Sunday, December 13, 2015

Give Your Gift


I had a bit of a meltdown this weekend.  And it wasn't the meltdown you might expect from the mother of a large family in the middle of December.

No, I wasn't stressed about shopping expeditions, elf-on-the-shelf exploits, baking marathons, or those endless Pinterest Christmas bucket lists, each complete with a scripture, song, craft, recipe, activity and service project for every day of December.

I was stressed about making our family's celebration more Christ-centered.  

It's easy enough to minimize the world's influence at Christmastime, especially if you were raised right--and I was.  We're pretty low-key about presents, decorations, and activities.  We pare down to the basics so we can be financially, emotionally and physically healthy enough to actually enjoy the celebrations we have together.   

But if you're a mom who's trying hard to raise children up to the Lord, it can be really hard to feel like you're doing enough at Christmas.  

Every time President Monson takes the stand, I am inspired by his encouragement to reach out and bless others.  He is a walking example of the power of service, and especially this time of year, I long to do more.  I hear stories of other mothers who have beautiful family Christmas traditions centered on service and on Jesus Christ, and I think, what's wrong with me?

There are homeless people who need coats.  There are lonely people to visit on every street in town. There are people grieving the loss of loved ones to be hugged.  There are soup pantry shelves to be stocked.  

What is wrong with me, that I can't get my act together honor the Savior by serving his children?

It is strange that all the well-intentioned and truly wise advice to us moms about slowing down and enjoying the true meaning of Christmas can actually make us feel worse if we're not careful.  

Our Savior was the only perfect mortal to walk the earth, and he came to bring light.  He came to lift burdens, not add to them.  Are we mothers allowing Satan to twist the joyful celebration of Christ's grace into a series of hoops to jump through?  Even if we have avoided the common traps and trappings of commercialization and frenzied celebration--we can still miss the mark if we're focused on what we're not doing.  Whether we're comparing our Christmas decor or our Christmas devotions to what the neighbors have done--comparison hurts.  

But today the Savior opened my eyes a little bit, and I was allowed to see that I am not failing Christmas.  I am giving the gifts that are mine to give.  

They are small.  And I've given them for so many years in a row, that I've come to feel that they don't even really count.  But they are my gifts.  And these gifts I give to others are really my gifts to the Savior.

Today I smiled big at a young friend walking into the church, and I felt the Lord's approbation.  It's something I do all the time when I see someone who might be discouraged.  It's small, but it counts. Today I bore my testimony of the Savior to twenty kids.  It's something I do most weeks of the year, so it wasn't scary.  Today I took my kids caroling at a rehabilitation center.  It's something my parents did with me, so it comes very easily and it's something I enjoy. 

I wonder how many other moms out there struggle to feel they're doing enough at Christmas?  What if we all just enjoyed what we already do?

Some of us have the gift of baking treats for neighbors.  Some of us have the gift of helping with toy drives.  Some of us have the gift of quietly lifting and serving those who are struggling.  Some of us have the gift of smiles and jokes for the discouraged.  Some of us have the gift of snuggling with kiddos and watching Christmas movies.  Some of us have the gift of sending beautiful Christmas with heartfelt notes of love and testimony.

There are enough meaningful, joyful, uplifting, testimony-building, Christ-centered traditions out there to drive any godly woman out of her mind if she tries to do even a fraction of them.  We must reach for something better.  We must reach for the gifts that are ours to give, and give them in full confidence that the Savior receives them in the spirit we give them.  

When we give our whole hearts to Him, it is always enough.  So don't give someone else's gift.  Give your gift.

(Special thanks to TJ for the graphic.  Special thanks to Georgia for the deep thoughts.  And special thanks to them both for always being willing to listen to me cry.  I feel much better now.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Teaching From Rest


I have the haziest memory of this book being prescribed to me by a loving friend, months ago. Now I don't even remember who it was that recommended it, (THANK YOU, anonymous friend) but thankfully the title of the book kicked around in my skull for long enough that I was able to find it when I needed it.  

I finally read it this week and wish so much that I had read it my very first year of home schooling.  It is inspired and powerful and it has brought me a great deal of hope and joy already.

I consider myself really good at simplifying, so a lot of the practical elements of this book were refreshers for me.  But at the core of Sarah's writing is one of the most honest and relatable discourses on grace I've ever read.  

"Rest" is the place between anxiety and neglect.  Sarah teaches that we all tend toward one side or another of rest most of the time.  Sometimes we even swing back and forth.  I spend most of my time on the anxious side.  But when we can still the pendulum on our trust in the Savior we are truly at rest.  

"After all, our job is not to be successful--success itself is entirely beside the point.  It's faithfulness that He wants.  God is good!  He isn't going to let us pour out our hearts for our children only to be left choking on the dust of our mistakes...The heart of this book is about remembering what our true task really is and then throwing ourselves in completely. Giving our all.  The raising of children, the teaching of truth, the sharing of life, the nourishing of imagination, the cultivating of wisdom: These are all his anyway; we are merely His servants." 
Oh, it is liberating to remember who we are and whose we are, and to remember that we are only helpers in God's great work.  It frees me up to enjoy the work more and worry over it less.  

"You are where you are (which is likely to be exactly where God wants you).  So work hard every day.  Value academic work because nurturing the intellect is part of what makes us fully human, but don't elevate it beyond its place.  There are relationships to cultivate, books to read, oceans to swim in, forts to build, toilets to scrub, bills to pay, paintings to create, dinners to make.  This is why we homeschool--because we want to engage in a full-to-bursting life."

 "Lavish" is a word Sarah uses over and over to describe the way a home school mother teaches, loves, and listens.  I have been working this week on loving lavishly in my home.  It is slow, satisfying work.  I love thinking about what a great privilege it is for me to be with the people I love all day every day.  Who gets that?  When I am miserly with my time and my love, my work is tedious and discouraging.  But this week, I've had a few magical moments of gratitude--of living truly in the moment.  I want to love lavishly every day of my life.

And one last, lovely thought from this book that I will treasure: a woman who embraces her unique strengths and teaching style is a woman who enjoys her work, and a woman who enjoys her work has a happy family.  I have often tried to do another woman's version of home school. It is unnatural, stressful, and no fun for me or the kids.  But when I think about the things that I absolutely love and do those with the kids, we have a great time.  So the schedule includes necessaries like math and spelling--yes--but it also honors my love of reading and conversation with a 45-minute chunk for studying the classics together.  And that bright spot of teaching from my strength makes all the other hard work worth it.  

There is simply too much beautiful, simple wisdom bound up in this surprisingly thin volume--you've got to read it for yourself.  Or buy it for that wonderful woman on your list who could use a little rest.    You can find more of Sarah's thinking at amongstlovelythings.com.

Sometimes Words Fail



_MG_0225-2Last week the St. George Chamber Singers gave their debut concert at the Eccles concert hall.  I've waxed eloquent on this group a few times before, so you already know how I feel about it.

But still.  Something needs to be said.

Making music with this bunch is SO HARD.  And SO MUCH FUN.

Here TJ and I are with Dr. Wiens, our conductor.  It's kind of a terrible picture of all three of us. That's because Dr. Wiens was too shy to put his arms around us.  But look--there's my happy vein.


Here I Displaying 20151121_204043.jpgam with Rachel and Rosie, two of my favorite people.  Displaying 20151121_204043.jpgDisplaying 20151121_204043.jpg

 

But where is the picture of me with my fellow alto, best friend ever, and partner in crime since the day she was born, Georgia Bailey?  That is a very good question.  

Oh, and last week Eliza said the cutest thing.  Those of you who've already heard this story, feel free to skip ahead.  So we sing a lot of really complex music in this choir--some might call it "inaccessible," and some who aren't into 20th century choral literature might call it "noise."  And sometimes I wonder about the musical education we're providing for these kids when we spend hours every week saturating their little brains with Whitacre and DeBussy.  Young children are supposed to be exposed to harmonically simple stuff like folk songs and Taylor Swift. ;)  Anyway, Eliza, who is a fan of pop, piped up last week with this gem: "Sometimes after I've been listening to you and dad practice your choir stuff, pop music just sounds so lame."  

My work here is done.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Today my wonderful mom shared with me a prompting she had to spend this week praying only with messages of gratitude. This sounded like just what the doctor ordered for me, too.  So I'm going to challenge myself not to ask anything of the Lord this week, but only to give thanks.  I am excited for how this will shift my focus and fill me with the pure peace that gratitude brings.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Just Another Great Week

Nikki and Tana drove down from Salt Lake (ish) to meet Georgia's new baby Amelia.  It was so great to have them here.  These are my favorite women in the world.  (But we missed you, Kris!)  They also came to a little performance of our choir on Friday, and I was so glad to have them there.  Singing for loved ones is the best.
 For school, Eliza and Ezra were assigned to put on fund raisers for a project of Choice Humanitarian.  They are building a water pipeline into the mountains of Bolivia to provide clean water for impoverished communitites there.  It's a great cause and the kids worked really hard to help out.
Eliza and her friends put on a bake sale.  Here Eliza and Corie are selling goodies baked by all our wonderful neighbors.   
 Ezra and his buddies did a car wash. They pre-sold tickets around the neighborhood earlier in the week, and we were really sweating it out when the weather was nasty and all my kids had the flu.  But many prayers and the grace of God brought beautiful weather and healthy kids on Saturday.  

Parker cracked me up with his highly energetic advertising.  He screamed.  He danced.  He ran after cars, shouting, "THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!"  It may or may not have brought in business, but it definitely kept us all laughing.  
I'm so proud of this bunch!  Thanks for all your hard work, guys!

Why I Home School

Last week Naomi asked if she could go to public school, and it kind of broke my heart.

I shouldn't have let it get to me so much, but I spend so much time questioning my ability to do this thing right--that I took it as a vote of no-confidence.  Eliza, too, has been talking now and then about how nice it would be to go to school with her friends.  And this job is just hard enough that I spend a little time fantasizing about it myself.

I keep thinking about the local charter school with its progressive philosophy on education, its no-homework policy, and its great teachers with real lesson plans and beautifully decorated learning environments.  I think, maybe I'm not good enough to do this.  Maybe home school is just too hard for the likes of me.  Maybe I should give up this dream while these kids still stand a chance.

Eliza found me crying in my room, and she blew me away with kindness and wisdom.  She pragmatically identified a major fallacy in my thinking: that when she and the other kids fantasize about public school, they are not thinking the way I think.  They're not dreaming about academic glory; they're thinking that it would be one big happy play date with friends.  She also pointed out that Naomi has made huge strides since we took her out of public school, and kindly told me that she thought I was doing a great job teaching.

How fitting and slightly ironic that it was Eliza who came to my rescue that day.  Eliza, who can see every one of my flaws.  Eliza, who can sense that she would be a huge success socially at intermediate school. But really, her highly thoughtful nature qualified her perfectly to help me.  She may be perfectly aware that I have failings, but she's also highly attuned to my strengths.  And I'd like to think that her beautifully rational mind, her critical thinking skills, and especially her deep compassion have been in some way developed and enhanced because of our decision to teach her at home.

And you know, she's right.  We've done great things here.  And all the well-trained, amazing teachers in the world can't replace me if this is what God has planned for our family.  And He has.

Naomi and I had a talk the next day, and I told her that she's staying home for the time being, because I know in my heart that it's the best place for her.  I reminded her that she kind of hated public school, and that she kept asking me to home school her.  I told her that if she wants more time with friends, she has at least six within walking distance.  And I told her that she has intermediate school band to look forward to.

Keeping public school or the charter school up my sleeve in case of emergencies served me well for the first few years.  But the more time goes on, the more I feel that back door is letting in a chill of self-doubt.  And while I don't require of God a twenty-year plan--even if he tried, I'm not a good listener--yet He has given me my marching orders for this year.  And I want to feel more settled.  I want to feel that I'm in the right place, doing the right thing.

So this is my quest this year.  To see more purpose, more blessings, and more long-term joy coming out of this little home school experiment.  And to close the back door.  I won't lock it, but I want to feel warm here, so it needs to close.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sun Touch Plus Giveaway Winner!

Dear friends, thanks so much for sharing my posts on beating depression without meds.  It has been a joy to write them and especially to see them getting out there where they can do some good--thanks to you!

I am so grateful for NatureBright for generously donating a brand new Sun Touch Plus for this giveaway.  It felt wonderful to have their vote of confidence in this venture.  I hope very much that you'll all go out and buy one, if your name isn't...

Lindsey Morris!


Congrats, Lindsey!  I hope the lamp makes your winter brighter in more ways than one!  And again, a thousand thanks to the rest of you for reading and sharing.  It means the world to me.  

Amelia

Tonight the kids got to meet their new cousin Amelia, who is almost a week old.  The girls were in HEAVEN.


See that look on Eliza's face?  That look means she's just totally overwhelmed by Mia's cuteness.  It's an it's-so-fluffy-I'm-gonna-die kind of situation.


And as you can see, I'm already Amelia's favorite aunt.  Haha!  
(But you know it makes you jealous, girls.)



Not very well-focused, but way too cute not to include.


This picture pretty much sums up Amelia's life for the next, oh, four years.


Once we pried Mia away from Eliza, she started taking pictures.  
She took all the ones she's not in herself.


We are so happy to welcome a precious new Bailey girl into our lives and hearts!  She is lucky indeed to belong to so many people who love her and wish her well.

Halloween 2015








Ezra's Thirteen!


Ezra has crossed the great divide into teenland.  Naturally, the whole family turned up to celebrate.  The lego creation above was Lawson's gift. 



Ezra and my brother Lawson are only a year apart, and they are the very best of friends.  


Instead of cake, Ezra opted for fried ice cream, and it turned out so great.  There's a picture of him and me with the ice cream, but we both look terrible, so instead I'll give you a great picture of Mom and Georgia.  And yes, Georgia's full term in this picture.  Not even fair.


Ezra used his birthday money purchase a radio-controlled helicopter, and lost it the very next morning.  Thankfully, after a week of prayers and searching, we got a call from a distant neighbor who saw the flyers we put up.  The helicopter is now safe and sound, and is Ezra's pride and joy. True to form, he has learned from his experience and is even more careful than he was to begin with.  



Those of you lucky enough to know Ezra well are acquainted with his fantastic sense of humor, his deep understanding of the gospel, history, and the world, his compassionate heart, his sense of integrity, and his solid commitment to honoring the priesthood.  Ezra brings me so much joy, and I can't tell you how easy it is to watch him cross this threshold into his teens.  I think of Ezra as a friend and I don't feel the slightest anxiety about the years between now and his mission. 

Except that I'm sure they'll pass too quickly.  Love you, son.

Trip to Snowflake

I am way behind!  We took this trip down to Snowflake to visit TJ's parents almost a month ago.  


We finally took the time to check out Glen Canyon Dam on the way down.  It was amazing!  Our favorite part?  Making a lot of  dam jokes.  I know.  So mature.




x

Terry and Laurie took us out on their boat.  Everyone had fun except Isaiah, who noticed the craft was taking on water and would not, for the whole hour we were on the water, ever get comfortable with the fact.  Poor guy.  Must be hard to live with parents who can't be entrusted with your safety.  :)


TJ love to make little girls squeal.



Once Isaiah was back on dry land, he quickly got back to his delightful self.


Back at the house, the kids helped Grandpa wash his pumpkins and carve them into jack o' lanterns.


Um, I don't know how to explain this one.  Paul's six.



My favorite part of going on vacation as a family is that the kids play with each other instead of their friends. 



On the way home, TJ and the kids hiked out to Horseshoe bend.  In a lightening storm.  And yes, that's their hair standing on end.  Yikes.



We always love the drive to Snowflake.  It is jam-packed with gorgeous views like these.  


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Beating Depression in Six Simple Steps: Connect!


This is the last of my series on beating depression without meds!  Thank you for reading, and especially for sharing these posts.  If you still haven't had a chance, please enter my contest by sharing on Facebook and Pinterest, and then letting me know in the comments.  Each share is worth one entry--so if you share all seven articles, you'll be entered fourteen times.   At 9 PM MST on November 8, I will randomly choose the name of one lucky reader for the grand prize: a NatureBright Sun Touch Plus therapy lamp!


It was December 2013, and I was in a state of near-catatonic depression--which is natural for me during the chaos of the holidays.  Parties every night.  Parties all night.  I was so sick and tired of going places all the time, I texted my sister "WHY do people have to plan parties all the time?"

But duty called me to the home school co-op dinner and talent show, where my little class of girls were to perform a few songs we'd learned.  And so, despite a deep longing for my couch and a good book, to the party I went.  TJ jokingly made me the name tag below, and despite my best efforts to pretend I was at home on the couch with a book, I found myself being drawn into a wonderful conversation with the family across the table from me.  Stupid people.  Why do they have to be so interesting?  I'm sitting here being miserable, just let me be miserable.


Over the years, even before reading The Depression Cure, TJ has picked up on the fact that I never want to leave the house when I'm depressed, but that I really should.  I beg.  I plead.  I promise.  And like the wonderful man he is, he reminds me that I always enjoy it and he makes me go.  And, darn it, against my will I always find myself feeling better at the end of the evening than I did at the beginning.  

So it wasn't a huge surprise to find that one of Stephen Ilardi's six steps is get connected socially. Depression and isolation are almost synonymous in the American songbook.  (Cue All by Myself by Celine Dion.)  And we reserve total isolation for the worst criminal offenders in the country.  Human beings simply aren't meant to be alone.

Even a cursory glance at native peoples of the past and present will tell you that we evolved socially.  We hunted, ate, slept, worked, and played together.  But now we do most of our daily activities alone.  This isolation is a by-product of our affluent American society.  As Dr. Ilardi points out, we're willing to sever family ties and move across the country for that high-paying job.  We sacrifice time with family and friends to work longer hours to earn more money. And then we spend that money to buy a bigger house, meaning that even at home with our family--we're alone.

Once again, we find ourselves in a vicious cycle of depression.  Just like any other sickness, depression prompts victims to stay home, focus on healing, and minimize risk to others; how many times have you told yourself you were doing others a favor by keeping yourself and your negativity at home?  But where withdrawal may help fight the common cold, it actually exacerbates depression.  And so we find ourselves feeling worse and even less fit to socialize.  

Luckily for me, I am a part of a strong family and church organization.  Opportunities for social interaction come way more often than my introverted self might prefer.  But some of you might not be so lucky.  Here are some ways to reach out.  I know it can be terrifying, but take a look.

Join up and show up-  Join the city bowling league.  The community choir.  The soup kitchen brigade.  Being involved in something you love will not only provide opportunities to connect with others--it will lift your spirits just to be doing something.  Remember last week? Overcoming rumination is often as simple as getting out and doing something.  Also, being involved in the care of others--even just a pet--can give you a great surge of hope and perspective.  Dr. Illardi highly recommends church because it offers a common purpose and a great deal of love and support from those around you.  Many people refer to others in their congregation as their "church family."  And family is the gold standard for care in times of trouble.

Open up--  Maybe you already have good friends and family members, but you're just not as close as you used to be.  It's common for depression patients to find their most important relationships flagging.  But these relationships can be our greatest sources of help in healing, so it's worth every effort.  Reach out to those closest to you, share your struggle with depression, and educate them on how they can help you stick to your 6 steps.  An excellent suggestion from the book is to pick one or two friends to watch over you, let them know that your condition makes it hard to reach out, and ask them to do the reaching.  If they haven't heard from you in awhile, they should be one showing up on the doorstep with Cafe Rio and a listening ear.  Or gelatto would be fine.  Are you getting all this, St. George friends?  ;)

Be tough and just do it--  When you are faced with the decision of whether or not to reach out, do it.  Perhaps it's going to that pottery class for the first time.  Maybe it's going to a womens' social at church.  Maybe it's calling your mom and letting her chat you out of the dumps. Force yourself to take that step you need to take.  It won't feel like it did in college, when friends were fun.  It will feel hard.  But it gets easier the moment you walk out the door.  And I speak from experience when I say, it'll always make you better.  But it starts by forcing yourself.  Just think of it as medicine that needs to be taken if you want to feel better.  Be a good girl and just take your medicine.

I am full of gratitude for the many friends and family members--especially my rock of a husband--who've loved me through my illness.  Whenever I express my extreme indebtedness they always tell me they are happy to help.  I don't know where they get all their strength for carrying, but I have never.  Ever.  Been sent away empty when I approached a loved one in my time of need.  You have such angels in your life, who are just waiting for the chance to help. Let them help.  They want to and they can.

This is the last of my posts on beating depression without meds, based heavily on Stephen S. Ilardi's The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beating Depression Without Drugs.  I highly recommend you read the whole book to learn how best to implement this revolutionary program.  

And just so you know...I'm not getting anything from NatureBright or from the publishers of The Depression Cure.  I just get a kick out of helping others beat depression.  Somehow it makes what I go through worthwhile.  Almost.  ;)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dad Will be so Proud!

One thing that's tough about home schooling is getting TJ involved.  We do almost all our school work in the morning, and by the time we're sitting around the dinner table, the kids can't answer the question: "what did you learn today?"  TJ finally got tired of their bored and boring answers and stopped asking altogether.

But we want him to be involved, because when he gets excited about their work, so do they.  For instance, Isaiah (4) has been gradually getting less and less excited about the half hour of work I do with him each day.  But yesterday when he did his work without complaining, I jumped at the chance to get some positive reinforcement going.  I emailed TJ about it and asked if he'd make a big deal about it later, which he did when he got home.  And since then Isaiah's been stoked about the great things he's learning.  

Another thing that disrupts the Daddy-schoolwork connection is my dislike for stuff on the fridge. I'm a minimalist, so I love clear counters and zero clutter.  But even a freak like me can concede that this folder on the side of our fridge is visible enough to catch TJ's attention without being obnoxious.

See?  The only thing obnoxious about this room is the windows, which I gave up on long ago.


TJ doesn't check the folder every day, or even every week.  But when he has a minute and the kids are around, he goes through page by page and gives them the recognition they crave so much.  And somehow this little ritual carries through to every day of home school.  The kids look forward to sharing their success with TJ.  And when they're discouraged or even just lazy, a reminder that he's excited to see their progress is usually all the impetus they need.  

It's so easy to forget as a home school mom that you're not alone in what you do.  Your husband provides for the family so that you can focus your best efforts on nurturing the children, but his influence doesn't have to stop there.  Especially if you have boys, but even if you don't, the more Dad is involved in the education of our children, the better they will do.  And the more interest he shows in their daily comings and goings, the closer they feel to him and the more likely they are to live a happy life.  It's a win, win, win.  

Hooray for irreplaceable fathers!