I was fondly remembering the other day when my kids were little and we did projects at the kitchen table. I used to save seed and flower catalogs that would come in the mail. Toy advertisements and even magazines came in handy. My kids would cut out the pictures and make collages from them. Frequently they would make stickers from the flowers or fruit pictures. Sometimes they would cut up church magazines to make stickers too. Then at church they would quietly sit and lick the stickers and make stories using the stickers. It was a simple family activity.
We made sticker glue using 1 tablespoon of any flavor of jello and 2 teaspoons of water. Then the kids would paint the back of the picture they cut out and we let them dry on cookie sheets. I put them in plastic bags and placed the bags in the church tote ready for Sunday. Cutting out the pictures from the magazines and applying the “glue” was one fun activity and then we got another activity out of it at church. The really fun part for them was that the stickers tasted good.
I used to save Christmas cards that we received too. When Christmas was over and I would gather up the cards and toss them in one of the Christmas decorations storage boxes. The following Christmas when I pulled out the decorations I would find the cards. My kids would use these cards to make Christmas scenes on construction paper. They would cut and paste and add glitter or whatever else they wanted to make a nice scene. It was always a simple but fun activity. I actually enjoyed reading the messages in the cards again.
We also made a lot of play dough. It was easy to make, and a lot cheaper and better than store bought. I would make it and give it to the kids to knead when it had cooled a little. I bought different cake decorating colors to make more than the basic primary colors. We made play dough for birthday parties, church activities and for school classes too. This was another simple family activity.
The recipe is really easy. Combine in a pan 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar, 1/4 cup salt. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tablespoon oil. Stir over medium heat until too thick to stir. Add desired food coloring and knead a few minutes until color is evenly distributed. Cool completely before storing. I haven’t made play dough for many years but I remember this being the best recipe for the dough I have ever used.
Another simple but fun thing we did was make our own bubbles. Then it was fun to find different objects to blow the bubbles through. Kitchen gadgets, metal washers and soup cans with both ends removed worked well. The soup cans you need to swoosh through the air. Kids have lots of fun finding and trying different objects to see it they will work. To make the bubbles we combined 1/2 cup water, 4 tablespoons dish soap, and 1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup.
What I liked about these projects is that we usually had all of these ingredients readily available at our house and they were inexpensive. It only took a few minutes to make them but provided hours of family fun. My family liked these activities and maybe yours will too!
Recently my daughter had me help her cut some paper. This is the daughter who has Down syndrome. She was trying to cut out something from a magazine to tape it on a jar. I showed her how to cut around it and started the cutting for her. I watched her cut it and for the first time noticed her hand was in the way of her seeing what she was cutting.
It occurred to me that I had started cutting on the right side of the picture and she is left-handed. I have done this many times over the years and never once noticed that she couldn’t see what she was cutting because her hand was in the way. It explained all of the jagged edges and uneven cuts she always made. I had always wondered why she couldn’t cut anything out straight.
I stopped her and restarted the cut on the left side of the picture and she continue to cut around from that side. She cut evenly and smoothly, no jagged edges and no cutting in the wrong place. She’s 17 years old and has been using scissors since preschool and I just notice this.
Sometimes it’s really easy to see things only from my right-handed perspective. To just do something like I always do, or to think things through from my reference point. Often it’s easy for me to not notice what stops someone from doing a good job. Then I wonder why that person didn’t measure up. I wonder why they can’t cut out something without jagged edges. My right-handed perspective gets in the way.
Often I’m dealing with “left-handed people”. People who are different from me. Someone who methods and ways contrast from mine. His or her ways are just different from mine, not bad or worse. Sometimes it is easy to judge another as incompetent, or foolish or even incapable. When I do that it’s because I’m not making the effort to look at things from his or her perspective.
Usually telling someone to just do it the way I do it is not the answer. That often produces frustration and the previous results. If I really want to understand, I need to see things from the other person’s viewpoint. Looking at something as another sees it can be illuminating. Concentrating on another person’s skills and abilities and what they do well, can make a big difference. Trying to figure out what is stopping that person from being successful is helpful. And then taking the next step to figure out a way to help them succeed. Often it’s just little adjustments. Like switching sides of the paper when cutting.
Viewing something from another person’s perspective often helps me understand better, be less judgmental and more compassionate. When I do that I become a better parent, teacher, spouse and friend. When I step aside from a right-handed perspective to see through a left-handed view, I don’t have to wonder why someone didn’t measure up. That’s because the jagged edges and uneven cuts usually go away.
Sometimes I have the attitude that the only way I’m going to make it to heaven is through Brownie Points. I look at my short comings and weaknesses and the same mistakes I keep making over and over and almost feel there is no hope. If I do something good I tell myself that it’s a Brownie Point, a positive on the great balance sheet in the sky. Sometimes I think Brownie Points will be the only way I get there. Basically, I have in the back of my mind the attitude that I can buy my way in. Of course when I say it like that I know it sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. Logically I know I can’t buy my way into heaven. I can never do enough good, accumulate enough points, grit my teeth in sheer determination enough. No matter how hard I try I can never buy my way in.
But, in reality I don’t have to. That is the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has already bought my way into heaven. Through the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ my entrance fee has already been paid. What I have to do is accept the gift to heaven that He is offering me. I accept that gift by making and keeping sacred covenants with Him and repenting. There is beauty in making covenants and great power in keeping them. When I keep my covenants foremost in my mind and thoughts I spend my time differently. I choose my words and thoughts with greater care. I am more present in my prayers. I seek Him in my life more fully and I realize I don’t have to be perfect in order to accept His gift of heaven.
I recently read an article in the Ensign (June 2019, p 30) about being perfect in Christ. It listed out several things that God expects of us. Things like denying ourselves of all ungodliness, loving and serving God. Repenting with faith, doing our best to keep the commandments and covenants we’ve made and continuing on in life in patience. The list I really related to was what God doesn’t expect of us. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect now or to never make a mistake. He doesn’t want us to be burdened by an attitude of perfectionism or to be self critical for lack of progress. He doesn’t want us to be constantly busy with all work and no play. The last one was what hit home with me. He doesn’t want us to try to earn our way into heaven. In other words, He doesn’t want us to have a Brownie Point Mentality.
One of the problems with a Brownie Point Mentality is that, in some ways, it denies the power of Christ to save and change us. It implies that we have to do it on our own. It creates a barrier between our Savior and ourselves. We miss out on the concept of coming to Christ through repentance and using His strength and help to change. We completely miss the boat on understanding God’s expectations for us.
One of the blessings of having a daughter with Down syndrome is that I need to simplify gospel teachings and principles for her. The other day she asked me what repentance meant, even though I have explained it many times to her before. I said, “Repentance means you stop doing what’s wrong, tell Heavenly Father you’re sorry, and start doing what’s right.” When I really thought about it, it’s really is that simple. That really is what repentance is. Of course there are some serious matters that need to be worked out with a Bishop. Most often though, it’s just a recognition that we want to do something a little better. Sometimes it’s something we want to start doing or something we want to stop doing. Often it’s just allowing ourselves to be imperfect but recognizing we are a little better than we were last week. Usually it’s just to keep on trying to become better through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. One thing it’s definitely not though is a Brownie Point Mentality.
My grandmother was an interesting person. She lived her life differently than most people, especially in her generation. She was born in 1921 and married at age 17. My mother was born soon after that and then not much later my grandma and her husband divorced. After that she either lived with or was married to at least 7 men that we know of. She worked in bars and moved around a lot. Since she didn’t graduate from high school and was limited in job choices. I have previously written how my mother often was boarded with other people until they tired of her. She would then live with her mother until another place was found for her to live. There were always new people, new schools and new cities.
My mother has a half brother and my grandma and his dad never married. Just like she didn’t really raise my mom she didn’t raise her son either. At one point, she was married to a man much older than herself and when they divorced she left her son in his care. My uncle was 10 years old when this man died. At that point my uncle came to live with us, and I grew up with him as a sort of brother.
We never saw much of my grandma. I thought of her as some vague, incompetent person who was my mother’s mother. We rarely knew where she was living or what she was doing. Every so often we would get a phone call from her and we would know she was still alive. I do remember her visiting us once though. I was probably about 12 and I was fascinated by her fingernails. She wore bright red nail polish and had this kit that made her nails longer. I watched her in wonder as she used the kit, filed her nails and painted them. And she smoked cigarettes and drank coffee, and I didn’t really know many people who did those things. This visit is the only time I remember interacting with her, and her world was completely different from mine. To me she was an enigma.
My grandmother’s father was an alcoholic and he killed himself with a gun when he was in his 40s. Alcoholism plagued that family with several of his children becoming alcoholics too, including my grandmother. I think there were mental health issues that went undiagnosed and obviously untreated. Alcohol temporarily silenced their mental health demons but created new ones. I think she struggled to find happiness in her own way. Unfortunately, as a young adult I never had much respect or even love for her. I saw no value in her existence.
I tell you all of this because in spite of her unusual life style, the alcoholism and mental health issues she was really good at crocheting. She made beautiful tablecloths, shawls, ponchos and just about anything that could be crocheted. This dysfunctional, sort of pathetic person had a talent, developed it and used it to bless the lives of others. I remember being in high school when she sent me a poncho she had crocheted me. They were really popular at the time and I remember being thrilled to wear it. When I married she sent me a tablecloth with a beautiful, intricate pineapple design in it. I still have the tablecloth and will never give it away.
Sometimes we look at someone and see limitations, ineptness, dysfunction and shake our heads at that person’s life. We don’t see anything of value and we wonder how they could live their lives like that. Like I did with my grandmother, we judge that they are worthless individuals with nothing to offer the world. The tablecloth she made me reminds me to look a little further at a person. It demonstrates to me that if we look for the good we will find it. It teaches me not to dismiss anyone because of life style. She had a lot of challenges in life and made a lot of poor decisions. Despite all of that she had a talent and used it to bless the lives of others. In her own little way she made the world a better place.