In January 2017 my brother-in-law had a heart attack. Most of the men in my husband’s family and even many of the women have heart problems. Many have died young from heart attacks, and it seems they are genetically programmed for heart disease. My brother-in-law is a healthy man who works hard outdoors a lot, and yet he still had a heart attack. For me, this was a wakeup call. My husband is 10 years younger than his brother and already has a heart problem. Because of his genetic background, even though he is not over weight and is otherwise a healthy person, his heart doctor put him on statins.
I love to cook and I love things with butter and cream in them, and anything salty. Probably the majority of the food I made was high in fat and salt. In reality this kind of diet is not great for someone with heart disease. I knew I had to make immediate and drastic changes to our diet or my husband would be following in his brother’s footsteps in a few years.
The first thing I did was to buy a Mediterranean cookbook. I had heard for many years that the Mediterranean diet was the best. I read the book from cover to cover. Any food or spice unfamiliar to me I bought on Amazon. I recognized I needed the correct ingredients to do it properly. This began my love for cooking with whole grains and legumes. It was quite a learning curve for me because there were so many spices and techniques that were unknown to me. When I first started I would spend 3 hours fixing dinner, which was not only too long but it was also exhausting. Soon I learned little tricks to speed things up. Before long we were eating lots of whole grains, legumes and fresh vegetables, and very little meat. Not only were the recipes healthy but the food was delicious.
I began to study about different grains and their nutritional value. I learned about pairing them with certain kinds of vegetables and spices and fined tuned the recipes I was using. There was so much to learn and the more I learned the more I realized how God had made all of these wonderful, healthy foods available for us to eat. In many ways it was very exciting to learn about this! A side effect of learning something new is wanting to share that knowledge with others. I let the Relief Society leaders in my ward know that I was willing to teach a class on whole grains. I just had to let others in on this good news!
Last January the Relief Society Leaders of my ward took me up on my offer and had me teach a class about cooking with whole grains. I worked really hard to prepare for the class. To start with, I made a true and false test about different types of grains. That became my teaching platform as I answered the test questions. I also included a grain yielding chart from dry to cooked for each of the grains. There is a local store that sells bin items that includes a huge variety of grains. I visited the store and wrote down the different grains they sold and their prices. I also chose about 10 recipes that I had fine tuned and typed those. All of these things went into the packets I made for the class members.
I taught the class on a Thursday night and the Sunday before, I finally finished all of my preparations, except for actually making the recipes. I wanted the class members to taste the food to see that it was really good. As I typed the last of the papers for my packet I was feeling pretty good. I was excited to be done except for the food preparations, because this had consumed me for several weeks. I went to bed feeling satisfied.
That night, as I was sleeping, in the middle of a dream I had the words come strongly to my mind, “You forgot to type the nutrition sheets.” I remember thinking, “Oh, I did forget about those.” On Monday morning I awoke and the first thing I thought about was the reminder I had during my dream. It was a very distinctive reminder because it had nothing to do with my crazy dream. And I knew that God was reminding about something I had planned to do but then had totally forgotten about.
I immediately got up and went to work. I found all of the nutrition information I had planned on using about the various grains. It took the whole morning but I was able to get it done. The night I taught I had a table set up with each of the grain fact sheets and a dish of the specific grain next to it. Without this reminder I would have been missing a big part of the presentation. If I had remembered later, I would have been rushed to get it done. I was so glad for the timely reminder.
From this experience I was reminded that God is aware of us individually and He cares about the things we are doing. Even with all of the billions of people on this earth, He cares about the women of my ward. Our Heavenly Father wants us to be successful in the things we are doing, especially those things that bless the lives of others. Because He cares, He reminded me of something important. At least, something that was important to me.
When I was a teenager my mom once told me, “If it’s important to you, it’s important to our Father in Heaven.” I have always remembered this teaching. God loves each of us, and will guide and direct our paths, sometimes when we least expect it. Sometimes it will be a small thing like a reminder in a dream. Sometimes it will be something big and important, that is life altering. I was reminded from this experience that God is in the details of our lives!
At the beginning of this year I set a goal to attend the temple once a week. My temple attendance has always been spotty. When my kids were young it seemed I was always pregnant or nursing, and so it was difficult to go, and of course I was taking care of little kids. I also struggled with migraines and on my good days I had so much catching up to do that temple attendance was at the bottom of my list. I felt guilty about not going very often but I really was in survival mode in those days.
This year seemed to be the year for me to actively access the blessings of temple attendance. I wanted to attend once a week recognizing that some weeks it just wasn’t going to happen. Some weeks I would still be struggling with migraines, or traveling, or watching grandkids. But I knew that most weeks I could do this.
Even though I set this goal, some weeks I would forget about it, which is really a poor excuse for not going. I would realize, as I looked back over my week, I could have easily gone and decided I needed be more proactive about it. For me that meant scheduling it in my calendar at the beginning of the week. That solved the problem for me and it actually helped me be more organized about other things too.
By the end of January I was doing really well and getting to the temple most weeks. Since I do a lot of family history, I have a lot of family name cards to take with me to do the proxy work. One of the things I really like about the temple is that it displays God’s love for all of His children. When I go to the temple I am able to represent someone who is dead, who was unable in this life to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ. That way the person I am representing has a chance to receive the necessary ordinance work. This tells me that God loves all of His children and gives everyone a chance to access the blessings of the temple.
One of the reasons I wanted to start going to the temple more is because President Russell M. Nelson promised us that we would receive additional strength and blessings by serving in the temple. He also said in October 2018, “Our need to be in the temple on a regular basis has never been greater. I plead with you to take a prayerful look at how you spend your time. Invest time in your future and in that of your family. If you have reasonable access to a temple, I urge you to find a way to make an appointment regularly with the Lord—to be in His holy house—then keep that appointment with exactness and joy. I promise you that the Lord will bring the miracles He knows you need as you make sacrifices to serve and worship in His temples.” Since I deeply feel the need for some miracles in my life, I wanted to do as President Nelson asked.
It’s interesting to me that he used the word “plead” in the above quote. One time I went through one of his talks and marked how many times he said plead, urge, exhort, encourage and invite. His word choices amazed me and I took more seriously what he was saying. I feel his sincerity and also his urgency to help us become better disciples of Jesus Christ. One of the ways to become a better disciple of Christ for me was to attend the temple once a week.
After two months of regular temple attendance I noticed something one day. I felt stronger spiritually. I felt like I was better able to resist temptations and better deal with some of my personal weaknesses. I just felt stronger. It wasn’t after any particular temple trip that I noticed this, and I didn’t have any great revelatory experiences, but I just felt stronger. It was like God was giving me a glimpse of the power of the temple, and I definitely felt like I was receiving the promised strength from temple attendance.
Someone recently asked me what I thought about the COVID-19 pandemic. I didn’t really have an answer for her because it seems my life hasn’t changed that much. I still do a lot of family history, I continue to play games with my daughter and help her with homework, I do housework and meals. I have a scripture project that I’m still working on. I definitely miss church and meeting with the good people of my ward, and going out to dinner or the movies. But when I really thought about it I realized what I really miss is temple attendance. I had set a goal and was actively pursuing it, and I was reaping the promised blessings. I was going even when sometimes it was difficult but I was doing it. Not only did I feel strengthened but I was achieving a goal, and that in and of itself was a good thing.
The restrictions from the virus won’t last forever. Someday we will be back to our every day lives and I will pick up my goal and again start attending the temple once a week. Life will get back to normal. This virus has presented me with the opportunity though to recognize and reflect upon the blessings I have received from my temple attendance. It has also given me the confirmation that President Nelson knows what he’s talking about. He really is a prophet of God! I hope to always remember these truths.
I am on a medication that is very expensive. Every year, in order to receive it at a discounted price, I have to phone the company and answer a few questions. During this call I also have to listen to a 10 minute scripted commentary about the drug. The young woman I was speaking with was enunciating very clearly her words, even though it was quite clear that English was not her first language. I could understand the individual words she was saying but I still had no idea what she was talking about. I think it was part legalese and part accent, but I only had occasional glimpses that made sense.
Reading Isaiah for me was a lot like this. I clearly knew what the individual words were but I still had no idea what they were saying or meaning. Occasionally something would make sense, but overall I was totally lost. Because of this, I dreaded reading or studying Isaiah, even though members of my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) have long been admonished to study Isaiah. Even Christ tells the Nephites about the importance of Isaiah. In 3 Nephi 23:1 He said, “And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.” So it’s not just a suggestion but a commandment! And Christ tells us to be diligent and that Isaiah’s words are great. Clearly I was missing something.
Guilt is good sometimes, if it motivates change. I also had a desire to be obedient. So, I decided I would make another effort at studying Isaiah, at trying to make it comprehensible to me. I wanted to understand what it was truly saying and not just read the words. I had my scriptures and a study guide and so I began. It ended up taking me a year and several months, going from verse to verse, writing extensive notes next to each verse. It’s probably good I didn’t know how long it was going to take me because It might have been even more overwhelming.
Part way through I wondered why I was doing this because it was so taking so long and it was sometimes tedious. It also seemed like to a lot of gloom and doom to me. But, I kept at it. At one point I thought if I had written Isaiah I could have said the same things in about 5 chapters. It just seemed like there was so much death and destruction.
But every so often I would find something that truly was beautifully written, almost like poetry. But then it turns out that much of Isaiah is poetry, just not the kind I’m used to. I loved how he described the Savior in Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The Prince of Peace.” These words are so beautiful they were set to music by Handel in his oratorio Messiah.
There were other things that stood out to me as beautiful too and I began to understand not just the cultural differences but also his ways of expression that differ greatly from our society’s way of thinking. I kept at it and slowly I began to understand it better.
I don’t know at what point I began to actually enjoy my studying. I don’t know when I changed my thinking from dread to pleasure, but I noticed that when I was reading something else written in the old testament I thought, “Isaiah would have said that so much prettier!” What a shock it was when I actually recognized what I was thinking.
Somehow I began to think of much of Isaiah as beautiful. Oh there’s still a lot of death and destruction, because a lot of Isaiah is also history and people often make very poor choices. But in between the gloom and doom there are also some beautiful passages where Isaiah is testifying of our Savior and His love for us. Passages where he tells us the blessings of keeping the commandments, where he teaches us about the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the gathering of Israel. Beautiful words that testify that Jesus is the Messiah! No wonder Christ said “great are the words of Isaiah.”
Even though I have really only scratched the surface of studying Isaiah and I recognize I have so much more to learn from it. I can honestly say I no longer dread the thought of studying his great words. Instead, I treasure his promises like those found in Isaiah 54 where Christ promises peace, mercy and everlasting kindness to His followers. These beautiful words teach me of the Savior’s love and bring me peace and joy. These words teach me that if I am diligent, I can find beauty in the words of Isaiah.
I grew up without a lot of family around. We didn’t live near any extended family and I didn’t have a sense of aunts and uncles, or cousins. I knew what they were and the genetic ties but they had little meaning to me. I had grandparents but I didn’t see them often. They lived far away and were not very involved in our lives. There had also been several marriages and divorces, and the new husbands were my “grandpa.” I remember being about 17 when one day I did some thinking about it and figured out who my real grandpa was.
Since I have married I have a better understanding of extended family relationships and their importance. When we were actually planning our wedding, my husband wanted to have his aunts and uncles at the ceremony. He grew up with them very involved in his life. He knew all of his cousins and there were dozens of them. His extended family gathered often and they even had family reunions. I knew about family reunions but had never been to one before.
Since space was limited at our wedding, and I didn’t have a good understanding of family connections, aunts and uncles were unimportant to me. So, we didn’t have them come to the ceremony. Now that I am an aunt I see it differently. I love my nieces and nephews and feel a connection to them. I love going to their weddings and family gatherings. I rejoice with them at the births of their children and other life events.
If I had it to do over again I would have found a way to have my husband’s aunts and uncles at our ceremony. I see the importance of family and family connections now. I see the value of having aunts and uncles involved in our lives.
I also like the titles of aunt and uncle, or grandma and grandpa, and I like these titles to be included with the person’s name. Titles tell us how we are connected to each other. They recognize that we are family. Titles give us a sense of belonging. They help you to know that your relationship is special and that love is there.
Recently one of my daughters referred to me by my first name with her child. I told her to include Grandma with my name. I explained to her why I think titles are important. It’s because I want my grandchildren to know I am not just another person in their lives. I want my grandchildren to know how we are connected, that we are family, that we belong together. I want my grandchildren to know that our relationship is special and that I love them.
I have a daughter who has many wonderful qualities. She’s kind, the first to volunteer to help others with their projects and she’s very thoughtful. She’s faithful to her covenants and works hard being a better disciple of Christ. On the other hand she’s not super organized or tidy. I have told her that being organized and tidy will make life go smoother and help her family run better, but it won’t get her into heaven. But kindness will, and she is one of the kindest people I know.
Kindness just makes life more enjoyable. It makes hard times better. It smooths over faults and leaves the recipient and giver both blessed. Kindness costs nothing but gives much. Simple acts of soft words returned for harsh, or even just ignoring meanness, creates peace and love. When I see people go out of their ways to be kind, it always touch me. Kindness warms peoples hearts and their lives.
My daughter often reaches out to others with her art, with kind words, or with friendship. She is simple in her acts of kindness. Once when she was a teenager we were at a restaurant. A child from another table came over and started talking to her. Eventually the child pulled a chair up to our table and the waitress brought his food to him and he ate with my daughter (his parents were at the neighboring table and gave permission). Mostly she just chatted with him but she was kind and he wanted to be with her. Children have always been drawn to her. I told her once that they must sense her inner goodness. She is a kind person and people are can see it in her face. Jesus Christ also reached out to others in kindness.
Joseph B. Wirthlin, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke on kindness in General Conference, in April 2005. He said,”Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others.” So often this is hard, especially when someone has been unkind to us. It is tempting to return harsh words for harsh words. It is difficult to be kind when someone has hurt us. And yet, Christ did it. He returned kindness for malice and hatred. He spent His life being kind.
“Jesus, our Savior, was the epitome of kindness and compassion. He healed the sick. He spent much of His time ministering to the one or many. He spoke compassionately to the Samaritan woman who was looked down upon by many. He instructed His disciples to allow the little children to come unto Him. He was kind to all who had sinned, condemning only the sin, not the sinner…Yet His greatest act of kindness was found in His atoning sacrifice, thus freeing all from the effects of death, and all from the effects of sin, on conditions of repentance,” said Elder Wirthlin. To be truly Christlike we need to be kind.
Elder Wirthlin continued:
“But,” you ask, “what if people are rude?” Love them.
“If they are obnoxious?” Love them.
“But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then?” Love them.
“Wayward?” The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them.”
I love these thoughts from Elder Wirthlin. Love is the basis of kindness. Christ loved others and He was kind. Our great task then, if we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ, would be to learn to love others and to develop kindness. It’s funny to me how love is the basis for every good thing, which is probably why loving our neighbor is the second great commandment.
There’s a short little poem I like by an anonymous author: “I have wept in the night, for shortness of sight, that to somebody’s needs made me blind; But I never have yet, felt a tinge of regret, for being a little too kind.” I have met many kind people who inspire me to be better, who help me want to be more kind. My daughter is one of them. She recently texted me synonyms for my name and told me that’s how she feels about me, and told me she love me. Such a simple thing to do. Such a kind thing to do. Her kindness warms my heart and life.
When I was a youngster I rode my bike almost every where I went. I loved the freedom it gave me. I really liked racing down the street with the wind in my face. I got really good at riding with no hands and felt really cool. So cool in fact, I thought I could ride my bike with no hands and my eyes closed. I let go of the handlebars, sat up straight and closed my eyes. Three-seconds later I was lying flat on my back on the grass with the wind knocked out of me. I had hit the concrete curb and flipped over the handlebars. I was really lucky I landed on grass instead of concrete. I remember looking around to see if anyone saw this really idiotic incident. I was more worried about someone seeing the stupid thing I did than actually the stupid thing I did. Why it didn’t occur to me that it was foolish and dangerous to ride withy eyes closed, I’ll never know. That was the first and last time I ever rode my bike with my eyes closed. Not looking where I am going is a dangerous thing.
I’ve noticed there are other ways I haven’t been looking where I am going too. Most days I get up and get my daughter off to school and do a little housework. With most of my kids grown and gone my life is simpler these days. So simple in fact that I noticed that I wander through each day without a real purpose, without a lot of direction.
In the past I was busy from when I got up to when I went to bed. It seemed there was hardly time to even breathe most days. It’s different now. I still have things to do and I am still busy but it occurred to me that I really don’t have a purpose, a direction to my life. I’ve been asking myself what do I really want to accomplish at this stage? What is it I really want to have happen. When I look back at my life in 10 years what will I wish I had done? I don’t just want to be busy. I want to be busy with something meaningful. I guess I’m trying not to go through the rest of my life with my eyes closed.
Finding my purpose in life at this stage of my existence is challenging. I want some overall sense of direction to each day. I think volunteer work is important and even meaningful but that is an action, a result of a goal or purpose. As I have sought for direction and continue to think about what is truly important, I have been reminded of a quote by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This comes from one of my all time favorite talks by him, entitled The Love of God.
“God the Eternal Father did not give that first great commandment because He needs us to love Him. His power and glory are not diminished should we disregard, deny, or even defile His name. His influence and dominion extend through time and space independent of our acceptance, approval, or admiration.
No, God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God!
For what we love determines what we seek.
What we seek determines what we think and do.
What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.”
Dieter Uchtdorf, November 2009 Ensign
I have written before about trying to focus more on the first and great commandment found in Matthew 22:37, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” And it seems that all my roads lately keep leading back to this concept. To let the love of God, my love of God, be my focus and purpose seems to be calling to me. To have this concept as my goal and my guiding force. Then all things will make sense. Volunteer work, scripture study, serving others, family history and temple work and even house work will be done all because I love God. Getting up in the morning will be done with the purpose to learn to love God more fully and to demonstrate that love through my actions. To learn to have His will become my will.
This is something that is not easy for me because I am all too human. Sometimes I want what I want, not what God wants. But I keep thinking about what will I wish I had done 10 years from now. And so the personal battle goes on, the wrestle with myself.
In the same talk by Elder Uchtdorf, he talks about God’s love for us. I try to remember this even is sometimes I don’t feel it.
“God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.
He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.
What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”
These beautiful words encourage me to look to my God. Even when I sometimes ride with my eyes closed, I need to remember He is always patient, He always loves me. He is rooting for me, not waiting for me to make a mistake. As I try to improve little by little I just need to keep my eyes open to focus more clearly where I am going.
When one of my daughters was little, we would race up the basement stairs to see who could get to the top first. Whoever won would shout out, “I beat you!” Being older and faster, I frequently won which caused my daughter to try even harder the next time. She got pretty fast on those stairs!
One time I was grocery shopping with this same daughter, who was 4 years old. She stopped to look at a cereal box as I continued walking. She finally noticed that I had made it to the end of the aisle. Fearing being left, she loudly shouted out, “Mom, don’t beat me.” I was sure the people three aisles over could hear her. I was also sure that people really thought I was beating her and I was very embarrassed. I wanted to run to people and reassure them that I was not beating her. Honest!
It’s So Easy to Judge
Children give us lots of opportunities to be embarrassed, and to also have our actions misunderstood. This incident also reminds me that sometimes we hear something someone said and think we have a complete picture. We think we know exactly what is going on. It is so easy to judge the situation without having an understanding of what is really happening. And because we think we know, we make a judgement.
Before I ever had children I remember thinking, when I would see someone’s child misbehaving, that my children would never do that. I thought I would teach my children what to do and then they would do it (I’m sure all those who are parents are now laughing). Actually, being a spectator is a lot different from being a parent. And being a parent is certainly a lot harder than it looks on the outside.
The Merciful Obtain Mercy
There’s an expression I really like, “walk a mile in his shoes.” It conveys the idea that until we actually know someone’s heart and why they make the choices they do that we really can’t understand the situation. It teaches us not to assume or to judge. One of my favorite General Conference talks is by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and is called The Merciful Obtain Mercy.
I loved it when he said, “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!” He goes on to say, “It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.”
Years ago, any time when there was someone in my ward that I didn’t like very much I would be made her Visiting Teacher or she would be made mine. This happened several times over the years (obviously I had a lot to learn). Each time, it didn’t take long before I learned how wrong I was about that person. Most of the time we became friends, or at least I gained a greater understanding of her. God, in His mercy, gave me the opportunity to better learn not to judge.
There was one time I was someone’s Visiting Teacher and I was visiting with her and we were laughing about something when she suddenly stopped and said, “You’re a lot different from what I thought.” I hadn’t realized she had a negative impression of me, but we were able to become friends because we got to know each others hearts a little better and judge a little less.
Just “Stop It!”
The funny thing is we don’t want others judging us but somehow we think it’s okay for us to judge others! I’m not sure why we do this and I constantly need to remind myself that I don’t know someone’s motives, their reasoning or thought process. I really do want to be better at this and allow myself to have good thoughts about others. I want to do as President Uchtdorf said and “Stop it!” So, how do I do this?
So, How Do We Do This?
Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave us the solution to stop judging others . “The more we allow the love of God to govern our minds and emotions-the more we allow love for our Heavenly Father to swell within our hearts-the easier it is to love others…In a world of accusations and unfriendliness, it is easy to gather and cast stones. But before we do so, let us remember the words of the One who is our Master and model: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” Brothers and Sisters, let us put down our stones.” So basically, the more love we have for God, then the more love we will have for others and the less judging we will do.
For me, it always comes back to the scripture found in Matthew 22:37. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all the heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind.” When we love God more than anything else, when we put God first, everything else falls into place in our lives. For me, this is my greatest challenge. Loving God more will help me put down my stones.
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.