Category Archives: Fulfillment

Motherhood shouldn’t just be a drudgery. Find fulfillment in your most important calling–mother.

Happiness is your responsibility

I was reading an interesting article about Pixar today breaking down the character relationships in Toy Story in a paradigm of parenthood.

So even as, on one level, Woody and Buzz act as children to Andy’s parent, on another they act as parents to Andy’s child: His happiness is their responsibility, and they will resort to the most-extreme measures imaginable to ensure it.

I think that’s something a lot of people believe today, that parents are responsible for their children’s happiness. And yes, absolutely, my children’s happiness does depend a lot on me. If mama isn’t happy, nobody is. And I want my children to be happy.

BUT.

BUT.

I can’t make them happy.

And their happiness is not my top priority.

I think many people of my generation—we poor millennials—were raised in this paradigm. But then we reach adulthood and suddenly we don’t have a cruise director who’s in charge of making us happy. Happiness is not only a choice, it’s a skill.

Happiness is a skill.

It’s one we have to learn and practice and we do need to start in childhood. It’s something we have to learn for ourselves, like tying our shoes or riding a bike or long division. And like those skills, we learn it with tutelage, but heavily through our own effort. If we’re never allowed to struggle or make an effort, though, we won’t learn that skill, and we’ll be wearing the emotional equivalent of Velcro sneakers well into our thirties. (I saw an adult, older than me, trying on Velcro sneakers at the store last week. No, sir. Just no.)

Millennials are seldom accused of being well adjusted or well equipped for life. I think cultural norms of parenting, a backswing from our parents’ parents’ parenting, probably did most of us a disservice. (Mom, Dad, I don’t mean you, or us. Obvs we’re doing okay 😉 .)

Even children are in charge of their own happiness. Making my children happy—while very nice—is not my primary function, and ultimately it will not be up to me. I want to teach my children to be happy. That’s absolutely part of parenting. But let’s not forget our goals as parents: we’re fostering well-adjusted, independent, capable adults, not permanent children who depend upon us for their every happiness.

(That may not be anything like what the author intended in his passing comment on the topic, but I just had this brain wave.)

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Filling Our Homes with Light and Truth

I spoke in church today. Here are the notes for my talk! Because they’re my notes, it’s a little disjointed. I adlibbed some explanations and transitions, but this is the gist of what I said. Some of it is color coded according to its source.

Filling our homes with light and truth

(Introduce myself and family) One last thing, if you haven’t picked up on it already: I talk fast. This is me trying to talk slowly. If it’s not working, . . . Listen faster.

  • We are living behind enemy lines

In Stake Conference, President McFarland told us that we’re living behind enemy lines. I was really unhappy that we’d moved here. (JK.) We are living in the world, Satan’s territory.

Richard G. Scott, “For Peace at Home” Apr 2013:

“Many voices from the world in which we live tell us we should live at a frantic pace. There is always more to do and more to accomplish. Yet deep inside each of us is a need to have a place of refuge where peace and serenity prevail, a place where we can reset, regroup, and reenergize to prepare for future pressures.

The ideal place for that peace is within the walls of our own homes

We must guard our souls and our homes and make them into this refuge, a haven: we must fill them with truth and light.

At Gen Women’s mtg in March, Sister Cheryl A. Esplin, counselor in the Primary General Presidency, spoke on exactly this subject. She shared an object lesson she’d seen in a General YW training. The teacher held up two cans of soda. She squeezed the empty can. It quickly succumbed to the pressure and was crushed. Then she held up the second can, unopened and full. When she squeezed it, the soda in the can held the sides firm against her grasp. The message, Sister Esplin said, was clear: “We likened this demonstration to our individual lives and to our homes and families. When filled with the Spirit and with gospel truth, we have the power to withstand the outside forces of the world that surround and push against us. However, if we are not filled spiritually, we don’t have the inner strength to resist the outside pressures and can collapse when forces push against us.”

One place where we best seek to be filled with light and truth is in our own homes. To protect against Satan’s powers, our families and homes must be filled with light and truth. So first, we need to understand what we mean by light and truth. That doesn’t mean to switch on every lightbulb or stockpile the scriptures.

  • The meaning of light and truth.

We see the phrase “light and truth” a few places in the scriptures, but it’s probably used most extensively in Doctrine & Covenants 93. Most of us probably remember verse 36, the scripture mastery from this section: “the glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth.” In the next verse, we read that “light and truth forsake that evil one.” So light and truth are definitely things we want to have in our homes to fight off those outside powers!

But the beginning of the section discusses light and truth even more. The Lord calls himself, “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;” (2) “The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth,” (9). Jesus Christ is the light of the world and the Spirit of truth.

  • CHRIST is light and truth.

Elder Scott says that As you center your home on the Savior, it will naturally become a refuge.

To fill our homes with light and truth, we need to make the Savior the center of our home life. For each of us, the exact process we use to do this might be different. Many of us have been baptized and have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, whose role it is to reveal and teach the truth of all things. – the Holy Ghost can teach us what we each need to do to make our homes a haven, a temple, a place where the Spirit resides.

Every home is different, as Sister Esplin says. We can all receive guidance from the Holy Ghost on how best to strengthen our home and fill it with light and truth—with Christ. Studying the scriptures and prayer keep us in touch with the Spirit so that we can continue to receive that revelation about specific things to do for our home.

Doing all we can to invite the gentle, guiding influence of the Holy Ghost into our lives is critical in our attempts to center our homes on the Savior. Acting obediently on those promptings strengthens us even more.

In D&C 93: 28, we read that He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, so as we obey these promptings, we’re automatically receiving more light and truth.

Even if we don’t have children living in our homes now, we need to fill our homes with Christ, with his Spirit. We all need a haven, a refuge from the world. We’ve been commanded to fill our homes with light and truth.

  • HOW? I’ve been thinking about this for a couple years now, and this is my “list”
    • Feelings: Joy, SHOW LOVE, Feel the spirit
    • Environment: Safe from the world, Welcoming entry, Actually welcome them
    • Actions: Family, scripture study, FHE, Family meals, Family prayer: teach the gospel, gather as a family, strengthen bonds, feel the spirit, teach them to be kind and to love God. These are the two great commandments. 4 Nephi 1:15 (there will always be conflict because we have agency, but loving God can help us avoid contention by keeping us all focused on the same ultimate goals & in tune with the Spirit)
    • My personal actions: Pray for them by name, No yelling, Go to bed at a reasonable hour, personal scripture study, We are continually counseled to increase our spiritual knowledge through prayer and through studying and pondering the scriptures and the words of the living prophets
      • Queue up scripture study on phone @ bedtime—hit play in the AM
    • I don’t need to study the scriptures to get the plot. I’m pretty familiar with the story of the Book of Mormon. Even the specific doctrine that I might study might not be relevant to my life that day. But I need to study the scriptures so that I start the day off with the Spirit, so I can have the Spirit in my home and in my interactions with my children.

None of these things by itself is a huge effort. Elder Scott says that “simple, consistent, good habits lead to a life full of bountiful blessings.”

My list will not be your list, although there will obviously be some overlap. With the Spirit’s guidance, you can make a list or receive inspiration about what’s best for your family and your haven.

I don’t know about you, but to me, this seems like a daunting task. Elder Scott reassures us that as we work toward this, we won’t be alone.

When we obey the commandments of the Lord and serve His children unselfishly, the natural consequence is power from God—power to do more than we can do by ourselves. Our insights, our talents, our abilities are expanded because we receive strength and power from the Lord. His power is a fundamental component to establishing a home filled with peace.

As part of Heavenly Father’s plan, we’re here in families, and every member of our family contributes to the spirit in the home.

We come into our families with a sacred duty to help strengthen each other spiritually.

The words in the chorus of the song we heard remind us, “God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be.”

As a teenager, I thought that God gave us families to make us better by trying us. (I’ll probably feel that way again when I have teenagers myself.) However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that families are (hopefully) how we learn to love, to be kind, to sacrifice.

Families are the Lord’s workshop on earth to help us learn and live the gospel.

The fulfillment of this counsel does not rest upon parents alone, although it is their role to lead. Children can be responsible for improving the Christ-centered efforts in the home. It is important for parents to teach children to recognize how their actions affect each individual who lives in the home.

Strong eternal families and Spirit-filled homes do not just happen. They take great effort, they take time, and they take each member of the family doing his or her part.

When we take the whole list altogether, though, our list might seem long or daunting. I’ve carried mine around in my pocket just about every day for over two years (it’s on my phone), and I still haven’t gotten around to putting a ficus by the front door. But creating a haven in our home is not a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it event; it’s a process.

We need not worry if we can’t simultaneously do all of the things that the Lord has counseled us to do. He has spoken of a time and a season for all things. In response to our sincere prayers for guidance, He will direct us in what should be emphasized at each phase of our life. We can learn, grow, and become like Him one consistent step at a time.

As part of this process, we must always strive to keep the Spirit in the home once we’ve invited him in. Although our homes are in enemy territory, we have a great amount of control over what comes inside. When I was in Seminary, one of the Seminary songs was “My Holy House.” The words of the song say that “the things that I choose determine if I lose all the light that’s within my holy house” and “Mine is a house of holiness, it’s up to me to keep it clean. My own temple full of love and light, where the Spirit stays with me.”

In the “music video,” they showed two example scenarios. Both were set in the same lovely home decorated in light colors. In the bad example, the girl who lived there allowed in some friends and media that replaced her lilies with dead weeds and popped a video in her VCR that literally poured filth out of the player as black and thick as oil. These people left black footprints and handprints on everything and even turned off her lamps. But first, she let them in.

The media and the influences we invite into our home have a great impact on the amount of light and truth there. We can’t always tell or control what media will come into our home—you never know what commercial or pop-up ad might spring up on you, and Satan is howling at the doors like a stormwind, trying to get in.

 

Satan knows that in order for us and our families to withstand the pressures of the world, we must be filled with light and gospel truth. So he does everything in his power to dilute, distort, and destroy the truth of the gospel and to keep us separated from that truth.

We need to prepare ourselves and our children for this frontal assault in our own homes. We need to learn to turn away from Satan and his influence wherever it might crop up and redirect our thoughts into something uplifting to invite the spirit into our home and our heart again.

Whatever we do, we must do something. If we do nothing, we leave a vacuum—an empty can. It won’t stay empty. Either it will be filled with things that we didn’t choose, or it will be crushed.

 

Filling our homes with light and truth is so important that we need all of us working together to be successful. Maybe it’s just me that’s overwhelmed by the responsibility we have to keep ourselves and our homes in tune with the spirit—but fortunately, as Elder Scott said, we don’t have to do everything all at once—and we receive light and truth just for making an effort, and power from Heavenly Father. The enabling power of Christ’s atonement can also strengthen us and make our efforts more than what they are.

Living an obedient life, firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, provides the greatest assurance for peace and refuge in our homes. There will still be plenty of challenges or heartaches, but even in the midst of turmoil, we can enjoy inner peace and profound happiness. I testify that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the source of that abundant peace.

I know that our lives will not be easy—life is not easy—but that’s exactly why we all need a haven, a place where we can access the peace of the spirit, the peace of our Lord and Savior, the peace of his atonement. As we work to listen to the Spirit and follow inspiration, Jesus Christ will sanctify our efforts, and just like He will with our lives, He can make up for any of our failings if we have faith in him and strive to do all that we can to fill our homes with light and truth and to keep the Spirit there.

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Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day gets a bad rap. We hear so many people praising their angel mothers and we wonder if that title could ever apply to us. No, we finally decide. I’m not as perfect as this man’s mother. I’m no angel. I don’t deserve any praise.

We are way too hard on ourselves. At church today, Brother Rick McAlister noted that no one said anything about a mother being perfect. “Because there’s no such thing as a perfect mother,” he continued, “and it’s a good thing, because there’s no such thing as a perfect father or perfect children, either. But every family has the perfect mother for them.”

Normally when I hear that kind of platitude, I dismiss it just as easily as I would the praise of angel mothers. I’m not perfect, and I’m keenly aware of how far short I fall. Especially right now, two months after my fifth child is born, I’m sleep deprived and snappier than I should be. But when Brother McAlister said that, I knew immediately that he was right. I don’t know what about me—trying to ignore the long list of faults that immediately pops up here—makes me the perfect mother for Hayden, Rebecca, Rachel, Hazel and Benjamin, but I do believe that Heavenly Father has a plan. He didn’t assign us to families by throwing darts. He hand picked each parent and each child.

Yesterday, my visiting teacher shared this video with me, and I loved it:

The talk is “Because She Is a Mother”. I quoted it in a Mother’s Day talk here which I still love. Still feeling inadequate? Maybe it’s time to change the measuring stick.

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A baby’s smile

I could tell right away that Hazel was going to be a smiler. She smiled in her sleep constantly. Though it took her a couple weeks longer than the other kids to start smiling as much in her waking hours, smiling quickly became her favorite activity, and she especially likes smiling at me.

Today at church she was engaging in her favorite smiling-at-me hobby when my friend commented, “Doesn’t it seem like they can see into your soul?”


I joked back, “If she could, she wouldn’t keep smiling.” (And then I commented, “Nah, she’s my favorite. She doesn’t disobey 😉 “)

But thinking more about that unabashed smile, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes:

It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may have come across four or five times in your life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. (The Great Gatsby)

So, yes. I think maybe a little baby can see right into our souls (and still beam up at us).

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My Kids are Computers

I pretty much have to congratulate myself on this one: when my kids were born, I checked off the box that said “Computer module.” I really didn’t quite understand what that would entail, but boy, did I make the right decision!

These days, behavior, morals, even chores—you know what? All of parenting is just not the hassle it’s made out to be! All I have to do is enter my input:

Environment.church {
behavior: reverent;
volume: 10%;
default-position: seated;
thoughts: Jesus;
}

And BAM! My kids are the most reverent at church! (It’s important to beat other people with your reverence, too.)

At home, it’s just as easy:

Operation.chores {
complaining: none;
enthusiasm: 85%;
competence: 100%;
willingness-to-see-it-through: 200%
}

Entitlement? A problem of the past!

Operation.gifts {
response: gratitude-sincere;
attutide: positive;
asking-for-more: please;
if-no: whining-off;
}

Uh . . . YEEEEAH. Right. My kids aren’t computers, and I’m betting neither are yours. For some reason, it’s sometimes hard to remember this, but kids are people. They come with their own preferences and penchants and personalities. Their default settings are the same as any adults’, really:

Default {
selfish: yes;
self-centered: yes;
ungrateful: yes;
minimal-regard-for-others: yes;
}

I kind of think they’re that way by design. The whole job of parents is to teach kids otherwise (hopefully so thoroughly that our defaults as adults aren’t the same!). But it takes a lot more than one line of code to change ingrained, inborn behaviors for a lifetime.

That’s why parenthood is so hard. It doesn’t matter how many times you teach a child to be grateful/not whine/not throw a tantrum because they don’t get something they want, they’ll probably do it again.

THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU FAILED. It means your child is still a person and probably wants some control over his/her life. It means you have to keep teaching the same lessons you’ve taught a thousand times, probably a thousand more times—basically until your kids grow out of some of the behaviors. (I’m sure there are a few you can legitimately extinguish. Biting, maybe?)

And even then, even adults slip back into these natural-man behaviors. OVERCOMING THESE ID TENDENCIES IS THE BATTLE OF LIFE. I believe one of the major reasons why we came to earth is to learn to control our bodies, our urges, ourselves.

It starts in childhood with external instruction from our parents, but it never, ever ends. Neither does the battle of parenthood.

We will teach our children the same things over and over and over again. And they’ll still not learn it, or they’ll still act up, or they’ll still be people.

But you know what? That’s okay. Because I didn’t sign up for computers. I signed up for kids.

What do you think? Are your kids computers? Are you glad? Why?

Computer monitor photo by Brian/David

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This one little thing

Every once in a while, I get fixated on this one little thing. It might be having my son participate in his preschool Christmas program, or my daughter take dance lessons (okay, that one hasn’t happened yet). I want my child to do this thing that really isn’t all that important in the long run, but for some reason it means something to me, like singing “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” in front of 75 strangers proves I’m raising a well-adjusted three-year-old.

Um, no?

Yes, it’s not asking much. But it seems like when I get so excited about these supposedly fun little things, they never go how I want.

The same thing seems to happen with little things that might not be so little—the small gestures I anticipate, like that first smile or first Mother’s day card will be the one little thing that convinces me this motherhood thing is worth it, that I’m not driving myself nuts watching Curious George and teaching the alphabet and trying to get! them! to! share! completely in vain.

Those are the little things that are really dangerous, because I can become so fixated on them that they become the reason for motherhood itself. And when they don’t come—and it seems like they never do—I’m so ready to give up. “All I wanted,” I want to scream at the heavens, “was this one stupid little thing. This one gesture to tell me I’m doing the right thing—one tiny tender mercy. Why are you withholding it from me?”

I’ve gotten better about these little things, but sometimes they sneak up on me. Hayden was “keeping a secret” about his Mother’s day gift at school (not really at all): a book he was writing for me. (It’s his second. He’s pretty prolific; he gets it from me. 😉 ) It was supposed to be a book about how great I am.

I knew better than to get my hopes up. I mean, the child is six. For Christmas, he got me an airhorn at the dollar store, an “attention-er,” he called it. I’ve never received a gift that filled me with so much guilt: my first thought was that he was under the impression that I yelled all the time and needed the help. (Ryan set me straight: he was five. He thought it would be fun. Therefore, he reasoned, I must have thought it would be fun. Child logic.)

Still, Hayden was very excited about his book. A few days before Mother’s day, I arrived to pick him up, and he was distraught. “The wind blew your book away!” he pouted. And it had, the staff verified: this four page book he’d spent all week on had been taken by the (surprisingly stiff) wind.

I was not going to accept this! We marched four blocks, scouring in yards and under cars, looking for that book. And I’ll admit it, my mind really wanted to go to that “Why are you taking this one stupid little thing from me?” place. That “Why can’t I get the smallest vote of ‘thanks, Mom, nice job’?” place. That “Do you not care?” place.

The search seemed to mollify Hayden, at least—my biggest concern at the time (yes, it was). He told me what the book said (I’m a great cook and I give him hugs), and said he’d make another at school the next day.

After we’d been home for a while, I remembered his teacher was sending home a certificate for some award he’d earned. I didn’t know what it was, exactly, so I was pretty surprised to find the president’s signature on the certificate:

As proud and as happy as that made me, though, it paled in comparison to the other homework he brought home:

Yep.

It’s not about these little things. It’s about the sentiment behind them. And that will be there whether I get the book or the air horn or nothing at all.

How have you found fulfillment this week?

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