Tag Archives: Refinement

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Last week I dropped my first grader off for her first day of school. She was feeling a bit nervous and wanted me to take her. And I secretly dread the start of every school year so I was more than happy to comply and bask in the glow of being needed. It was especially helpful to my ego that she clung to me and wanted me to stay in her class. I talked all about her bravery and her love of school and we both moved on.

On my way back down the hallway there were two moms that I assumed had just completed such a mission engaged in conversation. Hence my surprise at the tone and direction of said conversation. It became abundantly clear that they were there to pass the buck, to shift this endless responsibility of parenting elsewhere. I didn't exactly mean to listen to their "private" conversation the entire way out of the building, but as they stomped and fumed and vented behind me I couldn't exactly help it.

One mother was adamant that she was going to switch her child to another district because she has "these same issues every year." At first I was wondering how you could possibly have issues before the first bell of the school year even rang. But mom #2 cleared up my confusion. "Seriously! I called yesterday and chewed them out until they switched my daughter into the class with the male teacher. I mean, she has no male influence in her life and she doesn't listen for crap. Maybe he can fix her. I'm so sick of them not doing what's best for my kid." Uh . . . surely I'm not hearing this correctly.

But I was. I heard it loud and clear. And it's the same thing I hear everywhere. Somebody else is responsible for our happiness. Nothing is anybody's problem. The responsibility is someone else's. Our children's behavior. Their success. Our success. Our behavior. Our happiness. Blame when the said area of our life is less than stellar can be swiftly and easily placed elsewhere, anywhere really, but it never seems to be placed right where it belongs.

We, as a society, have literally wiped away a basic truth from our existence. Maybe "wiped away" is extreme. Maybe "chosen to ignore in all of our narcissistic glory" would be more appropriate here. But we have failed to take responsibility for ourselves. We have failed to be the masters of our own happiness. We've shifted that responsibility to a plethora of external stimuli, blaming everyone and everything and every circumstance.

Please, let's be clear, happiness is a state of being, not a result of being.

Honestly, anyone in any circumstance can be happy. That might be tough to hear, but it's the truth. And this is something God intended for us to figure out. The most critical part of our existence falls squarely on our own shoulders. That misery that we feel that we claim to be unable to do anything about is completely ours to own. We parade around sporting our victimhood as if it's the blue ribbon of a hard knock life, earning us the right to wallow and to complain and to blame. We do it because we're weak.

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.   - 2 Nephi 2:26

Did you hear what he said? We're free. Free to act for ourselves and not to be acted upon. Our freedom to choose gives us the ability to control the very state of our existence. We do not fall prey to misery because of circumstance or outside influence, and we most certainly do not stumble upon happiness as we bound through fields of butterflies and rainbows. We're stronger than that. And we've been created to be more powerful than that.

I'm as guilty as anyone. I'm an angry grump because my kids choose not to listen or because my husband doesn't do exactly what I think he should. I choose misery because sometimes things are hard and it's easier to wallow in self pity than it is to choose to find the inner strength and character to rise above it.

Look, I get it. We are frequently victims; victims of circumstance, victims of crime, and even victims to the poor decisions of myriads of other people. But I'll tell  you what. We are NOT victims to misery. We voluntarily join that club.

Happiness is my responsibility and it's your responsibility. It's not my husband's job to "make me happy." The responsibility doesn't fall to your child's teacher. It doesn't fall to my friends or to your neighbor down the street. My children's momentary disobedience doesn't send me spiraling head first into a pool of misery. I voluntarily dive right in.

We're suddenly failing to take responsibility for everything. We act like helpless pawns being forced to agonizingly suffer through life. We shift blame to all sorts of places where it doesn't belong.

The truth is simple. It's been the truth since the beginning.  We are free; free to choose, free to act, and free to be. We're free to be miserable, but we're also free to be happy. We don't need to be bogged down because of the decisions or behaviors of others. We don't need to despair because life is hard. We can choose happiness every morning when we wake up. And we can continue to choose happiness under whatever circumstances we may be in.

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As featured in The Reflector:

As far as I’m concerned, fall time is spectacular. There’s something beautiful about the crisp air and all of that change.

I live in Eastern Washington and we had a really long summer this year. Then fall came flying in with a vengeance. We had a windstorm rage through here last night that tore the barely changing leaves off of my favorite tree. It’s usually the last in our yard to lose them.

Hunter came flying through the front door to tell me the news. I went out to look and truthfully, I was kind of perturbed at first. Other trees had remained basically unaffected, but not that one. The storm really had altered its fate.

Later that morning I was at a friend’s home. They had a downed tree limb in their yard from the same storm. It snapped the top right off. It was sort of comical because they weren’t very fond of the tree at all and so the change of fate for their tree was more welcome.

So my thoughts rested on the seasons. I thought about how the change from one to another is sometimes so gradual that we barely notice. We wake up one day to snow on the ground, a little perplexed about when winter arrived.

Other times, just like this year, the change is much more dramatic. There’s no easing into it. Instead the warmth of the sunshine is chased away by biting cold.

And isn’t life just that way? The seasons always change. Always. Sometimes it’s so gradual that we’re barely aware of where the time went and other times we’re pummeled by it and knocked off  our feet.

This is especially true of parenthood.

Occasionally my collision with my own motherhood is brutal. I sit nearly lifeless, thinking that I can’t referee one more fight or mate one more pair of socks. I feel this sneaking rebellion to refuse to wash one more dish, make one more bed or scrub one more toilet. I find myself recoiling at the thought of changing one more diaper or having one more night of continually interrupted sleep. My will doesn’t want to comply for one more second. This particular season literally knocks me off of my feet from time to time.

But there are other times. Moments like yesterday when I find myself wondering where the time has gone. Kyle and I were having a discussion with our two boys. I was amazed as I looked at them and realized they weren’t really little boys any more. I couldn’t figure out what had happened or when, but something definitely had.

As I’ve thought about the two completely opposite ways that the seasons of our lives change, I’ve realized that one thing is certain. It is irrelevant whether the change is welcome or unwanted. And it doesn’t matter if time slowly eases us through it or dramatically knocks us over the head. That change is coming either way.

This simple truth has implications for every parent. Life moves and you have to move with it. It’s not optional.

Parenthood is the furthest thing from predictable to ever exist. Children are given to us and sometimes they’re not. Children grow up and sometimes they’re taken from us long before that happens. Children choose well and sometimes they don’t. Children leave us and sometimes those children come back.

We can’t control the times or the seasons, but we can control the state of our hearts. We can learn to see the change that comes as a blessing, regardless of what form it takes. My friends welcomed the change to their tree because it was wanted. I rejected mine because it wasn’t.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In another season that tree will bloom again. And just as nature moves and bends and accommodates every change in the weather and environment, so can we.

Acceptance is power. A will that bends with what is required is strength. And one day you wake up and realize that your heart has been perfectly directed right where it needed to go. And it ended up there because of the change and not in spite of it.

Motherhood is surrender -- of everything.

My little sister, Wendy amazingly cares for three young children, the youngest of which was born with unknown genetic and physical problems in February. They are confined most always to their home as she can’t take their little girl out much. Her days are filled with things typical of caring for newborns, toddlers and preschoolers, but also with a lot of extra medical care tasks associated with a special needs baby. She’s heroic, loving and dedicated in every single way.

I was talking to her on the phone the other day. We manage this every two or three weeks and it is comically chaotic on both ends of the line every time.

At one point, her potty-trained two year old deliberately wet her pants. She finished cleaning that mess and walked over to her littlest only to discover that one of her venting tubes was leaking all over her blanket and the couch. Not a nice mess to clean up. Wendy audibly surrendered.

“You know, I used to care about how things looked when company was coming over. Now I just turn on the Scentsy warmer and pray that my house doesn’t smell like poop.”

I laughed -- a lot. Mostly because I’m right there with her and because I could hear the smile in her voice.

I’ve thought a lot about my sister over the past couple of days. I thought about everything that’s being required of her, everything that her motherhood currently demands.

Let me tell you what I can see.

I see my incredibly organized and neat sister leaving her toilets dirty to make sure she has clean kids instead. I see her sporting ponytails because her baby can’t be left alone. I see her spending sunny days indoors and trying to entertain children who desperately need to run marathons outside.

I see dishes sitting in her sink and a to-do list (and yes, she religiously writes these) that’s looking more like it would fit in a novel than on a post-it note. I see her juggling doctor appointments, specialists and medical care. I see her learning things and doing things she thought she’d never have to know or do.

I see Wendy doing everything that is physically required of her as a mother. I see her surrendering. But I can also see the smile in her eyes even over the phone. It radiates outward, making the dark circles underneath almost unnoticeable. That’s because something else is happening too.

This is one of the amazing things about my sister and all good mothers. Motherhood doesn’t just involve surrendering our free time, hobbies, clean floors and shiny toilets. The surrender is infinitely deeper than the trade-off of abs for stretch marks or cute jeans for yoga pants.

Mothers aren’t just relinquishing the things you can see. They’re voluntarily giving up everything that you can’t see as well.

Beneath the visible parts of our lives, the ones that everyone gets to notice and critique and judge, a silent battle is being fought in the heart and soul of every mother. It’s a battle that all good mothers are winning whether they’re aware of it yet or not.

It’s a place of voluntary surrender. It’s a place where we chip away at our impatience or our temper or our selfishness a little at a time. It’s the place where we fan the flames of our faith and recognize our potential and our worth. It’s a place that our children take us to.

Good mothers everywhere are not just surrendering the things you can measure. Yes, that mom only got three and a half hours of sleep last night and is still standing on her feet. You can be impressed with her. But that same woman also spent hours on her knees begging for the burdens that her child feels to be lifted. She also didn’t yell at her son this time when he kicked his sister in the nose.

Yep, that mother over there has dark circles under her eyes. She must be exhausted. Yet she managed to cook dinner for her family anyway. You can be impressed with her. That same woman also managed to keep it together when her child threw a raging fit at the grocery store. She was also able to smile at the woman giving her dirty looks during that fit.

Never have I ever witnessed another group of women so willing to surrender all of themselves for the sake of others. They’re surrendering their physical needs, free time and interests, sure; but they’re also relinquishing their vices and refining their souls. Good mothers everywhere are surrendering their wills as part of a much greater plan.

You can be impressed by all of the good mothers you know, if you want; but you should probably stand in awe of them instead.