A surprising perspective of Godliness I’ve learned from teaching high school (yes, He’s still there)

They come into my room with complaints, always. It’s the nature of teenagers, and because I sit behind the desk I hear it all.

Usually they march right up to me and express how annoying, or rude, or fake, or awful someone is. It’s more important than lunch, more important than study hall, more important than catching the bus after school that I know just how wronged they were.

Sometimes they sit at a desk and vent to another student about so-and-so’s inhumanity, and because teenagers are notoriously loud, I hear all of that too.

Later, more come in and I hear the other sides of the stories—because these students are friends of the horribly offensive one or might even be the offender themselves.

And then I put together the picture based on the selected pieces dropped in front of me, and a new image emerges.

I understand many new angles, a variety of aspects.

Who’s at fault?
Well, all of them.

Who deserves retribution?
None of them.

Who deserves mercy and another chance?
Each and every last one of them.

Sometimes the students demand that I take a side, that I assure them that their anger is justified. I can’t do that, because I’ve seen the backside and know that there is plenty of blame to go around. I’ve never seen anyone wholly innocent.

I think deep down all of them see that too.

Instead, I commiserate with them, tell them I’m sorry they’re dealing with this, then . . . I leave it.

Because I realize they’re not as far apart from their enemy as they think they are. Actually, they’re so close they’re nearly side-by-side, except for this sliver of animosity wedged between them. I’m not going to try to remove that wedge because I see how close they are to resolving it themselves, and the knowledge and growth they get as they do so will be the best learning they’ll have in school.

So I watch, and on a rare occasion call an authority because a law’s being broken, but for 99% of the time I pray silently these silly teenagers get over themselves and move on.

And so far, they have been. Grudges melt away. Enemies share a pencil. Students put on suspension come back with sly smiles and ask, “I’m still your favorite student, right?” (I hesitate to answer that one, every time.)

And this, I’ve discovered, is a tiny glimpse of how God works. We wander into His heavenly room full of complaining prayers, demanding He wreak vengeance for us, tell Him how unfair and unjust life is. He smiles consolingly, wraps His comfort around us, then because He sees just how close we are to solving the problem ourselves, He steps back and lets us flail and muck about, giving us words of encouragement, but not interfering 99% of the time. He knows we’ve got this, if we’ll just calm down enough to hear His words.

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If we accept His perspective and insights, our hearts soften, our anger dissolves, and we leave with our enemies not so enemy-ish (and grateful that God didn’t smite them with a falling piano as we earlier requested).

Then He smiles and hopes that next time we’ll remember to first show a little more mercy, a little more patience, a little more love, a little more Godliness.

“He was very easy to talk to,” Versa said. “He listened to my long descriptions without any expression of surprise or dismay, as if he’d heard it all before. No judgments, no criticisms, just patient listening. Much like I imagine the Creator would listen.”

~Book 8, coming Summer 2018

weekly meme Creater easy to talk to

Can God, the master plot builder, write you and me a happy ending, even if we’ve messed up the story?

Recently a friend and I were chatting online about a most stupid and aggravating character (Young Pere in “The Soldier in the Middle of the World”). Those of you who are reading it know that Young Pere keeps getting caught up in his own ideas of how things should be. Despite warnings and promptings, he insists on doing things his way, to disastrous ends.

My friend remarked, “I hate to admit that in so many ways, Young Pere mirrors my life.”

I had to agree. Far too often I’ve counseled God–told Him how I expected things to be–instead of taking counsel from Him. That’s how I got so much material for Young Pere—my own arrogant mistakes.

But then I told my friend, “The best part, though, has been writing salvation for him. Bringing in characters who help him, then developing for him an ultimately happy ending. Nothing has been more satisfying!

I could barely type those words before something big and beautiful bloomed from them: the idea that if I can so readily write a good ending for a character, couldn’t God also take my messed-up storyline and craft a happy ending as well?

I won’t detail my mistakes (it’s not THAT kind of blog) but I’ve made a few whoppers, and we’re still reeling, many years later, from some huge financial errors. So often I’ve decided there isn’t any hope, that this problem which grows yearly will go with me to my grave (the only way we’ll eventually be free from it).

But lately I’ve had this little niggling in the back of my head: What if there is a solution? What if God has seen the disasters caused by my younger arrogance, and has been quietly working on a subplot these past few years that will eventually surface and provide a glorious solution?

Then came to me the thought, “That’s exactly what I do. If you pay attention, eventually you’ll find it.”

In Moses 1:39 He says, “For behold, this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

His “glory” is helping us secure a happy ending. Talk about a satisfying project!

I’ve written before that God’s the master plot builder, that through His twists and turns and even deus ex machina, He literally is the God in the Machine, frequently providing solutions and answers and lessons and growth that we never would have sought out for ourselves.

And He even provides miracles.

Daily.

Little ones. Big ones.

He hasn’t ceased to be a God of miracles.

And maybe, just maybe, He still has a few plot twists and miracles waiting for me. Perhaps even a most epic and glorious ending. Because, honestly, there’s nothing more wonderful than making a happy ending.

And I’m betting He’s got one for you, too.

 

You look so tired, Young Pere. So weary, my sweet boy. Did you ever have a day of peace in the world?

“No,” he sighed. “Not that I remember.”

Then isn’t it time to let go of the world?

Young Pere let the words wash over him, some remote part of him beginning to accept that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.

Isn’t it time to try someone else’s ideas for a while? The Creator has a plan for you, Young Pere. It’s been revealed to me, and my sweet boy, it’s wonderful!

He rubbed his face.

Do you trust me, Young Pere?

~Book 8, the final installment, coming in Summer 2018 (well, that’s the hope right now . . .)

weekly meme Creator has a plan for you

Book 7 teaser–Are you being forced or are you allowed to choose?

I’ve discovered the easiest way to decide what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”: by asking, “Am I being forced to accept this?”

If someone lays out the facts, then takes a step back to let me ponder and evaluate, then I’m much more inclined to accept their position.

But if someone tries to force their ideas on me, I dig in my heels and refuse to budge, because something is fundamentally wrong with the argument if it must be forced to be accepted.

And it doesn’t matter who or for what cause they’re forcing. I’ve known very religious people try to force their children/spouses to obey them. I’ve known agnostics and atheists do the same thing.

Force is always wrong, because it takes away a person’s agency: their God-given right to choose for themselves. And it IS God-given. That’s not a nicety, but a reality.

No ideology, political group, religious organization, government or family member has the right to force their opinion and will upon another. If someone is trying to control another, you can be sure they are acting devilish. That’s not an euphemism, but a fact: Satan is all about control, about force, about taking away freedoms. Lucifer is real, and his influence is very easy to spot. If someone’s trying to control you, there he is.

God, however, is not about control or force. Many religious groups and zealots, however, will hijack the notion of “god” and appropriate it as their own, pretending that their cause is god-driven and therefore you must follow. But the only god they’re following is the one they made up; they’re worshiping themselves and want you as a follower.

God, on the other hand, sent us to this earth as a testing ground. He wants us to choose right or wrong, good or evil, and He so values our freedom that, when we make mistakes, He’s even given us a way to fix them. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins so we could come back to Him.

BUT–and this is a big BUT–only if we want to.

God is our Father, and like any good father He wants His children back home. But He will never force us back, never force His will. He sets out His terms, His promises, His hopes, then takes a step back and lets us choose for ourselves.

That is love.

Satan is not.

And every last argument in the world plays into either of these two courts: Are you being forced, or are you allowed to choose?

“You can’t force your will on someone,” Peto would say as he hauled the flailing teenager to the barn, “and demand they do what you want. That’s the Refuser’s way, not the Creator’s way. The Creator allows everyone to choose their way, even if it’s the stupid way. But the Refuser wants to control everyone’s lives. That’s not our way!” ~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

weekly meme background The Creator's way

 

In praise of regular days

My 10-year-old said, “I’m bored. What are we doing today?”

“NOTHING!” I shouted in delight. “Isn’t that amazing!”

“So,” she said, “we’re going nowhere and have nothing to do?”

“Isn’t that WONDERFUL?!”

She frowned but I was grinning. It’s been months–maybe even a year–since we’ve encountered so many quiet days. The frenzy of fixing things up, of taking things down, of moving cross country, of readjusting to new normals . . . all of it’s over, and for the past few weeks we’ve had boring days. Lovely!

I probably don’t appreciate regular routines as much as I should, but I am today. In fact, I feel guilty for not realizing that a couple of weeks ago we “settled in” because I’ve been glued to my laptop, deep in final edits of Book 7 (and Book 7 will likely be ready much faster than I expected–WONDERFUL!).

There’s immense comfort in knowing we’re facing another dull day, another routine with no pressing matters looming. School won’t start for us for a few weeks yet, and while we’ll have to move from this rental house again it won’t be for a couple months, so for right now we have blissful, sweet boredom!

It’s like God presses the pause button on occasion and says, “Let’s give you a few days, see if you notice that the biggest problems are that all the purple popsicles are gone and that the kitten mistook the bathroom rug for the kitty litter box again. For a few days, you can just be. Look outside, take a walk, notice the groceries aren’t running out too quickly, and breathe deeply.”

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When I’m done writing, I’m going to sit outside in this chair (apparently it’s not just decorative but useful), maybe get a few splinters in my behind, but enjoy it and a dull day.

Not everything is a crisis, not every day with children is chaos, despite what so many blogs and memes want you to believe. There’s no need to look for or create drama. We don’t even have to check the news or social media to find a reason to rage and roar at the world.

We are allowed, believe it or not, to simply sit back and enjoy the pause button days.

Real troubles will come again on their own, so let’s revel in the days that are dull.

“And what are you planning to do to Peto? Another dishonest distraction? I think Rector Shin is dealing with enough real problems without you creating a new one for him to chase!” ~Book 7, title to be announced VERY soon!

 

3 ways in which parents are like God (and 3 ways we aren’t–yet)

I’ve always known that parenthood is how God teaches us to be like Him, but now that I’ve been at it for 25 years, I feel like I’m finally understanding some of those aspects. For example:

1) God WANTS to hear from us. Wherever, whenever. I know this, because currently our family is spread over the country. Five of my nine children are at home, one’s serving an LDS mission, and three are away at college. My husband also works out of state, so connecting with everyone doesn’t always happen. But on some Mondays (the day my missionary son can email home) I find that I’ve chatted, emailed, skyped, texted, or messaged everyone in my family. Those are successful days when I feel as if everyone’s still connected.

BUT, how I am not like God is that by the evening, I AM DONE! My kids will tell you that there comes a point when I loudly announce, “I do NOT want to TALK or even SEE any more children! I NEED QUIET TIME!”

Invariably this occurs after these children have already been read and prayed away to bed, and they sneak into my room while I’m trying to work on my computer to annoy me with something irrelevant. After my explosion, and they retreat to their rooms, sure enough, that’s when one of my away-children will  pop up to chat online, or my husband will skype about something.

You should see the look I give my poor husband when he skypes at those moments. “Ah,” he’ll say, “one of those pecked-to-death-by-ducks days. I’ll make this brief—”

Sometimes (ok, often) I lose it.

But God never runs out of patience, or wants time to Himself, because He doesn’t deal with time. (That still boggles my mind.) He’s got all the non-existent time in the world, and there’s never a queue for those waiting on Him.

I know this, because I’ve prayed at all hours of the day and night, and have never heard celestial bellows of, “I Have Had It With These Children—Today, I Am Done!”

Nope, He’s never going to do that.

2) When you truly love God, you just want to be with Him. I know this, because when I have been patient and kind with my kids (something I pray for every single day—“PLEASE help me be patient and kind!”) they actually want to be with me.

This occurred to me on Sunday as my youngest children squished me on the pew at church. My preschooler is getting too heavy to be on my lap, but since he’s the last, I tolerate it even as my legs lose feeling. My nine-year-old tries to lean on me at the same time because she’s too big for my lap, and my thirteen-year-old will lean on the other side because I’m convenient for when he falls asleep five minutes into the service.

And so I sit, squashed and growing numb.

For a naturally claustrophobic person, this has taken a few years to get used to, but I discovered some time ago that if my kids didn’t like me—or even tolerate me—they’d be sitting much further away. On days like that I think, “I may be doing something right.”

Or I’m just convenient, but I’ll take that.

It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. When we truly know Him and understand His nature, we want to be closer to Him. We read the scriptures more, we pray more, we include Him more in our daily mental conversations. We do all we can to feel closer to Him, and He in turn draws closer to us.

We discover He’s an ally, a friend, a confidante, and while sometimes He needs to chasten us because He loves us, His arms are outstretched still, waiting for us to come back into them.

Image result for painting of jesus with man on bench(I love this painting, “Lost and Found,” by Greg Olsen.)

As a mother, I’m not always successful in this. There are times when my children have done something so heinous (i.e. ruined an appliance/electronic device/toilet) that I have to step away in fury, or my child might be permanently wounded; not physically, but emotionally.

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To be fair, this child had permission to destroy the light fixture . . .

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. . . only because she wouldn’t let go of the hammer, and I feared for the rest of the house.

There have been moments when I’ve wanted to throw a flood at an “evil” child and wash it far away, but then I remember that God had been warning and pleading with and trying to save His truly evil children before The Flood for 120 years while Noah labored on the ark.

But after 120 seconds, sometimes I’m ready to call down hail-fire and brimstone. (See why I’m always praying to be “patient and kind”?)

3) Heavenly Father wants to be our Father. Before I get into this, allow me backtrack—children need parents. I think this should be obvious, but almost daily I read philosophies that try to downplay the importance of parents, claiming they can be replaced by exceptional schools (I haven’t found any truly exceptional yet), well-structured day-care centers which can care for your child from before breakfast to after dinner, and a socialistic state which “serves” to alleviate the burdens of parenthood, so that adults can do what really matters—work for the betterment of the state.

Parenting, in some socialist theories, is a purely physical function, with those functions ending as soon as the child is delivered.

This isn’t how God sees parenthood. In fact, the title this all-powerful Creator of Heaven and Earth has chosen for himself is Heavenly Father. I’ve referred to Him here frequently as God which, while accurate, I think downplays His role in our lives. “God” is often seen as a distant figure, full of power and anger, ready to trick and punish His subjects in Zeus-like ways. The gods love to mess with us puny mortals.

The problem is, much of the world regards the Supreme Being of the cosmos this way. But that’s not a true image. Rather, it’s one Satan tries to promote in his effort to keeps us as far away from our Father as he can.

Our Father is an all-loving, ever-patient, ever-tender Father—to all of us. No matter our race, religion, political background, or any other potentially divisive measure, He wants to parent us, as a Perfect Parent would: solely concerned about our well-being.

Our Heavenly Father has no other agenda, no other pressing concerns, other than our eternal happiness. There’s nothing He wants more than to bring us home again with our souls intact from this life-long test we told Him we wanted to take.

Think about the best dad you know—maybe yours, maybe a friend’s. (Interestingly, a lot of people’s perceptions of God are based upon their relationships with their own fathers.) What made that dad so great? His every thought was for his kids, wasn’t it?

Just like our Heavenly Father.

But we puny mortals usually aren’t as wholly devoted to parenthood. Certainly not me, unfortunately. Sure, I’m concerned about my kids, put aside my own plans to help them with theirs, and often forsake sleep, food, and sanity to help them when they’re troubled.

But even as I type this morning, I’m interrupted by my daughter getting ready for school, my son splashing in his bath, my other son  failing again to wake up . . . and here I sit typing. (Notice how I said they’re interrupting me—how I come first, instead of them?) I’m not 24-hours-a-day focused on my children.

“Helicopter parenting,” on the other hand, is not God-like parenting, either, because it’s not done out of concern for children, but out of anxiety of what society may think of us as parents.

While wholly attentive, Heavenly Father is not a helicopter parent. He allows us to make mistakes, to skin our knees, even to punch our siblings, because He knows this life is a test, and no one ever learns from a test if they’re not allowed to actually take it. He allows us to fail so that we can begin to improve.

However, I admit there are times I probably should be more attentive than I am, so that the above-mentioned ruined appliances/devices/toilets don’t get ruined.

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Or so that this, for example, doesn’t happen.

That’s not a problem Heavenly Father faces. A nearly-ruined earth, maybe, but nothing that His Son cannot heal. No, Heavenly Father is far more focused and far more in the details of our lives than we’ll ever understand while in mortality.

Only when we get to the other side and review our existence will we see how often He nudged a situation for us, or diverted a disaster, or steadied us, much like we steady our own children as they learn to ride a bike. Rarely do they know, in their excitement that first time without training wheels, how closely we’re running behind them and straightening their bikes until they can do it themselves.

Likewise, we’ll be surprised to see how often our Heavenly Dad’s hand was touching our lives to make sure we stayed on course.

People occasionally ask me why I have so many kids, and I give my usual, flippant answer of “My husband and I really don’t know. What keeps causing this? Can you explain it to me? Draw diagrams?”

But once another answer came to my mind, when my Heavenly Father was gently nudging me to not be so trivial.

The answer was, So that I can learn to be more like my Heavenly Parents.

Because yes, there is a Heavenly Mother, too, but my theory is that She’s dealing with the children not yet born, or who have already died and gone back, so Heavenly Father is dealing with those of us on “away missions” while She focuses on those “back home.” Even Heavenly Parents have a division of labor.

I also have a lot of children because I’m a very slow learner (no, we figured out how they’re conceived a few years ago—glad we got that cleared up). Each child has taught me a different aspect of how my Heavenly Father wishes me to be, and I’m needing lots of years of practice to start getting close to His vision for me.

But, fortunately, I have Perfect Examples to follow.

Mahrree often felt as if she were looking into the eyes of the Creator Himself as Gleace listened earnestly to Peto’s description of kickball, offered advice to Deck on selecting cattle to start his herd, chuckled at Jaytsy’s explanation of her mother’s first attempt to garden, and laughed at hearing how Perrin became a cat owner. He paid full attention to each of them, as if no one else existed, and what they had to say was the most important thing ever.

Mahrree knew there were some people who envisioned the Creator as a great and terrible Being, full of impatient vengeance for the fallibility of His creations.

But Mahrree had always pictured someone else: a perfect Father who wanted to make sure His children knew they were loved and cared about. ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

High Polish Tatra mountains