The freedom to take a risk

No babies should try to walk until we’re sure they’ll not fall down.
No child should take an exam until they’ll get every problem correct.
No learner of a second language should utter a word until they’re sure they’ll pronounce it right.
No one should drive cars until we can guarantee they’re 100% safe from accidents.
No one should leave their houses until all danger is gone (never mind that most accidents occur in the home . . .).

And then everyone will be safe.

But no one will ever have lived.  

Make mistakes

Do what makes you feel safe, but don’t forget that in this world there’s no such thing as “completely safe.”

Life’s not supposed to be safe. How can we grow in a dull, quiet bubble? We can’t. And why would we want that? The greatest growth comes from the biggest mistakes. We learn more from failures than successes.

Remember Miss Frizzle on the “Magic School Bus”? She was right. (Although I’ll agree that bus was potentially terrifying, still I’d go on it and sit next to Ralphie.)

Reminder to Self Part 1: Create OR Analyze

(Quote from Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, here and here.)

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

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Are you going to let the latest tragedy make you harder, or softer?

It’s happened yet again. Another horrific event/accident/terrorism incident, and in the comments of the articles and in social media we see blaming of the victim: If only they’d watched their child better, or If only they hadn’t been at that place at that time, or If only they’d been more careful, less stupid.

If only they’d been better. Like me.

I’ll admit these thoughts have occasionally hurtled through my brain when I’ve read about the latest tragedies, trying to think frantically how I would have avoided it, how I wouldn’t have let such a horrific thing happen to those I love, or to myself.

As if my placing blame on the victim will somehow ensure I’m never such a victim.

But that’s not how it works.

Everyone—even, and especially, the most innocent—can be a victim.

It’s high time we stop piling inappropriate guilt on to those who desperately need our empathy and help.

Admit it—we’ve all done things that we’ve been eternally relieved had no lasting consequences. Perhaps it’s involved our children. I’ll admit that I’ve accidentally left a child at a store/gas station, had a non-swimming child fall into a pool, and also into a lake. (In my case, this was all the same child, and I know the angels have been running full speed to ensure she’s made it to age 17.)

We’ve all had moments of distraction when driving, and nearly caused—or perhaps did cause—an accident. (I’ve been the victim of that.)

We’ve all had moments of pain and distress or anger where we’ve said something inappropriate, or set off a series of events we regret, perhaps for the rest of our lives. (I won’t go into details of when I did that. Let’s just say there’s a list.)

It’s because we’re human, and while the Savior’s statement of “He that is without sin, let him first cast a stone” was meant to humble the Pharisees who wanted to condemn an adulterous woman, I also see this phrase as a comforting reminder: We all screw up. None of us are without sin.

However, that’s not what scares us the most about tragedies. What scares us to our core is that even those utterly innocent of any wrong-doing can suffer in horrific ways.

What shocks us is that we can be very good people, and still have very bad things happen to us. No matter how much we try to blame and shame that, it doesn’t change the truth: all of us can become a victim.

For example, it’s easy to blame lung cancer patients for their misery. “Smoking causes cancer,” is something we all know. But did you know that 10-15% of all lung cancer occurs in people who have never smoked?

Sometimes, bad things just happen.

Or take the story of Michelle Williams, a pregnant mom riding in a car with her family, who was struck and killed, along with two of her children and her unborn baby, by a teenaged drunk driver. What did she do wrong to deserve that tragedy? Nothing.

That’s what really terrifies us: becoming an innocent victim.

And that’s where the real test begins: How do we react when we are innocent victims, or when we see others become victims?

This entire life is one long test: of our attitudes, our criticism, our compassion, our hearts. Every day, every moment, every event large or small, is designed to see what kind of person we’re becoming.

Sometimes, the tragedy strikes us personally. That’s the most heart-ripping moments of our lives. How we respond is the real test.

Michelle Williams, the expecting mom who died, left behind a husband and additional children. How Chris Williams responded to the deaths is nothing less than astonishing: He forgave, that very night, the teenager who killed his family. Interestingly, when Chris Williams was a teenager, a boy darted out in front of his car, and was killed by Chris. He knew what it felt like to be on the other side of the tragedy, helping to cause it. He forgave, because he needed and received forgiveness himself.

But more frequently, we’re bystanders to the tragedy, and with the internet, we’re afforded a gory front-row view to everything that happens in the world.

Perhaps here is the bigger challenge: how do we regard the suffering of others, especially when we’re presented with it every day?

It’s easy to grow cynical. “Oh, another shooting. Well, nothing good happens in a bar at 2 am anyway. Big surprise.”

It’s also easy to say, “They deserved that. What did that family think would happen to them, living in Syria?”

And it’s supremely easy to proclaim, “I’d never let my kids wander off, or be snatched out of my firm grip by a measly old alligator.”

Because it’s so much harder to accept that such a fate could hit us too. We like to cling to the idea that we’re special, we’re above pain. Nothing awful should–or would dare–happen to us.

But hardening ourselves to the suffering of others isn’t the answer. Becoming callous and finger-pointers, especially when we point at the victims, doesn’t save us; it condemns us.

I love these words from an ancient king named Benjamin, in 124 BC:

 “Succor those that stand in need of your succor . . . Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself this misery; therefore I will stay my hand . . . for his punishments are just—

“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent . .  For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God . . .?”

Why don’t we show a charitable heart and attitude to those who suffer? Perhaps we’re afraid of becoming soft, of feeling too much for them, or of being dragged into their misery.

But I think feeling empathy for those who suffer, and even stepping up to help when we can, does far more for us than remaining callous. When we grieve with the victims, we process our own fears, and become more attuned to those around us. We become more Godlike. The ancient prophet Enoch saw God weeping over the children of the world. “Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”

I remember when the Sandy Hook elementary shootings occurred in 2012, where 20 children were gunned down. When I went to drop off my daughter to school, I saw many parents giving their kids extra hugs as they left, because none of us know when the last time may be the very last time.

That’s the attitude we need to take in the wake of every tragedy: Rather than blaming the victims (and yes, even in the Sandy Hook shooting I saw plenty of fingers pointing at the innocent) we instead need to cherish who and what we still have.

There are many theories and beliefs as to why bad things happen, but perhaps this is the easiest to grasp: To remind us to never take anything or anyone for granted.

With every scene of horror and terror, we can be reminded, daily, of how precious life is. How everyone deserves our love and attention, every day. How we can’t afford to hold on to pettiness, to self-righteousness, to old anger and wounds, because the purpose of this life isn’t to make us harder.

The purpose of this life is to make us soft. 

make us soft

“And you think being soft is a bad thing? Oh, no. Softness is vital. Softness is life. The Creator Himself is soft. No greater compliment could be given to you.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti. Now available at Amazon and Smashwords and here

Book 5 teaser–Avalanche on a sunny day

Ever have one of those days/weeks/years, where you were hoping for a sunny day, but instead were buried under a ton of freezing cold snow?

Why is it so hard, on those avalanche days, to remember the snow is only a temporary condition? That the financial/medical/emotional/housing crisis that consumes you today will eventually melt away, and you’ll be left in sunshine? At least, eventually.

High Polish Tatra mountains

And there’s no St. Bernard in sight . . .

This is one of those avalanche months for me: our employment isn’t where it needs to be to sustain us, we’ve had some flooding disasters in our basement requiring repairs and replacements (our deductible is so high we’ll have to cover it ourselves), and for the past week my very healthy and active adult son has been in and out of the ER battling a high fever and various infections, and no one can pinpoint the cause, despite the many expensive tests they’ve run. And, because he was just released from active duty in the army and doesn’t have a job yet, he doesn’t currently have health insurance. I was reminded of that fact when I went to pick up his prescription this morning. Bizarrely, a month ago, his younger brother, on an LDS mission in Oklahoma/Texas, came down with viral meningitis and was hospitalized for five days, with daily treatments for another week. (I need an extended warranty on my adult sons; theirs is expiring, I fear.) Pile on top of all that some personal epic failures where I handled some problems poorly this week, and I feel like I’m suffocating.

Sometimes I think part of the reason I’m encountering these avalanches is because I’m so close to finishing Book 5–Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti. There are principles and ideals in this book that have weighed heavily on my mind for literally decades, and I didn’t know how to share them until I began this series. Getting this book out feels very important. I’m still plugging along at it, when I find a few minutes here and there, getting all the thousands of remaining details fixed and nailed into place, but without the usual joy I experience when I’m close to releasing a book. I apologize to it each day when I sit down to my laptop that I’m editing with a dull heart.

Which, in a way, I know is stupid; downright stupid! We’ve faced greater challenges before! Years ago we lost a home, had to live with relatives, and were even homeless for a time! We spent four months living in a condemned house! (It was torn down after we moved out; rumor has it someone kicked the foundation and it fell on its own.)

We’ve weathered job losses, financial disasters, car accidents, and emotional distress, and lived to chuckle about it. Sunny days returned!

So why, oh why, is it so hard to remember those sunny days–sunny weeks and even months–on avalanche days? Why do we frequently sit down in despair certain that this time there’ll be no deliverance? That the months and even years it’ll take to come back from this latest disaster will be the ones that finish us off for good?

Why can’t I remember, for example, that less than a year after we lost our house, we were able to purchase a brand new one for an incredibly low price? And when we sold it five years later, the profits wiped out another debt we’d been carrying for years?

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This was my front yard two weeks ago. A week later it was 75 degrees.

Today I’m trying to remember those sunny days, ones that were suddenly so hot and bright that the remaining snows vanished before the day was over, and I found myself breathing easier.

Today I’m trying to remember that while sometimes winter holds on, and on, and on, I can’t ever remember a year when spring and summer didn’t come. They do, eventually. Never as soon as we want them to, but the sunny days do return.

Eventually.

In the meantime, I need to quit my brooding and find a shovel . . .

 

(By the way– I still have some free magnets and book marks to give away! Just send me your mailing address, and I’ll send you my thanks for your support. If you want last year’s magnets too, let me know in the message below. I have a couple left.)

 

Book 5 Teaser–Life’s a test, not a holiday

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My mantra . . .

This is what I chant to myself when the kitchen pipe leaks, and black mold destroys the drywall and carpeting in my son’s basement bedroom . . .

When our two ancient vans have one problem after another after another . . .

When my plans for the day get blown out of the water by a minor crisis, so that the next day I have twice as much to take care of, until another small disaster hits, which means the day after that will be three times as busy . . .

When finances take a hit, when goals get delayed, and deadlines loom, when hurdles get larger, and rewards grow smaller, and the world mocks and rages and derides . . .

Or when I can’t even resolve the little things, like finding comfortable shoes for my huge and wide man-feet, or hemming my daughter’s prom dress by the weekend, or taking my preschooler on a walk to the park, that’s when I remember . . .

Oh, that’s right. I’m not here on vacation. I’m here on a lifelong test.

(I could, however, use a ten minute break . . . )

High Polish Tatra mountains