Monday, October 7, 2013

Why I Can't Do It

I have a problem.
This problem is very hard to deal with at times.
It is difficult for others to understand.
I do not have this problem because of something I did wrong.
This problem keeps me from enjoying all the blessings God has promised.
I don't want to have this problem.
I struggle daily.
Sometimes I question why God would allow this to happen.
Why doesn't he remove this burden from my life?
Why me? Why do I have to suffer with this issue while others do not?
Haven't I been faithful?
Haven't I been obedient?
It isn't fair that I should have this problem.
I don't deserve this.
I didn't choose this.
I want it fixed. I want it gone.
God hasn't removed this problem so why should I obey him? Why should I trust him?
I want it to be okay that I have this problem.
I want others to make exceptions for me.
The rules shouldn't apply to me because I have a problem.
It would be different if I was like everyone else but I'm not.
I am different.
My problems are different.
I need different answers.

What is my problem?
Substance abuse
Old age
Poor health
Same-gender attraction
Advanced Education
Birth Defect
Mental disorder

Which one did you choose? Which one fits the description best?

Couldn't those feelings apply to any of these struggles? I have heard them all and many more. They are excuses. "I can't obey because______________"

Life is hard. It is SUPPOSED to be hard! In the church and even in the world we hear statements that contradict this truth. Something like "Obedience brings happiness" can be misleading. We get this idea that if we are obedient we will have everything we want. We will be healthy and wealthy and happy all the time. Life should be a romp through a field of daisies, right?

Obedience brings protection from much of life's suffering. However we are not here to rest. This life is not meant to be heaven. It is not meant to be easy. This is the battlefield and we are behind enemy lines.

Mortality is the crucible that refines us for eternity. (See 1 Ne 20:10) That refining is not pleasant but the results will be dazzling.

Think of any figure in the scriptures. Nephi, Samuel, Elijah, Esther, Alma, Paul, Jesus Christ. Did any of them have an easy life? Did any of these righteous people get special privileges? Did they follow an easier road than the rest of us?

No. If anything we have it easier. No one has tied me up and threatened to kill me.

The solution is simple, really. It is the atonement. The Savior sacrifice covers all our pains, all our suffering, all our sorrow. We simply need to look to him.

1 Ne 17:41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.

The world offers many solutions to life's trials. Some are successful, some are not. Some support the truths of the gospel while others are in opposition. But everything available in mortality falls short of the atonement.

"There is only one way to happiness and fulfillment. He is the Way. Every other way, any other way, whatever other way, is foolishness." Elder Lawrence E. Colbridge. "The Way" October 2008

I know that Heavenly Father loves his children. All of them. He awaits our return from the ravages of this world with countless blessings. Let us do all we can to receive them.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why I Love the Commissary

Before I married a soldier I had no clue what a commissary was. It is a grocery store for military members. It is considered one of our military benefits. For some reason, many military members don't take advantage of this wonderful buying option.

When we lived overseas the commissary was a huge blessing. It allowed us to buy familiar foods for reasonable prices. (I can't tell you how soothing peanut butter and hot dogs and American cheese could be when you are feeling home sick!) Because of the fluctuating exchange rate, food from local stores could be quite expensive at times.

When we returned to the states we naturally continued to use the commissary. I was shocked to hear that many fellow military families shun the commissary completely. I am still baffled.

  • The commissary doesn't charge taxes but does charge a 5% surcharge to cover expenses. Depending on the state this is likely cheaper than local sales taxes.

  • The prices are almost always lower than non-military stores. At each of our stateside duty stations we have lived closer to a local grocery store than the commissary. We go there sometimes for milk or bread, things we need in a pinch when the commissary is closed. Rarely are the prices better. After our most recent move I actually made lists of food items we commonly buy and noted prices at each store I visited. The list of items that are cheaper at another store is quite short. I can buy a huge container of peanut butter at Sam's Club for a few cents less per unit than the same brand at the commissary. I do it because we eat a lot of peanut butter. Those giant bags of Malt-o-meal cereals are cheaper at Walmart but the commissary only carries the smaller bags. (Notice that these are bulk items!) For most common foods, including milk, eggs, bread, cheese, and meat, the commissary is a great deal.

  • There are usually coupons available on the shelf for many items. There have been times when I came with no coupons and ended up saving $15 just from in-store coupons. There is also a rewards card  (which I LOVE!) that allows you to go to the commissary website and add coupons to the card. You can then use these in the store without having to click and sort and print.

  • The commissary offer many foreign products that you can't buy elsewhere. We appreciate this because we can buy an occasional treat to remind us of our time in Europe. I imagine for military spouses born in those countries this is a true comfort to have a taste of home.
When I talk to others about the commissary I hear a lot about how busy it is. This varies from place to place but generally Wednesday and Thursday mornings are pretty light. Avoid paydays at all cost! I have had good luck on Saturday afternoons but Saturday mornings are usually a nightmare! But isn't this true of most stores?

I guess what baffles me the most are the people who claim to be so savvy, so skilled at saving money, running all over town with their coupon and sales fliers getting good deals. When they share their "deals" with me they are often the same price as the commissary. If they had used that coupon there they would have actually saved more. I usually get a disgusted response like "Ugh! The commissary gives me a headache! Why would I go there?!" Um, one stop shopping? Less gas usage? Great prices? Tons of coupons on the shelf?

I don't get it.

Normally I wouldn't care what other people did. What concerns me is that if this benefit isn't used it will be taken away. Many commissaries have cut their hours due to budget cuts and a few have been completely closed. If the commissary isn't being used congress just might cut the program all together. At our current commissary I most often see retirees. A few spouses who have been around as long as I have know the value of this wonderful service. But the younger crowd don't bother. I might say "their loss". But it isn't. I know the commissary helps keep those retirees off welfare. Someday that will be us. It would be great to utilize the commissary to continue feeding our large, ravenous family of locusts until they are all grown. And feed ourselves for the rest of our lives.

If you haven't been to the commissary in a while, check it out. Make an effort to take advantage of this valuable resource. It just might surprise you!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day For The "Non-Mothers"

Mother's Day can be a painful day for those who don't have children. Before I had children of my own, Mother's Day was a reminder of what was expected of me as a Latter-Day Saint woman. It was a day to think about what I hoped I would be one day. It was a also a day to remind me that I was not a mother. Kind of like Valentine's Day for the single crowd, right?

It might be tempting to shun this holiday, to be bitter and hurt. You might see this day as a slap in the face.

Please don't.

Mother's Day should be a day to celebrate the institution of motherhood. The office of Mother, if you will. You don't need to be a mother or even a woman to do that.

When I was growing up our ward always gave the mothers a potted plant. Usually the Primary kids sang and made cards or something. Some mothers in the ward were recognized. The newest mother. The oldest mother. The mother with the most children. Being a child, I always felt impressed by these women. I thought they were women I should look up to and emulate. In many ways they were.

They were women of faith. They were women who had made sacrifices for those they loved. They had cared for those around them. They had taught others valuable skills and gospel truths.

Those traits had little to do with giving birth.

My family also visited my grandmothers on Mother's Day. This reminded me of how they had influenced my life by raising my parents. Of course, they also influenced me directly by teaching me many important lessons about life.

Since I began working consistently on my family history I have a deeper appreciation for those mothers who came before me. I come from a long line of mothers. All the way back to Eve! (even if I can't prove it!) Do their efforts mean nothing? The more I learn about my ancestors the more reverence I feel towards motherhood. I feel so grateful for those mothers who cared for their children generation after generation all the way down to me.

Most importantly, Mother's Day is a celebration of womanhood. Women do so much for society. Women are often teachers, nurses, and counselors. Women are creative, nurturing, and thoughtful. Women have a powerful influence. Women are compassionate and determined. Women are tender and beautiful.

All women are worth celebrating!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Who Exactly Are These So-Called "Experts"?

I have been blogging for about 3 1/2 years now. I get asked questions about parenting and kids and stuff like that and I wanted to 1) record those answers while I am still able to know what I am talking about and 2) make that information available to others.

Let's face it; none of us really know what we are doing. Parenting is a lot of trial and error. We learn some things from our parents and some things from our peers and some things through experience. Then there are the things we learn from "experts".

But just who are these so-called "experts"? Are they parents who have been in the thick of life, waging the daily battles against tantrums and messes? Probably not.

"Experts" are people who study what other parents do; in other words, they have a job. Even if these "studiers" have kids ( some don't!) their kids are probably in day care 40 + hours a week (or possibly have a nanny) so the parents are only with their own kids a few hours a day at most.

It is easy to put your kid to bed at the same time every night if you have to get up and be somewhere the next morning, day in day out, for their entire childhood.

It is easy to feed them healthy food if all you have to do is tell the person you are paying to do it or they will be fired.

It is easy to pay someone to potty train your child for you while you go off to research how other people do it.

I am sure there are lots of really dedicated parents out there who do the best they can with the time they have. I am not dissing them.

What I am gripping about is that so many people rely so heavily on what "experts" have to say. 

Why are we not looking to experienced parents for advice? Why are we not asking those in similar circumstances how to solve an issue? We rush to the "experts" for their advice instead. Why? You do realize that they change their mind about stuff ALL the time, right?

When my first child was born, I was the kind of parent I am describing. If the doctor didn't say he could eat it/do it/ wear it/use it I didn't even consider it. I was almost crippled by fear of doing the wrong thing. I didn't appreciate the advice I got from "experienced" mothers. They were outdated and possibly immune to the true needs of my precious baby.

Of course, when my youngest children were born, as little as 6 years later, I was often "corrected" by doctors and nurses who told me that "things have changed since then" and "we no longer recommend that". I was a ball of confusion. I was mortified that I was doing the "wrong" thing for my baby. I was ashamed that I had not stayed current on what was right for my children. And I was angry, very, VERY angry that I was made to feel this way by the very people I was supposed to rely on!

I came to realize that there is no magic bullet to destroy all the possible illnesses, injuries, and issues my child might have. Childhood research is a minefield of contradictory information. Let your child cry- Never let them cry. Vaccinate-Don't vaccinate. Bottle feed-Breastfeed. Keep them busy-Let them play. Drink milk- Avoid dairy. Eat grains-Avoid gluten. Eat vegetables and meat- But they might have diseases.

The real problem is that the "experts" lead us to believe that if we do the wrong thing disasters will ensue.

If our kids watch TV they will become violent idiots who will kill people but won't be able to confess because they will be too stupid to form complete sentences.

If you don't read to them they will never get a job and live with you for the rest of your life.

If you don't let them play sports they will never learn to work with others and grow up to be jerks.

If you don't expose them to art and music they will never have a creative thought and be mindless drones.

If they eat the wrong foods they might become allergic, or get food poisoning, or develop behavior issues, or have learning problems, or get really fat and all the issues that go along with that.

And it will ALL be YOUR fault!

Yes, I have issues with "experts". I admit that a part of me is really irritated that I have shared so much practical information on this public blog, exposing many of my own struggles and imperfections as a parent, and yet when an "expert" says the same thing it gets passed around the Internet like some kind of holy grail. I read these articles and thing"I wrote a post about that a while back." But apparently no one read it. Or they did and thought "Why should I listen to you? You're a nobody. But now that an "expert" has said it I will change my ways and do exactly what they say, (which is what you said months ago and I ignored you)."

There is some good information available, more than ever before. But sifting through it is a lot of work. And only rarely is there a disaster.

I have 2 friends with young adult children. I watched their kids grow up. The mothers have made very different choices. One bottle-fed, one breast-fed. One was strict, one was lenient. They both taught their kids right from wrong. Both fed their children, dressed them, sheltered them, corrected their behavior, taught them things. Loved them.

They have all turned out differently. I can see that sometimes it is because of the personalities of the children. Sometimes it is because of things the parents did or didn't do. Both mothers made choices that helped their kids. Both made choices that hurt their kids. Both did their best. All their kids grew up to be obnoxious, moody teenagers and fairly decent adults. No criminals, no disasters. Although they are all making their own mistakes now. It is part of life.

Why can't experts give advice like that? Love your kids. Help them. Teach them about the things you value. Be there for them when they make their own mistakes. And keep loving them.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Music Callings In The Church: Ward Choir

Being a Ward Choir Director was by far the most challenging calling I have ever had. I agonized over everything I did.

"Did I choose the right song?"

"Is it too difficult?"

"Is it too easy?"

"Can the pianist play this?"

"Should we do parts or just sing the melody?"

"Should I encourage my one Tenor to learn his part or let him sing with the sopranos?"

"Are we rehearsing too often? Not often enough? Is it a bad time?"

"If I bring food will they come sing? Should I really have to pay people to participate?"

"Why aren't the good singers coming? They hate must me! They know I am not very good at this and they are snubbing me. They are judging me. They are sending me a message that I am unacceptable!"

I don't think I have ever felt so much self-doubt about anything...except maybe motherhood!

I tried very hard to push these thoughts out. I focused on those who did come. I trusted that their willingness to be there would bless our efforts. And we were blessed.

I learned a lot from this calling, more than I ever expected.

Lesson 1: ALL callings require faith in the Lord.- Somehow I had come to the conclusion that I only needed to rely on the Lord if I "needed" help. Being choir director taught me that I ALWAYS need help! I needed to pray and ponder and study to do this calling well.

Lesson 2: No calling is an island.- This was actually not a new concept to me. It was just reaffirmed in ginormous flashing neon letters. It didn't matter how hard I worked or how much I prepared if no one showed up to sing. (Which actually happened more times than I care to remember!) Most callings in the church require participation from other ward members. When someone is called to serve in the church they are providing a service to others. The only thing they ask in return is support. As members we show our support by showing up to classes and meetings, activities and practices. Is that really too much to ask?

Sometimes I got the feeling that "good" singers didn't like to come to choir practice because they weren't getting anything out of it. I could say something about that but it might not be appropriate so I will let you draw your own conclulsions.

Lesson 3: Music is important!- I don't have all the answers but I do know that our Heavenly Father loves music. Music is a precious and powerful gift. Music can change our moods. Music can invite the Holy Ghost to comfort, inspire, and protect us in times of need. The scriptures are filled with references to singing. By disregarding music we cut ourselves off from a beautiful, sacred blessing.

Lesson 4: There is beauty in simplicity.- I know that there are many accomplished musicians in the world.  If I spend much time looking at their work I start to feel pretty crappy by comparison. The little choir I was responsible for had limited abilities. With time and experience, trial and error, I found the balance between beauty and simplicity. We weren't the MoTab so why try to be?

Lesson 5: The Lord blesses the righteous not the gifted.- A gifted person can be blessed also, of course. But the scripture actually says

"For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.." (D&C 25:12, emphasis added)

When we sing from the heart, we are blessed. I saw it often in our little choir. The members became confident in their abilities. They always sang better in the actual performance than in any rehearsals. The congregation felt the Spirit. When we sang for the Lord, he blessed our efforts.

I know that callings like this one can be frustrating. It is part of the learning process. But it can also be very rewarding. Never in my life did I understand Ether:12:27 better than I did as a choir director.

"I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."