Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I was looking for an old set of scriptures with some notes in the back, and stumbled across this:

It made me smile inside, reminding me of a sweet, humbling experience that happened about 20 years ago:

When our daughter (now almost 23) was a toddler, I caught her scribbling all over the inside covers of my leather scriptures. She had been extremely intentional and diligent--using a combination of ballpoint pen and two different markers. (See proof above). I was mildly horrified.

"Sweetie, those are very special books, those are my scriptures! Let's not draw in there!" I said, gently taking the books and the pens away and handing her a sheet of paper.

Her response stopped me, stunned.

"But I want to be like you, Mommy. I'm marking my scriptures!"

I had no idea she was watching me....paying any attention at all to what I was doing when I could steal a quiet moment or two.

I will always think of her sweet response whenever I see those "marks" on this book. There are plenty of behaviors our daughter could have chosen to imitate, many of them unattractive and embarrassing, or involving bad words, but I'm so grateful that at that moment she was mimicking something actually worthy of imitation—studying the scriptures.

She didn't know that I was searching for answers and inspiration, singling out specific verses, making notes in the margins about what struck me as meaningful and powerful. But she saw me with these books, and an array of pens, every day. And she must have felt it was something good that she wanted to do too.

That was one of those moments when I realized I was doing at least one thing right.

If you're interested —like our daughter was — in what I do every day with those books and those pens, head on over to Feasting on Small Plates, where I have an entire blog dedicated to my personal scripture study and sharing the insights and truths I mine there. I'd love to hear your insights too.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

She forgot my biggest emotion! (I swear this is a thing.)

A few weeks ago we heard our dear friend and clinical psychologist Julie De Azevedo Hanks speak at an arts retreat. Her entire presentation was engaging and captivating, and there's more I want to explore here, but for now I can't stop thinking about this one concept: the difference between primary and secondary emotions.

Her definition is so simple:
The primary emotion is what you feel FIRST.
The secondary emotion is what you feel MOST.

She gave several examples, such as an initial primary emotion of fear, followed by a stronger secondary emotion of anger. Loneliness, followed by a stronger secondary emotion of sadness.

But I think I have only one secondary emotion (this one wasn't on her list, but it has to be an emotion, because it works in the exact same way):

Primary emotion: Sad (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Afraid (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Ashamed (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Lonely (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Bored (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Happy (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Primary emotion: Sleepy (what I feel first)
My secondary emotion: Hungry (what I feel most)

Are you seeing a pattern emerge?
I am clearly an emotional eater. Especially when it comes to comfort foods.
No wonder I need to lose ten pounds!

QUESTION: Are you an emotional eater?
Do you have a different pattern of experiencing primary and secondary emotions?
I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Inherent Danger of "I'm Right! You're Wrong!" --Understanding Those With Different Perspectives

Every day I sit at my kitchen window and look out at this patch of scrub oak in our back yard.

One day I was struck by the notion that while all the other scrub oak trees grow with crooked, twisted trunks, there is one tree that stands perfectly straight. So strange. Yet I could see it with my own eyes. There it was. Straight as could be. See it there on the left?

I kept wondering how that one tree managed to grow straight up while all the trees around it grew in every chaotic direction.

Then I walked out in the yard and realized if I looked at the same tree from a different direction, the tree I thought was straight is actually just as crooked as all the rest—it just looked straight because of my point of view. From my kitchen window I was looking at it straight on and couldn't see the directional bend.

I also realized that from the new spot in the yard where I was standing, there was yet another tree that appeared to be perfectly straight, while all the others around them were chaotic and crooked. See it there, just off center in the back?

In fact, from nearly ANY spot in the yard there might be one tree that appears to be straight while all the others are crooked. 

So three different people, standing in three points of the yard, could all be looking at different trees at the same time, and say that THEIR tree is the straight one. They would all be right. And they would all be wrong.

Oh, the lessons from nature! Could it be that all our perceptions are at least partly colored by our perspective and experience? How many ideas are we digging in our heels about, when it might pay to stop and look at the situation from another person's point of view?

QUESTION: What political party might have a helpful perspective you haven't considered? When was the last time you added to your faith by including the perspective of someone from another persuasion? 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Motherhood Math: It's Complicated

(apologies in advanced to any mathematicians in my readership.)

When you get married you start multiplying everything by two...a nice even number. Easy third grade math.  

But then you inexplicably also divide the amount of time you spend together by two. You assumed your time together would be doubled, but life, school and work get in the way, and instead it’s halved. 

Later you realize that when you're unified, 1 x 1 = 1. Two people multiplied is greater than two people just added together.  The first of many paradoxes: One is greater than 2. 

Things get a little more complex when you add a baby. You think you could just start multiplying everything by three. But the baby equals 2.75 adult humans (diapers for one month = 2 adult t-shirts that will each last five years.) Cost of breastfeeding for first year: 0. Cost of motorized breast pump: Astronomical.  Baby also demands 6 times more attention than your husband. Divide time together by another third.

Double and triple recipes as more children are added to family. Double and triple laughter and love at same rate of recipes and grocery bills. 

Write down a number for your ideal hours of sleep per night. Multiply that number by 2/3. Try to escape sleep debt using debt-reduction formula from financial planning class. Fail.

Story problem: 

If a mother has one child to shuttle to elementary school, one to drop off at preschool, and one crawling on floor at rate of 1mph, how fast does the mother need to run to keep up with them all?

Average number of times per day you quietly move dirty dishes from sink to dishwasher: 5 

Hire a babysitter for weekly date night with spouse. Multiply mother’s hourly rate by 10. Oh, wait…that’s still zero. Scratch that. No comparison to mother’s investment. Budget x dollars a week, then double it. Multiply previous total by 5 for longer outings. Joy at finally having a 12-year-old = short-lived.

Add a teenage boy with a speeding ticket and a fender bender to your family auto insurance and multiply previous insurance premiums by four. 

Teenage boy also stays out past curfew. Reduce sleep time by another 1/3. Sleep now dangerously close to zero. Sleep debt approaches bankruptcy.

Sending first child to college = scholarship + tuition + books + housing - grandparents’ 529 plan + 2500/semester - tax credit. Repeat annually with variables. Subtract cost of feeding teenage boy at home. Multiply by four. Seeing that child in a cap and gown: worth every penny. Value of that education: priceless. 

Marry off a daughter and the price of the wedding is triple the amount of the tax credit you lose that year. Total financial loss, including incidentals: cannot add that high. Value of a stellar son-in-law: inestimable, far outweighing any financial losses.  Cost of temple sealing: 0. Value of eternal union: infinite. There is no earthly equation to equal that kind of blessing.

Youngest son leaves to serve a mission. Joy = Given. Cost zeroed out by car insurance reduced (total annual estimate for three drivers, now divided by four) plus cell phone line removed, plus packaged food and gallons of milk no longer consumed. Dirty dishes in sink now equals zero. Shoes by back door still equals 2--because I can't bear to move them. Complex emotions surface. For every missionary letter: Multiply both sides by joy raised to the power of sacrifice and faith.

Oldest son moves to New York. Multiply faith and prayers by 10. Double that number for daily and weekly miracles pouring in. Scratch head. Look at lifetime of tithing receipts. Does not come close to equalling the value of the blessings and miracles. Wipe away tears.

Delight when we hear from each of our children: Enormous. Hours we want to spend with them: infinite. 

Number of people in household now: 2. Number of empty bedrooms: 3
Divide all recipes by 4. (Except the ones you divide into 2/3 when married kids come over for dinner). 

Multiply time together with spouse by 2.5. Raise total to the exponent of fun, now multiplied by 30 years of depth and life experience. This is what you call rich.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What three things can help defuse teen anger?

I was talking to some mothers of teenagers the other day, and one asked about 13-year-old Boy Anger, wondering specifically, "Is that a thing?" (It is.) And "Is there anything that helps?"
(—Other than the cure for the common cold: It will eventually end?)

Our youngest just turned 18, and while I readily enjoy our kids at every age and stage, I can't say I'm sorry to see all the teenage mutant ninja hormones in the rearview mirror! But I do have some pointers for those just entering or in the throes of this parenting thrill-ride:

First, find them a physical outlet. I remember our oldest saying one day, much to my horror, "It feels so good to hit people with sticks!" Of course, he was talking about lacrosse, not beating somebody up in a dark alley, but it also revealed that deep need in a developing male's psyche to have an outlet for his anger. —A safe outlet, where he wouldn't be punished or penalized for letting some rage take over, and literally beat it out on the field, as long as he followed the rules.

It doesn't have to be lacrosse. They can ride it out on a surfboard or a snowboard, pound it out on the pavement, tackle it on the football field, pedal it out on a mountain bike, or chase it out on a tennis court. Any safe physical outlet will do. The more passionate your teenager is about the activity, the better.

Second, support them in a creative outlet. I recognize daily how much peace and deep soul-satisfying fulfillment comes through music and painting. And it turns out it's not just me. Nelson Mandela's widow, Graça Machel discovered a child's soul can be soothed by participation in the arts. Machel launched a 10-year study on Children and Conflict that concluded in part: "If their energy is channelled creatively, however, children and young people can become powerful forces for peace."  For teenagers, this effect is even stronger if they become teachers themselves, helping younger children learn to express themselves artistically.

My third piece of advice was less obvious, and came to me a little later, after things quieted down:

When our oldest and angriest son was in the throes of hormonal rage, I was praying hard about how to deal with him, and the answer came to me as a line from the 13th Article of Faith, but in a way I'd never understood it before:

"If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

I had always thought that meant to surround yourself with the best literature, and other beautiful things in the world. But in that moment on my knees, God taught me that it can also suggest a way to interact with your angry teenager: If there is ANYTHING virtuous, lovely or praiseworthy [about them], we seek after these things.

Praise. Could it really be that simple?

I started seeking—really looking hard—for things to praise about all our kids, and specifically our teenagers, watching for things they were doing right—ANYTHING. Then I'd point it out to them, no matter how small or obvious, both privately and in front of other people. I was determined to say every positive thing I could think of, right out loud. To them.

And it worked. Or at least it helped. Most of the time. Which is huge.

People were happier. Fewer doors were slammed. Fewer voices were raised. Fewer tears flowed. (Mine. As well as theirs.)

It wasn't the cure for cancer. Hormones will be hormones. But it did make a significant difference in the spirit of our home, and in my relationship with each child. 

It turns out, I learned later, there's scientific evidence behind the praise phenomenon. The pleasure centers in our brain crave sincere compliments more than food, alcohol, money or sex. Seriously. That could solve 80% of teenager problems. Am I right?

What has helped you in dealing with angry teenagers? What wonders have you experienced through praise? I'd love to hear about it in the box below. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I'm a Survivor.

Sunday I passed a milestone birthday. No big, round numbers this year; a different kind of milestone. Yesterday I reached the age my mother was when she died.

It was a sobering birthday. I've been dreading it for months. Staring my own mortality in the face. It's like standing on a precipice and stepping off into the unknown. Because I have no idea what life looks like after this year.


In the meantime, I've been reexamining my mother's life—what she accomplished and who she became in her short time on earth—and feeling like I am the one who has fallen short.

I have a couple of Mom's journals in my possession. One of the first things that struck me as I scanned the pages of consistently precise handwriting was the countless acts of service—there was literally something penned in on every single day that she did for someone else...and sometimes multiple acts in a single day. I was blown away. She had five children plus a Navajo foster daughter. Six kids she was feeding, clothing, schlepping to school, concerts, parties and back to school night. Six kids she was teaching to be responsible, be extraordinary, and behave. And yet she found (or rather, made) time to serve.

She was also this incredible peacemaker. I remember how much time she spent on the phone counseling a sibling with a struggling marriage, helping a friend whose husband committed suicide, and trying to foster some unity between an estranged mother and daughter in our extended family. She was so good at seeing every side of the situation and helping people bridge the gap, go the distance, love, and forgive. She could listen endlessly, tirelessly, when others would have long given up. She was amazing at overlooking faults and choosing to love the most difficult and unlovable people. Including me.

She had unstoppable faith. Sometimes we would enter her bedroom and find her on her knees, and feel like we had interrupted a truly sacred space—an actual conversation with God. Her scriptures were worn threadbare. The leather binding had finally given way to decades of dedicated searching, and she taped up the spine with silver duct tape. (I love that image. So practical. So her.) She was completely obedient, and had an unwavering commitment to build up His kingdom on the earth, both in large ways (like singing in the Tabernacle Choir and serving on the Sunday School General Board) and small, like following daily spiritual promptings. She knew where her anchor was, had her sights on the North Star, and never veered off course. Her own steadiness anchored countless others.

She demanded excellence. From herself, and everyone around her. Setting a high standard usually meant that others also rose to the occasion. Whether it was coaching me for the national spelling bee, or helping her piano students master Suzuki Book One, she was so good at raising the proverbial bar.

She stayed active in her career. She was a very gifted musician, and never stopped performing and improving. Whether it was accompanying her father when he sang, performing in a chamber music trio, or conducting a choir, she was top notch. I drew this portrait of her (top) from a photo that was taken when she was directing a choir for the Franklin/Covey group. The most joyful and alive she looked in the last years of her life was the time she spent motivating those singers.

As her the end of her life drew near, it seemed as though she lived very close to the veil. She had become so strong, almost regal in her demeanor. Her heart had been refined and purified through her growth and her trials. She was even more humble and teachable, loving and giving. She became more and more Christlike as she faced the prospect of finally meeting her maker.


As my dreaded birthday approached, a few people started reaching out to me to make plans. None of them knew how difficult this day might be for me. I mentioned to one friend how I was feeling, and she instantly shifted gears and came up with a wonderful, soul-filling plan that sounded perfect to me.

Another friend—from our beloved Pasadena area, who we've been close to for over two decades—invited us to dinner at her home on my birthday. (My husband gingerly asked if that's what I wanted to do, and I assured him YES!) She is a fabulous cook, and invited just our immediate families and one other very close friend. It was exactly the sort of small gathering I love, filled with people I love.  It was sheer heaven. When this friend suggested a talent show, I'll admit I cringed. But honestly, everyone did something completely unexpected, and we all enjoyed ourselves so much. I mustered the courage to read aloud a couple of blog posts — most notably this one, to be a little bit vulnerable and let people know what I was dealing with this year, and then this one, to end on a lighter note. It was one of my favorite birthday celebrations ever.  I didn't just survive my ominous birthday, I thrived.

That evening gave me an entirely new perspective on living after the age my mother died. I've decided to see every day that I outlive my mom as a gift. One more day to work at becoming more like she was: More service-oriented and eager to lift others, more of a peacemaker, a better listener. One more day to strengthen my faith, and bolster those around me. One more day to demand excellence of myself and my students. One more day to excel in my career. One more day to be kinder, wiser, stronger deeper; to be pure, to be humble and teachable. To be like my mother. To be like Christ.