Category: Mary Ann Johnson

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

I Needed Closure

I had a remarkable thing happen this summer.

Two years ago was my 50th high school reunion. I didn’t go. Our family was moving into a new home. The reunion was in Greeley, Colorado, a whole different state. I only went to Greeley West High School for my senior year, and I never really connected. I had friends and was involved on the school radio, worked on the yearbook, did a couple of plays, etc. I was involved but hovered in the background. Just my face in the yearbook.

I was voted “most typical girl”. I was anything but typical. I was religious, which most of my friends admired but weren’t. I was not fond of dating, and the girls in my group were homecoming queens and cheerleaders. I didn’t drink or smoke or cruse. I read a lot. My friends thought I was a bit of a geek. I didn’t feel popular in the typical sense of the word, but I was popular. I knew everyone, and they knew me. I was well-liked.

Nevertheless, I didn’t feel connected to the school or the people. That Fall, I went off to college, and true to my family’s style, they moved to Wyoming a year later. I never saw any of those school friends again. It was before computers and social media, so the tie was severed.

This summer, I received an email with the link to a video made to celebrate our 50th reunion, two years late. They had some technical difficulties during the class reunion and had to begin again from scratch. I was interested in watching to remind myself what it was like fifty years ago and to see how my friends had aged. Most of the video was of newspaper clippings, music, and events that defined 1968. There were no clips from the actual reunion. Then, close to the end, I began to see photographs of the young people I went to school with. I recognized them all: the cheerleaders, the prom queen, football players, my friends. The photos came from the newspaper and yearbook. But I hadn’t been featured in photographs of groups or activities in the school newspaper and had very few pictures in the yearbook.

As I watched, a feeling of nostalgia come over me. Not for the time itself. I wasn’t fond of the ’60s. Not for the people because we hadn’t been lasting friends. Just school mates. But I felt a desperate need to see myself as part of that time and those people. I needed a closure I hadn’t even been aware of. I knew the chance was next to nothing, but I needed to see myself there, to feel a connection to my youth and my Senior year.

I said a prayer in my heart. “Please, Heavenly Father, I need to see myself. Let me be in a picture in this video.” I knew it was silly. This video had been made over a two-year period. How could saying a prayer now make a bit of difference?

Then it happened. Probably the only other photo of me besides my yearbook photo flashed on the screen. I had forgotten this photo even existed. It was on my graduation day. There I was in the center of a picture of the graduating class. I had to replay it a few times to convince myself that it was me. I hadn’t seen that photo in over fifty years.

How does something like this happen? How does God know in advance what we are going to desperately need in the future? I don’t know, but I know he does. I know he loves me, and he knew I needed closure to that time in my life.

Writing these months later still brings tears to my eyes. I know that no matter our difficulty or genuine need, the resources, people, and help will show up if we ask for it. I have experienced this over and over in my life. I was a mom making lots of mistakes. I faced hardships and trials I was ill-prepared to handle. But, over time, as I asked and searched, and stayed the course, what I needed came. I learned, changed, and grew. You can too.

Miracles are wonderful! God is good!!

I’d love to hear your miracles. 

Uncertainty. That’s the word – And it is good

I thought I would get through this pandemic and never write about it. After all, it’s all you hear about, and I am a bit sick of hearing about it. But I woke up this morning at 3 am, and I was horrified to find that I was writing about the pandemic in my mind. I lay there, wanting to go back to sleep, but I kept thinking of what I would say.

So here I am at 3:24 doing what I have been avoiding. One reason I wouldn’t write about it is that as hard as I have tried, I haven’t been able to come up with a word for how I feel. I was sitting at my desk yesterday trying to describe how I felt to an old friend. I’m not afraid or worried. I’m not angry. I’m not even bored. Quite the opposite. I feel inundated, at times, with all that must be managed in a house of nine people, that span four different generations – and no one can leave!

But there is a feeling that I can’t name. I’ve been giving this considerable thought because I want a word for it. I feel the need to name it. 

Is it a lack of freedom?

Although many things have changed, I can still get in the car clothed in rubber gloves and mask and pick up food or medication. If we get stir crazy, even though public places are closed, we can drive around the lake or visit the mountains, as long as the ride isn’t too long, and we don’t need a bathroom. 

Is it a lack of choice?

When I got up a couple of mornings ago, I asked myself, “What would you like for breakfast.” Into my mind came several ideas about what I could eat. It felt pleasurable deciding. And the night before, as I got into the shower, I remembered thinking, “How do I feel tonight. Do I want a warm shower or a hot one?” These two events had me journaling about the huge array of choices I have every day and how wonderful it is to choose. Even now, when things are restricted, I have room for choice.

Is it the change in routine?

That has certainly happened to me. I’m self-employed. I care for people and their homes, most of them old. I run errands, work in the yard and clean. I’ve been doing this for over a decade. My clients have become my friends.

Now my focus has shifted to home – our yard, our house, our needs. But aside from not making the significant drive to Salt Lake City not much is different. I still get up early. I still care for the needs of many people, and if I include myself, three of them are old. LOL 

So, what is it, this unnamed feeling

that unsettles me, that sits on my shoulders like a heaviness, but not fear? A couple of days ago I read a post that a friend sent to me and I think it speaks to the unnamed feeling I have been trying to decipher. 

As far as I could discover it was written by  Sherrie Eichmeier Reynolds and posted on a Facebook page titled Worldwide Inspiration. I have included some comments by readers in parenthesis, have shortened places and made some slight changes. It concerns the Bible and the number 40 and some beautiful sentiments on Christ. But I’m not sharing it for religious reasons. I’m sharing it because it speaks to the unnamed feeling I have. You can read the whole thing as written HERE. 

“The Latin root of the word “quarantine” is “forty.” What does the Bible say about 40?

“The flood lasted 40 days. For 40 years Moses fled Egypt. For 40 days Moses stayed on Mount Sinai to receive the Commandments. The Exodus lasted 40 years. Jesus fasted for 40 days. Lent is 40 days. There were a required 40 days for a woman to rest after giving birth. (In the old days, when ships arrived from foreign lands if there were any sick passengers aboard, the whole ship was placed on quarantine -40 days- to make sure they weren’t going to spread anything to the local population.)

“A group of theologians thinks the number 40 represents “change.” It is the time of preparing a person, or people, to make a fundamental change.”

And there it is, the name for what I have been feeling – uncertainty and change.

When this is all over, I will be different. My neighbors will be different. My state, my country, and the world will be different. We will be changed. The future is uncertain. My next move is uncertain. 

I moved a lot as a kid and it always left me feeling uncertain. But as I consider uncertainty from the distance of seven decades, I see how this word and the attendant feelings have propelled me forward. It has moved me to new ways of being and understanding as I grappled with what I didn’t yet know. 

I am confident that in the end, it will have been good, and I will have grown. I am confident because I have learned to sit with the discomfort of uncertainty. You have probably heard some version of this – the only certainty is uncertainty. It’s a reality, and it helps us grow.

I won’t bother to tell you how to sit with uncertainty. There are a plethora of articles online. Just know that in seven decades I have lived through many uncertain times, some far more frightening than this. During this one, I’ve been re-evaluating. I’ve been making some adjustments in how I think, work, study, read, and spend my time. I know I have been growing. 

So, for now, I’m going to sit comfortably at this time of uncertainty, and I hope it will be the same for you. 

Thank you for sharing. I am grateful and so are your friends.

Sixty-Eight Thanksgivings and Counting!

In two months I will be sixty-nine years old and my husband will be seventy. I contemplate that and I am amazed and astonished. It makes me smile with pure joy. Can you even imagine such a thing; to live this long! What an amazing thing to accomplish!

Next week is Thanksgiving. My sweet husband will be hovering around me like a moth, giving me little kisses, hugs, and small touches as I make the pies. That is a tradition

SWEET SWEET PIES

Back when we had just ourselves and our seven children we had at least 2 pumpkin, 1 cherry, 1 apple, and a lemon meringue but as we added spouses it grew to include 3 pumpkin, 2 cherry, 2 apple, the lemon meringue, a pecan, and a chocolate cream.

This year as I bake I will be thinking about past Thanksgiving days while we were raising seven children. I realize that this year is decidedly different. Past days were about family being together, having enough food, laughing and feeding pie to the neighbor kids and those brought home from college.

This year there is a new feeling. Don and I are both feeling the magnitude of what we have created in our almost seventy years.

When we married we were 21 and 22 years old; fresh, innocent, foolish, full of wonder at each other and the possibilities of life. At just shy of seventy we are no longer fresh, innocent and hopefully not as foolish, but I think we are still full of wonder at each other and the possibilities of our life together.

Can you imagine how it feels for us when we are with our family? As we look over our seven children and see wonderful, well adjusted, kind, loyal and intelligent adults it is remarkable. And now we have a bevy of spouses.

Added to our children and their spouses are thirteen grandchildren. They are all still fresh, innocent and full of the wonder at the possibilities of their lives. They are young, only three have passed eighteen.

When Don and I are in our mid-seventies, just a mere six years from now some great-grandchildren will most assuredly have been added. Can you imagine how that will feel? We are filling the world with beauty, loyalty, and kindness, it is our greatest achievement. This year we see it clearly, through older eyes and we can barely contain the joy of it all.

Family, it is the height of what we create in this world, the only truly enduring thing, that which should consume our most treasured hours. Parenting is a big job. It can feel overwhelming and can often feel as if we are failing. But there are some simple adjustments in our thinking which can help us use the time we do have with our children to better advantage so that our relationships are stronger and sweeter.

 

All We Have Are The Relationships

We Have Forged

As I eat Thanksgiving pie this year they will be sweeter than ever before. Despite the difficulties of raising a family, learning to parent, learning to be a good spouse, making a living and all the rest I am content and I thank Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ that I have been so richly blessed.

At the end of the day, all we have are the relationships that we have forged –healthy or unhealthy, strong or weak, good or bad. This is especially important to remember when building our family relationships. Simple things, done consistently over time, lead to amazing success in the home.

Here’s wishing you a very wonderful holiday season. And I hope you will take a bit of time to learn how to strengthen your family relationships without breaking your time bank. Get your free chapter HERE.

Your shares are the greatest compliment. : )

You NEED a Short R&R List!

My sister is a very over-worked school teacher! The other day she was lamenting how hard it was to find time to relax and rest. She is at school from 7:30 until four thirty and sometimes later. Then there are papers to grade and she still has a family to feed and a home to run. A few weeks ago she asked me how I find time for R&R. I may not be an overworked school teacher but I have a job, I write, run an online business, do personal mentoring, manage a household and live with grandchildren. I understand and live the difficulty she was asking me to address.

So I gave her my short R&R list:  I take a shower every evening just before I go to bed and put lotion on my feet. I told you the list was short.

I’m on the far right, back row and 16 years old.

I began this little ritual when I was sixteen years old. I worked at my dad’s drive-in restaurant after school and on Saturdays, went to public school every weekday, had loads of homework, and was very busy in my church. Oh yes, did I mention I was the oldest of nine children at the time and trust me that comes with a large share of work and responsibility. Some days it was almost impossible to find time to rest and relax…if you could even find a private or quiet space in our home to rest and relax in.

So I began taking a bath and putting lotion on my feet each evening after the littler kids were in bed. It was wonderful and my parents, sensing my need, didn’t give me grief about water (a precious commodity in an 11 person household) or for tying up the bathroom.

Once I began I never stopped. It doesn’t matter how tired I am, how much is still left to do or how late it is. I always give myself this one thing even if I can’t give myself anything else.

I’m sharing this because my sister was surprised that I put taking a shower on my R&R list. I mean it’s a very plain, everyday, ordinary thing that most people do. Right? Here is the difference. I do it for the express purpose of caring for myself and so it doesn’t feel ordinary or everyday to me. It feels loving.

And therein lies part of the problem when we work to carve out some rest, relaxation or alone time for ourselves in a family. Many people look for something out of the ordinary – going to a movie, a few days away, a date, etc. They look for something that gets them away from home and responsibility, kids and noise.

But as I have said before, if we think of taking care of ourselves as being child-free, away from home, in quiet, then most of us are going to get precious little of it.

How can we care for ourselves right where we are, in the thick of parenting? We need to get creative and we need to manage our story about what is required to care for self.

One of my good friends had a unique solution. She had a treat box, up high, which no one knew about. When she needed a break or the feeling of being cared for she would go to her room, take down the box and have a handful of licorice bits, one of her favorite treats. It took only a few moments. She smiled when she told me about it. It gave her real pleasure to have this little secret, this small piece of R&R.

Here are a few other things that I do to care for myself:

The bathroom is on my self-care list

1. I read in the bathroom. I don’t know about you but I know I am going to be in that room at least three times a day. And right next to the toilet is a large basket of books and magazines. I may only get to read one or two paragraphs before someone knocks on the door but I love those few moments of reading. It feels restful, rejuvenating and makes me smile.

2. I sit down and shell peanuts. It gives me a reason to stop what I am doing and sit for a few moments as well as have a treat. Most of the time, I have grandkids shelling right along with me. You might think that that would negate the feeling of self-care but it doesn’t because I know I am deliberately allowing myself to sit and rest and have a treat. It feels like self-care because I have decided it is – kids or no kids.

3. I also crochet. It’s calming to me. I can do it without thinking. Noisy kids and chaos don’t matter. It’s relaxing in the midst of family. When I engage in this activity, I know I am caring for myself because I am sitting down and doing something that I enjoy. I don’t usually get more than 10-15 minutes but it’s enough. Quiet and aloneness aren’t required.

Here is what I hope you are beginning to understand:

  • Being alone and in quiet are not always required to feel that you are caring for yourself
  • Self-care can be ordinary, nothing special
  • Self-care doesn’t have to cost anything and can happen right where you are, in the midst of family
  • The story we tell ourselves goes a long way to making an activity feel like self-care

I hope you get away now and then. But even more, I hope you will begin practicing self-care right where you are. Write down your own short list. Then be consistent in doing the few things you have written down. It doesn’t have to be every day, like a shower/ bath but they all need to be things that you can do at the drop of a hat, even with your family all around you.

As you practice you will find it easier to be patient, you will feel less resentment and you will have happier days.

Here’s to more joy,
Mary Ann

??? What do you do when you want to care for yourself and you have huge responsibilities, loads of work or very little time? What do you do when you want to care for yourself and you have a house full of children? I would love to know and so would my readers. We could all use suggestions. Please leave a comment and share what has worked for you.

I WILL BE SPEAKING at the Winter Homeschool Conference on January 27, 2018, in Layton, Utah. This conference is designed to support and rejuvenate home educating parents who want to thrive, not just survive the homeschooling experience. You don’t have to be currently homeschooling to attend! I will be speaking on Process vs Outcome. Knowing the Difference Can Change Your Family. If the topic resonates with you I would love to have you join me.

P.S. You can learn more about seven ways to get better self-care in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. Knowing the difference will help you let it be enough. You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection rather than having points of contention, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com It can be life-changing for your family. I promise!

WHY DID YOU WRITE IT?

I had a friend ask me a very interesting question the other day. “Did you write your book because you had troubles in your own family?” That was a fair question but the answer was NO. That isn’t why I wrote it.

I raised seven beautiful, gifted and loving children. We lived most of those child-rearing years in a very small town in Montana. However, when we had only one child left at home we moved to Utah.

In Utah, I met many parents from the homeschool community because my daughter was planning on homeschooling. I really enjoyed the associations as I had also homeschooled my two youngest children for a few years. I began attending conferences, talking with others and reading about homeschool topics.

One day I read about putting school supplies into a closet and then using the contents to get kids really excited about learning. I liked the idea. My oldest daughter reminded me that we had used something like this all her growing up years. It was familiar to me and I loved the concept. So I started talking about it with everyone.

The Puzzle that Led to the Book

Here is what I discovered – as wonderful as the concept was it wasn’t working for most families. That puzzled me. So I started watching what parents were doing and I came up with some principles that made the concept work. I asked five families to test out my theory and then I increased it to seventy families. The principles worked.

The first time I taught a class on the Spark Station, the name I gave this learning tool, there was standing room only. There was a lot of interest in a tool that could help kids love learning.

The Shift

I spent the next few years teaching parents all over the country how to use the Spark Station and the principles. In the process, I discovered that these were life principles. They didn’t just make the Spark Station work better, when implemented they made life work better. They helped parents do their job better. That was the first shift.

Then I realized that the Spark Station wasn’t just a tool to inspire kids to learn. I began to see that it was a way for parents to connect with their children, to be Present with them . That was the second shift.

I was fascinated with this idea of being Present despite the business of life. So I began working with families. I discovered ways to help parents utilize what was already happening in their homes to connect daily with their kids. I helped them hone skills that made it easier to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ their kids. I began teaching the difference between kids and adults and how they approach life. I helped parents spend less time in management and more time in relationship building. I wrote over 400 articles on these topics.

The Result

I received so many emails from people who had attended classes, workshops, webinars, and presentations saying that this information was life changing for them. I knew there had to be a way to broaden the audience and touch more families. That is how the book was born.

I was able to reach back into my own parenting and compare what I knew and did then with what I know and I teach now and that has been very helpful. But it was the results of families just like your family that moved me in the direction of a book.

This book can be life changing for any parent and for anyone who wants to have better relationships. I hope you read it and then let me know how it impacts your family. I want to hear from you!

“Being a single woman, without children, I wasn’t sure what value this book would have for me. It impacted me greatly! I have set a goal to re-read it every few years. It’s not just a book about being a Present parent. It’s a book about being a Present person. Jenny Johnson, M.A., CCC-SLP

Every family, every person must read it ASAP in order to find presence in life, not just with children, but with all relationships.  I have enjoyed it profoundly… Jason Hewlett, Dad and Speaker 

I’m not much of a reader. Unless a book catches my attention within the first few pages, I seldom read it all the way through. This book not only drew me in from the beginning but I finally had to make myself stop reading and go to bed. “Becoming a Present Parent” will be one of those life-changing books for parents and for anyone who wants to have an amazing relationship with child. Well worth the read. Cindy Winward, Mother of four grown children and mentor at Midwives College of Utah

MaryAnn is a master at helping you become a more present parent.  Each chapter is filled with actionable insight and real-life steps in helping you stay “checked in” with your children, a difficult thing in this distracting world.  I love how Mary Ann teaches us how to truly connect with our children. Ann Webb, Humanitarian, Author and Founder of Ideal LifeVision

You may read Becoming a Present Parent all the way through one time. But then you’ll come back to it time and again to refresh on certain topics at the very time you need them. My guess is your copy will become dog-eared and marked up, and will become like a comfortable friend. Norma Jean Lutz, Author, Speaker, Editor, Novel Critique Consultant, Ghostwriter