Category: Better living and Parenting

Gratitude – Part 1, Joy & Happiness Are Born of Gratitude

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.

Share your gratitude with someone this week. 

Freedom from the To-Do List

Sometimes I think back 

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. Leave email, 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. : ) 

Four S’s for a More Successful Year

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.
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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?

Be Wary of Comparison

I have a friend, Audrey Rindlisbacher, and recently I was listening to an early morning Facebook Live she did. The topic was ‘comparison.’ Audrey is an exceptional woman who has been speaking and teaching for years on great books. I have sat with rapt attention in her classes. She inspires me with her knowledge of natural law and principles.

Not too long before she did this Facebook Live, she spoke with another woman that she considered exceptional. This mom had been the Young Mother of the Year, had multiple degrees, and currently lives in a foreign country where she has been for the last ten years with her family doing full-time work with refugees. Audrey admitted that during her conversation, she had thoughts like these – “You have always wanted to take your kids and do some humanitarian work. Why haven’t you? If you had, your family would be so much better off. You are so lame!”

I had to smile inwardly because when I first heard Audrey speak, I had similar thoughts – “Man, you should have read more great books than you have. Why haven’t you gotten as much out of them as Audrey has? How come you don’t understand natural law and principles as she does. Reading isn’t enough; you needed to think as she has. You are so lame.” When we begin comparing ourselves to others, our self-talk plummets! When our self-talk dives, then our life-results also dive. We must speak kindly about and to ourselves.

Another reason to speak well of ourselves is that how we are and what we do, speaks volumes to our children. We want to model a way of being to our family that will help them as they tackle hard things in life and as they begin seeing that where they are and how they are doing is different from someone else.

Tools to Derail Comparison

When I find myself treating myself poorly or comparing myself to others, I have a couple of tools I use to get myself back on track.

1. Focus on gratitude. When I shift from seeing what I am not or what I don’t have and focus on who I am and what I have, my self-talk improves. My result improves. There are many ways to stay in gratitude, but one that I use is a gratitude journal. Each evening before bed, I take a moment and write at least three things I am grateful for. No matter how terrible the day has been, I have yet to be stumped. I can always find at least three and usually more. Keeping my eye on what I have that is good keeps my mind on a higher plane, so I don’t spiral into negative thinking and self-talk.

2. Limit social media. As much good as social media has provided, it is a hotbed of comparison and envy. Currently, three of my daughters have taken breaks from social media. No Facebook, no Instagram. They have found that they feel better about themselves when they cannot compare their worst to someone else’s best. I spend less than 1 hour on social media each day, and on days when I don’t need to be on it for work, I spend none at all.

You don’t have to give up social media. Just limit the time you spend there. If you have a hard time, then turn off your notifications. Give yourself set times during the day to participate. When we compare ourselves to others, it creates unrest within us. It sucks the joy out of our accomplishments. It diminishes us in our own eyes.

We each have strengths and weaknesses. We all do well at times and at others do poorly. We all are in the process of becoming. Accept that you are still learning, growing, evolving. Be kind to yourself. Speak and think with generosity, and it will improve your pace. It will also give your children a better example of what to do when you are not perfect. It will do your family good.

Take the time to let a friend know about these simple tools to derail comparison. 

The power of a table

I have always had a dining room or kitchen table. Even in our first home, which was small, we had a table. I loved having a table. It was good to rest my elbows when I was reading or studying.

As our kids came, we sat around our table for meals and talked. It was a gathering place, a homework place, my sewing space when the need arose. We used our table a lot.

Then ten years ago, when our daughter’s family and we decided to share space, I gave up my table. We lived in a basement apartment of our daughter’s home with lovely big windows. We had a kitchen and living room. However, there wasn’t a dining area. The kitchen was narrow and had a bar. I thought the bar would be enough.

But it was high and required stools. Don and I were in our sixties, and so we never used it. No resting elbows while reading. Fewer conversations. That’s because we used TV trays. They work but don’t lend themselves to the same intimacy one feels at a table.

Then we moved again. We have the south side of this beautiful home with lots of sunshine. We have a new kitchen which we built. We have a nice sized living room. But again, no place for a table. We have been in this space for three years, and my need for a table has grown.

This spring inside, I was screaming, “I NEED a table.” I couldn’t put into words why I felt such a need for a table. We had our TV trays, and since the space is not large, it seemed the thing to do. BUT something was missing, and I knew it in my heart.

Finally, I decided I HAD to have a table. I bought one for $40, used. But it was too large and felt overbearing in the room. I thought about it a lot. I NEEDED a table. So, I did what I do. I prayed, and within a couple of days, someone gave me the perfect table. It was the right color and size. It came with chairs, and I was ecstatic.

We have had the table for a few months now. Has it made a difference? YES! And here is how. I can finally explain, in words, what was missing. There is something ‘connecting’ about sitting face to face around a table. There is something ‘family’ about it. Many times, over the last few months, my husband has said, “I like sitting here and looking at your face.” That doesn’t happen when you’re seated at TV trays. My mother talks more while we eat. Because she has Alzheimer’s, I guess she felt a bit isolated in her chair in front of her tray unless asked a direct question.

Our conversations are better, more intimate, more interesting. Frankly, the temptation to turn on the TV is less. Last night we played music while we ate. It was awesome!!

And when we aren’t all sitting at the table, I study there. I rest my elbows, and I read. I am aware of the life going on around me, and I like feeling my family’s pulse. A table, well used, creates a sense of ‘family.’

You probably have a table. My questions to you are:

  • Do know what a gift it is?
  • Do you use it?
  • Are you taking the opportunity to connect your family at least once a day?
  • Are you developing that ‘family’ feeling?

Reasons to gather at your table at least once a day:

A. It will help you get what you want—Eating together goes a long way in helping you create the family culture you see in your mind or have written down.

B. It will unify your family—During the years our children were making poor choices, the time at the dinner table held us together. If we couldn’t agree on the best way to live, we could at least gather once a day and eat together. It kept us face-to-face and heart-to-heart. We didn’t teach or reprimand during these meals. We stayed out of management and worked on the relationships. This effort didn’t stop our children from making choices we disagreed with, but it kept our children bonded to us. It kept us unified as a family.

C. You can de-stress—If you determine that spilled milk and children falling off chairs are not interruptions and catastrophes but significant family life moments, then the dinner hour will bring you joy. Even when mealtimes feel hectic or disorganized, they have long-term benefits for children because if parents remain calm, kids aren’t stressed by dinnertime chaos. Remember, they think and see like kids and not as adults. And you, as you watch and listen to them, can breathe. You can let down your guard. You can relax. There is research that supports this. : )

D. You can build close relationships—Family meals are opportunities to develop more intimate family relationships. Although families live together, we each go about our business of living independently of one another. We aren’t all doing the same things each day. When we eat together, we have a few moments to reconnect, talk, laugh, and enjoy one another. Meals are a prime time for communication and understanding as we each live our individual lives.

E. You’ll have an improved sense of well-being—Anne Fishel, Ph.D., said, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members” (Fishel 2016).

F. You can practice Being Present—Eating together allows you to implement Present strategies. You can discuss a book the family’s reading together. You can memorize scripture or quotes you like. You can tell jokes and laugh. You can share what happened in the community or thoughts you had during the day. When having a conversation, include everyone. Keep it positive. Avoid nagging, complaining, or controlling the discussion. Listen more than you talk.

What If No One Talks?

If up until now, dinner hasn’t been a productive time to connect and build relationships with your kids, try playing the Conversation Game. This game can get the flow going. Go around the table and have each person share a high point of the day and a low point. Eventually, when done consistently over time, it will begin to feel safe, and your family members will open up more. This game is fun, and you can practice seeing and hearing your children.

Dinner’s the perfect time to turn away from your technology. Turn off cell phones while at the table—mute your landline. Even the ringing can be a significant distraction. Turn off the TV! Having the TV on negates many of the benefits of a family meal and prevents you and your family from being Present with each other. The comfort of the food will make practicing this less painful. : )

Eating together is an opportunity to empty your mind of your endless to-do list and focus on your children. What are they saying? How do they look? What’s their body language? What did you miss during the rush to get out the door in the morning? Mealtime is a perfect time to practice being Present.

G. If you need one more reason to eat together as a family, ponder this: in a nationally representative Internet-based survey of 1,037 teens (ages 12 to 17), 71 percent said that they consider talking/catching up and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners. These comments come from kids, just like your kids. They want and need time with you. They want your Presence, and one of the easiest ways to give it to the whole family at once is at the dinner table (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “The Importance of Family Dinners”)!

I have loved finally having a table again. I enjoy looking at my mom and my husband. I savor the conversations and laughter. It has felt whole!

One time I asked my kids about their favorite memories. I’ll never forget Kates. It wasn’t about sitting at the table together but under it.

Kate—”I remember you and me sitting under the table reading a chapter of Katie John together. She painted her face with lipstick on picture day, and it wouldn’t come off. We laughed and laughed together.
Whatever works right. Being around or under your table, unifies families! Use yours!

This ‘table message’ is for all your friends who have families.

Let them know about it : ) 

The Great Key!

When you fall in love and marry, there’s no way to know what’s in store. No way! You can’t know till you get there.

Don and I were deeply and passionately in love over fifty years ago. We raised seven kids, and they are great people, but it wasn’t easy. We had some significant bumps in our marital bliss road. It shakes you up a bit. But we weathered those years, and with a dollop of joy, laughter, and forgiveness, we all came out OK. Don and I were still intact as a couple and we still deeply and passionately loved each other.

The years passed, and the things that you can’t know till you get there sneaked up on us – financial worries, adult kids and their issues, aging, health, energy differences, stress. They all took their toll. One night I was grieving a bit because we’re not the same. Our relationship cannot be the same. Sometimes it feels like two people who care about each other living independently in the same house, sort of like roommates. I talked to God about it because I want to remain deeply and passionately in love with this man even if we’re here together for 60 or 70 years. This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this place and gone to God for help, and I suspect it won’t be the last time. Then a miracle happened.

I got an Echo dot three years ago. I tried everything I knew how to do, but I couldn’t get it to work. It sat in a cupboard. This week my sister came, we got it out, and she tried to get it going. No luck. The next morning there it was on the counter, my daughter saw it, and after an hour of figuring out the kinks, it worked.

As we ate breakfast, we listened to the music of our time- Neil Diamond, John Denver, The Mama’s and the Papas, Sonny and Cher, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Monkeys, Barbra Streisand. I was having a hard time getting stuff done because I kept stopping to dance. We laughed a lot. Smiles just seemed to happen over nothing. During lunch, Don and I gazed across the table at each other. I sang the lyrics, and he cracked old jokes. It was fun.

Later, as I was cutting kale for the dehydrator, he gathered me up, and we danced around the kitchen for a short moment, as Don’s ability to move is compromised. Wow! That felt so wonderful. We haven’t been able to dance for some time. Then I returned to washing kale. As I worked, I thought about Don, how funny he is. How handsome he is. What a great question asker and problem solver. An all-around good guy. A keeper, as we used to say.

Then in a moment, I was overcome with such a feeling of love I began weeping. It’s all still there; deep and passionate love. It will always be there, but sometimes it disappears inside life, illness, work, stress. But if we focus and ask God for a small miracle, it resurfaces to save us. God is good. He loves Don and me, and we love each other. Such a gift. Such a blessing. Such a life!

Is That the End of the Story?

I know you think this is the end of the story, but this is where it gets real! You probably think it was the music and the dancing that brought the spark to the surface. But it wasn’t. Remember that talk I had with God? I didn’t just complain about loss, age, passing time, etc. I asked what I could do to feel ‘in love.’ Not only “I care” or “I love you,” but ‘in love.” If you’ve been there, then you know what I am talking about.

The thought that came to my mind was to look for every good thing I could see about this man I have spent over fifty years with and then tell him. I did that, many times because his gifts and good qualities aren’t hard to find. But they are easy to take for granted and let pass by unappreciated.

The Great key.

With every kind word and compliment, my heart softened towards this man I care for and love. I changed. Not him and not our relationship. Me! When you add that kind of heart softening to a bit of music and a quick dance around the kitchen, well, you can’t help but get magic.

When we look for the good, when we speak the good, when kindness is at the top of our mind, it makes all the difference. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a crazy day with kids or a day between two aging souls. The result is the same. Magic and miracles!

When you have children, there is no way to know what’s in store. No way! You can’t know till you get there. If you have a day that isn’t going well with your family, give it a try. Pick the one person you’re feeling the most annoyed or frustrated with or that you feel the most distant from. Look for every good thing and then mention it to them. I can just about guarantee that by the end of the day, your heart will swell with tenderness for this soul that only a few hours before was causing you grief.

Their behavior might not change, but you will. Your heart will soften. Your way of being with that one person will be kinder. You will see differently. It will make a difference.

It’s all about gratitude. Gratitude is the great key to overcoming what is bugging you right now. I have this saying on my bedroom/office wall: “When you complain, you will remain. When you praise, you will be raised.” I know this is true, as I experience it regularly. I experienced it this week in my kitchen while chopping kale. : ) You can experience it too, and practicing this little exercise will not only change you, but it will also improve your whole family. Give it a try.

Addendum

It has been a few days since the miracle and Don, and I are still connecting in small ways. We are talking more softly and listening more intently. Saturday afternoon, while our granddaughter Maggie watched Mother Goose Playhouse, we held hands and danced in place for just a moment. : ) If I keep focusing on his strengths and gifts and keep thanking him for them, it will last.

But life is busy, crazy, and sometimes overwhelming. We will probably find ourselves moving apart again, but when that happens, I will pull out the ‘practice of gratitude for this one soul’ and have another miracle.

Gratitude is a practice, and so it requires ‘practice.’ Practice it in your home and then let me know what differences it makes. : )

Give this article as a gift to someone else who needs a Gratitude Practice. : ) 

What Do You Do When You Discover a Weakness? Beat Yourself Up? Fall Apart?

A Painful Realization and a Gift

Recently I was listening to a religious leader speak at a conference. As he talked, it came clearly into my mind that I had a weakness I had never supposed. I was shocked to see myself in this new light. In the past, I would have immediately begun beating myself up for having a weakness. But not today. I have learned a great lesson over the years that has helped me look upon a newfound weakness as a gift.

I have learned that when we recognize a weakness, it is a gift because only then can we do something about it. Only then can we change a behavior, a story we tell ourselves, or a way of being. The weakness I discovered during the conference I attended was unknown to me. There wasn’t any way that I could do anything about it. Now I am pondering it and coming up with a plan to turn it into a strength—what a magnificent gift.

In my spiritual cannon, there is a verse that I cling to when I am working on a weakness, and it is challenging me. “And if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Ether 12:27

Isn’t that an excellent thought, that God shows us where we are weak, where we need to do some work because he loves us and wants to help us become stronger in that area?

I have often said that our weaknesses are our strengths in embryo. Inside an egg, the embryo doesn’t look like much, but eventually, it becomes a bird and beatifies the world. A seed isn’t very exciting and even when it emerges from the ground it isn’t anything to look at. It takes time for a flower or a tree to grow.

Strengths are Often Disguised as Weakness

We are like that. Our greatest strengths may not be apparent to us yet, but they are there, and often they are disguised as a weakness. So when you come face to face with a weakness – yelling, lack of focus, difficulty getting your family systems to work, being discouraged, feeling overwhelmed, feeling resentment, and a host of others, celebrate. Celebrate God’s greatness in showing you what to do to be happier and grow as a person.

It isn’t always easy. Once I realized that yelling wasn’t the best way to deal with my family, it took me ten years to conquer it. What if I had given up on myself after five years or eight or nine. A couple of years ago, I began anticipating the coming of the New Year. In September, I felt an urgent need to make changes in my way of being and in my life. I didn’t want to enter the New Year in limbo. I wanted to know what one thing I could do to affect the most significant personal growth. I was serious. It wasn’t a passing fancy motivated by a current problem. I wanted my life to feel different, better. I wanted to be better.

I set out to discover the one thing I could work on to take me where I desired to go. I approached the problem in the same way I approach most things: I began seriously pondering and praying. The simple steps I took were to think diligently on the issue and to pray daily. I repeated this process for over three months. Finally, eureka, I struck gold. In December, a thought came clearly to my mind—Stop complaining. I hadn’t considered myself a complaining person, so this was a bit of a shock. Nevertheless, I began monitoring my words, thoughts, and actions over the next few weeks. I could see I had indeed struck gold.

It’s been a few years, and I’m still working on this. It’s a toughie! But the changes I’ve experienced have been astonishing. I’ve grown in areas I didn’t realize my complaining was affecting. I am happier, I feel more successful as a person, my relationships are changing. It has been worth the work, and the knowledge of this weakness has, indeed, been a gift.

Moving Forward When You Discover a Weakness

•When you see a current weakness in yourself, accept that it’s about you and not others’ behavior. Take responsibility.
Think honestly about the weakness, and then determine small steps to begin making a change.
•Make certain the actions you take are in your control.
•Write the weakness down and then write down the opposite, so you see the weakness in a new light, as your emerging strength.

A friend of mine, April H. has experienced this. She told me, “I’m so grateful you shared with me that I’m the opposite of my weaknesses. This truth has changed how I see my stumbling blocks and how I see and handle both of my sons as well.”

Remember, a weakness is a strength in embryo. When you discover another weakness, celebrate the gift you have been given and then go to work. You will grow, and over time, you will be happier.

Let someone who is struggling with their weakness feel heartened.

Give them the good news!

Keep Your Hand on the Helm of Thought

You Have Control Over How Your Life Feels!

I’ve written many articles on the power of accepting that you have control over how your life feels. This control comes from learning to manage your thoughts. I write about it because, for three decades, as a mom, I didn’t believe this was true. I felt hammered and blown about by life. Then one day, I came face to face with the truth – I had control of my life through how I thought about my life.

I didn’t want to accept this truth. It was a heavy burden, too much responsibility. I fought against believing this truth for over a decade. Then one day, I came to know it was true. When I accepted that I was 100% responsible for how my life felt, I discovered that it wasn’t a heavy burden at all but one of the most freeing truths I had every embraced.

Planting Seeds

One of the earliest books I read that talked about the power of controlling our thoughts was As a Man Thinketh by James Allen.

“Yes, humanity surges with uncontrolled passion, is tumultuous with ungoverned grief, is blown about by anxiety and doubt. Only the wise man, only he whose thoughts are controlled and purified, makes the winds and the storms of the soul obey him.

“The tempest-tossed souls, wherever ye may be, under whatsoever conditions ye may live, know this-in the ocean of life the isles of Blessedness are smiling, and the sunny shore of your ideal awaits your coming. Keep your hand firmly upon the helm of thought. In the bark of your soul reclines the commanding Master; He does but sleep; wake Him. Self-control is strength; Right thought is mastery; Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, “Peace, be still!”

Pretty deep. I was in high school and borrowed the book from my dad, who had gone back to college when I was in 10th grade. I didn’t understand it fully then, but a seed was planted.

One of my favorite quotes is from Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. He said, “When we’re no longer able to change a situation—we’re challenged to change ourselves.” He reminds us in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, the one thing that can never be taken from a person is their ability to choose how to respond (Frankl). I would add their ability to control their thoughts, which leads to the best response. Isn’t it interesting that I read this book back in those high school days also?

Negative Thought Narrows, Positive Thought Expands

A couple of years ago, I read an article by James Clear in the Huffington Post – “Research has shown … negative emotions narrow your mind and focus your thoughts.”

Your brain shuts everything else off and focuses on the negative emotions of fear, anger, frustration, or stress. You can’t see other options or choices. On the other hand, positive emotions do the opposite.

From a research study by Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, “When you’re experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you’ll see more possibilities in your life. Positive emotions broaden an individual’s momentary thought-action repertoire: joy sparks the urge to play, interest sparks the urge to explore, contentment sparks the urge to savor and integrate, and love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships. The broadened mindsets arising from these positive emotions are contrasted to the narrowed mindsets sparked by many negative emotions.”

It is a Daily Practice

I have to work on controlling my thoughts every day. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns of blame and complaint. But I do work on it every day.

The result – I stay in blame and complaint for less time than in the past. Days have become hours, and often hours have become minutes.

If you’re feeling some push back to this idea, I understand. I’ve been there. But if you’re struggling to feel joy in your life, give it a try. Please take responsibility for your thoughts and your responses. Stop blaming. Take responsibility for your words, which are your thoughts in concrete form. You’re in control. Knowing this gives you all the power.

Help Other’s Know that there is a Way to Take Back Their Power. : ) 

Do You Grant Others Space to Breathe and Regroup?

Everyone can become overwhelmed.

At some time in our life, we will do less than our best. The ability to love and serve without judgment or recrimination is one thing that stands out to me about the ministry of Jesus Christ. He spent time with those who were overwhelmed, who were managing less than their best.

One of the things that I have been privileged to do over a thirty-year span is to help older people and families with their homes. Sometimes I clean inside, sometimes outside. I have tiled and painted. It is just one way that I have been able to serve.

As I have offered this service to people, I have noticed something interesting. After I have been helping for a few weeks, they might rearrange a closet or a cupboard. There might be a pile ready for Goodwill. Maybe a packet of seeds shows up that they plan to plant. A family member will rearrange the living room.

After a few years of noticing this phenomenon, I wondered what it was all about. Then I was reminded of an experience that I had a few decades earlier. It has been over 45 years now, and it is something I keep in my mind because it helps me to serve the way the Savior did – no judgment, no recrimination, just love, and care.

A Life-Changing Experience

My husband decided he needed to go back to school and finish his degree. We had two children, one a newborn. We moved to Greely, CO., where I had spent the last year of high school and where my parents lived for a few years longer. It was far away from family and friends.

Don went to school full time and worked full time. He went to school all day, came home late afternoon, ate, and then slept until he had to go to work at 11 pm. In the morning, he would get home at about 7 am and sleep until he had to be in class at 9 am. It was grueling. He studied between classes and on Saturday.

I watched other people’s children, as well as my own. I kept them quiet in the morning when Don needed to sleep, and I kept them calmed in the late afternoon when he needed to sleep. I made meals, kept the house, did the laundry, took care of the yard, and taught a Sunday school class for 5-year olds. I rarely got away from home. I rarely saw other adults because we had just moved, knew no one, and on Sunday, I taught a children’s class.

I began to yell a lot. I felt angry at Don. I frequently found myself at church without a prepared lesson. My house was suffering, and the laundry was piling up. I was suffering from post-partum depression. I was overwhelmed.

One day I was done. I sat on a chair, and I knew that I could not do anything for anyone. I was a failure as a wife, mother, as a person. Tears coursed down my face. Then the doorbell rang. Sister George, a woman from my church, was standing on the porch.

She had been a friend of my mother’s when my family lived here. She had loved my mother, and, as I was to learn by her behavior, she loved me. She said, “Hi, Mary Ann. I’m here to borrow the kids. I want to take them home for the afternoon. Would that be OK?” No judgment. No recriminations about the poor job I was doing in my life.

I was stunned. I had two of my own, one an infant, and I was caring for three others. As they drove off in Sister George’s van, I felt relief. I sat on the porch and stared at the sky. I breathed the air. This one day was a turning point in my life. Sister George had saved my life by giving me space to breathe and regroup.

Space to Breathe and Regroup

That was the answer to what I saw happen to the people I helped; I gave them space to breathe and regroup.

When I visit my daughter’s homes, I clean something, the kitchen fan, the toilet, empty overflowing garbage cans, or wash a pile of laundry. I don’t do it because they are incompetent but to give them space to breathe and regroup.

In my core cannon, there is this question, “Are we not all beggars?” I ask myself, “Do we not all beg for relief somewhere in our lives – self-doubt, children who stray, spouses who leave, school left unfinished, too little income, the trauma of abuse or neglect, old and hidden emotional wounds, fears, failure. The list is long and as varied as the people who live on the earth.

Occasionally we all need space to breathe and regroup. When I am mentoring, I am ministering as Jesus did. No judgment. No recriminations. I allow room to breathe and regroup.

When we suspend judgment, override our desire to recriminate because someone should be doing better; when we extend service because we genuinely love and care about others, we serve as Jesus Christ served. He never judged those who were overwhelmed or failing in some way. He just reached out a hand to help.

It reminds me of the second verse of a song that I sing to remind myself to serve and love the way Jesus and other great teachers of truth have loved and served.

I Have Work Enough to Do

I must speak the loving word,
Ere the sun goes down.
I must let my voice be heard,
Ere the sun goes down:
Ev’ry cry of pity heeding,
For the injured interceding,
To the light, the lost ones leading,
Ere the sun goes down.

Let someone else know that they deserve space to breathe and regroup.

Want What You Teach Your Kids to Sink In?

Since the schools closed, I have been helping my grandchildren with their schoolwork. Their work is online. A learning curve for me! : ) My eight-year-old grandson is a competent student. When he isn’t doing actual schoolwork, he is busy teaching himself about aerodynamics, science, and math. He is a smart little guy. However, each day that I have been called upon to help him, when I say, “Ben, let’s get your schoolwork done,” he replies, “I don’t know what to do.” That statement isn’t true. He knows how to log on. He knows where to find the modules, and his teacher has made a video for walking him through. I realized what he means is, “I need some direction. Get me going.”

Right after this conversation, we had a second conversation. I said, “Get your iPad, entry code, and paperwork and meet me at my house.” He replied, “I don’t know where they are.” I said, “Ben, you do know what to do. What I think you need is direction. So, I don’t want you to say that you don’t know what to do anymore. Say, Grandma, I need direction. And Ben, it’s your responsibility to know where your stuff is. Let’s find a spot for you to put it in my house, and then you’ll always know where it is.”

Although it will probably resolve these two issues eventually, there was a big problem with this morning’s exchange, and I should know better!

Mini Conversations Vs Mini Lectures

When talking to kids, mini conversations are far more effective than mini-lectures. What Ben got this morning was a mini-lecture. It took all of three minutes, but it was still a lecture.

When he finished his work, he put his book in the spot we decided upon and took his papers to his house. When I called him back and reminded him to put his papers in the same place so that he would know where they were, he said, “Oh, I didn’t know you meant the papers.” My best-educated guess is that tomorrow he will say, “I don’t know what to do” and need reminding that he does know and needs some direction. Mini lectures rarely sink in on the first go-around. Mini conversations, however, are far more effective when teaching. So, what is the difference?

The Purpose of a Mini Conversation

The purpose of a mini conversation is to listen and then teach, if you need to teach. Sometimes you share cool stuff, sometimes kids share cool stuff, and you stay present and listen through it all. Mini conversations always feel agreeable to both parties! They never feel like a lecture. A mini conversation will go miles in helping your lessons sink in. What would it have looked like if Ben and I had had a mini conversation this morning rather than a mini-lecture?

“Ben, it’s time to do your schoolwork.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“That’s interesting. Didn’t you figure it out yesterday?” “Yea, but today I’m not sure what to do.”
“What would help?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s open your tablet and look at the modules and see if we can figure it out. OK?”
We would do what we do every day, and then I could say, “Ben, see, you do know what to do. Now you won’t have ever to say “I don’t know” again. High Five buddy.”

And what about the second part, not knowing where his school supplies are.
“Ben, get your tablet and papers and meet me in my house.”
“Grandma, I don’t know where they are.”
“That seems to be a problem every day, Ben. What can we do about it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hmmm, let’s see. What if you had a spot in my house to keep them. Do you think that would help?”
“Yea, that would help me.”
“I think I have the perfect spot. See this basket on the stairs. I keep the book I read to grandpa and great-grandma here, so I always know where it is. Would that work.”
“Yea, that will work.”
“Ben, what do you think you need to put in here when you finish your schoolwork?”
“My reading book.”
“What else.”
“Oh, I could put my papers and my code in there.”
“Yea, that’s good. Then you won’t ever have to say I don’t know where my stuff is again. High five. We are Rockin this, Ben.”

Mini Conversations Are Powerful In Connecting With Kids

Can you see the difference? It not only sounds different; it feels different. There isn’t any recrimination. No shame. No judgment. Just solutions. And here’s another thing. Ben would have bought in. When kids buy into something new, a system or way of being, they take more ownership, and they remember to do it more often.

I’ll bet you also noticed that this mini conversation would probably have taken more than 3 minutes. Yup, it would have taken at least five or six. But if it relieved you of hearing lame responses and having to remind over and over, wouldn’t it be worth the three extra minutes.

Mini- conversations are powerful in connecting with our kids, and they are powerful when we want to teach.

Help someone else learn about the power of mini conversations. Spread the word.