Book 7 Teaser: The best beginning, the ones who change the future

There’s the notion of the family-changers, the cycle-breakers, the ones who look at a long line of behavior and/or abuses and decide, “This is not a legacy I will continue. My children’s lives will be markedly different than mine.”

It’s the realization that just because you were treated one way doesn’t mean you have to perpetuate that behavior. It doesn’t matter what your parents, siblings, or grandparents do; you can choose something better. You don’t have to resort to the feeble excuse of, “Well, that’s how my father/mother/sibling treated me!”

You can be something much more.

You can change the future for those who follow. 

Those are the most awe-inspiring people I’ve ever met, those who won’t allow the filth to continue one generation further.

And those are also some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.

“Versa,” Peto said, “you are like a filter. All the filth the Thornes possessed, you’ve cleaned from the water. Their influences can go no further than you. Your mother says you’re like the general, but you’re nothing like him. You’re strong and solid in ways he’ll never be but wishes he were. The destruction of the Thorne line ends with you and your sister Delia. Your mother ended the muck of the Snyd line herself. Your descendants will look to you as the best beginning, as the women who changed their futures.”

Versa scoffed. “Rector Shin, you Salemites are far too optimistic.”

“I grew up in the world, Versa,” he reminded her. “I still possess a great deal of its cynicism, but not about you. You belong in Salem.”

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017 (Or at least I’m doing the best I can to get it ready. Suddenly teaching school full-time and coming up with lessons nightly has taken all but a few minutes of every day. But this book is rumbling in the background, and I’m working on formatting it in random moments here and there as quickly as possible, because Book 7 is impatient, clawing to break free, and it’s beginning to hurt.)

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What if we just quit bothering with the world? The easiness of essentialism.

What if, instead of worrying about the world and its expectations, we focused on only a couple of key items and let the rest of world just . . . go on its way?

Think about that: maybe there’s only a handful of things we really need to worry about, and as for the millions of other demands the world makes upon us we just ignore them.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

My friend clued me into “Essentialism,” which redefines minimalism and suggests that we should “discern what is absolutely essential, then eliminate everything that is not.” Greg McKeon argues that we get too caught up in the non-essentials: “non-essentialism is this idea that everything has to be done and that you have to do it all. Everything is equally important so therefore I have to try to do it all. That’s an idea — if I can do it all, I can have it all.”

But what if we don’t bother with doing it all? Why would we want it all anyway?

What if we quit following every news outlet, every fashion, every new-and-latest thing, every competition and demand for our attention, and focus instead on only a few ESSENTIAL points?

We’d be a heckuva lot happier!

Consider how simpler life would be if we:

  • stopped fretting that our houses aren’t up to date (no, you don’t have to put shiplap on every wall),
  • that our kids aren’t excelling in every sport/musical instrument/dance/karate/theatrical production (freeing up afternoons and weekends),
  • that we’re not on top of every trend (anyone remember how fast Pokemon Go came and went? Men’s rompers will go the same way, so don’t give them another thought). 
  • And what if we let the world go on its way . . . without us?

I think about life in the 1800s, how people focused on survival, their immediate family and neighbors, their little communities, and had no idea what the gossip was on the other side of the state or the world. They could think about real things, urgent things, important things.

Whereas we think about silly, petty, and divisive things.

But we don’t have to. We can center our lives on very few priorities and shut out everything else.

So what would those priorities be? How about the only thing that really matters: developing Christlike attributes.

To become like Him is the main reason we’re on this earth, going through this trial of life to see what our hearts really want, and to see how we can become more like Him. And you know what? I’m thinking more and more that being like Christ is the best and only worry I need.

And that “worry” isn’t even a concern. Look what He said in Matthew 11:

 28 Come unto me, all ye that labor [to keep up with the demands of the world] and are heavy laden [with the world’s expectations], and I will give you rest [because we set that all aside].

29 Take my yoke upon you [and throw off what the world expects of you], and learn of me [instead of the world]; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls [because I teach the peaceable things of the kingdom].

30 For my yoke is easy [way easier than anything the world demands], and my burden is light [lighter than anything the world shoves upon you].

Matthew 11:28, We find rest in Christ

And that’s all there is to it.

People assume that because I have nine kids I’m constantly busy and harried. But the truth is–and sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it–I’m not. Quite often I can spend hours each day in pursuits I enjoy–writing, reading, researching–because we don’t bother with the non-essentials.

My kids aren’t involved in many activities; we don’t run around endlessly every afternoon from one thing to another–I let them entertain themselves like some 1970s throwback mom. I don’t demand perfect grades from them (grades aren’t an indicator of future success anyway), but I let them push themselves, which they do.

My house isn’t spotless or trendy (I’ve got better things to do), I make simple meals for dinner, and, frankly, I’m pretty relaxed most of the time. I almost feel guilty about that . . . but then I decide I don’t need to bother with worldly guilt, either, and let the feeling go.

We take care of each other, study the gospel, go to church, play together, educate each other and . . . that’s about it. Easy.

I am, however, trying to increase the amount of time I spend on others, trying to find additional ways we can be of service, because that’s really the purpose of life: taking care of others as Christ did.

The apostle James put it in simple terms:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction [taking care of the vulnerable and needy around us], and to keep himself unspotted from the world [ignore the world].  ~ James 1:27

That’s it. Only two things, just like Christ said to the lawyer in Matthew 22:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind [not giving any of your heart, soul, or mind to the world which will treat you cruelly].

38 This is the first and great commandment [which will keep you unspotted and unburdened by the world].

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [by taking care of the vulnerable and needy].

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets [and you need not bother about anything else].

Simple, sweet, and satisfying! (Unlike the world.)

We can do that. Anyone can do that.

And we should, because consider these words of Christ:

36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall again the whole world [be accepted by it, follow its trends and demands religiously], and lose his own soul? [Worldliness kills the soul—simple as that.]  ~Mark 8:36

I’m not saying it’s easy to shut out the world. I’ve been working on doing that for quite some time now, trying to cut off more and more connections to it, especially through social media. Our family quit TV and radio some years ago (just getting rid of advertisements significantly increased peace in our lives). There are still many aspects I struggle with, and likely will my entire life. It’s hard to live in the world and not have some of it rub off on you, like trying to squeeze between muddy elephants without getting dirty.Image result for herd of muddy elephants

Purposely not doing what everyone else around you is can be a little disconcerting. Sometimes I suffer from FOMO: fear of missing out. But just because the crowd is insistent, just because you feel the need to be like everyone else, you don’t have to be. This image, which I ran across many years ago, has seared deeply into my soul. I want to be that guy.

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I’m discovering that when I ask God how I can step further away from the world so that I can be closer to Him, He gives me ideas, nudges me away from distractions and gently prods me toward more important activities. He wants me and my family to be unspotted, and He wants to ease our burdens. I have full confidence that He can get us all the way where we need—and want—to be, because, awesomely, He’s already done it himself:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace [because haven’t you grown weary of keeping up with the world yet?]. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world [and so can you].”  ~John 16:3

     “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?”
     ~Book 8 (Yes, there’s a book 8!)

Are you sure you’re happy? 12 Traits of Happy People

Despite the world’s best efforts, it’s not impossible to be happy.

That was the premise I began with as I stared at another dismal news day. Instead of ranting here about what’s wrong in the world, as usual, I decided instead to spend a few days observing how people remain happy, especially when all around is misery. I’ve been surprised and intrigued by what I’ve noticed.
Here are the results of my very unscientific observations:

1) Happy people have not lived trouble-free lives. Contrary to what you may think, happy people frequently have waded through a great deal of grief. Illness, financial woes, death, homelessness, divorce: some of the happiest people have been handed some of the roughest ordeals. But they’ve learned to cope, to adapt, and to fiercely—insistently—find the joy in their trials. They choose to find joy. Probably because of this . . .

2)  Happy people are generous. They will give their time, their love, their talents, even their money to ease the burdens of others. They’ve discovered that one of the many ways happiness comes is by giving it to someone else.

3) Happy people live for others. They’re not focused on themselves, which they’ve discovered is the surest way to become miserable. The happiest people are those who volunteer their time, who take care of those who can’t give anything back to them, and who rarely think of themselves.

4) Happy people are humble. They don’t boast about their accomplishments, or who they know, or what they own. In fact, you’d be surprised by just how much they’ve done with their lives, if ever you were to find out, because they don’t advertise it.

5) Happy people rarely talk about themselves. In conversations, they’ll focus all of their attention on you. When they ask about your day, they really want to know. When you leave their presence, you’ll feel like the most important person in the world, and only later will you realize you heard very little about them.

6) Happy people are respectful. They will not ridicule, mock, or deride you. They may gently tease, but are careful to never drag you down, like crabs in a bucket. They respect your decisions, even if you don’t respect theirs.

7) Happy people are content. They are satisfied with the choices they’ve made in their lives, so they have no issues with the choices you make in yours. They may make suggestions because they’re concerned about your happiness, but they’ll never force you to accept their way of doing things. They will let you live your life, your way.

8) Happy people smile. When you see happy people, you know it. By their eyes, which radiate joy, their smiles, which are genuine, and their body position, which is open and inviting. They have nothing to hide, nothing to guard, and everything to share.

9) Happy people are kind. To everyone and everything. They smile at children, give a weary parent a nod of approval, assist the elderly, and even pick up items that have fallen off of shelves at the store, because they want to make some employee’s day just that much easier. Happy people are those who gently shoo away bugs instead of squashing them, and who will politely ask the stray dog to not befoul their gardens.

10) Happy people are honest. About you, about themselves, about the world around them. They don’t deceive, and they don’t cover up the truth, especially about themselves. If they are at fault, or if they have caused harm, they will ask forgiveness and actively seek to make restitution.  Happy people take full responsibility for their behavior and consequences, because they don’t want to cause unhappiness in others.

11) Happy people don’t take offense. Even if it’s intended. They just let the words roll off their backs, like water off a duck, and generously decide that the potential offender has merely had a bad day. Happy people think the best of people in all circumstances, not the worst. In fact, it may be hard to convince a happy person that someone is truly bad. They just don’t want to believe it.

12) Happy people are at peace.  That doesn’t mean the world which they inhabit is peaceful. Indeed, some of the happiest people I’ve observed have been calm in the most chaotic of situations. But they are at peace with themselves, with their choices, with who they are becoming, and most importantly, they are at peace with God, whose peace surpasses all understanding.

A quote from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “He created us to have joy,” on an orange watercolor background.

I see happy people everywhere, when I bother to look for them. Each of the items I’ve listed above I’ve noticed a happy person doing. (It was my dad who would politely ask dogs to leave our yard; he was the most peaceful man I’ve ever known. And yes, the dogs would leave, every time. He’d thank them, too.)

So how do we all become such happy people? I’m still working on that. It’s the old chicken-and-the-egg question, I suppose. But one thing I’ve noticed in myself is when I do my best to have these happy traits–if I “feel” it or not–my happiness level automatically increases.

This is what I’ve discovered:

happiness is a choice

Watch for them, the happy people. Tell me what other traits you observe in them, in yourself.

Notice when you feel joy. It may be more frequently than you realize.
Most importantly, share that joy with others. We all need more happy people in our world.

There’d always be pain, and always suffering, Perrin knew–

“And also always relief, and also always joy. That’s the trial of life, son, and it all works for our good. But it will always end in joy, Perrin.”
~Book 5,
Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti