Category: Making changes

Intentional Systems Make All the Difference!

When I mentor moms, I hear about all the things that aren’t working. That is what they come to me for – for perspective, to see with new eyes. I enjoy this process of sorting it out. We often begin with family systems, so things start to work better.

I have had this type of conversation hundreds of times:
Mom – I can’t stand dinner time. It is always rushed, and then everyone goes and does their thing, and I am stuck in the kitchen with a big mess.
Me – Well, tell me about your system for getting dinner done.
Mom – We don’t have a system.
Me – Yes, you do. You figure out what to fix at the last minute. You cook the meal. You set the table; you serve dinner. You clean up. You are filled with resentment. It isn’t an intentional system, but it is your system. There is usually shocked silence on the other end of the phone.

Here is another example.

I worked with a mom who hated her bedroom. Her bed was always covered by unfolded laundry. What she wanted was a retreat but what she had was resentment.

When I asked her what her system was for the clean laundry, she told me she didn’t have one. But of course, she did. Here is what it looked like. She would do the laundry, and then the clean laundry would be piled on her bed. She would coax the kids to fold their stuff and put it away. It often didn’t get done before the end of a busy day, and then mom would move the laundry to the window seat. It might stay there a few days while she felt cheated because she couldn’t sit in her room, in the window seat.

When she explained what happened on laundry day, I pointed out that she did have a system. It wasn’t a system that got her what she wanted, it made her feel resentful, but it was her system. We talked about how she could better manage her laundry to stay out of her room and be taken care of by all the family. It worked. She got her private space back, and her children became more responsible. Everyone was happier.

The women I talk to are always astonished to realize that they have a system by default, and it stinks. Then we talk through what she would like to have happen, what could reasonably happen, and then come up with an experiment designed to intentionally set up a system that accomplishes what she wants. We talk about getting the family to buy in because when people buy in, they take ownership, and things work better.

Here is an example of a default system in my life that whacked me out for months!

I am a very orderly person. I am also very self-directed. However, for many reasons, I found myself in a mess. I wasn’t getting up on time; I wasn’t getting my studying done; I forgot to pray; I was distracted. After nine months of suffering, I did what I should have done far sooner. I prayed and then thought through what was not working. What did my current system for managing these things look like?

I realized that the system I had used in the past had fallen apart. I didn’t have a morning routine. I sat down, thought through what I needed, then wrote it down and taped the paper to the bathroom wall. This experiment was better, but I was still distracted and not getting these important things done daily. I know that consistency is essential, so I went back to the drawing board and prayed again. I was missing something.

I have kept my morning routine quite simple for a long time because I am a full-time caregiver. I get up at 6:15 on many days, dress, feed, and groom my 15-year-old special needs granddaughter. Then I get the other three off to school. In the summer, I am on deck with these kids for a few hours most days. By nine Don and possibly my mom are up and want breakfast. Mom needs her hair done, and twice a week, she needs to bathe before I can move on to anything else. Noon would come and I wouldn’t have gotten what set me on a solid path for the day completed. The time would rush on from there and frequently late evening would come, and I never got to my ‘stuff.’ The question was how I do the things that matter to me and still take care of all these people.

When the answer came, it was so simple as answers from God often are.

I had the thought to put my scriptures and affirmations in the bathroom, in my reading basket, and hang my clothes for the next day on a hook the evening before. Then each morning, I would get up, go into the bathroom, dress, and prepare for the day. I would sit on the toilet and read my scriptures and say my affirmations. Then I knelt and prayed. I know God forgives me for praying at the side of the toilet. : ) The whole thing takes 20 minutes, then I am out in the fray, but the things that matter to me and my well-being are complete. The system for my mornings that I have intentionally designed is working well!

Systems matter. If there is a place in your life that feels out of order or things aren’t happening, look closely at your system. What is it? What does it lack that would feel better or help you manage better? If you don’t think you have a system, and that is why it isn’t working, think again. You do; it just stinks. Come up with an experiment. Try something new with intention. You will be surprised at what a difference it can make.

Got a great ‘systems’ story. Please share. : ) 

A Woman and Her Field – A Short Story That Matters

Once there was a woman. She was strong. She moved to a new home that she loved. It was on a large parcel of property, and it was beautiful. When she moved to the property, she knew it would take work to get it into shape. She was happy to do the work because she had dreamed of living in a home like this one, on a piece of land like this. She had planned on it all her life. It was her dream and her great desire.

There was an empty field. She didn’t pay much attention to it for a few years because she was so busy planting flowers, mowing her lawn, tending the chickens, playing with the children, and serving those around her. It was a happy life, but eventually, the field began to bother her.

It wasn’t a massive place but large enough. It had a forest of thistles that grew over six feet high, and there were large patches of grass, waist-high. The number of nameless weeds that flourished was in the dozens. The ground was littered with the carcasses of all these weeds from a decade at least. Just looking at that field could make one blanch at the thought of entering in and, Heaven forbid, cleaning it up. It was simply overwhelming.

However, one morning as she gazed at the field, she felt in her heart a knowing that she needed to deal with it. She didn’t want it taking over all the work that she had done in her yard. She didn’t want the flowers replaced by thistle trees; the lawn replaced by that waist-high grass. That field produced millions of seeds!

That day she decided to wade in and clean out the mess. At first, she thought she could weed eat it down. She soon discovered that made the lot worse. Weeds and grass littered the ground, hiding the decades of dried debris. The thistle stems just laughed at her puny attempts to slice them down. The woman realized with some trepidation that this was going to be more work than she planned, and she wasn’t sure if it could be done at all.

The next day found her in the field with her gloves on, on her knees. She began pulling the weeds and grass one plant at a time and piling them up behind her as she went. She took a long-handled pruning shear and cut the thistle plants at their base, one by one. At the end of a couple of hours, she had cleared a 4 ft by 4 ft section. “Oh, my goodness,” she thought. “This is going to take all summer.”

She was right. She spent 2-3 hours in that field six days a week for eight months. She took a lot of flak from her neighbors and friends. They said it couldn’t be done. It was a waste of time. It would only grow back. That what she needed was a tractor, but she didn’t have one, and she knew if she did, it would only knock the weeds down and clutter the ground more. In her heart, she knew that she wanted the weeds gone. She wanted the debris gone. She wanted bare ground.

One day a man from church came by with some friends to help her out. Word had gotten out about this crazy project she had going, and although they thought her foolish, they were good men and came to help. They cut down sapling trees; there were groves of them. They cut down the thistles. As they prepared to leave, one said, “I think you’re crazy.” Realizing his words, he stammered, “I don’t mean crazy; it’s just a big job.” The woman replied, “Yes, you meant it. It’s Ok. I know how it looks, but I have to try.” It was like this all summer, the doubts of others, the disbelief, her doubts.

Some days, as she knelt in the field, she wept because it seemed so useless. Even if she did accomplish this monstrous task, how could she keep it cleared the following year? Wouldn’t it just grow back, and the mess would begin again. Weeds do not disappear; they produce thousands of seeds. They are tough, and they return, sometimes with a vengeance.

As she wept, she prayed, and in her mind, she would hear these words, “Take heart, daughter. I am here. I am helping you. You can do this. You were made for this.” So, she kept on. Sometimes it felt as if someone else was helping her pull a stubborn lump of grass or a well-rooted weed. She knew help had come.

Another day she had the thought to use a hoe different than she was used to. She had seen it in her sons-in-law’s shed. It was shaped like a horseshoe, cut the tops off the plants, and dug the roots with a back-and-forth motion. This hoe was so much easier than hacking with a blade.

One morning as she was pulling the grass, she thought, “There has to be a better way. This work is slow going and so hard.” In her mind, she saw a tool. She had seen this tool before, but she hadn’t ever used one. She didn’t know its name. “Hmmm, how interesting.” For the next few weeks, this little scenario would repeat itself. She would ask if there wasn’t a better way, and then she would see that tool in her mind.

Finally, she opened her computer and looked for that tool. She found it, a thatching rake. She bought one that day. The following day, to her astonishment, she could rip weeds and grass out of the ground with far less effort than on her hands and knees. She breathed a sigh of gratitude and relief. She also gave herself a swift kick that she had let so much time go by before investigating and buying the tool.

From then on, things went faster and took less effort. The woman was happy and grateful. Then one day, as she surveyed the field, she realized that she had accumulated over 40 piles of dead weeds and sapling branches. The piles doted the space and were four to five feet high, and some were five feet across. How in the world was she going to clear out all that debris? She realized that she would have to ask the very people who had scoffed all summer, her friends and neighbors. However, being friends and neighbors, they came and helped. Her family helped. They gave up their time and loaded the truck and made many trips to the dump.

The weather began to change. Spring had passed, and summer had gone. The fall was almost over. The woman worried that she wouldn’t finish in time, that the snow would come and cover the remaining piles. But in the end, it all worked out. As the woman stood, her back to the sun and hands on her hips, she surveyed the cleared land. Not a weed in sight. Not a blade of grass. Not a locust sapling. She felt a deep sense of gratitude for the help she had received, both seen and unseen.

During the winter, in the early mornings or late evenings, she would think about the field. She worried, “How can I keep it clear. I cannot do again what I have done. And weeds, well, they grow even under the melting snow.” She worried because she couldn’t let it go back to the way it was. She couldn’t. She had paid a dear price to clear the field. She had fallen backward off a truck, and she would never be quite the same. The eight months of work had taken a toll on her physically. Someone had told her she had aged ten years, and when she looked in the mirror, she knew she had.

As the snow began to melt, her concern grew. She prayed about what to do. There had to be a way. This great work had to matter. It couldn’t just be foolishness on her part, as so many had told her. There had to be a way.

She pondered this often and prayed even more. One day, she had a thought that she knew wasn’t hers because she had been feeling overwhelmed and hopeless in the face of the task before her. “Fifteen minutes. Six days a week, for fifteen minutes.”

Would that really be enough? Could such a great work be maintained in only fifteen minutes a day? But she had been able to do the great work of clearing the field the first time by listening to this kind and gentle voice and so she began that day.

Snow still lay in parts of the field, but where it had melted, the weeds were growing. Somedays, she couldn’t believe it would work because the tiny seedling looked like a carpet in spots. But she was consistent. She spent 15-20 minutes every day beginning in late February.

One day, in mid-May, after she had spent her 15 minutes, she looked around and realized that there wasn’t a weed anywhere. No saplings were growing, and the field was clear. Her work was holding. Neighbors and friends had commented on how great it was not to have a field full of weeds, how nice it all looked. Gratitude filled her heart, and she realized that she had learned valuable lessons from her field.

The Lessons:

• Have faith in yourself; you can figure out hard things
• Don’t listen to those who do not share your vision
• Listen to God. He has a vested interest in your success
• Be willing to do the work even when it is overwhelming and hard
• Ask for resources and then use them
• Remain grateful
• Above all, be consistent

This story is true. The woman is me. Today, May 21, 2021, as I spent my 15 minutes in the field, I had a conversation with God. He let me see that the field was a representation of my life. And so it is. I want to share this conversation with you because it may also be a metaphor for what you are facing.

I always wanted to get married and have a large family. I thought I would like twelve boys. I know, I know, what was I thinking. LOL I married the perfect man. Oh, he wasn’t perfect, but what he brought to the relationship was perfect for me, and I learned a great many lessons as I lived with him.

I enjoyed being a mom, and I liked keeping my home. I did other things outside of my house because I am talented and a leader. I couldn’t help myself. It was a happy life, a good life. But one day, I began to see the weeds. They had been growing for some time, and I just hadn’t paid attention. There were many of them, and they were taking over my family. As I thought about clearing them out, I realized I didn’t know how. I didn’t have tools. It felt so overwhelming. So, I just began metaphorically, on my hands and knees, after some false starts with the weed eater. It was grueling. The weeds just kept growing and getting worse.

I am talking about all the trials my family experienced. From the introduction to my book, Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with your children in five minutes or less –

“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. In fact, in 1996, at the height of our family problems, that is what I wrote under our family photo.

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 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.”

Yes, we had weeds, a field of them. Don and I brought a lot of baggage into our family. It was a bit like that debris of dead weeds in my field. It cumbered the ground and made everything more complicated. We all have baggage. It is inevitable.

But resources did come. Sometimes I wouldn’t pay attention for a time, but then in desperation, I would accept help, good counsel, the right book, etc., and it would make a difference. I would be able to work another thing out.

And we did have to deal with the naysayers. I’ll never forget the day a man, a friend, a spiritual leader for my sons, stood in my kitchen as I shared my hopes for my boys. He laughed and said, “That will never happen!” And the day I sat on the front steps with my ecclesiastical leader. He looked at me with sorrow and said, “I just don’t know what to say.” Or the day that I walked into a room of friends, and the conversation stopped. I knew they had been talking about our family and not kindly.

How do I feel about all these friends and neighbors who thought our field was too messy to conquer? Well, I love them. They were where they were. They had their lessons to learn just as I had mine.

I aged visibly, as did my husband. Those were long, hard years. Our children also paid a price to learn the important lessons. But learn, we all did, and, in the end, it was a price worth paying.

Here is what made the difference.

I NEVER stopped believing that I was made for mothering and that I could do it. I NEVER doubted that I could do hard things. I NEVER gave in to what others believed because of what they could see. I HELD ON to hope because I believed in what I couldn’t see. I LISTENED to my heart and other wise souls. I ALWAYS knew that there was a God and a Christ, and they wanted our success. I KNEW they would never desert us no matter how tall or choking the weeds. I KNEW this with my whole soul. I NEVER stopped trying, even when it appeared that our family couldn’t be fixed. I was WILLING to keep going even when it was hard. I LOOKED for information, help, resources. And finally, I was as CONSISTENT in my efforts as I knew how to be. I got up every day and began again doing the best I could until I had something better. I wanted to heal my family, to pull out the weeds. I wanted us to grow and thrive.

One day, as I sat at the top of the stairs writing in my journal, a habit that saved me many times, I wrote, “What have I done to deserve to be in Hell?” That is how it felt some days. Not because of what was happening, as much as what I feared would happen. But even then, I wrote about how grateful I was, that I wasn’t alone, that I had help. I have learned a great deal more about gratitude since then. Now I would write, “Despite being in Hell, I am grateful because I will learn more than if I spent all of my time in Heaven.”

That has proven to be true. Again, from my book –

“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 are connected and bonded in amazing ways. We look out for one another. The kids support and lean on each other. We’re still a family!

Life isn’t perfect and trouble-free for any of us, but we’re all growing, contributing, and learning. The last four and a half decades have been the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness, the epoch of belief, the epoch of incredulity, a season of Light, a season of Darkness, a spring of hope, and a winter of despair. Family has been all of this for us.”

In my life, I have cleared two fields. One mattered a great deal because lives depended on it. The other matters only because it confirmed all the lessons from the first.

If you are struggling in any way, take this story to heart. Please pay attention to the lessons I have learned and implement them into your situation. If you do, although it may not be perfect, you cannot fail.

You can clear your field!

Self Care – A Bathroom or Not? The Debate Rages On

I have a friend who was also my daughter’s friend in high school. We have known each other for a long time! We talk about stuff – family, running our homes better, being kind, writing, you know, stuff.

Bethany said that she couldn’t understand how you wouldn’t have time for yourself when she was a teen. She couldn’t see the problem. I mean, she had lots of time to do what she wanted to do – take a bath, sit in the sun, read, etc. Even with school and a job, there was time.

Now she has two small children, and she gets it. It makes me laugh because I always say, “You can’t know till you get there!”

One of the tricks I learned decades ago was to turn the bathroom into a refuge. I wasn’t going to get a day or even an hour, but I could read a paragraph or two. Bethany told me that when she read that in my book, she laughed because as a teen, she thought having books and magazines in the bathroom and reading in there was gross! Guess what? The last time we talked, Bethany said that reading in the bathroom is like a resort. You can’t know till you get there. LOL

Another thing I do and have done since I was 15 is lotion my feet every night. It felt good back then, in a home with eight other kids, to sit on my bed, in the quiet darkness and lotion my feet. I suggested it to Bethany, and she reported that it is lovely. She likes how nurturing it feels, and she likes the few moments of quiet aloneness.

A lot has been written about self-care. Recently I saw a headline – Self Care is More than Reading in the Bathroom. I laughed. Reading in the bathroom has been part of my self-care for fifty years. It works. I hope you get away occasionally. I hope you go out to lunch with friends. I hope you take a day off now and then. But I also hope you learn to care for yourself right where you are – in the middle of your busy family.

Four Reasons to care for yourself in the thick of things

There are some stellar reasons to find ways to care for yourself right where you stand, amid family:
• You can remain calmer for more extended periods.
• It facilitates patience and helps us not take our frustration out on our kids.
• It allows us to stay free of resentment, exhaustion or feeling depleted.
• It keeps us healthier.
Self-care benefits not only us but also our whole family. It’s an investment in our family relationships rather than a selfish indulgence.

Here are four ways to care for yourself during your busy, child-filled days and nights. They aren’t new. You have probably heard them said many times. But they work. As you implement them, you will feel better and less stressed. I consider them the best kind of ongoing self-care:

1—TALK NICELY TO YOURSELF
You need to be your own best friend, no matter how you’re doing presently. Best friends speak kindly to each other, are honest, and support one another, even if one of them is floundering. It’s self-care when you treat yourself like your own best friend.

2—SLEEP
Sleep is one of my favorite subjects. I’ve had tons of experience with this one thing! Periodically, 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.” And just as regularly, 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. Years passed, and I got desperate. I asked a final time, but the impression was the same. “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” But this time, I didn’t resist.

Going to bed earlier and getting up earlier is doable! It’s possible even if your kids get up at 5:30. You get up when they do and it is early! You probably won’t have a quiet morning routine alone. These are the hard facts. What will make this trade-off worthwhile is how you’ll feel during the day. You may not get much more alone time, but you’ll find it easier to be with your kids. You’ll find yourself feeling happy more often. You will have more energy and lose your temper less. You’ll like yourself and your children better.

I recommend you begin going to bed at least 30 minutes earlier than you do now, an hour if you can commit to it. Don’t get on the computer or phone after 10 pm. Staying tech-free an hour before bed will absolutely help you get to bed earlier! Some days it just won’t work out but do it as often as you can. Going to bed earlier will change your days! It won’t be easy to make this shift, 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.

3—EAT WELL
Can I say, stop eating over the sink! Stop calling the crusts of your children’s sandwiches lunch. Stop. Make a better choice. Fix your food and sit down with your kids and eat. Have a mini conversation. Laugh a bit. Savor that sandwich. It takes five minutes! Value yourself enough to sit down with a plate and eat even if it is with kids and only for five minutes.

If you work away from home, take a lunch. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but if I can learn it, you can learn it. It’s a decision, and I’ve made it, to care for myself by eating well.

Don’t eat at your computer, either at home or at the office. I know you’re busy, but if you want to feel cared for, leave your desk. Turn on music as you eat. Sit outside if the day is warm. Even the break room and a coworker trump your desk.

Eating well should be at the top of your self-care list. It’s something you can do while in the thick of parenting. Taking time to eat is one way you maintain the energy to do the job you’ve taken on—the job of raising a family.
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4—EXERCISE
Oh man, I don’t like to exercise. I can’t think of any exercise I like except swimming. But that requires a drive in the car and wet hair. Ick! Frankly, I also believed I didn’t have the time. But as I’ve said, when we take full responsibility for our lives, we stop using the time excuse.

I know half a dozen women who walk their kids to school daily. They’re in a big group talking, laughing, and making it work. I can think of another three women who get up early and walk together. They’ve made deals with their husbands to get kids fed so they can have this half-hour before they need to send them out the door to school. They walk five days a week. I recall one mom who did her exercising in front of the TV with a child on her back. You do whatever it takes. : )

None of this is easy. You just need to decide to do it. It’s a choice that, when made, feels nurturing. Talk to your spouse. What can you do? How can you make it work? Now do it.

Daily Self-Care

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 plain and straightforward 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. When you’re on the edge of losing your temper, getting irritable, or feeling resentful, ask yourself what you need to stay in control. Pay attention to yourself.

One of my oldest friends had licorice drops hidden in a drawer. When she needed a break, she would sneak to her room, grab a licorice drop, and then head back into the fray with a smile on her face. Hey, you do whatever it takes. : )

Do something that will feel nurturing to you. Give yourself space to get it together. When you pay attention to how you’re feeling, to what’s happening in your body, that’s self-care. You can do this while you’re in the thick of parenting.

When you care for yourself, you care for your family. Share the truth with someone you care about.

It Isn’t Enough to be Inspired!

Inspired to What End?

One day, after church, 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.

Over the years, I have read many books, articles and attended events that have inspired me. Just as often, I have let that inspiration lay dormant until it died away. I watch this happen to others. It’s sad because we desire to grow, change, and create. That is how we were made, and when inspired, these desires roar to life.

Why do we so often let inspiration to change and grow, die?

Why aren’t we moved to action and then achieve results? I can only speak from my own experience, but it has been extensive on both sides of this coin.

There are so many things that I am inspired to do or change that I burn out.
I hurry home and begin tearing my life’s fabric apart to insert this system or that program or a new way of managing. Then what happens? In a couple of weeks or a month, maybe two, I’ve quit. I’m back to being and doing what I did before. I’m burnt out.

• I feel that I must do some BIG thing to have any real impact.

• I am inconsistent, and when I don’t see the results I want as quickly as I want, it is easy to quit.

• I let myself get distracted by the many other pressing issues of my daily life. I get up every day determined to put my one step into action, but there are kids to chauffeur, food to cook, dishes to do, and I have a job. It sucks up the time until there is nothing left, and the one-step is on hold.

Those are not all the reasons inspiration dies, but they are right up there at the top of the list. Here is what I have learned to do when I am inspired and want to see results.

Nine Ways to Achieve Results

1. PICK ONE thing that you will work on out of all that has inspired you, just one thing.
The workbook that accompanies Becoming a Present Parent helps readers distill the entire book down to one thing. That is key—only ONE thing. Ask, “What’s the one best thing I should work on first”—what is the one thing you feel you need to do?

2. BREAK what you want into smaller steps.
We need to isolate one small thing that we can implement to move us in the direction we want to go. When we multiply small amounts of time consistently, we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change our part of the world.

Whenever you hear that a person has achieved an extraordinary goal, rarely, if ever, are you told the process they used—that is, the everyday actions they took consistently. You only hear about the outcome. So, begin with one small step.

3. COMMIT to being consistent for as long as it takes.
Some of our family goals will take many years to come to fruition, as will many of our personal goals. “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses – only results.”—Kenneth H. Blanchard

4. REMEMBER being consistent is not the same as being perfect.
James Clear reported in the magazine Entrepreneur that research shows, regardless of the habit you’re working to build or change, the character trait you want to develop, or the family culture you’re working on, missing a single day has no measurable impact on your long-term success. He wrote, “Daily failures are like red lights during a road trip. When you’re driving a car, you’ll come to a red light every now and then. But if you maintain a good average speed, you’ll always make it to your destination despite the stops and delays along the way.” Change takes time. Growth takes time. Perfect is not the goal; progress is!

5. Make space.
Create a system for getting your small step done each day. For example, every day, I make my bed immediately upon arising. Sometimes I can only make my half. But I do it every day. It isn’t about the bed. It is one of the steps I take daily to practice consistency and make space. Then while in the bathroom first thing in the morning, I pray. If I leave the bathroom, I may not get to it because life has a way of interfering. Determine how you can fit your one step into your life every day and then keep that commitment. When I was working on controlling my temper many years ago, I had to create space for reflection, make time to get help from others who had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and find ways to nurture myself as I did the work. Whatever your one-step, make space to do it every day.

6. KEEP your word.
Do what you’ve decided to do. Be as consistent as possible. No matter how long it takes, don’t quit. Keep your word to yourself!

Keeping your word is essential. The more you do it, the more you learn to trust yourself, others begin to trust you, and it builds trust with your children. When your kids see you being consistent for as long as it takes, it tells them, “You can trust me!”

8. FOCUS on today—it’s all you have to work with.
As you focus on one day at a time, you will be able to persevere. Do your best today. If
you don’t do well today, then when tomorrow is today, begin again. Once today is yesterday, let it go! Don’t quit!

9. BELIEVE the result will be exponential growth.
When you make a change, create something new, or adjust your way of being, it has a domino effect in your life and other things that matter to you, that you aren’t focusing on, begin to change. Even though you are only working on one thing at a time, taking one small step at a time, hold in your mind that more than one item will set itself right in your life. I know this is true because I have experienced it.

As you work on the one best thing, as you move forward one small step at a time, and as you commit to making space for this step in your life and then remain consistent, you will be amazed at the marvelous things you can accomplish.

Let those who matter to you know that you can move from inspiration, to commitment, to results.

My Magnificent Gift

I received a gift on my Birthday

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, STOPwords 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!

NO ONE has ever called me optimistic

I come from an extended family of

complainers and criticizers.

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.

Stay tuned.

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!

Simple Isn’t Always Easy

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!

It’s FREE

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 four of 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 – Part 2, Ten Tools to Greater Gratitude

Gratitude begins with attitude.

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
infinite Atonement.
• 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.

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. 

Blessed are Your Eyes for they See – My Brothers Death

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