Tuesday, October 25, 2011

11 years ago...

11 years ago today I was living one of the most perfect days of my life.  Most wedding days have one fiasco or another to overcome, but somehow, for us, the stars aligned, and everything went off without a hitch--except the one we wanted.  The weather was gorgeous and crisp, the decorations at the reception were elegant but modest, everyone was cheerful, no one forgot rings or licenses, the photographer was pleasant and there was much love in the air.  I was amazed.  Our courtship had not been so smooth, and there had been many moments that I felt panicked that I was about to make an eternal commitment to a being separate from myself, over whom I had no control, in whom I would put implicit trust with no guarantee of the consequences besides his word that he would take the same chance on me.  But here, at the end and beginning of it all, everything felt right, and the world was at peace.

And here we are, 11 years, 4 kids, and 9 homes later, still working on being better people and better partners, and very much still in love.  Today I celebrate not only my marriage, but the institution itself.  In a world where the very concept of marriage is becoming passĂ©, I still believe in it, and the kind of love and loyalty that lasts forever.  Is it easy?  No.  Is it possible?  YES!  Is it worth all the hard work, and tough times, and the sacrificing, and apologizing, and forgiving, and the patience, and the believing in each other?  A thousand times, yes.

Happy anniversary to my best friend.  Long live marriage!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Are Mormons Christian?

There has been a lot of chatter in the news lately about whether Mormons are Christian or not.  With two Mormons vying for the Republican presidential nomination, and some speculative comments from their opponents, the media has been peppered with opinions about whether or not these alternative-scripture-toting religionists really deserve the coveted title of "Christians."  A simple definition of a "Christian" would obviously be a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ and adheres to his teachings.  As evidenced by the many different Christian denominations existing today, there are many different opinions about what Christ and his apostles meant when they taught the gospel in what has become canonized scripture, specifically the Holy Bible.  Yet all these churches are still considered "Christian."  I don't see the logic in singling out one religion and saying because they have a specific interpretation of Christ's teachings that is in some ways unique from all others that they are not "Christian."  Mormons, or Latter-day Saints, believe in the Bible, they believe that Christ is the only way by which man can be saved, that he is the center of the gospel, and he is the center of their worship.  Sunday meetings are focused on the study of his life and his teachings, and during the week, members of the church strive to live according to those teachings.  It really baffles me that anyone could say Mormons are not Christian based on scruples over scriptural interpretation.

I am a Mormon, and I have a very personal relationship with my savior, Jesus Christ.  I know he is the only man who ever lived a perfect life, and that through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he opened the door for me and any who will follow him to return to the presence of God.  I love to study his life, and I love to read the teachings of his apostles.  For the past year, I have been making a careful study of the New Testament.  I have read it many times before.  I know that book is scripture, and I love it.  I feel like I understand what God expects of me, that I know what the purpose of life is, and what we are to do to be saved.  I have many friends of other Christian faiths, who practice different traditions and have a different understanding of the gospel, but I would never dream of saying they are not Christian.  It hurts me when I hear someone say that I am not, that I don't know Jesus.

Let me make a comparison to help illustrate: say I have a friend named John.  I know John is an athletic type, and I was thinking he might really enjoy going to a baseball game, so I plan to invite him to a game I've got a few tickets for.  You, on the other hand, have heard John say in some passing conversation that baseball bores him to tears, so you know he would probably not enjoy going to the game.  We're both friends with John, but have gotten to know him in different situations, and have had different conversations with him.  Would you or I ever accuse the other of not really being John's friend, just because we have different ideas about his personality?  Or would one of us say that the John you are friends with is a different John?  One of us may be wrong about John's personality, but maybe we are both right.  Maybe John doesn't like baseball, but he may still enjoy going to a game to enjoy the company.  If we really wanted to know the truth about John, it would be rather ineffective to argue about which of us knows him better, or is actually his friend.  What we ought to do is simply go ask him to settle the dispute and stop worrying about what we think we know.  It's not a perfect comparison, of course, but it touches on what I feel when people say that I and all the members of my church are not Christian.  They are saying that this man whom I love and worship and depend upon for my salvation is no friend of mine, that I don't know him, that I don't serve him.  If studying the teachings of Christ and striving to live them to the best of our understanding is not being Christian, then I don't know what is.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Standing in One Place

A few weeks ago, I attended a small carnival with my three older kids. They all wanted to go on different rides, and not wanting to disappoint anyone, I told them they could, so long as they would each come back and report to me when they were done and let me know where they were going next. I told them exactly where they would find me and let each go off to enjoy themselves. Since there were only a few options, I could stand in one place and keep everyone within view. However, I soon realized that I had picked a rather uncomfortable spot to stand and wait in because it was right in the hot sun. I looked around and saw a much better shady place not far away. It was not as central, but it would have been much more comfortable. As I considered moving there to wait for my kids, I worried that even that small of a shift in a crowd such as that might cause some confusion, and my kids might experience some anxiety if they did not find me right where I had said I would be. So I stayed, and I waited. In time, each child came and reported back, and I thought about telling them I was going to move, but I never had them all there at the same time, and I didn't want to risk any confusion, so I continued to stand in the sun, until we were all worn out and ready to go home for lunch.

This little experience made me think about how important it is that we stand in one place morally as well. Our kids rely on us for a sense of stability. If we are constantly shifting where we stand, it can cause confusion. They may end up feeling lost, or uncertain where to find us. They need us to be constant so they can learn to be constant, too. Of course, this means we need to be wise in establishing where we stand in the first place, but once we have decided on the best place to stand, we need to be steady, even if it may be uncomfortable.

Monday, September 12, 2011

That Funny Thing Called Fame

I unexpectedly found myself attending a concert last week given by a talented performer. Her prowess was exquisite, her repertoire ranging from musical theater to jazz to folk and back again to rock, and I thoroughly enjoyed every number. After the concert, a line quickly formed to meet and have autographs of this famous, talented singer. I debated whether I should take the time. While I was truly captivated by her performance, I did have a tired husband at home, and sleeping babies I felt the call of duty to be near. But this was my one chance to meet this star. Maybe I might even be able to say something to impress her. My husband is, after all, a pseudo-star himself. I happened to be wearing my Chinese blouse, which is not a particularly common wardrobe piece. What if she complimented it? That would give me the chance to say, "Why, thank you! I actually got this while I was in China with my husband. He was there performing with the National Tour of Les Miserablés." It would be a perfect segue into the fact that I am special too, at least by association.

Yes, I am embarrassed to admit, that was my train of thought. I can't believe I'm confessing this, but now you know the petty workings of my feeble mind. Gordon B. Hinckley once said "Adulation is poison." I guess it just goes to show how potent a poison it can be when even the wife of one frequently inundated with praise for his incredible talent is in serious need of a de-tox. Thankfully, I was spared the chance to make a fool of myself that evening. As I neared the end of that hour-long line, I was informed that the artist was only signing purchased merchandise, not the concert programs. Baffled and without my carefully planned conversation to lean on, I stepped out of line and stood there flabbergasted while the last die-hard fans slipped their new CD's and 8x10 glossies under her flourishing Sharpie. Then the security men shooed us off, announcing that the star had had a very long and exhausting day.

In my humiliation, I had some time to reflect on just what it was that had driven me to act like a little groupie. It made me wonder about this funny thing we call fame, and why it is so addictive and attractive. There is something about being known. We want to be known. We love people who are known. We are even more eager to be known by people who are known. That artist had seen hundreds of fans that day, thousands in her lifetime, perhaps millions, many adoring, many showering praise, many seeking their 15 seconds of fame with a famous person. She would not remember my carefully planned, brilliant conversation starter from the next person to shove a CD under her nose. So why was I so anxious for her to know something about me? Why did I want her to think I was special? Why would I seek validation from a celebrity?

I thought of my babies sleeping at home, of my sweet husband who should have had the ticket to that concert but who graciously let me go instead. They knew me. They loved me. I am special to them, and always will be. What more did I need? And then I thought of God, the creator of the universe and my very own Father. He knows me. No celebrity on earth comes close to his importance, prominence, accomplishment, or even his "fame." And he knows me and cares about me every moment of my life. I have far more than 15 seconds of his attention. I have a lifetime of his attention. There is no facade he wears for me, and I can't possibly wear one for him. I don't have to impress him. He loves me, regardless.

In the end, it occurred to me that I should have been more interested in thanking that good woman for taking the time to share so much with us. I had no need to be flowery or impressive. A simple thank you would have expressed everything I needed to say. And my thank you did not have to stand out above the millions of others she has heard. This moment should not have been about me and making an impression. It should have been a chance to express gratitude. Regret? Yes, I have it. But I also take away a lesson which I hope I will be able to apply the next time I am tempted to be star-struck.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shock Value and Relative Goodness

It's been about 5 years since we had regular TV service in our home. At first it was a financial decision, but by the time we could have fit it into our budget again, we never wanted to go back. Occasionally, when we have stayed in hotels and had the opportunity to watch TV, we always felt it was such a waste of our time, and that it brought an icky feeling into the room that we certainly didn't want in our home. We have also been shocked by the kind of things that have become so common place, which just 5 short years ago were still pushing the boundaries of acceptable programming.

Our media has relied on "shock value" to entice its audience for decades. The problem with this is, the method is self-defeating. Eventually, the thing that was shocking becomes common, and they have to come back with something even more shocking to achieve the same result. Where will this downward spiral take us? How numb can we make ourselves before the whole system implodes?

As a designer, when looking at color swatches, I have noticed that it's really difficult to accurately tell what percentage of gray you have unless you compare it to a scale of white to black. Gray is just gray. You can discern a really light gray or a really dark gray pretty easily, but there is a wide range of middle gray that is very hard to place on the percentage scale. Without something to compare it to, 30% looks very much like 60%. Not having TV in our home for so many years made it really easy to discern the contrast of quality and morality that existed when we turned it on again. On the other hand, I have been surprised by what my friends, whom I know honor the same values as me, consider "clean family programming." After so many of my friends had raved about a certain popular show, I decided to watch an episode of it online. I was surprised at all the subtle, and even not so subtle sexual references, and the destructive worldly philosophies presented in such a favorable light. Okay, so maybe no one was getting shot, or hopping into bed together, but the doctrines being preached were not something I wanted for my family. Setting my children down in front of the TV and turning on a program for them as good as says, "This is what we believe, what I want you to believe." And I don't want to forever be adding in my own disclaimers, like, "That thing you just saw? We don't do that." Or, "We don't say words like that, okay, kids?" Are they more likely to listen to their mom in sweats lounging on the couch, or the perfectly coiffed, stylishly wardrobed, gorgeously lit teenage actress with a catchy soundtrack and well-scripted wittiness?

Relative goodness is a precarious measuring stick. When we look around at all the evil in the world, and use that as our gage to determine how good the things we surround ourselves with are, we can easily be deceived. If we find ourselves saying, "At least it's not as bad as..." then we are probably treading on dangerous ground. The gospel must always be our source of judgement. It's our white swatch at the edge of the gradient. When we start playing with shades of gray, we may not know how dark things are getting until we've gotten into the 80% or darker range.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lessons From the Garden: Bothersome Pests and Welcome Guests

Sometimes while I'm turning the earth in my garden, I suddenly see a glossy pinkish thread slipping for his life away from the danger of my trowel. It always makes me smile to know my garden is patrolled by earthworms. I know the soil is being enriched by their presence, quietly and secretly under the ground. Grubs and slugs are no uglier than earthworms, but I have a very different reaction when I find them in my garden. My nose reflexively wrinkles up, and I squeamishly remove or mercilessly destroy the invaders.

In the realm of lovelier species, I have long regarded ladybugs as a sign of good luck. As a long-time rose gardener, I have come to appreciate the assistance they render in removing pesky aphids from the tender forming buds. Bees are welcome with their fuzzy little bodies that aid in pollination. Butterflies and moths, though often just as beautiful, are a mixed blessing and curse, as they both help with pollination, but bring with them their voracious young, who can lay waste to even the healthiest plant.

So obviously, you can't judge a bug by it's cover. Nor can we judge the people we let into our lives simply based upon their appearance. We have to know a little more about their character, what they stand for, and what they do before we decide whether we can safely welcome them into our lives, or cautiously guard ourselves from their influence. Likewise, we should not turn someone out of our life's garden just because they are less stylish or attractive by the world's standards. Quiet, consistent friends, like the humble earthworm, labor faithfully beneath the surface and enrich our lives so the seeds of our faith have a fertile place to grow.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lessons From the Garden: Seeds & Soil

If you stop to think about it, seeds are such a miraculous little package! You stick it in dirt, and it grows things like grain and flowers and fruit trees! How amazing is that?

The scriptures are replete with stories about seeds. When I was young, my dad had me and my siblings memorize large sections of Alma chapter 32, specifically the part that compares trying out the gospel message to planting a seed. The Savior also taught several allegories that used the idea of seeds to teach about faith. He talked about faith as a grain of mustard seed, told the parable of the sower, and that of the tares. There's really too many parallels to cover them all, but I'd like to talk a little about my favorite lessons about seeds.

First of all, choosing seeds. Not all seeds are worth planting. In similar fashion, not all things we hear about are good for us to take into our lives. If we chase after every fad and craze sweeping the nation, we will find our garden full of useless and sometimes even dangerous plants, occupying ground better spent on nourishment or beauty. Every seed planted will require an investment of time, space, and water. So choose wisely what you bring into your life.

Sometimes, though, we aren't certain whether a seed is good or not. In Alma 32, the prophet talks about conducting an experiment to see if the gospel is true. He compares it to planting a seed and seeing if it will grow. There are two reasons the experiment will fail: one is if the seed just isn't good--if the gospel, or whatever we are testing, just isn't true. But the other reason he gives is that the ground is barren, and not receptive to the seeds. The Savior gives a similar allegory when he talks about the seeds cast on stony ground, or among the weeds. They don't have a chance to grow. So if we are to rule out the possibility that lack of germination and growth is our own fault rather than that of the seed, we must be fully responsible for the quality of our spiritual soil. In other words, our hearts must be soft, free of the stones of anger, sin or pride, well watered by the time we take to study God's word, and well lit by the light of the spirit. If we do not take care that our garden is an appropriate growing environment, then how can we ever make accurate judgements about the quality of the seeds we may plant?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lessons from the Garden: Weeds

For the past month, I have loved getting up early every morning and working in the garden that I've longed to have for years. I have even abandoned my usual morning workout routine in favor of weeding, pruning and dreaming of all the things I intend to plant and cultivate. It feeds my soul to work out there in the dirt, and I easily see how Mary Lennox was able to heal not only herself, but all of Misselthwaite Manor through the simple act of gardening.

As I've worked, I've thought over the countless analogies that abound in gardens. I could probably write a whole series of blogs about them, but we'll start with one and see where it takes us.

Since I've spent so much time weeding lately, we'll start with that. Weeds make an obvious symbol of our flaws, our bad habits, our sins, and the things that distract us from our highest goals and purposes. Obviously, we don't want them in our garden, and it seems the gardener's work is never really done when it comes to weeding. As I've mentioned, in the month we have lived here, most of my gardening time has been spent pulling out the jungle of weeds that had grown in the time this house has been left vacant. Now that I finally feel like I have a grip on the situation, I also have some thoughts about weeds and the act of weeding:

  • You've got to get it by the root. It's no good just plucking the leaves above the surface, the ones everyone can see. The first thing I learned as a kid working in the yard with my dad was, you've got to dig deeper and get the root, or that baby will just keep popping back up. Morning glory is my particular enemy right now because it tenaciously grows deep and long, and it seems like no matter how deep you try to dig, there's more root down there. It's no good just trying to cover up our personal flaws, bad habits and sins by trying to keep the public from ever seeing them, or try to overcome them by a superficial edit. We have to dig deep, sometimes where it really hurts and get to the root of the problem. I love the part of C S Lewis' "The Dawn Treader" where the boy, Eustace, has been turned into a dragon and desperately wants to be a boy again. Aslan tells him to take a bath, but first he must "undress". As much as the dragon-boy tries on his own, he can't remove the dragon skin. He always finds another layer of skin underneath. Aslan finally offers to assist him, and he cuts deep to remove it. The process is painful, but vastly relieving, like the liberating pain of picking off an old scab. We have to dig deep to get out the weeds.

  • In a similar vein, it's best to get the weed as soon as it pops up. The longer you wait, the more a weed can get out of control. The root goes deeper, and the leaves have more chance to nourish and strengthen it. If you wait too long, it might also go to seed, and spread its posterity all over your garden, making your job tens or hundreds of times harder. Catch it early. As soon as we recognize a flaw is the time to do something about it. We shouldn't just close our eyes to it, or make excuses for it, or heaven forbid, flaunt it. "That's just the way I am" is never a good excuse.

  • Lastly, I heard someone say once that even a rose planted in the wrong place is nothing more than a weed. Sometimes we need to root out things that might seem pretty or enjoyable, but they don't belong there. Our lives can be filled up with good things that are a distraction from the best things. For instance, we might spend too much time working on a good project at the expense of our families. Taking care of these kinds of "weeds" requires a little extra planning. If your garden has no real "plan" then you will never recognize these kinds of weeds. But when we take time to look at the big picture, make a plan, and realize something needs to move to make room for something better, then we can start to do the kind of landscaping that will make our gardens the most beautiful and pleasing.

  • Happy weeding!

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Tornadoes and a Voice of Warning

    Last week week we moved our family across the country. It was a long, though mostly pleasant journey for our little family of 6, full of expectations for this new chapter in our lives.

    As we were about half way across Missouri, on a very rainy day, we decided to pull over at a rest stop to have our lunch. Even though there was a light rain falling, there were covered picnic tables so we figured we would have a quick meal, stretch our legs, and be on our way in a short time. As I was pulling out paper plates and taking orders for PBJ or turkey sandwiches, a very excited man came over to say that there was a tornado watch going on in our location and we probably shouldn't get to comfortable. With some degree of cockiness I smirked and thought to myself, this is nothing. I grew up in North Texas and had been through many a storm. I had watched the tornado safety video every spring in our public schools, and been through countless tornado drills. Dramatic storms were a regular occurrence every spring and fall, and thunder and lightning were as comfortable and familiar to me as the roll of the ocean to islanders. So complacent had we become as children that we often quoted the safety video in heavy Texan accents, with our own sarcastic variations such as, "When a tornadey is approachin' go tuh the nearest window. Run around and flail ya'll's arms in the air." Obviously I had little reverence for this powerful menace of nature.

    So here I was, poised with paper plates still in hand, the safety of my family in the balance. Skeptically, I looked at the darkening sky. It did have that tinge of green which I had come to recognize as the harbinger of the tornado. The air pressure change in that violent of a storm actually changes the color of the air to a murky green. When a second man came over with the same warning, and we could hear the sirens sounding in the distance, we decided to take this seriously and take shelter.

    Before ducking into a large storage closet between the public restrooms along with a score of other travelers, we spotted a dark triangular shape in the near distance, just below the base of the clouds. A long, white, fast moving wall cloud began to surge towards us, and as soon as it passed overhead, we were engulfed in torrential wind and rain. Several of us kept in touch with outsiders using our cell phones, tracking the storm and waiting for the reprieve. We learned later that there was definitely a tornado in our area, but thankfully we were not in its path. Had we continued along the road, we very well could have been. In a short while, the worst of it was past, and we were able to return to our car and continue our journey, taking our lunch in the car as we went because not only was it still raining, but the temperature had dropped a full 20 degrees!

    I learned two things from this experience: first of all, I learned that God is mindful of us. We didn't know that stopping for lunch would protect us from danger, but we felt like stopping and we did so. We counted it a great blessing that God prompted us to do that.

    Secondly, I learned how important it is to follow the warning voices. We had two of them, and a third if you count the sirens. Even more if you take in all the signs in the weather. In my cockiness, and what I supposed was "educated experience," I could have ignored the warnings and put my family in great danger. Just because I had been through hundreds of storms with no actual tornado threat didn't ensure that this storm would be as safe. I truly feel that the time is already upon us when we can no longer ignore the warning voice of our modern prophets, even if we have been able to do so in the past without detriment.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    If You Want Something, Let It Go

    My 1-year-old LOVES his yogurt. Sometimes I let him grab one out of the fridge. I get him all set up in his highchair while he happily turns the little plastic cup of goodness over and over in his hands, anticipating that creamy euphoria to come. But he has a hard time handing it over to me so I can open it and feed it to him. He pulls it away from me, hides it under the tray, and then gets mad at me because he wants it so badly. "Just hand it over! I'll open it and feed it to you! Look, here's the spoon!" Still, he holds onto it fiercely.

    Sometimes I think Heavenly Father has that problem with us. There are things in our lives that we want so desperately, but unless we hand it over to God and let him be the one to administer the blessings, we just can't get anything out of it. Sometimes we get mad at him and blame him for things not working out, when in reality, we are the ones holding ourselves back by not surrendering our will to a higher, wiser power.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Cutting Remarks About Marriage from a Knife Salesman

    A few days ago I was making an exchange at a major department store where a synthetically voiced salesman was live on the floor, demonstrating the wonders of a certain brand of knives. He had the kind of disembodied voice that you sometimes hear listening to radio announcers or advertising voice overs, the kind of voice you never expect to hear coming out of the lips of a living, breathing human being. As he oiled his way through his demonstration, I smiled to myself and kept browsing for the size I needed, absently listening in. I heard the salesman boasting about the guarantee they offer on their knives: if they ever rust or wear out or break, even if it's your own fault, they will take them back with a full replacement or refund. Then he went on to quip, "Wouldn't you like to buy a car on those terms?" His voice lowered and he said in an almost sinister way, "Wouldn't you like to get married on those terms? If you don't like it, send it back!"

    My jaw dropped. I could not believe he had just said that.

    Not 24 hours earlier I had been having a conversation about this very problem with my husband. He had come across a rather disturbing article arguing that the institution of marriage is becoming an endangered species, and offering all the reasons why we should just let it die out and be done with it. From a Christ-centered, faith-filled perspective, his arguments were simple to refute, but from his worldly position, his arguments were frightfully valid.

    The article gave 4 main arguments why marriage is a "dying institution." I'd like to address three of them, lumping 2 together. His first argument about how government involvement is a marriage killer has too many legal implications and details which I'm not qualified to discuss. The second and third arguments are closely related enough that I'd like to discuss them together. They are that first, familiarity breeds contempt, and secondly, married couples are missing out on the joy of being "chosen" on a daily basis. The real issue behind both of these problems is simply selfishness. I believe that marriage is ordained and recommended by God in large part because it is the perfect boot camp for eliminating our selfishness. Marriage can beat the selfishness right out of you, but selfishness unchecked will also beat a marriage right out of your life. It is all a matter of what we are doing with the challenges presented to us each day. But today we have an egocentric "me" society where being selfish is touted as the best way to live, so of course our marriages are suffering.

    One of the things my husband and I talked about as we discussed the article was the fact that our society has turned into such an "instant gratification, money-back guaranteed, buy now, pay later" kind of society. If something we purchase isn't exactly everything we ever wanted, we have the right to return it, no questions asked, no risk involved. We use microwaves to heat our food in mere minutes, run to the drive-through for dinner, download any movie we want at any given moment within minutes. We buy on credit, sometimes with no interest for the first few months. We can contact anyone, anywhere, at anytime by phone, text or email, and hear back just as instantly. TV chefs show us how to throw together multi-course gourmet meals in 30 minutes or less. All of these technological advancements are indeed miraculous and bless many lives, but they have their downside, too. Think how damaging this "instant gratification" mentality is to a relationship that requires effort and sacrifice over very extended periods of time! Thinking you can have an amazing marriage without time and effort is like expecting to get the luscious, smoky flavor of slow-cooked barbeque using only a microwave. It's just not possible.

    President Gordon B. Hinckley said it best when he stated, "I have long felt that the greatest factor in a happy marriage is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion. In most cases selfishness is the leading factor that causes argument, separation, divorce, and broken hearts." Selfish partners are always looking for the negative, evaluating from the perspective of "what's in this for me?" and if the payback isn't sufficient, then they want out so they can go find something that meets more of their needs. The idea that we ought to be more concerned about the other person's needs has been painted as being a martyr, or letting someone else walk all over you. A selfish person will spend their time waiting for their partner to notice them, or do something thoughtful or romantic, and when nothing happens, they feel jilted. A selfless person will always be the initiator. But not only that, they initiate thoughtfulness and romance purely out of love rather than with the hope of a particular response. They aren't waiting to see whether their partner will return the favor, or even acknowledge their efforts, and they don't turn sour and resentful if there is no acknowledgement. There is no price attached to their affection. When my brother was trying to win over his future wife in high school, he gave her flowers once before a performance. Afterward he complained to me that she had not even acknowledged the gesture. I asked him, "Did you give her the flowers to try and get her to like you, or did you do it because you like her and wanted to do something nice?" I was impressed by his mature response for a teenager. He thought about that and I could see a light coming on. He is now part of a marriage founded on the loving concern each partner has for the other, and their relationship is truly beautiful to watch!

    Furthermore, the idea that married couples don't ever feel "chosen" on a daily basis is a pessimistic argument. I have seen old couples, married for years, who are giddy in love and are so happy they get to be with the choice of their heart every day. Again, the focus here is too much on wanting to "be chosen" (selfish) versus daily "choosing" to love your partner (selfless). Sure, being "chosen" is fun and exciting. There is something thrilling about finding out someone likes you. We are inundated with movies about young couples overcoming initial differences and finally ending up together in some kind of committed relationship. The end, roll credits, all loose ends are tied up and we're finished. There are very few movies about happily married couples working on their 30th year of wedded bliss. Why? It doesn't fall into the conventions of entertainment. It's boring. If you do have a romantic movie about a long-time married couple, the scenario is always that they currently aren't happy (because there has to be a conflict), and they either find some way to rediscover their love or, worse, they give up and wander off to “greener pastures.” Movies seem to have indoctrinated us with the idea that romance must be exciting and entertaining all the time (which it is in the beginning), but then offer no idea as to how to make it last over 30 years. So when our life stops feeling like a movie, we get disenchanted. No one can really make a movie to show what a happy marriage is like. It would be too long and complex. But when I think about the contrast between twitter-pated, sugarcoated love, and slow-cooked love, I'll take the latter any day! It is so much richer, so much deeper, so much more reliable and comfortable. Too many people aren't giving their marriages enough time to ever get to that point, but are living on a diet of relationship fluff and junk-food, moving from one infant relationship to the next, seeking for the satisfaction of something deeper, but never quite able to satisfy their craving.

    It's the "buy now, pay later" mentality. We want the reward now, and yeah, I guess we'll get around to paying for it later...someday...maybe. My sister and her husband shocked their neighbor a few years ago when they paid cash to replace their roof. They had scrimped and saved for 2 or 3 years and survived by using a bucket of roof patch purchased at a home improvement store until they could pay in full for the replacement. "Why didn't you just take out a loan?" their neighbor wanted to know. That's just the normal thing to do, and unfortunately it has creeped into the way we treat relationships. We want the results now, before the work and effort has been put into it. We don't want the inconvenience of dealing with imperfection while we patiently and slowly invest in the relationship, watching it grow as slowly as interest in a checking account. We want our chunk of relationship cash up front and ready to spend, and hopefully at a low rate.

    The final argument in the article dealt with hypocrisy. How can the older generation, some of them on their 3rd or 4th marriages, smile and congratulate their children as they walk down the aisle and make their first vows? That certainly is a problem, but I don't feel we ought to toss out the whole idea of marriage simply because we can't set a good enough example of how it should be done right. Just because everybody else is doing it (getting divorced) doesn't mean we have to. We all understand that concept. Maybe instead of excusing the next generation from committed relationships because we can't show them how it's done, we should step up and set a better example.

    My marriage isn't perfect right now, but I'm in it for the long haul, and I have every expectation that it will be perfect someday. Perhaps the greatest incentive for long term commitment is the idea that we have forever to reach that perfection. If we feel like this life is it, there's certainly going to be some pressure to find happiness and perfection right here. The problem is, it can't be found in this imperfect world, but it is guaranteed in the perfect world to come.

    So in response to the salesman at the department store, I wanted to tell him, "No, I wouldn't want to get married on those terms." Trying to equate the marriage commitment with the decision to buy a kitchen utensil puts it on a level far beneath its deserved reverence. As much as I love cooking, I know my relationships with my kitchen tools and gadgets are all safely one sided. That knife is never going to send ME back. Even still, I have a responsibility to maintain my tools and not abuse them if I want them to serve me well over the years. That's about as far as I dare take the comparison. Marriages are an entirely different relationship, one deserving our utmost respect. With his degrading and distasteful quip, that knife salesman lost whatever business he might have had from me. On the other hand, I could have thanked him for getting me thinking about this even more, and giving me a great lead in for a blog post. If I had done that, though, I'm sure he would have still tried to sell me a knife.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    The Cake

    Happy birthday to my rambunctious, mess-making, food-sneaking, balloon-stabbing little boy. You are the joy of my life. God blessed me with you and your dynamic little spirit because he knew you would stretch me to my limit, and in doing so, I would grow just as much as you are growing.

    Today I made you a cake. You asked for a strawberry cake, which I anticipated since I know that's your favorite flavor, and I already had a box of Duncan Hines waiting for you in the pantry. Maybe it's all the cooking magazines I've been sorting through lately, but somehow I started having visions of fluted piles of frosting and dipped fresh strawberries, and that simple strawberry cake-from-a-box took on a new dimension. I had mentally tagged a recipe for white chocolate frosting among those I had saved in a file, and since I had all the ingredients on hand and it sounded like such a perfect complement to the strawberry, I chose to use it for your cake. Last night I dipped five fat shiny strawberries in white chocolate and made little green leaves out of colored chocolate to stick on the tops so the whole thing would be edible. This morning I baked the cakes, then I made the frosting. It was a long, arduous process, involving whipping egg whites, boiling sugar and water to the "soft ball" stage, beating the syrup into the whites and continuing to beat for half an hour while it cooled into a marshmallowy cloud, whipping over a pound of butter and beating that in, and finally melting 2/3 pound of white chocolate and beating that in along with a splash of vanilla. Then it had to cool even more while I mixed the middle layer frosting with a strawberry puree and stuck the two layers together. I frosted, I decorated with my fancy frosting tips, I stuck the strawberries on top, and embellished each frosting floret with those little pink pearl candies you wanted me to use. The result was spectacular, and I brimmed with joy as you oohed and ahed over the cake as it sat on it's little perch in the fridge awaiting the big moment.

    But tonight, when I cleared the dessert plates from the table after you had gone to bed, I had a twinge of sadness. I should have played with you today. I really meant to. Making that cake and cleaning up afterward just took up so much of the day. You hardly even ate your slice. As I scraped most of it into the trash, I realized with regret that you probably would have been fine with store bought frosting and a few candles. So I'm sorry I didn't give you the gift of time today. I hope you will forgive me, and that you'll play with me tomorrow. We'll build your new lego kit and talk about that "peeps" restaurant you've been planning. I'll try to save baking cakes like the one I did today for a time when you can do it with me, because I can tell that's something you'll enjoy learning to do someday.


    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    "What were you thinking?!"

    Due to some rather excellent timing, I'm one of the lucky moms that has almost back-to-back birthdays to celebrate in the household. This is the first year we get to celebrate my youngest two children's birthdays spaced a mere 9 days apart from one another. It is making for an interesting dynamic, and although I am blessing the fact that all my saved baby clothes have fit in the right season, I'm having second thoughts about the hullabaloo of consecutive birthdays which we now get to experience year after year.

    But this post isn't really about the woes of too-close birthdays. It's actually about balloons; birthday balloons, and the juxtaposition of balloon ecstasy against the despair of balloon death. You see, last week, when it was our youngest's first birthday, I made a special trip to the store to get a large happy-looking mylar balloon. It was shaped like a birthday cake, complete with candles standing up along the top. I don't usually get balloons for birthdays, but I thought it would be a nice touch. My almost-5-year-old was ecstatic when I brought it home, and enjoyed showing it to his baby brother. It can't have been more than an hour later that he came to me very apologetically to confess that, despite daddy's warning not to play with the balloon, he had taken it into the kitchen where the ceiling fan was lazily spinning, and there it met its demise. We tried to patch the hole with packing tape, but it was too late, and it would barely stand upright on the floor. Despite his mistake, I was truly proud of my boy in that he made confession so readily instead of trying to cover his tracks, and I told him so, but I still ached inside at the waste of money and effort.

    So this week, when I took my three boys to the grocery store, I promised my almost-5-year-old that if he was very good, he could pick out his very own birthday balloon at the end of our trip, even though it was two days early. He was, truly, very good. The only trouble he gave was the every-five-minute question as to whether it was time for his balloon, yet. But the magic moment finally arrived, and despite an accidental escape to the grocery ceiling and a subsequent rescue by an obliging store clerk, we had a large Sesame Street bus-shaped mylar balloon riding merrily with us on the way back home.

    Not an hour later... do you already see where this is heading? I thought we had learned our lesson. I thought we had made solemn vows not to release the balloon to the mercy of ceiling fans or do anything deleterious or detrimental to the fragile membrane that is a mylar balloon. But as I was setting the dinner table, I heard my 7-year-old reprimanding the almost-5-year-old for doing something with a screwdriver. Yes, he had punctured his balloon with a screwdriver. Again, I felt like tearing my hair out. Again, the packing tape came out, this time to much better effect. Again, I found myself wondering why I bother. "What were you thinking?" that common phrase of motherhood, actually escaped my lips, as ineffective as I know it is to even ask. I try not to use that expression any more, as I realize it always implies that someone wasn't thinking, and is therefore bordering on sarcasm, a big parenting no-no.

    I'm glad my boy is curious. I'm glad he is daring. I'm glad he is adventurous. I can't wait to see what world changing discoveries his inquisitiveness will lead to. Meanwhile, I'm keeping the packing tape handy.

    Becoming a Finisher

    Last weekend I had the amazing priviledge of accompanying my husband to a Time Out for Women event in San Antonio. TOFW is hosted by Deseret Book, the publishing arm of the LDS church. It's a great event for women to escape their sometimes mundane or demanding routines and have some time to refresh and be inspired by speakers and musicians. My husband was the invited singer for Friday night, and since I grew up in Texas and love San Antonio in particular, I decided to tag along.

    I learned many things over the weekend which I would love to have the time to share. But in case I don't get the opportunity, I want to share at least one thing which is already making a huge difference in my life. The theme for this year's TOFW is "Choose to Become," and as attendees, we were asked to choose one thing that we could implement in our lives that would help us to get a little closer to the woman we are supposed to become. I have chosen to become a finisher.

    That may seem like an odd or a simple thing, but it dawned on me this weekend that one of my biggest problems is I am not a finisher. I got this idea from a book I bought at the event about parenting. One of the chapters was about teaching our children how to be finishers. As I read, I suddenly realized, that is the reason I have a hard time keeping house. I don't finish tasks. I start a lot of things, like dishes, and meals, and projects, but I never quite fully finish them, which includes the clean-up part. I get distracted or burnt out or just lazy. If I am going to teach my children to be finishers, I have got to learn how to do it myself.

    So not only am I doing the dishes, now, I am drying and putting them away and tucking the drainer under the sink. The counters and table are wiped, the chairs at the table are pushed in. I'm seeing this little lesson in every nook and cranny of my activities, now, and I'm realizing just how far-reaching this concept is. Not only do I need to finish my household tasks correctly, but I have to learn to finish my interactions with others correctly, finish keeping the commandments correctly, finish my life correctly. When I sweep up the last emotional bits and pieces of my life and tuck the broom away for the last time, I want to have that same satisfaction, knowing that I completed my assignment the right way, down to the very last step.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Reuse and Recycle

    Last Friday while my husband and I were taking out the recycling, we noticed a nondescript box sitting out next to the garbage dumpsters. We presumed it was intended to go out for paper collection, and we thought we'd do our neighbor a favor and bring it to the curb.

    Before we did, though, I peeked inside, just to be sure it was really for recycling. It was full of magazines. I slid one out to look at the title. Cooking magazines. From the late 80's. It was full of them. I groaned. My husband laughed at me. He knows I have a weakness for cooking magazines.

    Our elderly downstairs neighbor, a very dear friend, passed away about a month ago, and her children have been sorting through her old things, leaving piles of stuff on the curb for garbage. Not out of any disrespect, but purely from the perspective of one with little income and a family to care for, I often looked at those bulging black bags and wondered what little treasures were being discarded, things that might be useful with a little bit of ingenuity. I have resisted picking through them, like a vagabond on my own property. And then we found those magazines. I just couldn't toss them all out without at least looking through them. What if my next favorite dish was hiding between those warped and yellowing pages? Bless my husband, he usually tries to counteract my pack-rat nature, but this time he chuckled and helped me transfer the magazines from their rain damaged box into a dry one we had on hand so we could haul it upstairs. I told him I felt a little like the pilfering sneaks in "A Christmas Carol," taking the bed curtains from the home of the departed Scrooge. Silently I begged my neighbor's forgiveness for saving her twenty-year-old copies of "Food & Wine" and "Bon Appetit" from the recycling pile. I'd like to believe she would have given them to me whole-heartedly. She was that kind of woman. Later I realized with a twinge of regret that in all the times I used to sit and visit with her, we never talked about cooking. I think it came up in conversation once that I enjoyed cooking, and she seemed surprised, or at least intrigued. It's obvious from the fact that she subscribed to both these magazines simultaneously, and kept them for all these years, that she must have enjoyed it, too, although while I knew her she was so limited by diet restrictions and lack of mobility that she didn't cook much. I wish now that we had talked about it more. I would have really enjoyed that.

    Will I get to look through all these magazines before I toss them back into the recycling? Probably not. Will I ever cook the recipes I tear out and file away? Maybe when my kids are older and less picky, but that's unlikely, too. So maybe I didn't really gain any new recipes from this little episode, but there are two things I'm taking away from it instead: I love that even though I know it drives him crazy when I save things that ought to just be thrown away, my husband let me keep those magazines, and even helped me do it, just because he knows me, and what delights me. And secondly, I have learned that I need to dig a little deeper in my friendships if I really want to uncover the treasures.

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    The Scientific "Constant"

    My daughter just completed her first school science project. She and two other friends were testing which light source was best for growing plants. Each girl had three different seeds planted in three little pots, perched under one light source in our various homes. A couple days ago, we collaborated and analyzed our collected data and drew conclusions about which light was best.

    I've been trying to suppress my usual urge to question and look for the problems. For instance, we never checked our respective home temperatures. Our plants were not in an isolated room where the particular type of light provided was the ONLY source of light. No one was regulating how often or how much the plants were watered. In proper scientific method, all these factors, otherwise known as "constants," have to be regulated in order to rule out the chance of their affecting the results, thus skewing the conclusions you could draw.

    So as I was thinking about this, it made me think about the importance of having "constants" in our lives. The title of my blog is, of course, drawn from the paradoxical expression, "The only thing constant is change." I chose that title first of all because I've felt like my life has been so full of changes lately it almost makes my head spin! But I also intentionally didn't use the whole phrase, because on the other hand, I believe there is one other very important thing which IS constant, and that is Jesus Christ.

    In this experiment called life, with all the things that change continually, isn't it wonderful to have an anchor to hold onto, something we can rely on to stay the same? We can use the "constant" of Christ to correctly analyze the data we collect on a daily basis, and thus draw accurate conclusions which we can then use to adjust our behavior in ways that will bring us better results. Change is important. It keeps us on our toes, challenges and stretches us, and gives us the opportunity to grow and become something greater than what we are today. But thank goodness there is one great constant we can always count on as well!

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Of Caterpillars and Chrysalides

    I heard once that a caterpillar in its chrysalis has to liquify completely before it turns into a butterfly. As gross as that is, it is a fitting analogy as to how the Lord often times will break us down completely before he can make anything out of us.

    For the past ten years or so, my husband has enjoyed a sporadically successful career as a musical theater performer ("sporadically" is here meant to qualify the word "career" rather than "successful". Every job he has had has been wildly successful, but they have usually been spaced apart by scary periods of joblessness). He has both understudied and played full-time major leading roles in national tours of some of the most popular musicals in the world. He has recorded 2 solo albums, sung in numerous solo concerts and as a notable guest soloist, and he frequently receives fan mail from people who love his work and whose lives have been changed by hearing him perform. I don't say all this to brag, but to just to let you know what a dandy, impressive little caterpillar he has been.

    And then God said, "I'm going to make you a butterfly."

    A few months ago my husband started to feel the stirrings of change. He felt like it was time to do something different and a little more stable as the father, husband and breadwinner for a family of 6. There were logical reasons for us to change course, but many of the reasons were just impressions, feelings. It makes me wonder what kind of tingly prickles let a caterpillar know when it's time to start its long incubation. A wise friend once told us that my husband's career in acting was like riding a loud and exciting speed-boat. It was fun and fast-paced and fulfilling. But he counseled us that over the roar of the proverbial motor, it was paramount that we listen carefully for the call of the Master to come in to shore. If we could always stay attuned to that quiet call, then we could safely motor on.

    Even though we have felt that call, getting in to the shore has been a long, sometimes painful process. First we had to figure out where "the shore" was! And it has changed a few times. We've revised our career and schooling plans, changed where we thought we would move to, or when, and changed and changed again. We've spent lots of time on our knees, lots of time fasting, lots and lots of time discussing ideas, raising problems and concerns, and trying to listen to each other and the Spirit. It has often been very frustrating, and at times my prayers seemed to be, "Just tell us what to do and we'll do it! All we want to know is what to do!" I have truly felt liquified.

    But it's starting to come together. We're starting to see the colors of our wings, and I think the result will be glorious.

    A New Day

    I was up at 5 am this morning. My youngest, almost 1, has been starting his day early the past little while. But it gave me a few extra hours at the beginning of my day, instead of at the end. I find extra hours at the start are often much better spent than extra ones at the end. There's something about a fresh start that makes it feel more like a gift, while hours tacked on to the end of a day always feel stolen to me.

    So here's how I spent my morning: starting up the blog I have been contemplating yet resisting for a very, very, very long time. But there are a lot of changes coming in my life, and I might as well add one more change: joining the ranks of the cyber-voiced. Now I can cast my stream-of-consciousness bread upon the waters and see what returns to me in the form of comments, support, sometimes a jibe or two. Not that I really needed something else to do, but it may be interesting for someone out there to know what it's like from my angle of the wide universe, and what this journey feels like.