Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Be and move and breathe and think

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday afternoon session from the October 1974 Conference.
I was thinking at church last week about the meagerness of my offerings—of attention, focus, and feeling—during the sacrament. Even when the children aren't doing anything terrible, they just constantly NEED something: soothing, straightening, picking up; a stern look here, a raised eyebrow there. The effort (though I know there is more I could do to be prepared) leaves almost nothing inside me for my own spiritual contemplation during those crucial moments. But I send up my short microbursts of prayers toward heaven anyway, between distractions, asking for forgiveness, and for capacity. I feel, while that ordinance is being administered, that there is sacredness nearby, and even if I can't quite touch it—I am at least drawn toward it!

What I wish is that I could maintain two channels simultaneously: the spiritual and the temporal; the elevated and the practical. I wish I could reach out and touch heaven in the very moment I am switching someone's shoes to the correct feet or whispering "Stop biting each other." But usually there's at least a moment of disconnect, a noticeable switching of gears, before I can get my mind focused on the eternal again.

I was thinking about that as I read this from Elder Bruce R. McConkie's talk:

There is nothing in this world that compares in any way in importance with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the power of God unto salvation, and if we will walk and live and be and move and breathe and think the gospel and its cause, always and everlastingly, then we can have peace and joy and happiness in this life and we can go on to eternal glory in the life to come.
That's what I want to do, but it seems so hard when the demands of mortality are so constant! Some days I am barely able to keep everyone's different schedules and needs and questions in my head--let alone have any room for pondering and communion throughout the day. I do try to find time for that, when things are quiet or when I am alone. But to keep that spiritual attentiveness DURING the chaos--to live and move and breathe the gospel, as Elder McConkie says--well, I'd like to learn how.

So I thought this was a useful thought, in the talk by Elder Delbert L. Stapley:

Good habits are not acquired simply by making good resolves, though the thought must precede the action. Good habits are developed in the workshop of our daily lives. It is not in the great moments of test and trial that character is built. That is only when it is displayed. The habits that direct our lives and form our character are fashioned in the often uneventful, commonplace routine of life. They are acquired by practice.
I have noticed that there are times when I have an easier time "switching on" my spiritual side. Sometimes I'm better able to see the higher purpose in what I'm doing, and to feel a spiritual gratitude for it. At those times, I don't know that I'd say I'm actually simultaneously keeping practicality and eternity in my mind—but maybe, like two cords twisted tightly together to make a rope, the two parts of me are at least cohesive, working together. Or at least I'm toggling back and forth quickly and with less effort. And some of this, I think, has indeed come through practice with "the commonplace routine of life." As I practice laundry or speaking softly or making dinner with five different people talking to me, it takes less of my mental effort, and I have a bit more to spare for gratitude and love.

Maybe the inverse is true as well: as I practice responding with patience or seeing the good in my situation, I won't feel like it takes the whole of my focus and energy to do so! And I guess I also just have to have faith that with persistent daily effort, even more cohesion will come, and at some point that constant engagement with the gospel—the being, moving, breathing, and thinking that Elder McConkie talks about—will be within reach.


Other posts in this series:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The satisfaction and dignity of work

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday morning session from the October 1974 Conference.
We're on to October 1974! In this session, Elder Loren C. Dunn gave a great talk on parenting, full of powerful ideas about love and leadership and perseverance, like this one: 
The principle of love can overcome many parental mistakes in the raising of their children. But love should not be confused with lack of conviction.
I bet my Child-Development-expert mother loved this talk when she heard it. It's all good, but the section on work especially got me thinking. Elder Dunn referenced (but didn't specifically cite): 
evidence to support that at least in the United States the problems of stress and tension might be linked to a gradually decreasing average number of hours worked by the labor force. The suggestion is that free time, not work, might be a major cause of stress and tension in individuals.
That in itself is interesting. I don't know how well specific studies have measured this, but it's what I think every time I hear people advocating the idea of a "Universal Basic Income" and talking grandly about all the great and hypothetical things people, freed from the drudgery of earning a living, would then have the leisure to create: the sonnets! The symphonies! The artistic yearnings, now finally unleashed! Sure, it sounds nice, and I guess we've all benefitted from the gradual diminishment of "drudgery" over the years. But even beyond the political arguments, this idea leaves out the essential point that work can be ennobling: a divine characteristic, and a divine gift.

Elder Dunn continues,
Certainly in every home all family members can be given responsibilities that will fall within their ability to accomplish and, at the same time, teach them the satisfaction and dignity of work.
I suppose every parent struggles to require the right balance of work and leisure for their children. In a big family like ours, there really isn't any choice but to have the kids do a lot of work—the household can't function any other way! But getting children to work is, of of course, its own sort of work, and I sometimes feel exhausted with trying to manage it all. It's so easy to want to avoid the whining or complaining or sulking, and just do things myself! I do tell myself that this will be for everyone's good, and it will pay off in good habits and discipline later (and I've already seen many benefits as we go along)—but Elder Dunn's reminder here comes at it from a slightly different angle, emphasizing the satisfaction and dignity that come to all of us, including children, as we work! I sometimes forget about this, but I have seen it, and I know it's real. Giving our children meaningful work is giving them the chance for satisfaction and dignity! When one of my sons completes a difficult task—especially a job that stretched his abilities, but where he can see that the family truly NEEDED him—I can almost see him expanding and blossoming before my eyes. He feels important. He feels capable. He feels needed. And he IS needed! The projects that I tend to put off because I dread them, and I dread making other people do them, are exactly the sorts of things that give us all great satisfaction once we finally dive in!

The kids and I worked for hours in the yard this week, and when the weather turned, I found one of my sons gazing out the window thoughtfully. I asked what he was thinking about, and he said (practically glowing), "I'm just so HAPPY we did all that work out there, and now it can snow!" Honestly, I doubt he had given the yard a second thought this entire year—but now because of his work there, he felt ownership of it in a new and personal way. And I need to remember that this personal growth, this inner satisfaction and the confidence that comes from being useful—whether or not the initial nudge toward that usefulness is greeted with acquiescence and cheer—may be exactly what a reluctant child needs to be drawn out of himself and find joy. This is certainly the case for ME when Heavenly Father requires hard things of me!

And that led me to another thought. In the very next talk of this session, Elder Neal A. Maxwell talked about how good people still need the church:
"…because random, individual goodness is not enough in the fight against evil."
Even though I certainly appreciate random, individual goodness, and I DO believe in the ability of the small, mundane things to truly change the world, I loved the way Elder Maxwell put this. It's not actually a contradiction of the principle that individuals matter. It's a statement about WHY God put individuals together in families, and about why we need organized religion. No matter how hard we work, our work only takes on meaning when it is contributing to something bigger than ourselves. We have to care about others. We have to depend on others.  We can't reach our potential by ourselves, communing with nature or meditating to reach nirvana. We have to willingly join God's work of saving souls, because THAT is the work that brings ultimate dignity and ultimate satisfaction. That is the only work that makes us like God.

Other posts in this series:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Random Thoughts

• Teddy thinks Daisy and Junie are the same person, and calls them both "Saisy." Incidentally, the "face recognition" feature on my phone ALSO thinks they are the same person.

• On the other hand, the face recognition feature on my phone thinks Teddy is about five different persons. 
• Goldie and Teddy were particularly cute playing with Goldie's Floppy Guy one day. Teddy was very much in awe of him, calling him "GUY" with great emphasis.
"GUY."
• We made this insect collection while learning about insects the last few months and we're just so…proud of it. I'm not sure why. I think it just looks nicer than we imagined it would.

• The other day Sebastian said, "Mommy, I just happened to notice this...I don't know why...but the Carpool lane says 'Express only' from Mapleton to Springville, and then it just says 'Express' until you get to Lehi, and then it only has the diamond symbol from Lehi to Point of the Mountain, and then it says 'Express' AND has the diamond in the newly constructed part, and then just the diamond again to Salt Lake, and then 'Express' and Diamond until it ends."

Oh…right. Yes, of course! He just happened to notice! Could happen to anyone!

• He's also been making drawings like this:
And this:
This one is a real intersection (that weird one in Draper…if you've been there you know the one. You have to do a mandatory U-turn instead of a left turn). The other one may be too, for all I know. Seb loves to draw arrows and write words in that enlongated font they use on the road to make it look normal-sized when you are driving quickly over it.

• Related: you know those lane divider lines—the dashed ones between lanes going the same direction? I read an article about how most people greatly underestimate their length. I asked the kids how long they thought the lines were, and they (like most people) guessed they were two or three feet long. Seb, the Observer of All Things, was closest, with his guess of eight feet. (They are actually TEN feet long!)
(Here is Seb in his costume for the opera "La Bohème." He was so cute.)
Teddy "helping" Seb cook tortillas
• The boys wanted to sleep outside in the tent, and I said they could if they did everything themselves. And they did! Put the tent up, brought all their stuff out there, and put it away the next day. They took it very seriously (I saw Seb making a packing checklist for Malachi) and it made me think maybe we actually will go camping again sometime. Putting up the tent always seemed like such a huge pain, but last time we went Abe and Seb were only 7 and 5…. Now they could do everything! While I just sit and watch! It sounds great.
• The kids and I (and some of Abe's friends, of their own accord…BLESS those darling 14-year-old boys!) did a bunch of Fall-ish yard work (cutting down shrubs and bushes and so forth, and planting bulbs and enlarging flower beds…which sounds very industrious of us, but since I haven't worked in the yard for about two years, you shouldn't be too impressed)—and it resulted in so much yard waste to deal with! We filled our own garbage can, and begged space in three of our neighbors' garbage cans, and still had several piles left! On Wednesday after the garbage truck came and emptied the garbage can, we immediately filled it up to the brim again with more grass and branches. Then we went somewhere, and when we got back, the garbage can had been emptied…AGAIN! The truck must have come back by and seen it full, and just thought he'd missed it? Or maybe just taken pity on us and emptied it twice? Either way I felt just euphoric about it. I had been worrying about what we'd do with our garbage all week, and now I felt giddy with happiness that we wouldn't have to deal with it! I could hardly stammer out the good news to Sam fast enough!

If you had told me twenty years ago that a twice-emptied garbage would induce such feelings of joy, I would have thought you were very strange.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Hot Springs

When we hiked to the hot springs in Diamond Fork Canyon last year, we thought it was one of the most beautiful hikes we'd ever been on, and we really wanted to go back with Sam sometime! When my brother was in town we thought about going with him, but circumstances prevented it, and after several weeks went by without another chance, I thought we'd probably just have to skip it this year. It was November and I was afraid, because it was so golden and perfect in our memories, that we'd be disappointed anyway.

But I kept thinking about it and the good weather kept stretching on and on, and finally there was a free day ahead. It wasn't perfect because Sam couldn't get away from his work—but he COULD keep Theodore home with him—and the idea of doing the hike withOUT a baby pack and withOUT a fearless, toddling, slippery fish to worry about in the water…greatly increased the attractiveness of the idea.

Even that morning I started to talk myself out of it because it was so very chilly (I really do so like to stay home…where it's cozy) but the kids were already excited and I knew I'd be sorry if we didn't go, so off we went.
As we drove into the canyon I was still worrying that we'd be too cold. Almost all the leaves had fallen, and the trees looked grey and lifeless in the shade. But when we reached the trailhead there was sunshine peeking over the canyon walls, so that was encouraging. I had had everyone wear sandals, since the hike isn't very steep and I thought we'd be happy to have sandals in the water and not deal with wet socks afterward. But…I think some of the children's feet did get cold, so I guess next time we'll maybe bring water shoes or sandals in our backpacks, and hike in shoes? It was fine, though.
Even though most of the leaves were dead and brown, they looked so pretty with the sun shining through them!
Most of the trail was in the shade after that first sunny bit, but there were lots of beautiful textures to look at, and a surprising amount of color: mosses and lichens and even just the vibrance of the groundcover and the bushes.
It was pretty cold (sparkling frost on the leaves)!
But the exertion of hiking kept us quite warm—even though the chill made Goldie rosy-cheeked!
Sweetie!
The children played their favorite game of running ahead of me on the trail, finding a place to hide, and lying in wait to jump out and scare me when I catch up. Some of them are better at this than others.
After one of these hiding episodes, Goldie got farther behind than she liked to, and was VERY VERY sad until she caught up.
Such pretty moss!
The scenery gets even prettier after you turn away from the main stream to follow this smaller one. The water starts to look blue and smell faintly of sulfur.
Again, so much color! In the grasses, the water, and even the rock.
And whenever the sunlight broke free…it was amazing! We thought everything was just as pretty as last year!
As we got close to the hot springs, a lady on the trail said in what I assume was supposed to be a reassuring manner, "Don't worry, everyone has clothes on! Now." As I had naturally assumed this would be the case (we had purposely gone on a weekday morning, to avoid crowds, and I had heard the reports of nudity in the hot springs were kind of exaggerated anyway), this gave me a moment's pause—but sure enough, clothing was present on everyone we saw, so that was good. It wasn't very crowded, though there was a group of somewhat colorful characters and their two dogs, along with a girl and her boyfriend taking a truly astounding number of selfies. (But as someone who took a hundred pictures myself, I'm hardly in a position to cast the first stone! It is such a lovely place.) Both groups left after awhile, or moved to other pools upstream. We were secretly glad (though I promise we didn't do anything particularly annoying on purpose to MAKE them leave…).
It was SO nice to get in the warm water after hiking that chilly trail! And without Theo to worry about, it felt very relaxing. Everyone could just kind of wander around deciding which pools they liked best. Some are hotter than others, and it's fun to go back and forth.
Oooh, Abe sighting! He's hard to catch up with these days, so it's always nice when he turns up in a picture. Note Sebby going "arrowway" (that's what my kids call "headfirst") down a little waterslide.
I love that milky turquoise water! We had a VW Beetle this color when I was little. It's my mom's favorite.
There were certain areas in the shade, with the sunlight diffused above and that milky reflective water below, where everyone's skin just looked SO BEAUTIFUL. Like porcelain or something.
Many people.
This is a place that is very hard to leave. It produces all the warmth-induced inertia of a nice soothing shower, plus the ceaseless underlying awareness that you're going to have to pull your clothes on over your wet legs and hike down! And, of course, everyone inevitably gets muddy all over, once they get out in their wet swimming suits and hop around pulling on pants and perching on rocks and dusty ledges to strap up their shoes. I just kept repeating to myself, "You're going to have to wash all this anyway. You're going to have to wash all this anyway."
Finally we were all dressed again! And the sun was out well and truly now, so we weren't even cold.

The hike down was even prettier than the hike up. This really is one of my favorite trails (and remained so even at this less-leafy time of year!)—I love winding through scrub oak and maple and walking along streams. There is always something beautiful to look at.

Daisy had brought her doll Rosie, making four girls in all. Or five, counting me. We took turns telling  stories to each other as we walked down the trail. It was very entertaining.
Another rare Abe sighting! He was on a mission to get back to the car quickly so he could continue reading his book. I think he got a good half hour of reading in before we got there.
We saw so many of these vibrant blue damselflies, enjoying their last days with wild abandon. They liked sunning themselves on this log, apparently.
This swath of trees looked really quite orange! Even though I think the leaves were mostly brown, up close.
This little trail wound invitingly off to one side, but it was getting late, and we had to get home. But we were so glad we made the effort to get here late in the season! And maybe NEXT year Sam can go with us!