Tender Mercy #15: Growth conditions

One morning, my young son Ezra very politely asked, “Mom, after you finish nursing Nathaniel and after  you eat your own breakfast and after you feed grandma, could you read me a story?” I just stopped and looked at him and almost cried. How could this three-year-old have such patience and awareness? How had he grown so accustomed to waiting for me? I never would have purposefully asked so much of him, but our situation had required it of him and he had developed an amazing patience for one so little (or one of any age!). I thought about how, despite the difficulty, we had all grown by having the opportunity to care for my elderly mom in our home. Her struggle and our struggles had given us a gift that we never would have sought for, but it was a great gift nonetheless. As Isaiah 61:3 states, those who experience suffering will be given “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Though I do not see God as the source of suffering, our mortal conditions do allow for it. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi’s words capture my sentiments: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne 11:17). I am thankful that even difficulty can be made productive and useful.

     

The photos above show Ezra and his grandma. In the second picture, two-year-old Ezra is lying down by his grandma about a year after her stroke.

In doing this series on tender mercies, I have learned that tender mercies come in greater concentration in times of need. Looking back at my posts, I see that most of my examples come from the years I cared for my mom after her strokes–one of the hardest times in my life so far. To me this is evidence of a responsive, loving God that truly is aware of His children. He is aware of you; He is aware of me. What a comfort to know this!

Now I plan to steer my blog again to parenting issues, but it’s all related, isn’t it? All parts of life affect our parenting.

This is #15 of the 15 part series The Tender Mercies Project. See the initial post here.

Tender Mercy #10: a need met

There is a hymn with the line, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed . . .” Often we do need to go through the formality of asking, but I like how the song refers also to those unexpressed prayers–our deepest wishes perceived by a loving God.

Though I have had specific prayers answered, I’m not saying things always turn out rosy for me. Sometimes things go like I hope and plan, other times not. (Like there was the time I took off another volunteer mom’s bumper in the school parking lot prior to a class field trip–but that’s a story for another post. . . .) My faith is not contingent upon a constant feed of divinely orchestrated moments or perfectly packaged outcomes. And yet, by the mere fact that even sometimes I distinctly feel God’s help and blessings, this does build my faith. There have been specific times when I’ve had a need–even without realizing it or praying about it–and that need has been perfectly met. If you think about it, I bet you can recall times like this too.

Now for some examples:

  • Before traveling for residency interviews, it began to dawn on me that I’d need a double stroller to navigate the airport with a baby and toddler (this was back in the day when clunky strollers were allowed in airports!). I hadn’t even begun to brainstorm about where I could get one, but as I walked through my neighborhood, a lady I barely knew dashed out of her house and told me she had a double stroller for me. She was pregnant with her second baby and had found a stroller at a yard sale. She said, “I can’t even use it for months, but I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to lend it to you until I need it.” I had barely acknowledged this need to myself and had not yet prayed over it, but the blessing was right there. It gave me the assurance that God would be with me in other ways too, as I faced the difficult task of residency interviews, residency itself, and balancing all that comes with being a mom.
  •  Once our freezer stopped fully freezing ice cream (basically, a minor emergency!) and we didn’t have money for a new one. It made me concerned that possibly other foods were not being kept at safe temperatures. That same week our next door neighbor called to ask if we happened to need a new fridge/freezer. She was getting married and in merging two households they’d have an extra. Another time we needed a new bathroom sink. Just after having done the preliminary browsing to pick one out, we saw a nearly identical sink on the curb with a “free” sign. It was used, but it was perfect.
  • I could go on, but instead, what about you? When have you had a personal need met?

Are these miracles? It has been said that, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”* Maybe some good things just happen, but all goodness derives from God. All goodness has a divine fingerprint. Miracles and mercies are part of the evidence that God is there.

*Some attribute this quote to Albert Einstein, but whoever said it gave us something to think about!

Happy Mother’s Day!! And the video contest winner is . . .

I’m sharing my Mother’s Day wishes now because on the actual day, I just want to quietly savor my family (and I hope the same for you!). First of all, I want to give you and all women out there permission to really have a happy Mother’s Day. A hearty celebration on Mother’s Day (or any day) has no prerequisites. Happiness in this very moment does not require perfection of us, our children, our our circumstance. I, for one, am going to accept any crayon-traced handprints, wildflowers from the backyard, job coupons (that may or may not ever be redeemed), best-mommy awards, love notes, or homemade treats wholeheartedly despite having no claims to perfection as a mother.

This is our special day as women to receive some extra thanks for the mothering and nurturing we do, so let us be gracious about it! A blog post I read recently acknowledged how we sometimes vacillate between the “good mom/bad mom” extremes as we characterize our parenting efforts. This dichotomy is unnecessary and inaccurate. In reality, we are dedicated moms who are developing  and learning and growing alongside our children.

A friend of mine recently faced life-threatening complications following the delivery of her 4th son. She acknowledged that her focus quickly changed from the “good mom/bad mom” question, to the simple wish to just “be there”–period. She wanted the gift of watching her children grow and being there with them. Her insight inspires me to let go of my constant self-evaluation and gently replace it with appreciation.

This is my first Mother’s Day without my own mom around, so there may be tears amid the celebration. My posts keep being about my mom, though I keep telling myself, “This is supposed to be a parenting website!!” But our day-to-day parenting is so wrapped into our underlying emotional experience; right now my life is about processing and coming to terms with the loss of my mother. I just ran across an amazing book entitled, “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman (she also wrote another called “Motherless Mothers,” which I’d also like to take a look at).

OK! Now for the moment you have been waiting for . . . (drum roll) . . .

The 2017 Video Contest Winner is: “Journey of Motherhood” submitted by Elicia

In this video, Elicia captures her mothering journey, which involves joyful moments she has shared with her children, as well as the loss and sadness of losing a baby. Though Elicia acknowledged that she has not had a mother involved in her life, she honors her grandmothers (who both recently passed away)–one who helped raise her and the other who taught her she could be happy and upbeat despite the difficulties of life. Elicia’s video spoke to me because it shows the richness of her experience–both joys and sorrows.

Here are pictures of Elicia with her grandmothers.

    

Thank you, Elicia, for sharing your beautiful video! I hope you enjoy the yummy fruit bouquet that is coming your way 🙂

Tender Mercy #8: A special comfort given

Sometimes before going to bed I make rounds and pull the covers up over my boys’ shoulders. I think all parents have done this at some point, though their kids sleep on unaware. Similarly, how often is God stepping in and making things a little better for us, His children? Perhaps more often than we could ever know.

When I completed my first full draft of Faithful Nurturing, I needed to find readers to provide feedback. The reality was that most of my friends were busy moms–they had snippets of time to read a good or useful book, but not necessarily time to pore over one that was in process. My own mom had recently had a stroke and could only communicate in a very limited way. Though she had always been so wise, articulate, and supportive, I could no longer ask for her input or opinions. Though the book was influenced by her and even partly about her, it was too late to share it with her as I would have wished. With this sad realization, I had to go forward relying on what my memories and past experiences taught me* about what her input might have been. Also, God blessed me with two wonderful friends named Sharon and Pat.

Sharon and Pat are in their eighties and knew my mom for several years. They are spunky, educated, wise and faithful, and they generously gave me hours and hours of their time. They had no little kids to chase around or put to bed, but still they had plenty of things they could have been doing besides reading my book. These ladies stood in for my mother in surrogate. It was almost uncanny how much they did and said things like my mom would. I was noting this to myself one afternoon when we had met at Pat’s house to discuss the book. I almost cried then when Pat announced that it was time to break out the Dove bars. Though Pat had no idea, these delicious treats were my mom’s favorites. It may be impossible to eat a Dove bar without feeling comforted in some way, but that day it went beyond ice cream and chocolate. It was as if God Himself tucked a blanket around me.

*This reminds me of the song Wanting Memories by Sweet Honey in the Rock https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vW2TpW4gCt8

What special comforts have you received from God? Pray to see them. . .

Tender Mercy #7: A meaningful connection

I look for lessons everywhere, and often I find them–at just the right moment. This is more than just being showered indiscriminately with God’s goodwill toward all creation; this is personalized guidance and nourishment that is available to each of us.

There have been so many times I have heard just the right quote, read just the right scripture, ran into just the right person to help me in my journey of parenting and life. I have entitled this mercy “meaningful connection” referring to the meaning I have found and the connection I have felt in such occurrences. I certainly don’t always get answers and help falling in my lap, but as I am seeking  for them in high-yield places, they eventually come.

For me, one of those high-yield places has been the biannual LDS Church conference called “General Conference.”  Certain addresses apply more to my life than others, but there is always something there. I distinctly remember one evening feeling so burdened and inadequate caring for my mother who by then needed ongoing care. Her physical weight that I leveraged multiple times a day in caring for her felt like a literal weight upon me–one I balanced with the responsibilities within my own growing family. I broke away briefly to attend a conference session after throwing on a skirt and quickly running a brush through my hair. I sat in the back, sort of hoping to hide, but simultaneously wishing for someone to rush to my side, miraculously sensing how much I needed to be rescued. One of the talks was entitled “The Caregiver”–it was my rescue. And as the meeting progressed, I found myself surrounded by friends and lovely people who reached out to me and buoyed me up. It was a message and a moment just for me, just at the right time, there on a folding chair in a church gym.

“The Church is designed to nourish the imperfect, the struggling, and the exhausted.” Dieter Uchtdorf Gen Conf Oct 2013

Tender Mercy #5: Personalized rescue

An excerpt from my book “Faithful Nurturing” p 263:

“An elderly friend named Queta once told me of her experience walking down a dusty road in Mexico on a hot day. The sun was beating down and shining in her eyes, so she prayed for a cloud to come shade her. The sky remained clear, but as she turned the corner, there in the road was an old straw hat. She picked it up and put it on, offering a prayer of thanks as she continued walking. Her story reminded me of a morning I walked to work and was caught in a sudden downpour. I prayed that the rain would stop, but instead, a city bus pulled over and the driver offered me a free ride. In such experiences we find joy not only in the blessings themselves—the shade, the dryness or warmth, the need met—but in the central reminder they give: that God is there. Though tangible or immediate rescue does not always come, remembering past glimpses of God’s awareness and love will carry us.”

When have you experienced divine rescue?

Not only do we ourselves require rescue at times, but we can participate in the rescue of others. This can be very deliberate–heartfelt praying, pleading, or fasting for another–or almost incidental, because we happen to be in the right place at the right time and are open to the needs of others. I know God can guide us to see others’ needs, but sometimes it can be as simple as asking a person directly. A quote I ran across recently said, “[One] effective way of obtaining an accurate concept of a man’s experiencing is to ask him what he is thinking and feeling. If he tells us honestly, there we have it: the basis for perfect empathy.”*  And perhaps the basis for action. . .

*The Transparent Self by Sidney Jourard

Tender Mercy # 4: A new perspective granted

One of the greatest tender mercies I have experienced as a mother has been perspective–those insights particularly needed to help me understand and love my children better in a given moment. When I have felt annoyed, impatient, or exasperated with my children and then have taken the opportunity to pray for help, invariably I have received help in some way. Often, it has been by gaining a brief glimpse into their experience.

I remember running on a wooded trail several years ago and having the toe of my running shoe catch on a root. I literally fell on my face. I thought, “Wow! I had forgotten what that feels like!” Luckily as grown-ups we don’t often experience that, but my toddler experiences it multiple times a day. It can be easy to forget what it feels like to fall down, to have a prized possession wrecked by a sibling, or to be an exhausted teenager getting nagged for not doing a chore. Sometimes God grants us the tender mercy of remembering or more accurately imagining what it might feel like to walk in someone else’s Stride Rite’s (or Vans). Suddenly we are blessed with empathy where we may have otherwise criticized or been impatient or harsh. Acts 9:18 teaches of Saul having the scales of darkness removed from his eyes–new perspective can bring a dramatic shift in us like that.

See this link on how a little love changes everything: “As I Have Loved You” by Thomas Monson Feb 2017

Finding the Joyful Purpose

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Most of what we do as mothers we do for a reason. When we stay in tune with the WHY, mundane or hard tasks often seem less burdensome. For example, earlier this week I wondered, “Why am I spending all this time driving my kids around?!” At first it was a frustrated, inward rant; then it turned into a real question with a real answer.  The place I was headed was a music lesson. I value music as a part of my kids’ lives. My driving was making it possible. When I could tune into the purpose behind my actions, my feelings changed completely.

Chapter 3 of “Faithful Nurturing: Mothering from the Heart to the Heart” acknowledges the amazing power that comes by connecting with vision and purpose: “Vision is a sketch, a path, and a vantage point. When as mothers we can stay in tune with why we are doing all that we are doing, the process of mothering holds much greater meaning.”

In a recent address, President Russell M. Nelson stated, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” So true, but still it’s hard sometimes to connect with this joy. Certainly this is not for use as a platitude with other people and their struggles, but it is a kind invitation and reminder to apply very personally as far as we are able. It is saying that joy is still a possibility, a path that is open to us.

Here is a friend’s blog post–more insights to be gained by asking yourself “Why?”: http://queenofthemunchkins.blogspot.com/2015/05/overwhelmed-at-home-ask-yourself-three.html

Teaching Children Values

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This winter my 7-year-old and 5-year-old decided to shovel a neighbor’s driveway just to be nice. I was so pleased with their thoughtfulness! I helped them bundle in winter gear and they headed out the front door to do some good, neighborly service. Then they came back about a half hour later with twenty-five dollars in hand and big smiles on their faces.

Apparently, the neighbor had been so appreciative that she had offered to pay them–not just a little boy wage either! They said they had refused the money at first but then, as they kept working, changed their minds and knocked on the door to say “OK, we’ll take the money after all.” I said, “You did what!?”

I knew my neighbor had likely enjoyed paying them, but I wanted them to learn about greater treasures. I wondered how I would get these two excited young boys to part with the most money they had ever possessed to reclaim the service they had originally intended to give.  I thought of the story from the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament and told it to my sons: I told them how Naomi insisted that Ruth and Orpah, after the death of their husbands, should leave her and go back to their homeland to start new lives for themselves. Orpah went, Ruth stayed. I read them Ruth 1:16. I reminded them how our neighbor had served us in so many ways over the years. I invited them to return and give her back the money, even if she tried to insist against it. I said they didn’t have to, but they both did. And when they came back, their smiles were even bigger than before.

As a mother, I am so grateful for the wealth of truth and wisdom that the scriptures hold. They are such powerful resources in parental teaching.

One mom told me that when she tried to start having family scripture study, her daughter said the Bible just seemed like “a bunch of little words.”  Yes, the scriptures can seem like that at first, but as we introduce the stories and truths to our children in a way that allows them to make meaningful connections, their lives will be greatly blessed.

Sometimes when children are young, it can be helpful to study by topic or through stories. Also, we can acknowledge to children that since the Bible is a book written a long time ago, some of the language used and the customs described might seem unfamiliar. As we read, we can translate complicated passages to simpler language and discuss how the ideas apply to our present lives. We can also teach values through songs and stories. It is useful to talk openly about family values and expectations. This can be communicated in a formal way, but also occurs as we discuss issues and questions that come up day-to-day. Being part of a faith community can also offer us strength and support. Though likely you have resources from your own faith tradition, I include links below from mine.

*my gospel standards poster https://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/content/images/gospel-library/magazine/fr09aug24_poster_singlepage.jpg

*songs: https://www.lds.org/music/library/childrens-songbook/the-commandments?lang=eng (click on vocals and music)

*our family has also enjoyed reading biographies of individuals who have been exemplary in some way (such as Helen Keller, Mother Theresa, George Washington Carver, etc). We have also read books that promote respectful behavior, positive relationships & good values (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Frog and Toad Series, the Saturdays, the Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie, just to name a few)

Taillights

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On a day like many others when my kids and I were sitting in traffic after music lessons, my teenage son asked, “Which are your favorite taillights?” I had never thought of liking taillights before–or even really looking at them. To me taillights had just meant “stop and wait.” Now suddenly I was noticing that the Kia Soul’s taillights look like a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the Chevy Impala’s taillights remind me of red blood cells under a microscope.

Our drive home took on new excitement, especially since I had to consciously remember to stop when the cars ahead of me stopped, instead of seeing it as my chance to decipher makes and models through the darkness and memorize the associated red, glowing shapes.

It is often my children who teach me to really look at the world around me.  Rush hour will never be quite the same again!

“They say nothing is new under the sky. Really, nothing is old under the sky. Only the eyes become old, accustomed to things; then everything is old. For children everything is new . . .” (Book of Secrets by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh)