Monday, November 23, 2009

I is for Ice Cream

Sometimes, in the midst of all that serious gratitude, you have to remember the simple things that make life good. Like Coldstone Creamery, Dove Cherry Chocolate Courtship, and watching a three-year-old eat a chocolate ice cream cone.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

H is for Honesty

Today I had the opportunity to go to a regional women's conference to hear Sister Beck talk. The format was different than other conferences. Rather than just talking for a while, she invited sisters in the congregation to ask questions. The reason I put honesty as the idea behind this post was that the answers she gave were your typical church answers to things but in a wonderfully blunt and honest fashion. I felt inspired, but also refreshed, as though the cobwebs that build up around the normal "Sunday School" answers were swept away.
Two of the questions, or rather her responses, struck me. The first was when a sister asked (paraphrasing) , "The men have been told to avoid pornography, the Young Men to prepare for missions, and so on, what specific thing should women be doing?" Sister Beck then quoted president Monson, when he gave a warning to all, young and old, men and women, about pornography. She went on to say that pornography is everyone's problem. And if you think that as a woman you have no personal temptation you still have a responsibility in your home. She phrased it as a war, and women as the chief defenders of the home. She suggested, "Ask your husband, 'When was the last time you saw pornography?' ask your teenagers". This should be as routine as asking "When did you mow the lawn?" Find out what is happening in your home. Don't let ignorance be your excuse, you have no reason to not know. Use the filters, be careful what is on your television, be aware of what can be done with cell phones.
As a call to action it was unequivocal and stirring. It also left no room for denial or avoidance.
The second time she was so blunt was when a sister asked the well meaning question of can we really raise righteous children in such a wicked world? And while Sister Beck sympathized with the honest frustration and longing this sister expressed, she also very boldly proclaimed, "You can do it, you must do it. You chose to do this and you can."
She then went on to point out that there are a lot of famous women in the world, who even have a portion of truth, but most of them preach a message that as women we deserve a break, something special, a treat just our own. Then this statement that hit me square between the eyes, "You are not owed anything. I hope you don't take that badly." We have been given the Atonement, life, the gospel, our families; everything we have. No one owes us a thing. Whenever we feel that we are picked on or someone should give us something, we are not being influenced by the Holy Spirit.
She didn't mean we should work until we drop. She had talked earlier about taking care of ourselves. When we are so tired we can't feel the Spirit we are alone and cannot do what we are capable of. But the attitude difference of "I am owed this chocolate, vacation, nap, etc" versus "I have worked and now I can take a break" is enormous. I am extremely guilty of this type of thinking and I need to get a handle on it. I think it will make a huge improvement in what I can accomplish if I can avoid looking for what I "deserve" after doing anything.
She commented to the few young women that were there that YW is preparatory to RS. The main difference being that in YW every good thing you do counts toward something, service hours, your medallion, etc. There are always leaders there ready to give you applause for the good works you do. When you get to RS, you are just expected to do those things, and no one counts how many times you've done it, no one marks a chart or announces it in Sacrament Meeting. But you are loved, and that has to be enough.
So I am grateful for her honesty. Sometimes the polite version isn't strong enough to get through the wall of justification we build around ourselves. I hope by writing this down I can get it firmly enough in my mind to be better and change. I am thankful for the opportunity to hear one of God's chosen servants speak and for His spirit to tell me what I need to do.

Every Member a Missionary

We interrupt the regularly scheduled but infrequently posted Thanks posts for a Sunday School lesson. I really just wanted to post a couple of quick quotes because what really struck me about the lesson was a talk in General Conference that connects very well with the theme of the lesson.
The full talk is here, but I pulled out the story that impressed me.

On April 6, 1974, the Church sustained a new prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball. That same day I received my call to serve as a full-time missionary in Finland. I wasn’t aware at the time that President Kimball had just delivered a landmark address that week to the General Authorities and regional representatives of the Church. Later I learned that in that address President Kimball prophetically outlined his vision as to how we as a church would accomplish the Savior’s charge to “teach all nations.” In his address, President Kimball invited the members of the Church to lengthen their stride and enlarge their vision. He asked that every worthy young man prepare to serve an honorable full-time mission. He encouraged the members in each country to prepare to supply their own missionaries, and he called upon “able men to assist the Twelve [Apostles] to move out into the world and to open the doors of every nation” (“When the World Will Be Converted,Ensign, Oct. 1974, 10).

In response, we as members of the Church began to pray regularly in our families, in our sacrament meetings, and in our stake conferences that the hearts of the leaders of nations would be softened and the doors opened to our missionaries. The members began to see more clearly their responsibility to share the gospel. Our young men stepped up, and a great army of missionaries was gathered. We witnessed President Kimball’s vision begin to unfold.

While serving in Finland, I learned that my mission president’s wife, Sister Lea Mahoney, was a native of Finland. As a young girl she had grown up in the eastern portion of Finland in a city named Viipuri. As the ravages of war engulfed Finland and other countries during World War II, she and her family left their home, and Viipuri became part of the Soviet Union and was renamed Vyborg. In our zone conferences, Sister Mahoney would tell us of those left behind in Viipuri and of her desire that the gospel be taken to them. Following President Kimball’s challenge, we unitedly prayed that the hearts of the leaders of that nation would be softened so that the gospel could be taken by our missionaries into the Soviet Union.

We would go to the border between Finland and the Soviet Union and see the guard towers and the fences, and we would wonder who those brave young men and young women would be and when they would cross that border to take the gospel to the people there. I must admit, at that time it seemed like an impossible task.

Three years ago, our son Eric received a mission call to serve in the Russia St. Petersburg Mission. In his first letter home, he wrote something like this: “Dear Mom and Dad, I have been assigned to my first city in Russia. Dad, you may have heard of it before. It is called Vyborg, but it was previously a Finnish city named Viipuri.”

Tears came to my eyes as I understood that Eric was in the very city we had prayed about 32 years earlier. Eric found a chapel there and a branch of faithful Saints. He was living and serving in a place that to me as a young man had seemed impossible to enter.

I did not realize those many years ago, as we prayed for the borders to open and the missionaries to go in, that I was praying for our son. Most importantly for you of the rising generation, our son Eric did not realize that he and his companions were the answer to the prayers that had been offered by thousands of faithful Saints so many years ago.

That story brought tears to my eyes, especially as I thought about my own boys and this quote from President Monson from October Conference 2008:
It has been my privilege during the past six months to meet with leaders of countries and with representatives of governments. Those with whom I’ve met feel kindly toward the Church and our members, and they have been cooperative and accommodating. There remain, however, areas of the world where our influence is limited and where we are not allowed to share the gospel freely. As did President Spencer W. Kimball over 32 years ago, I urge you to pray for the opening of those areas, that we might share with them the joy of the gospel. As we prayed then in response to President Kimball’s pleadings, we saw miracles unfold as country after country, formerly closed to the Church, was opened. Such will transpire again as we pray with faith.

Though the lesson talked about many ways we can be missionaries, from preparing our children, inviting our neighbors, serving as senior couples and encouraging the newly converted, I keep thinking about this one thing. What kind of miracles are we going to see in the next thirty years? How will it change our lives if we routinely pray for those miracles to happen? I can see each of us becoming more aware of missionary opportunities, just because we are keeping those ideas in our minds. So pray for the missionaries, pray for the places that don't have missionaries, pray for the miracles to come so our children may serve in places we can't even imagine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

G is for Garden

The first gardening catalogue of the season arrived yesterday. Those wonderful catalogues are one of the things that get me through the winter. I love the flowers, the new kinds of vegetables, the completely unlikely dreams of huge harvests and days spent canning. If I ever get as good at gardening as I am at thinking about it I will feed the whole neighborhood.
This last spring I did better with the garden that I have before. It is one thing that I can see my progress each year. Once the morning sickness showed up the garden suffered, but there was still improvement. As all our progress happens line by line, I like having something that I can see that progress in a measurable way.
I also love being outside in the sun. Pulling weeds is very soothing, in a mindless way. There aren't any complications when you work in the garden; is it a vegetable plant? No, then pull it. Very simple. If my kids are out there too I enjoy teaching them about the plants and watching them work(ish). If they aren't outside then I get quiet time, which is very valuable too.
This spring I will not be planting the garden myself. Prime gardening time will be interrupted by the birthing process. But David will plant and I can spend summer days getting myself back together by working in my garden, growing food for my family.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

F is for Fetus

I had my mid-way ultrasound today. As far as I could tell the baby is healthy and the proper size and most likely a boy. He is also a wiggle-worm. I don't think any of my babies have moved as much during an ultrasound. It was very funny.
This pregnancy has been interesting. There have been numerous reasons for us to decide to have another baby. Most of the promptings are either too convoluted or too private to discuss on a blog, but I can share one thing: this baby has had a name since before he was conceived. Seeing that he was a boy was just one more confirmation that the Lord really does want us to have this child in our home.
I have been so blessed to be able to bear children and to help more of our Heavenly Father's children receive bodies so they can continue to progress. It is an honor and a privilege. Perhaps I should print that out and post it somewhere, maybe in the bathroom.
I won't hide it, I never have, that pregnancy is very difficult for me. All the little perks, feeling the baby move, etc. never really compensate for 9 months of brain damaged, physically impaired insanity. What does compensate however is the joy and love of having a new child in our home. Each one has blessed our home in so many ways. I look forward to getting to know this new little spirit as well. Only 20 more weeks!

Monday, November 9, 2009

E is for Education

I still plan on being thankful for the entire alphabet, though planning on blogging everyday was overly optimistic. I might still be doing this at Christmas. That is OK, more thankfulness is not a bad thing.
We recently had a bond election for the schools that failed miserably. It has made me worry about what will happen to my children in the coming years. The problem is big enough to make the news. Since the tax vote failed they have floated such things as closing the Jr high and placing the 7th graders at the elementary and the 8th at the high school. Laying off 25-35 teachers, eliminating all extracurricular activities, and other similarly drastic measures. I don't know what will actually happen and I am grateful that we have the resources to help our children do well without depending on the schools.
But I am very grateful I live in a place where I do trust the schools. When I meet the teachers they have all been people I trust with my children. I am VERY grateful that I do not have to home school my children. I know it works for some people, but I would need some pretty amazing blessings to manage it for our family.
Next year I will have 4 kids in elementary school and Bridget in pre-school. That is a lot of trust and a lot of papers coming home every day. The planning of the teachers and the efforts they make on my children's behalf is appreciated.
I am also grateful for the education I received. I was lucky enough to have teachers who challenged me and gave me extra things to think about. I was in gifted and talented programs in many different places. I managed to avoid the swamp of Jr high entirely and spent those years in a very sheltered spot in a regular high school. Though I must admit I did not take advantage of all the opportunities I was given, I did learn and progress.
I am grateful for a system that still enables people to put themselves through school if they work hard and are willing to pay for it. I received scholarships and got loans and worked my way through college. My children will do the same. An education that is not earned is not appreciated.
Thank you to my teachers, my parents and all those who have taught me in many ways through my life. Learning is still one of my favorite things and I hope to continue doing it forever.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

D is for David

Every time I think about how David and I got together I have to say a quick prayer thanking my Heavenly Father for my husband. Many people talk about divine intervention in various parts of their lives and the strongest example in my life is how we got together. Basically the Lord picked us up, pushed us together, and said "You will get married." A few weeks after we came to our senses and had to deal with where we were.
Though there were a few rocky patches in the beginning we have a good strong marriage, with a developing and growing ability to communicate. Though we both have faults, we balance each other in ways we couldn't have known about only through dating.
He is an excellent father and a devoted, caring husband. I am and will be eternally grateful for him.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

C is for Constitution

I thought of this earlier, otherwise this post would be for Completing the laundry (for now). I voted today and I am always amazed at how boring this event is. Despite complaints here and there, we don't have to worry about someone rigging our elections. (If you have a favorite conspiracy election theory, please don't tell me because I won't believe you). They run in a completely pedestrian, boring manner and no one takes to the streets when they lose.
I have heard people from other countries say that one of the things that makes America so great is its bureaucracy. Because ours works. The amount of corruption is small and even important people can be sent to jail. It doesn't take months and a barrel full of cash to get a permit for something. You don't expect to negotiate with the county clerk to get your car licensed.
All of this stems from the balanced powers developed in the Constitution. We have practiced this whole democracy thing for over two hundred years. So many of the countries that have problems are just starting to work it out. We were also blessed with honorable leaders in the beginning when everything could have gone wrong. In just the stage where so many other lands end up with dictators and corruption and misery, we had the founding fathers, willing to risk everything to start this new country off right.
I want you to remember to be involved, even if it is no more than to vote. For one thing, I firmly hold to the axiom that if you don't vote you can't complain. For another, if everyone who complained voted, things might be different. It is difficult to listen to the news sometimes, especially if you feel you can't do anything, but if you get annoyed enough, maybe you will be inspired to find a way to make a difference.
We have been incredibly blessed, we should act on and use that blessing.

And as a side note, PLEASE find out the facts before passing on untrue political rumours. The boneheaded things I have seen, from both sides, makes me want to require intelligence tests before elections. There are many places on the web you can go for fact checking, snopes, and many others. Don't pass on rumors just because you wish they were true.

Monday, November 2, 2009

B is for Books

I partially think I should look for something less obvious, but I am very thankful for books. Not only books, but libraries, the printing press, authors, public schools, near universal literacy, easily available scriptures, picture books, reading to my children, my children reading and late night reading in my comfy chair.
As long as I can remember I have been a book worm. For the longest time I felt silly when asked about my hobbies because I only had one: reading. It is as much of a part of my personality as . . . well, right now I can't think of a part of my personality that wasn't influenced by books.
I love Sunday afternoons when my older children all curl up with books. I love it when my littlest comes and smacks me with a picture book, "Weed me!" she yells as she climbs up. R. has started to read novels and I love sharing with him. It helps that he enjoys the same type of books I do. I am starting to figure out J.'s preferences, he is a nonfiction kid, because he hates the type of tension you find in a regular book.
I love reading aloud and sharing with my sweet husband. He wasn't much of a reader when we got together, but I have corrupted him and now he ignores his children when we get a new book nearly as much as I do. I love reading the same book and sharing the good parts and quoting bits to each other later. It is like our own private language because when you quote a movie, a lot of people will know what it is from, but rarely will anyone recognize a book quote.
I am grateful that I can buy books and that in the last year or two I have found authors good enough I think it is worth buying their books hardcover. I am glad that my chosen genres are becoming more popular and there are so many things to explore and learn.
I love that you can always learn something from a book. Even the most worthless one will at least teach you what to avoid. Fiction might be made up, but there is always some sort of detail that is new, or an idea you haven't had before.
And most of all, right now I am grateful that my pregnant brain has let up a bit and I am reading again. It felt very odd not to be reading. I missed the books, but couldn't get up the mental energy I needed to read them. I am still not up to reading difficult and complex things, but light fantasy and "cosy" mysteries are great. And some of the mysteries even have recipes I might use. I love the fact that there are so many types of books out there. No matter my mood, there is something to fill it. We are so blessed to live in such a rich time and I am very grateful.

A is for Apples

I've been pondering doing something to help my mental state and when I noticed that Thanksgiving was on the 26th of November I had a mild epiphany. I will try and write an ABC of thankfulness. Don't expect anything profound, because I'm not experiencing that type of eloquent brain activity. Mostly I want to get my mind into a better position, both mental and spiritual. My desire to be positive with this pregnancy, especially since I chose to have another child is battling with the natural desire to grump at everyone because I hate how I feel when I am pregnant. I won't be posting every day, since we don't turn on the computer on Sunday, but I will at least say something for every letter.

A is for Apples

Healthy eating has been duking it out with convenience the last few months. Thankfully all of my children like apples, which is one of the few foods in both camps. David has been doing very well in his effort to eat less sugar and I am trying to change my shopping and snacking habits to match. Changing the eating habits of my children is a bit harder. Things like apples, baby carrots and cheese logs help. Halloween does not, but we will run out of candy soon.
I generally don't like apple juice, which means my children now think it is as good of a treat as pop or punch. While it might be loaded with sugar, it still came from a tree and not a plant.
Now all I have to do is convince them that applesauce is edible and we'll be good. Though that is probably not going to happen, they don't even like applesauce cookies.
Thank you Heavenly Father, for the apple.