If I can just TG

You’ve heard about TGIF right…thank God it’s Friday?  Consider if you will…what if you just stopped at the thank God part?  Recently I was asked to give a talk (think sermon) in Sacrament Meeting (our “all congregational” meeting).  A conversation with my niece tonight made me decided to put that talk here in hopes it will help her…maybe it will help you too.

Good Morning Brothers and Sisters!  For those of you that haven’t read your bulletin or who didn’t pay attention to Brother Wade, I’m Sister Faith Freeman and though we’ve settled into Woodland 1st quite nicely, I guess I am still in the “new in the ward” category since my family and I have only been here 2.5 months.  To give you a little information about me, I’m a single parent (though hopefully that part will be changing soon) and have the best three kids this ward has to offer, I’m a full-time student about to finish my bachelor’s degree in graphic design and am the “pioneer” so-to-speak in my family because only my children and I are members.

Unlike most everyone else that gets up to this pulpit, giving a talk in Sacrament Meeting doesn’t at all make me nervous and yet this is only the 2nd time I’ve done it in more than 20 years of church membership.  But then again, I did letter in public speaking and debate in high school so that might have something to do with it.

At any rate, while on my way into the chapel last week for services, Brother Wade handed me a talk and I’m pretty sure it was me who responded with something like “oh so does this mean you’d like me to speak next week” and we both chuckled.

That talk is from the May 2014 General Conference session and is called Grateful in Any Circumstances given by President Uchtdorf.  Kind of fitting given my current situation don’t ya think?  President Uchtdorf is one of my favorite General Authorities and every time he speaks I am convinced he’s speaking exclusively to me.  This talk was no different and while it’s absolutely worth reading in its entirety, I want to hit on a few of the statements he made that were kinda like a kidney punch for me and then I’ll tell you a little bit about what I’ve learned personally from choosing to be grateful no matter what.

President Uchtdorf says “sooner or later, I believe that all of us experience times when the very fabric of our world tears at the seams, leaving us feeling alone, frustrated, and adrift. It can happen to anyone. No one is immune.  But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding.”  He later goes on to explain that there’s a different between being grateful for things and being grateful in things.  He says “perhaps focusing on what we are grateful for is the wrong approach. It is difficult to develop a spirit of gratitude if our thankfulness is only proportional to the number of blessings we can count. It is easy to be grateful for things when life seems to be going our way. But what then of those times when what we wish for seems to be far out of reach? Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be.”

I first learned about being grateful in any circumstance on accident back in 2008.  My children and I had just moved cross country and endured what were without a doubt the most difficult circumstances I had ever encountered up to that point.  We moved to Ohio to be near my biological father’s side of the family, but since I wasn’t raised with them, I barely knew them and we were essentially on our own.  Life initially was extremely difficult and I had to make a deliberate conscious choice to find things to be grateful for each and every day or I would have been swallowed whole by loneliness and despair.  You should have seen the things I was grateful for initially…looking back so many of the things I was grateful for were pretty shallow now but we can’t all be deep and profound all the time right?  I also worked hard to make sure I was finding new things to be grateful for every day.  Some of the things I remember making the list were things like air conditioning, flowers, chocolate, care packages containing diet Pepsi lime…at the time it was my favorite drink and I couldn’t buy it anywhere in Ohio, and public school.  I was thankful for public school a lot actually.

What I didn’t know until preparing to give this talk was that choosing to find things to be grateful for every day when life was really hard in time would allowed me to cultivate a grateful heart no matter what.  A character trait I would need for the season of life I’m now in.

Over and over when people heard what brought me to Ohio I heard all kinds of things like what my ex-husband deserved to have happen, and how justified I was to feel hurt or angry or vengeful, how horrible my experience was and whatever else.  Initially I did feel hurt and angry and scared and frustrated and worried and countless other things but then I realized how much power I was giving away to man who didn’t know where I was, who didn’t have any way to reach me, and who never really cared in the first place.  It was time to shift my focal point and this is when I started looking for things to be grateful for.  By diligently seeking things to be grateful for each and every day no matter what, I became a grateful person.

In time, I was able to write a letter to my ex-husband that I posted on my blog many years ago…I want to share part of it with you because it details many things I am still grateful to my ex-husband for:

I should hate you. Nobody I know, except maybe your mom and family, would blame me for hating you. Heck a few people even actually encourage me to do it and yet I don’t. Instead I’m grateful to you. I know, it’s a strange concept considering how abusive you were, but really I am thankful beyond words for you.

Thank you first and foremost for my children. They are one of the two things that matter most to me in this world and I’d be lost without them. The sweetest sound in the world is that of them calling “mommy” and the best feeling I’ve ever known is that of their arms wrapped around me tightly along with the feel of their lips on my cheek. I owe that sound and feeling to you, thank you.

I’m grateful you were selfish. It allowed me to be selfless. When you put yourself first, it required me to put myself last. I learned how to go without the things I wanted so I could give our children what they needed. I also learned that “stuff” really isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.

Now that I don’t have to live with your rage, I find myself thankful for it. I no longer have to look at our precious children bruised and battered and demand to know what you’ve done. In fact, I’ve enjoyed a peaceful home for over a year now. One in which there are no fist/feet holes in the walls, no jugs of syrup thrown through the walls, no deliberately broken toys, no flying watermelon, and no interior doors treated like punching bags. If it wasn’t for living with your rage, I might not appreciate all of those things the way I do now, so again I thank you.

I am grateful for your lack of faith in my God. It’s allowed me to realize exactly how important my faith in Him is. I am grateful that you never lived worthy of taking me to the temple, despite being baptized and ordained to the priesthood. Your failure to do so ensures I will have no problems being sealed for time and all eternity to a worthy mate in the future. Your lack of faith in my God makes me appreciate this feature in others more than ever before.

I’ve learned to be grateful for your refusal to pay the full court ordered support. When you don’t, it often requires me to ask others for help. In asking for help, I’ve learned how to be a little more humble and countless others have been blessed for their service to our children and I. I am also grateful to you for this because it fuels my desire to work even harder to provide for our children. 

I am also grateful to you for being essentially none of what I wanted and needed in a spouse and too little of what I did. I settled on or for you and my experience with you has taught me not to EVER do it again. Your failure to be who I used to believe you could be, let alone who I wanted you to be, has allowed me to realize I am valuable and don’t have to settle for anyone who can’t see that.

Preparing for this talk and looking back on all the things both good and bad that have happened to me has given me a chance to think about was I grateful for things, or truly grateful in things and though I’ve still got a ways to go, I think I can honestly say I’m at a point where I find myself more often than not grateful IN things.

Adversity is inevitable and I genuinely believe our attitude during tough times is a critical component in enduring it well.  The better our attitude, the easier the adversity is to deal with.  When we choose to be grateful in things, it brings us closer to the Savior.  President Uchtdorf says “Gratitude is a catalyst to all Christ-like attributes! A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues. The Lord has given us His promise that those “who [receive] all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto [them], even an hundred fold, yea, more.”  He goes on to say we can choose to be grateful, no matter what. “This type of gratitude transcends whatever is happening around us. It surpasses disappointment, discouragement, and despair. It blooms just as beautifully in the icy landscape of winter as it does in the pleasant warmth of summer. When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven’s embrace. We sometimes think that being grateful is what we do after our problems are solved, but how terribly shortsighted that is. How much of life do we miss by waiting to see the rainbow before thanking God that there is rain? Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances. It does mean that through the eyes of faith we look beyond our present-day challenges. This is not a gratitude of the lips but of the soul. It is a gratitude that heals the heart and expands the mind.”

Personally, I’m still waiting for the “an hundred fold, yea, more” part that President Uchtdorf spoke about but here’s what I’ve learned by being grateful in my circumstances, no matter how difficult they may be.

  1. I’ve learned that Heavenly Father knows my name, He knows my needs, and He will meet them.
  2. I’ve learned that no matter how bad I think my situation is, someone always has it worse.
  3. I’ve learned that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be.
  4. I’ve learned first-hand the difference between being grateful for things and grateful in things and that difference has made all the difference in my life.
  5. I have learned to have or find peace in any circumstance.
  6. I’ve learned that things aren’t the most important things anyway.
  7. I’ve learned that Heavenly Father’s timing is always far better than my own.
  8. I’ve learned that there is always something to be grateful for no matter what.

Lemme just say that again…when you learn to have a grateful spirit, when you chose to be grateful in things instead of for things, you will ALWAYS find something to be grateful for no matter how difficult the situation may be.

  1. I’ve learned that gratitude is contagious. When we choose to be grateful in our circumstances no matter what, those around us instantly become grateful too.
  2. I’ve learned that the more grateful I am, the happier I am.

President Uchtdorf says “being grateful in our circumstances is an act of faith in God. It requires that we trust God and hope for things we may not see but which are true. By being grateful, we follow the example of our beloved Savior, who said, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will.”

When it comes to the trials I’ve had to face, there’s a lot I don’t understand.  I don’t understand why I’ve had so many really hard ones and other people I know seem to have really small ones in comparison.  I don’t understand why these huge trials I have come back to back to back, last as long as they do, or continue to come despite my best efforts.  When your life is plagued with epic trials like mine, it is often difficult to be of good cheer but being grateful in things honestly does make a difference.  I believe that the reason I have been blessed the way that I have is largely dependent on having learned to be grateful in all things.  Not just the good things, not just the ok things, not just the moderately bad things, not just in the things I like, but in ALL things good, bad or ugly.

President Uchtdorf concludes his talk saying “how blessed we are if we recognize God’s handiwork in the marvelous tapestry of life. Gratitude to our Father in Heaven broadens our perception and clears our vision. It inspires humility and fosters empathy toward our fellowmen and all of God’s creation. May we “live in thanksgiving daily”—especially during the seemingly unexplainable endings that are part of mortality. May we allow our souls to expand in thankfulness toward our merciful Heavenly Father. May we ever and constantly raise our voices and show by word and deed our gratitude to our Father in Heaven and to His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.” And it is my testimony that if we do this, we can count on the same experience happening to us that happened to Alma in Mosiah 24:15 “And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”

Being grateful in all things hasn’t really changed any the trials I’m presently in the thick of.  I still hate most of the things that make up my daily existence and life is still difficult.  There are often days I just don’t think I can do this one more second let alone one more minute or hour or day and then Sister Davis shows up with fresh baked cookies or cheesecake or Brother Crawford shows up with wood or propane or extension cords or Sister Harper shows up with a meal or comes and gets us and takes us out to dinner just because, or Brother Shaw is hugging me and telling me how wonderful my children are or Sister Crawford is sharing with me what an amazing Home Teacher my son is or my boyfriend calls me to tell me he wants to come to church with us today so he can hear me give this talk or, or or…These are the kinds of blessings that are mine to enjoy despite this difficult circumstance because I chose to be grateful in things instead of for things.  By doing so, I can see God’s hand at work in my life despite the circumstance and that allows me to continue to face each day with more resolve knowing it won’t be like this forever. May we all seek to develop a perpetual state of gratitude in things instead of for things is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Winds of Change

As a parent, I’m entitled to not only personal revelation, but any revelation I want or need to help me with those I’m a steward over.  In short, as the head of the household I’m entitled to personal revelation for my family.  Likewise, as the head of the Ward family, the Bishop is entitled to revelation for the ward.

The Friday before I was due to move to Cougar, I received the most interesting voice mail.  It went on about how Bishop Heath (my new Bishop) had instructed this person to get us in a closer park, to do it immediately, and to do whatever it took to get us there.  When I called back, the High Priest Group Leader informed me what he already had paperwork for me and could come get me so I could see the place and fill out the paperwork and twenty minutes later I was on my way.  The new park has laundry facilities on-site, is 5 miles from the highway/town, there are members within walking distance and it even comes with a pool.  This guy and his wife even took me to the Cougar park to get my deposit back and everything.

As we’re driving up to Cougar he assures me that the new ward will love on me extra good and I proudly boast what big shoes they have to fill because my beloved 7th Ward is affectionately nick named 7th Heaven.  He insists they are up to the challenge and he was right.

Since arriving in my new spot, I’ve been loved on very good.  I’ve met so many people I can’t remember everyone (and I’m good with names and faces) and we’ve been very warmly received.  We’ve attended church here almost a month now (well Miss Ella and I have anyway) and as difficult as it is for me to ask, each time we have a need and I’m willing to humble myself enough to ask, that need is always met.

Our place within the new RV park is prime real estate let me tell you.  We only have neighbors on one side and we have the biggest yard (or pretty close to it) in the entire place.  Oh and let’s not forget this view…

Gorgeous isn’t it?  Go ahead be jealous…

Camp life is physically a lot harder than apartment/city living is.  Having to dispose of the dirt you’ve acquired after digging out a fire pit is no joke.  Building fires daily is also tougher than flipping the switch on the gas fireplace we had in our apartment.  Additional chores include things like stacking wood, dumping gray and black water, doing dishes without using a sink, cooking over a fire pit with no grill, shaking out rugs and sweeping several times a day, and countless other things.  We also have to do chores two or three times a day if we’d like to keep our spot looking spiffy.  Then there’s going to the bathroom to shower and do hair and makeup…talk about a workout sometimes (uphill carrying all your stuff).  Despite being physically harder, we lead a much simpler life and I have now heard every one of my kids say that this new way of living is not as bad as they thought it would be and they actually do like the simplicity of it.

We’ve survived our first major rain storm (though we do need to get our trailer tarped before the next major rains come), we’ve been able to endure the epic heat wave we’ve had lately in relative ease given we have a pool and AC in the trailer, we’ve met great people in and out of our Ward alike, we’ve started to put the most important things first finally, and ultimately, I think we’ve realized we can endure way more than we ever thought we could.  Except if it’s mosquitoes…I’m not enduring those little suckers well at all.

While this particular circumstance is not how I’d prefer to live if it were up to me, it has been a learning experience already.  I’ve learned that when a trial comes our way (and they will keep coming trust me), we can make it an obstacle or an opportunity by how we respond to it.  I choose to allow this opportunity to make me better not bitter.

Full Surrender

If you and I are Facebook friends, then you know things are incredibly difficult for me right now.  I wasn’t going to come out with what it is that has me rattled to the core, but writing has always been cathartic for me and with the challenges that lie ahead, I need all the relief I can get.

I am about to embark on yet another forced adventure and have cried gallons of tears over it; rivers maybe even.  The details as to the how and why aren’t really that important.  It’s the what that has me rather troubled. This new adventure is as scary as it is frustrating and as sad as it is hard. I feel ill-equipped even if I am uniquely qualified for it.

Since June 15th I’ve been on the phone, online, packing, or crying.  I’ve not been able to focus on much of anything and sleep has been in short supply as my mind is consumed with good and bad thoughts.  Satan would have me believe that I’m a terrible mother and my kids deserve more.  He’d have me believe that this current circumstance was totally preventable and all my fault.  He’d have me believe that I’m a failure and suggest I respond by doing some outrageous things.  It’s so painful a recent Facebook status of mine read “In addition to crying enough tears over the last few days to end any water shortage a small country might be facing, I’ve also talked so much I’m hoarse and apparently sound like my son on the phone. I’m pretty sure I’ve also been rejected more times in the last 72 hours than I ever have in the previous 40 years and some-odd days leading up to the last 72 hours COMBINED. Never again will I say it can’t get any worse or this is the hardest it’s ever been because it just gets worse and harder when I do. I feel like I’m facing insurmountable odds and though as my good friend Hanna reminded me, I will adapt because I don’t have any other choice, all I really want to do is be 4 again play play dough and dress up with my Mom. Yes I know that God is mindful of me; yes I am reading my scriptures; yes I am saying my prayers. Yes I am going to church (speaking of that any locals that can give us a ride tomorrow that’d be awesome) BUT…if one more person says to just keep the faith or reminds me that He has a plan I might have to punch them in the throat…HARD. Will everything be OK eventually…of course it always is. That’s not the problem…the problem is it’s not OK right now and I really REALLY need it to be.”

I have been a member of the Vancouver 7th Ward since my arrival in Vancouver 4 years ago.  I have developed some relationships with people in this ward that I cherish.  I am confident they know who they are so I don’t need to name them all here.  In short, 7th Ward is where it’s at.  Without a doubt, the most incredible ward I’ve ever been in.  Up until four years ago my fave ward was Springboro, but the relationships and love I’ve received in the last four years in Vancouver 7th make all other wards pale in comparison.  This is truly a ward family…and I am a big part of it.  Sunday July 13th will be our last Sunday in the ward; typing that brings tears to my eyes and as hard as leaving this ward is, it’s not the hardest part.

This isn’t even the sweetest part of our current location though.  My sister and bestest best friend forever and ever and always lives 10 minutes up the street.  I see a lot of her, we have a standing weekly date night, her 17-year-old son said it’s weird that we’re so close because he feels like he has two moms only instead of us being lesbian (though we do believe we’ve been mistaken for such before) we’re sisters.  I love her boys like my own son and she has backed me up to the ends of the earth and beyond with my own kids countless times.  Moving out of 7th Ward also means I’m moving away from her.  I can’t even begin to explain how painful it is to know that I will soon be a lot further than just 10 minutes down the street from her.

Then there’s my adoptive parents…I’ve blogged about how important they are to me several times and I’m moving even further away from them as well.  This means, just as we were getting used to the fun of holidays together we’re going to be too far away to enjoy any more.  This breaks my heart.  I am insanely in love with my baby nephew who we all actually call Baby.  I adore his mom, I’m crazy about my niece and well I just love my adopted family a ton and I know they love me also.  Sad to just get my parents back in my life only to move away from them yet again.

Finally in all of this there is the love of my life.  He and I just got back together the end of May and now, just 6 or 8 weeks later I’m moving away from him too.  He lives 20 minutes away and I typically only see him once a week right now and it’s not nearly enough time with him.  What will I do when I’m only able to see him once a month?  I think this, combined with everything else might be the death of me.  I cry and cry and cry.  My heart is so heavy; I am so pained.

See it’s not just that we’re moving…it’s that for the next few months we will be living in a 27′ Wanderer Gliderite trailer in an RV park in Cougar, WA.  To some this might sound like paradise.  Keep in mind that I am a city girl.  I even love traffic and smog (yeah I know crazy).  Consider also that there will be 4 of us living in that space, and our neighbors will be inches away.  These things alone are enough to make the situation difficult but then, for good measure, let’s just throw in the fact that the population of our new home is one hundred fifty according to the 2010 census.  Seriously?  That’s fewer people than just the apartment complex I now live in has.  Oh yeah and let us not forget that this place is 40 miles one way from the nearest real town and I don’t have a car, a bike, a scooter, or anything other than two good feet and one really bad back to get around on.  If all that isn’t bad enough, there’s the bugs and wildlife that I’d rather not live near let alone with, campfire cooking, shared showers (or insane propane costs for hot showers in the trailer), and the fact that there’s no cell coverage at the camp itself.  Just because I can camp doesn’t mean I want to, enjoy it, or am even looking forward to it.  Earlier I said I was uniquely qualified right?  I can cook in foil on coals of a fire and make it taste good, just as easy as I can cook on a regular stove.  I can build fires that burn so hot with no non-natural ingredients that they have to be put out twice, I can pitch a tent, I can clean a fish, and lots of other outdoorsy kinds of things.  Knowing how and wanting to do them are not the same though.

Heartache and sorrow have prevailed as I’ve thought about where and how I’ll be living this time next month.  I’ve cried to my sister, my mom, my home teachers, my visiting teachers, my friends, my boyfriend, and even my kids.  My kids are really excited.  Each of them have a different reason they think this is all going to be OK.  I have yet to be convinced…until about an hour ago.

Sunday afternoon my sister drove me up to the campground to put down a deposit on my spot and though I tried to play it off like it was gonna be great, inside I was miserable.  On the drive up there though I happened to hear Building 429’s song We Won’t Be Shaken.  My sister and I were chatting away like we always do when we’re in the car and so I only kinda, sorta, not really paid attention to the lyrics.  You know how when you’re really tired but you have to do something critical and dangerous like oh drive you pay more attention?  Well that’s where I was at and so I got a chance to really hear and internalize the lyrics to this song…I couldn’t believe what peace washed over me when I heard these lyrics:

…This mountain rises higher
The way seems so unclear
But I know that You go with me so I will never fear
I will trust in You

Whatever will come our way
Through fire or pouring rain
Oh we won’t be shaken
No we won’t be shaken
Whatever tomorrow brings
Together we’ll rise and sing
That we won’t be shaken…

You know my every longing
You’ve heard my every prayer
You’ve held me in my weakness
Cause You are always there
So I’ll stand in full surrender
It’s Your way and not my own
My mind is set on nothing less
Than You and You alone
I will not be moved…

This has now become my family’s theme song.  It’s often very interesting to me how God works.  At various points through this process, each of my children have come to me individually and said that maybe the reason we were going through this was basically to do what this song says…set our minds on Him and nothing less.

I’m sure it’s only me and mine, but we are that family in the movie RV.  Hopefully we’ll have the same experience after our RV adventure minus the septic scene and a few others.  At the beginning of this movie Robyn Williams, who’s character’s name I don’t remember,  mentions how plugged in everyone is.  They text each other from other rooms in the house and spend pretty much zero time together.  That’s my family presently.  We’ve gotten away from the basics.  We’ve stopped doing things together in more than one aspect of our lives.  On any given day of the week, you’ll find me plugged into the computer doing homework, editing photos, playing Words with Friends or otherwise computer driven, my 15-year-old on her phone doing much of the same things, my son swallowed up by Xbox and my youngest daughter busy reading or listening to music.  Each of us in the same household, but quite literally off in our own worlds.  We’ve been too distracted by other things and people to even do some of the most important things that need doing to safeguard our family from the winds of hell that seek to destroy us.  Things like Family Home Evening, family scripture study, family prayer, regular church attendance, personal prayer and scripture study.  As a result, Satan has had a firm hold on my family for a long time.

When crying with my middle daughter recently about this move and explaining how frustrated I was at all the rejection I’ve gotten and how of all the places in the world I wanted to be right now, Cougar, WA was not even close to “it” she, in all the wisdom that is this young woman, said maybe the reason we’re being stuck in Cougar is because God wants us to come back to Him and He knows to do that we need to be somewhere free of distraction.  See…told you that young woman is wise beyond her 15 years for sure.

I still don’t know the purpose in this scene, but I do think my daughter is right.  It’s remote enough that the number one rule is always take a buddy.  The distractions are pretty much going to be gone entirely.  The camp does offer internet but I’m not sure there will be enough umph in the trailer to even run my computer which will make finishing school very difficult.  Then, as I listened to this Building 429 song a while ago, there was that line or two that just kind of kidney punched me.  “So I’ll stand in full surrender, it’s Your way and not my own” and then later as the chorus plays again we hear “whatever tomorrow brings, together we’ll rise and sing” and through this whole process those who’ve had the details all along I’ve said this same thing to.  At the end of the day, even with all the misgivings I have about this adventure two things remain constant.  We are together and the gospel is still true.

I know that my Heavenly Father loves me; I know that my children know this same thing.  I know that just as He has provided for us in our time of need right here in Vancouver, He will continue to do the same in Cougar.  His love is constant and unchanging even when the world around us is not.  Where there is chaos, He provides peace.  Where there is fear and doubt, He offers blessed assurance.  I have learned, even when I struggle to look in the right direction, that whether I feel overwhelmed by chaos and fearful or at peace and full of blessed assurance largely depends on where I look and what I focus on.  These next few months of “camping” (albeit doing so in relative style) will undoubtedly be rough, but there are also tender mercies to be found and blessings already present.

This has happened in July not January.  It’s plenty warm enough to camp indefinitely.  It happened after reconciliation with my adopted family because the trailer we are using belongs to my adopted cousin who is letting me use it at no charge.  It’s happening at just about the same time my kids get back from/head off to Girls Camp and Scout Camp so camp skills will be fresh in their minds.  We are fortunate enough to be in a ward when we move and not just a branch, people we love have agreed to come visit so we won’t be alone, space was available immediately with no difficult getting in, several of our close friends are avid campers and they have helped us to prepare, our beloved 7th Ward has plenty of trucks and trailers so a u-haul isn’t necessary, we’re getting a huge storage unit half off for three months, our pad is all-inclusive and we don’t have to risk that scene in RV where they have to dump the waste, the campground owner is very kind, there are members in Cougar, the place is undeniably beautiful, there’s lake access both to the East and West of us within walking distance (so the kids can cool off on these hot summer days that are upon us), we will soon be lean and mean with all the walking we’ll have to do (we have to walk a half mile round trip just to have cell phone coverage), the buddy system allows any two of us to get closer at countless points through the day, the absence of distractions requires us to put first/most important things first, we’ll have great stories to tell kids and grand kids down the road, though there isn’t cell coverage at camp, there is Internet so I can finish school if the connection is adequate and arguably the most important of all the immediate blessings is that we will be together and we will not be living on the streets.

My kids are phenomenal and I don’t just say that because they are mine.  Ask anyone who’s met them and they will tell you that though not perfect, these kids are indeed amazing.  They could have reacted very differently when learning how we’d be living for the next few months.  Here’s what happened though…my youngest daughter excitedly proclaimed “FINALLY you’re taking us camping, I love camping” and my son said “just imagine all the bugs I can catch and throw on Jazmyne” (typical little brother for you), and Jazmyne just keeps assuring me that it’s not a big deal and we’re gonna be just fine.  Already I’m seeing some positive changes in these children as we prepare for camp life too.

We are all thinking about what we can do to pass the time as a family,  Jazmyne was “caught” in her scriptures voluntarily for the first time in months at church on Sunday and she volunteered to read a few chapters last night while we were reading Moroni to help Miss Gabryella finish up her Personal Progress.  Mason excitedly pulled out his Duty to God book and informed us he was anxious to get started on it.  Additionally, he has volunteered to do all the manly camp things like chop wood, hunt, fish (and clean/gut his kill) and when saying our family prayer last night he asked God to bless him with the ability to bless his family during this experience.  In short, our hearts are already returning to God.  We have a long ways to go still, but I believe we’re moving in the right direction both literally and figuratively.

Though this will be an adjustment for sure and may often prove difficult, the despair and gloom I feel around this change is dissipating quickly.  “Whatever will come our way, through fire or pouring rain, oh we won’t be shaken.  No we won’t be shaken.  Whatever tomorrow brings, together we’ll rise and sing that we won’t be shaken.  No we won’t be shaken…we will trust in You and we will not be shaken.”

Everything Has A Season

Some obvious known facts about me…I am a woman.  Further, I am a Black woman and if you take it a step further, I am a Black LDS woman.  Unless you are living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Ordain Women movement in the LDS faith and its founder Kate Kelly.  If you haven’t, well Google it if you’d like.

There are a few blogs I’ve read recently on Sister Kelly’s excommunication that are so well written I see no need to reinvent the wheel.  Two of my favorite’s can be found here and here and the two embody everything I feel as a LDS woman.  What they don’t touch on though is my position/thoughts/feelings/sentiments/emotions/testimony of what it means to be a Black woman in a “white religion” (GASP…oh yes I sure did just go there).

I remember some 20 years ago when I joined this church all the grief I got from people concerned that I’d be treated poorly or who had genuine concern over the fact that I was joining a racist church.  One that didn’t even recognize Black men as equal to white men until the 1970’s.  Being a proverbial student type, I elected to tell these naysayers to stick it where the sun don’t shine, got baptized anyway (truth is truth after all) and then I set out on a mission to do two things…first to prove all the ways the Book of Mormon contradicted the Bible (still looking for proof 22+ years later) and get to the bottom of these racist claims.

For the sake of concise, I’m not going to get into all the people I talked to, all the research I did, all the books I read, or any of that.  What I have to share about how I feel as a Black woman knowing that my beautiful Black brothers weren’t allowed to hold the priesthood until the 1970’s is this…

It has been my experience that God ALWAYS gives us what we need when HE knows we need it most.  Power and authority is pointless without the ability to use it right?  Let’s consider the state of Black men in America in the 1970’s shall we…actually that’s a bitter pill to swallow so maybe we shan’t.  I will say this is not the first time God has withheld priesthood authority though.  I’m sure all of you Old Testament fans recall King Saul right?  Do you also recall how much dirt he got into for offering up a sacrificial animal without having the proper authority?  I’m pretty sure, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that the church was racist then too right because only priests were allowed to do this, not kings.  Maybe not racist, but certainly classist at the very least.

OK OK…I know what you’re thinking “crazy Black LDS Woman is going WHERE exactly”…Saul wasn’t given priesthood rights and responsibilities because he didn’t need and couldn’t use them.  Black LDS men were not given priesthood rights and responsibilities for the SAME reason.  At least that’s how I think of it anyway.  Let’s get real here people…in the mid 70’s we STILL had active KKK rallies and by active I mean publicized or well-known, we were barely 10 years post Civil Rights Era, churches and yes even schools were still segregated.  With this kind of national sentiment (always of course there are exceptions but the world is built on rules not exceptions), what exactly could a Black LDS man hope to do here in the United States?!?!?  I’ll tell you straight up…not much.  Women have not been ordained to the priesthood for the same reason.  It is presently unnecessary.

It wasn’t that church doctrine says Black men are inferior because they are Black, it wasn’t that the church wanted to stay segregated, it wasn’t that the church is racist or any of that.  It was simply that fair doesn’t always mean equal.  Even though Black LDS men didn’t receive the priesthood until 1978, they were not denied any of the blessings having the priesthood again on the earth allows.  This same thing goes for the Ordain Women movement as well.  In the Proclamation to the World on the Family, it says “all human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”  Yes I know a few other wormy cans that can be opened with this statement but the part that sticks out to me in light of the Ordain Women thing is this…”each has a divine nature and destiny.”  My destiny as a woman is not the same as my brother’s.  If we all had the same nature and destiny, wouldn’t we then be asexual beings and have no need for two genders?  Men and women, by divine design are created different, but equal.  I so love what Dallin H. Oaks said in a recent address on this issue and a beautiful image was created highlighting a key part of this talk.  Check this out:

 

https://scontent-b-sea.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xap1/t1.0-9/p526x296/10456129_268178550021275_8209167951868681440_n.jpg

And, if you’d like to take a few minutes to watch the entire address, please click play on the video player below.  I will say that Elder Oaks is one of my all-time-fave General Authorities EVER and it’s so worth the time it takes to watch this talk.  Even if you aren’t LDS, especially if you aren’t LDS actually.

I do not take offense to the fact that my fellow Black LDS men weren’t able to hold the priesthood until 1978 and I am not at all offended that I as a woman cannot presently hold the priesthood.  Just like the time came when it was prudent for Black LDS men to hold the priesthood, should the time come that the ordination of women becomes necessary, the prophet will declare it and “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same”.

Some of the best counsel I received came from a priesthood holder I adore, my chosen Dad.  He said we must remember that there are two forces at work in this world and both are equally committed to their cause.  Which we are subject to depends on who’s counsel we choose to take.  It saddens me that Sister Kelly is choosing to listen to the influence of Satan.  How do I know this is fact?  Because only good comes from God and pushing an agenda and demanding doctrinal changes repeatedly due to a stated (and publicized) believe that the ordination of women is necessary is anything but good.  If it’s not good, it must then be evil/lies/deceit and Satan is the father of all that.  I pray that she finds peace in whatever future endeavors she pursues and I pray that those she has led astray (or those who are also listening to Satan and who share her believe) will be able to recognize whose influence they are under and act accordingly.

Yes GOD does chastise/punish/discipline.  In fact, “for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” (Hebrews 12:6 KJV).  Remember the dirt Saul got into, and then David lost his exhalation for killing Uriah and I know you all know about Cain and Able and on and on.

And there it is there ladies and gents…it takes us both…male and female.  If men were supposed to do everything women did, they’d have a uterus.  If women were intended (by divine design) to do everything men do, they’d have the priesthood.  Again, fair doesn’t mean equal.

How do I Save the Sheep Disguised as a Ram

The Bible tells of a parable where a shepherd leaves the 90 and 9 and looks for the one lone sheep who has gone astray.  We know that this is an allegory for what Jesus does for each of us when we are the lone sheep wandering astray, but perhaps it also means what we do as parents what I do as a mother.

My fold has just 4 sheep.  They sometimes wander, a few have gotten lost a time or two and one has strayed so far I often wonder if I’m ever gonna be able to lead my lone sheep back to pasture. It’s trying on good days, but on bad days it’s beyond bad.  There are so many conflicting emotions in my head and heart every minute of every hour of every day.  I love this lone sheep and that love keeps me plugged in and fighting.  For, with and against my lone sheep if need be to make sure that this sheep is safe and warm and loved and happy and successful and fed physically AND spiritually.   Lately it seems like the battle is against my precious lamb.

It’s been my experience that often we are our own worst enemies and this certainly holds true in my situation.  How do I save my lamb from themselves?  It doesn’t matter how many times I say:

NO!  No don’t go that way the flocks is over here.

NO!  No don’t go down that path it’s too rough.

NO!  No don’t climb that mountain it’s dangerous.

NO!  No don’t wander away, you’ll get lost.

NO!  No don’t I haven’t left you I’m here I promise.

NO!  No don’t leave there’s strength in numbers.

NO!  No trust me I’ve been down this road before.

NO!  No be careful some “sheep” are wolves in wait.

It doesn’t matter if these are things I literally say or figuratively say.  No matter what I do, my lost sheep still manages to find their way into a mess they can’t easily get out of.  My little lamb frequently wanders down the path alone, away from the rest of the flock and locks antlers with any who dare approach.  It’s an exhausting battle.  How do you help someone who doesn’t seem genuinely invested in helping themselves?  How do you help someone who is compliant not because they find any intrinsic value in being so, but solely because they fear the consequences of insubordination more?

Sheep need carbs, protein, minerals, salt, calcium, phosphorous, fiber and water.  Protein doesn’t come from grain though so how do you keep a sheep healthy when the only thing they want to eat is straw?  And then what about when the sheep forgets they are still a lamb and tries to buck up like a ram effectively holding the shepherd hostage in the pasture?!?!?  Just like a shepherd tends to both the flock and the individual sheep that make it up, I too much do the same.  This grows increasingly more difficult as I find myself often doing without or going without the things I need to refuel my energy reserves be they spiritual or physical or both.  How can I tend my flock when I can’t even make the time or get a moment’s peace to look after me?

They aren’t big enough that they can tend themselves all the time without me and yet the lost sheep consumes so much time, energy and effort that there isn’t enough left to adequately look after the others.  Despite being as stubborn as an ox sometimes, my lost sheep won’t fare any better alone that real sheep do.  Sheep need the security of a flock like people need the security of a family.  When sheep are alone it’s almost always because they are sick.  Being alone produces anxiety in sheep because they are born herders.

Sheep are usually tender, docile, playful animals.  They love to play and climb and explore (which is also why they often get lost), they love to be active.  Typically only rams are aggressive…especially during mating season.  Experts tell you never trust a ram even if you hand raised it from a baby.  What then do I do to coax my precious lost sheep out of the ram’s body it inhabits most often?  Is it my job to coax the lamb out, or just keep the ram from hurting themselves or someone else?  I don’t know…I really just don’t at all know.

I see this lost one as a lamb, but often they present as a ram.  If rams aren’t to be trusted ever no matter what, can the same be said for people who behave like rams?  People who butt heads with everyone around them constantly, people who are mean and aggressive, people who others tend to steer clear of, people who, when they’ve nothing else or no one else to butt against , go out of their way to butt against themselves?  What am I to do with this?  If I shut the ram out and leave it to fend for itself, the lamb inside grows anxious and wary.  If though I try to ignore the ram and appeal to the lamb, it’s often a losing battle that escalates into something bigger and uglier than it ever needs to be or ever should have gotten.  The horns on the ram I butt heads with daily hurt—severe.

How do I  brave the ram for the sake of the lamb?

I don’t honestly know.  I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next minute of the next hour of the next day sometimes.  I can’t see into tomorrow because I can’t see past tonight.  Thoughts consume my mind like how can we get everyone in bed for the night with no drama?  How can we avoid having the police being called…again?  How do I show love to the lamb when the ram is present and butting heads?  How do I prevent my other sheep from learning the bad habits of the lost one?  How do I keep myself fit enough to do all that is required of me to tend this flock?  I sincerely have no idea…do you?

 

Small and simple = great

If we are Facebook friends then you know that I recently worked on re-creating a habit I once had and set out on a mission to wear makeup 21 consecutive days so that make doing so a habit again.  This goal of mine inspired a friend of mine to create some new habits herself and she is now a morning person as a result.  Likely for the first time in her life actually.  Her decision to wake up at 5am daily was based on it being a small part of a bigger goal.   The bigger goal was to start work out in the morning.  To be able to that, she had to first be able to get up and when we were talking recently about the bigger goal I was reminded of a scripture.  It’s found in the Book of Mormon in the book of Alma.  There are two Alma’s in the Book of Mormon, but the prophetic writer responsible for the scripture I’m going to share is Alma The Younger.  He was kinda a brat and had a shady group of friends.  Together, with the four sons of King Mosiah, these boys gave their parents cause to pray for them night and day.  Not only was Alma The Younger just a rebellious teen, but quite committed to destroying the Church, actually.  Maybe the proverbial “preacher’s kid”…who knows.  Anyway…one converted, Alma The Younger followed in his father’s steps and became a great Ancient American prophet.  In the 6th verse of the 37th chapter of his book it says: “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.”  This is pretty profound I think…in fact, I wrote the first part of this scripture on my bathroom mirror with the question “what small and simple things can I do today”.  Let’s take a look at some small and simple things that have turned out to be great things for people.  Before we do…I realize that what is great for some is not so great for others or can be made not so great as well.  That’s called opposition and a topic for another day/post.

Let’s look at my friend’s life shall we?  She enjoys being in shape.  In fact, she wants to be in a fitness competition in the future.  To do that, she of course has to be fit.  To be fit she has to watch what she eats and use more energy than she consumes (that means she has to not only eat right but exercise too).  She hates working out and she loves treats but neither of these things get her what she wants so she is diligent in working out and eating right.  Avoiding her favorite sugary treats is just one small and simple thing she does to bring about greatness…in this case her fierce and sexy fit body (seriously you should see her she looks AMAZING).  For my friend, being fit is a great thing.

Recently, I’ve tested this concept with my children.  When I offer a small gesture or word of praise the great thing it brings about is often an end to contention.  For instance, my son was given a bunch of commands at once and he was getting frustrated and angry and starting to throw a fit.  Instead of scold him for the bad behavior I was seeing, I simply apologized for giving him so many directions at once that he was overwhelmed.  Guess what…he stopped in his tracks, nodded his head affirmative indicating he was overwhelmed and then…while calm and collected went about completing all the things I has asked him to do.  Before resuming gaming he asked me if there was anything else I needed done.  This is a great thing given how this same situation usually goes when I get into scold mode.

Yesterday my little Sass-Master cleaned up the living room and hallway and her room without direction from me about it either.  It was something “small and simple” to her but it had a great outcome.  I was proud of her and bragged to others how well she did, she got to spend the night at her 2nd Mom’s house instead of put up with the house full of boys I had hanging out here, and she received tons of praise and recognition.  Additionally, I was happier and calmer because the space wasn’t so chaotic and cluttered.  Her small gesture had a huge impact; I’m pretty sure she never imagined just what a great thing her choice would be when making it…she just did it.

Now you’re probably wondering how small and simple things can “confound the wise” right?  Consider how the candor of a child can often bring people to their knees because it’s so profound.  This is what I think this part of that scripture means.  The greatness that comes to fruition from our small and simple acts and efforts have the ability to effect such change it leaves the wise totally confused, to the point of shock and awe maybe even.  I mean think about it…the greatest thing that was ever brought to pass in pretty much EVER came only after the one who made it happen was born homeless in what we’d now likely consider a barn.  Pretty sure that right there is the epitome of “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” and Christ was found confounded the so-called wise more than once in his short life on Earth.

So…now I’m issuing the same challenge to each of you…what small and simple thing can YOU do to bring about greatness today?  Greatness in your home, your family, your Church, your community, your city, your state, your whatever.  Choose one small and simple thing every day and then sit back and watch all the greatness you have brought to you and those around you and it might just blow your mind!  To receive a copy of the Book of Mormon free or find out more about what I believe as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please visit http://mormon.org.