Sunday, August 23, 2015


Its easy for parents to feel like, in order to spend quality time with their kids, they've got to be forever planning "meaningful" activities, educational trips, and Pinterest crafts.

My older sister posted on Facebook this morning about turning down an extension on the fire call she was out on (she's a wildland firefighter), because no one in her house cared if they got new carpets or cabinets, but they did care if she was there to take them to their first day of school, read their new books, and ask them about their day.  She remembered that after reading a remark from President Uchtdorf that "in family life, love is really spelled t-i-m-e."

It sparked a memory.  Not a specific memory, really, but a bundle of "boring" memories.  I remember many evenings spent sitting in my parents' living room as a high schooler, my mom on one couch and me on the other.  She graded papers and I worked on calculus homework while we watched TV, laughing together and occasionally chatting.  My sister moved back in that year to be close to the school where she was doing her student teaching, and she joined us.  I don't remember any particular conversations or any specific evenings.  I just remember we were all there, doing our respective chores in each other's presence, enjoying the same shows and conversing when we felt inclined.  I was always aware that I wasn't alone, that there were people around me that cared about where I was and who enjoyed my company.  That was all it took.

I've quoted Pete Doctor before, but its one of my favorites.  In "Up", little Russell is talking about his dad and some of the things they did together, and sums up happy family life in one brief sentence: "Sometimes its the boring stuff I remember most".  I remember the trips we took together (my parents  were really great about getting us out and about despite raising a large family on a tight budget), and I remember some of the more "interesting" activities we did.  But they don't stick out.  What made me feel loved, what shaped me as a person, were hundreds of little, simple things:  playing with construction paper and paper cutters and watching Nick at Nite on the school TV while mom did classroom chores; sitting around a backyard fire cooking hotdogs and s'mores;  countless family dinners chatting and laughing around the table; swimming at the dam after chores were done; evening walks along the canal bank; having root beer floats in the summer and hot cocoa in the winter while we chatted and laughed.  None of that took a lot of money or logistics, but it did require time, and my parents did everything they could to meet the demands of paying the bills while still maximizing the time they were home with us--both of them.  Its probably why I still feel happiest when sitting around the table with mugs full of hot cocoa or walking through the woods:  though I didn't consciously realize it at the time, that's where I felt loved, where I came to value family and friendship.  My parents didn't tell me to prioritize family, they showed me how.  I am striving to balance the demands on our time so that I can do the same for my kiddos.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pride, Trust, and Relationships

I remember sitting outside the Pier Cafe in Cayucos a little over 10 years ago, on a beautiful sunny, breezy central coast afternoon.  Doug and I sat on the metal street benches, our infant in a stroller, enjoying ice cream cones and conversation with a couple of close friends.  I said something, prompted by recent events, that has stuck in my mind since: "I can understand not wanting to admit that you're wrong--I'm one of the most stubborn people I know.  I can understand having a hard time admitting you screwed up or that you've got some big flaws.  But I can't understand all of that being more important to me than having a relationship with my child.  I can't imagine hanging onto my pride so tightly that I just let my relationship with my kid die rather than admit that I was wrong."

I was 20.  I was naive about just how common it was for people to let important relationships die (or blow them up) for the sake of their pride.  The natural man is a terrible beast, somewhere in each of us.  All too often, we feed him with our insecurities, our angers, our injuries, and arrogance.

Often the offense for which people sacrifice a relationship seems terribly petty on the surface, and, in truth, it is.  But insecurity is like a mental Rube Goldberg device:  if I made a poor choice about this situation, then that probably means I was wrong about this other thing, and if that's the case then I must've been more at fault in this failed relationship or huge life choice, and if I admit that to myself it will crush me, so I can't possibly have been wrong about this petty thing that the person in front of me right now is upset about.  This, I believe, is why so often when confronted about a mistake, an insecure person will go on the offensive, rather than simply apologize without equivocation.  They will start assigning blame outside themselves, twist and misrepresent the words, behaviors and intentions of others, so that they can avoid taking responsibility for this one--small, easily forgivable--mistake.  And thus can a small mistake destroy what could otherwise be a good relationship.  And each time we let insecurity drive us to enlarge the circle of damage surrounding a mistake, we become more and more insecure, feeding a destructive cycle that reduces the circle of support around us.  Even people who love us deeply may begin to withdraw from us in the sad knowledge that they cannot trust us, no matter how sincerely they may desire it.  If we cannot be honest with ourselves, we certainly cannot be honest with those around us.

Insecurity is sometimes thought of as the opposite of pride, but it is in fact one of its many forms.  Ultimately, insecurity is a testimony problem.  We make the opinions of others (actually, worse yet, what we believe the opinions of others might be) more important than what the Lord thinks of us.  We, for whatever variety of reasons, don't trust that the Lord truly can and will forgive these particular failures, sins, or flaws.  Even if not consciously, we fail to trust that, through the power of the Atonement, we will be able to overcome them and leave them behind, and so we refuse to even acknowledge that they exist.  We call others judgmental and dishonest when they try to address how these failings have adversely affected our relationships with them.  We distort their actions and character to others, in order to try to convince third parties that the narrative we've created for ourselves is true--hoping that if we convince them we will convince ourselves.  But because it isn't true, we keep having to tell our tale to more and more people, never satisfied because what we are seeking can't satisfy.   We trust more in our own judgment than in the words of those who love us, and, much more importantly, more than in the Savior's love.  We cling harder to the hastily constructed, inaccurate veneer of who we think we are than we do to the relationships we claim are most important to us.  We cling stubbornly to our self-deceptions and half-truths, because repentance is painful and, sometimes, embarrassing.

But on the other side of that difficulty is the undimmed love of our Savior.  Its always there, bright and vibrant, but we all turn from it, to varying degrees and at various times, through our own stubbornness, resentment, and pride.  Often, because we believe in the Lord and his Gospel and we have committed no grievous sins, we convince ourselves that there is nothing to "fix"--at least nothing serious.  But until we can say, sincerely and humbly, that our confidence doth wax strong in the presence of God, there is always work to do.  The Lord has told us the necessary requirements for that personal confidence: long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, unfeigned love, kindness, pure knowledge, and an increased love toward others.  In other words, the traits and fruits of genuine humility.  We have to let go of what we think we are in order to be instructed by the Lord (and those he may put in our path to be teachers for us) who we are and who, through him, we may become.  Some of the things he'll show us will hurt.  Some of the things those mortal, and terribly flawed, teachers will show us will hurt our pride, anger us, or prick our hearts.  But if we trust in the love of the Savior with true humility, we will embrace the lessons.  We will offer sincere, unqualified apologies to those we've injured, and sincere, humble repentance before the Lord.

When we do that, we can be surprised at how quickly the Lord forgives, and how efficiently he can work to turn our hearts a bit more into a heart like his.  And, though it can be very difficult to believe, I think we can sometimes be surprised at how readily those who love us can forgive mistakes large and small--how patient they are willing to be with us, as we in return exercise patience with them.  In our insecurities, we tend to underestimate the love that our family and friends have for us--we don't give them enough credit for how much they want us to be a joyful presence in their lives.  Especially if they love the Savior, too.  Those who are actively, humbly seeking his forgiveness for themselves don't readily withhold forgiveness from others.

Friday, August 14, 2015


Sometime around age 6 or 7, my oldest decided that she loved horses.  She zeroed in on horse books, horse movies, horse toys.  When we moved to Montana, she got to spend a little time with friends who had horses, and she looked for every opportunity she could to spend more time with 4-legged, 1100 pound friends.

Three years ago, Keilana started third grade in Anaconda.  For the second time in less than a year, she was the new girl in class, and this time she didn't even have a few cousins around to soften the blow--she didn't know a soul at her new school, and neither did I.  True to form, she shed a few nervous tears on the way in, and, after I found her classroom with her, she cleared up her sniffles, put a smile on her face and said, "I'm OK," and left me with a smile.

She happened to meet a girl in her class who was also new to town, and they quickly discovered several common interests.  They got to be fast friends at school, and then, sometime in late fall, Keilana asked if she could spend the night at Leah's house.  I hadn't actually met any of her friends or their parents, and wasn't anxious to let my 8-year-old spend the night at anyone's house.  I talked to Leah's mom and got a good vibe and, somewhat trepidatiously, agreed to let my little girl go to the home of these people I'd never met.  I called her late that evening to check in, and she seemed her normal, almost-over-the-top happy-as-a-clam self, so I let go some of those nerves and went to sleep.  We still picked her up somewhat early the next day, and after our 5-minute-pick-up-on-our-way-out-of-town turned into a nearly hour long conversation with Leah's parents, I was pretty sure we'd made some great new friends.  Rick and Heather invited the family over several times during the fall and winter, and I was grateful all over again for Keilana's brave, outgoing nature.  Our little girls quickly became friends with Leah's younger sister, and Doug and I consider Rick and Heather some of our closest friends and favorite people here in Anaconda.  Keilana spends so much time over there that Rick has been known to introduce her to people as their "weekend daughter".

All along the way, they have happily indulged Keilana's love for horses along with all kinds of other fun activities and interests.  Last summer, we watched a few of Leah's activities for 4H at the tri-county fair, and Keilana decided with Doug and I that 4H would be a good investment of time for her, and we agreed to get started in the fall.  Heather offered to do some riding lessons with her to get her going on horse.

This week, Keilana beamed with delight at the fair:
She earned a blue ribbon for Showmanship, and a purple for Western Horsemanship.  It was one of the first times she's earned an award for something that required long term investment and hard work for more than a week or two, and it definitely felt good.  She's been a great student, but the truth is, Rick and Heather earned these ribbons, too.  They provided the training, the tack, and the horses.  Keilana was an attentive and hard-working student.  All we did was buy her a riding helmet and get her out there (and it seems like Heather or Rick picked her up half the time, too).  If you don't know much about horsemanship, suffice it to say that it is not an inexpensive hobby.  And this is far from the only generosity they've shown our family.  In the three years we've known them, they have consistently been kind, generous, fun and loyal friends.

The fact is, we have made a few friends here in Anaconda that are not only a delight to know, but that our life, as we're doing it, would be completely impossible without.  Next year by this time, I'll be fully licensed, and though I'll technically have another 2 semesters of school, 90% will be online.  At that point, I hope to be better at both paying back and paying forward at least a bit of the tremendous goodness that we've had in our lives the last few years.