My sisters and I gave this hibiscus plant to another sister for her birthday during a challenge in her life. I’m babysitting it for a few years while she’s in Australia.
I received her healthy, beautiful plant with multiple blooms a couple of years ago. But last year, it didn’t bloom. And when we moved this winter, it dropped all of its leaves. They came back, but now I can’t seem to find the fertilizer in the garage boxes.
Despite all this, yesterday I discovered a bud.
The bud changed my focus.
After a highly disagreeable encounter with a woman last week, I drafted a post that identified the tactics of women bullies and how to counteract them. I edited it multiple times during the week, but it felt wrong—counter to the positive experiences I was having with the women right around me.
A walk with my daughter. Lunch with friends. An invitation to our family for games and dessert. Time spent assembling a birthday box for my oldest daughter. A girls’ day out with my youngest birthday girl. Receiving a visit from friends from church. Cherished phone calls.
After seeing that resilient bud with its promise of a bloom by Mother’s Day, I didn’t want to perpetuate the negativity from one woman’s aggressive actions. While emotionally large, her negative influence should be proportionally small compared to all these other positive emotional experiences with other women.
Do you have good women in your life?
Just as I focus on the newly formed bud, this is the week to see their resilient beauty and hold it above all else.
Good women can lift you to see your potential, inspire you with ideas to solve simple daily challenges or instill a greater vision for a new direction.
I need good women in my life for how they build me to build others. That positivity generates energy, love and meaningful action.
On Sunday after a pre-Mother’s Day challenge to consider examples of nurturing in our lives, I became aware of a touching story published in the St. Cloud Times that reflects the essence of a good woman to me.
Take a moment right now and read Lynn and Hannah’s story.
Lynn, a Mormon who lives in central Minnesota, donated her kidney to an 18-year-old young woman in her congregation who suffers from kidney disease. Frank Lee, a talented reporter and writer, concluded their story with this quote from Lynn:
“As a mother, I kept thinking if this was my son or daughter . . . that if this was my child having to have surgeries, dialysis and be sick all the time . . . how grateful I would be if somebody would do that for my child.”
We were all created to be good women. Our choice to disengage from negative thoughts and choices and engage in the sometimes subtle but always meaningful chances to build others determines how and when we will bloom.
I’ve been sick. Not fun, but it passed quickly, in just a day. Then, my daughter thought she caught my stomach icky, but luckily, it subsided. Today, my son is home with a sore throat.
Sickness is as routine as good health. The “opposition in all things” reminded me of the energy I enjoyed days earlier and would find again. But that doesn’t make it fun. And it doesn’t keep me from whining when I can’t eat or I don’t feel good.
I read a lot while I recuperated. Fortunately, we’d just scouted out our new library, checked out a stack of books with our new cards, and received another book in the mail I’ve been waiting to read, Heaven is Here, by Stephanie Nielson.
The first one I tackled, The Importance of Being Kennedy, by Laurie Graham, left me interested but sad with the fictional account of this famous family from the perspective of a nursemaid. Fiction or not, their family relationships in times of tragedy, sickness, fame and fortune seemed less than ideal.
In the second, Stephanie Nielson, a popular blogger, tells her own story of a plane crash that burned 80% of her body and the painful recovery that follows for her and her family. Even though Stephanie faced a devastating tragedy, she grasped ahold of her ideal to create a loving family and home environment in simple ways that made all the difference for her marriage, her kids, and her own recovery. If you haven’t read it, find a copy and read it soon. It’s now available in paperback.
My reading turned to thinking. I’m no longer a mom of young kids, like Stephanie. Gone are the days when they will curl up and let me love them with a story on the couch. Mine are teenagers, and the emotions seem to rule our house right now. But I’m still seeking to create a home where we love each other through all days—the good and the not so good.
My search turned me to a little booklet produced by our church, For the Strength of Youth, and as a first step, I shared this with my daughter:
How you communicate should reflect who you are as a son or daughter of God. Good language that uplifts, encourages and compliments others invites the Spirit to be with you. Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith, hope, and charity.
My mom was right; if you “think before you speak,” your choice of words can create love. But, as I’m sure you also know, that love also develops when we patiently bear the words that are expressed without much thought.
Even as I learn to love my children in new ways, I will always cherish the simple love expressed in making a perfect grilled cheese sandwich for them and their warm thanks. And now that they are teens, that’s what sick days are for.
How do you show love to your teens? How do you keep love in your language and communication? How do you show love beyond just taking care of your family’s needs?
Service is a common language I can speak with my neighbors. I posted that on my Facebook wall on Monday after a walk around the neighborhood gathering books for a book drive.
It’s a language within me as I gave much this week.
In addition to the book drive, I also made three visits to friends. I volunteered for a day of home care for an elderly woman in need. I also worked on a committee that’s planning a Mormon Helping Hands project next week at the St. Cloud Children’s Home.
I share these endeavors not to do my alms before men or even hold up a light for others to see, but in gratitude for the opportunity to give again. At a time when our family financial crises mirrors the long-standing one in our nation at large, we’re in a position to receive much from others to sustain us with little left to give.
To engage in service this week has brought three gifts to my life:
Gratitude. Giving is a way to express gratitude for all I’ve been given. I love to give. I love that I can take my time and talents and add something of worth and value for the benefit of others. Having received thoughts, prayers, financial help and various gifts increases my desire even more to want to do the same for others. Lately, I’ve found opportunities even in my hour of want to do this, and I’ve experienced no more fulfilling days than these.
Humility. Using my helping hands reminds me of my need for help that continues. It is hard for me to receive help because I’ve always been taught to be self reliant. But I’ve learned that we never reach a point where we have it all together. We are always in want, always in need. Sometimes—a lot of times— we mask that need or want with a false front or self assurance. Serving others humbles me and prepares me for understanding, even if it is just understanding of how to I react with compassion.
Love. I cherish the opportunity to connect with individuals in their own home or setting. Being in someone else’s space is an invitation to respect them even when we might be uncomfortable by unfamiliar or different surroundings. Love, I’m learning, requires us to train our eyes, and more importantly our heart, on interactions coming in as much as the interactions we send out. Service blocks off some time, even for just a few minutes, to focus love on someone besides ourselves.
I gave without all my circumstances being perfectly situated and solved, and I still received much in return. Just two helping hands and two minutes or two hours can be a tool for good.
I clung to dinnertime together as long as I could.
My college freshman spent August working, saying goodbye to friends, and preparing for meals away from home more than at home with us. Now that she’s gone, I’ve joined the club of sad moms who remove additional plates that we inadvertently set for a missing family member.
In anticipation of Elena’s move and for a short time after we returned home without her, I held on to this sorrow. I felt it most when I was supposed to feel it—the family time when she wasn’t with us—like Labor Day when we traditionally take a family bike ride.
Before you cry with me over the loss—because you’ve felt it yourself or you’re anticipating what it’s bound to feel like—let me tell you what I discovered.
Family time gives way to personal time.
By personal time, I don’t mean time for myself. I mean personal, one-on-one time with each of my children, including the adult one not living at home.
Before, the usual gaggle of multiple individuals gathered in communal activities took precedence.
In the pressured panic of delivering dinner to the table, I’d resorted to yelling for everyone to help, rather than directing my requests to certain individuals.
When I disciplined, I spoke to all my kids as a group with my newly-adult daughter staring blankly at the lecture she’d heard more than enough times.
When we left for anything in a rush, I herded the group to the car, not taking into account that our lateness (and my stress) might have been caused by me.
My group thinking worked for years to manage a family, but now I can see how it also limited individual interaction between family members as individuals.
A personal dynamic, like the one I had when my first child was my only toddler, is now reappearing out of circumstance.
Three for dinner instead of five. With one off to work and one at college, the conversation focused our youngest in a more grown-up role.
One driving the car to high school with me in the passenger seat instead of the driver’s seat. He practices these complicated maneuvers to get out of our garage with only inches of clearance from the curved rock wall, and no one but me cringes.
The texts—yes, even a text—of a day’s highlights from a college student are the highlight of my day. Less is more. Less communication of the minute-by-minute “intrusions” leads to more sharing about day-by-day important happenings.
How did I doubt that the sorrow of this loss wouldn’t be filled?Read More
Sometimes just finding the right project is a barrier to even beginning. But then a project comes. It’s approved and the planning begins—planning which cannot possibly identify all the obstacles and solutions that will arise as he proceeds. The scout’s strength is tested, and his mom realizes her influence over this boy has changed.
That’s where we are today. Newel’s finishing his Eagle Scout Project. And after helping as I well as I could, the best help I can be now is to stay home writing the story and compiling pictures. Distance sometimes is the only way I can let go so he can grow up.
Newel chose to lead a project to relandscape the front planting beds at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The project held a definable goal: Pull out the old bushes, weeds, mulch, and dirt. Level the soil and lay new landscape fabric. Prepare for new plants to be added at a later date and fill with rock.
A larger than expected crew showed up to help the first day and momentum carried us through removal of all plant material in the front bed and all of the bushes in another. The realization that we would still need to dig out four inches of dirt over that large square footage overwhelmed us toward the end.
With suggestions from adult leaders and equipment donations offered, Newel geared up for another day of work. Except it rained. Furiously. For hours. And scared off most of the crew.
We called in reinforcements, and the rest of us plunged into the mud and began hauling dirt.
The parking lot filled with debris and when emptied, left a messy lot that still needs to be cleaned.
The sun broke and the work continued throughout the whole day.
After the help of more than 100 man hours, the main planting bed is finished and the rest will be shortly.
A change took place in Newel the past few weeks. Even though he won’t necessarily verbalize it, he wants me to recognize it by changing myself, which prompted me to ask all of my children, “What can I do or not do to help you grow up?”
The answers they gave were strikingly similar to each other, just packaged according to their experience. Basically in nice words they asked me to back off and let them solve their own problems. They want to recognize those problems, have time to think through or talk through them to a solution and be given the room to work them out.
This project epitomized that desire, for Newel and for me. While he’s not a man yet, I can see how he’s becoming one. And I may grow up a little myself in the process.
These are my guys.
They’re trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. I knew they were great, but I had to go 1000 miles to be reminded of how great they—and my girls—really are.
Paul attended LDS leadership training at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, and he took us all with him. We scheduled time off work, made a family banner, packed enough water to fight a forest fire and headed south, where I was sure we’d burn the moment we stepped out of our SUV. Good thing a brief thunderstorm met us at the gate.
Rain wasn’t all that met us when we arrived at the Philmont Leadership Training Center. A smiling woman who leads children around the whole world stood at the entrance ready to greet us at the end of our 22-hour road trip. She pushed aside her umbrella, stuck her head in our back window, asked each name and then repeated those names one-by-one. I remember when I used to minister to my children with such smiles, awe and enthusiasm. I could have envied her way with them, but her example of kindness and that of the other leaders who came to teach us was not false. I shortly learned why.
At the opening program they asked us to do two things to make our week a success: 1st: Have a positive mental attitude and 2nd: Don’t say anything negative.
In the first 24 hours, amidst the complaining over the cafeteria food, I wondered: a. Is this possible? and b. Can these two simple changes change me and our family in a week?
Back to those guys. We went to Philmont to learn about them. Or rather for my husband to learn how to lead youth or, more specifically, to lead young men to become righteous husbands and fathers through Scouting and Duty to God. Paul had classes, and the kids and I had our own peer-group activities. We returned together to eat as families and play in the evenings.
At some point in those activities, I stopped nagging and prodding them into a positive nature, and they just went about being themselves. We settled into this community of like-minded families as if we’d moved into our tent city permanently. Then, women I met in my own classes who’d met my children asked, “Are you Elena’s mom? Oh, Newel is your son? Oh that Kirsten is wonderful.” These strangers saw my teens as the people I wanted my kids to become.
It’s easy to believe that the bickering or reactionary outbursts that come from our youth mean they are six-year-olds in overgrown bodies, so we should treat them that way. That would be a false belief—one I’d carried around for too many days of a long road trip. (Maybe that started long before we left Minnesota) Through others I saw who they’d become and remembered not only my love for them but God’s love, too.
You see, if you treat someone as they are, they will remain as they are, but if you treat them as if they are what they could be, than they will be become all that they can be. That idea from Goethe is truly from Jesus Christ. To see the potential of those around you and honor that potential with your words and your actions is an action of trust.
Paul learned how to trust the young men he leads to learn, act and share, and in the process, they will become men of God.
I also learned to trust. . .
that if I sign my husband up for a sunrise hike, he’ll take the Lover’s Leap for me.
that if I treat my son and daughters as the young adults they think they are, they’ll become pretty good teenagers and leave the reactionary attitudes behind.
that If I bring that positive mental attitude home to stay, gratitude may change me, too.