Because of Him

Earlier in the year, I contributed on the blog Over the Big Moon.  I have been making a point to include all of my posts that were previously on their site over here on my site.  This is the final post that I have to transfer.  The post below was previously published on Easter Sunday.  I felt that it would be fitting to share it this month, as we approach this sacred holiday in which we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who atoned for our sins so that we may have eternal life.

Today is a significant day for Christians all over the world.  It is Easter Sunday.  A day in which we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Through out this past week, I saw a series of posters created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sharing the different blessings we have received because of Him, our Savior.  The one that left the deepest impression on my heart was the one that stated, “No goodbye will last forever.”  Perhaps the reason this poster touched me the most is because today also happens to mark the anniversary of my mom’s passing.  Six years ago, to the day and date, my siblings and our spouses surrounded my mother, as she slipped from this life in to the next.

As I sit here and contemplate all the many blessings that we receive through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I marvel at how I’ve witnessed those blessings first hand in the lives of so many, myself included.  I think of my own Mom’s life and how she struggled for so many years.  While I do not know all the sins and troubles my mother bore, I know that in her final years on this earth, she did all that she knew how to change her life around and make it Christ-centered.  She had expressed to me at one point how much she mourned all the wrong that she had done.  At that same time, I watched firsthand as the power of forgiveness worked in her life.  I watched as she touched the hearts of all those she came in contact with, I watched as she showed mercy to others that she saw suffering similar trials, I watched as she exemplified strength with each hideous chemo session she had to endure, and I watched as she made every effort to make every moment count with her children and grandchildren.  My Mom left behind an amazing testimony of the strength and peace that comes from living a Christ-centered life.  What she left for me, and her posterity, is an example of each and every blessing we are afforded through Jesus Christ.

While it’s difficult that the anniversary of her passing lands on Easter this year, I am finding comfort in the significance of the sacred holiday as it pertains to my Mom’s life and my eternal perspective.  Upon reading and watching the above mentioned messages and applying it to the tender matters of my heart, I have gained a greater understanding of Easter.  It is not just that we celebrate that He is risen.  It is the realization of all that we receive through His atoning sacrifice and resurrection.  Because of Him we are given second chances, mercy, comfort, hope, and eternal life.  How grateful I am for each of these blessings.

All that being said, it was hard this week to recognize the blessings that come from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I suppose my load just felt too heavy to bear.  Sadly, I spent a good portion of Wednesday focusing on all the things I had been “robbed” of by the premature passing of my Mom.  I found myself experiencing feelings of anger and resentment all over again.  I subconsciously made the decision to focus on all the “have nots” in my life and began to feel sorry for myself.  I think what it comes down to is that the depth of my heartache was too heavy to bear…alone.  That was my problem.  I was trying to do it alone.  I needed to give my burdens to the Lord and open my heart up to those with whom He has placed in my life as a tender mercy.  Even though night was falling by the time I opened up to my husband, and then to my friends, my day was growing brighter; my load was lighter.  

That is the message of Easter, is it not?  It is a message of life and light, mercy and hope.  Without my knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I imagine I would spend more of my days feeling the desperation and loneliness that I felt this past Wednesday.  While those feelings are reasonable to feel from time to time, I don’t recommend soaking in them, as I did.  All it led to was a whole lot of crying.  I couldn’t help but think of Marjorie Hinckley’s quote the following morning when I awoke with swollen, burning eyes and a terrible headache, “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”  So today, even as I managed to do the actual morning of my Mom’s passing, I will choose to laugh.  May your Easter, and your life, be filled with the mercy and hope that comes through our Savior.  And may you know, as I do, that because of Him no goodbye will last forever.
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Actively Engaging in Relationships

The following post was originally published on Over the Big Moon earlier this year.  I was still pregnant at the time.  This is a perfect post to piggyback last week’s post on being Purposefully Kind.  Reading this post again reminded me how I need to recommit myself to this endeavor.

The larger portion of the year 2010 was a particularly difficult time in my life.  Feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness were all too familiar to my daily routine.  One day in February
of that year, a small package arrived in the mail addressed to me with the return address containing my own address and the sender’s name noted as Secret Friend.  Inside was a little note and a package of Godiva chocolates.  I don’t do well with mysteries, but I did quite well with the delicious gift.  My spirit had been lifted in that moment.  I tried to get to the bottom of who the sender might be, but could not figure it out.  Then March came around and I received another package in the mail sent in the same fashion.  I was so touched and still so mystified.  I even started to analyze the handwriting with other cards I had received in the past.  I remain stumped.  Then April brought a spiritual message and May brought a thoughtful gift for Mother’s Day.  The remaining months of 2010 were each filled with a package or note being sent to me from my Secret Friend.  Then in January 2011, my final package arrived informing me that my year with my Secret Friend had drawn to a close.  I never did figure out who the sender was; although I have an inkling.  What I do know was that I looked forward to those arrivals.  I felt of the love this woman had for me in a time where I felt so unlovable.  I felt the joy that comes from friendship and small acts of kindness.

The treasured gift of friendship and our role in nurturing those relationships is what I wanted to share today.  This has been at the forefront of my mind, as I am homesick for many of my friends who live far away.  Plus, as I have been struggling through the roller coaster of pregnancy emotions, I have realized again how crucial friendships are in my life.  Sadly, I have done little to nurture those friendships that bear the burden of being long distance.  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve lulled myself in to believing that following people on Facebook and Instagram is sufficient in keeping a friendship alive.  As I’m sure you know, this is not the case.  Nurturing friendships requires more than observing another’s life through what they choose to share on social media.  However, at the same time, it may surprise you the impact you can make in a friendship through even the smallest of acts.  The operative word being acts.  Nurturing a friendship, or relationship of any kind, requires action.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but perhaps a reminder to actively engage with our friends is needed.  I know I need it.  Having moved out of state a year and a half ago from everything I had ever known, I have watched as friendships have slipped by the wayside.  I’m quite familiar with the three types of friends we encounter in life – those we have for a reason, those we have for a season, and those we have for a lifetime.  The thing is, I have a lot of lifetime friends that I have failed to actively engage with since moving away.  It’s not in my nature to do this, so it’s been disheartening to me.  Part of me wonders if I’ve stopped nurturing these friendships out of pure laziness or out of protecting myself (you know how sometimes connecting with somebody makes you miss them more)?  Regardless, I’ve learned that not only do I need these lifetime friends in my life, I want to feed these relationships in the same manner that I have been so richly blessed – with surprise packages, thoughtful texts, a shoulder to cry on, or a phone call just because.
The beauty of a friendship is that nurturing it doesn’t have to be filled with grandiose things.  Oscar Wilde said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”  How true that statement is!  I had the pleasure this past week of catching up with one of those above mentioned lifetime friends.  It seems silly to think that a phone call qualifies as an act of kindness, but boy did it fill my heart with more joy than I anticipated.  I laughed so freely as we went on and on about all the craziness of life.  How grateful I am that we had a moment to actually talk rather than merely intend to call one another.  I was also blessed to receive a call from another friend who lives miles away, though we did not have the opportunity to catch up, who just wanted to chat.  I felt of the love of these women despite the many miles between us.

I think what it comes down to is that things have been rather tough for me as of late.  This pregnancy has not served my emotions well.  And I’m learning how blessed I have been to have such beautiful friends placed in my life to help lighten my load and increase my joy.  These friends, whether they know it or not, are re-inspiring me to actively engage in the world around me.  Each kind gesture brings me the same feelings of love that I felt with those monthly packages I received back in 2010.  I want to be better about returning that same joy and hope to friends and family.  I’ve grown tired of caring for relationships superficially.  So, please share with me those acts of kindness that you have either given or received that enriched your relationships.  My goal is to engage more fully with the many wonderful people that have been placed in my path.
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Teach Them, Don’t Tell Them

As many of you know, I previously contributed once a month on Over the Big Moon.  The post below was originally posted on their site on Fathers Day of this year.  I thought I would include it here today, as it is more about our role as teachers in our children’s lives than it is about dads alone.  Enjoy!

In honor of Father’s Day, I thought I would write about an attribute of my own dad’s that I have come to appreciate.  You’ll notice, based on my wording, that I did not always appreciate this aspect of my dad.  It took me years to understand this, once very frustrating, characteristic of his.  Allow me to explain.
While my dad was only briefly a teacher by profession, he has the qualities of a great teacher.  He has a wealth of knowledge and a desire to share it.  He truly is one of the most intelligent people I know.  Through out my life, I have gone regularly to him for advice.  That all being said, he has never given me the answer to my quandary.  Not ever.  It was frustrating in my earlier years, when I started to realize my dad’s tactics.  I wanted him to just tell me what to do, since I knew he knew what was right.  I trusted his opinion that fully.  He had a track record of responsible decisions that led to success, particularly on a business level, which I wanted to follow.  But, alas, no answers would be given.  Instead, my dad would discuss the matter.  Pros and cons would be given for all avenues.  Several questions would be asked of me to see where I already stood on the issue.  A simple question of mine would result in a thought-provoking conversation that could go on for hours.  A conversation that would end with an answer that would ultimately come from me.  And that is how my dad served as one of my greatest teachers, because his actions reflected Alexandra K. Trenfor’s quote that, “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.”
As frustrating as it was as a youth, I grew to appreciate that my dad would not give me the answer.  He helped me to study it out in my mind.  This method not only taught me how to be a more careful decision maker, but it also taught me how to have trust in myself.  My dad was teaching me the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  Except for he was teaching me how to be a fisherman of knowledge and truth.  Being a woman of faith, I should add that I have always used prayer in conjunction with my dad’s technique of weighing all the pros and cons.  This combination has proven invaluable in bringing me to a place in my life where I now trust myself to make the responsible decision.  And, for those times when I am unsure of all the pros and cons, guess who I still go to for advice even though I know he still won’t give me the answer?  My dad.
Now the challenge is being that same great teacher for my own children.  Unfortunately, my natural tendency is to do for my kids those things which they need or want done, merely because it feels easier and quicker than teaching them.  It’s not the right thing to do, but it’s my default setting.  I can already see the rising frustration in my second daughter when I do remember to follow my dad’s ways.  This past week was a perfect example.  My daughter was making a card for a friend of mine who just had a baby.  She wanted to write a story on the card as well.  My daughter’s spelling is applicable to her Kindergarten age, but that was not sufficient for her.  She wanted so badly for the card to be just right so she asked me to spell out every word she did not know.  I started to help and quickly realized that my role as spelling specialist would not help her in her efforts to learn for herself.  I wanted to see what she could do and accomplish all on her own.  Having her do it all by herself afforded she and I new opportunities to grow and learn.  I was able to see where she currently stands with her spelling (and her speech since kids tend to spell it how they hear it) and she provided me with the opportunity to “show [her] where to look, but [not] tell [her] what to see.”  In this particular case, I helped show her where to look by sounding out words with her, but she had to figure out the results for herself.

My Dad & Daughter

I think Trenfor’s quote is even greater if we consider the fact that what my dad was showing me and what I was showing my daughter is that we can look within ourselves for the answers.  By following this teaching plan, we give our children ownership of their actions and confidence in themselves.  What a wonderful attribute that we have the opportunity to pass on to our children than that of a healthy confidence.  A confidence that they can make responsible decisions, that they can see art work through their own eyes, that they can cut an orange their preferred way, that they can learn to find deeper meaning in the simple daily tasks because they have been taught to think for themselves.  These are the things I hope to teach my children, as my own father taught me.

I want to be one of the best teachers I can be for my children.  Thankfully, I know the way to go about doing that.  I will focus on teaching my children where to look, but not telling them what to see.  The greatest challenge in making that possible, for me, is learning to let go.  However, realizing how far my dad’s teaching tactics have brought me in life makes me that much more excited to see how my children will bloom in a similar manner.

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Attitudes Are Contagious

I recently made the choice to stop contributing on Over the Big Moon.  While I loved the opportunity to add to their website, I felt that I needed to focus more on our family and my recent health concerns.  I would still like to share those past posts here on my own site.  This post below was published back in March, which explains why I still reference being pregnant within the text.  I hope you enjoy!  This is one of my favorite posts and I was glad I had the chance to read it again!

I was skimming through a couple of my books this past week to read the highlighted portions.  I came across one line in a book that stated that courage was contagious and then another book wrote of confidence being contagious.  I nodded in agreement; my own life having been impacted by another’s confidence and courage that they had showed in theirs.  Then, I thought to look up some quotes about these attitudes being contagious.  It turns out, according to a Google search, kindness is contagious too, as is fear, creativity, enthusiasm, cruelty and the list goes on.  Apparently, we are a contagious sort of people.  
There was this one quote though that summed it up, “Attitudes are contagious.  Are yours worth catching?”  The irony of the quote is that it was said by two people.  I had yet to see a quote credited to two people until this one.  I imagined a husband and wife sitting in the same room and the thought must have been so contagious that they both uttered the words simultaneously.  The idea makes me giggle to myself.
I could wrap this post up right now with this poignant quote and call it a day, but I think it’s worth discussing the influence our attitudes can have on those around us.  As I mentioned above, I witnessed the attitudes of courage and confidence in others and it made a significant impact in my life.  Particularly, the attitude of courage.  
About two years ago, I lived in Southern California.  I had plans to spend the rest of my days there.  Most all of my friends and family lived in a 50 mile radius.  It was home.  Unfortunately, it was taking a greater toll on me to live there than I had realized.  The financial strains of the high cost of living, the fast paced life, and the overpopulation were wearing on me.  I felt that a move out of the state would be helpful, but I didn’t have the courage to leave everything I knew behind.  Certainly, there were several reasons that eventually made our out-of-state-move possible, but one of the big ones was the courage of a dear couple whom I admire greatly.  This couple had lived in my hometown for over thirty years and raised their kids in the same home that entire time.  Their home was the type where one always felt welcomed.  Two summers ago, with all of their children grown, they sold their home and moved to Utah.  As I joined in a couple gatherings to say farewell to this amazing couple, I sat back and witnessed the courage it was taking for the wife, particularly, to leave the “home” she had known behind.  But I saw that it was not the end of the world.  I guess I subconsciously thought it would be the end of the world for me if I moved, as it would be the end of the only world I had known up until that point.  The attitude of courage among this couple was indeed contagious.  Saying goodbye to them was one more piece to the puzzle that was coming together for us to move our lives out-of-state.  It was the piece of courage.  Courage that I so desperately needed.  Courage that brought us to a place that I now lovingly call home.
For every positive attitude that gets passed along in our daily actions, there is also the negative that we can, perhaps unintentionally, put out there.  I know this is certainly the case in our own home.  These past couple days are a perfect example.  I have been stressed out and trying to deal with the aches and pains that come with pregnancy.  While I’ve tried to keep my patience, my attitude has been less than positive and upbeat.  In fact, I have been rude and unkind.  My kids got the brunt of it.  My eldest, who soaks up my mood like a sponge, started to get sassy and then overly emotional.  Hmmmm.  I wonder where she got that from?  Oh yeah, ME!  Like the stomach bug that quickly spreads through an entire household, my poor attitude was picked up and passed along until everyone in the home was on edge.  It was like an epidemic and, regretfully, I was at the heart of it.
Attitudes are contagious whether we want them to be or not.  Just like a child is more likely to catch a stomach bug that’s spreading through a home than an adult, they’re also more likely to catch our poor attitude.  My guess is that it’s because a child is not going to break down our behavior and cut us some slack.  It will simply be, “Mom’s being mean.  I’m going to be mean.”  It’s not malicious, it’s just the nature of things.  Whereas, my husband may be more inclined to think things through with, “Sara seems on edge.  I wonder what’s really bothering her or if she’s feeling OK?”  Having patience with our children, during those moments when our negative attitudes start being thrown back at us, can help prevent added angst.  We need to understand that we have the opportunity to spread the attitude of joy or contention to those we come in contact with daily. Of course, be realistic.  We should not be expected to exude enthusiasm at all points in our day.  Our children need to understand that the downs happen too.  But we don’t need to dwell in those downs.  I had the opportunity this past week to recognize my poor attitude and strive to change it for the better for the sake of our home.
Tuesday was a particularly busy morning and it seemed that my daughter was needier than usual.  I kept trying to concentrate on a task and she kept asking me 101 questions.  I grew impatient and snapped at her.  She was just bored and wanted to make a snowflake.  A snowflake that would have resulted in me making it, which I felt too busy to do at the time.  When I completed my task, she had already given up on trying to get my attention.  I realized that I had been a grump and took my stress out on her unnecessarily.  I went and made her the best paper snowflake that I could and apologized to her for being a grouch.  I did my best for the rest of the day to be kinder and not dwell in my low.  I wasn’t perfect, but my sincere apology must have left an impression, as she mentioned multiple times through out the day, “It’s okay if you’re a grouch, Mom.”  I suppose the attitude of forgiveness may be contagious too.
Let us all reflect on the attitudes we are carrying around and ask ourselves if it’s something we want our children, our loved ones, and our communities to catch.  The best part about sending out positive attitudes is that their contagious nature results in them coming back our way.  What a beautiful gift to give the world and ourselves; that of a positive attitude.
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Are You Enrolled in Parenting 505?

This coming Sunday, I will have the privilege of posting on Over the Big Moon (OTBM).  I appreciate the opportunity that I have to contribute to their site.  This week, I’d like to post one of my previous OTBM posts here on my blog.  Since this post was originally written earlier this year, I feel the need to clarify that I am now the mother of four beautiful and delightful children.  It’s always good for me to re-read my past posts, as it reminds me of positive insight I have received that I tend to forget.  Whether this is your first time or fifth time reading this post, I hope you will find it beneficial for you as well.

I have three wonderful children and one on the way.  As any mother of multiple children will tell you, each child comes with their unique personality.  It baffles me how children being raised the same way can bring such a different dynamic to the family unit.  As it stands right now, my eldest is my most challenging child.  I used to say that with frustration, but lately I’ve been feeling pretty darn grateful for the difficulties I face with her.  It sounds strange, right?  But over the past three years, what were once feelings of irritation in raising my eldest have now turned into appreciation for all that I’ve learned.  This transformation did not come without cause.

Almost three years ago, I heard this talk by Lynn G. Robbins that I have referenced several times since.  The portion of his talk that stuck with me and led to my change in perspective was this, “A sweet and obedient child will enroll a father or mother only in Parenting 101.  If you are blessed with a child who tests your patience to the nth degree, you will be enrolled in Parenting 505…With which child will your patience, long-suffering, and other Christlike virtues most likely be tested, developed and refined?  Could it be possible that you need this child as much as this child needs you?”  Those words were enlightening to me.

My eldest is actually a really amazing little girl.  It’s more my struggle in learning how to be a mother that leads she and I to butt heads so often.  Also, it doesn’t help that she’s a lot like me.  I’m still trying to figure out how to handle myself, let alone raise a mini-me.  How do you teach a child to communicate calmly when you yourself are quick to escalate?  Motherhood is just tough stuff and it gets more challenging when you’re raising the child who tends to test your patience to the nth degree.

I think about my various struggles with my eldest over the years and most every incident resulted in me learning a lesson.  The most obvious lesson I’ve had to learn repeatedly is patience.  I will likely be tested on this virtue until I leave this world.  I am just not very patient.  However, if I have made any improvement in this department, I owe it entirely to my eldest who has given me multiple instances to try and try again.  I write these words with sincerity.  Of course, in the middle of our battles, I could not tell you that I am grateful for her behavior nor my own.  But reflecting on how far I’ve come through the years has humbled me.

Another thing that my eldest has taught me is how to refine myself to be the woman and mother that I want to be.  Previously, I just sort of floated through life thinking I was a decent person and likable enough and that was that.  I didn’t feel like I owed it to anyone to be the best version of myself.  I wasn’t trying to be a lesser version of myself, I just hadn’t given it any thought one way or the other.  That can change when you have a child, whether they be the prerequisite to Parenting 101 or Parenting 505.  Realizing that I am the model for my children’s behavior has made me evaluate what kind of model I am giving them.  Many of us are familiar with the saying, “When you point one finger, three fingers are pointing back at you.”  I feel like all the disappointed finger pointing I have done towards my children has led me to really reflect on my role in their behavior.  As a result, I’ve had the chance to work on my shortcomings.

That’s what I love about life.  We can change and grow.  There are exceptions to the rule, of course.  The number one exception being that change will not happen if one does not truly want it to be so.  But I believe that change can happen.  I’ve seen it happen in my own life.  I have terrible memories of how I would respond to my daughter when we didn’t see eye-to-eye.  I still catch myself getting caught up in a moment and reverting back to my senseless yelling.  I thought I was helping by scolding her so much that she would not want to ever see that side of me.  But she’s taught me that my method does no good with her personality.  I have had to humble myself.  I continually pray for guidance on how to best raise her so that she can reach her full potential.  What is more conducive to change and growth than humbling yourself and admitting that maybe you really don’t know what’s best?  That’s what Parenting 505 can teach you.  The child that enrolls you in Parenting 505 is the child that says, “Nope.  You still have more to learn.”

Through out my learning process with my eldest, I have come to realize that the number one trigger to her poor behavior is when I’m not doing well personally.  She feeds off of the vibe I’m sending out.  This has been eye-opening for me, as I have to step back and try to find the true root of our struggle.  Sometimes it’s my sincere irritation with one of her white lies and other times it’s ill-founded frustration that I take out on her because I’m stressed about something else.  The latter being an unbecoming behavior that I long to change.  And then I think again about Robbins words, “Could it be possible that you need this child as much as this child needs you?”

I’m realizing that I need my eldest more than she needs me.  Being a mother to her has strengthened my resolve to be better and do better each day.  I’m truly grateful that my eldest enrolled me in Parenting 505 and I pray that I don’t fail her or the class.

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Journaling the Journey

This week has been filled with much false labor, multiple bucket list items being checked off of our Ultimate Summer Bucket List, and preparations for our celebration of Independence Day tomorrow.  As a result, I’m taking this opportunity to bring a post that was originally published on Over the Big Moon back in January, Journaling the Journey, and including it here on my blog.  I was particularly grateful to give this post a re-read, as I have been desperately lacking in my journal entries.

Perhaps it’s pregnancy that makes me more reflective or embarking on a new year, but I found myself wanting to look back at previous posts on my family blog.  As I was reading through it, gratitude filled my heart for the time I had set aside to write blog posts over the past seven years.  I recall it feeling like a chore at times to do so, particularly during the more difficult periods in my life.  Re-reading the ups and downs and pondering how I’ve grown and changed brought me peace.

I was once encouraged to keep a record of my personal faith-promoting experiences.  It was not just to be for posterity sake, but it was supposed to serve as a reminder to me when perhaps my faith was lacking.  I can’t tell you how valuable that suggestion has been in my life.  I’m not always the best about writing in my personal journal, but I do make a greater effort to do so when it comes to the things that I know I’ll need to remember during the more tumultuous times.  It’s been immensely helpful to re-read my own experiences instead of relying solely on other’s faith-promoting moments.  I love how Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, once put it: “I don’t want to live in a hand-me-down world of others’ experiences.  I want to write about me, my discoveries, my fears, my feelings, about me.”

I realize writing is not a favorite past-time for a lot of people.  There are many who would love to have a journal to look back on but aren’t up for taking the time to write it out now.  In these circumstances, it may be best to tailor something to your specific situation.  Perhaps create a private blog so that you can type up your thoughts quicker on a weekly basis?  Or maybe your feelings are equally effective when expressed through drawings?  In that case, grab yourself a sketch book and jot down the date, a picture, and maybe a few key words to describe how things are at that moment in your life.  Maybe taking video and pictures comes easily to you?  An option might be to save these files in chronological order with very specific titles for each video or picture (e.g., “Hubbies first time trying octopus”).  I am a strong supporter of the action of putting pen to paper, but do whatever works for you.  If conventional journaling prevents you from doing any aspect of it, then take baby steps for now.

If you are feeling so bold as to do conventional journal writing, but feel like you don’t know what to write, here are a couple suggestions.  One would be to get your hands on a Journal Jar.  Perhaps you’ve seen or heard of these before.  My cousin gave me a Journal Jar, as shown below, stuffed with journal topics.  Some examples are: Share a principle you have learned or taught; Tell about how you feel about water – playing in it, seeing it, using it; What instrument do you play or wish you could play?  Why?; Did you and your Mother share an interest in any special activity?; How did your Father spend his time?; and so on.  Another option for the unsure journal writer is to simply begin by putting pen to paper.  Half the time when I write in my personal journal I don’t know what it is I want to say.  Oftentimes, I haven’t even figured out what I’m feeling at the moment until I find where my pen leads me.  This was particularly helpful in my teenage years when I was trying to understand all the feelings and changes I was going through.  Journaling helped me sort my mind out.

Which brings me to the last aspect I wanted to bring up regarding journaling: start young.  Teach your children the importance of writing in a journal now.  A couple weeks ago, I chatted with my girls about journal writing.  I have a daughter who is in the second grade and one in Kindergarten.  Both are capable of putting words together.  I encouraged my Kindergartner to use pictures when she didn’t know what to write.  It was fun to see what they chose to share in their first entries.  I can only imagine how fun it will be for them to look back and see how far they’ve come, not just in their thoughts and ideas, but in their writing also.  If your children are now grown and you would like to encourage them to journal, perhaps making a Journal Jar as a gift for their next birthday would be a fun idea.  StoryCorps has a great list of questions to help make your jar possible and motivate your children at any age to get journaling!

I’m grateful for the example my parents set for me on this matter.  My Dad has always been a dedicated journal writer.  He even gifts a “Year in Review” to my Step-Mom each Christmas with the highlights of their past year that he’s pulled from his personal journal.  It’s a gift my Step-Mom looks forward to every year.  My Mom was not as consistent with her journaling as my Dad.  But I treasure the entries she did leave behind for us.  Upon her passing, it was fun to read through her journals.  She would always note what she ate for all of her meals.  It might seem so trivial to write, but I love reading of her adventures in cottage cheese and pineapple.  As noted before, the process of journaling is as much of a blessing to ourselves as it will be to our posterity.

I actually jot my thoughts, memories and feelings down in various places.  One of my favorites is a little journal where I only keep memories of things my kids are currently doing or saying.  It’s an absolute blast to look back and remember how they used to pronounce certain words when they were first learning to talk.  We think we’ll never forget these precious moments with our children but they slip by all too quickly and, sadly, our memories tend to slip away with them.  I confirmed this as I was re-reading blog posts from years prior.  I could hardly believe how small my kids looked in the pictures and videos posted.  Now is the time to write and capture the moments in whatever manner works for you.

In my exercise of reflection through re-reading my family blog, I reaffirmed that my blog, journals, pictures and videos are invaluable.  Not only did I grow in the process of writing it all down in the first place, but I’ve grown in re-reading it and bringing back to my mind all the ways that I have received tender mercies and grown over the years.  My belief is that journaling blesses our lives in the moment, in our future, and in our children’s future.

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Having a Merciful Heart

I originally posted the following post on Over the Big Moon (OTBM) under the title of Having a Merciful Heart.  As has become my custom during the week prior to the third Sunday, I am featuring a previous OTBM post here in anticipation of my new OTBM post this Sunday.  Normally I wouldn’t do so, but I did do tweaks to this post to make it less holiday focused since it was first published in December 2013.

My Mom battled Ovarian Cancer for five years.  In the latter part of those five years, the battle grew increasingly more difficult.  She was always good to put a smile on about the whole affair.  People would ask her how she was feeling and she would give an optimistic response.  I knew differently.  I recall there was one gentleman at church that would say, “How are you, really?”  I guess he was catching on that my Mom wasn’t offering up her true feelings and state of physical well-being.  It wasn’t that she was trying to lie, I think she just thought it best for everyone if they didn’t worry about her.  I suppose I don’t really know what her purpose was in keeping a strong upper lip on the matter.  As I sit here, I wish I could ask her why she kept so many in the dark.  In some ways, I’ve made a conscious decision to do the opposite, but at the same time my default is to put on that ever-smiling face no matter what.

Since I had never really been a private person, it wasn’t until the darkest time that I battled depression that I even realized I too hid the pain and ugliness.  It just seems that people don’t want to know the real ugly thoughts we each endure.  So, with those thoughts unshared, they become thoughts of shame and grief.    I chuckle recalling my friend’s remarks when I confided in her about my desperate struggle with depression.  She said, “You’re the happiest depressed person I’ve ever met.”  She was not the only person to make comments along these lines.  People would honestly ask me if I was ever in a bad mood.  If only they knew…

Before I go further, let me say that I do not suggest that we should constantly be putting our dirty laundry out, nor carry around a sour disposition, nor spout to all the woes and heartbreak we feel.  I truly believe that constantly feeding negative thoughts begets more negative thinking.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons my Mom kept her times of sorrow private.  She had an attitude of optimism.

In that same breath though, I think it’s important that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable amongst our loved ones.  It’s this misconception that everyone is doing perfectly fine that creates this false feeling to the downtrodden that they are alone in their suffering.  I know that is exactly how I felt when I experienced Postpartum Depression (PPD).  In my eyes, every Mom I had met spoke of an immediate connection with their child and joy beyond compare.  I loved and adored my infant daughter, but I was not experiencing those same feelings that they were describing.  I applaud the first woman who opened up and shared her less-than-positive feelings regarding post childbirth.  It’s that same reason that I have since strived to be open about my own trials.  Since I am, apparently, quite good at hiding my pain during my daily activities, I’ve had to be forward in sharing my true feelings.  Even close friends seem to be baffled when I confess to them that I am barely coping in my daily life.  But, I think it’s important that women, and men, realize that pain and suffering is not set aside just for them individually.  We all must endure and we all must be merciful.

I have had the opportunity to be a listening ear to many women over the past years.  In my efforts to be honest about my challenges, others have felt comfortable in sharing theirs with me.  Some stories included pains I cannot comprehend.  I believe it takes great courage for us to confide in another regarding our deepest suffering.  In my respect for their courage and trust in me, I held their stories private.  But, sadly, I later overheard other women speak unkind words and make judgments regarding these women who had confided in me.  I wanted to shout out, “If only you knew what they were dealing with privately, you would not be so quick to judge.”  So as not to damage the trust that those courageous women had placed in me, I held my tongue.  I simply tried to suggest to the gossiping women that these other women may be dealing with more than they understood.  That experience, more than any other, taught me that we ought not make unrighteous judgments.  Every person has their own story and struggle and rarely, if ever, do we have the whole picture.

I once had the pleasure of spending time with this sweet couple.  The husband was sharing with me how kind-hearted and tender his wife is in everything she does.  He gave the example that even when they’re driving on the road and someone cuts them off, his wife is quick to come up with a myriad of valid reasons as to why the driver did so.  He admitted that he would quickly become agitated until her suggestions of “perhaps they didn’t know it was their turn-off,” “maybe they have a loved one who is ill and needs to get to the hospital,” or simply, “they must be having a hard day” would calm his nerves and change his heart.  When he shared that story, it encouraged me to reconsider people’s unpleasant actions and try to find the unoffensive reasoning behind it.  I once overheard another couple talking about their occasional misunderstandings.  The husband said to his wife, “Whenever I say something, just know that I mean it in the most positive way possible.”  An easy out on his part, but likely true nonetheless.  There are so many ways to interpret actions, aren’t there?  Often we are quick to assume the worst.

What I’m trying to say is let’s be slow to judge, quick to find the positive, and courageous enough to be vulnerable from time to time.  If we but try to bear one another’s burdens and joys with merciful hearts, we will each be blessed with more peace and hope.

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The Unlikely Perfectionist

I have the privilege of contributing on Over The Big Moon each third Sunday.  I decided to publish a post of mine, each week preceding the third Sunday, that was originally featured on Over The Big Moon.  I was actually quite excited to re-read this post, as I had forgotten the little bits of wisdom I had gained from the book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Areby Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. mentioned in this post.  I hope you get as much enlightenment as I did when I learned about the unlikely perfectionist.

During my senior year of high school, my BFF and I were both in the same ceramics class.  Every couple weeks, our teacher would give us a new assignment. I would produce a ceramic piece that fit the assigned criteria and call it a day.  My friend would carefully create a masterpiece.  She would perfect her artwork daily.  As a result, she would be behind on the projects we were assigned.  I recall our teacher walking by our table and commenting on how my friend did not need to keep up with the assignments since she was clearly still productive in class.  Looking back, I think about how inspired our teacher was to recognize that productivity is the goal, in whatever form that means to each of us, not quantity.  She and I each went about our work in polar opposite ways but we both got an A in the course.  Watching my BFF that semester was the year that I realized that I was not a perfectionist.  I held on to that truth, and felt grateful in it, for quite some time.  It seemed like tough work to be a perfectionist.  In my eyes, it seemed like the perfectionist was so hard on themselves.  Then, one day I realized that not only am I a perfectionist, I’m the worst kind there is.

That day of discovery was a few years ago in one of those eye-opening therapy sessions. The conversation started as an “I don’t have any passion or hobbies” topic and then it turned in to a discussion as to why that is.  I must have then given my therapist a laundry list of reasons why I don’t nurture the activities that I enjoy the most.  For example, while I very much enjoy writing, I was not actively engaging in that hobby or passion at the time.  I told her this was because I’m really not that good at it.  In case she had a rebuttal for that, I continued that I don’t write because there is nothing new that I have to share that the world hasn’t already heard.  And just in case that was not enough for her to be convinced that writing is a hopeless cause for me, I told her that even IF there is something I know that’s worth writing about, someone else has already said it better.  I was certain the case was closed and she would see it my way.  I have no hobbies and therefore I am a loser (and, yes, this is the thought process my primitive mind takes).  Her response, “You’re a perfectionist.”  My response, “Um.  No, I’m not.  Perfectionists do stuff over and over PERFECTING the art until it suits their expectations.”  I know, I saw my BFF do it in ceramics with her projects.  SHE is a perfectionist.  Not me.  However, as with most everything learned in therapy, my therapist was right.  I am a perfectionist.  She explained that I’m the perfectionist that is SO worried about it being perfect that I don’t even try.  If I can’t do it perfectly, then why do it at all?  This knowledge opened my eyes to so many opportunities lost because I simply felt that I had nothing to offer that would be good enough.  Even in times where I was assigned to do something, I wouldn’t try to excel at it, because there would always be my BFF who had a better project in front of me.  Of course it’s not the productive perfectionist’s fault that I don’t even attempt it, it’s a setback I’ve placed upon myself.

The best part of this story is that the BFF and I are still the best of friends AND we both have hung on to some of our ceramic pieces from that class.  I’ll let you figure out whose is whose.

I recently read this book called The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Areby Brene Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W..  The book speaks perfectly, pun intended, on the matter of perfectionism and all of it’s effects.  Perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, addiction, and, in my case, life-paralysis.  Life-paralysis, as noted by Brown, “refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.  It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others.  It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self-worth is on the line.”  And there it is, the answer to why I don’t want to try: If I fail, then I’ve deduced that I’m a failure.  My self-worth is shattered.

You know the saying, “It’s better to have tried and not succeeded, then never to try at all.”?  I never agreed with it.  I still struggle with it.  For me, it’s easier to just not try.  In my mind it saves me from pain.  If I don’t try it, then I’m “safe.”  I’m not a failure because I didn’t fail at anything.  If I try and it doesn’t work, then, in my eyes, I’ve become the failure.

It’s not a healthy way to be, but, sadly, it’s been my way for years.  It’s hard to refrain from quoting the entire section on perfectionism from Brown’s book, but I wanted to share one last thought of hers that I plan to use when I need little reminders, “Healthy striving is self-focused – How can I improve?  Perfectionism is other-focused – What will they think?”  This thought has left me wondering if my BFF is even a perfectionist at all.  She seems to always accomplish projects for her own edification.  As a result, she produces amazing things because she has never been afraid to try and practice.

Only in the past year have I allowed myself to write and share my more vulnerable thoughts at the risk of people seeing my insecurities and imperfect writing.  It’s taken a lot of supportive friends and family to help remind me that my self-worth is not based on what I produce or achieve, it’s based on being me and allowing myself to be loved just as I am.  Without that support, I would have never started this blog.  The whole premise of my blog is to simply begin achieving whatever it is you long for, whether it be a passion, a goal, or a healthier way of life.  For the unlikely perfectionist, beginning is often the hardest part.

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Facing Our Fears

Last October, I had written a post on Over the Big Moon regarding fears and how to cope with them.  In case you did not have a chance to read the post at the time, I wanted to take a minute and share it here on First You Must Begin.  It’s a post to address fears of all shapes and sizes; from the deep dark ones that we specifically try not to think about for fear of a self-fulfilling prophesy to the less typical fears such as hornet stings, scurrying mice, and ants in our pantry.  The latter being a fear that has plagued me since growing up in my childhood home where it seemed we lived on an ant hill.

A few years ago, I brought my fear of ant infestation up during one of my therapy sessions.  The therapist sweetly reminded me of my size versus the ants.  A good point, for sure.  But what actually has helped me cope was a question she asked me that day: What’s the worst that can happen?  I told her all the things that I dreaded about an ant infestation in my home – the vulnerability of knowing they’ve invaded my space, the food that has to be thrown out, the clean-up process, the potential laundry that has to be washed, and the possibility of them crawling on me.  All of these things still give me the heebie-jeebies.  My therapist listened and then calmly suggested that most of those issues were merely inconveniences and that an exterminator visit could put most of my concerns to rest.  She’s right.  Ants in my home will not result in World War III.  So, why allow myself to escalate to the point of paralyzing fear?

I am fully aware that my therapist’s question is not a cure all for every fear.  But for the fun of it, let’s put the same question to the test for my daughter’s fear of bees and hornets.  An honest fear for her to have based on the fact that she received three hornet stings and two bee stings in the course of one month last summer.  All of the stings came when she was doing nothing to provoke them.  She just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, fives times.  So, what’s the worst that can happen?  My daughter would say that the worst that can happen is that she gets stung again.  But that is not the worst that can happen.  The worst that can happen was what she started to do.  She started to fear going outside and avoided opportunities for trips to the park.  That’s the worst.  She let the bees and hornets take away her freedom to play outdoors.

These examples of fear are on a smaller scale, but I often wonder how much fear could be laid to rest if we merely asked, “What’s the worst that can happen?”  Again, I’m not trying to put this question to the test with true tragedy and trauma, though it does work when I reflect back on even the hardest trials I have faced.  But how many fears could we overcome in a day if we tried to bring things in to perspective?

Perhaps we have a fear of speaking in public?  Or being seen without make-up?  Or someone coming over to our home only to find that we don’t keep it perfectly clean and tidy?  We have these fears that we’ve created for ourselves that just aren’t rationale or fair.  We worry about imagined judgments being made on us.  And in cases where the judgments may come, they likely would have come no matter how clean our home was, how perfect our make-up looked, or how refined we were in our speech.  We could all benefit from seeing the bigger picture rather than just that single situation.

Broadening my perspective has made a significant impact in re-evaluating even my darkest trials.  When I realized my Mom would die of Ovarian Cancer, I began to mourn her loss before she was even gone.  I would sit and sob over how I would not be able to function without her.  I was certain I would not get out of bed for days when the time came.  There was a point when I was spending more time hypothesizing about my level of devastation with her passing rather than enjoying the time I still had with her.  Thankfully, my husband pointed this out to me and I redirected my thoughts and started to more fully embrace my remaining time with her.  Then the time came and my Mom passed away.  My heart ached (and continues to ache) in ways that I had not experienced prior.  I’ve yet to find the right words to properly express the magnitude of my sorrow or the deep impact her absence has had in my daily life.  However, I kept (and keep) moving forward in faith.  After her passing, I never once failed to get out of bed.  Although, I admit, those first few months are still a blur.  What was the worst that could happen?  It happened.  My Mom died.  But, thanks to my faith, the worst that really happened is that I have to wait a little while and then I can be with my Mom again in heaven.

I survived through the passing of my Mom, my best friend.  It didn’t ruin me.  If anything, it made me stronger.  As is the case with every trial I have endured, they have all made me stronger.

I speak from personal experience that even the darkest of nights has a dawn. During a severe bout with depression, I spent a long while clinging to my couch thinking that somehow I could be safe from pain if I just staid there and slept. My anxiety increases just reflecting on this time in my life and my heart sinks thinking of all the lost moments of life fully lived.   I was doing, then, what my daughter was doing with her fear of bees and hornets. I was hiding.  What was the worst thing that could have happened in that situation?  It wasn’t hiding, though that was bad, it would have been giving up.  Had I given in to my fears of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair, I would not be able to enjoy this incredible chapter of my life that I never dreamed possible.

I think fear is really the apprehension that comes from the unknown outcome of a personal struggle of any size.  I get discouraged, downtrodden, and fearful just like anybody else still.  But I have a friend that is sweet to remind me that, “[I] can do hard things.”  And she’s right.  I CAN do hard things.  And sometimes the hardest thing I have to do is not give in to fear nor give up on myself.

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$100 Visa Gift Card Giveaway


As you may already know, I have the privilege of contributing on Over the Big Moon (OTBM) every third Sunday of the month.  It’s been such a wonderful opportunity to work with OTBM Co-founders, Pam and Lisa.  I am joining with them and their other lovely contributors to offer this $100 Visa Gift Card Giveaway!  This is my first giveaway here on First You Must Begin and I’m excited to report that I already have another special giveaway planned in the near future!  But before I get ahead of myself, take a look at the amazing contributors that have made this week’s giveaway possible!
OTBMVal Adrienne Lauren April LaTisha Sara Lyndi Amie

Now onto the giveaway!  Again, it’s for $100 Visa Gift Card and it’s open for everybody – US Residents and International Residents!  The giveaway will run from April 15th through April 20th at 11:59 pm!  Winner will be chosen Monday, April 21, 2014!   You have 20 ways to enter using the Rafflecopter below!  

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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