Sunday, September 29, 2013

No more crumbs

Dear kids,

I realize you probably won't read this for several years, probably even decades.  You'll probably be parents or possibly even grandparents before you go back and read the things I've written.  That's okay.  It wasn't until my late 20's that I started yearning to reach back into the past to glean insight from the lives of my parents and ancestors.  I just hope that at some point you will reach back.  What separates you from me is less than you may think.  Lifestyles have a way of changing and evolving, but life itself for the most part doesn't.  The problems I face, and the problems my parents and even great-grandparents faced are in many ways the same problems you face, just in a different setting and time.  I've written (vented) about this in the past, but life has a way of putting different twists on things that you think you may have conquered.

A few months ago a dear friend of mine came to my front door to drop something off.  I invited her in and we started chatting about the things that had gone on that week.  As we talked, I had to hold back the tears.  I felt so overwhelmed- church assignements, my upcoming trip to Ghana, finances, taking pictures for clients, the kids, my unrelenting insomnia, and on and on.  My biggest feeling of regret came from the realization that through it all, my children and husband were suffering the consequences of the choices I made to over-extended myself.  My friend also teared up, telling me she was feeling similarly overwhelmed and had similar feelings of guilt.  As we sat in the entry way talking, the sunshine was pouring in and it was a beautiful day outside.  But I felt none of the beauty of the day- only the weight of too much responsibility and the accompanying guilt.

Kiddos, you'll learn quickly that everyone around you will in some way be constantly vying for your
attention and time.  They'll try to make you feel indispensible- that you need to do it because you're the only one who can.  They'll slap a thick-as-peanutbutter layer of guilt and moral duty to try to convince you that you must.

God gave you and me a brain and the power to discern for a reason.  Choose where you place your loyalties and your time, and choose them carefully.  Even within the church, be selective and prayerful with what you accept to do.  I've had bizarre requests from members of the church, using my commitment to the gospel as leverage to try to convince me to act.  You will inevitably meet a few quacks (pardon the term) who will try enlighten you with their understanding of how to best be a disciple of Christ.

"If you think fasting for one day is spiritutal, you should try three."

"A visiting teacher who really cares always visits before the 15th of every monoth."

"If you don't take her dinner, watch her kids, and clean her house, who will?"

I love the gospel and I treasure my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I have no doubt that I am a better person because of it.   And because of my love for it and the blessings I've received for serving in the church, I want you to listen, really listen, to what the true doctrine teaches.  The true doctrine of Christ is not manipulative or guilt-ridden.  It is filled with love, forgiveness, and acceptance of who you are as you are.  It encourages us to reach higher and to become better, but not through pharisaical pettiness.  It is the interpretation of these few over-ambitious watchmen that drive so many people away.  And what a tragedy that is.

But then there are the other people who also vy for you attention- friends, extended family, family doctors, teachers, employers.

"We're in desperate need of volunteers at the school. Can't you get a sitter for your kids?"

"When are we going to have another girl's night out?"

"Why haven't you been coming to the gym lately?"

"The deadline for the yearly online education is coming up.  How's that going?"

"Have you been reading to your children 20 minutes a day? Are they eating a balanced diet?"

(The answer to the pediatrician for the last one is usually an embarassed "Ummm... no and no.")

In all fairness, most of the requests are well-intended and innocent enough.  Those are often the hardest to filter.  But whether their intentions are innocent or rotten, it still draws on your mental, emotional, and often physical capacities and must also be carefully and prayerfully selected.

That afternoon as I sat talking to my friend, I told her I felt like I was giving the best of myself- my patience, creativity, compassion, and organization- to others and leaving only crumbs for my family and myself.  By day's end I was usually ill-tempered, physically exhausted, and emotionally depleted. The guilt I felt because of that fact was worse than anything else.  Why was I giving the least to the people in my life who give me the most?

We agreed that day that there would be "no more crumbs."  But this business of prioritizing is never-ending and will be a demon we battle for the rest of our lives.

Good luck, kiddos.  It's tough and crappy to try to sort through it all.  Especially when we're dealing with people we love and respect.  Let me know if you figure it out.  I'd love to know your secret. I sure as heck don't have it, but if I could say anything, I would say invest your time and energy the way you invest your money... invest in whatever gives you the biggest return.  And I promise you, that your children and your spouse are in the end the ones who provide the greatest return- more joy and love than you think your heart is capable of holding.  I know this because I've been blessed to be your mother and I've felt that return, even when I've least deserved it.

I love you.

Love,

Mom

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Look up

I remember once when I was in New York City taking a tour on top one of the big red tour buses and hearing the tour guide saying that a notorious characteristic of New Yorkers is that they rarely look up.   He pointed out that many of the landmarks of New York City and much of it's history are high up above ground level and encouraged us that while in New York to remember to look up or we would miss a large portion of our New York experience.  Since then I've tried to remember to look up, not just in New York, but at home as well.

I find that on the days I'm feeling the most discouraged if I remember to look up, not just spiritually but literally as well, my mind is taken off the burdens of the day.  The magnificence of the cloud formations and the stunning colors of the rising and setting sun seem to shout the existence of a greater plan, higher than I could ever comprehend with my finite mind.  And suddenly my problems seem so small. I've thought often how humans, such complex creatures, can be comforted by the clouds, perhaps one of God's simplest creations.

The amazing thing about clouds is that for all their beauty and majesty, their exact formations are so unique to the atmospheric conditions and lighting that they can never be duplicated or recreated.  They are fleeting moments of beauty that often pass by overhead noticed only by a few.  The only way to capture them as they are is in the form of a picture.  And so I've started taking pictures of clouds.

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This last one was taken from the airplane on my way home from Ghana.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Change of Seasons

The kids are back in school, the weather is starting to cool off, and the earthy smell in the air warns of the upcoming change of season.  I've always resented fall and what it means- the ending of summer and the imminent arrival of it's cold and bitter counterpart.  This year I've been trying to make an effort to appreciate fall.  Not for what it will eventually turn into, but for what it is now- golden and refreshing.  I appreciate that the kids are back in school, for both my sake and theirs.  I find that I'm a better mother, more patient and present, when there is more structure to our day and when I'm not surrounded by little people at every waking (and at times sleeping) hour of the day.

Isn't that a constant struggle- to appreciate things as they are and not for what they were or what they will become?

Yesterday I called my dad for some advice on a situation that has increasingly become more difficult.  I knew I was in need of sound advice from someone who could listen without judgement.  I was grateful for the advice he gave me.  So many times in our attempts to do act Christianly, we lose our bearings and find ourselves in swirling and confusing messes that lack boundaries, and abound in good but misaimed intentions.

He told me, "Forgiveness and love for others should be unconditional.  But trust is a different matter.  It is very conditional.  We do not have to give our trust to everyone.  But decide how you trust someone, even if it's only a little bit, and base your relationship around the areas that you do trust in them."

He also counseled me to pray, not necessarily with expectation of changing the situation, but to increase my ability to handle the situation cheerfully and without resentment.

How grateful I am for the presence of a wise and loving father in my life.  We are all blessed with a loving Father in Heaven, but not everyone was given the luxury of a wonderful earthly father as well. To be blessed with both is a tremendous blessing.

Here are a few pictures from a recent family reunion with the Merricks.  Aren't kids so cute when they're filthy?