Kindness

Dear Mom [Week 6]

Hi mom,

Wow, it amazes me at how much your voice has become a healing balm for my soul. I wish I would have recognized that more for dad before he was gone. Thanks for my pep talk on Wednesday night. Oh, how validating it is to just talk with someone over the phone who can see straight through the cellular airwaves. “Alice, you sound so tired. I hope you can get to bed  early tonight.” Even if I didn’t, just hearing that you wished it for me gave me greater strength to endure. Thank you, mom. For Wednesday and all the thousands of other times just like it. How fortunate I am to have you in my corner.

I was out walking Olive last night at 10:30 PM and a truck hauling a trailer full of stuff drove by. I had to sit down on the curb for a bit because my heart and mind felt like dad had just passed by showing me that he is still hard at work and happy. Then, I had a dream last night. It is my first I’ve had of dad since he passed away. I was showing a friend a video of my dad of how healthy he was on the day he died. He reached out from the cell phone screen jumping and hopping, waving and smiling. He was laughing. I never recognized the  full value of his smile until he was gone. While I dreamt, his smile filled my whole soul with light. It illuminated from his eyes and mouth to his face and everything beyond.  I woke up so happy. I felt like dad was telling me not to worry because he is right back to his old healthy happy ways. How much fun we always had with you and dad! Compared to our neighbors’ possessions, we had next to nothing, but we sure did have everything. I felt like we really got the best of both worlds. A third-world country carefree closeness combined with so many first-world conveniences.

I’m sorry these letters are getting harder to decipher.  I am so tired all of the time, and it is hard to write. I can’t even seem to think straight. When you called last Friday from the DI crying, it truly broke my heart. I wish I could take away your pain, mom. I hated (and still hate) that you were (and still are) lonely, but then when you said, “I feel better, just hearing your voice,” it made me so humbled and grateful that even though I can’t take it away, I could provide a little comfort in the moment. I am so glad Adam could come visit. I am partially jealous that he has the kind of freedom to do that, but I am more grateful than anything. I need to make it a priority to come visit very soon, no matter how crazy busy I am. Adam is just as busy, if not more so.

It’s Friday, therefore I should be getting homework done. It’s 1:13 PM, and I have yet to even start. I’ve had a great day. I woke up and listened to President Uchtdorf’s talk from Women’s Conference, and consequently I just wanted more. I then listened to Elder Holland’s talk from the Priesthood Session. In between my new visiting teacher came over. God has been with me today. He answered my prayers. He never answers in the way that I want Him to, but He does answer. I’ve been really preoccupied with LG and Abigail lately. One of my questions going into conference was how I could help both LG and Abigail with their individual struggles. I get so impatient, and I know a majority of the time I just exacerbate stuff. When I asked the question, I hoped God would tell me exactly how I could MAKE them do what I know is best. Ha. God has never answered me one time, in all my almost 43 years, to tell me anything about anyone else. Today, has been true to God’s pattern.

Between Sunny (my visiting teacher), Holland, and Ucthdorf I got three witnesses all telling me that same thing. I need to have more faith, I need to love better and deeper, and I need to be patient and kind. They all sounded just like you, mom. Maybe someday Abigail will actually write me a letter that says, “Hey, mom, thanks for telling me what I didn’t want to hear. I know you love me. And, you were right. My entire life.” Well, there you go, mom. There is everything you ever wanted to hear. You know me well. I know that you love me. And, I hope I can learn to love like you do, more devoutly and patiently. Why does it have to be so hard? I wish I could just make everyone else change to my liking, instead of having to work on making myself more like-able.

As I sat pondering how I could make the changes I needed to make, I saw a video a friend of mine posted on facebook. It was a song by Andrea Bocelli and Katherine McFee called “The Prayer”. As I watched and listened to the beautiful lyrics, I started praying along.

I pray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know

Let this be our prayer
As we go our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe

I pray we’ll find your light
And hold it in our hearts
When stars go out each night
Remind us where you are

Let this be our prayer
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

We ask that life be kind
And watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
Another soul to love

Let this be our prayer
Just like every child
Needs to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

Need to find a place
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

I almost felt like I was praying to both God and dad. I hope that doesn’t come across sacrilegious. When I got to the part where it says, “Let this be our prayer, just like every child, needs to find a place” I got a fourth witness. It was an answer from God, about me, about you, and about dad. It was jetted straight through my skin and brain and arrived straightway to my heart. “Create a place for every child, just like your mom and dad. Be their place. Be their safe place.” That means, I have to do that for everyone. Not just my kids, but my husband, too. It’s a daunting message. How can I ever do that when I am still such a child needing such a place? But, I will try, mom. I will try. How I love you and dad. You both have issues, but you both keep trying. You are children who need a safe place, but despite your own needs being met or not, you always created that place for others. You know how to love. Thank you for showing me what that looks like. I will try to be like you, mom. And like dad. Because ultimately I know I will end up looking like God.
Two more songs followed as I typed to you just now while listening to “The Prayer” again trying to muster my strength to get up from my laptop. I don’t want to. I just want to stay here where it is safe, and I won’t mess anything up with my controlling, impatience, criticism, or aggressiveness. The songs were “Time to say Goodbye” and then “Hero.” I could hear dad’s voice singing. He told me we will go together again in a ship, and that even though he knows he’s my hero, he was just an ordinary dude who kept trying and loving. I could hear him say, “Alice, you can keep trying. You can keep loving.”
It’s not Wednesday night. You aren’t on the phone. It’s Friday morning, and for the second time this week I got a pep-talk from my parents. My dad called all the way from heaven. How about that? I didn’t even have to ask you to talk to him. He just knew I needed him.
I love you, mom. Until next week… here are the lyrics. I hope you get to hear dad telling you about the ship you will sail again, too.

 

Excerpted from “Time to say Goodbye”
When I’m alone
I dream on the horizon
and words fail;
yes, I know there is no light
in a room where the sun is absent,
if you are not with me, with me.
At the windows
show everyone my heart
which you set alight;
enclose within me
the light you
encountered on the street.
Time to say goodbye
To countries I never
Saw and shared with you,
now, yes, I shall experience them.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
which, I know,
no, no, exist no longer,
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
Which, I know,
No, no, exist no longer;
with you I shall experience them again.
I’ll go with you,
I with you.

“Hero”

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It’s a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand
For you to hold
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And the emptiness you felt
Will disappear

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone
Tear them away
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time
You’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you

A Simply Marvelous Life

caroline-harpWhile going through old class notes for my current paper, I found this story I wrote last spring. I remember how it made the student that presented after me cry. I felt so bad as she approached the podium upset. She explained that my story was especially tender to her because her dad had passed away recently. How was I to know that within months I’d be in the same “dad gone” boat?

I remember telling my dad of our plan to take a gift to the orphan boys and how he loved it. He wholeheartedly sanctioned it to my kids and he shared an inspiring story of his own. He cried. What a tender memory. He believed in the art of compassion. He lived the art. How grateful I am for him and his  example. He inherently knew that the true joy of life was within our relationships with others.

I am grateful to have come across this story today. I’ve been in a school slump, not feeling up to the writing task. Today’s discovery reminded me of the importance of storytelling. Even if I am not the most eloquent storyteller.

A Simply Marvelous Life

“Those poor, poor boys,” Mother said loud enough for the room to hear as she read the newspaper. I asked her, “What boys?” She explained. Twenty years before she used to work with this guy. They were nothing more than acquaintances. “But still, it’s just so tragic.” He was dead now among the remains of his personal jet. It crashed on take-off in Colorado. The crash also killed his wife, and two of his five children.

Mother seemed obsessed over the three children left. It was hard to understand how complete strangers to her sabotaged her heart for months. She talked about them to everyone. Her friends. Her kids. Sometimes she would even talk to random strangers about how grateful she was to be alive. “Shopping with a toddler is hard, but it makes it easier when I think about how blessed I am to be alive.” When the family knelt in the family room every night, mother would sometimes pray out loud for the family. “Bless those boys.”  When I complained about chores or homework or getting my phone taken away, she would remind me to be grateful. “You have both your parents, and all of your siblings. Remember, life is marvelous.” When Christmas neared mother told us that in the quiet of one morning she heard a voice in her mind. It was a woman begging, “They must have a gift from us under the tree.” Asking our forgiveness mother said she hoped we’d understand her stealing from us. She had withdrawn from her Christmas account, upsetting her carefully budgeted plan, to buy something for the orphans. She apologized and explained that we might have a little less this year. “But, I just feel it my duty to provide a gift for them from their dead mother. I can hear her voice as clear as day. I can’t ignore it.”

As Father drove us to the next town over, Mother watched her five elves stretch and giggle among the large sack of gifts in the back. The wrapped gifts would be left anonymously. “Because that is the best kind of giving,” mother said. The boys’ names, the ones their mother gave them, were monogrammed on their blankets. A note was included reminding them of their mother’s love, all the way from heaven. “She had found a way to hug them, through the mind of a stranger.”

Mother had done some serious sleuthing to get the names and address of the boys, but could hardly believe her eyes as they pulled up. When they verified the house number to the information on the paper in mother’s hand, everyone voiced their utter shock. A chorus of “no way” echoed the yelps of surprise as the vehicle reached the top of the mountain. The boys lived in a literal mansion. Mother laughed. “What in the world?” We all told her we should take the gifts back home, but she directed her elves to drop the gifts on the doorstep. “Be quiet. Don’t let anyone see you. Hurry up before someone calls the police.” As we sprinted our way back to the modest minivan that cowered under the massive gate, my little sister spared a glance for a golden harp glowing through the windowed fortress. We jumped in. The tires peeled. My baby sister described the harp’s shine to her amused mother. How badly Caroline wanted a harp. She had even written to Santa for one. She didn’t know what I knew.  Santa had already bought her a harpsichord. It was the last Christmas purchase she had made right after the wrapping for the boys’ blankets.

We never knew it, but in those first few moments driving home, mother deeply questioned the meaning of helping where help didn’t seem to be needed. Those boys had more than she or hers ever would. The answer came quick, at the traffic light on the way home. Flashing behind her eyes, red and green, it spelled one word. C-o-m-p-a-s-s-i-o-n. Mother turned to dad and said, “I guess tonight we got to help meet an emotional need, not a physical one.”  Yes, compassion knows no class structure. Or biases. Only pure love. And that night both mothers had managed, from separate realms, to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.

The next day mother listened as her baby girl, surrounded by her parents and four siblings, transformed our family’s condo into a two-bedroom castle with music from her harpsichord. As Mother closed her eyes to enjoy the marvelous moment, a familiar angel voice spoke to her mind one last time, “It sounds just like my harp.”

 

Your Field Day

Field Day = life
Matt = you
Matt’s determination = your faith
The track = your life
Cerebal palsy = your personal battles
The spectators = also you

Sometimes we are the runner.
Sometimes we are the spectators.
Every field day should look like this.
Keep trying.
Keep encouraging.
Stop competing.
Everyone gets to finish.
It’s not about who wins.
It’s about who shows up,
and who loves each other.

What if

Today society is being bombarded with online messages.  It happens at my house, that is for sure. While cooking dinner the other night, I listened on with equal parts entertainment and disgrace as my three teenage daughters were hashtag-searching for all available Kardashian trivia. The idea of the newly discovered brother, Rob, was “epic”. They laughed at the idea of him being too self-conscious from weight-gain to be included in the family photo concluding that he must be just as vain as his sisters. My daughters’ brother, Max, is a heavy-weight too. It’s a good thing he’s too young to be embarassed. Of course, that led them to the natural succession of assigning other Kardashian equivalents to our family. Finishing with the completely insane idea of their dad having a sex-change to become a Kaitlin. Roars of laughter. I even chuckled at that.

This conversation got me thinking about the mind-numbing nature of the internet. As a mother I want to withstand the harmful culture. I want more for my kids. I have big plans for our front room when we move. It will be an electronic-free zone. The only thing available will be books, records, musical instruments, notebooks and pens, art supplies, and comfy chairs for lounging, pondering, sharing, and creating. The only rule will be to seek out the best things of the world. The wisest things. The secrets of the universe. All will be encouraged to find answers for troubling things and to seek serenity. I cannot wait. I have a feeling when my kids discover the joy of a distraction-free zone, it’ll become the best gathering place in the house. If they don’t discover it, I will have a totally quiet space to enjoy it for myself. I’m not gonna lie: both conclusions sound equally legendary. You see, even though I try to be a really good mom, I’m still by nature, selfish. I need a room where I can figure out how to change.

great minds

So, as I’ve been planning the details of my new home’s room of intellectual glory, I’ve simultaneously been learning about a literary analysis called deconstruction that is focused on assumptions in the reading/writing process. The scholar, Jaques Derrida, encourages taking apart literary works and looking at them from a new angle. He thinks that as readers we should find a point of emphasis and then ask ourselves “what if”. What if the meaning were different? What if there were no limits of language, but we could open our minds to endless possibilites? I know. I know. It all sounds a little too new-age and LSDish, and yes, this is a discovery from the 1960’s. It’s taken me a lot of time to understand its usefullness. I found the answer on facebook, of all places. Homework procrastination can be helpful sometimes.

So, here it is:

What if that black rapper who does all the crazy stuff (you know the one who people call a sad excuse for a human) is really battling some kind of mental illness?

What if those people on food-stamps actually work harder than you,  and are doing  better than you with the little resources they’ve been given in life?

What if butter is really good for you?

What if those people who have more kids than they can afford actually listen to  God more than you do?

What if God is trying to tell you to help them?

What if there is no life after this where you will ever be able to eat again?

What if all you’ll be allowed to eat are the things that you didn’t overindulge in now?

What if that star is your future?

What if the alcoholic was beat and raped throughout her childhood and she drinks to keep the nightmares away?

What if you really learned to love  yourself?

What if evolutionism and creationism are both true?

What if it’s easier to get into heaven as a homosexual than it is as a heterosexual?

What if light is dark and dark is light?

What if you automatically go to hell if you have never owned a family pet?

What if the Bible is true?

What if the least of these is really the greatest? Like the janitor?

What if sexy is nonexistent?

Anyhow, I could do this all day. Even though  I am not quite getting to the really deep ideas that the literary theory intends, I think the less deep ideas hold greater life applications.

What if asking “what if” only accomplished a world where people would quit judging each other and start loving each other more?

Then, desconstruction would actually have worth.  Instead of just making everything have no meaning, and being the biggest liberal warcry of all time, it would literally provide worldpeace. I think God likes that.

I screw up. You screw up.

Change starts with one person at a time. Steve Harvey did a fantastic job of owning his mistake and apologizing recently at the Miss Universe pageant. He even made millions of people laugh when he showed he can laugh at himself.  And his wife did a great job of showing her unconditional support. If the ripple effect takes control, then before you know it, we can all live in a better world where we support each other instead of killing each other emotionally.

steve

On Christmas he posted this pic with the caption “Merry Easter y’all”  on his facebook and twitter. Class act!

Steve Harvey screws up. I screw up. You screw up. Everyone screws up. The screw up doesn’t matter as much as if we are able to identify it, apologize, and better ourselves.

The following is my Christmas story this year.

Here’s a screw up of mine at FedEx a few weeks back.

school of ex

You see, the clerk didn’t have the best customer service skills, and I reacted harshly when she told me I was forced to pay $5 for a shipping box because the one I brought didn’t have the FedEx logo on it. I was trying to ship back a textbook I had rented, and there was no way I was paying $5 for a box when mine would work perfectly fine. I insolently told her how I felt: I would go to UPS because I wasn’t paying $5 for a box!  Then I stormed out.

I drove home to print the shipping label as I realized after-the-initial-trip that with the preprinted label the textbook company would foot for the shipping cost. As I drove home with full intentions of taking my business to UPS I evaluated my impatience and realized what I needed to do to make it right. Maybe because I was so abrupt I didn’t allow her to explain correctly? Maybe it would actually cost $5 for the box and the shipping? I printed the label and stopped at Chickfila and bought a $5 giftcard.

When I got back to FedEx the original clerk was busy with another customer. Another employee came to help. I showed him the box and the label. He explained that FedEx could ship my shoebox, but it couldn’t guarantee its safe arrival. It did indeed cost $5 to buy the box and have it packaged by them for total assurance. I explained I didn’t want to spend $5 on a box and we evaluated my other options. I decided to go home and get a box other than a shoebox. But, yes, the first clerk had been wrong about the FedEx logo necessity. Maybe if I would have let her properly explain I would have saved myself a trip. Or maybe not because she seemed to be learning this for the first time as I did.

Before I left I went up to the original clerk and apologized explaining, “I was rude to you, I’m sorry. I got this for you, so you will know of my remorse for acting impolitely.” She said, “It was fine.” I continued, “It wasn’t fine. I jumped to conclusions and was aggressive and these are things I am trying to work on personally, so I thought if I bought you lunch it would help me remember how I should act next time.” She took the giftcard and thanked me. All three Fedex employees were staring at me in disbelief.

I went home for the right kind of box, and returned to FedEx towing along for the third time my 37 pound one-year-old who was now ready for a nap. I grabbed a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups at home for the second customer service rep. that was truly helpful, and thanked him profusely for his patience and competance as I handed him the candy and the correctly packaged book with the shipping label. While he handed me back my tracking information I realized that it had taken me all morning, but I ended up not spending a dime at FedEx.

Unless, of course, you count the gallon of gas, the $5 giftcard, and the bag of Reese’s Cups.

Lesson learned. I laughed at myself the remainder of the day, and when my husband got home from work and I told him of my whole morning spent going back and forth to FedEx he laughed too.

The thing is this….we’ve learned a lot in therapy. He gets what I was trying to do. Be a better person. He  knows that I’ve learned that I am aggressive. I’ve learned that I am abrupt, and that those behaviors are keeping me from having the relationships I want with others. I am actively trying to change my bad behaviors.  It’s hard to do. Old dogs like old bones, not new tricks.

However, we both understand, also, that no one is perfect. All we can hope for is improvement. All we can give is effort. We should be patient with ourselves and others. When we openly work on our stuff (like I did at FedEx) other people might be inspired to openly work on theirs. They may not work on their stuff because “working on stuff” has never been demonstrated. They may have never “worked  on their stuff” because everyone around them is either in denial of their own stuff or critical and not allowing room for work.

So, even though I have a great desire for altruistic behavior all of the time, my actions fall short. Often. I am no saint. But, I still can be someone else’s inspiration when I say I’m sorry. I screwed up. And so can you.

And change is a beautiful message to ponder this Christmas season.

What screw up are you ready and willing to fix?

They Coached the Coach

“What better way is there for me to spend quality time with my kids than to be their coach? I have to take them to practice anyhow.” That was my reasoning at the beginning of this season when as a  mother of five and a part-time college student I was already feeling stretched. Little did I know that my kids didn’t need me to be their coach as much as I needed them and their team to be my trainers.

volleyball head

I’ve loved volleyball since I can remember. I played on the JV team in high-school, and quit before I had the chance to reach any braggable level of competetive skill. But for a recreational league I knew I would be “good enough”. When I showed up to coach training they didn’t even warn me that coaching has very little to do with skill and a whole lot to do with modeling and mentoring.  They let me learn the hard way. Best gig ever.  Learning the hard way is my super power.

Let me just start by confessing our season record. 1-7. Yes, that’s one win and seven losses. And, yes, you can stop reading now if you are anything like I was eight weeks ago in believing that the wins are all that’s important.

You see, my lesson #1 was this:
Winners are not those who never fail but those who never quit.

I started with a really inexperienced team. We got our butts kicked over and over again, but I taught them the basics and told them to master them. I promised them if they could just get down their bumping and serving we would be good for the tournament.

These girls never quit. They kept working. And on Saturday we have our last tournament game. We go into it 3-0. Yes, three wins. Zero losses. If we win tomorrow, we will be the league champions. They never quit. And I’m so glad I never did either.

winners

Lesson #2: Actions speak louder than words. Actions are determined by thoughts and beliefs.

One time when we were losing badly, I hurriedly sent the team back on the court without the traditional team cheer. I was distracted, frustrated and worried about how as a coach I was letting my team down. I had just ran on about mechanics and with the impatience of the official raining down on me, I pushed the team along without any encouragment, a sweep of the hands and a, “Just go.” My daughters informed me on the way home that Olivia had looked at them both with anxiety all over her face. She felt bad. Coach was mad and disappointed. My lack of positivity brought the whole team down.

what you say

That brings me nicely to my third lesson:
You can only teach someone who wants to learn. You can only learn when you want to be taught.

My daughter Bella has been struggling with her serving the entire season. Last night before the game I was determined to get her serving perfected before the game started. I took her aside and dug in. “You need to keep your arm straight. Hold the ball steady. Don’t start so far back.” She refused to move up six inches. The more I tried to explain how her balls were falling short that exact length, the more she shut down. She ended up in tears. It’s not a proud moment.  Thankfully my husband came over and asked me, “Alice, is it really worth it?” She didn’t want to learn what I had to offer, yet I still wanted to stuff it down her throat. Both she and I had really fragile feelings for the whole first set. It wasn’t worth it. Unless you call her first two perfect serves from too far back worth it. Like her mama, she is out to prove a point. For the record, I know now I was wrong. I’ll never forget the horrible sinking feeling I had while watching her sit on the bleacher and cry.

learn.jpg

Lesson 4: Change is progression.

I’m the kind of person that holds my ideas and opinions tightly. I feel like if I need change I failed. Volleyball has reminded me that the only thing that defines failure is being too rigid to progress. At the beginning of the season I was using a lot of practice time on cardio and strength building. I realized early on that my team needed more time on the ball. I had to completely change our practice outline.

change

And last:
Always, always, always focus on the positive.

It took me six losses to figure this out, but on a positive note, I guess there are slower coaches to be found somewhere. In the beginning of the season, I kept harping on the girls about what they were doing wrong. They couldn’t  bump the ball for the life of them, and so I determined to force competancy on them.

Meanwhile, the other teams were not just mastering bumping, but also learning new skills too.  Or so it seemed to me. I decided that I had to change my approach. I started finding ways to compliment each player. I dished out praise like Halloween candy. I demonstrated and allowed time for practice and encouragment. I continuously repeated how much I believed in them. I told them the could win. They started to believe it.

accentuate-the-positive

I can’t really explain the beautiful experience it is to jump around a court like a crazy kid with a team full of girls that you know you helped to learn the lessons of champions.  Last night, as I watched them high-give and congratulate each other with joy written in each smile line, my heart swelled. I was so grateful that they coached me way more than I could have ever coached them.

Update (next day)

We won. My favorite part was when we all sang “We are the Champions” in celebration.

champs

 

Motherhood: it’s not for the birds.

I know I must be starting to sound crazy, always talking about interactions with the birds. Honestly, I feel kind of crazy because I swear the birds around here are ancestors trying to contact me from another realm. Maybe I should convert to Hinduism. Maybe I should just stay eccentric. Either way you are going to hear about it.

birdsI hope you remember this story about the pregnant robin staring at me through my back door because this story just kind of builds on it.

Mothering has been getting to me. I feel worthless a majority of the time. Between the monotony of the baby and the daily drudgery of dealing with hormonal and self-absorbed typical teenagers I often wonder why I have dedicated the majority of my life to them.

I’ve been praying a lot and searching for wisdom and peace. I want to know that my sacrifices will matter. I need to know.

Well, a few days ago after a particularly hard weekend I had another little bird miracle. My very rare weekend get-away had been snatched from my needy little fingers. (The therapist thought it would be a good idea for my husband and daughter to have some bonding time, which left me at home alone with the other 4 kids for two days.) I was looking ahead to the grind of another week, and wasn’t feeling too rested after the weekend. I was indulging myself in another, “WHY?” crying session.

I ended up with the baby in arms while attempting to let the dog out the sliding glass door to relieve herself. Just before opening the door, however, I noticed something new. I’d never witnessed this before: There were so many robins in the branches of the trees that I couldn’t count them. I froze. They all stared at me as I stared at them. They were all sexes, all sizes, and all singing to one another.

It came in the most unexpected way, but my answer to prayer had come on the wings of the robin family. The secret to life was laid out before me. Maybe these birds were ancestors from my past (not really but symbolically.) Maybe they represented my family in the future, but they were definitely a sign with a crystal clear message supporting my motherhood: It’s all about the family.

The other day a single friend from high-school posted a picture from his back porch. It was him, his beautifully landscaped yard, and his beer. I assumed he’s on a hiatus from traveling at his high profile life of being a TV producer and was enjoying the downtime.

I commented, “Your life looks so peaceful, can we trade for a week?”

He answered in jest, ” Alice, thanks for the offer but I highly doubt I could ‘Survive’ your life. You are an amazing mom/wife.”

It’s amazing what a compliment like that can do for a struggling mom.  I so appreciated every single word. He validated my extreme exhaustion and simultaneously encouraged me. I didn’t think there was anything that could help me more than his words. I also didn’t realize that I could communicate with birds. They gave me a moment’s peace. Without the beer. Without the perfectly landscaped backyard. And without any peace and quiet. There’s hardly ever peace and quiet in a family of 7.

I let the dog out. Between the noise of the sliding door and the happy barks of the dog, the robins quickly dispersed. I smirked and speechlessly thanked them all as they flew away. I then admitted to myself that I didn’t need to feel worthless anymore. I have the highest profile job ever: mother.

And the birds understood and communicated what I needed to hear. I matter. I matter now. I matter even more in the future. The kids aren’t the ones making me feel worthless. I am doing that to myself.  The future of mankind is depending on me. My hundreds of progeny know what I am still learning: I matter. I guess they know that they got the message across because they haven’t been back.

Maybe they upgraded to the form of cat? I hope not because if the next time I get down on myself (which can be any moment now) and there are 50+ cats staring at me through my back door, I think it’ll freak me out just a tad.

grandchildren

Look what I found on the internet. I guess I’m not the only crazy one.

Blue boobs.

Stuff was heavy on my heart last night. Two things in-particular.

Yesterday I posted on Facebook about two subjects that are extremely annoying to me: breastfeeding in public and BYU. Ha ha. My Mormon friends who know how many babies are born to college students at BYU might find this ironic combination hysterical. I sure do.

breastfeed byu

Now, as you all know from my last post, for some reason, I am extremely emotional this week.  My overabundance of emotion may explain the guilt I was feeling over these two totally random facebook posts. It wasn’t necessarily the posts that made me feel guilty but two of the responses I received.

One of my young friends was really hurt by my “throw a blanket over it” philosophy. It wasn’t the first and won’t be the last time I disagree with a nursing mom on the ease of covering up while breastfeeding, but the love I feel for this mom who will not back down about my “modesty and politeness-to-others over comfort of baby” stance had my heart bleeding. It just didn’t feel worth the argument to me anymore.

Also, a family member had posted a reply to the BYU post, but then deleted it. She had reprimanded me for not being kind (as I had posted something early about kindness being a large tenet of my faith.)  I responded with a comment that stated that I believed that saying I was not a fan of BYU wasn’t unkind…..but as I lay there last night, I was questioning my extreme dislike of BYU. Those of you who really know me, know how deep my hatred goes. Was it unkind? Was I unkind? Isn’t it really all those jerky BYU people that need to come down off their high horses? Doesn’t everyone know that?

I fell asleep with tears rolling down my cheeks and both of these interactions (among a few other things) weighing heavy on my heart. I was an emotional wreck last night and LG’s arm around me was the only thing that calmed me down until my sleeping meds. kicked in. As heavy as the subjects were nagging at my conscience, I am totally shocked I didn’t dream all night of a blue boob-out at the Wilkinson Center, a BYU football game with a stadium full of crying hungry babies covered by blankets, or perhaps Cosmo the Cougar stripping down to nothing to reveal his true identity as a woman with a latched on baby cat.

I then woke up first thing this morning to this video…

This video is so beautiful. The subject of not bullying is important to me. After 12 hours of guilt, yet still not wanting to change, I couldn’t help but feel like a bully with my overheated opinions on BYU and breastfeeding. I wondered if my intolerances (no matter how petty) had really caused someone pain.

This lecture by Dieter F. Uchtdorf continues to effect my life profoundly. It is probably very poignant to me because no matter how kind I profess to be, it exposes some of my biggest weaknesses. I pretty much fail at this 5 question test every time I take it.

  1. Do you harbor a grudge against someone else?
  2. Do you gossip, even when what you say may be true?
  3. Do you exclude, push away, or punish others because of something they have done?
  4. Do you secretly envy another?
  5. Do you wish to cause harm to someone?

O.k. maybe I get a 20% because I can honestly say I don’t really want to cause harm to anyone. Except for the guard on our favorite basketball team. He reminds me of some guys I know personally who are trash talking and arrogant typical hot-headed jerky Mormon basketball players. (The kind that act all nice and righteous in real life but let it all go to pot when on the court. – I admittedly have an open wound because of guys like this.) I totally told my husband on the way out of the game last night that even though he is on “our team” I would love to see him get what is coming to him. I am certain he would run off with his tail between his legs (kind of like he did last night) as his type are prone to do. Dang-it, I’m back to a 0%.

As I pondered further I realized that BYU and breastfeeding would be in the honest answers I would give to several of these 5 probing inquiries. I realized that both subjects are really just surface scapegoats for the bigger causes that are super important to me: being kind and cognizant of those around us.

And then I realized I was a hypocrite. How can I expect others (BYU grads and breast-feeders in-particular) to be kind, humble, and polite to those around them when I am not willing to budge and give them the same benefit-of-the-doubt that I belittle them for not having?

peace with self peace had enough

So, this post is a long way of saying I’ve had a change of heart.

Go Cougars. Breastfeed away.

I offer you my sincerest apologies for being awful and (albeit still with a great amount of hesitance) I promise to try and not just give you the benefit of the doubt but to sincerely LOVE you wherever you are on your journey – even when you are extremely arrogant and especially when you are bare-chested.

Just save c3p0

Yesterday I took my car into JiffyLube to get the annual Safety and Emissions Inspections. While I was there, the technician told me that I would need new brake pads on my rear brakes to pass the Safety test. I told him to go ahead and put them on so that I could just be done with the process all in one day.

After a few hours, he called me out to the auto bay, I paid $250 for all the services received (safety, emissions, oil change, radiator cap/top-off, air filter, rear windshield wiper and rear brake pads. ) He said the other technician had perfect timing as he was just walking up from taking my beloved mini-van on the test drive for the brakes.

I had papers, keys, and receipts in hand ready to be reunited with my car. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on as tech2 walked behind me and said to tech1, “Dude we have a problem. You need to call ________.  I _________ (I didn’t quite hear what he said as I didn’t know he was reporting on my car)_____. The whole front side of that Honda is all messed up. I perked up at the mention of Honda as my mini-van is a Honda. I turned around and faced the guys. Tech2 looked a little shook up and immediately apologized, “I’m so sorry, I just crashed your car.” I replied, “Are you serious?” as tech1 said, “You’re messing with me.” “I’m not dude, it’s over on the other side by Beto’s. Ma’am, I’ll walk you over there.”

We took the two block walk from one end of a large parking lot around the other stores to the other and this is what was at the end of it. The brakes had failed at the nearby stoplight. The ambulance was just pulling up as the people who my guy had rear-ended had called 911. They were a couple in their 70’s and so very sweet. Their grown daughter was in the back seat resting her head on the front seat and was all shook up. (I am tempted to say she was faking, but that wouldn’t be nice – I mean really though her parents  who are 25 years older were perfectly fine,  but maybe she really is just fragile?)

honda2 honda

The poor kid (tech2 from JiffyLube) who had just crashed my car was on the verge of tears. While staring down at my most vital transportation, I forced a smile,  grabbed his arm, gave him a half hug, and told him, “These things happen. It’s just life. Don’t be too upset with yourself. I’m not mad at you, at all. I kind of needed a new car anyway.” And then I got embarrassed and almost as an afterthought I inquired, “Are you o.k.? Are you injured?” He said he was fine and admitted he was shaken up and worried about being fired. He said, “I’m going to cry right now.” I told him he could cry in front of me any time, “I’m a mom” and then insisted, “I’ll go to bat for you; they better not fire you. Accidents happen.”

I was proud of myself for staying calm and gave myself an invisible pat on the back for being mature and keeping perspective that people matter way more than things. Period. No contest. I was also silently thanking my old therapist John, Glennon Doyle MeltonBrene Brown, and God for teaching me about shame (the damage it causes) and the value of souls.

The paramedics started loading the fifty-something-daughter onto the stretcher. She was a waif of a thing and seemed not all quite there. I would be tempted to say she has problems with drugs, but that would just be because I lived in TN for so long and dealt with so many of my husband’s drug clients. If I find out she has cancer or something I will feel really bad for passing judgement and for my honest admittance of my crime. I really need to practice NOT SHAMING and give her the benefit of the doubt. I hope she has cancer instead of a drug addiction. (Man, that is just wrong.) It could be that she really was in shock which would explain her shaking and incoherence. {I openly admit I am still working on making my first assumptions about people the good ones instead of the bad.} I got on the phone with LG to have him do the pre-school pick up for me and then called our insurance agency. I then got all my paperwork together for the officer who pulled up at least three minutes after the ambulance and firetrucks. Funny, the police department is located right across the street.

I’ve been extremely happy with the way that JiffyLube has taken care of the situation and can honestly say that this incident won’t keep me from using their services in the future. They immediately reimbursed us the $250 of services without us even asking for it, got us a rental car less then 24 hours later, and have insurance to cover our car damage. They’ve always been good to us in the past, and you know what? People screw up. Like my brother said, “The best you can hope for when people screw up is that they will make it right,” and JiffyLube has gone above and beyond at making it right. Trusting them with my vehicles in the future may make me stupid , but I think it makes me more forgiving then anything and that is way more vital to my emotional health then my IQ level.

So, today I picked my kids up from school in the rental van, and we headed over to retrieve our belongings from our crashed van. The whole way to the collision shop Bella and Sophia said all they cared about was saving C3p0. He’s had a spot on our dashboard for the better part of 8 years and is quite handy when it comes to identifying our vehicle among the hundreds of other minivans in the parking lots of the many family-friendly establishments we frequent. You know: church, wal-mart, the city pool, library, grocery store, sporting events, etc.

Bella was one happy camper when they retrieved C3p0 from under the front seat of the car.
Sophia was even happier, but refused to pose.

image

Now I know they are kids and don’t get all the ramifications of securing a new car loan and locating and purchasing a new car, but I have to say that I was proud of my kids and their concern for c3p0. In the past 24 hours they haven’t complained about me being on the phone constantly or having to ride everywhere squashed in dad’s sedan. They’ve just rolled with the punches and showed concern for the drivers involved in the accident; they’ve been helpful and have joined us in laughing about the whole thing. My most parental pride came, however, from their main concern being for a $5 sentimental trinket. They embraced it way more then the brand new rental with all the bells and whistles. It’s days like today when I pat myself on the back and say, “Way to go Alice, you aren’t totally failing as a parent.” Maybe someday they will grow up to care more about the crasher of their car then their car too. I hope so.

The best news today was from JiffyLube’s District Manager. At the rental car place he told me that they would most definitely not fire Mark the driver. The insurance company low-balled our offer and we really really don’t want to go back into a car payment after 10 years without one, but as we figure out the details, I am going to set C3p0 next to my laptop to help me remember what is really important. Once again the kids are the teachers and the mom is the student.

image

And here is a great argument for why when your kids start driving you should want them in a vehicle with a trailer hitch.

image

other car

Here is the other car. Barely a scratch.

Can You Hear the Bells?

LG and I received a great Christmas present from his parents.
We were able to attend a Christmas concert last night
by one of our favorite gospel/bluegrass groups The Lower Lights.
I was touched by their retelling and performance of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the lyrics after suffering two terrible Christmas seasons. First his wife was engulfed in flames and died from her burns, leaving Henry permanently injured as well. Second, Henry’s son, without Henry’s blessing, went to fight in the Civil War where he also received significant injuries to never be the same.

As Henry strolled down the street in despair the words of this poem came to him after hearing the church bells ringing. “If you haven’t had to endure a holiday season full of despair, then it’s only a matter of time,” the performer said last night. Then he added some sentiment that communicated the great privilege it can be to experience a Christmas where we are broken, humble, hurt, and down-trodden because it’s in those times that we can really see God’s hand in our life. Thus the last verse:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men

As I listened again to this inspired Christmas hymn tears ran down my cheeks. I felt the power of one person’s faith. I got thinking of my brother’s family. My nephew passed away last May and my brother was just talking about how hard it is to celebrate the holidays without Braxton. I then thought of my friend Rosie who will be stuck in a hospital tending after Hyrum, her critically-ill special needs son, for Christmas as she was for Thanksgiving. I thought of Aimee who has had terrible health problems and is waiting for her entrance into the Mayo Clinic. I thought of several of my friends who struggle with a lifetime of hurt from the abuse they received as children. I thought of so many children out there dealing with the antics of their bitter divorced parents. Then I was flooded with the memories of many heartbroken wives who have lost their marriages because of their husband’s addiction. The friends who are valiantly trying to provide for their children in the midst of job loss and an unstable economy also came to mind.

There is so much suffering.  I thought, “How does God handle it all?”
The answer came, “I don’t handle it, you do.”

Wait, what? I can’t handle it! Then the answer came further,
“No, one person cannot handle it, but everyone can do something.”
And all those somethings mean everything.

I’ve heard the bells. I’ve heard them so many times. I can’t even begin to count. I’ve heard them for me. I’ve heard them for friends. I’ve heard them for family. I’ve heard them by being served and I’ve heard them by being the servant. I’ve heard them ringing for strangers. I’ve heard them in the drop of a few coins in the Salvation Army buckets. I’ve heard them in so so  many surprise packages on my very own porch. I’ve heard them in a Santa Claus across the country buying a trampoline for kids he has never met. They are ringing strong all over the world. Take a minute to really look for them….listen carefully. I promise they are there.

At this time of year you can even hear them in advertising.

The bells are so beautiful.
My wish for each of you this year is the gift to hear.

This one is dedicated to my hubby who loves his Sarah McLachlan.