Inspiring

Lessons from the trail: the dog, the cats, and the leash.

IMG_20141107_104326I couldn’t help but sing aloud, “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again,” as I drove up the street towards my beloved Murdock Canal Trail. You see, about 10 months ago I found myself really struggling with my running regimen. I felt like my bladder was just going to drop right out of my body. Shortly before I started struggling I found out that I was expecting baby Max and shortly after giving up during that first (and last) gruesome mile and turning back around to limp my sad self home, I ended up in the E.R. I had a prolapsed uterus and my doctor forbade me from running. Even walking long distances would not allowed for the duration of my pregnancy.

As many of you know, my trail-time is one of my most favorite things. I love being out in nature. I love the sunshine. I love the rain. I even love the snow. As I watch closely for all the little details in the world around me, I simultaneously dump all my cares out of my overloaded brain. One by one they are left on the gravel as I trample them under my feet headed for a lighter future. My trail-time not only makes me feel great physically, but without it I start to fall apart a little mentally.

So, earlier this week, when I was finally able to get back on the trail I was beyond ecstatic. Even with taking Max along in the stroller I was finally able to get the therapeutic benefit that I have been missing tremendously. [If you don’t understand what I am talking about, I double-dog dare you to find a quiet trail near you and spend time walking on it every day – make sure you let me know how it changes you because I promise it will.]

Okay, okay, on with the story as part of my series “lessons from the trail”. I feel like Henry David Thoreau in Walden when I write these stories. Nature is a powerful philosopher. So, on Monday, there I was, back on the trail again. I was multi-tasking at its finest, pushing Max in the stroller, supervising the dog on and off of the leash, listening to my tunes, and observing the world around me.

Why do I put the dog on AND off the leash you ask? I’m so glad you did ask, that’s what my story is all about. You see, our dog, Olive, is naughty. I have her partially trained, but she refuses to be fully broken. She reminds me of….well….me. Olive will run after whatever catches her attention and completely ignore my incessant calls. She especially loves birds and cats…probably much like all the other dogs. Another thing about Olive is that she only gets along with about 50% of other dogs that we encounter. If she doesn’t like the other dogs, she will go after them until she has their full submission to her dominance.

This doesn’t work out so well when the other dogs have the same personality. So, given her disobedience (not to mention the leash laws) I should really never let her off the leash, but, you see, she, like me, loves to roam free in the mountains. So, when no one is around I let her run and explore as long as she doesn’t go too far off the trail. As soon as I spot someone off in the distance (and before Olive has a chance to attack their dogs) I hurry and put her back on the leash until the others are safely past us. I also put her on the leash when small children are approaching or if I notice anything else that will cause her to run off like a doggy lunatic.

And there it was…something that would make Olive crazy…about 100 feet ahead of us, a cat was sunning right in the middle of the path. I hurried and grabbed Olive (who does well to get on the leash if she doesn’t detect anything of extra interest – lucky for me, my eyes seem to be better than hers) and walked on. I held her at a close distance and we marched right on by that cat without incident. Olive noticed the cat but didn’t yank my arm off to go after her. She just barked a few times and focused ahead.

And there was my lesson for the day. If I place myself on the end of that leash, I think that sometimes I also pass the test, as did Olive. I think if I am aware of the big picture and know that just shortly up the path there may be something else of better interest to me I don’t get all crazy. If I behave I will be let off the leash to get a close-up of what is best for me, which is probably not what I think is best for me. Because of the leash I allow myself to be tethered to (which for me is my faith and beliefs) I am freed from so many unnecessary distractions. The key though is that I have to be willing to be leashed so that I don’t run off before I have a chance to think things through. I also have to trust my maker and know that He will unleash me when I am ready and/or safe. It was a profound observation for me as I resist being controlled in any manner.

Then, just as I finished processing all of the leash metaphors in my own life, I noticed another cat. I hurried and put Olive on the leash again, hoping for the same success to support my observation. This time, however, I was disappointed. I braced myself as Olive took off, as usual, only to be thwarted by the yank of her collar on the leash. I never understand why dogs don’t learn!

I’ll leave you walking along with me on the trail trying to make sense of the second cat encounter. You can surely come up with your own comparisons, as did I, but I will give you this: I was instantly filled with gratitude for my maker who always stands with the leash, waiting for me to heed his calls instead of taking off after who knows what. He has a grand journey prepared for me and no matter how many times I allow myself to be distracted with my own ridiculous notions, He never lets go. And someday, in the very distant future, I am sure that I will be strong enough to not need a leash, until then, though, I will gladly tether myself to it.

IMG_20141107_104356 (1)

Ordinary is Extraordinary

Who else struggles with perfectionism, comparison, feeling insignificant? It’s bad when I feel it for myself, but it’s downright criminal when I project that onto my kids. And I do project. All of the time. I want the best for them, therefore I want the best of them. I get totally competitive. All of the time. Oh, how unfortunate of a mother I have been. My oldest, Abigail, has born the biggest brunt of it. In fact, the other day after a low-achieving track meet, I was concerned when Abigail wouldn’t tell her slower-than-usual-finish-times to her friends. When they asked, she  just acted like she hadn’t checked her time at all. I knew she had checked it. It’s just that my perfectionism has become a part of her, and she couldn’t let herself admit the obvious…she was having a bad running day. I tried to comfort her on the way home, “Abigail, sometimes we just have off days. It’s o.k.” This morning I read this poem (Make the Ordinary Come Alive by William Martin) on the facebook page of a family member. Even though the wisdom of it stems from Taoism, which I don’t really practice, I believe it is universal. (And, I also believe I am going to study up some more on the way of the Tao – is that how you say that?) The simplicity of the wisdom blew my mind. I’ve been pondering on it all day. It struck me to the core. I couldn’t wait to share it with you. IMG_5065Do you see all those boys back there watching my girl? Yeah, she’s actually extraordinarily beautiful…even though ordinary is beautiful enough. Or they could be looking directly at me…the crazy lady with the camera cheering louder than all the rest of the crowd. ha.
 
Do you, like me, see how the words of this poem, will change “Abigail sometimes we just have off days” to “Abigail it is so beautiful that you can run!?”  How blessed we are. How blessed we are indeed with this ordinary life. So, as my kids age and prepare to fly the coop, I have a few new guideline questions for myself:

  1. Am I teaching them that the ordinary is extraordinary?
  2. Will I be not just o.k. but proud to tell my friends who raised the next president of the United States that my child is a mailman and loves it?
  3. Am I spending my time really celebrating the little things like apples?
  4. Am I giving them all the experiences that I can? (Those poor kids whose parents won’t allow them to have a pet!)
  5. Am I preaching a sermon of following your heart by following my own?
  6. Do I believe that we are not all just equally important but equally blessed to just be on the journey?

I can’t wait to embrace the ordinary with my favorite people. I hope this new philosophy will give them the space to do the same. I know it will bring me much greater happiness and satisfaction that will replace a life-long dissatisfaction because of wrong feelings of inferiority stemming from my ordinary. My ordinary is extraordinary! And so is yours. What a perfect message on a night that we are having breakfast for dinner. Bacon deserves a party.

I want to be happy.

crazy-old-lady

Last year I read Stephanie Nielsen’s post on “happiness is a choice“.
[As some of you may know Stephanie was in a life-altering plane crash.]

I marvel at how the hardest trials in our lives teach us the most necessary lessons.

Here is a great quote from her memoir  Heaven is Here:
{Go here, for my book review.}

“But even with all that others were willing to offer me, I realized along the way that ultimately nothing they did could make me happy. I felt comforted by family and my faith, but peace was different from happiness. At first I thought stubbornly that the only thing that would make me happy was for my life to look like it did before the accident. But no one could give that to me, and no one else could make me happy. Happiness was my choice, and though it is hard won, I am the only person who can stand in the way of it.”

I wholeheartedly concur that happiness is a choice. I often hear people complain about their lives and I understand that complaining is a tempting choice (one I give into often), but I guess I have learned the hard way that complaining doesn’t accomplish anything. In fact, if anything, complaining does nothing but make everything seem worse.

I concur that happiness is a choice, but I like how Stephanie put it: It is hard won. I don’t think we just say, “O.k. I am going to be happy,” and then we are magically happy. I think that we say, “I am going to choose happiness,” and then we alter our choices to make sure we are happy. It requires a lot of exercise to do this, but I have found that I have become a lot better at happiness as I have matured.

Here are the ways I have changed to become a happier person:

  1. I try no to complain and count my blessings instead.
  2. I take care of myself and no longer feel guilty about it.
  3. I try to live vulnerably.
  4. I have positive self-talk and work every day on loving myself.
  5. I change and set healthy boundaries and  try to live with love in my heart for everyone around me. (This is definitely the most difficult.)

How do you choose happiness? I would love to have more happy tools in my arsenal.

Oh and I love this song from the broadway show No, No, Nanette.

 

But it sure was a bummer when I figured out that the song was full of one really big lie.
We can absolutely be happy even when other people aren’t.
In fact maybe that’s the most important time to choose it for ourselves, when others around us are always miserable because misery loves company and who wants to be the miserable company.

Book Review: Gaze Into Heaven

I love this book SO much that I am giving away a copy. 
Leave me a comment with your e-mail address
and tell me which one of your family members 
you are most anxious to meet in the next life
and I will pick one VERY lucky person 
to get their own free copy.

Giveaway closes on Friday the 15th at 11:59 p.m.
Disclaimer: I received a book in exchange for this review
but my opinions are always true and 100% right.

Gaze Into Heaven: Near-Death Experiences in Early Church HistoryGaze Into Heaven: Near-Death Experiences in Early Church History
by
Marlene Bateman Sullivan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best book that
I have read in several years.
It has completely
changed the way

I view my mortal life.
I have sincerely
become a better
person just by
reading this book.

All of my Mormon friends
MUST READ this book.
And even you non-Mormons
will find this absolutely fascinating.

Gaze into Heaven is a book of complied true near death stories organized in a way that is easy to read. Each chapter is a piece of the after-life puzzle answering individual questions like what is a spirit body like and are there cities in paradise? What a wonderful compilation of early church (Mormon) history this is. The stories are eerily similar. Maybe eerily is the wrong word – I found it absolutely testimony building that all the accounts concurred with one another. “By the mouth or two or more witnesses” and witness they did.

These people who died and went to the other side and came back to tell us what they experienced did not know one another, but as I read their accounts I was stunned at the similarities. As I read the pages my life-long fear of dying dissipated. These Mormon pioneers described the freedom they felt as their spirits separated from their bodies, the joy they felt in the world with other kindred spirits, and the peace they felt in their passing and I found myself looking forward to the experience. For me that is a huge breakthrough. I cannot even explain my phobia of dying, its been debilitating at times. I am truly grateful to Marlene for writing this book and helping me have a greater understanding of my life now and into the eternities.

This book has power in its pages. After getting acquainted with just the first few chapters I felt like I was on hallowed ground just viewing the cover. I didn’t even have to open it to feel inspired although I did as frequently as was possible in receiving this balm to my soul. These stories are sacred like the temple and I am so grateful they have been shared.

Buy the book in the stores or online at 
Go to Marlene’s website to learn more about the author.
Here is one of Marlene’s favorite quotes in the book from the experience of Thomas S. Thomas. 
Thomas’ story was one of my favorites also.
Thomas describes what he learned in his near-death experience in the spirit world.

“All mental powers were restored. The fond memories of the past returned…your soul is endowed with wisdom and knowledge and filled with everlasting love…Distance is no barrier to transmit thought without instruments, or to travel under your own power. Your vision is magnified there; your future view is plain; desire for knowledge is inexhaustible; you are master of yourself  intelligence is the key to all realms which makes an endless trail to all advancement and is a place of satisfaction and joy to the soul… 

The grand greeting you first receive is from your closest of kin – father, mother, brother and sisters – and all that are near and dear to you who passed from earthly life and arrived in the Great Beyond before you. Your nearest and dearest friends and many others come to greet and converse with you. They ask about the conditions of their kin, those whom you were acquainted with on earth, and all are anxious to learn of their kin’s surroundings and conditions. You will find this a great meeting place of all souls, where information is eagerly sought, concerning earth’s conditions, by those who have passed from earthly life and are in this stage of existence. These souls are now busy, in the future existence, working in different habitations. Many are from different spheres. All souls are fully enjoying their positions and surroundings. You read from their cheerful countenances a condition of contentment..”

View all my reviews 

My own worst enemy

I’ve been reading the most excellent book
called
(review coming soon)
It chronicles near-death
experiences of Mormon pioneers
and it has been life altering for me
as I have pondered
the after-life.
What will it be like for
me to meet my maker
and account for mortality?
I really really hope that
the good outweighs the bad.
As I recently talked with a friend
who has anorexia,
we discussed
how we all seem
to just transfer
one bad behavior to the next.
She started struggling with anorexia
when she was overcoming
a spending problem.
I can’t seem to be disciplined
enough to stay under budget
while also staying under calorie allotment.
And forget being happy and kind
and under budget and under calorie.
It’s going to take me a lifetime
to conquer all of the above
at the same time.
But this morning
while running
I had an epiphany.
It comes from

Mosiah 3:19

19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Like a ton of bricks
it hit me all at once.
My mortal body
is my own worst enemy.
My whole purpose 
on this earth
is to show that my spirit
can be in charge
of my body.
My body is dead
without my spirit.
My spirit (me) is what makes 
me (my body) do or not do anything.
When I struggle with stuff
it’s not my spirit,
it’s the flesh.
The flesh is naughty.
The spirit is perfect.
They are always at odds
with one another.
“Hey body Alice
quit eating so much.”
“Shut up spirit Alice,
you’re so goody-goody.
We’re gonna
eat drink and be merry til we die.”
“Bad idea body Alice,
your spirit
wants to have its glorified form
and it knows a whole lot
more than you do.
I’m smarter.
I’m better
and my whole goal 
is to make you perfect.
I’m in charge
so put that doughnut down.
NOW.”
The flesh is weak,
the spirit is strong.
This may seem so simple
to you all,
but it is an epic
principle
that I aim
to use
from now on
when trying to conquer
my transfer of
bad behaviors.
When my flesh is weak
I plan to tap into
that strong strong strong
spirit
and I plan to utilize
the God of all spirits
to help me 
whip that body into shape
more often.

I have that much.

Faith is important to me.
I’ve discussed it before
here, here, here, and here.
Faith has carried me through a lot of stuff.
One of those above links
was when my husband failed the bar exam.
That was tough.
Here is how faith
influenced me
as a small child.
The story is also
a fun reminiscence
of my crazy dad
and how he jimmy-rigged
and stole (I mean borrowed)
a truck to get our
station wagon out of the mud.

So my latest trial of faith may be the hardest trial I’ve ever faced. It’s not something I can really blog about because to reveal it would not be fair to others, but it’s tough. Trust me, it’s really tough, so tough I can’t talk about it on my blog. ( And you all know I talk about everything from moobs, my body, crying myself to sleep, and even the horrible botched farce on breastfeeding.) So it’s tough and it reminds me that everyone is fighting their own hard battle, whether or not they share it.

Anyhow, I was praying about this trial last week. It was one of those big prayers in my life that I will always remember. For me it was huge on two levels. It was huge because I decided to do it after a long prideful prayer hiatus. {shame on me} And it was huge because I poured my heart out to my Heavenly Father as though he really was my Father listening and that He cared and that He would help me. I bawled like a baby and questioned, “Why?” Even if we aren’t supposed to ask “why”, I did. (This is one of my favorite addresses on trusting in the Lord and talks about not asking why) I needed to know WHY does this have to be my life when I have tried so very hard for the last 20 years to do everything right for God.

The answer came (like it always does eventually) two-fold. The answer was first a thought in my mind. “I have this trial so I will pray.” This trial is so hard that it always brings me to my knees out of desperation and God allows this in my life because He knows I will be happier with Him in my life.

The second answer came from the words out of my own mouth.

“Father, you’ve said in your scriptures that if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. Well, I sometimes struggle with my faith, but I know I have that much. I have at least as much as a mustard seed.”

I saw in my mind, my Father in Heaven, the most omnipotent being ever. All knowing, all powerful, and all loving, he let go of his embrace from this wailing child, he nodded at me and said, “Yes, you do. Well done. Now hold on Alice, we’re gonna move this mountain on my time.”

Faith is my greatest treasure. I hope I always keep at least a mustard seed worth.

Thanks to the book Cold Sassy Tree for another take on faith and answered prayers.
{SPOILER ALERT}

I’ll publish my book review on Cold Sassy Tree next week.
It’s a new all time favorite.

Here is some spiritual enlightenment on how to use the supernal gift of prayer. Really really good stuff.

PepTalk

Thanks to the kid-president
 for my pep-talk today.
I needed this.
Just two days ago I vowed to myself
to stay off facebook this week,
but right now I am really glad
that my self-will is weak
so that I could find this
in my hour of need.
Whenever I need a pep-talk
the most, it’s always out there for me to find.

For the past week,
I’ve been venturing back
into the college world.
My meeting with my
English Department counselor
was discouraging.
I have to retake the ACT,
which scares this girl
with an extreme case of math/science
aversion to DEATH.
It’s not like I did so smoking hot
the first time
and it is like I’ve been out of
school for 10 years.
Who knew an ACT expired?
Yes, I am that old.

To add an extra measure
of anxiety,
the aforementioned meeting
with the counselor
ran a little late
making me 10 minutes
late to pick up Caroline
from pre-school.
I had to use some of
my very protected blogging money
to buy the pre-school teacher
a gift-card to go along
with my begging for forgiveness.

You see, she had loaded up Caroline
in her car so she could
take her daughter to kindergarten
as I was that late.
Lucky for me
our vans converged at the
end of her street
and I was able to fetch Caroline
before she was whisked away
from my knowledge.
Whereas my total nervous
breakdown was avoided by a hair,
but left me second guessing
my decision to go back to college.
How can a mom of 4
ever pull this off?
Really it seems impossible.
It seems too insane to even attempt.
My plates are already overflowing
like thanksgiving at 2 p.m.
Do I really want to add pie
before I’ve had time
for the rest to digest?

But the kid president came to my rescue.
For which I am grateful.
I can do this.
Yes I can.
I’m gonna dance myself
all the way through
to that very coveted Bachelor Degree.
Or at least pretend
it’s dancing
when it really will be me
running around
like a chicken with my head cut off.
Come to think of it,
that’s kind of what my dancing looks like
anyways
might as well get something for it.

Book Review: Before the Dawn

Before the DawnBefore the Dawn by Dean Hughes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I forgot how much I love Dean Hughes as an author. I haven’t read anything of his in quite sometime, but I am so glad that I found this book at the local library. It was so touching and inspiring.

This historical fiction book, even though focused on the LDS women’s organization called Relief Society, can be enjoyed by people of all faiths. The greater story told is the power of womanhood, and the importance of community: loving and caring for one another. Community works best when it consists of people who all want to give but are willing to humble themselves to take once in a while too.

I cried a lot while reading this book. I took an emotional journey with the fictional small Utah town during the Great Depression. I personally related to the main character: a hard-nosed independent stick her foot in her mouth Relief Society President. In the book she was described by a friend as a coconut: all hard on the outside but all milk/meat on the inside. I also related a lot to many of the other women in the book: the ones living in poverty, the ones living with means, and especially the ones living in desperation.

Mostly this book made me proud to be a part of the greatest women’s organization in the world: The Relief Society. It reminded me of so much good that is accomplished world-wide and it brought to the surface of my heart all the good that has been done in my personal life because of my associations with good women.

I highly recommend this book to be read by all women everywhere. I love how Hughes always ties in his historical facts so well. I mostly love how he masterfully tells stories of humanity. The characters in this book will stay with me for a long time. I hope they will whisper to me in the moments when I need to be reminded to let down my pride, to reach out and help others, and especially when I need to try and understand better my enemies.

View all my reviews

A God of Grace

I try to apply
a good
Southern saying
into my life
daily.
It helps.
A lot.
For instance:
when your 13-year-old
has lost yet one more thing.
This time it’s a $30
memory card
that holds all of her photos
for photography class.
You worry that she’s never
going to be organized enough
to get into college.
You start to edge out onto
the cliff of anger
and desperation
and are about to go crazy
with the lecture
and the screaming,
but you take a step back
and pray
instead.
God’s got this.
See how that works?
Worry.
Gone.
Just like that.
It works on the big things too.
Like when you are on the verge
of divorce
because your husband
has quit functioning
all together
(I can say this
because it has been years now)
and you can’t go another day
with a broken man.
God’s got this.
And he did.
And it wasn’t up to me.
It never is.
I am not the healer.
I do not control anyone
or anything.
All I can control is me
and my choice to be happy.
That’s it.
And the best way to be happy
is to know
God’s got this.
Because he always does.