it really did was put pressure on me to give a perfect talk. Each talk I gave had to be better than the previous one because I didn’t want to let anyone down. So, I usually spent many hours researching the topic, memorized my talks and worked on the delivery. It got so bad that I developed anxiety about speaking, thinking my talk had to be perfect. I was sure people were listening to every word to judge me, deciding if I was competent or not. When I was in college while I was speaking in a church meeting the pressure to perform became so great that I fainted in the middle of the talk-right there on the stand, flat-out fainted. I got back up to finish the talk but started getting light-headed again so the bishop told me to not worry about finishing it. Fortunately I wasn’t asked to speak again in that ward! But a few years later while I was speaking in another ward the same thing happened. Because I had memorized the talk I kept on talking while getting light-headed hoping it would pass but all that passed was me-right there on the stand again. This time I got up and made a joke about fainting and was able to continue with the talk. After fainting twice while giving talks I really became anxious about speaking in pubic and this carried over to teaching lessons and even saying prayers in Sacrament Meeting. I was so worried about doing these things perfectly but ironically when others gave talks if they didn’t word everything perfectly I didn’t think they were incompetent or lazy or foolish. Usually I just enjoyed their talks and never thought they had to be perfect. And so I prayed and hoped I wouldn’t be asked to give a talk or prayer.
Several years later I was asked to give the opening prayer in Sacrament Meeting and I was petrified-I didn’t want to mess up or faint. As I stood at the pulpit and looked out at the audience the thought came to me “these people are all your friends and they would never wish you any harm” and then a complete peace settled on me. I have no idea what I said in that prayer but I believe that because I was willing to do the prayer even though I was terrified, the Lord blessed me with this wonderful, peaceful experience. This experience was life changing for me and just like the anxiety carried over from talks to lessons and prayers, this experience also carried over to those other areas. The peace I felt was amazing, so much so that now when I speak in a meeting I feel the peaceful reassurance that these people are my friends and wishing the best for me. I still work really hard to give good talks or lessons but now I am no longer worried about having to be perfect at it, in fact there’s been a couple of times I have actually enjoyed speaking.
One day several years ago I got a phone call from one of my son’s 5th grade teacher. She was calling to talk with me about how my divorce was affecting my son and his school work. “Divorce?” I said. “I’m not getting a divorce.” It seems my son had found a creative way to get out of trouble for not doing his homework by telling his teacher that his parents were getting a divorce and it was upsetting him so much that he was unable to do his homework. After reassuring her that my husband and I were happily married I also reassured her that this son would be turning in his homework in the future. This same son is also the one who made bombs in soda bottles which caught our field on fire, climbed out his bedroom window with a 3 story drop below to play on the roof and jumped down our laundry chute and broke the bottom out of it. He found a way to climb up onto the school’s roof which was supposed to be impossible and then of course the principal wanted to know how he did it so she could prevent other kids from doing the same thing. My son proudly showed her how he managed it which then promptly negated the effects of any punishment we did. He stuffed toilet paper in toilets to flood them and used a hatchet to chop at the support beams in our then unfinished basement. He used a rope to tie bedroom door knobs together so his sisters could not leave their rooms and he took things apart just to see how they worked, usually with a hammer. One time my husband found something broken and yelled our son’s name. This son asked “Why did you assume it was me?” And of course my husband said “because it usually is you!” My husband and I talk frequently about how surprised we are that this son of ours managed to live to adulthood. He crashed several 4-wheelers, rode his motorcycle standing on the seat, and rode skateboards with his friends on their stomachs underground in the city’s storm drainage system. Why on their stomachs? Because the pipe was only 2 feet in diameter so they couldn’t sit or stand up. We despaired over this son and couldn’t figure out why he went from one stupid/crazy/dangerous thing to the next. He argued with us over everything, and I mean everything. He once told me that anything I told him to do made him want to do just the opposite. I often thought that if he had just put half of the energy into homework or something positive the results would have been amazing. The reason why I’m telling you all of this? This son who seemed to go from one crazy thing to the next and who I fretted and despaired over has turned out to be a great adult. He’s married to a beautiful young woman and they have a little girl and he has a job he loves and really works hard at it. He takes being a good husband and father seriously, and he thanks my husband and me frequently for helping him in his life. If I had raising him to do all over again I would praise more often, trust a little more, take the long view a lot more and ignore most of the stupid stuff. Sometimes in the thick of things it’s really easy to lose sight of the big picture, it’s really easy to think that now means forever. This son who I fretted and worried over has grown up just fine.