Stress, The Parable of the Talents, And You Bet Your Boots This Is One Of Those Posts Written For My Own Edification
Shortly before the Air Force moved us to South Dakota, I had an evening where the stress of the move and the impending unknown brought me to my knees in tears. I am pretty sure that every military wife has some version of this moment before moving. I was happy about moving, for the most part. The other part of me, the part that sparked the emotional meltdown, was made up entirely of fear. It usually is.
I ended up in my bedroom with the door shut, on my knees, trying to put into words the near panic attack that was going on in my brain. There were the usual concerns of stuff breaking and housing being impossible to set up, and then the “what ifs” set in and the rest of the prayer went something like this. “What if no one likes me? What if I end up hating it there? What if I’m unhappy? What if everyone I meet thinks I’m an incompetent loser and WHAT IF THEY’RE RIGHT!!!?” It was with this very mature and self assured thought that I opened my eyes, not even formally closing my prayer, eyes bugging out, staring blindly at my bedspread while contemplating this new horror I hadn’t even allowed myself to verbalize during all of my mental rants.
It was at that moment, while I was dangling on the precipice of a self loathing induced nervous breakdown that I heard a very quiet, gentle voice inside my mind say, “Leah. Don’t worry. I’ll put you to work.”
And then I smiled. My Savior knows me, and because of that, as it says in scripture, He knows precisely how to succor me in my time of need. Only someone who knew me very, very intimately would give this perfect answer that I wasn’t expecting. I have such a defining need to be useful, and have learned the lesson that work is a blessing many times over. I do not cope well with idleness. I also know that the very best way to end a pity party is to get up and go be of service to someone else. That is the recipe for true happiness, and that is why so much of Christ’s teachings focus on the importance of giving service. He wants us to be happy.
I used to think that the commandment to give service was for the benefit of others and society. Caring for the sick, the poor and the lonely is just good sense if you want a functioning community. But I understand that the Savior didn’t give any commandments that weren’t for our direct benefit. The gift of being able to work and serve others is a gift given for our own edification- and ultimately our sanctification. If the point of being here on this earth is to become more like Jesus Christ, then giving loving service could probably be considered Christianity 101.
That’s all fine and dandy, isn’t it? Well, what about when you hit that other wall where the work God has blessed you with seems like more than you can actually manage? What if no matter how hard you try, and how faithful and diligent you’ve been you still fall short and never quite get to where you meant to be? What if you’ve got so many things on your plate that your head is actually starting to spin and you think you might crack sooner rather than later?
That’s where I was last night. Actually, that’s where I’ve been for several days. God has most definitely kept His promise to “put me to work,” and vastly exceeded my expectations of what that was going to entail. And that’s great! It’s just hard, and frequently I don’t know what I’m doing. I have been assuring myself for several weeks now that His grace would be sufficient in all things I am trying to do right now, because I know that the things I am using my life up on are what God would have me do. And that is true. Knowing you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, and knowing that He will make up the difference because you are doing your best is a huge comfort.
But even then, because I have some really unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies, I can still become completely overwhelmed. And then God blesses me. I was reading in Matthew 25 last night while prepping a seminary lesson I need to teach this week when I ended up going over the parable of the talents. Initially, I glanced at it, thought I already understood it, and started to move on- and then something told me to stop and go back. I read that parable with completely new eyes last night. (Go figure- I’m doing service by teaching seminary, and it’s blessing me. Case in point.)
To sum up (although I recommend you just go read verses 14-30 via the Matthew link above): The lord gave three of his servants each some talents (a unit of money). One got five, one got two and one got one. The first two were industrious and made the most of what they had, ultimately doubling what they started with. The servant’s master was pleased, called them good and faithful, and made them rulers over many things. The last guy took his talent, buried it in the earth and failed to benefit himself or anyone else with it, and had nothing more to present to his lord. The lord said this servant was wicked and slothful, took back the one talent, and cast the servant out.
It is so very, very easy to take this parable, turn monetary talents into the talents we have been blessed with and say: Use ‘em or lose ‘em, and while you’re using them, do so in a way that benefits God, and makes you worthy of being called good and faithful. End of story. (See? I can be succinct when I want to.)
So what was new last night? It all started when this very overwhelmed woman read the verse that states:
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
All I could think was that I absolutely did not want to be made ruler or given any more responsibility than I already had. What kind of reward was that? This is pretty childish, but understandable. When you’ve just spent a half an hour in prayer, bemoaning your pathetic capacity to handle the many things that are stressing you out, the answer you want is not, “I’m going to bless you with even more of that!”
Then I read further on, and saw what the underachieving third servant had to say to justify how he had manged things:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
I was afraid. Did that ever jump out at me. I was afraid, too. Afraid of having any more on my plate. So afraid of failing at what I had been given (not just talents, but time, energy, and the very breath in my body- everything the Lord gave me) that I was actually ready to turn down the opportunity to make more of myself. No thanks, Lord, you can keep all that extra stuff and I’ll just try to return the basic gift of myself to you intact, no worse for wear- but no better. Don’t you just hate it when you read the scriptures and realize that you’re the equivalent of the third servant?
Before I had time to feel too badly about this, I looked over the parable again and saw the beauty behind verse nineteen.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
After a long time . Perfection, or even being wildly profitable isn’t required now. While there certainly will be a reckoning of how I spent my time and energy and what I made of myself- that’s not today. The story isn’t over. I have time. Not time to be lazy and slothful and a big chicken, but time to work on things and get better. Time to have faith.
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliverdest unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
I have gained. It also struck me that both of the good and faithful servants simply reported their work as having gained. It didn’t matter that one had ten and one had four, they had both gained. There was no perfect number of talents, no lofty goal to hit before you could be considered good and faithful. Good and faithful servants gain. They grow. They do a little better each day. The point is not perfection- it’s progression. I can look at myself and honestly report that I, too, have gained. Do I have it all together? No. But I have it more together than I did before. Maybe I’m not quite so third servant, after all. Let’s look at that verse that had me scared earlier.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
1: Since I’m here trying to learn to be more like Jesus, it is valuable to note that this exercise in “gaining” is really just practice helping me to be more like Him. Everything the Savior puts His hand to is made more. Loaves and fishes, a repentant heart, fishermen into apostles. Christ magnifies everything, including me. In a very small way, that is what He is teaching me to do.
2: It’s not about the level of responsibility. It isn’t about how much or how worthwhile what I do amounts to. It doesn’t matter how fast I do what I’m supposed to do. It matters that what I do is done joyfully. It all goes back to that original blessing of happiness. God lets me serve because He wants me to be happy, so rather than asking to do things better or faster or smarter, I would be wise to ask Him to help me live my life with more joy. Joy is the end goal of life, as well as the sustaining force that can carry us through.
And I knew this before. I just needed reminding.
The kids are back in school and I am working on getting back to my routine. I haven’t been feeling my best the past few days; I’m off and on feverish and quite achy without any real explanation. Not really sure what the deal is, but I am feeling up today, so I’m happy to get a better day and get some things accomplished.
Yesterday I inventoried and cleaned out my pantry. It was a disaster after having the kids “help” put groceries away for a few months. Today I went shopping and filled in a few gaps where supplies were low. On Thursday I am having my first Tupperware party because it is January and January means 50% pantry organization items! I am excited to complete my long standing organized pantry project, after about four years of getting just a few containers at the start of each year. I’m even going to do up the spices since that’s all on sale too! If you want anything Tupperware, shoot me an e-mail at everydaylou (at) yahoo (dot) com. Check out the crazy awesome deals right here. If you want to place an order for my party, you will need to contact me directly. There isn’t a party-connected online ordering set up, sorry!
It has been wonderful to start teaching seminary again after the break. You know what I missed most of all? By teaching seminary, I have the opportunity to testify of Christ every single day. I get to start my day reaffirming my faith and sharing my love for the Savior. I really do have the very best job in the church; 5:55am notwithstanding. Honestly, I like the routine of getting up early as well. It can catch up to you quickly if you don’t get to bed at night, but mostly I really love it. We learned about Joshua and the walls of Jericho tumbling down as well as the river Jordan parting for the ark of the covenant. We learned about faith.
I love seminary.
And I love my awesome seminary kids.
This card is some My Mind’s Eye paper, various punches for the butterflies (Lifestyle crafts, Martha Stewart, I think), a spellbinders label die and a Waltzingmouse Stamps label stamp. Something springy to compliment the bizarre fifty degree weather we are having in January. January in the Dakotas usually means bundle way up and don’t go out unless you have to- this is beautiful, spring-like weather, and as much as I love snow, I am very grateful for how well this goes with puppy training my little stinker spring spaniel.
“Alice. . . explained, as well as she could, that she had lost her way.
‘I don’t know what you mean by your way,’ said the Queen: ‘all the ways about here belong to me — but why did you come out here at all?’ she added in a kinder tone. ‘Curtsey while you’re thinking what to say, it saves time.’” – Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carrol
I have been blessed with many opportunities to be of service lately. I haven’t done anything grand. I’ve watched friends children, shared baked goods and meals, given Christmas gifts, listened when someone needed to be heard, ironed a shirt and washed tiny, grubby hands, to name a few. Some of these things are a part of my every day, but many have required going out of my way.
These opportunities have come while I have been pondering how a person can consecrate her life to Christ, and about what that really means. “To consecrate” something is to make it holy, to dedicate it specifically for a purpose. Many of us would like our lives to have more meaning; we want to see the sacred beauty in life with clarity. But the spiritually pure is hard to see, even if we know it is there, and especially when we feel at the mercy of the threatening, all consuming minutia that can fill our days and so easily blind us to anything but the next worldly triumph or catastrophe.
Yesterday, in Sunday School our teacher mentioned good works. We read in James that ‘faith without works is dead’(James 2:26). We demonstrate our faith through our works, and in so doing, draw nearer to Christ in action and in heart. I couldn’t help but consider that we are also commanded to become like the Savior, who spent His entire, perfect life in unheralded service. His good works had great meaning, and if there is anything that we could do to ‘be ye therefore perfect,’ (Matt 5:48) it would have to begin with service. Our acts of service are so much smaller than His, and yet can have significant meaning, particularly when we consecrate those moments to God. When, in the right spirit, we wash a dish for our family, change a diaper or take a little extra time to bring a meal to someone in need we are taking the time to go out of our way- and into His way.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (scripture: Isaiah 55:8-9; KJV).
Unlike the queen in Alice and Wonderland, all ways are not the Lord’s ways. He gives us the incredible gift of choice, and we are free to choose liberty or captivity by how we use the time He has given us (2 Nephi 2:27). I was struck by the thought yesterday that I was happiest when I was going out of my way, and that perhaps the whole point is to go out of our way and into His better, holier, more perfect way. Most of the time when we feel like we have lost our way, we have actually forsaken God’s way, and the disconnect that follows is profound.
With this new year approaching, I am taking time to ‘consider my ways’ (Haggai 1:5-6) and recommitting to walk always in His way, especially when that means going out of mine.
I was one of the speakers at church on Sunday, and received several requests for copies of what I said, so after e-mailing a few, I’m just going to post it here. For those of you not of my faith, we run a lay ministry, so members are asked to give the sermon from time to time.
Without further ado:
Under divine direction, Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness where they would wander for forty years before arriving in the Promised Land. These forty challenging years were intended to refine and sanctify the children of Israel. They were not being punished – they were being taught. During these forty years they had many opportunities to find out how the great Jehovah dealt with His chosen people. They learned obedience. They learned consequence. And most importantly, they learned that their strength and salvation was found in the Redeemer, who went before them day and night. In His constant care they progressed from ignorant, murmuring children to worthy, faithful inhabitants of the Promised Land.
The Israelites had many needs during this time. They struggled for want of food, safety, shelter- all things that kept them preoccupied and diminished their ability to grow spiritually. The Lord used fulfilling the most basic of these needs to increase their faith and to teach them to trust Him. One of the most famous miracles during this time is the miracle of the manna.
Manna was a small, white, flakey substance, compared to hoarfrost that could be gathered and made into bread or cakes. Moses told the children of Israel that this was the bread the Lord had provided for them. It was mild and simple, flavored like coriander seed and honey, and it satisfied their physical needs well.
Like most blessings, there were rules applied to the manna. They were instructed to gather only what they could eat in a day, and not any more. There was to be no hoarding or saving for a later date- they needed to have complete faith that Christ would sustain them every single day. When they were disobedient and gathered more than they could eat, the manna spoiled and was useless. The only time they were able to gather for the future was in preparation for the Sabbath. On the day before the Sabbath they could gather enough for two days, and the manna would remain fresh so they could keep the Sabbath with exactness.
The children of Israel feasted on the Savior’s literal bread of life and were sustained from day to day. In a situation of uncertainty and want, they were always provided for, if they would just follow the Savior’s commands.
Today we are commanded to feast upon the words of Christ. We are given the scriptures for daily nourishment, to strengthen us in times of uncertainty. The Lord knew that our mortal sojourn would be much like the wandering in the wilderness that the Israelites experienced, and that we would need spiritual sustainment just as desperately as they required food. We would need to increase in faith and trust so we could be sanctified and prepared to enter His promised kingdom. Just as the children of Israel were never left alone, we have the same opportunity to walk closely with Him, to be guided, strengthened, and at times carried by the strength of the Lord.
We have been counseled to study the scriptures daily, and promised that the words of Christ would tell us all things that we should do. We cannot gather manna once a week or even every other day and expect to be filled. We can’t expect one day of scriptural cramming to sustain us for a long period of time. Testimonies, like manna, spoil and become unprofitable when they are not attended to daily.
Just as skipping a day of food may not have an immediate effect, short term spiritual starvation may pass by almost unnoticed. But just like long term malnutrition can kill, chronic spiritual malnutrition will end in the same deadly result.
Of course, a person can survive on less than ideal nutrition. A person can muddle through with lackluster scripture study as well, but most of us are ambitious enough to want to do more than merely survive. Most of us want to thrive- our spirits beg to do so! We want to be the best that we are capable of being and then we want the Savior to make us even better. The point of being here isn’t merely to survive- it is to become sanctified, perfected and worthy of eternal life, and we have been given every tool necessary to do that.
The scriptures are one of those powerful tools, and they can truly tell us ALL things that we should do in this life to qualify for eternal life.
Several months ago I was invited to take a challenge concerning how I went about my daily scripture study. For a few weeks, I was to take a question with me every time I went to read, not just any random question, but whatever was concerning me most on that particular day.
My questions weren’t doctrinally deep ones- they were based on the ordinary struggles of life. My questions were things like, “how can I avoid contention with this person today?” or “how do I help my child with this issue” or “how am I supposed to get through all that I have to do today?”
There were the hard days where my questions were asked in frustrated desperation: “Why am I dealing with this trial?” “How can I possibly be enough for the challenges on my plate right now?” “What am I’m supposed to learn from this?” And the more humble inquiries of “Do I need to repent?” “What can I do to be more worthy?” “How can I better serve today?” and “How do I learn to hear Your voice?”
There are plenty of days where I feel so overwhelmed that I don’t even know what question to ask to get me to a solution- and I find that the most effective question for me to ask at those times is simply, “what would thou have me do?”
Now, I was familiar with finding answers through the scriptures. I have been blessed to find a considerable amount of guidance, strength and comfort in turning to the scriptures, and I know they contain answers. The thing that was new was that I hadn’t considered taking advantage of that on a daily basis. Of course I went looking for answers when things were tough, but when things were ok I was a lot more likely to take a casual approach, always enjoying the peace reading the scriptures brings, but not earnestly seeking, and not considering that they really were intended to help in all things.
The very first day I decided to start reading with a specific question in mind, I had pondered my question and then decided that I would have my morning scripture study with the kids and then after they were off to school, I would sit back down, formally ask my question and then read on my own for awhile.
I started reading out loud to my children when suddenly a particular verse hit me so hard, I literally stopped reading. It was a very good answer and it was presented from an unexpected angle and place, in the middle of the war chapters in Alma! It also came with a powerful witness of the Spirit. I was completely caught off guard. I hadn’t even asked yet!
I finished reading and got the kids out the door, and decided that I would start from the beginning as I had intended. I prayed about it and then opened up the scriptures again, not to where the kids and I were reading, but in a completely different book where I was in my personal reading. Within the first few verses, I was given the exact same answer. The verbiage was different, but the imagery and direction it presented was identical to the earlier answer, and I had the same resonating confirmation of the Spirit that told me this was what I was to do and how I was to do it. I knew my question had been answered.
Learning to ask and to utilize the scriptures on a daily basis is empowering. And that is what it is meant to be. We were intended to have divine help in every step of this life- we were intended to walk through these challenges with the full power of the atonement, saving covenants and priesthood blessings. It has been said that God wants a powerful people. We weren’t intended to be stupid, or to be wishy-washy followers of the world, vulnerable to every deception laid in our path. We were born to have every bit of protection, peace and clarity possible. We can access that through blessings of the priesthood, and through the tools of prayer and divinely inspired scripture. We are to be taught and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Lord has called us His elect, His chosen people, just like the Israelites of old. We need to rise to that because it takes the elect to gather the elect and we are charged with the responsibility of preparing a valiant branch of people to meet Him when He comes again. We are building Zion, and He has given us everything we need to do that. We choose whether or not to use those tools and in so doing, we decide how faithful, how protected, and how smart we will be.
I had an abnormally difficult time preparing this talk. I had a huge list of ideas written down. I read talks and quotes and did internet searches on my topic- and got absolutely nowhere. Come Friday night I was getting worried. I was told to speak for fifteen minutes and I had about two minutes of completely disjointed, incoherent ramblings.
I finally took the specific question of what I should talk about to the Lord and opened my scriptures- and, as always- I was answered. I read these verses in Jacob:
For this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
Now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow.
Brothers and Sisters, we read the scriptures daily so we can come unto Christ. We read them so we can become more like Him and have a mortal experience filled with joy. We read them that we might always hope in Christ and have that hope temper our sorrows. We read so we can rejoice in the Savior and have gratitude. And we read them so we can teach our children truth.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in the last general conference: “for the gospel to be written in your heart, you need to know what it is and grow to understand it more fully.”
The scriptures are given to us as answer books so we can understand the gospel and how to apply it to our lives. They were written under the direction of the Holy Ghost, and they are understood by His power as well. His sacred stewardship is to teach us, and this is His textbook.
Even knowing that, reading and studying every day can be really hard. I don’t think I ever have a day where I don’t have at least two options of how to fill each hour. I am a very busy person, as I am sure you are. But I know I am smarter and better when I make scripture study a priority. I am more able to resist temptation and more capable of managing my time. I am a more patient mother and better able to discern that which is truly needful for me and my family.
You often hear the phrase “work smarter, not harder”. When you are blessed with extra knowledge, abilities, grace and direction because you’ve been reading- you can work smarter not harder- that’s what the Lord wants for us.
The only thing more challenging than finding my own time to have scripture study is to make that time happen with my children. When we sit down to have our family devotional we frequently have silly kids and bored kids. Elder Holland’s label of “little bedlamites” is very fitting. They are, after all, children.
We started reading the Book of Mormon together almost three years ago, before our youngest was even born. We are keeping track of it on a chart that hangs on our refrigerator and we are only in 3rd Nephi. Some days we get through a few chapters, some days a few verses and sometimes we don’t get through anything but the prayer. That’s ok. I know that there are chapters my children don’t understand, even when I try to explain them in kid-friendly language. That’s ok too.
What I do know, and why I keep going despite occasional chaos, is that I know reading the scriptures provides an opportunity for them to create a habit of faithful obedience. It also provides an opportunity for them to feel the Spirit. They don’t need to have a perfect understanding to receive a witness of the truth. They are learning the language of revelation every time we read, and this will make all the difference, because they will need all the ability they can muster to understand how to hear the voice of the Lord for the rest of their lives. They will need answers every day of their lives and I want them to be spiritually self reliant enough to know how to find them.
One day at the end of our devotional, we closed our scriptures and my daughter turned to me and said, “I feel like I want to cry when we read that- but I feel so good.” The opportunity I had to explain to my six year old daughter that what she was feeling was the Spirit was so precious.
They need to know that. They need to know where to find answers, and they need to know how to hear the voice of the Lord. It is critical to our salvation and theirs that they learn the language of personal revelation, and in the scriptures we have the tools we need to learn that. The Savior has always spoken to His children through the scriptures and He always will speak to those who diligently seek Him.
I asked them how knowing this would affect the way they lived, and they weren't sure. With so much going so wrong, it just made life harder and kind of scary.
One of my more astute youth asked, "do you think we'll get some kind of warning? Will a prophet get up and tell us when it is going to happen?"
My response came before I even thought about it: "Don't you think we have been warned?"
I mean, really, how many times have we been told to pray always? to read scriptures? to seek to do good? to have faith? to live well? to find peace? How much inspired direction do we fail to pay attention to, and exactly how bad does it have to get before we do? There are no last minute, secret, magic bullets when it comes to the second coming. Most of it is really pretty forthcoming. The world's gonna get real bad. People are going to make horrible choices and calamity will be commonplace. Rise above this, rely on Christ, and do your best. Doesn't get much simpler than that. There are hundreds of years of direction and prophetic warning, most of which a lot of us are just ignoring. Would we even deserve another warning?
That's been on my mind a lot lately, in a very convoluted way, as I've contemplated natural disasters, preparedness, raising my family, my own place in all of this and my worry about it. . .my own answer to my students question was my answer. "You have been told. Just live it."
Reminds me of that common saying, "" When the time for action comes, the time for preparation has passed ".
(I am in no way saying the second coming is right around the corner- I’m just saying we already have the info we need to do what we should).]]>
A few days ago, my camera died. As many of you know, it was the last straw in a whole load of stressful and expensive straws that had all gotten dumped on the camel in the same week. I was not a happy camper, or camel, depending on what convoluted analogy you’re trying to follow here. And I will admit to being on my knees pleading, begging, desperately seeking my own will to make that camera miraculously turn back on. I can remember receiving a distinct feeling that it wasn’t going to do that, and I went to bed feeling pretty defeated.
I can juggle a lot of things, but some days- well, some days I get overwhelmed. And in a childish panic, I forget that God has never failed to take care of me. I forget that I have always had my needs met by Him, regardless of circumstance, and that I have frequently had my wants met as well. I forget that His timing is perfect, even though I have seen His wise delays and advances on what I think is best bless me infinitely more than I, in my limited perspective, could have imagined. There is a comfort in knowing that you have sufficient for your needs, and strength that can be drawn on when you realize that He has proved Himself to you time and again.
And yet, it is very human to occasionally lose sight of that and worry and panic, even if it is only a day or even an hour. We’re stupid like that.
So I woke up the next morning and flipped on my computer, as usual. It started up while I got kids out the door to school, and then I sat down and opened my e-mail. There was an unexpected paid ad offer for my blog, and suddenly I was a little more prepared to handle some of these challenges. The next day, thirty dollars appeared, again unexpected, with the request that I do about ten minutes of work. Then a door opened up at work that would cover part of a new camera.
Now these weren’t huge amounts, but I didn’t need a million dollars; I just needed enough to fill in the cracks. I’m not suddenly without problems or concerns, and it is still going to take a lot of juggling and efforts to make things work- but now, adding this on top of my own industry and sacrifice, it is possible to make things work. I find myself blessed with ENOUGH.
Enough has long been one of my favorite blessings. Enough energy, enough food in the pantry, enough gas in the car, enough pennies to pay a bill. Enough is all we really ever need. Enough is enough to make us a grateful and contented people.
I love, love, love the story in the Bible about Jesus feeding the five thousand. They needed to eat, and all they had were a few loaves and fishes, hardly enough for a family, let alone five-thousand! I love that because He blessed it, it became ENOUGH.
It is easy to look at this as a simple miracle and dismiss it thinking, “Great, He made lots of food and fed people. Isn’t that nice.” But the real lesson here, the real Awesome Power of God- is that He can make US enough. He can (and will!) increase our capacity to handle trials. He can (and will!) make us more than we are, and He can (and will, every time, gladly, willingly, lovingly!) make all things work together for our good. All we have to do is give Him all we have, even if what we have is the emotional, physical and spiritual equivalent of a fish and a loaf of bread.
That’s the miracle.
I’m so grateful for enough.
Painting by the wonderful Simon Dewey.
This kind of illusion can make people feel bad.
I distinctly remember the first time I dropped by a friend’s home and saw an entire box of Cheerios strewn across the floor. We both had a preschooler and a toddler, and although my house frequently looked like this, I had hidden that reality away in my dark closet of parenting and homemaking shame. Seeing that I was completely and utterly normal was a burden lifted.
I have read a few interesting blog posts, e-mails and articles about how inadequate other people’s blogs and public images made people feel. I can sympathize. There are websites run by amazingly talented women that I took off my reading list because of how lacking I felt when I saw their stunning sewing and knitting projects. I do not knit or sew. Knitting, I simply don’t have enough time or patience to dedicate to. Sewing I consciously gave up in a noble effort to swear less, because nothing can make me cuss like ripping seams.
There were other blogs that featured large, beautiful families. They lived in perfect homes, and had perfect clothes, and got perfectly acknowledged for all of their perfect and seemingly inherent, effortless awesomeness. I am not perfect. I struggle with only three children and I live in military housing, which doesn’t belong in the same sentence as the word perfect. And there aren’t people standing in line to applaud me and throw open the windows of opportunity for just being me. Because I was found wanting in these areas, because I was jealous, I stopped reading.
Now I am well aware that you can take a photo and crop out the clutter. Pictures are usually taken when children and Mommies are all dolled up, and not straight out of bed. I have skills that you don’t have, and you have some that I don’t have. I have never, ever met a perfect family, only people who love each other in spite of a laundry list of imperfections. I have never met a person who didn’t feel pain over some hardship: illness, divorce, unfaithfulness, choices of their family members or struggles with their personal mistakes. I’ve met people who deal with all of this very well, beautifully and inspirationally, even, but no one is spared hard things. We’re all a little stupid and vulnerable. We’re all not perfect.
Isn’t it dumb? On one hand, someone thinks I’ve got it all together and on the other, I feel like a total loser. Why in the world do we as women and mothers choose to compare the worst of ourselves to the very best of others?
It is such a waste to draw these comparisons, and yet we do it all of the time. It is a crisis of perspective that causes depression, dependency, debt and at times, a loss of self, as we try to be more like someone who we aren’t and squander the talents that we do possess.
I love this quote from Patricia Holland.
“Obviously the Lord has created us with different personalities, as well as differing degrees of energy, interest, health, talent, and opportunity. So long as we are committed to righteousness and living a life of faithful devotion, we should celebrate these divine differences, knowing they are a gift from God. We must not feel so frightened, so threatened and insecure; we must not need to find exact replicas of ourselves in order to feel validated as women of worth. There are many things over which we can be divided, but one thing is needful for our unity—the empathy and compassion of the living Son of God.”
We are all blessed with both talents and inadequacies, and they can both make us better people if we know how to use our gifts to bless others and we know where to seek the blessings we need to become better.
I have been trying to teach my children that happiness isn’t found in things, and it isn’t found in fame or any kind of worldly recognition. Popularity doesn’t equate with joy as we see time and time again splashed across tabloids and news shows. There are a lot of very empty, unhappy people who we hold up as standards and try to emulate. We try to fill that emptiness with the popular car, the trendy hair, the designer bag, the auspicious social group. It never does get fixed that way. Some holes can’t be filled with anything found on earth- we have to look higher.
When we look sideways at our friends and neighbors to see who we should be, we will never get the right answer. We need to look heavenward, and receive inspiration and blessings that make us exactly who God created us to be. He created us to be Noble and Great and distinctly, uniquely Ourselves. That is the knowledge that erases the emptiness. If you are His, you cannot be a failure.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure and making people feel good, I am going to leave you a picture of my laundry room. I never quite got around to dealing with this disaster when we moved in, and it has been a dumping ground for all sorts of household rubble. Also, being sick this month has not lent itself to a whole lot of laundry getting done, so I had to stand on a pile of clothes to take this shot. There you go my friends, reality. And I’m still ok, in spite of it.
Stillness is really hard to come by isn’t it? I find myself in bed, unable to sleep from time to time. Although I’m tired, I do appreciate the quiet. I used to lay there, wide awake and worrying, thinking about things I needed to do tomorrow. That stopped for me a little over a year ago. I’m sure you’ve all heard the sleeping advice to “count your blessings instead of sheep.” I do something kind of like that. I think about God and truth and everything I know He wants for me. I tell my testimony of Christ to myself. In the stillness, I remind myself of things I know. I fall asleep so much more grateful and at peace, and when I wake up, I feel empowered.
I couldn’t sleep last night, even though I was exhausted. I started to think along these lines of eternity, and the powerful realities came so quickly into my mind. I am usually blessed with a reasonable understanding as I go about my day, but I think the Lord does His teaching with me when I finally lay down and find stillness. Things become so much more clear; I can make connections and my understanding expands. He uses that time to teach me about me, to help me understand my own worth and the work He would have me do. He uses that time to make sure I know I am loved.
I am so grateful for still, sleepless nights.]]>
One Of Those Posts Where I Ramble On About My Week, And You Need To Take A Nap When You’re Done Reading
While on the computer, I read through about ten new applications from potential designers at work. I am in the middle of my bi-yearly hiring/firing of those positions. I sorted and filed, reviewed a few really promising ones, and filed them away.
I hopped onto the site I run and kicked off a weekend long contest.
I saw an e-mail from Deseret Book hit my inbox that included a 25% off coupon. I have been waiting for a coupon for about two weeks now, so I could order the new 2010 Women’s Conference lectures. I have this weird thing about paying full price there that makes me stalk my inbox for coupons. I ordered my book. Yippee!
I took a break from the computer and spent ten minutes playing with the kids’ fusebeads. I made a fish. Ironed it, glued a magnet on the back and stuck it on my fridge. Go me.
I attended to the needs of the world’s cutest toddler. I did this many times; this is pretty much the coma in the run on sentence that is my day.
Then I got back on the computer, and plowed into work. Update this part of the site, write up that bit for the newsletter, call this company to make arrangements, get addresses together, file new kit info. . .all the while, blissfully considering my day, so empty. Then I thought, “you know, you really should check your calender just in case.” Good thing I did. I had someone about to be at my house in nineteen minutes, and I was a mess!
I flew through my shower, dried my hair, got dressed, put half my face on all before the doorbell rang! WOW!
May I just say that I am giving you this example because the last week has been so busy I have barely touched the blog. This is my apology note/list of excuses/heaven help me slow down list. This excerpt about my morning is me saying, “I have nothing to do!” when really, I am working my tail off! HA!
So- in the past week:
1. I got a new calling at church. I was asked to be the Relief Society Secretary. While not a huge and scary calling, it is pretty time consuming and I am not used to being in leadership positions at church. They like to have me teach classes or feed nursery kids goldfish (the cracker, not the actual fish-clarifying for my international readers). This one caught me way off guard. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and to serve, but feeling a little under-qualified and out of my comfort zone. I had to sit up front in the meeting on Sunday and I suddenly had the worst case of what can only be described as stage fright. You want ME? Up front? Looking TOGETHER and CAPABLE and SPIRITUAL and *thunk*. I have rarely been so scared in front of any crowd, and I was there for all of five minutes and didn’t have to do anything but sit there. Silly me. I am going to be busy. Meetings and visits and prayer- oh my!
2. The Design Team call at the Nook = I read over 80 applications in the past week. I followed roughly 140 links to galleries and resumes.
3. Had to arrange the Virtual Crop. Now, I have awesome people who I delegated most of this to, but there is still the lining up sponsors, the website tweakage and other minor but essential bits.
4. I prepared and taught my Sunday School class-Woman at the Well. I am now preparing next Sunday’s class- Apostles.
5. And don’t get me started on how many times I have nagged people to practice the piano, go to bed, brush your teeth, stop whining, finish dinner, and be kindandstopsmackingyoursiblingfortheloveofcheese! I’m not even going to go there. Oh- and the bedtime stories! And being the Tooth Fairy! And the hair braiding! I said I wasn’t going here!
6. All three kids needed new pants. Gabe needed new just about everything since he grew. I ordered online to make it easy, then ended up at the store returning everything because the sizing at Gymboree is completely messed up. I would hold up three shirts labeled exactly the same only to have three differently sized shirts with an inch or more difference. I think the lady who manages our local shop thinks I’m trying to scam her in some way because I am always exchanging items. It’s them- not me. Gymboree- this has gone on long enough. You suck.
7. I’ve organized menus, cleaned the house pretty much every day, made meals and run errands. You know, basics.
8. I have planned organizational projects for the house and ordered things for them. Tupperware is on sale, so more pantry bins for me! (Once again, I can’t pay full price, so I get to order a few more modular mates every January at 40% off and someday, my pantry will be perfect. When I’m about 60). I ordered a magazine basket for the bathroom (don’t laugh, it’s my only reading time most days)! And I ordered a hamper for my bedroom after having quite the epiphany about the clothes that have been on my bedroom floor for the past decade- a big basket just for clothes! With a lid! What a concept! (Clearly, I’m a little slow). I also saw that I am out of both glue and ink and could really use a few stamps with cute card greetings on them, so I ordered from Stampin’ Up too- because they are having their sale.
So. Much. Shopping. Between the kids, house, food- I swear I spend half my life acquiring things. Sometimes I would like to just stop- and I tell myself I’m done, but then we run out of milk, and the kids outgrow their clothes, I run my nylons, and have the overwhelming desire to make my closets less chaotic- and it’s off to the store again. Is there a 12 step program for this? (Seriously, in case you think I’m an ingrate, I am so thankful to be blessed with the resources to take care of my family and still enjoy simple luxuries like Tupperware and new jeans- I thank God every night for being secure and having enough, because there have been times when we didn’t).
9. I completed no less than nine CHA projects for Lifestyle Crafts (the company formerly known as Quickutz). Lots of cards, a few boxes and only one layout because I wasn’t in the mood. The new dies are FANTASTIC! In about a week- I am going to have lots of blog posts where I get to show off my pretty, pretty things- AND I will be doing a give-a-way that will KNOCK your SOCKS OFF! Big, big prizes! HUGE! ENORMA! MASSALE! STOR! GRANDE!!!! It will all be very exciting!
So that’s it. That’s all I’ve been doing.
Is it any wonder that today seemed like such a respite? I thought January was going to be a slow descent into routine and an opportunity to be complacent in my plans. I was so wrong.
I think I may be a lazy bum for the next few days. Or someone who is still pretty busy, but a lot less manic. That would do.
Maggie, when she was much littler than she is now.
It had been another one of those Sacrament meetings. Juggling two small children as well as their snacks, toys and meltdowns was not conducive to spiritual uplift, and I walked out of the meeting feeling defeated. I was old friends with that feeling since I had five years of Sunday chaos under my belt. My husband was deployed, again, and even though I was determined to attend my meetings, and be where the Lord wanted me to be, there were many weeks where I honestly couldn’t see the point. I had mentally rehearsed principles of obedience, and the merits of establishing righteous routines until I couldn’t stand myself. Sometimes you are just spent.
I gratefully dropped my oldest off at Primary, and led my daughter to the restroom. She was three. She was getting into everything, climbing the walls, and running away from me for the sheer joy of provoking me to a chase. This little trip was no different. We took our usual handicap stall, and tried to be quick.
Almost immediately she wiggled her way between the handicap bars and began to climb. She flipped upside down and hung, precariously wedged between the wall and the linoleum floor. It would be fun, until she lost her balance and landed on her head. Certain that she was going to break her neck, I tried (unsuccessfully) to verbally coax her down. That defeated feeling wasn’t passing.
You don’t expect to receive heavenly insights whilst in the bathroom, but I have learned that God works with us however He can. Mothers of young children don’t have much time to sit still and be pious, and our Father understands that. Raising His children is both holy work and hard work. He knows; He’s still raising us.
In that moment, watching my daughter joyfully dangling an inch away from injury, I was suddenly struck with the magnificence of her little body. She had waited since the world was formed for her chance to experience mortality and gain a body. Upon arrival, she found herself completely helpless, unable to make her limbs coordinate or even hold up her own head. Three years later, she had conquered this mortal shell. Finally, here was the body she had wanted, and she had achieved enough physical mastery to run, jump, climb and yell. This was triumph! This was amazing!
It was perfectly understandable that she would feel an emotion and it would radiate from her head to her toes, unmistakable in its intent, whether she had thrown herself on the ground in a rage or was bouncing with glee. Who wouldn’t run simply because she could? Toddlerhood made sense.
I have occasionally reflected on what it will be like to be given a perfected body in the life after this. When we hear perfect, I think it is most natural to think about never being ill again and having perfect abs, flawless skin and amazing hair. These things are definitely worth looking forward to, and are priceless gifts. But the thing that I am most excited about is having a body that has gained total, perfect mastery of itself. I can’t wait to dance. I want to tap like Gene Kelly, kicking and splashing in the rain. I want to arabesque en pointe, graceful, delicate and beautiful, like a swan in Swan Lake. I don’t know if it will come all at once, or if it is a skill that we will have to learn, but just to have a body that is totally capable and an eternity to enjoy it is astounding. I want a voice that can sing like an angel, eyes that can fully appreciate beauty and tell my hands how to render it just so on a canvas or sculpture. For the arts alone, I would do everything in my power to qualify for immortality.
I think on this at times when my children are climbing the walls and I’m feeling a little crazy from all the commotion. Must they run and yell and jump just to do it? Of course. They are expressing their joy and appreciating the gift a body is by using it. I can appreciate that. Someday, I am certain that I will be the one dancing around in the hereafter, just because I finally can, even if it is silly and shows a distinct lack of heavenly decorum. Would you blame me?