Monday, September 21, 2009

Thoughts on Turning Hearts -- not to fathers or children this time, but to each other

My husband and I were talking in the car tonight about the gay marriage issue. One of the hardest things I see about the issue, and other issues, for that matter, is that there is too much of closed-mindedness on both 'sides' of these issues. It's too easy to REact without thinking, and without trying to let the Spirit guide choices and actions.

There are many examples that come to mind:

  • I saw it with the recent reaction to Pres. Obama's speech to children about education. Truth be told, I'm not a fan of Pres. Obama. Even as I can understand the initial response of concern, I was deeply, deeply disappointed that parents sought to shut down the chance for children to hear a message about education from our president. It was a chance to respect the office, and even to talk about how we don't have to agree with someone to show respect for them and listen to them. I think our children need to see us modeling reasoned, respectful handling of hard issues, and of responding to those with whom we disagree. I know I can do better in this regard in general, and it is my goal to do so.
  • Another example of emotional reaction that I think created some problems was with the Big Love episode on the temple ceremony. Even as I, too, was disappointed (even shocked) to hear that this was going to happen, I felt there was too much emotional reaction that actually added fuel to the fire.
  • This reminds me of emails that are forwarded without thinking, without checking, without caring about details. ( is great {wink}) BUT -- haha -- in writing that, I realize that sometimes my annoyed reaction to such lack of checking reflects a way I can open my heart more. SO WHAT if someone sends me such an email? I can choose to ignore or check it out myself, right? :) Really, don't I have better things to do than to get frustrated when someone sends something they happened to enjoy, and they send it because I'm on their list of people they love and care about?? Yes, I do, and I should take a moment to check my heart and trust theirs.
  • On this issue of SSA/SSM, I have seen closed-minded and unkind statements made by those against SSM. It's most disturbing to me in the Church, but worries me at any level. Such unkindness is contrary to the Church's teachings, and contrary to the Church's position -- even as their position re: gay marriage and homosexual behavior is clear. On the flip side, I have seen closed hearts and minds from those who support SSM. Too often, assumptions and accusations are made that are unfair and often untrue. To label all those who support the Church's position and/or those who have taken positions on measures such as Prop 8 as hateful homophobes is unfair and unkind, and not helpful to the cause of respect, dialogue, and agreeing to disagree.
  • I see this dynamic in discussions on hot topics like educating our children, childbirth, efforts toward healthy living, plastic surgery, family/work balance decisions, and myriad (!!) other topics. So much of things like these are about respecting and understanding agency. Even as there are guidelines and principles (take general Church teachings about caring for our bodies, for example, or about the importance of mothers' primary role as nurturer), we really have no room to judge others' choices, OR to insist that our personal choices reflect absolute truth that should be chosen by (or imposed on) others.
  • I saw emotional reaction to Sister Beck's Mothers Who Know talk. (I have been online discussing LDS women's issues for nearly 15 years. I dare say I have never seen such a reaction, and it was very disappointing to me.) Before people really even had taken time to process the message, the internet was awash with angry vents and criticism of and misrepresentations of Sister Beck and her words. (Please note: I understand completely how painful mommy (and other) guilt is. And I even felt some of that creeping in when she talked. Fortunately, in this case, the Spirit had already been teaching me and preparing me to hear what she was *really* saying. I *know* how hard it can be to feel the pangs of guilt. And I have had my moments of wanting to throw an Ensign or a lesson out the window. But when I compare those REactions to how I feel when the Spirit is softening my heart and helping me to see things -- and myself -- as they/I really are/am...the difference is night and day! The kind of self-destructive guilt we often feel is not others' fault, and not of God. The Spirit helps calm my initial reactions and helps me process things more clearly. I'm working hard (and it IS hard work) to try to check my REactions and to test them according to the tests we have been given (see, for example, this one). To try to ACT and not be acted upon by my emotions, not at least without seeking the Spirit's guidance.

We don't have to *like* what someone is doing, saying, choosing, or believing, to at least show some respect for differing actions, words, choices, or beliefs. More often than not, when taking a step back from our initial reactions, I think we can usually see that there are holes in our understanding and perception. We ALL are dealing with incomplete pictures and fallen tendencies (our beams). There is, imo, a reason the Lord uses the council system in families and in the Church -- it's because none of us has a corner on truth. There is, imo, a reason we are commanded not to judge -- it's simply because we NEVER have all the information about someone else's heart or life or situation or layers or experiences. And our emotions and experiences -- even our positive ones -- can never can fully reflect the breadth and depth of what God sees and knows.

I know how easy it is to fall into this trap of REacting instead of choosing compassion and care and caution, but I am trying to do better, both in my personal life and also on more general issues, to not close my heart in anger, fear, or other negative emotions. (It's hard work! I fail too often, but I am trying!)

I think more clearly when I take a moment to try to care, to think of others with whom I may disagree or who may have triggered an emotion in me somehow (intentionally or not) as a child of God. I am blessed when I try to stop to realize and remember what anger and closed-mindedness do to my spirit and to relationships, and to my ability to have compassion and to understand beyond my own limited experiences and understanding.

At some point, we will all do what we feel is best, to act on what we know and believe. Sometimes our conclusions or choices will differ. There will always be issues upon which there will be disagreement. Examples are plentiful in our political, cultural, and social climate, and are also present in the Church.

We are all children of God, and ALL deserve respect, kindness, and love -- even when there is disagreement. I believe the best progress is made toward truth when dialogue can take place, even -- and perhaps especially -- when there is disagreement. This requires open-hearts and respect on BOTH sides. Always. "Us" vs. "Them" thinking so often leads to wrong-headed REaction. Without open hearts, we restrict potential for personal and general progress, and, imo, stunt our spiritual growth.

And there are still so many commonalities that we can enjoy, even if and as we disagree on some issues.

That reminds me of something Pres. Eyring said:

You could be one of those peacemakers, whether you are in the conflict or an observer.

One way I have seen it done is to search for anything on which we agree. To be that peacemaker, you need to have the simple faith that as children of God, with all our differences, it is likely that in a strong position we take, there will be elements of truth. The great peacemaker, the restorer of unity, is the one who finds a way to help people see the truth they share. That truth they share is always greater and more important to them than their differences. You can help yourself and others to see that common ground if you ask for help from God and then act. He will answer your prayer to help restore peace, as He has mine.

That same principle applies as we build unity with people who are from vastly different backgrounds. The children of God have more in common than they have differences. And even the differences can be seen as an opportunity. God will help us see a difference in someone else not as a source of irritation but as a contribution. The Lord can help you see and value what another person brings which you lack. More than once the Lord has helped me see His kindness in giving me association with someone whose difference from me was just the help I needed. That has been the Lord’s way of adding something I lacked to serve Him better.

I believe part of the natural man is to REact without seeking that kind of peacemaking. We are wired to self-protect, and will often use whatever tactic to accomplish that protection -- often without thinking, without giving the Spirit a chance to work with us and guide us.

I know I have fallen into reactive trap too often. Again, I am committed to trying to be better, to check my heart more often and more honestly.

Whaddya think? Wanna join me in this effort?

p.s. One of the BEST books I have ever read that has helped me understand mortal reactive and closed-hearted tendencies is The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Group. This book dissects our mortal tendency to go to war with each other with our closed hearts. The book is on my list of the top five books that have had the greatest impact on my life. Were I not big on trying hard to respect others' agency, I would say it should be required reading for all humans. :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Comfort Food

The phone rang. It was my visiting teaching companion.

"I'm ordering dinner to be delivered to your house. Is 6:00 ok?" I tried to convince her that we were fine (we really were), but she would have none of it. "What kind of pizza do you like?" When I told her, she asked what else we wanted. Again, I tried to let her know that a pizza was above and beyond.... Again, she just hushed me up and figured out the rest herself.

Nearly on the button, Mr. Pizza Man arrived with not only our favorite pizza, but breadsticks, salad, and brownies for each of us. Oh, yes, and the delish root beer that sends my kids over the moon.

As we ate the food that filled our home with wonderful smells of garlic, my children exclaimed, "I can't believe she would do this for us! She is so nice!"


Why did she do this?

Because she loves me. She knew I was under the weather, and this was her simple way to showing that she cared.

I really could have fed my family. I had leftovers in the fridge. This was not an issue of not being ABLE.

It was an issue of being loved.

What better comfort food is there, really, than that given from the heart?

Thanks, friend. Thank you for loving me.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I was sound asleep when my phone rang, so my brain didn't fully process my neighbor's frantic message:

"Turn on the TV. There has been a terrorist attack!"

I rolled my very pregnant body out of bed as quickly as I could, and wobbled downstairs to turn on the television.

It doesn't matter that words can't really describe it, because we all felt it. I sat, in shock. Watching replays of the planes hitting the towers. Seeing footage of the Pentagon.

And then watching those towers fall.

It was hard over the next few days to not stay glued to the television. To not watch and watch and watch again. But life had to go on. I couldn't imagine how hard that would be for those most personally affected by the tragedies of that day.

Still fresh in my own heart are the vulnerable feelings I had as a mother just a few weeks from giving birth. It was hard not to think, "What kind of world am I bringing my baby into?" My other children were still so very small. Young. Innocent. Pure.

I'm reminded of something President Boyd K. Packer said:

A few weeks ago our youngest son and his wife and family stopped to see us. The first one out of the car was our two-year-old grandson. He came running to me with his arms outstretched, shouting, “Gwampa! Gwampa! Gwampa!”

He hugged my legs, and I looked down at that smiling face and those big, innocent eyes and thought, “What kind of a world awaits him?”

For a moment I had that feeling of anxiety, that fear of the future that so many parents express to us. Everywhere we go fathers and mothers worry about the future of their children in this very troubled world.

But then a feeling of assurance came over me. My fear of the future faded.

That guiding, comforting Spirit...brought to my remembrance what I already knew. The fear of the future was gone. That bright-eyed, little two-year-old can have a good life—a very good life—and so can his children and his grandchildren, even though they will live in a world where there is much of wickedness.

They will see many events transpire in the course of their lifetime. Some of these shall tax their courage and extend their faith. But if they seek prayerfully for help and guidance, they shall be given power over adverse things. Such trials shall not be permitted to stand in the way of their progress, but instead shall act as stepping-stones to greater knowledge.

The short version of his message is this: "Do not be afraid to bring children into the world."

For all that mortality brings with it trials and tragedy, there is much to hope for, much to hold onto, much to do.

I will never forget. But what I try to remember most is that because of the Savior, there is always hope.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"Empathy is Never Wasted"

As I have been dealing with a life that is pretty messy (weird schedule, weird health, long list of to-dos that don't get done because of said and other weirdness), I have thought a lot about the commandment to not judge. I have a greater appreciation for what that means, because I know more what it's like to fear others' judgment because of my messy life.

We so often measure each other (and ourselves!) by the externally visible, the tangibly measurable. Our world is driven by things like checklists, grades, scholarships, salaries, possessions, appearance, degrees, promotions, etc. It's not that these things don't have their place, but if they become the ruler by which we decide how much respect or love someone deserves, it quickly becomes problematic.

The way I see it, we are asked to "live in" this world of mortal measures, but to not "be of" this world. Christlike living demands a different kind of approach -- an open heart.

While I have often wished my trials could be taken from me, one thing that I do feel I am learning is to stop and think and open my heart when I feel the instinct to judge.

The truth is, we are all "weighed in the balance...and...found wanting." And we all need each others' compassion, patience, and love.

I was reading through this talk by Elder Neal A. Maxwell (how I miss him!), and read this -- one of those wowza kinds of quotes:

As things unfold, sometimes in full view, let us be merciful with each other. We certainly do not criticize hospital patients amid intensive care for looking pale and preoccupied. Why then those recovering from surgery on their souls? No need for us to stare; those stitches will finally come out. And in this hospital, too, it is important for everyone to remember that the hospital chart is not the patient. Extending our mercy to someone need not wait upon our full understanding of their challenges! Empathy may not be appreciated or reciprocated, but empathy is never wasted.
What has helped you feel more empathy and compassion for others?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Lonely Road

When you think of President Hinckley, what do you think of? I think of a lot of things, but one is his optimism.

That makes a verse in the hymn he wrote all the more interesting to me.

Oh, give me thy sweet Spirit still,
The peace that comes alone from thee,
The faith to walk the lonely road
That leads to thine eternity.

The lonely road.

Truth be told, the walk of faith can be a lonely road. It's not because we don't have people on the path with us, but no one can walk that path for us.

A friend and I were talking about schtuff recently, and she mentioned an insight she had had, one I have been mulling over ever since.

She talked of a friend of hers who, when facing the same trial my friend had faced, had received an answer for what to do that was 180 degrees different from my friend's answer.

My friend then noted (paraphrasing):

"In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord talks of the parable of the ten virgins and about the last days. It is the people who have taken the Holy Spirit as their guide who will be able to survive these difficult times. Perhaps the oil that is talked about is not just about testimony, but about learning to really get answers through the Spirit. Maybe that's another reason the oil cannot be shared -- because we each have to learn to get the answers from God that will be for our specific circumstances, and that will be one of the only ways we can survive these last days."

That resonated with me.

This process of really getting answers -- answers that may not appear in the Ensign or be shared in a Conference talk -- describes what some of the last year has included for me. Truth be told, it has been one of the most difficult and lonely years of my life.

But it's also been one of the most amazing.

I have had experiences with the Spirit that have given me more confidence in my relationship with my Heavenly Father, and even in myself -- in learning to trust that, with Him, I can figure out what is right for me in my life.

My journey simply won't be completely like anyone else's. For a long time, I looked around me for all the answers. I was worried when my life didn't match someone else's. I'm learning to look to the side less and to instead look up.

For all that we have amazing gospel truths to cling to -- and in talking about individual answers I am not talking about dismissing any of those truths or principles -- each of us still has to figure out how to apply those truths to our lives.

For all that we have family and friends, not even those closest to us (not even spouses, if we are married) can receive all the revelation with us that we need to walk the path of life and discipleship.

The lonely road.

I know God is there. The Church is true. The Book of Mormon is true. The Atonement is real (thank heaven!) I know amazing people who enrich my life in unspeakable ways.

But, still, I pray:

Oh, give me thy sweet Spirit still,
The peace that comes alone from thee,
The faith to walk the lonely road
That leads to thine eternity.