Thursday, September 21, 2017

Solitary trees, grow strong

On Monday, I was yearning to see some fall color to brighten my mood and at some point I had the thought, "Oh, how I wish I could see a picture of the tree that grows in our old church parking lot back home! Maybe I could get someone to send me one..." 

Well a few days later, a friend, totally out of the blue, sent me a picture of the very tree in its orange Fall glory! How did she know? 

I believe that God knows our hearts and can communicate to us and others, through the Holy Spirit, what we need. 

As we listen to that small voice inside each of us, we can meet the needs of others as God would want us to. 

I am so grateful to my friend for listening to and acting on a prompting that touched my heart this week. 

Another thing that happened this week is that our neighborhood developer is putting in these large and lovely street trees.

How I miss the trees that used to surround and protect and beautify my home in Lewisburg!  So seeing trees going in by my new home makes me happy.

I was looking up quotes about trees today, and I read this one:  "Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong," --Winston Churchill.

Sometimes, I feel like a "solitary tree" and the quote definitely made me think of this bright, bold, beautiful tree which grows in the middle of my old chapel's parking lot.  Encased in what appears to be an uninviting bed of blacktop, it still grows strong and vibrant--a beacon for us to enjoy each Fall.

The tree and this quote remind me of what it is to be a Latter-day Saint living in Central Pennsylvania--or anywhere in the world where one feels like "the only one".  If "one" grows at all in that location, he or she certainly grows strong.  That has been my experience, and I am again grateful for it.

Happy Fall, everyone!

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Most Important Work You'll Ever Do

It's been a rough week, the kind that involves absolutely no sleep because of pregnancy-related discomforts, but all's well that ends well, and this week ended well.

Let me share with you one sweet moment that occurred Saturday afternoon.

You know I love any opportunity to share the gospel with a friend, and this one popped up in quite the unexpected way.

I was walking around the home store called Kirkland's, and passed by a sign that at quick glance seemed to have a very familiar phrase on it.

Sure enough, as I passed by again I read the words, "The most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home."  I took a closer look to be sure and yes it was attributed to Harold B. Lee, a former President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now, this just isn't the kind of thing I see every day while shopping, and I thought I'd really like to have that in my house, but I wasn't sure the sign itself was our style (because of the shabby-chic look.)  My husband was apt to pass it by, but I decided in the end to get it.

So he left the store and I proceeded with my son to the checkout, and wouldn't you know, my daughter's good friend's mother was working the register.

I said, "I didn't know you worked here!"  Reading the quote on the sign, she remarked, "This is the PERFECT quote for you!"  I smiled, pleased that someone in my new town knows at least that much about me!

I was tempted to leave it at "Yes, thank you, I love it!" but I took the opportunity to tell her, "And you know what?  This quote is actually from one of the leaders of our church!  I was so surprised to see it in here and just had to get it."  She was intrigued and thought it was a neat coincidence as well and asked some follow-up questions:  "Is he a leader of your church now?  Have you met him?  Or is he from the past?"

It was just a quick interaction, but a completely natural one, and I was so happy to be able to introduce her a little more to what we believe.

This is probably one of my favorite side-effects of missionary work, the certain knowledge that God is aware of each of us and able to orchestrate and conduct this work.

Have a great Sabbath day!

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Recapturing testimony day by day

Faith and testimony is built day by day.  What are you doing each day to make sure your testimony stays vibrant?  I have been asking myself that a lot lately.

"...once obtained, a testimony needs to be kept vital and alive through continued obedience to the commandments of God and through daily prayer and scripture study."

Hopefully, you all picked up on this quote from President Monson, which I included in my previous post.  It applies to all of us.

Another one I love, from President Lee this time, is as follows (and I take this from the Harold B Lee Manual:

What can we do to strengthen our testimonies?

[The Master said to Peter,] “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31–32). Now, mind you, He is saying that to the chiefest of the Twelve. I am praying for you; now go out and get converted, and when you get converted, then go strengthen your brother. It means [we can become] unconverted just as well as we can become converted."
(And here comes the quote that I really like...) 
"Testimony is as elusive as a moonbeam; it’s as fragile as an orchid; you have to recapture it every morning of your life. You have to hold on by study, and by faith, and by prayer. If you allow yourself to be angry, if you allow yourself to get into the wrong kind of company, you listen to the wrong kind of stories, you are studying the wrong kind of subjects, you are engaging in sinful practices, there is nothing that will be more deadening as to take away the Spirit of the Lord from you until it will be as though you had walked from a lighted room when you go out of this building, as though you had gone out into a darkness.17
That which you possess today in testimony will not be yours tomorrow unless you do something about it. Your testimony is either going to increase or it is going to diminish, depending on you. Will you remember your responsibility, then? The Lord said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).18
These are just some thoughts I have swirling around in my head today...the importance of always building and not becoming complacent about our testimonies.

I've been taking actions lately, small, baby steps, actually, to be a better builder of my own testimony.

One thing I started doing this week is taking about 10 minutes a day to index in the morning.  I figure it is just one more positive thing I can be doing with my limited time to turn my thoughts to good things, to build my testimony, and to bring more of the spirit into my day.

Since I was trying to find the easiest, quickest indexing projects, I ended up indexing records (muster rolls) of people who served in the American Revolutionary War, which I found really exciting.  Normally, in the past the people I have indexed were really strangers to me, but it seemed different somehow to connect with people who served such an important roll in our country's history.

Anyway, just another idea of ways we can all take an active roll in building our testimonies.  Have a great week!

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Friday, September 1, 2017

The Power of Reading the Book of Mormon Daily

Well, it's September already!  And General Conference is just four short weeks away!  It's one of those years when the Saturday session falls in September, so it's sneaking right up on us!

With President Monson's brief remarks ringing in my ears, we've been working hard as a family to get back on track with family scripture study this summer.  With our move and my husband not being around quite as much as we are used to, it was hard to get back on a good schedule. 

I didn't want to be hit or miss on scripture study anymore, so we decided to set a goal of reading the scriptures together every day without missing for the entire school year...starting September 1st (although we don't go back to school until Sept 5th!)

Here is the scripture reading chart that we made, ready to be filled right up with little stickers each day that we read together.

We made the chart on a large poster board so we wouldn't be tempted to forget the most important part of our day!

Do you remember the promises that President Monson made to us during his talk last General Conference?

Let's refresh:

Speaking of The Power of the Book of Mormon, President Monson said, "It is essential for you to have your own testimony in these difficult times, for the testimonies of others will carry you only so far. However, once obtained, a testimony needs to be kept vital and alive through continued obedience to the commandments of God and through daily prayer and scripture study.

"My dear associates in the work of the Lord, I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. As we do so, we will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit, to resist temptation, to overcome doubt and fear, and to receive heaven’s help in our lives. I so testify with all my heart in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Who of us doesn't need these promised blessings?:
When we study and ponder the scriputures daily, we in a position to:
1. hear the voice of the Spirit
2. resist temptation
3. overcome doubt and fear
4. receive heaven's help in our lives.
We've got 28 days to prove the Prophet by trying out his words.  Are there other principles taught last General Conference that you'd like to employ in your life?  I'd love to hear about it!
Continue reading... »

Sunday, August 27, 2017

We Each Belong to and Are Needed in the Family of God

Do you ever find that teaching youth is unpredictable?  For a variety of reasons, I do.  Also, I always go into lesson preparation thinking I am going to teach them something, and most often come away being taught a lesson myself that I didn't know I was due to learn.  Today was no exception.

I have in the past also experienced, especially in Young Women, that lesson time is often sacrificed for announcements and singing of special hymns and get-to-know yous and birthday spotlights.  Today, my first time teaching as the new Beehive Advisor in our ward, was also no exception.

I have to note that the "special hymn" they are learning is "I Walk By Faith," which was a song that I learned as a youth. (How many of you are familiar with this song??)

This made me chuckle, because I know the song so well that I was probably the only one who didn't need a song sheet.  It made me cry too as the words rang true for me, especially lines like, "And some day when God has proven me, I'll see Him face to face, but just for here and now I walk by faith."  

How many times over the last 25 years have I had to walk by faith (especially in my 20's as I made so many important choices for my life!)?  The Lord has certainly proven me, beyond what I could have ever anticipated when I originally sang this song. 

And I know He is proving me still.  Although I haven't literally seen him face-to-face, I have certainly come to know him better through my own personal tests, and trials.  Thinking back on these hard moments, knowing that the Savior walked with me through them, made my eyes water even more. I also cried (and laughed) because those high notes are no easier to reach now than they were back when I sang it as a youth, in case you were wondering!

About the Lesson:

For the lesson, which I taught to the Beehives, we focused on The Family Proclamation

There was a lot to cover given that I was told they hadn't had all of the lessons for this month for some reason, also our time together seemed so short.

On the spot, I felt it was important to focus on these few things: 

1) The family is very important to God's eternal plan.

2) Learning & living according to the doctrine taught in the family proclamation can answer our questions and help us form a happier and eternal family.

3) No family is perfect, but we are all part of the family of God.  

4) It is our duty as daughters of God to reach out to and love ALL people regardless of their family circumstances or beliefs.  It is also our duty to learn from and support one another and empathize with others and their struggles and experiences.  We can and should do this while standing by the doctrine of family.

To help us think about this more, we read this quote from Sister Carole M. Stephens, "The Family Is of God.":

She says, "Elder Richard G. Scott explained that “we were taught in the premortal world that our purpose in coming here is to be tested, tried, and stretched.”5 That stretching comes in as many forms as there are individuals experiencing it. I’ve never had to live through divorce, the pain and insecurity that comes from abandonment, or the responsibility associated with being a single mother. I haven’t experienced the death of a child, infertility, or same-gender attraction. I haven’t had to endure abuse, chronic illness, or addiction. These have not been my stretching opportunities.
"So right now some of you are thinking, “Well then, Sister Stephens, you just don’t understand!” And I answer that you may be right. I don’t completely understand your challenges. But through my personal tests and trials—the ones that have brought me to my knees—I have become well acquainted with the One who does understand, He who was “acquainted with grief,”6 who experienced all and understands all. And in addition, I have experienced all of the mortal tests that I just mentioned through the lens of a daughter, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.
"Our opportunity as covenant-keeping daughters of God is not just to learn from our own challenges; it is to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles, as we have covenanted to do.
"When we do so, we also come to understand and trust that the Savior knows the difficulties of the way and can guide us through whatever sorrows and disappointments may come. He is true charity, and His love “endureth forever”7—in part through us as we follow Him.
As daughters of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, we then “act according to those sympathies which God has planted” in our hearts.8 Our sphere of influence isn’t limited to our own family members."
After discussing the first few ideas, we briefly played the Family Proclamation Trivial Pursuit Game (which you can find here).  It's something that I made up years ago, but I didn't even think about it until a blog reader asked me a question about it last night (so thank you, friend!)
Although, we really ran out of time to really play it, it was a good way to get the girls reading, talking about, and sharing with each other about the Family Proclamation, the ideas contained therein, and about their own families.  I think we'll probably play it again for an activity some time in the future.  
I reiterated again at the end of the lesson how important it is for us to love and include people of all different circumstances, family make-up, and background (in and outside of the church) and to go out of our way to help others feel loved, because everyone around us belongs to the family of God.  And how important it is for us all to know and understand and gain a testimony of the Family Proclamation, so we can use it to guide our decisions in life and teach it to others.

So that was it, not too eventful, but I just found it interesting that I was guided to teach showing love for others regardless of their family structure as the biggest point in the brief time that we had.  I think, from the looks on some of the girls faces, this message was comforting for some of them too.

More Thoughts on Inclusion

Speaking of inclusion in church, I haven't recently thought too much in depth about this or considered the plight of someone who might feel like they are on the outside.  If someone is on the fringe, I try to put my arm around them and pull them in, but I'm not sure I've always validated their particular concerns. Perhaps because it feels like someone always has a reason to feel left out.  However, I had a few experiences today that has called my attention to this.

I have always felt like I belonged in church.  In The true Church.  I am not one who has ever questioned whether or not I belonged socially or culturally or doctrinally in the church, but I know people do.

Today, as I was introducing myself to the girls, I asked them to guess where I was from.  Their guess: Utah.  Nope, I said, I'm from Ohio.  I grew up just two hours from here.

Next, I asked them to guess where I went to college.  BYU, they answered.  Nope, I went to a school in Ohio called Miami University (which is also where Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers QB went...we now live in Pittsburgh).  

Then I showed them a picture of the temple I was married in.  Any guesses as to which temple it was?  They guessed the Salt Lake Temple.  It's the Washington, DC temple.

I don't fault them (mainly because I think most of their families are transplants from Utah), but it definitely took me by surprise that the girls could only fathom that I'd be from Utah...Utah all the way, no other guesses.

I am from Ohio.  I have lived in Pennsylvania for 12 years of my married life and all of my children were born here (they also found this shocking).  I consider myself from the East.  My temple has almost always been the DC Temple.  My career was mainly entered on the East Coast, and as I said before, I was educated here.

I started to seriously wonder why their only answers were Utah.  I started to feel very outside...outside of this group of girls anyway.  And I've never really felt that way before.

Later, I had an interaction online which spun wildly away from the main point of the discussion.  This person's point (in my perception) was that there is a homogeneous way to talk about a certain topic in the gospel and that it is basically the same the world over.  When I tried to explain that in my personal experience, I talk about it differently and my fellow ward members might speak differently/use different words and that was ok.  In our discussion, I felt totally dismissed.  I was probably wrong.  He was maybe technically correct.  Probably the whole Mormon world says it one way and only I say it so weirdly different.  But even so, I felt even more on the outside in a discussion of a point that was totally not important.

And being made to feel like an outsider for the second time in one day, it's just not what my fragile little, overly-emotional, pregnant heart needed today.

So, maybe this vague story means nothing to anyone reading this, and I know that other people have much more serious factors causing them to feel like they are on the outside looking in, but it made me think more seriously about trying to use my words to include people at church.  

For whatever reason, there are certainly many people who don't feel like they belong, don't feel like they are in the club, don't feel like their life matches the shiny, happy, outer coating that we might perceive is on display each week.  And while I want to think I have always tried to include others, these silly examples make me think I can do better, go even more out of my way to show that I love and accept others just as they are.  (I could probably also practice this more with my own children~)

This is certainly a strength I have witnessed in and admire about others in the church.

I'm hoping I can work harder starting now to make sure everyone feels like they least when they are around me.

Continue reading... »

Friday, August 25, 2017

New Relief Society Curriculum Announced for 2018

I'm not even sure I can put into words how excited I am tonight to read about the Church's announcement of a switch of the Relief Society and Priesthood curriculum to studying General Conference messages in the "Come Follow Me" or "Teaching in the Savior's Way" style.

I don't get overly hyper about too many things, but THIS. MAKES. ME. SO. HAPPY.

If you'll remember, about six years ago, in the spring of 2011, my ward friends and I started a weekly, in-person General Conference Book Club.  (I blogged about our club here and here and often on my blog in general.  Thanks to my blog friend Stephanie whose online conference club inspired me all those years ago!)

This was the start of a beautiful thing: learning from the words of our current prophets, sharing testimonies with my friends/sisters, and coming away feeling strengthened and supported in my resolve to live the gospel.

We did this basically every week for six years.  Six years.

It was a game-changer for me.  

In the eternities, I will look back at this time and say, "These are the years I grew the most."  I grew most in my testimony of living prophets and the truth of their teachings.  I grew the most in my ability to honestly assess myself and how closely I was trying to follow their admonishments.  I grew in my ability to understand the perspectives of other women around me, to empathize and have compassion for their unique situations.

Beyond anything, through trying to put their teachings into practice, I grew to love the Savior and his servants here on the earth today.

This weekly gospel study was one of the biggest things I missed when we moved to Cranberry about 8 months ago.  I missed this spiritual boost and bond that I had with these women...a bond over the teachings of the modern-day prophets.

That's why when my new ward bishopric asked me to serve as the Teachings for Our Time teacher in Relief Society, I recognized it as a tender mercy.  The Lord was allowing me to still have a small piece of that General Conference Book Club experience with my new ward sisters.  This is also why I briefly lamented recently when I was released from this short-lived calling (and called into the YW), but I am now super excited for all of the men and women of the church the world over to move into this new chapter of gospel learning.  

It is truly inspired and WILL change lives.  It is what we need right now.  It will empower all of us.

You can read the full announcement at the church website, but here are a few highlights:

The new course of study includes:

  • Learning from general conference messages.
  • Studying special topics selected every six months by general leaders of the Church.
  • Counseling together as priesthood quorums and groups and Relief Societies.
The new materials for adults, which replace the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series used from 1998 to 2017, do not affect Sunday School classes.

Hopefully you guys are all looking forward to the change as well!

You know, it's funny, but as my time in Lewisburg was winding down, I kept questioning whether I should or needed to keep up the club.  I kept feeling like maybe the club had run its course and served its purpose.  Now I know why I was feeling that way...because for me, it did.  And the Lord knew what was coming in the future for his church. I love how the spirit can direct us as to what is coming next.  Sadly, I won't be in Relief Society to see how this plays out, as I will be in Young Women teaching the Beehives, but I'll rely on my friendly blog readers to keep me posted!

Continue reading... »

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Fun

Normally, I relish all the time I have with my children and take advantage of every moment we can make a memory together when they are not in school, but since I am pregnant with baby #6, adjusting to a new town, and barely keeping up with my other five children, the event of the summer --the total solar eclipse--which some have called amazing, spectacular, awe-inspiring, and nature's once-in-a-lifetime show, only got a quick passing glance from us.

No, we didn't get special glasses to watch the eclipse.  I just barely managed to cut up cereal boxes to make eclipse viewers that morning.  And honestly, it was cloudy over us the whole time until right at the peak when the clouds broke a little bit and we got to see about five minutes of a moon-shaped shadow in our eclipse cereal box viewfinders.

Later that evening, I couldn't sleep.  I was thinking about our family's life together which looks nothing like it did a year ago and, I was thinking about the eclipse and feeling like a loser, because we had this "once in a lifetime" moment that we played really low-key.  Judging from the social media posts of friends, who traveled across country in some cases, to be in the direct line of the total eclipse, our experience might have left something to be desired.  Had I missed an opportunity here?  

I was slightly relieved earlier in the day to hear that there will be another total solar eclipse in less than seven years from now, and that our area will be in the path of the eclipse this time!  I was excited to hear this, because it meant that maybe we'd get a second chance to do this next eclipse up right!  Then I realized that seven years from now my three oldest children will be a senior, junior, and freshman in high school respectively. My two younger kids will be ages 10 and 8.  Would they even have an interest in sharing such an event with me at that point?  I felt like my family's little life together was flashing before my eyes, and I didn't like it, not at that pace, anyway!

Suddenly, I wasn't looking forward to the next eclipse of the sun at all, because it meant their childhood, and our time together, would be over!  Bummed all over again, my middle-of-the-night pregnancy thought process was getting me really depressed and distressed.

I thought about it more.  I thought about those pesky eclipse glasses that I failed to get, and how one could only really see the eclipse as the "once in a lifetime event" that it was if one was looking through the right lens.  

And then I realized: I don't have to wait 7 years for a special event, I have once in a lifetime events happening in my life every single day...if only I can learn to view these events through the proper lens: a lens of faith, a lens of eternity, a lens of being completely present in the now.

I immediately tried using that "lens,", starting with my 4-year old daughter climbing into bed with me the next morning.  Although, her wake-up calls usually come too early for my liking, I tried to relish it, and recognize it for the prize that it is.  You never know when a moment like that will occur for the last time.--or the first and the last time.  I tried to remember that through my fatigue when my other daughter came in after having a bad dream in the middle of the night.  I tried to appreciate and watch the next day as my toddler-aged son tried on everyone's shoes and scattered them to the four corners of the house--which is his favorite thing to do right now.  I tried to just slow down and enjoy these moments as the "once in a lifetime events" that they truly are for me.

So many times, the day-to-day happenings of Motherhood can become so happenstance.  They can seem so monotonous that we might mistake them for commonplace, when really they are our own personal once-in-a-lifetime moments.  And if we aren't looking, or aren't seeing them through an eternal lens, we might miss them entirely.

Now that I've got my eternal perspective, Motherhood lenses on again, I'm hoping to soak up as many of these moments with my children as I can in the coming weeks, months, and years, and to stop letting my pregnant state be a total eclipse of the fun that we have left together!

Continue reading... »

Monday, June 12, 2017

On Contentment

I realize my last few posts might have sounded mildly depressing, and I apologize for that.  Just being real.

But I'm happy to report that things are improving.  

We've finally moved into our new house, which is just lovely, so light-filled and roomy.  

We've been in our house for two weeks now, and are nowhere near unpacked or settled.  
And that's ok.  

For various reasons, it is going to take some extra time to really start to unpack and get settled.  Right now, as I focus on getting rugs and mirrors bought, and TP-holders and trash cans strategically in place, I'm also thinking about how to re-organize the inner-lives that we boxed up and carted around with us these last six months.  Our personal and family life.

It seems that just like our material possessions, our spiritual, mental, and emotional possessions have been shaken up, jumbled around, and some are seemingly, as of yet, unaccounted for.  I miss my fairly well-ordered spiritual/family life, that was built layer by layer, and year by year. 

I realize, that not only might this take time to rebuild, but as I "unpack" these things, I see that they aren't all coming out of the box looking the same way I put them in there.  And it's time to step back and look at that and see what needs keeping, what needs improving and changing, what has simply expired over time, and what should really be tossed out.

Figuring that out, as I said, will take time, and I'm trying to be patient with myself and seeking the Lord's help with those monumental tasks which I feel fall into my stewardship as a Mother.

That's probably something I'll revisit in a future post, when I start to feel more figured-out.  But I will talk about one thing that's been on my mind this week, and that is the idea of feeling content.

A good blog-friend of mine moved from the city out to the country probably six months before we moved.  She said her reason for moving her family was because things were feeling too normal/predictable and she felt her family needed a change in order to grow.  She also mentioned wanting a different way of life, a slower-paced schedule, and room to roam as a family.

I thought about her thoughts.  WE didn't move because we wanted to.  I felt perfectly content to stay in Lewisburg, PA for a long time...maybe forever.  I guess I'm not as much of a thrill-seeker as I used to be. I liked our dependable way of life.  I liked my hard-earned friends.  I'm sure I needed to grow, but I needed a little shove to get me moving in the new direction that the Lord wanted for me.

Along these lines, I had recently listened to quite a few friends of mine talk about how uncontent they had become with their lives, and it made me wonder "what was it about our lives for the last 10 years in Lewisburg that made us feel so content, personally and as a family??"  And "how do I replicate those things in my new home and new city?"

Now don't get me wrong, there were many challenges to overcome, many very hard things and lessons to learn during that time.  Yet, there were many more things that allowed us to feel basic, every day, dependable contentment and joy.

In my friend's vlog that I watched recently, she talked about how when she is discontent, she writes down the question "Why am I not enjoying my life right now?" and she makes a list and then makes changes to those items listed.  I took her suggestion and turned it around to suit my situation.  I really wanted to ponder what it was that allowed us to be so happy and content for so long.  I decided to make a list, because I am so serious about wanting to build those things into my life again, if possible, in my new circumstances.

So, here's my list of things that made us feel content about life during the last decade (I'm sure it's incomplete...but it's what I came up with.)

1.  Country Life:  This was something that took some getting used to at first, but which I grew to love.  Having lived in Washington, DC previously and working downtown in an urban atmosphere, I over time grew to appreciate having basically nowhere to shop (except Walmart).  I wasn't focused on consuming things or spending inordinate amounts of time spending money (outside of the basics of feeding, clothing, and teaching my family!)  There also wasn't much in the way of traffic which comes along with industry and shopping and a large population.  I enjoyed more free time and less stress because I almost never sat in traffic for ten whole years!  We were surrounded by the beauty of nature, and enjoyed local fruit in season.  We associated with good/giving, humble people who lived close to the earth, lots of farmers, and people who serve, serve, serve others.  There were less rules and regulations and in my estimation more freedom.  As a result of this, our family life was abundant.  We had more time to do what we wanted.

2.  As a family we didn't play sports:  Oh there were a few instances where we enrolled all three of the oldest in gymnastics, because they could take the class at the same time, and once Guy played Upwards basketball.  That was a conscious choice and sacrifice that we made so that we could prioritize family time together.  I often questioned that choice and sometimes felt guilty that they weren't "in a sport" like most of my friends' children were, however when I look back at the many happy memories we made outside playing together or inside baking or creating together, I think this contributed greatly to our contentment during the first decade of our life with kids.

3.  We worked hard to keep the Sabbath Day:  Early on, with kids, we felt we needed to take a closer look at what it means for us to keep the Sabbath Day Holy.  We had a testimony-building experience that helped us really come in to our own on this gospel principle, and although it has never really been easy to keep the Sabbath day holy over the years, we've reaped great rewards.  Now that we are in a different environment, and we're seeing how different people interpret and live out this commandment, this choice and it's affect on our family has become more poignant to me, and I want to continue to live it our way. I realized just how significant this decision has been for us recently when I was reminded of the scripture that says that those who keep the Sabbath Day will enjoy the fullness of the earth.  We certainly did enjoy that.  True principle!

4.  We faithfully made time for personal and family scripture study and prayer, weekly family home evening, and temple service, and daily family breakfast and dinners.  We also made General Conference teachings and watching a big part of our home. Those teachings greatly affected our happiness and increased our wisdom:  This is something we've worked hard to do from the time the children were babies.  It's something we've grown in doing, gotten better at, but still is a lot of hard work to accomplish.  Although, we've varied in our success, I can look back and clearly see what a major impact it has had on the contentment we have felt about our lives, no matter what trial we were experiencing at the time.  They felt smaller than they would have, and we probably handled them better.

5.  Last, but not least on my list, my husband had a good job that he enjoyed, and which allowed him to be around a lot as opposed to traveling or long hours at the office.  I had creative outlets I enjoyed and friends who took great care of us, and especially my needs as a stay-home Mom.  And for all of these things we thank our Heavenly Father and recognize his grace and great blessings in our lives.

It felt good to take a moment to recognize the reasons for our contentment in the now previous chapter of our lives together.  I was pleased to find that the true source of our contentment was not financial security, easiness of the way, or happenstance.  It was more a consequence of hard decisions made and stuck to, decisions that can be made by anyone, anywhere.   

Now the challenge begins as we try to figure out how to re-gain and re-organize our family life, to re-institute family traditions that have proven positive results for us.

Yes, I will sit in traffic (regretfully so), oh ten times more than I ever did before.  Yes, I will always miss certain kinds of people who I honestly believe you can only find in an agricultural community.  Yes, as our children grow, they will probably start playing more sports.  But of the things that matter most, I still have a choice and say in.  Here's to making the right choices moving forward.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Moving On

Exactly five months ago, I walked into this apartment after driving in a car for four hours with my heartbroken kids and a baby who had thrown up twice earlier in the day and a four-year old who threw up five times over the course of the four-hour car ride.  The apartment was so littered with boxes that I couldn't sit down at our small kitchen table to eat.  And little did I realize it at that moment, but I too was getting sick.  In fact, that day, the day before Christmas Eve, we were all coming down with the stomach flu, but all I cared about in that moment was that there were no sheets on any of the beds, and I had no idea where any sheets were.  We were sick, hungry, tired, lonely, sad, and emotionally exhausted.  And it was Christmas.  And I already missed my friends.

So, after about two minutes of assessing my current situation, I turned right around and walked out of the apartment, got back into my car and drove to the store to buy sheets, and some kind of food that sick people can stomach.

I had my daughter with me, so I kicked into "fake it till ya make it mode."  While at the store, feeling very delirious from the events of the day and the previous six months really, I decided to act like this was the funnest night ever.  Scarlett, my 9-year old daughter, watched as I talked happily to every worker at the stores we went to.  It was 10:30pm or so the night before Christmas Eve.  Other people seemed in a pretty good mood and ready to talk too.

At Bed, Bath & Beyond, I announced to the first worker we saw, "We just moved here 10 minutes ago, and we're crammed in a little apartment, and we need sheets, so my sick kids and I can sleep tonight."

This lady was so kind and greeted us with the sweetest and kindest smile ever, and said, "Welcome to Cranberry!!" as she proceeded to show us to some sheets that might work for us.  When we got to the register, the worker there applied a steep discount to our entire order for having recently moved.

Our next stop was Target, where I kept running in to the same lady in the food section.  She said, "Well, I guess I might as well say Hi."  I said, "Hi, we're new in town. We just moved here tonight, and we need friends." This kind lady said, "I'll be your friend!" as she proceeded to "friend me" on Facebook, invited us to the movies with her son the next day, and even met me for pie one night soon after at like 11pm, when I said (on Facebook) that I was missing my friends.

Another woman in our apartment complex, who is a super-trooper in my book, went out of her way to befriend me.  Last week, when I told her that our signing date for our new house got pushed back and we had nothing to eat (because I'd packed our apartment up in anticipation of the move) didn't say a word, but simply sent her daughter over with bags and bags of food for us to make a respectable dinner that evening and beyond.

The last little while here has been especially hard as we have had our closing date on our house pushed back.  So much stress coming at us from many angles.  

I met some friends at a local park, some ladies who will also be some of my new neighbors at the new house. I met one woman for the first time and I was expressing to her how hard and daunting something seemed to me right now.  She looked right at me and said, "The fact that you have five children tells me that YOU CAN DO THIS."  It was as simple as that.  But it was what I needed to hear.  And after our play date, I promptly got into my car and bawled my eyes out! Grateful and overwhelmed at the same time.

Then last week, I was at the grocery store, waiting in line at the check-out, and who did I see, but Jackie, the worker from Bed, Bath, & Beyond, who we always call "our first friend in Cranberry." She remembered us, and asked how we were doing.  I thanked her profusely for just being a kind face and welcoming a stranger that night.  It meant a lot to us.

Five months have passed, and many, many people, women in particular, have showed us such love and kindness.  People in person, people online, old friends sending me messages of love. It has been truly humbling and has taught me a lot.

Perhaps, I have failed in that five months later I still hate this apartment.  Should I have learned to love it?  I don't know.  I certainly tried to like it, and I don't think I've been ungrateful for it.  I just will be so happy when we can close this extremely difficult chapter in our lives.  Maybe in hindsight, and from a distance, I will learn to appreciate it more that I do while in the thick of everything.

If there's anything I've learned most poignantly, it's the power of friendship, of kindness to strangers, of enduring and being willing to admit when things are really hard. I've also realized how easy it is to be generous with our time and our hugs, and especially with our words.  It costs nothing, but tends to mean everything to the receiver.

I guess if I can be a more kind and generous person because of this experience, then it will have been absolutely worth it.

Onward and upward!  We hope to close on our new house tomorrow!

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Making the Sacrament Count

I enjoyed teaching Relief Society in my new ward yesterday. I am the new TFOT teacher, and the lesson was about Elder Peter F. Meurs' October 2016 General Conference talk "The Sacrament Can Help Us Become Holy".

To start off the lesson, I had written "Easter Every Sunday" on the board. (Which is a concept I learned from my Seminary teacher who shared some of her ideas about that right here.)

To begin the lesson, we talked about what special preparations we each made for Easter Sunday (last week).  Answers such as: we made special food, wore our best/new clothes, talked about the spiritual significance of the weekend, and made sure we were at church on time, were given. I asked if Easter were every Sunday would the world go out of its way to do these things or would it become old hat?  

I then suggested that we do celebrate Easter every Sunday when we take the Sacrament. Has the Sacrament become routine and old hat?  There are, compared to Easter celebrations, relatively small/inward spiritual preparations that we should be making each week, but are we doing those things?  Or have we become relaxed and complacent about the Sacrament because it happens every week and not once a year?

I asked the class to think about what they love about partaking of the sacrament. We listed their answers on the board, which included: feeling new, opportunity to repent, to think about Jesus, and review the past and set goals for the coming week, singing the sacrament hymn, the feeling of coming to Christ and being a part of His fold.

I then asked the class to think of their best time taking the Sacrament, a time when the Sacrament was most spiritually impactful for them personally.  What factors made it so?

I then asked them to think of a time when it wasn't so spiritual or potent for them.  What factors caused this to be the case?

The class easily lead into the first of Elder Meurs five points which was personal preparation for the Sacrament.

We spent time talking about his points as follows.  In order to make partaking of the Sacrament a more powerful experience, Elder Meurs suggests trying the following:

1.  Advance Preparation (pray & repent)

2.  Arrive Early (listen to the prelude music/do not text)

3. Sing and Learn from the Sacrament Hymn

4. Participate in the Prayers

5. Ponder the Emblems

As I was preparing the lesson, I felt prompted to do two things, which we did during the lesson.  I focused on helping them appreciate that Sacrament hymns, which when sung and pondered can teach us powerful doctrine about Christ and put us in the right state of mind to partake of the Sacrament. 

I printed off copies of the Sacrament hymns and asked each sister to take a few minutes to review the hymn and then share doctrine they learned from the song as well as any testimony they might want to share.

The second thing I felt prompted to do was to create a "Sacrament Journal" using the five questions Elder Meurs asks us to consider for the sisters to use for the next month to track their Sacrament experience.  I will share that journal below, if you'd like to use it.

Elder Meurs asks us to consider these questions:

1. What will I do this week to better prepare for the sacrament?
2.  Could I contribute more to the reverence and revelation that can accompany the beginning of Sacrament meeting?
3. What doctrine was taught in the Sacrament hymn?
4. What did I hear and feel as I listened to the Sacrament prayers?
5. What did I think about as the Sacrament was passed?

I presented the women with the option of accepting 1 of 2 challenges in the coming week, which I also wrote on the back of their journals.  They could either keep their Sacrament journals for the next four weeks and either report back or journal about it--or-- they could memorize the firsts verse of one of the Sacrament hymns and then take the Sacrament the next week and journal about their experience.

Sorry this is just a quick synopsis of the lesson, but I wanted to quickly share it with you guys. I will be printing off journals for my kids to use and we will be using this for our family home evening lesson tonight!

Journal Instructions:

1. Print the journal double-sided.
2. The first page is the outer cover.
3. The second page is the inner pages for recording your thoughts.
4. Fold them in half the tall way and nestle one inside the other. Very simple.

I encouraged the women to read the sacrament prayers as they are being said and to fill in the journal each week (not necessarily during sacrament, but after).

This journal activity can be used for an extra YW Faith experience, if desired.

Download below:
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