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.
Many years ago we had a freezer in our car port that I kept popsicles in. My kids could help themselves while they were playing outside with their friends on a hot, summer’s day. My children were generous and always offered their friends popsicles too, which was fine with me. One day I happened to look out the window to see neighborhood kids helping themselves to our popsicles. None of my kids were around. I was upset that these children felt free to get popsicles without asking or being offered them by my children. Money was always tight for us. I am ashamed to say I thought, “How can we ever save money to feed the hungry and poor of the world when everyone just feels free to help themselves to the things in our freezer.” Instantly I had the thought come to me, “You are feeding the hungry and poor of the world.” I immediately saw the situation in a different way. These sweet little children came from good homes with very little in worldly terms. Their mother had severe health challenges and any extra money went to medical bills. Letting them eat popsicles from our freezer was nothing in the scheme of things but a small service to another of God’s children. I learned a great lesson that day.
Sometimes we think, as I did, that service is something we do on a grand scale or something involving a stranger or group of needy people. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that service can be little things to the people around us. I remember a talk given in General Conference in October 2017 by Bonnie Oscarson. She recounted the story of a women who had collected quilts and drove a truck, full of quilts, from London to Kosovo to deliver them. While driving home she received the following inspiration “What you have done is a very good thing. Now go home, walk across the street and serve your neighbor.” This concept teaches me to serve where and how I can, even if it just involves a popsicle.
There are so many different ways to help others. Over the years there have been several times when I have met someone and I felt like I was supposed to be her friend for a while, and that the friendship wouldn’t be long lasting. These were quiet impressions, but as I acted on them, and developed friendships with each of these women I could see the hand of the Lord operating through me to help them. None of the things that happened were grand or large in scale. Mostly it was just being a friend. But it demonstrated to me that God knows each of His children and loves them. Since I was willing, He used me to bless some else’s life. The really funny thing about this is that each time this happened I was strengthened in my testimony of God’s love for His children, and my own life was blessed. Our loving Heavenly Father, who knows everything, knows that the giver and the receiver are both blessed. Kind of like a two-for-one deal.
Since that popsicle experience many years ago I have learned that there are many ways to serve. I know now that the poor and hungry of the world are often in my own neighborhood, and that service doesn’t have to be big or grandiose. Little things, like letting a neighbor child enjoy a treat from a freezer also blesses the life of the one giving the service. That was over 23 years ago and I still feel a connection to that little boy who is now a man with his own children. When we have eyes to see and ears to hear He will guide us to those we can help. As we try to follow Him, as we try to serve, in some small way, as He did we will be blessed too. When we serve where and how we can we will be making a difference in the world and in our own lives.
I grew up hearing a lot of expressions that I don’t hear much any more. Things like “were you born in a barn?” if I left the door open. “You make a better door that you do a window” if I was standing in someone’s view of the TV. I often heard “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” implying that I would get what I wanted easier with a kinder mouth. I heard that one a lot! Usually it was because I was being bossy, which is one of the problems with being the oldest child. My usual response to that one was “why would I want a bunch of flies anyway.” Obviously I was sometimes bossy and mouthy.
Sometimes these kind of expressions make no sense. “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water” had me stumped for years until I realized it was saying don’t throw out the good with the bad. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil” helps people get their needs or wants met, but I usually replied, “yes, but it’s also the first one to be replaced.” Sometimes I had a problem with being told what to do too. Another saying that I heard frequently was “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” meaning don’t spend your money before you have it. All of these sayings communicate pretty clearly what the speaker wants you to know.
There are a lot of different expressions like these. And it makes me wonder how these expressions came about. Who makes up these expressions? How do they get started? So I looked up the ‘baby in the bath water’ expression and it originated in Germany in the 1500s and implied the concept of not discarding good ideas with bad ideas. It seems that some of these expressions have been around for a long time. One website I found had 1800 expressions and sayings with their explanations and histories. Who knew there were so many!
All of these sayings use common terms and concepts to communicate an idea. I wonder if these expressions originated to help people communicate ideas more clearly. Humans communicating with humans is always an iffy thing. Sometimes I think I’ve said something very clearly with no room for misinterpretation. I find out later that the person (usually my husband) interpreted what I said in an entirely different way. Miscommunications happen so easily. Expressions can paint pictures in our minds, add reference points. These expressions might help someone understand more clearly what someone is trying to say-to get the point across.
In the bible we read that Christ often taught people using parables. These parables helped His listeners to understand His doctrine and teachings more clearly. Parables seem to be related to expressions that are in common to us, as they use ideas, concepts and cultural references to convey a message. Of course, some thought Christ was merely telling nice stories but the careful listener got the intended message. Maybe that’s the secret to really understanding the message of the speaker: careful listening. Sometimes I’m thinking of what I’m going to say back to someone instead of really focusing on what he or she is saying. I’m more interested in getting my message across instead of trying to understand another person.
So maybe I need to “strike while the iron is hot’ when someone is “spilling the beans” and “read between the lines.” Listening to someone really is a “labor of love.”
Mother’s Day is almost here again. There are lots of different ways that people celebrate Mother’s Day. It is also a day that often evokes a lot of emotions as we think about our mothers, and also think about the hard work and sacrifices that raising children involves.
We often hear sermons in church meetings about those sacrifices and about the virtues of motherhood. And while motherhood truly is a divine calling, sometimes it is presented in an idealized version, and it’s hard for some women to feel like they measure up. Some may leave the meeting feeling a little sad or like a failure. I know in the past I have struggled with some of these feelings. Sometimes after these kind of talks I felt like I just needed to work harder, or listen better or even teach better. Of course I always needed more patience, and my lacking seemed so apparent.
Sometimes in the middle something it is hard to have perspective. Looking back I realize I did the best I could at the time. That involved good things and sometimes, not so good things. Generally I am at peace about my mothering efforts.
So my goal here is not to paint a picture of a perfect mother because really, there is no such thing. I also don’t want to dwell on negative things. I do want to tell you about two women from the bible from whom I have learned some things.
The first one is Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. I have always wondered how Christ knew who He was, even as a child. How did He know that He was the Savior of the World, The Only Begotten Son of our Heavenly Father? I pondered that for quite a while when one day it occurred to me that He would have learned it from his mother. She would have told Him of her experience with the angel and of His heavenly origins. It was she who taught Him who He was. Mary inspires me, and from her I have learned the importance of teaching my children who they are and what they are to become.
Another woman from the scriptures that I admire is Eve. I think about her bearing children without a mother or another woman there to help her. How lonely and hard it must have been to not have had another woman to talk things over with and to learn from. She had no precedence-no guide books to baby care, no how-to-survive a teenager manual and no one to guide her on parenting. It really was a learn-as-you-go situation. It was just Adam and Eve working as a team and trying to figure it out together. From Eve I learn that I can keep on mothering even when I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, and trying to figure it out. I also learn the importance of working as a full partnership with my husband.
There are other things I have learned from these two women, as well as other women in the scriptures. I don’t think either of these two women were perfect, even though they were both really good women. Since there is no such thing as a perfect mother, they obviously weren’t that either. From Mary, Eve and also the many good women in my life, I have learned is that you don’t have to be perfect to be a good mother. There are many ways to be a good mom and I bet you’re doing better than you think.
Life Skills Class at Junior High
A few years ago my daughter, who has Down Syndrome, transitioned from junior high school to high school. She had been in a Life Skills class in junior high where they teach many of the basics such as reading, math, writing, and other skills that are needed to function in society. In her Life Skills class were other teens with developmental disabilities. She was lucky because she also had many classes in the normal school setting that allowed her to participate in classes like choir, sewing, health and cooking. It’s a great blending of experiences and classes that the students are offered.
Talking About His Accomplishments Produced A Big Smile
At the end of her junior high experience the Life Skills teacher held a “graduation” for all of the teens going on to high school. As part of the graduation the teacher read all of the accomplishments of each student during his or her three years at the school. She had the student stand as she read off the list. One young man, as she was talking about his accomplishments, was smiling. His smile got bigger and bigger as the teacher kept reading. When the teacher finished, with a look of awe and joy on his face, he said, “I’m amazing!” The teacher said, “You are amazing!” Of course everyone in the classroom started smiling too. He said it with such wonder and sincerity that it was really a joy to have witnessed it.
Making the World a Better Place
I have thought about that sweet experience many times since then. The look of awe and wonder on his face still brings a smile to my face. He didn’t solve world hunger or end international wars. He didn’t figure out the solution to the homeless problem or fix the political divide. The things he accomplished were actually quite simple things. Because of his developmental disabilities he obviously will never accomplish much by world standards. Yet in his own way, he has added to the goodness of the world. He excelled where and how he could, and added light to the world through his small accomplishments. And remarkably, if each of us could say that we have excelled where and how we could, the world would be a better place. I often think of Gordon B. Hinckley who was known for his optimism and encouragement for each of us to be a little better every day. He once said, “There is room for improvement in every life. Regardless of our occupations, regardless of our circumstances, we can improve ourselves and while doing so have an effect on the lives of those around us (October 2002).” That young man improved himself through the things he accomplished and made the world a little better. And that is the challenge each of us has. To be a little better than we were the day before and to make the world a better place by doing so.
A Basketball Tournament For Teens With Disabilities
Recently I attended a delightful basketball tournament for people with developmental disabilities. This tournament is sponsored by the local school district and is run by volunteers. Each of the teams consisted of 3 teens with some kind of a disability and 2 peer tutors. A peer tutor is a teenager who is normally abled and helps another teen with disabilities be successful in the school setting. This time the peer tutors were there to teach, encourage and help the teens be successful in basketball. Whenever a peer tutor got the ball he or she would throw it to a teen with disabilities and then instruct them where to go and what to do. Sometimes teens would throw the ball and miss the basket and then the ball was given to them to try again, and then again. Everyone would stop playing to allow the teens to be successful. If they actually made a basket, it was pure magic! The look on their faces was so sweet, radiating pure happiness. The whole day was all about helping these teens have a great experience.
For The Fun Of It
There were even a few teens in wheelchairs with a peer tutor manning the chair and running down the court with everyone else. I say running but really, at best, it was just a fast walk. Most of the teens with disabilities just couldn’t be hurried. Parents and coaches would shout “hurry” or “run” but it just wasn’t important to them. They would walk down the court holding the ball, not even bouncing it. Sometimes a teen on one team would help another on a different team by giving them the ball or saying encouraging things. They were there for the fun of it, not to win. The great thing is that no matter which team made a basket, everyone cheered.
Pink Shirts Everywhere
What was truly amazing to me was that there were 8 games going on at the same time, and each team played 4 games with a half time show from the various high school dance teams. And of course there was also the big playoff between the two highest scoring teams, with trophies for the winners. When you add up how many volunteers it took to pull this tournament off it’s astounding. Adult organizers, score keepers, coaches, people who got the school ready with directional signs and the peer tutors were just the obvious volunteers. All of the volunteers were in pink shirts and I saw hundreds of pink shirts! The volunteers, mostly peer tutors, were spending their Saturday helping these kids with disabilities play basketball.
Hope For The Youth Of The World
I have been to this tournament two years in a row now and both times I have been completely overwhelmed with the kindness, camaraderie, friendship and genuine caring exhibited by everyone involved. It’s really hard to understand the feeling that is there unless you have been there. Everyone was there just for the opportunity to help someone else. Sometimes we hear about a lot of bad stuff happening in the world today, a lot of it involving young people. This event and others like it give me a lot of hope for the youth of the world. There are some caring, unselfish teens out there doing some simple and yet significant things to help and serve others. Service truly brings a sweet feeling into life and this event was all about service. There are so many needs and so many ways to serve others and I can guarantee that if you reach out to serve others your life will be happier.
Summer is approaching and I love the flowers that are blooming and the sound of birds when I walk outside. I love the lazy days of playing in the sun at the beach or park. I have good memories of picnics and taking my kids to the pool, and programs at the library. It seemed like summer was a very busy time in a laid back sort of way. Maybe it was just busy for me because I was managing 8 kids, because I also have memories of bored kids complaining there was nothing to do. It seemed that if their friends weren’t available to play with, their world came to a crashing halt. Their brains turned to mush and with a blank stare in their eyes they would wail “there’s nothing to do!” I got so tired of hearing that complaint, usually one week into summer vacation! So one year I got smart. I typed up a list of 40+ things to do when they were bored, put it in a page protector and taped it to the fridge. The list had craft ideas, solo things to do like reading or taking a walk. It also had ideas like making cookies, or things to do with their siblings (if they were really desperate) like board games. I also made sure I had lots of craft supplies in the house so all they had to do was get them out and of course clean up when they were done.
I got a lot of my ideas from a magazine I used to subscribe to called Family Fun. It had lots of creative ideas that were inexpensive. I remember one of the activities used pipe cleaners and felt to make bendable dolls. It even came with patterns for clothes and accessories. My kids spent hours making those! The Friend magazine is also another great resource for ideas and things to do. There are also lots of craft books available to buy for different age groups. Of course there are also a lot of resources online of fun things to do for and with kids.
At the bottom of my summer list I typed in bold letters that they were not allowed to complain there was nothing to do or I would find lots of jobs for them to do. I also typed a list of available jobs to do and hung it on the fridge next to the fun things to do list. I did this mostly to show I was serious but also to use as a quick reference for me should I need it. It was amazing how well it all worked. If a kid even started to complain they were bored I would mention finding something for them to do and the complaint died on their lips. It worked so well that I hung the list on the fridge every summer after that for many years. Sometimes I even joined in their activities! The wonderful result was non bored, non complaining kids and a happy, less stressed mom.
I have written before about an organization called Orange Socks. Their mission is to teach people about the joys of raising a child with disabilities. Most people hear about or assume the difficulties and Orange Socks wants people to know there are good times as well as hard times. Their tag line is “inspiring life despite a diagnosis.” Orange Socks interviews families who have a child with disabilities and posts the interviews on their website as well as doing podcasts. They want people who are facing a diagnosis to hear from people who actually have a child with that disability. It helps to learn from those who have gone before us, to learn from them the realities of raising that child, of the good and the hard.
The reason why I am writing about this again is thatI have been privileged to go to several of the interviews. I was touched by the fierce love and advocacy the parents all have for their child and in some cases, children. I was impressed that these parents spoke mostly of the joys and happiness their child has brought to their family. When asked about the difficulties every parent said it was worth it, that they got far more back than they ever gave. I was amazed that in every interview I went to, except for one, the parents all spoke about how they relied on prayer to help them with their challenges. They spoke of receiving inspiration to help guide them as they cared for their child. The interviews have taken place all over the country, with people from many different religions. It really surprised me that so many people talked about praying. It surprised me that so many talked about relying on God to help them. It gave me hope to know of so many good people in the world. Sometimes it is easy to focus on the distressing things we hear about going on in the world. The media seems to blast daily sometimes even hourly the bad things that occur. It’s easy to think that most people are unkind and hurtful from watching the news.
There was another thing that happened also has given me hope. Several years ago I attended a 3 week program in Minnesota that focused on how to live with chronic pain. Every morning we had to set goals for the day, which were written on a white board in the classroom. One day, another woman in the program said her goal for the day was to express more gratitude in her prayers. That one comment is probably the thing I remember most from attending the chronic pain program. It told me that way over in Minnesota, there was a woman who believed in praying, who believed in God and in acting on that belief. It showed me that there are good people all over the country and world. Sometimes it seems like there is so much bad, and hurtful and horrific things that are happening. When I reflect on the parents interviewed and the woman from the program, I remember that there are good people in the world. Good people who believe in praying and believe in God. Who believe in helping others and giving service to their children. Even with the media bombarding us about all of the bad happening I know there is much good in the world. We live in scary times, but we also live in good and hopeful times. Take time to look for the good and you will find it!