A little over two years ago something happened
in Don’s back and hips. He found himself in significant nerve pain which caused every movement to be excruciating. He tried physical therapy, dry needling, and other things. Eventually, he found himself on some serious medication. But none of these things resolved the problem.
Finally, we discovered that he has a couple of discs in his back that are in big trouble. We talked to a few doctors and then scheduled surgery for last summer. Just weeks before the big day we found out that what was going to be done was more than was needed. With some changes in weight and lifestyle, the surgery could be far less invasive, would last longer, and the recovery would be far easier. In fact, there is even a slight chance surgery can be avoided altogether. At 71 you want to do what is going to work the best.
It hasn’t been easy. Don has other serious health issues and uses medication that makes weight loss difficult. His back and hip make exercising a challenge. He has been experimenting for months and finally came up with a way to move forward that he felt he could do consistently. He turned Jodie’s home into the mall.
Every morning after the kids go to school and Jodie and Doug are at work he goes into their part of the house, which is much larger than ours, and walks. He made five rounds each day. Then it increased to 10. This week Don upped the ante to 12 rounds. We are excited about that. His plan is to eventually be able to do the 12 rounds twice a day. Then more rounds and eventually outdoors.
How Success in Big Things is Accomplished
It may not seem like a lot, but believe me, it is. And that is how amazing things are accomplished. Small steps, done consistently over time. This applies to losing weight, conquering an illness, parenting kids, improving rocky relationships, learning a new skill, or changing our way of being. It doesn’t matter what it is. It all requires the same initial work, one small step.
In my spiritual cannon, I read… “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” and “out of small things proceeds that which is great.” Al. 37:6; D&C 64:33
One Small Step and Then another
When you are faced with a mountain such as Don is facing determine one small step that you can begin with. Do it consistently until you are ready to take the next small step. Don’t be discouraged if it takes time to find a first step that works. It has taken Don over a year and a half to find what works. When you have the first step begin. Do it repeatedly until you can take the next step.
If we are willing to do one small thing long enough and then another and another, there isn’t anything in our life or our family that we cannotimprove. It is worth the effort!
Share the news! One small step and consistency will help us achieve our goals.
that I want to share with you, but first, I want to share a portion from the introduction of my book, Becoming a Present Parent, because it will help you appreciate the beauty and value of the gift.
“As a young woman growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, I didn’t contemplate any other occupation than motherhood. It was so much a part of what I expected to do that I didn’t give it much thought. It was what everyone did. I looked forward to it. I expected to sail along, doing what was required in the best way possible because I was made for it. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t know what to do and how to manage.
Raising my family was “the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These words from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities describe my parenting experience rather perfectly.
Don and I didn’t talk much about family and parenting before we embarked on this grand adventure. He was the second child of two children, and I was the oldest of nine. He assumed I knew what I was doing, and I thought I knew what I was doing. We never discussed how we would discipline, how we would manage chores, meals, vacations, schooling, the budget, etc. Frankly, it didn’t occur to us we might not agree on everything, that we might not have all the information we needed. After all, we were in love, we shared the same faith, and parenting is what everyone did. It couldn’t be all that complicated.
But it was complicated!
Don and I had seven beautiful and amazing children, four girls and three boys. I recall with great fondness camping, fishing, sewing, cooking, crafts, Christmas, Thanksgiving, dance recitals, band concerts, baseball games, wrestling competitions, and speech contests.
I remember the fun we had: breakfast on the tailgate of our old pickup truck at the park, a block from our home one early Saturday morning; quiet conversations with whichever child’s turn it was to help me weed in the early dawn hours; canning while lots of kids snapped beans and peeled carrots; reading to our children; dinners together, a daily occurrence; bath time; night time cuddles; sitting together at church, filling a whole pew, while tickling backs and squeezing shoulders. These were memorable and satisfyingly ordinary days. These were the best of times.
I also have seared on my mind the struggles we shared as a family of nine—a husband who traveled for a living, drug abuse, premarital sex and a child born out of wedlock, thoughts of suicide, failure in school, smoking, alcoholism, lack of belief in one’s value as a person, quitting school, abandoning the church, a mother who raged and yelled, managing feelings of despair, and coming to terms with same-sex attraction. These were the worst of times.
When it’s all shaken together and poured out, how did we fare? Well, far better than we expected or than you might expect. Don and I had done just enough right, and with a full measure of the grace of God thrown in, we all survived and, strangely enough, thrived. We all live fully functional lives. We’re connected and bonded in unique ways. We look out for one another, and the kids support and lean on each other. We’re still a family!
The story of our family is the story of an imperfect family. You won’t and, frankly, can’t do everything right. Your children will struggle as they grow. You’ll work to do all that’s required in your chosen vocation of ‘parent.’ It’s part of the process of being human, of being in a family.”
This year, I received cards, letters, and a few videos from my children for my Birthday. Each one gave an example of something I had done that made a difference in their lives. I was surprised at some. I hadn’t realized that they were paying so much attention to my efforts to grow, change, and be better. But they were.
I want to share the contents of one gift I received, a video from my oldest daughter, Jodie.
“Mom, I am so happy to celebrate you. This morning, I was thinking about my mothering, the worries and challenges I face, and the potential regrets that I am thinking about already. Then I thought about where we are now, and I felt a deep sense of peacefulness that the story and the arc of family and parenting are long. I feel so grateful that you are our mom and that we get to celebrate you. I’m letting that gratitude steep in my heart today. Happy Birthday, mom.
Can you think of a more generous, more moving gift than words like these? As I have said many times, if we give it all we’ve got, learn a little here and a bit more there, and then implement, if we remain consistent and speak kindly to ourselves as we change and grow, then it will be enough. We will give our children the legacy of watching another human being engage in the process of becoming better. There isn’t much that we can provide them that is more powerful.
Here is something I do not share lightly.
During the years that our family struggled the most, I was despondent one day. As I washed dishes I thought about what a terrible job Don and I had done and were doing. Tears fell from my eyes. I looked heavenward and said out loud, “You should have sent these kids to another home. They would have done better.” Then clearly into my mind came these gentle and peace-giving words, “I knew how you would parent and that it would be enough.”
When you begin berating yourself for how imperfectly you are parenting, STOP—words matter.Your words to yourself matter the most. They will make it easier or harder for you to let go of old baggage, come up with solutions, find the resources you need to garner new information and get better at what you do. So, speak kindly. Be gentle. Give yourself charity, knowing that if you stay the course and keep learning, changing, and growing, it will be enough. It will! I know because in my family it has been enough!
Never quit. Never berate yourself. Keep working on you and loving your children, and it will be enough!
Who do you know that could use the comfort of knowing that it will be enough!
I never knew that because how we were seemed ordinary to me. We weren’t mean to each other. We could be generous and kind, but there was a lot of complaining, and we were critical.
There isn’t enough sun today. The snow is too deep. The car is nice, but I wish it were red. These eggs are okay, but next time could you… Thanks for folding the laundry, but I would like… Hamburger keeps going up in price. I’m so glad you got a C in math, but I know you could do better if you worked harder.
You see what I mean. I mentioned this to a friend one day, and she said, “Well, that’s just normal.” It is normal, but it isn’t helpful if we want our lives to feel more joyful and successful.
I’ve seriously worked on the issue of watching my words and thoughts for close to two decades now. I have used many tools to move into the place where I manage my stories and responses better. I’m making progress.
Then last fall, I put a rubber band on my wrist
after reading a little book called A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen.The challenge was to go 21 days without being critical or complaining. Sigh. I have yet to hit day six. I have had many five-day streaks, but when you mess up, you start over. It has been almost six months. I would be discouraged, except I know that there is no timeline for change. It takes commitment and consistency for as long as it takes!
However, now and then, you get a perk that keeps you going. I got one on my birthday from Ben, who is almost nine. He said, “Dear Grandma, you are so caring and optimistic.” WHAT!!!!! Is that the coolest thing you have ever heard? NO ONE has ever called me optimistic.
This little compliment is going into my “I am enough bin” in my brain. From now on, I know that I am an optimistic person. I am so happy because I am making progress in a decade’s long pursuit.
This is the process of change and growth – line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. We must be careful not to shut down and quit when a goal for growth takes more time and effort than we want it to take.
Parenting is a big job.
We don’t enter it with all the knowledge we need, and we bring baggage from our own growing up. As we parent, it will take years to get the experience we need and to jettison the baggage. Yes, our kids will suffer, but our children will be compensated as they observe our quest to be better, do better, and understand more. They will be blessed as they watch us remain consistent and immovable in our desire to grow and improve.
How do I know this? Well, I am 71. I carried a ton of baggage into my family, as did my husband. We were undoubtedly ignorant about how to do what we had taken on. Our seven kids occasionally suffered because we didn’t do things the best way. It was a long road with some significant bumps and a cliff or two.
But now our kids are adults; one turns fifty this year. And do you know what? I get cards, letters, texts, and videos telling me about this or that thing they observed me doing that has blessed their lives? WHAT? Yes, even when we are imperfect, if our goal is to learn, grow, and do better, it will bless our children when they are adults.
Next week I am going to share an absolutely exquisite gift from one of my children to their imperfect parent! You can, in time, be rewarded in the same way if you stay the course, do the best you can, keep learning and growing, and be an example of change.
Let someone else know that their efforts Will Be Enough!
Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a friend and mentee. We were talking about some concepts found in my book, Becoming a Present Parent. She said, “The problem with your book is it’s so simple. I loved it when I read it, and it was all so doable. Then two months later, in an overwhelmed moment, I asked myself, ‘Can it really be this simple.'”
I laughed. I have asked myself the same thing over the years. It’s natural to feel that we have to do some great, fantastic, out of the ordinary thing to fix whatever is causing us overwhelm or pain in our families.
Just this week, I read an article on how to better manage irritations in marriage. The writer gave a simple and straightforward example of how we can get into trouble when someone falls short of our expectations. It was laughable when I considered the angst the couple was feeling and the simple solution the writer proposed. But there it was. I knew that if the couple followed the proffered advice, they would manage better.
The author didn’t suggest learning to communicate better, going on weekly dates, getting away without the kids, etc. No, he suggested they forgive one another their failings. I have been married fifty years, and that counsel rang true to me because I have experienced its truth.
Here is the rub – simple does not always equate to easy.
Forgiving someone for not being perfect or not meeting our expectations isn’t easy, but it certainly is simple. Far simpler than figuring out how to get away for a few days without the kids. More doable, long term, than going on a date every week. And frankly, more effective than talking, no matter how good we are at communicating.
That is what my friend was really saying – “I know it is simple, but it isn’t always easy. I have to bend a bit. I am required to think differently. I must change.”
That is what my book is all about– making subtle changes in how we see what we already do every day—making use of those moments when we would typically have contention and instead create a connection. When we approach chores, bedtimes, homework, and meals together with a better story, we get a better result. We do. It is that simple.
But it isn’t always easy because rather than blaming the kids or our spouse, we have to come face to face with ourselves. We need to do something different. We must change. Irritating, isn’t it. We would rather have someone else change. But the truth is, we only have control over one person, ourselves.
I first learned this concept when I was sixteen and reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. He said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves…Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I didn’t understand it then, and it took me decades to understand, but I never forgot.
Here is something else I have learned from my own experience. When we are willing to change how we think, see, or behave, the results are successful and worth the effort. It is always worth it!
If you want to understand what I am talking about when I say you must come face to face with yourself and then make a small shift in how you think, read Chapter fourof my book.It’s FREE, and it is one of the best and most enlightening chapters in the book. I did that on purpose because if that is all you ever read and implement; it will be life-changing!
Why not share this FREE chapter with a friend who could use a lift, a reason to change, and simple information on how to do it. : )
Gratitude is a choice not based on what is happening to us, what we have or don’t have, but on how we choose to see what is happening to us. Regardless of our circumstances, we all have much to be grateful for if we pause and contemplate our blessings.
We can lift ourselves and others, as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude is one of the grave sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest virtues. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and one of the leading scholars in the scientific study of gratitude, said the following: “It is possible that psychology has ignored gratitude because it appears, on the surface, to be a very obvious emotion, lacking in interesting complications: we receive a gift—from friends, from family, from God—and then we feel pleasurably grateful. But while the emotion seemed simplistic even to me as I began my research, I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper, more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.”
The other day after a church meeting, someone said to me, “I am so inspired.” In my heart, I responded, “Inspired to what end.” It isn’t enough to be inspired. We must be moved to action. I want to help you decide to move to a more significant place of gratitude. I recognize that we are all in different places in our lives, and so I have created a varied list of ten possible action steps that you can use to cultivate more gratitude and, as a result, greater happiness.
Your job is to be open to the action step that will work best for you right now. Don’t pick the one that you think sounds the most righteous or what you think other people will decide. Listen to your inner voice, which one will make the most difference right now, for you.
Ten Gratitude Exercises
1. Come up with some Happiness commandments – After I read Gretchen Rubin’s, The Happiness Project – I asked myself what makes me the most unhappy, and then I came up with three commandments for myself. I post them where I can see them and am reminded of what kind of thinking leads me to happiness.
• Be a Pollyanna
• Clean the ditch (remove garbage thinking)
• Let go of suffering (yes, suffering is a choice)
2. A Gratitude Journal – Dr. Emmons and his colleagues found scientific proof that people who practice gratitude through activities such as keeping a gratitude journal are more loving, forgiving, and optimistic about the future.
They exercise more frequently, report fewer illnesses, and generally feel better about their lives. In subsequent studies, Dr. Emmons also noted that people who regularly kept a gratitude journal and were in the habit of recognizing and expressing gratitude for their blessings reported feeling closer and more connected to people, had better relationships, were more likely to help others, felt less lonely, felt less depressed, slept better, and were more pleasant to be around.
In her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote, “The practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, and greed.”
3. Journaling – This is like the gratitude journal, but in this case, detail in writing, one positive experience each day. Journaling will help you find meaning in the activities of the day, rather than just noticing the task itself.
4. Dedicate a few prayers a week to only Gratitude – Ask for nothing; be grateful for what you already have.
• If you can’t walk – do you have a wheelchair
• If you can’t see – can you hear
• If you feel you are too old – you are yet alive and can serve
• If you don’t feel accepted – you have the opportunity to reach out to others
• If you are single and alone, thank God for the family and friends you have
• If you’re having trouble with your spouse, thank God for the opportunity to develop more Christ-like traits through forgiveness and taking personal responsibility
• Thank God for His goodness to you
• Express thanks for Jesus’s example, for His teachings, for His outreaching hand to lift and help, for His
• Thank God for leaders and teachers
• Thank God for your family and children
5. Control negative thinking – Ray L. Huntington, a professor at BYU, said, “Studies have shown that focusing on the negative in times of adversity—using derogatory or critical words as we talk to ourselves or others—can darken our mood and, much like a virus, infect the moods of those we interact with. Consciously choosing to fill our minds with thoughts of our blessings and feeling appreciation for those blessings can change the way we feel and brighten our spirits during difficult times.”
6. Add More Thank-Yous to Your Vocabulary – Saying “thank you” to someone brightens your day by affirming your positive feelings. It also lifts the spirits of those who are deserving of your thankfulness. Use people’s names who check you out at the grocery store, people who help you on the phone, and anywhere else you happen to be and see a name tag. Tell them, ‘thank you.’ Thank your spouse and children for what they do, no matter how small.
7. Take Time to Write Thank-You Notes and Letters of Appreciation – John Kralik, an attorney with a struggling law practice and personal family problems, determined to reverse the cycle of negative thinking through writing and sending one thank-you note each day of the year—365 thank-you notes in total. His note-writing endeavor taught him a valuable lesson: blessings can be easily overlooked unless we are consciously thinking about them each day. To that end, note writing helps us identify, remember, and express our blessings.
8. Live in the Present Moment and Give Thanks for Small Blessings – I call it Being Present – It is easy to get caught up in tomorrow: what needs to be cleaned, shopping to do, the upcoming holidays. And while it’s healthy to plan and prepare for future events, if you are too consumed with tomorrow, there is a chance that you will miss something small and wonderful that is happening to you in the present moment.
9. Random Acts of Kindness – Return the shopping cart to the stall, smile at people, pick up something someone has dropped, tell someone how nice they look, even perfect strangers, move over, and let someone sit down by you.
10. Philanthropy – Learn to give no matter how much you have. Give a dollar or two. If you have more, give more. Do it outside of your tithing and church contributions. The act of being able to give helps you feel well off and increases feelings of gratitude.
For a time, I felt that I should have cards with a small amount of money in my car. I was impressed to write, “No matter what has brought you to where you are, I care about you, and so does God.” When I saw someone on the street and felt that I should, I would give them a card. I put $50 in a savings account every month so that I could provide these cards. Remember that these were directions to me, and if you ask, you will receive your own guidance on how to serve financially, and it will probably be different from mine.
Take a few minutes right now and think about these ten tools to increase gratitude. Which one speaks to your heart? Choose one.
Now that you have chosen something that you will do this coming year to increase your gratitude, and ultimately your happiness, let me share two quotes.
First, from Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency, ” Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. . .Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
And from David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who penned these beautiful words: “The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
If these words have inspired you, I would ask, “To what end have you been inspired?” Commit to yourself that you will practice Gratitude and make it your way of being.
Some years ago, I decided to find out what I could do to improve my life the most.
I wasn’t happy with what I discovered – stop complaining. I am still working on this one thing! It has been a challenge.
Then, after a few years, I looked to see if I could find a way to make more progress. I wasn’t sure how I felt about what I found – gratitude. I began a gratitude journal. When I wrote a few things each day, I felt better, happier, more charitable to others. But I wasn’t consistent.
In the spring of 2019, I got serious. I bought a notebook and hastily wrote Gratitude Journal and the date I began on the front. I was consistent until the fall holiday season. Then it dropped off. Despite this lapse, I had that notebook with me in Seattle at the beginning of 2020, just before Covid closed the airports. It helped me remain optimistic, and I made it home.
I began writing my gratitude statements in earnest, and as the year progressed, I felt the need to express my gratitude increase. Focusing on what I was grateful for made a big difference in my ability to stay mentally on top of an extraordinarily negative and sometimes frightening year. For Christmas this year, a friend of mine sent me an actual Gratitude Journal. A pretty one. I have enjoyed writing in it. It is keeping my spirits up.
Did you know that joy and happiness are born of gratitude? This is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way, over time, because raising a home full of children can be challenging!! Over the years, I said, “How can I be so grateful and ungrateful at the same time?” I said it so often that I was afraid my children would have it carved on my headstone. I was grateful for my home but….it needed a new carpet. I was thankful for my kids, but…I wished they wouldn’t fight. I loved my husband dearly, but …. why couldn’t he pick up his socks.
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you find yourself terribly grateful and ungrateful at the same time? This habit, and it is a habit, diminishes our joy and happiness. The truth is you cannot be grateful and ungrateful at the same time. If you are complaining, you are not grateful. I know, it hurts to hear!
Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, said, “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend . . . when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us —the wasteland of illusion falls away, and we experience heaven on earth.”
How are gratitude and happiness connected? Why does it matter whether we see the glass half-full or half-empty?
Let me refer to two stories found in the Christian Bible that are beautiful examples of a broader view of gratitude than just having a good feeling when things are going our way.
In the book of Luke, chapter 17, we read the story of Christ passing through Samaria and Galilee. In a village, he met ten lepers who cried out to him, “Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus sent them to the priest, and as they went, they were healed. One turned back and, with a loud voice, thanked Jesus. Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”
Jesus didn’t need their thanks, but he knew that gratitude is an uplifting and exulting attitude. We cannot be bitter, resentful, or mean-spirited when we are grateful. We choose to serve when we are grateful. Being grateful would help those nine healed men to live more joyously and generously. He wanted them to have that experience, and they, through their lack of gratitude, missed out.
In the book of Matthew, we have another account of gratitude, this time as an expression from Jesus. Jesus had traveled in the wilderness for three days, and more than 4,000 people followed Him. He took compassion on them and wanted to feed them. His disciples, however, questioned, “Whence, should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” Like many of us, the disciples saw only what was lacking.
“And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And said, Seven, and a few little fishes.
“And commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.
“And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”
Notice that the Savior gave thanks for what they had—and a miracle followed: “And they did all eat and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.”
We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings. These are the times when we find ourselves complaining either by word, action, inaction or in our hearts.
It isn’t always easy to be grateful. But if we commit to being grateful more often, seek the help we need to make it a practice, and then persevere for as long as it takes, it can become our way of being, not just a feeling. That path is what Jesus wanted for the nine healed men. He knew that if they practiced gratitude, they would be happier down the road when things got tough again. He also knew that the grateful energy we send out can create miracles in our lives.
Ten Gratitude Tools
If you feel overwhelmed, resentful of your spouse or children, blame others regularly, feel like a victim, or feel you are missing essential blessings, I encourage you to consider working seriously on your state of gratitude. Next week I will share ten GRATITUDE tools that can help anyone become more grateful. Choose just one and start.
If you feel that you are already grateful, I hope you will accept the challenge to practice one of the ten tools anyway. You may be as surprised as I was when I took the challenge to stop complaining and become more grateful. I wasn’t as appreciative as I thought, and I complained far more than I knew. See you next week.
Today I want to tell you about my brother Boe Dean, his life, struggles, and the hard lesson I learned on the day he died, January 22, 2021.
My brother was an alcoholic. He was able to hold it together for a long time. He was a master finish carpenter. He was fabulous with people and ran teams of workers. They liked him.
He and I shared a love of words. He read the dictionary and encyclopedia. He wasn’t into tech. I shared books with him, and he shared them with me. We both loved the book A Man Called Ove. We joked about our ‘Ove moments.’ I will miss that terribly!
Boe Dean was genuinely grateful for anything you did for him. My sister, Evette, lived in Logan and helped him get around town for food and other needs the last three years of his life. She checked on him weekly and always wondered how she would manage when she found him dead. We thought we knew how it would end.
Recently, as Evette was leaving, he said, “Thank you.” Evette replied, “You’re welcome.” Then Boe said, “No, really. Thank you for everything you do.” The last few years of his life were hard, lonely, filled with illness, and I think, sorrow. But there was no bitterness in him, no rancor towards anyone. He remained cheerful and serving.
He had taught himself how to carve, and I have a beautiful face of an old man on my wall. He knew how to work wood and made beautiful chess sets. He was excellent at chess. One day he described an invention to me. It was extraordinary. He was brilliant in the way his mind worked. He and I shared a love of painting. We weren’t gifted in any way, but we talked about our paintings. I have one he made for me.
Boe Dean was generous and had no greed in his soul. One day, someone taking him for a homeless man, which was understandable, gave him ten dollars. He told them he didn’t need it, but they wouldn’t take it back. He walked down the street until he found someone who did need it and gave it to them.
But despite all his gifts and talents, because of alcohol, he lost his family and his dreams.
Over the years, I have prayed a lot about my brother. I have received many impressions on ways to support him. For many years I have mailed him a letter every Sunday. I have driven to Logan with gifts that I felt I should take – an old red blanket that he loved, a homemade coloring book he cherished and mentioned repeatedly, things that spoke of family traditions on special holidays.
After mom came to live with us and Boe was alone, I would take her back to see him. It was tricky because we had to find a time when he was himself and could talk to her. Covid brought a halt to some of these efforts. But mom and I saw him in December. There was no way to know it would be the last time.
Here is my message for you today.
On our Zoom call, one of my sisters said, “I just saw Boe as a drunk and wanted him to change.” I must admit that it was hard for me to see anything else at times. I had had the thought to put his photo on my bedroom wall and envision him healthy, well, and giving back to the world. I hung the photo and thought I knew what that meant. It meant to pray that he would change. It meant to encourage him to give up drinking and get it together. It meant to remind him of all he could bring to the world.
It’s interesting to me that the night before my brother’s passing, I read an article to my husband and mom that contained this story – “A few years ago my older sister passed away. She had a challenging life. She Her husband abandoned their marriage and left her with four young children to raise. On the evening of her passing…I gave her a blessing to peacefully return home.
‘At that moment, I realized I had too often defined my sister’s life in terms of her trials and As I , I received a severe rebuke from the Spirit. I was made acutely aware of her goodness and allowed to see her as God saw her—not as someone who struggled with and life but as someone who had to deal with difficult issues I did not have.
‘During that final evening with my sister, I believe God was asking me, “Can’t you see that everyone around you is a sacred being?”
As I read those words, Boe came clearly into my mind. When I went into my room that night, I looked at his picture with different eyes. But complete understanding didn’t come until the morning after his death.
As much as I loved my brother, I thought of him as an alcoholic. God wasn’t as blind as I. He had spoken to my mind and was saying, “See him as I see him. He is more than you can see with your eyes.’
Again from the article – “…John 4:4 reads, ‘And he must needs go through Samaria.’
…Jesus did not need to go to Samaria. The Jews of His day despised the Samaritans and traveled a road around Samaria. But Jesus chose to go there to declare before all the world for the first time that He was the promised Messiah. For this message, He chose not only an outcast group but also a woman—and not just any woman but a woman living in sin—someone considered at that time to be the least of the least. I believe Jesus did this so that each of us may always understand that His love is greater than our fears, our wounds, our addictions, our doubts, our temptations, our sins, our broken families, our depression and anxieties, our chronic illness, our poverty, our abuse, our despair, and our loneliness. He wants all to know there is nothing and no one He is unable to heal and deliver to enduring joy.
His grace is sufficient. He alone descended below all things. The message of the woman at the well is that He knows our life situations.”
I was supposed to look on my brother’s face every day and ‘see him’, not his alcoholism but him, my brother, a man who was good.
Since his passing, it has amazed me how many people knew Boe Dean and liked him and have come forward to tell us. His neighbors commented on how nice he was and what a wonderful smile he had and his long white beard. : ) Although he kept to himself, they said he was always ready to lend a helping hand if anyone needed it.
The gas man who checked the lines after the fire said that he and everyone in the small town of Benson, where Boe lived with our parents as a boy, were grieved because they loved our family.
We have received calls from his school friends and others who would meet him on the street. They cared about him. They loved his stories and great jokes. They remembered all how he had reached out over the years just as his neighbors had experienced.
No one knew about his struggles or the demons in his soul. They only knew his smile and generous Spirit.
I have spent the last ten years talking to parents about the gift of being able to ‘see’ their children and not just their mistakes, messes, and misbehaviors. It was time for me to have a new level of understanding of this critical principle.
Matthew 13:16: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.”
May we all hear and see those around us with greater charity, less judgment, and deeper love.
The article sited – Taking upon Ourselves the Name of Jesus Christ By Elder Robert C. Gay October 2018
to when I was a child. There are good memories and sad memories. But one thing I return to most often is the time freedom I had. I’m not talking about the freedom to roam, although I had that. I’m talking about the space to sit, think, do nothing, or create without the knowledge in the back of my mind of other things that would eventually need to be tackled. There wasn’t a to-do list that was always present.
The to-do list didn’t exist. There were chores and homework, but they weren’t on a list. My mom would cajole me into doing my duties. I had to do them, and that could feel onerous, but it wasn’t hanging out on a list in my brain. My brain was free.
I know that of all the things I enjoyed as a child, this was the most wonderful. The irony, though, was that I didn’t know anything else. Never having experienced the mental list, I couldn’t appreciate not having one; I couldn’t cherish the freedom of it. It is as I have said many times, “You can’t know until you get there.”
My mom has Alzheimer’s, and, in some ways, has become a child again. She can sit, fully intent on her crochet, read her scriptures for hours, and occasionally ask questions. She has lost many things to this disease, but she has gained back the freedom of those lost childhood days – the freedom to sit and think, do nothing, or create without the endless to-do list.
A few years ago, my husband and I went on a cruise to Alaska. I took my computer and my phone because when you write, there are deadlines. When you have a large family, you’re frequently needed. Fortunately for me, my computer and my phone didn’t work on the ship. My husband wasn’t in good health, and so he spent lots of time resting. We didn’t go too far from the boat.
That all turned into a tremendous blessing. It gave me an enormous amount of free, by myself with no list, time. One morning I got up early, grabbed my book, and went down to the ship’s center where there were tables, chairs, and lots of treats. I walked in and came to a dead halt at the quiet. No one was there besides a few staff and me. I realized with significant impact that I didn’t have a single thing I had to do that day, not one thing! I began sobbing.
Isn’t that remarkable that the lack of a mental list brought me to tears? Now the truth of my life is that I am not going to be on many cruises. I won’t find myself alone, with nothing to do, very often. But it is vital to find ways to manage the list and be free, if only for a short time. It is healing and exhilarating.
Tools to manage your to-do list
1. Be sure that every day your list has some self-care on it. Mine is consistent and has been for over 60 years – take a shower before bed. Sing. Think. Close my eyes and meditate. Rest! Hot water is a must.
2. Sort your list effectively. There are many ways to do this. Find what works for you. For me, it looks like a one-half sheet of paper with the have-to’s listed at the top and bottom – my morning routine and my evening routine. Then a numbered list of the most important things I must do. Then there is a section called – ‘If Time.’ If I get time, I do those things, and if not, they move to another day. Then there is a section called ‘Miscellaneous Notes’. As I have thoughts of stuff I need to do, that aren’t on my list, I write them here. It is the parking spot for my brain clutter. I feel good knowing I won’t forget them, and I evaluate their importance when making my list for the next day. Some things drop off.This process limits the number of items on the to-do list each day.
3. Prioritize. Pick the top three things from the list. Circle them in red or highlight them. Maybe you had clarity when you began, and your three are already written at the top. If that’s all you get done, it will feel like a success. My goal is to do what matters and not get overwhelmed.
4. Track what is done. I know one woman that has a DONE list. That’s too much work for me, but it’s effective for her. Me, I cross them off. Very satisfying! Tracking helps you visually see at the end of a busy day that, yes, you did get the important things done.
5. Leaveemail, Instagram, your Facebook feed, Tick Toc, untouched until you have given yourself at least one hour on your to-do list. Our best time is usually earlier rather than later. Don’t get sidetracked.
6. Before bed, identify the one thing you are getting up for. I have found it much easier to get up when I go to bed with clarity on what I will do first thing after I get up and have finished my morning routine. It makes the morning battle with the bed easier to win.
Unless we can regularly go on a cruise or another vacation without Wi-Fi, phone access, or kids, we probably won’t experience the mind freedom of our childhood days. But that doesn’t mean we can’t experience relief from the constant mental to-do list. Find list management tools that work for you, and you will be healthier, more in control, and have more peace of mind.
Know someone drowning in their to-do list? You know what to do. : )
I gave up New Year’s Resolutions many years ago. I always felt set up for failure. I have found it more useful to periodically evaluate how I am managing my life, how I am feeling about it, and what simple adjustments I could make so that I fare better. I emphasize the word simple. I also keep the list short! I want success and not overwhelm.
The first half of 2020 was challenging for me. In March, I found myself feeling like crying every day. I do not cry! I was so exhausted that it was worrisome. This all compromised my ability to remember things. Nothing outwardly changed. I looked and behaved the same, but it was taking all I had to keep living in my usual way.
Consequently, I began the process of evaluation earlier in the year than usual. What was off? What was making the difference? How was my sleep, my eating, my exercise, my relationships? I was searching for an answer to how I was feeling. In June, I had a thought that led me to a resolution. I remembered a medical condition I had dealt with over a decade and a half earlier. I went to my practitioner, got what I needed, and I was back on track. It was such a relief.
But all that thinking during the spring, all that introspection, reminded me of some behaviors that can significantly impact how we parent, how we manage relationships, how we manage ourselves, and how we feel. I thought as we enter this new year, particularly a year that will still contain Covid, lack of family, more in-home responsibility for parenting and education for some families, that you might benefit from seeing my short and simple ‘go-to’ list when I find my life a bit off-kilter. : )
Four S’s for Success
Sleep – I’ve had tons of experience with this one thing! I was a night owl. I would be up until eleven or twelve getting kids managed and into bed and putting the house back together. Afterward, I read until somewhere between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. In the morning, I would drag myself out of bed at six or seven, depending on when my kids got up. How do you think that worked out? I’ll bet some of you know. It was a disaster. It’s virtually impossible to parent well when you can barely see for lack of sleep.
Periodically, for over 30 years, I would go in prayer and ask how I could better handle my life. I would always have the same thought, “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” I would dismiss the whole idea. I didn’t want to follow that counsel. I wanted my house in order, and I wanted alone time. I was convinced the only way to get either one was to stay up late. So, I resisted. After years, I got desperate. I asked a final time. The impression was the same. “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” But this time, I didn’t resist.
I made the decision I would go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Can I say it was hard?! It didn’t get easier after the first month, or the sixth, or even the ninth. I’ll be honest; I struggled for a full year to keep my commitment before it finally began to feel good. But I’d made a decision. I was choosing something different. It was about taking care of self.
I’ve been living this new way for a few years now, and it’s been amazing. I enjoy going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. I can’t even believe it myself! My thinking is clearer. I get to do things that make my day more productive—prayer, personal study, meditation. My whole day runs better. I remain calm more often. I have more patience, and I feel less stress.
If sleep is an issue for you and you decide to take the route I did, it may not be easy, but if you remember that simple things, consistently done over time, make significant differences, you’ll be able to persevere as long as it takes to make this your new habit.
Simplify– The word simplify means to make simpler or easier to do or understand. To simplify is a principle wise men and women have espoused throughout the ages, and with good reason. When we simplify our lives, we manage them better. We can spend more time, both mental and physical, where it matters and less on activities that are not going to matter in the long run. We open time to think. We stop spending so much time putting out fires. When we simplify our lives, we can tune into our children, our spouse, our God.
One of my past mentors said something very profound to me. It’s changed the way I make decisions about spending my time and my family’s time. She said, “Every yes is a no to something else!” Let’s make sure that what we’re saying yes to will, in the long run, bring us true happiness and stable family relationships.
How much time do you allot for technology? How often do you shop? How many hours are you spending in the car, and are you going places that matter? How much time is required to keep your closets and drawers in order? What are your commitments? What are your kid’s commitments? How often do thoughts about past hurts surface? How frequently do you feel resentment?
When you clear out stuff, heal your heart, and empty your calendar, you’ll be less overwhelmed and have more energy. You’ll be able to give more to your family. This investment in simplifying will free you up, and your life and family will be happier. When we simplify, we free up time and energy.
Self-care – Self-care is crucial for parents because it helps them maintain calm for more extended periods. Self-care facilitates patience and staves off, taking our frustrations out on our children. Self-care helps us remain free of resentment, exhaustion, or feeling depleted. It keeps us healthier. Self-care allows us to tune into the joy and satisfaction of having children, even during overly busy or chaotic days.
Self-care benefits not only us but also our whole family. It’s an investment in our family relationships, rather than a selfish indulgence.Self-care is a choice.
You’re going to spend far more time with your children than you’re going to spend without them, so it’s imperative to learn how to self-care while you’re in the thick of parenting. It’s simple, it’s doable, and it takes small amounts of time and virtually no money; but it can and will pay huge dividends.
. Self-care can be as simple as having a cup of herbal tea while you read to your children. It might be taking a few deep breaths while soothing a screaming child. You could turn on your favorite music and dance in the living room with your kids. Add laughter! Self-care can be taking a walk with your children to take the edge off the day. Sitting in the swing and watching your children play can give you fresh air and a breather from all that you’re feeling pressed to do. Go to the bathroom more often if that’s what will buy you a few moments alone.
Being kind to yourself will make life feel lighter, and your relationships will improve. You’ll feel happier overall. Your self-esteem will go up. You’ll be a better parent. In short, when you care for yourself, you care for your family.
Season –Let me show you two Christmas trees. In 2019 I had two grandchildren born, one in July and one on Dec. 30. This Christmas, both sets of parents pondered what to do about their Christmas trees. They have older children. They like their homes to look festive. In the end, they adjusted for the season they are in. One kept all the ornaments on the top half of the tree. The other had a very small tree on a tabletop. It isn’t what they love or do every year, but it is what they did this year. Your season matters and when you honor the season you find yourself in, things feel more peaceful. They could have spent the whole season spanking baby hands or grieving over broken family mementos. But they choose to respect the season their family was in.
When you have a new baby, managing your life is entirely different from when you have a couple of teens. When we simplify how we decorate our home, what is on our to-do list and calendar according to the season we find ourselves in, we will be happier and less overwhelmed. We will feel more peace and manage everything better.
This year why not take a careful and honest look at how you are handling the four S’s in your life. With a few simple adjustments, you may have a more peaceful and successful year.
We could all use this reminder. Why not share with another parent?
This season I have been thinking back to Christmases past and the traditions that my parents passed on to me. My parents were masters at making the holiday fantastic and I am in awe of their ability to make something special out of so little.
When I was eight, there were four of us kids and five more to come. But I recall Christmas as being an abundant time. I suspect that for most of those years, the gifts weren’t big or elaborate. I recall very few gifts that I received over the years. Those that were memorable were because they came with sacrifice, but that telling is for another day. The things I remember well were the traditions. From my first Christmas until the last one I spent at home, there were some things you could depend on no matter how tight the budget.
There was always a case of oranges. Fruit was scarce in my home. It was pricy and other than apples we didn’t have a lot. So, a case of oranges was like a case of gold and is one reason I eat oranges in the strange way that I do. My husband always teases me about it. You peel the orange. Then you chew all the white coating off the peel. Then you eat the sections one at a time by nibbling them. Even a case of oranges doesn’t add up to many for each person when you have a big family.
There were always nuts, huge bowls of nuts. Nuts were inexpensive back in the day. There would be a bowl of walnuts and another bowl of mixed nuts. I recall my frustration in trying to crack them. The walnuts were the easiest to manage, but they weren’t my favorite. I LOVED the brazil nuts, and they were the hardest to crack. I got better at it as I aged. I still love brazil nuts.
These were harder to come by, but I think most years, my parents managed it. There might be one in your sock. But some years, there would be a bowl full. We learned to love them in our short stint in Red Bluff, CA. Our neighbor had a tree, and it hung over our fence. She would let us pick a few. We loved her and her pomegranates. I was in my sixties before I learned how to peel them, so it wasn’t such a pain. But pain or not, I loved pomegranates.
You could find these same items on my counter every Christmas for the last fifty Christmases. Traditions matter. The good ones and the bad, and every family has both.We need to pay attention to what we are passing down to our kids because, like it or not, they will most likely pass it down to theirs.
I am reading and implementing the book A Complaint Free World: The 21 Day challenge that will change your life. In it, Will Bowen said, “I can remember my dad in the kitchen. Whenever he cooked, he took a dishtowel and draped it over his left shoulder; he called it his ‘left shoulder cooking towel’… Today whenever I am in the kitchen, you will always find me with my own ‘left shoulder cooking towel.’ And it’s never on the right shoulder, always the left. That’s how dad did it, and that’s how I do it. Perhaps my dad had seen his father do this and was following after him – who knows?
All I know is that I picked it up from him. He never sought to instill this idiosyncrasy in me, but his behavior did so. And I know that, whether I intend to or not, I’m passing along things to all the time.”
How we ‘are’ and how we ‘respond’ can become traditions and habits for our children. We want to pass on what will be remembered with fondness, and that will improve our children’s lives. The beginning of a new year is a good time to check in on our ‘way of being’ and determine if there is ONE thing we may want to change before it becomes a tradition or a habit for our kids. Remember only work on ONE thing at a time.
You can find four steps to making permanent changes in your way of being HERE.
Share your family traditions. We would all love to hear them. Then share this article with those you love and care about. : )
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017