Monday, August 30, 2010

Real Power

Yesterday, a young father and new Bishop was shot to death in his office between services in an LDS church building in Visalia. The motives of the shooter are still hazy, but what we do know is that very suddenly and unexpectedly, a young mother is now a widow, with six sons to raise, ranging in age from teenager to infant.

Mormons tend to form pretty tight-knit little communities, as one of our fundamental beliefs is the responsibility to care for one another. We usually have large families, so that even far apart little pockets of church members tend to have connections to each other. Consequently, tragedies that happen to "our own" tend to hit us very hard, even if we don't know the individual directly. In this case, being so close to home (indeed, occurring in a ward where we have friends, to an individual my husband knows, and in a building where my mother and father in law usually meet), its left me in tears several times already.

Over the last 24 hours since this horrible event happened, I have pondered what this young mother must be feeling--the shock, anger, and terrible, aching hurt she must be going through. I've thought about how on earth I would find a way forward were I in her unenviable position. I keep feeling like I should do something for her family--but what can I do?

I have prayed for her. I have asked others to do the same.

That is a pretty standard practice for me when it comes to big challenges in the lives of others--ask people, whether they know the individuals involved or not, to offer prayers on their behalf. I once had a conversation with a friend who seemed to think that this practice, while perhaps comforting to the one asking for the prayers, was silly. "I don't get it," he said, "Do you think God will help them more if you get enough people to ask? That seems like a pretty stand-offish parent!"

I do absolutely believe that there are times when the Lord steps in and changes the course of events in someone's life in order to reward the selfless faithfulness of those who were willing to ask, with the faith believe that he can do anything they ask, if its in his will. I think the Lord still whispers to individuals today, "Thy faith hath made thee whole". Certainly as he walked the earth, he could've pulled lepers and blind folk from the crowd at will and made them whole, but in practice what he actually did was heal those who asked to be healed. Through this method, he taught us over and over again, "According to thy faith, be it unto thee." I happen to believe that sometimes he also blesses us according to the faith of those who love us.

But what good are prayers in a situation like this? A husband and father is gone, and we know that no amount of prayer will change that. All that can be healed is the hearts of those who loved him, and it is much more difficult to heal a broken heart than it is to fix unseeing eyes.

I believe, however, that the sincerely offered and truly heartfelt prayer, that is a true expression of love and faith, does change something--that that act of faith does somehow nudge the world a little bit. Many people think its pointless to offer prayers on behalf of people we don't know, people who don't know we're praying for them. I vehemently disagree. I think that when we pray out of true, selfless concern for another, there is a very real, very literal transfer of. . .what? Energy? Power? I can't pin down the specifics, but something tells me there is more to it than we can understand. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are told that "all spirit is matter", its just that its so fine and so pure that we can't see it with our mortal eyes. I believe that faith and love are much more tangible things that we could possibly know on this side of the veil. I believe that when we selflessly exercise our free will on the behalf of someone else, even if it is simply to ask that they be comforted, there is a very real offering that is made--that perhaps a measure of our spirit buoys them somehow. Someday, beyond the veil, I hope to understand all the spiritual physics of how our lives are moved forward and touched by others. For now, I don't care about understanding the mechanics, all I care is that I know that it does work.

Prayer is powerful, when we use it correctly. I believe that not only does Christ offer his comfort when we pray for others, but that something very real and important is relayed from our souls to the souls of those for whom we pray. To dismiss prayer as simply a kind gesture severely underestimates its power and dismisses what is ons of our greatest weapons in the battle for the souls of men. When we offer our hearts to the Lord and to each other in sincere prayer, we are all strengthened, and I think that's because our souls, for a moment, combine, in an amazing way that we may never understand in this life.

My prayer is that God will bless and comfort the Sannar family and the Visalia 2nd ward. They will need much borrowed strength in the difficult days and months ahead. It is our sacred obligation to offer it to them.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Day's End

I love Keilana and Clayton. I really, really do.

Its just that some days it seems like it would be preferable to live on a nuclear submarine than take care of them, and all that implies. Have I mentioned that I'm terribly claustrophobic on land, and when you add being surrounded by water I can barely breathe just thinking about it?

Ah, but I never forget for a second that I love them, and I'm grateful to have them. And by morning, I'll even like them again.

Well, as long as they don't come into my room and start begging for pancakes at 6am.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Obedience and Humility

My oldest daughter is, more often than not, a happy, helpful, obedient child. She tends to attract fan clubs everywhere she goes because she's vibrant and social and loves to please people.

She's also very emotional and has a tendency to be over-the-top when she's upset. The last week or so, every time I've asked her to clean her room I've been met with glaring, stomping and "I don't want to!" My response to this is almost always a very calm, "So? I didn't ask if you wanted to. It needs to be done. Go clean your room." And so she begrudgingly marches up to her room and pouts and whines the whole time she's accomplishing the chore, moving slowly, frequently getting upset, even yelling at her brother a bit.

I don't interrupt this little melodrama. What I've asked her to do, though it seems monumental to her little eyes (and, to be fair, she and her brother can make one heck of a mess in there), is not so big a task it can't be tackled. What she also seems to have forgotten lately is that, usually, when she happily agrees to complete this task, I help her. What could be a long, miserable chore turns into a fun, fairly quick activity with an attentive parent--the only difference is her attitude.

How often do we, as children, approach things our Heavenly parents have asked us to do in this same way? How often do we say, "I don't wanna!!" and stomp our feet and throw our fists? Our temper tantrum doesn't make the right thing any less right, it simply makes us miserable while we're doing it (or even more miserable while we're refusing to do it). We can avoid it (which inevitably leads to more misery down the line) or we can approach it with a displeased if-I-have-t0 attitude, which will make us miserable and resentful of the whole thing. Or we can cheerfully say, "Ok! I can do this!" and have a happy, loving parent at our side, helping the whole time.

Its is easy for us to sit in judgment of others as they act and react to trials or challenges in their lives that we have not ourselves been asked to experience. Sometimes we take for granted that we'd do the right thing if we were in their position, because we usually are obedient when push comes to shove. But the point of the story about David and Bathsheba is not to teach us that David was an awful person or that leaders can fall. Its to remind us that anyone, no matter how good and obedient they have been over the course of their life, can fall into misery and disobedience quickly if humility and self-honesty and the impressions of the Spirit are ignored. David has been promised that he won't languish in misery forever, but the price he'll have to pay is very, very steep. So many of his good deeds and faithful acts are undermined by a single, prideful instance where he failed to be obedient to the Lord's will.

David exercised a great deal more faith throughout most of his life than I can honestly imagine in my own--from his courageous childhood act of walking up to a giant with nothing but a slingshot while grown, trained soldiers cowered in fear, to living in the wilderness to protect himself from a jealous ruler, to governing his people with justice and righteousness. He faced many challenges and trials, made many sacrifices out of a desire to be righteous and obedient, yet that didn't mean he was done. There were still sacrifices to make, challenges to overcome and temptations to conquer. How strongly must the Spirit have warned him, "Look away!" and yet that resistant, human part of him responded "I don't wanna!" If he, so blessed and faithful, could fall so quickly, how much faster then could I slip into undesirable circumstances if I am not constantly vigilant in trying to cultivate the humility to be obedient, no matter what is asked of me?

Life never stops testing us. Difficult things never stop being required of us. Sometimes, it is immediately obvious why we must do something. Sometimes, we never (in this life) know why we were supposed to do something, or not do something. But I know that our lives are blessed when we exercise the faith to believe that whatever the Lord requires is right. It has been amply proved to me that when we are obedient to His commandments and promptings, we are blessed for it, and all things will work together for our good, even if we can't understand how.

The key to a joyful life, regardless of what circumstances we may be in, is to learn to say, not begrudgingly but with a genuinely joyful and grateful heart, "I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. . .I'll say what you want me to say. . .I'll be what you want me to be".

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sneaking chocolate can be dangerous

This morning I was upstairs at the computer working on my lesson for Relief Society, when my toddler started to cry--and not an angry, get-this-sibling out of my face cry or an irritated I-can't-reach-what-I-want cry. It was that sad, loud, it-really-really-hurts cry. So I went to investigate. I found my crying toddler laying on the floor between the kitchen and the livingroom with her face and shirt covered in Nutella. I turned to examine the cupboard where said Nutella had been hiding, and saw that my white microwave and medium-oak stained cupboards were also covered in Nutella. The outside of the Nutella jar was covered in Nutella--but the lid was on, straight and secure. As frustrated as I was about her nasty bruise and 2 hours of misery (thank goodness it finally occurred to me to give her some Tylenol--she was up all night, so my brain wasn't processing quickly), I was also impressed that before she fell trying to get down from the counter, she managed to open the chocolate by herself and get the lid back on when she was done. Quite crafty for being under 2. If she can learn to keep herself clean and avoid falls, she could be dangerous.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kylie's first day

So now that school has started, Kylie won't have her big sister around to entertain her. I think that this means she'll be getting into mischief a bit more often. Keilana wanted watermelon for an after-school snack, so I was cutting up a giant melon and had to turn my back for a minute to rinse something off in the sink. While my back was turned, Kylie helped herself to a big piece of watermelon that I hadn't chopped up yet.
And she ate the whole thing. That's how she rolls.

She's a builder. She loves blocks, giant Legos, etc, etc., and frequently proudly shows me her creations. But apparently when I'm doing dishes and there are no Legos in sight, stacking paper towel rolls and Ziploc containers will do:
Oh, toddlers. They're my favorite. This age is when I could just eat them up for all their scrumptiousness, and find myself constantly laughing at their antics and discoveries.


Yesterday was the first day of school in Lindsay!! Everybody was very excited and ready to go (no one more than Mommy, after a very long Monday with the kidiots). So after a Monday night blessing from Daddy and Tuesday morning oatmeal and bran flakes, we headed out the door.
Keilana is in first grade this year. She was a little bummed that none of her close buddies from Church/Mom and Dad's social circle are in her class this year, but she knew quite a few of the kids, so it was OK. She told me she had a really good day, practicing writing and making a new book, "Que?" Her teacher sent home a little handout and she asked me what it said. I replied that I wasn't sure, since I was only getting parts of it because I don't know enough Spanish. "Let me help you," she said, and crawled up to the counter and proceeded to translate it successfully, sentence by sentence for me. I'm more grateful all the time that we decided on dual immersion. My little social butterfly was definitely ready to get back to spending six hours a day with other kids.
Dylan started preschool. I wasn't sure I was going to send him to preschool (I only get them for 5 years before they're off to school everyday, after all), but he started asking halfway through the year last year when he got to go to school and really wanted to go. Though they didn't tell me this when I signed him up (have I mentioned that our school system is not great at the whole communicating with parents thing?), he was put in the special needs class. One of the preschool classrooms is set aside for kids who fall under the ADA/Special Ed umbrella and then once they have those kids covered, they fill the rest of the class up with "normal" kids, for much-needed socialization in both directions. We laughed when the teacher told us it was the Special Needs classroom, and she looked at us quizzically. We explained that while he's very bright, that seemed somehow appropriate for our "unique" little guy. Based on our brief conversation yesterday, I think I'm really, really going to like his teacher. And since its a special needs class, its very small--about 10 or 12 kids. And Dylan was very excited that Lulu is in his class!! Miles is, too, so he has some good buddies with him.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Here we go. . .

A new school year starts tomorrow. The kids should have no problem with the schedule, since the latest they ever sleep is 6:30 anyway. I'm never thrilled about the 6am wake up hollers, though, so I'd better adjust.

Dylan will have Mrs. Sanchez, and Keilana's class/teacher have yet to be posted (and yes, I am very annoyed that I can't find out because they haven't posted it or sent a letter and trying to call the office is a joke, as all their lines are so busy that trying to stay on hold that long just makes me want to shoot someone). Dylan is not nervous at all, of course, since he has been asking, "Is it time to go to school?" every morning for the last two weeks and has always been very annoyed when I reply, "Not yet, still a few more days." Keilana is a little nervous, since she doesn't know who her teacher will be or what kids will be in her class, and she always feels a bit of trepidation mixed with excitement when it comes to new social experiences. But I'm pretty confident that by the end of the day she'll have 10 new friends and love her teacher, so I'm not too worried about it.

Tomorrow, I'll post some pictures and let you know how it went. Dylan will be going to preschool in the afternoon, right at the time Kylie usually naps, so its a very realistic possibility that I will have somewhere in the vicinity of 2 hours every afternoon where NO children are demanding my attention. Its sort of an amazing thought. *happy dancing*

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Daily Vent

School starts in Lindsay a week from today. Today I registered Dylan for preschool. Yes, I'm that on top of things. At first I was told that Washington Preschool (the one attached to Keilana's elementary school) was full. I was not about to do drop-offs and pick-ups at two different locations every day, so I pleaded for sympathy, pointing out that I already had a child in school there, and the nice woman who was getting him registered found one afternoon class she could squeeze him into. God bless her. I had wanted him to go in the morning, and knew what teacher I wanted, and got neither, but that's the prices of procrastination.

I have a procrastinating problem. But in this case, it isn't just a laziness or time management problem. You see, I've had his physical and TB test done since March. March--I could've registered him at any point since then. Though it wasn't really conscious, I realized I'd been avoiding getting it done.

I am a pretty conservative person, in many, many respects, by nearly any definition of the word. But all other social, personal and religious habits aside, I would probably still be conservative just because nearly every facet of my personality revolts against nearly every aspect of bureaucracy. I hate paperwork, I hate impersonal, I hate inefficient, all of that. Bureaucracy is so antithetical to my nature that its difficult for me to deal with when I have to. Every time I have to deal with large school systems, the DMV, the brief period of time where my kids were on Medicaid, or anything else of the paperwork-and-statistics government monolith, I very briefly become an anarchist. It only lasts a minute or two before I come back to my senses, but I never stop feeling and thinking that I'd like to move to Wyoming or Alaska--some of the last places on earth where people understand that there's a good way to live that's somewhere between lawless anarchy and tyrannical, life-wasting bureaucracy.

Though I don't know I'll ever truly be a Californian in my heart (Montana isn't easily displaced for those of us in whose hearts she reigns), I do understand why California lured so many people, why it seemed like a western Eden. Its rather sad to be watching a place so blessed with human and natural resources collapse in on itself.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ah, life

So I sat Kylie on a stool
at the island in our kitchen
with a handful of raisins
while I went upstairs
to clean up some toddler-mess.
When I came back downstairs
15 minutes later,
I found that she had removed her diaper
and thrown it on the floor,
pooped on the stool
and then climbed up on the island
and fallen asleep
in a pudgy, squishy, adorably naked
little ball.

the boys woke her up
before I could forever capture
this disgusting hilariousness
on film.


Isn't it interesting?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


A couple of days ago, a sister called me and asked if I could take dinner to a family in our ward that night. I hesitated. Not necessarily because I'm unwilling to help--granted, I was quite tired and had had a rather long morning, busy constantly while accomplishing little, but that wouldn't have stopped me from doing a lot of other things. I don't think of myself as much of a cook, so I always feel like I should apologize when I take someone dinner. I quickly realized that this was ridiculous--cooking may not be one of my specialties, but I'm certainly not bad at it. They're not looking for a gourmet meal, its just a bunch of kids who have a sick mom and not a lot of food in the house at the moment. My chicken stir fry is probably much appreciated. I was tempted to have her keep making phone calls, certain that someone else would do it. I was the only person she'd reached all morning, getting nothing but answering machines and voice mails all day.

It made me wonder how many opportunities to serve I've missed in life because I didn't feel adequate and/or was sure someone else would do it. How many times was service not done at all because I noticed a need and decided someone else would be better at meeting it?

When I think back on the acts of service that have meant the most in my life, they don't seem obvious or huge on the surface--there was no overt reason that that person gave that act of service to me at that moment, yet it made all the difference in my life. An unexpected phone call from an unexpected person, a well-timed question from someone who wouldn't seem to need to know, a couple of hours spent sitting on my couch and talking to me. These are acts of kindness from three different individuals that had a monumental impact on my life, and there was really no way that they or I could've guessed that at the time. How grateful I am that they didn't ignore that impulse because it seemed like a small thing, or because they didn't feel like they were the right person to do it.

How often do we miss opportunities to shine a light in someone else's life because we feel inadequate, or overqualified, or tired? Its easy to forget why we serve sometimes--be it in an official calling, or in little everyday acts. We don't serve to demonstrate our skills (though hopefully we are willing and able to use our talents in the service of others), or to be stretched and humbled (though hopefully that's a side effect of service). We serve because there's a need to be met and for whatever wise purpose, the Lord has asked us to be the one to meet it. Its easy, particularly in the Church, to just say, "Someone else will do it". But will they? And if you've been asked to do it, perhaps someone stepping into your shoes won't have the same insights you would have if you had stepped forth willingly.

The Lord tells us that we can be instruments in his hands. What we often don't realize is that on any given day that can mean anything from first chair violin to back up snare drum, and anything in between. Perhaps we are tempted to feel overwhelmed and under-qualified for our current position in the orchestra, or perhaps we feel bored or insignificant. The Lord is trying to create a world-class symphony using rank amateurs. But the absolutely amazing thing is that if we really try very hard and the play the notes he asks us to play when he asks us to play them, it can be glorious and near-perfect. He really is that good a teacher, that skilled a conductor. In order for it to work, we have the trust him, trust that the part he is asking us to play at any given moment, if played with all our hearts, is the best place for us to be, for the whole symphony, and ultimately, for each of us.

Monday, August 2, 2010

First Carjacking

Oh sure, he looks like an innocent, happy passenger here. But don't let that fool you.

On our way home from Montana, on our lllllooooooonnnngggg day of driving from Salt Lake City to Sacramento, we stopped in Reno to visit my uncle and have some dinner. We grabbed some fast food and took it to this awesome park next to the marina to have a little picnic.

It so happened that at said park on this beautiful, breezy evening, was a couple and their young son, who had brought along a very cool truck. Dylan had asked several times if he could drive it, and responded with distressed moaning when I explained that it wasn't our truck. The kids played while I ate my dinner and conversed with my uncle and husband, only half paying attention to them. Suddenly, Uncle Kenny starts laughing and points out that Dylan has found a new ride. Apparently, the little boy who owned the truck was occupied by some playground equipment and his parents' backs were turned to the vehicle, so Dylan simply hopped in the driver's seat and began to drive away. The elfin little creature who owns the toy started yelling and chasing the truck. (A few other kids saw him doing this and thought it seemed fun, I guess, because they started doing the same thing).

Fortunately, the parents who had brought this cool toy were quite cool themselves, and let Dylan continue to drive for a little while (once the chasers were safely seated as passengers), and then let him ride along as passenger while other kids at the park got to take turns driving the truck.

This experience, with generous and understanding parents at a public park, has almost rehabilitated me from my fear of "park parents" that developed when I lived in SLO. There, I watched older mothers look down their noses at me, the obviously young mom who had a toddler, was already pregnant and letting her toddler run free on the slides and ladders. It was hard to continue looking down their noses at me, since they had to stay within 3 inches of their 4-year-olds at all times. But my favorite was when an older child was choking my not-quite-two-year-old and I dared say, "Hey!" to him. His mother was furious at me for reprimanding her child. Now that I look back on it, it was rather selfish of me to regard my toddler's ability to breathe as more important that her child's desire to bully.