Friday, July 12, 2013

Don't You Ever Grow Up

I feel like I am in this constant turmoil between wanting my children to grow up and never wanting them to grow up.

My kids and I were driving around, running errands, with Taylor Swift playing. Her song "Never Grow Up" was on when Jill's voice piped up behind me.

"Mommy, what does this song mean?"

"Oh, sweetie, well, you know how I don't get to live with my mommy anymore? It means that one day you'll grow up and leave me and have your own kids, and we'll visit, and I'll miss you so much."


"Mommy, I don't want to ever leave you."

"I know. I don't want you to either, but you'll need to, and I'll miss you just like I miss my mom."

I guess that was a lot for Jill to think about, because the conversation ended there. And, honestly, I was glad she didn't have anymore questions, because I was crying.

I have trouble just imagining Jill being gone at school every day once she's in kindergarten. The idea of her (and then my other children) being old and living hours away and being hurt by people I can't protect her from and feeling joy that I can't share in is just really painful. I'm glad I still have over a decade to adjust to the idea, but I imagine it never gets easier to say goodbye to your children.

That experience was a few weeks ago. We were running a few errands today, and again the Taylor Swift CD was on.

The "Never Grow Up" song came on again. And, boy, I was not crying this time. Jill was doing something to Alice, Danny was crying for more of something, and it was just general chaos. Not a sweet, touchy-feely moment. It was one of the moments where you can't wait for them to grow up, so there won't be kids screaming in your car, and food trails throughout your house, and an audience every time you go to the bathroom.

So this time that the song came on, it made me laugh rather than cry. It was still a beautiful song, but there are definitely frustrating times along with all of the heartfelt ones. It was good though, because I needed a laugh at that moment.

It is hard work, growing humans, and I am so grateful that I get to do it!

Your little hand's wrapped around my finger,
And it's so quiet in the world tonight.
Your little eyelids flutter 'cause you're dreaming,
So I tuck you in, turn on your favorite night light.
To you everything's funny; you got nothing to regret.
And I'd give all I have, honey,
If you could stay like that.

Oh darling, don't you ever grow up.
Don't you ever grow up.
Just stay little.
Oh darling, don't you ever grow up.
Don't you ever grow up.
It could stay this simple.
—Taylor Swift

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Doubts and Questions

In my church, members of the congregation provide the sermons (what we call "talks") during the main hour of church (what we call "sacrament meeting"). Last week, I had an opportunity to give a talk during sacrament meeting. My instruction from the members of the Bishopric was to read the General Conference talk "Lord, I Believe" by Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland and share my feelings in regards to that topic. The following is the talk I presented to my congregation (what we call a "ward").

When you break down the scriptures, the contents fall into categories. Some of the scriptures are historical accounts of the happenings of the Lord’s people. And a lot of the scriptures could be described as answers—answers to questions. This is most obvious in the Doctrine and Covenants, where we have recorded what Joseph Smith’s questions were along with the revelations he received in response to those questions.

Our scriptures would be a lot shorter if the prophets, and other Disciples of Christ throughout time, never had any questions.

Questions are how we learn and grow.

The Apostle Matthew quoted Jesus as having said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)

Do you understand what the Lord promises us there? If we ask, then we will be given answers. Along with that, you could then also understand that if we don’t ask, then we will not receive answers. As in, we will only learn what we ask about. You could also derive that it is okay to ask questions, because the Lord just told us to, and it is a great way to learn!

Questions are healthy. They show an active, seeking mind. Question askers are not someone who is content floating through life with little knowledge, but someone who earnestly looks to learn more.

We currently live in a very exciting time for learning. Never before has so much information been so available. Unfortunately, it can at times be difficult (and sometimes it may feel impossible) to determine what information is truth and what is falsehood.

In the midst of this ocean of information, our simple, earnest questions can lead us to information that turn our questions into doubt.

Questions can lead us to the Lord.

But doubts lead us further away. Doubts are dangerous, because inherently, they begin with an element of disbelief.

With a question, you might go to the Lord in prayer, or to your scriptures, or to or, or to a church leader or friend, and inquire, “This is what I already know. I’ve been wondering about this. Do you know more?”

But with a doubt, you do not begin from the sure foundation of what you know. You begin to be unsure whether anything you thought you knew was true. Instead of moving forward, you push backward against truths you have already received.

Elder Holland, in the most recent General Conference, said, “In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won. . . . When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. . . . The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do not have and the truth you already know.” 

In the last few years, someone close to me has discarded his faith and events have unfolded in my life that have caused me to question and doubt things that I never had problems with and that had never before bothered me.

Prior to this, any questions or doubts were resolved in one of two ways: I received an answer that satisfied me or I accepted that the answer was not necessary for me to know for my salvation and just left it alone.

But now I was in that dangerous, shaky territory. Was I going to let philosophical musings undermine every revelation I had received prior in my life? Was I going to forget every time the Spirit has spoken quietly to my mind and heart what I needed to know? Was I going to ignore my spiritual foundation of a lifetime because of the issues that were brought up? It seems so ridiculous when phrasing it like this, but it was a truly difficult time for me. There is so much information available on the Internet now, and it is easy to get tangled up in it.

The only way I have discovered to stay safe and in the realm of earnestly seeking for more faith is by allowing the Spirit to be my guide. I have overcome my doubt by reminding myself of past witnesses of the Spirit and by striving to continually live worthy of future witnesses of the Spirit.

The following is what I wrote in my journal after coming to that realization.

I have questioned whether there is a God in heaven, a plan for my life, or any purpose at all.

I have searched the scriptures, earnestly desiring to find hope, advice, and counsel.

I have knelt by my bedside, confused and heartsick, desperate for a response, a feeling, an answer.

I have learned that there is reason to hope, to love, to flourish.

I believe in God, and I dedicate my life to His gospel and the precepts shared with me by His son, Jesus Christ, and His prophets throughout the ages.

I rejoice in the peace and comfort I feel and the calm I can experience as I follow His path.

I have searched.
I have found.
I believe.

What I live by now is that nothing someone tells me can change what I have felt. Nothing that someone else believes to be true can alter the answers I have received from the Holy Ghost. I will allow nothing to undermine the fact that my life is a testament to what I believe; the fruits of the gospel are evident in my life, and they are sweet.

So when questions and doubts arrive in your life, I hope that you can learn from my hard earned lesson, and be wary of what source you go to for answers.

Do you take your problems to the Lord, like the father of an afflicted son in the book of Mark? (Mark 9:14–24)That father took his problem to Jesus, and Jesus told him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” To that, the father responded, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:23–24)

Acknowledge what you believe, keep the ground you’ve gained, and then honestly, humbly recognize where you still have room to grow, and ask the Lord to help you in your growth.

As Elder Holland reminded us in this past General Conference, “in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.” We are not meant during this earthly existence to have a perfect knowledge of all things.

If we already had all of the answers, then the ninth Article of Faith would not state, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” We admit that we don’t know everything, but we don’t need to know everything. We rely on what we have already learned, and we trust in the Spirit in guiding us toward what we do need to know.

Remember this counsel from the Prophet Nephi: “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (2 Nephi 28:30)

If you do not continue to seek wisdom and strive to keep the Spirit in your life, then you will lose what you have, and your foundation will not be strong enough to withstand any questions or doubts that may arise. Be aware of how important it is to continue to attend church, to make time for the temple, to take the sacrament, to share the gospel with your family and friends, to pray, to read the scriptures, and to engage in all the activities that strengthen your testimony, because in this information age, you will definitely need your testimony.

I especially loved when Elder Holland said this: “Brothers and sisters, this is a divine work in process, with the manifestations and blessings of it abounding in every direction, so please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will.” 

Remember to walk in faith. Remember that we do not know everything right now. Remember that we know enough. Remember to take your questions to Him who knows all Truth. Remember that the Spirit is the way to discern between truth and falsehood. Remember that it is okay to not know yet and have a desire to believe. We are all at different stages of our mortal existence, and it’s not over until we are safely dead.

Elder Holland concluded his talk by saying, “Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.” If you spend significantly more time researching your concerns than you do strengthening your testimony, how can you expect to create an atmosphere where the Spirit can speak to you? The Lord can only answer questions you ask Him. Due to our agency, nothing can be forced upon us. So when you are confused, make sure that you go to the right source for truth.

Elder Holland explained it like this: “Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith that you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.”

I have seen faith work miracles in my life. I have felt it supporting me during the hardest moments of my life. I am grateful for the resources the Church has made available for learning and growth, and I am very appreciative of the Holy Ghost and its presence in my life, leading me and guiding me through this tricky modern world we live in.

I commit myself to remembering the past occasions when the Spirit has spoken to my soul, and I promise myself that I will strive to live worthy of receiving future occasions of the Spirit speaking to my soul, because I know that I need the gift of the Holy Ghost to make it through this life.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Here is a talk that may interest you: Learning and Latter-day Saints

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

America's Birthday

Around the house, for whatever reason, I have been calling today's holiday not the "Fourth of July" or "Independence Day," but "America's Birthday." My kids have been really excited about celebrating America's Birthday. Today I disappointed Jill though, because she wanted to make a birthday card for America, and I explained that she could, but that we would have no where to send it. She had thought that America was a girl. Jeff told her that maybe we could go see Lady Liberty some day, but that America was not a girl.

Jill and I have also been discussing how we live in the town of Herndon (okay, not technically, but I don't feel like explaining ZIP codes and town boundary lines), the county of Fairfax, the state of Virginia, the country of the United States of America, the continent of North America, the planet Earth, and the galaxy of Milky Way. She and Danny get excited when I say "Virginia," "Earth," and "Milky Way." Those are their favorites.

We ventured into the capital today with some friends, one older and one newer. (Jeff's college roommate and the roommate's wife—it is fun to live so close to them now!)

Our intention was to go to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, but we ended up running into the parade! It was pretty cool. The Conductor from Dinosaur Train was one of the huge floating balloon things. My favorites were the music from the marching bands, the Chinese dragon, and the Indian (not Native American) dancing women. It was cool to see so many people from other cultures want to march in the parade celebrating the creation of our country. This grand experiment I call home!

The Folklife Festival was interesting as well. There were three main exhibits: Hungary, Africa, and Languages that are becoming Extinct. (They had fancier names than that, but that's what it boiled down to.) It is sad to have cultures die out. I kind of wish that America had ethnic clothing and dances. I wonder if there are any people left who can trace their heritage back to the Native Americans who used to live where I live now, or if they have all been wiped out. There are some parts of our history that I am not looking forward to teaching my children.

I do love America though, and it was pretty fun to get to spend its birthday in its capital city.

After we got home, we busted out what the kids had purchased earlier that week in preparation of the "birthday" party: bubbles and "fireworks." Jeff was disappointed when he discovered that the "fireworks" were actually all just poppers and snappers. Ha. He still managed to finish off our box of matches, even though nothing ever burned. Is there a pyromaniac in every boy? Danny loved the matches, too.

I hope you enjoyed America's Birthday today, and I hope you remember that it is the nation's people that make a nation great, so let's all do our part!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sweethearts and Monsters

So . . . my children, in my opinion (ha! the unbiased opinion of a mother), are really good kids. I am comfortable going to public places with them. They don't throw public temper tantrums or have meltdowns. They are not the best at sitting still during sacrament meeting at church, and they can become (in my opinion) complete hellions between dinner and bedtime.

Recently, they've been particularly difficult.

I know, I know. They had a new baby sister born, so mommy is giving them less attention.

They were moved to a new state, leaving behind their grandparents and lots of friends.

They have been on vacation twice for very long periods of time. Vacation is great for adults, but very disruptive for children who love routine.

I thought that maybe they were being overstimulated by television and computer games, because they've been having more screen time while I've been tired and taking of Alice. So, we've limited media to music and books this week.

We also decided maybe they needed more sleep, so we tried putting them to bed earlier.

They were asleep by 6:30.

Jeff and I just sat across the family room staring at each other, wondering what to do with all of the free time we had while we weren't wrestling our children into bed. Pretty nice!

So, do you have any advice on how to help your children be nice? And not kick you? :) Should I just be patient and wait it out?