Monday, May 31, 2010

Freedom and Gratitude

"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily defeated, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. . .it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."
~Thomas Paine

When I was a child, to me Memorial Day meant cutting lilacs from my grandma's yard to put on the graves of the husbands she had buried, and admiring the decorations that my other grandma had lovingly made by hand to adorn the graves of the sons that she had buried. Mostly, actually, it meant the first trip of the summer to Dairy Queen (in Montana when I was little, Dairy Queen was still closed in the winter).

I grew up as part of a generation that is decades removed from any real, significant sacrifice or hardship. My grandparents came of age and raised their families in the midst of the Great Depression and WWII. My generation (and, for the most part, the generation that preceded us) has grown up in a time and place of unprecedented prosperity and security. I think we often under-value just how blessed we are, and what it has taken to secure those blessings--what it still takes.

As I listened to my grandma's stories about having her first baby at home, in the middle of a snowstorm (of course), in a house that was actually a converted corn crib, I came to better understand what she had given me. As I listened to her laugh as she told a story about running back into her burning house to get ration stamps while my grandpa was away from home in the Pacific theater and she was doing her best to keep a large family on an even keel, I finally started to appreciate the kind of woman that she was and the sacrifices of the generations on whose shoulders I stood. When my brother was in Iraq, I saw my sister-in-law go through ups and downs where she'd be OK with it, and then suddenly furious and depressed at the thought of him never coming home. The day he was supposed to be helicoptered out of Iraq to Kuwait to start home to the US, the first thing I heard on the news that morning was "Black Hawk down"--out of the same city from which he had been departing . A little lump of dread sat in my throat all day as I pictured my sister-in-law back in MT with her two little babies, waiting anxiously for the phone to ring. I finally started to get it. I finally started to understand what an entire generation of women went through, trying to raise babies on their own and fight back the fear, or deal with the reality that their companion would never come home. I finally started to understand the sacrifice that all those men have made--either for a short time, or ultimately sacrificing themselves and a future they'd never see.

Its easy to oppose war, with all its ugliness, brutality and the corruption that violence so often breeds. And I think that unnecessary war is one of the greatest evils. But I think much of my generation finds it all too easy to ignore or denigrate necessary military action, and the sacrifices of soldiers who voluntarily sign up to be at the battle front, because we have faced so very little tangible threat to our freedom and our way of life. I abhor violence and I hope that I never am asked to sacrifice my sons to war, but I do know with absolute certainty that the greatest gift that God gives us is life, and second only to that is the gift to choose for ourselves what we will do with that life (and without the second gift, the first is virtually meaningless). And there will always, always be tyrants and bullies who seek to deprive their fellow human beings of both. Freedom is worth sacrificing for. And as long as human nature remains unchanged, it always will have to be defended from those who desire power more than anything else.

There seems to often be a mindset that WWII was a noble undertaking, but it was the last necessary undertaking of its kind. Somehow, evil died with Hitler, and every other thug since then can simply be reasoned with if we explain ourselves clearly enough. But there will always be another Hitler--the only question is how much damage we allow him to do, how much power we allow him to gain, before we do something about it.

"We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph 6:12). The plan of God was to allow us to choose for ourselves who and what we would be. He made it clear what He would like us to choose, but the choice has always ours. The plan of the adversary was to make us do as he chose, as he saw fit, regardless of what we may want, robbing us of any capacity to progress, to improve ourselves, to grow. Those conflicting plans are still at war in this world--the adversary still seeks to corrupt men, to get them to act as he would: to control and oppress the souls of men. He still seeks dominion over that which is not his, and there will always be corruptible, selfish souls who do his bidding, ignorantly or intentionally. I love my country and harbor a deep and fervent patriotism, but that exists only so long as my country is worth loving and defending, because what I truly cherish is freedom. Freedom to do with our lives what we choose is a fundamental human (and yet, when used correctly, very Divine) desire, and that is worth standing up for. It is worth sacrificing for. It is not only America's interests that these brave men serve--as of yet, America is still a tool for securing, defending and preserving freedom. And that is what we must do. As a blessed and prospered people, it is our moral obligation.

But the war does not begin and end solely on the battle field, with boots on the ground. In that same epistle, Paul instructs the Ephesians to "Put on the whole armor of God. . .Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. . ."

Its armor, its all defensive. Its significant, I think, that the only weapon, the only thing we use not to protect ourselves, but to deal blows to the adversary, is the word of God, by the spirit. We must sometimes physically stop tyrants so that people have a chance to hear the word of God, but to truly push back the work of the adversary we must not simply defend people physically, but teach them the word of God, with the help of the Spirit. Because when people are touched by the Spirit and truly begin to understand who they are, where they came from and the opportunities that are before them, they will come to cherish the gift of their freedom and they will stand up to those who do the work of the adversary, because they will come to understand that nothing that is lost is as valuable as what they gain.

So on Memorial Day, I remember and honor my brother for the four years he served in the Army and the 8 or 9 months he spent in Iraq; my father, for his service in the navy; my grandfathers, who all proudly served their country during WWII; for many other friends and loved ones who've served under a flag that to me represents so many values essential to the Plan of Salvation. But I also remember with gratitude the two year my husband spent in western Washington, preaching the Gospel; the two years my cousin spent wearing out shoes and knocking on doors in Preston England; I think with fond gratitude of elders I do not know who taught my husband's paternal grandparents, and his mother, so that he could be born to a Gospel-anchored family, and so many other friends, family members, ancestors who took time away from their families, jobs, farms and--often at great personal sacrifice--took the time to preach the word of God with the Spirit. To me, they are two parts of a great whole.

My hope is that we do not let those who seek power slowly chip away at our freedoms and do nothing. I hope that the sacrifices that these men and women have made in the name of human freedom are not casually tossed aside by generations who do not know the true cost of what they lose.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


This is the girl I'd like to be. She's just about my best self. I haven't been her lately. Actually, I've been a bit of a disaster, and I have no real excuse for it. My life's pretty darned easy and wonderfully good. This girl was confident, easily contented and patient. A tiny one-bedroom apartment that was way overpriced was "cozy" and enough for her. The fact that she didn't even have enough furniture to fill up her 500 sq ft was funny. She loved to try new things because if she was no good at it or didn't like, what did she really have to lose? Her energetic toddler could spend all day jumping on her, throwing tantrums, scattering little wooden blocks (that hurt terribly when accidentally stepped on!) everywhere, writing on walls and climbing on top of the desk, counters, dressers, and she'd never even feel annoyed, much less lose her patience. She did romantic, spontaneous things for her husband and balanced working, keeping a house and raising a baby with energy to spare. She enjoyed her callings and served in them enthusiastically. She set goals--physical, intellectual, and spiritual--and pursued them diligently, rarely failing in achieving them or getting very discouraged with the setbacks. Actually, this girl was a lot like her mom. Lately, she's been something else. Something I don't care for much. So, I'm setting some goals, and I'm putting them here to hold myself accountable.

I will pray every morning and every evening, to start and end each day.
I will read at least one chapter of scripture a day.
I will journal at least once a week.
Family Home Evening will happen on Monday evenings.

That's it for now. I won't bore you with the details of the plans, but feel free to ask about my progress. Don't make me let you feel guilty for bothering me about personal things. The bottom line is that I don't like to share, but sometimes I need to anyway. I'd like to see that girl again, and one thing she wasn't ever very good at all, but I need to learn to be if I'm ever going to see her again (oh the irony), was asking for help. Showing weakness is not one of my strengths. I could also do without the extra 30 pounds between her and I. But we'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Best Life

It seems that its been a really hard year for a whole lot of people, in just about every way a year can be hard: physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually. There also seems to be a prevailing mindset with most people (myself included, often enough) that once I reach point x, life will be better. What that point may be can change depending on the speaker and life's current circumstances, but its usually something like "when I get another job" or "when I'm out of debt" or "when the kids are out of the house". There seems to be this idea that we will reach a point when life is suddenly calm and easy. But that just isn't how it works. How many times have I said, in the last four years, "The last few months have been insane!" or "Its been a rough couple of months." Its been true every single time. Life never stops. That's what that whole "endure to the end" thing is all about.

Oh, I won't deny that life's vicissitudes seem to come in waves. Its never just that the roof is leaking--its that you discover a leak in the roof and when you go to fix it, you find termites in the walls and as you try to flush out the termites you find mold in the floor, so you start pulling up boards and find that there's a rat infestation in the basement. Yes, it does seem to be true that when it rains it pours, that there are times when life is easier for a little while and times when everything seems to be pressing down on you at once. But every day, every year, and each stage of life comes with its own challenges. Unforeseen troubles and tribulations pop up often and without warning.

And yet, throughout the scriptures, we find over and over again that direct and loving command, "Be of good cheer". He who spoke those words knew something of tribulation. Born to royal descendants, he was nevertheless raised in rather humble circumstances, working physically very hard to get by. His life was often very lonely, being the one person who can truly claim to have had no real peers, no one who knew what life was like for him. He was betrayed by friends, often publicly maligned and lived through a great deal of difficulty before a painful death. But there it was, over and over again, "Be of good cheer". In Mosiah, the Lord told the saints in bondage to submit "cheerfully and with patience" to the burdens they had to carry. He gave them this command that He knew they could follow because, as He told them, "I will ease the burdens. . . that even you cannot feel them upon your backs."

Life is good the moment that we decide that it will be. Happiness--joy--is a choice that we make. We focus on the blessings we have at the moment and the promises of what's to come in the future, and we say a prayer for some help maintaining that positive attitude and firm faith when the rain starts to fall, and we decide to have a good time while we're here. I get so tired of hearing the refrain, "Life isn't fair". Well, no, mortal life isn't fair. Eternal life is absolutely fair. We will be judged with perfect justice and incomprehensible mercy and receive exactly what we should, in the long run, so keep a long perspective and think of the promises beyond the next 10 minutes.

But don't look just to the future for your joy. Its easy, particularly when things aren't going so well, to look around and be an Eeyore, grumpy and gloomy and edgy and nervous. But it doesn't make us feel any better, and it certainly doesn't do those around us any favors. Start counting your blessings--there are probably more of them than you think. Find something that restores that perspective for you, and go to it as often as you have to. Yesterday I was sitting in the shade of a big tree, on fresh cut grass, watching my kids run and play. In those set of circumstances, no matter what's going on or how I'm feeling, I simply can't not think that life is grand.

For all it misery, dishonesty, sickness and drudgery, the world is still a beautiful place filled with countless blessings. If you're looking for it, you will still find heroism, honesty and kindness. Go watch a child run through some wildflowers (or a backyard sprinkler, for that matter), sit next to a campfire or walk along the beach and tell me that there isn't much to be grateful for, that life isn't pretty fantastic. Tell me that you don't catch glimpses of boundless, eternal joy.

The good life is right here, right now. When I jumped out a of plane and was free-falling through the air, looking at what suddenly seemed to be a very small island below me, it occurred to me that the only difference between the sheer terror of falling and the exhilirating joy of flying, was knowing that there was a parachute. Whatever the temporal challenges you may face, you've got an eternal parachute--you'll be taken care of and land safely. So go on, enjoy the flight.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Doing a bit better this afternoon, after a trip to the doctor, a new toy and a dose of store-brand acetaminophen (forgot that Tylonel had been recalled til Doug went to two stores and they were both out--d'oh). Not sure what the problem is. Got a negative strep test at the doc's office and some "Give him some pain meds and see what happens in the next 24 hours" advice.

I realized that subconsciously his week in the hospital still haunts dark corners of my brain. When I noticed the swelling, for just a second--maybe less than a second--I had a fleeting moment of panic. Hospital beds and lumbar punctures and IVs and motionless little toddler arms flashed through my mind. It was irrational. It was brief. But there it was.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Its hard sometimes

being this ridiculously awesome

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Embarrassment of Riches

This is who calls me "Mom":
for whom life is an exciting adventure
and no challenge is too big.
Smiling solves nearly every problem
and, despite her shyness with adults,
other kids are just friends she hasn't met yet.
She'll get down in the dirt playing soccer,
then pop up and put on a poofy skirt
to host a tea party
and be equally happy with both.
Our princess.

our delightful weirdo,
simultaneously methodical and off-the-wall.
Planning, building, plotting.
No fear of people,
walking up to complete strangers everywhere we go
and saying, "My name's Dylan",
completely unphased if they respond in a different language.
Then retreating into the world in his head
where he'll play solitarily and happily
for hours,
emerging again with a smile.

the gigglebot,
the "me too",
shy and sweet,
but with an edge and a real bossy streak.
She knows what she wants,
and she'll try to charm it out of you,
but if that doesn't work
she's got no qualms about making demands.
She's not a talker,
but she's a communicator,
using her hands and her little body
to get across very clear messages.
She's all girl,
usually in a dress
and pretty shoes,
carrying a purse,
and wearing "jewelry"--
usually some assortment of
hair ties used as bracelets.

The important moms in my life:

This is my mom, Valerie
or "Yaya"
The older I get, the more convinced I am
that she's a superhero.
Her super powers include
incredible patience with kids
and the ability to be two places at once.
She makes sacrifices to make us a priority,
once driving 18 hours
(round trip)
out of her way
so that she could spend 24 hours with us.
She spoils the kids
and they adore her.
She keeps me connected
to her, my siblings, Montana
and so many of the things I love.
And she usually brings me deer summer sausage.
I lllllloooovvveee summer sausage.

This is my mother-in-law, Katy,
or "Mimi"
She's my friend,
often my on-call babysitter,
and a fantastic grandma.
She's a baby-monger,
so she understands my baby-mongering.
She's vivacious and outgoing,
people love her.
When she's on,
she's energetic and fun.
Despite being polar opposite personalities
in a lot of ways,
she understands well a lot of things about me
that most people don't.
She has stemmed the homesickness
of living so far from my mom
by truly making me a part of her family.

This is Amanda
(I like this picture, chica, deal with it),
"Auntie Manda",
my kids other mom.
She's Keilana's best friend--
mutual lovers of shopping
and musical theater
and all-around girliness.
She is one of the only people,
besides myself,
that Kylie will voluntarily go to.
Dylan connected to her sooner and stronger than to just about anyone besides Doug and I. Last week, something happened at my house that happens on a pretty regular basis. Amanda had stopped by, and Dylan remained in his own little world while we visited, playing with his trains and watching PBS kids. After an hour, completely out of nowhere, he walked up and gave her a great big hug and just snuggled with her for a minute. Dylan doesn't do that. He's affectionate when he feels like it, but he is not the kid that suddenly just wants to hug. He does it consistently with Amanda and only Amanda, and he's always done it with her. Every time I see it, I melt a little bit and remember how grateful I am that she's a part of my children's lives,
and a part of mine.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


One of my favorite quotes ever, from Elder Marvin J. Ashton:

You can't do everything for everyone everywhere, but you can do something for somebody somewhere.


I don't think its any secret that our extended family has had a long 6 or so months. The frustrations of this last year have weighed heavily on my because I have a hard time feeling helpless. After all, I can't cure cancer, I don't have the money pay anyone else's bills, I can't magically renew an aging body, I can't change the character of those who ignore their moral obligations, I can't take newborn twins in the middle of the night. But there is much that I can do, I just wasn't doing it.

I've offered my help to a lot of people in the last several months, but it was always offered in a really general sort of way, and then I'd wait to be asked. Several weeks ago I finally thought, "What on earth am I waiting for?" If I simply pay attention and give it a little thought, I know what many of those around me could use the most. So I stopped offering and I started acting. Cook an extra dinner, make that phone call you keep thinking about but then not making, go steal a few munchkins whose mommas could use a break.

For my RS lesson a couple of weeks ago, I used President Monson's talk, "What Have I Done For Someone Today?" I remembered what it means to "be of good cheer" and that part of the reason I was giving into negative emotions more often was because I was not stepping outside myself to serve enough. There was a point in my life where I want to be wanted but hated being needed. Never before or since I have been so miserable. I made a promise a long time ago--I promised to take care of those around me, whatever that may mean. I took upon me the holiest of all names and promised to always remember Him whose name I bear, to act in His stead. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." There is truly no better cure for self-pity, for a cranky disposition, for a stressed-out psyche or a broken heart than reaching out to lift or steady another who has stumbled or is struggling, because in the moments where we forget ourselves and act in the best interest of another, out of love, that's when we fulfill that promise. When we lose ourselves in service, that is when we are choosing to act as He would act and so we are ourselves steadied and lifted.

The acts of service I have given in the last few weeks have been no great sacrifice to me, they have merely been a proper use of my blessings. The Lord teaches us patience, faith and humility through our trials. But often the most effective test of our character is in what we do with our blessings. Its easy to point to someone who has a lot of material wealth and say, "They should be helping others more", but its not always as easy to ask ourselves, "What have I done with my blessings?" I have been blessed with a nice home, a love for children, an innate emotional calm, a love for writing, the opportunity to stay home with my kids, a sharp intellect, a stable and good income, among many other things. How have I used these things to bless others? Where have I failed? Where can I honestly do more than I have been doing?

What are your blessings? What have you done with them today?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What most moms want. . .

I was looking for Mother's Day ideas for my 4-year-old (for his Mimi) and kept coming across all these lists of ideas for husbands. Most of them were things like buying flowers, nice dinners, jewelry, a date night, etc. Those are all wonderful ideas, but as I looked through them, I started thinking that maybe the lists had been made by men. Men who patiently sit through chick flicks with their wives a lot.

I don't know any woman who wouldn't jump at the chance to have a kid-free date night or put on some new jewelry or spruce up the house with some fresh flowers. But most of the women I know who are still "down in the trenches" of motherhood--moms with the very immediate demands of caring for young families weighing on them--would rather have a lot of other things. Cook the meals--and they don't have to be anything special, just give her a day where she doesn't have to cook for all the hungry little mouths or feed them take-out or fast food. Don't let her change a diaper all day. Do a week's worth of laundry (and fold it and put it away). Get that household project, that's been on hold due to your schedule, done for her. Take the time this week to pay closer attention to what she does and who she is--all the little things that she does everyday, that you may not notice on a day-to-day basis, but absolutely have to get done to keep you and your children's live running smoothly. Notice the little personality traits that you love but may have forgotten or temporarily lost in the haze of raising a busy family. Pay attention to how she helps you be better--whether that means pushing you where you wouldn't push yourself, or being patient with you where its not easy to be, or simply making you laugh more than you probably otherwise would. Absorb all that little-but-so-important stuff and write it down for her. Show her some affection just because you love her and she likes the attention, and not just because you're hoping to get lucky.

Motherhood is a lot of fun. Seriously, nothing else in my life could possibly make me laugh as much as my kids and the adventures (and misadventures) of raising them. But its also exhausting, patience-testing, 24-hours-on-call, and, occasionally, very tedious work. If you want to do something nice for your wife for Mother's Day, remember that she doesn't clock out at 6pm. She doesn't get a paycheck for all the busy work she does. Most people don't see the results of her work. She rarely gets feedback other than the occasional whining about how I-don't-want-to-wear-this or I-don't-want-to-eat-that. So much of her life is defined by being a mother (and chances are, she wouldn't have it any other way), but she's not just a mom. She's a whole person, a unique individual and chances are that what she really wants is to feel noticed and appreciated for all that she is and does. Bonus points if you know and love her well enough to know in what specific way she would prefer that that recognition and gratitude be expressed. If you can figure that out, you're probably a pretty awesome husband.