Monday, January 27, 2014

Getting Better One Baby at a Time

People here in New England comment on our family ALLLLL the time. I can not leave the house without my kids without it happening. Since we homeschool, my kids all come all the time. It happens every single time we go anywhere.

I think people look at me, with my "large" family and say the thing that seems the most... benign.

"You sure have your hands full."

"Are they all yours?"

"You finally got your girl!"

"God bless you."

"Are you all done?"

And I smile and nod and thank them or answer or laugh with them, or whatever seems appropriate while I'm just wishing to survive the grocery store without losing anyone or my sanity and without forgetting AGAIN to buy black beans.

While those short conversations are really nothing is the course of a lifetime, and really what others think does not matter in this whole crazy life, but sometimes I wish I could explain. I wish I could set the record straight, that rather than them assuming that Derek and I don't "know what causes that" that they could SEE the way these children have made

I am so much better than I was when Henry was born. I'm a better mom, of course, but above all else, I'm a better person.

See, when I started on this path to motherhood, I was selfish. I didn't mean to be, and I didn't know I was. But I was 22 years old. I had two jobs I loved, a little apartment, a husband in grad school, and I knew what I WANTED.

Yes, part of what I wanted was a baby, and I got a cute, squishy one that never slept, I mean not at all.

And it made me angry. Didn't he know that at the end of a long day working, mothering, wife-ing, etc, that I just wanted to sit and watch TV? Or sleep?

It was hard to give that up. Because I was selfish. My time and energy had been mine to give and now it belonged to HIM and that made me resentful, not really at Henry but at the whole institution. But child after child has slowly burned that selfishness out of me. I am a slow learner, I'll admit.

And now? Sleep is for the childless.

I'm more okay with tired days and dreary nights. I'm better with accepting less personal time, less time for interests or hobbies, less time for anything really. It's not about me anymore and that took a while for me to realize (about, oh, three and a half babies, I'd say.)

 My selfishness, while not obliterated, has become much less. I'm becoming refined.

I find compassion easier to give, I'm more understanding of what others might be going through, or how they might perceive a situation. It allows me more patience. I used to be terribly impatient.

I worry less. I know bad things can happen, and while I work hard to prevent them, in the end, I can only do my best. The rest I have to let go of. My faith has grown immeasurably over the years. I can control almost nothing. I have to have faith.

I'm more confident in my own beliefs, in my own mothering, in my own convictions that every baby is different, every kid is different and there is no one way to do things. It's so much less stressful to shrug, say, "To each his own," and MEAN it. Oh I was so judgemental back then.

I'm more relaxed about basically everything. Socks don't match? Yeah, I don't care.

You want to eat four apples in a day? Fine. Don't come crying to me when you get the poops.

I pick my battles much more judiciously. Three year olds are not to be battled unless absolutely necessary. Let them run, play, be as free as you can, I've learned. Discipline less, teach more. Read more, watch less TV.

Love more love more love more.

My house? I could keep up with it when I had just two kids. Then there were more and it drove me nuts. Now? I don't even try, That's right, I don't even try. We work together every evening to clean and straighten. I don't stress about it. It is going to be a mess. It is going to be cluttered.

It is going to be a work in progress.

Just like me.

My body is way better now than it was nine years ago. My body has aged, it has grown five babies and is working on a sixth! There is no recovering from THAT. But it's also learned to get by with less food, less sleep and more tension. My ears are better at tuning out noise. My eyes don't see the mess the same way.

My heart has grown so much and still it can barely contain the love, the gratitude and the sheer amazement that is watching these people grow and become who they are going to be.

When I stopped working three years ago, I worried I would be lost, a ship without course. How could I be ANYTHING if I was JUST a mother?

Well. I still have those moments when I wonder why I bother, but overall, the places motherhood has brought me; the realizations, the growth, the potential I've reached are frankly, amazing.

I'm not bragging. I'm praising. It's nothing short of a miracle, what God has done to my life, where He has directed me, those who He's brought into my life to teach and mentor me and to set an example for me. These blessings from Heaven have made me better.

These children have made me better.

So, yeah, I've got a lot of kids, my hands are freaking full. But my spirit? It's finally being allowed to grow. As my body ages, changes, stretches, so does my spirit, and in all that, it's made new.

My perfection is still so far outside my grasp that I can do nothing but spiral upward, hoping to find it in the eternities through Christ, but for now, I can look back on the last almost decade and see how, through small and simple things, it could be possible that SOMEDAY I might, through lots of help and grace, get there.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Joy when Life Stinks

What if you're doing the things you're supposed to be doing, prayers, scriptures, tithing, church, callings, parenting, dishes, laundry, carpool, cooking, fun times as a family, etc etc etc and things still aren't perfect? Or even close to it?

It's hard when you feel like you're earning the GOOD stuff but the BAD stuff is overwhelming you.

I've been in that exact spot.

I've said to my Father in Heaven, "Uh, excuse me, I'm a decent enough person, I work super hard, I feel like my desires are pretty dang righteous, and yet, xyz happened and frankly, I'm offended."

Or perhaps it's not even bad STUFF but maybe you just aren't feeling the radiating joy that everyone is always kind of pushing for in the gospel. You know what I mean, like, "If you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, you'll be happy no matter what."

That idea?  It's like a THING in LDS culture.

Yeah, what if that is just kind of not working for you? What if you're just kind of surviving?

Then what?

I've got a few different posts in store addressing exactly this issue. Today's mini-solution is gratitude.

Perhaps one of my most favorite quotes of all time is this one by Gordon B. Hinckley,

"Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

Why do I love this quote so? Because it basically says that the joy is in the little things.

Every minute of every day is NOT going to be some glee-filled-smile-until-your-face-falls-off kind of minute.

No, most minutes are normal, some quiet, some loud, some messy, some VERY messy, some simple, some complex, some scary, some serene, but MOST of them are just normal.

And within the normal, there are ways to find joy.

President Hinckley says the trick is to thank the Lord for the letting you have the ride. YES YES YES!

An "attitude of gratitude" is essential to finding joy in life. I submit that the most happy people on the planet are those who are grateful to the Lord for the blessings they've been given; the big blessings, sure, but most essentially, the little.

Every single day is a lesson in gratefulness. Today perhaps you can find five things to be thank God for that you've previously overlooked or kind of taken for granted.

What are those things?

Maybe today they are: peanut butter and jelly, anti-depressants, a friend who sends a witty text, matching socks, kids who play nicely for a few minutes, a pizza delivery man, a loaf of homemade bread...

If you can, in the moment, when you realize you're grateful for something, send up a quick prayer heavenward, thanking God for that thing, whatever it may be, big or small, you'll find your heart a little lighter, life a little less heavy. No, it won't make your problems go away. No, it won't make you delirious with joy or anything, but it will allow you, in the times of regular old hard life, to push through, and to recognize the moments of true and deep joy when they come. They are almost always small and simple moments that are the most joyful. And with a grateful heart, you'll see them more often.

Colossians 2:7 says, "Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving." Be built up in Christ, be faithful and be grateful.

There, in the quiet, in the difficult, in the painful, you'll find the light.