Monday, June 28, 2010

On Bubble Wrap, Armored Cars, and Agency

Angie commented on my last post with something that I want to address more directly in a post:

I think in soul gripping fear that we parents want to encase our children in bubble wrap so to speak. If there is bad on the Internet, don't have it, if there is bad on cable, don't pay for it (I remember a certain roommate whose parents vowed to never have cable because MTV was there), if if if. The thing is, none of that bubble wrap actually works. We have to immerse our souls in gospel light to protect ourselves and our children when we go out into the world. Only then are we able to recognize toxic situations and know if there is a way to mitigate damage or if we must just opt out. Only with sufficient internal light will we be able to navigate the minefields that are rampant in the world. That internal light will attract those of like mind, who are searching, to us so that we can find all that is good and all who are good in the world.

This reminds me of something a former bishop used to say: "We sometimes want to put our children in an armored car. But we have to help them learn how to put on the armor of God."

So, how do we do this?

Actually, in our home, we don't have a TV connection. It is one of the lines we have drawn both for spiritual but also for practical reasons (we're cheap!) We also find TV for us to be a potential distraction, nevermind the potential "bad" that is there. We feel great about this choice.

But I know we are actually in the minority, and I don't think those who have a TV/Cable/Satellite connection are "bad" people.

To me, this issue of how and where to draw lines brings up an important point. There is no One Right Way to prepare our children to both be able to face the "bad" and to embrace the good. Each family has the responsibility and opportunity to figure out what is Right for them.

Bathing our children in light is, in my mind, a combination of deliberate focus on good and also the avoidance of evil. As Angie points out, bubble wrap -- avoidance alone -- will not work on its own. But I think avoidance can have its place, if it's coupled with filling lives with light and truth and teaching. It's one thing to draw lines out of fear, it's another thing, imo, to do so deliberately and to teach about why those lines are being drawn.

But again, for each family, how both are done can vary, and vary quite a bit!

- There are people who choose to homeschool to keep outside influences down and family/gospel time up. But there is nothing that says homeschooling is more righteous (so anyone who wants to try to suggest that to me is out of line).

- There are people who choose to limit internet access. I imagine there are some who choose not to have it at all. I don't see a Right answer on this score, either, except to have any internet access monitored and public (with computer in a spot where everyone can see, not in a bedroom, etc.)

- There are those who draw a line at a certain kind of movie, e.g., "No PG-13 movies in our family." Prophets in the past drew lines at rated-R movies, but we all know there's a whole lot that isn't rated R that is probably best left unseen. Others may draw lines with movies on a more case-by-case basis. Some live in countries without ratings, and it's wise to note that ratings are no guarantee.

- I've been fascinated to see how parents in my area feel about specific movies, and I love how we have been deliberate about respecting each others' lines. I'm talking differences regarding Disney and even LDS cinema. I love it, actually, because it shows that we are each willing to draw lines even when our close friends are doing something different. I saw similar differences with how people dealt wiht Harry Potter books and movies with their kids.

- Some families choose not to have video games at all. Others have multiple options. I see differences with choices about iPods and cell phones, too. Is there a Right answer here? I don't think so.

- I think we could also discuss things like curfews, dating rules, etc.

One of the central doctrines of Mormonism is agency. We are given guidance about truth -- in this case, the need to keep ourselves pure and unspotted from the world, to feed our spirits, to try to be more like the Savior, etc. We are given counsel about practical things like being wise with our entertainment use and being courageous enough to draw lines in our lives.

But we are rarely told exactly where and how to draw those lines.

So, I'm curious to hear others' thoughts on how to help develop the internal light of your children and also how and where you choose to draw lines.

Not of the World

Sometimes the Mormon notion of being "not of the world" can rub some people the wrong way, and I can understand that...but only to a point. Because there is so much about "the world" that is awesome -- the natural beauty to be sure, and also just a plethora of wonderful people of myriad belief systems (or even without belief systems) -- it could be interpreted as a rejection of some really great things.

But I think sometimes this notion of being "in the world but not of the world" is misunderstood.

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints both rejoice in the good that is around us and also warn boldly of the dangers that can threaten our personal and societal well-being. In my view, we shouldn't reject the notion of rejecting the bad because there is good out there. I think we can do both.

So what might be some of 'the world' we should shun? Many stories swim in my mind.

-I think about a young man who was chosen for a prestigious national sports academy, and the environment was so toxic, so laced with boys sharing pornographic material with each other. As a "joke" they planted pics on his computer. He simply couldn't stay and not have his spirit affected. (We take for granted what the law of chastity does for our youth, imo).

-I read another story of a group of young men who had created a band that was going big. But the producers wanted to use material that was sexual to sell, and one young man could feel that he was at a crossroads. He had success sitting in the palm of his hand, but he could tell his spirituality would suffer.

-How many stories do we hear in the news about people who have chosen wealth over integrity? Dishonesty and corruption exists in business, government, and more personal relationships as well.

-I have far too many friends whose marriages have ended because of pornography, abuse, infidelity, dishonesty, and other ills of a spouse. It's heartbreaking to watch.

-Think of the number of kids who have tried cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs (which is not only harmful, but illegal) - as though it's no big thing. If anything, it's THE thing to do for many. This puts youth on a path toward possible addiction and many other problems, and can seriously impact their growing brains.

-I think of college students for whom drink and fooling around are just normal behavior, even expected protocol, for college life. To me, the Word of Wisdom and law of chastity are amazing spiritual and physical shields -- for all of us, of course, but I think about that critical stage of young adulthood when life is really just beginning. Alcohol and out-of-control sexual activity not only put them at risk physically, but also end up being such a waste. of. precious. time. And talent. And opportunity.

There is also a connection between the Word of Wisdom and the law of chastity. Those who drink and do drugs will sometimes (often?) use these substances as manipulative power tools to facilitate their ability to abuse others sexually and otherwise. As a side note, those who champion the power of women to have control over their bodies should, in my view, also be champions of soberness and chastity. With all the talk of abortion as a way to protect women from sexual abuse, I think we should be talking more of prevention that can be in the control of the women in many circumstances.)

-I think of trends leading away from marriage, family, and God toward a more individualistic and secular society.

-I think of wars and serious tragedy that exist because of evil. We who might be living in places where such tragedy is not a mode of life would do well to remember those who live dominated by tyranny and absolute chaos because of the institutionalization of evil.

These are just a few examples that have come to mind.

Let me say again: I have felt strongly of the good that is out there. I rejoice in that good. Mormon leaders do, too. There are so many people out there who are grounded, principled, hard-working, kind people. I thrill to feel the spirit of service that exists all around the world.

But we can rejoice in the good while being mindful of the problems that exist -- problems that do pull at society as a whole, and that can also affect the lives of individuals who make them and innocents who are affected.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

True Humility

I'm subbing in Primary for the next two weeks. Tonight, while skimming the lesson the children had last week (I like to try to build on what they have been talking about if possible), I found this simple quote:
Ask if we can be talented and humble at the same time. Explain that each of us has been given talents to develop. Some people want to take credit for their talents, thinking that they did all the work to develop them. Other people belittle themselves, saying they have no talents. True humility is not to belittle or make light of our abilities. It is seeing ourselves as God sees us and recognizing that, as children of God, he has given us all that we have, and that each of us has been blessed with many talents.

This is reminiscent of a now-favorite book of mine, Weakness is Not Sin. A key message of that book for me was that it's important for us to come to know what strengths we have been given, because it is through such gifts that we can be instruments in God's hands. And in fact, if we spend too much energy focusing on weakness that may never be removed or improved, we might be missing the boat a bit.

True humility is power, but is a balancing act, I's too easy to slip into prideful self-praise or discouraged self-doubt.

Yet another example of how life presents us with opposition that requires a delicate and inspiration-based balancing act.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wait Training

In my world, where health struggles are the norm and medical testing is not unusual, I have done a lot of waiting. Waiting to see that expert doctor. Waiting in the waiting room (sometimes those minutes can be torture). Waiting for a scheduled test. Waiting for test results (weekend waiting is the worst, I think). Lots and lots of waiting. (To quote Princess Bride: I hate waiting. )

You'd think I would get better at it, but if anything, I've come to feel as though I have done nothing but perfected my fretting frenzies.

Case in point: Just a couple of weeks ago I was nearly beside myself for two weeks while waiting to see how severe my heart murmur is. I was a wreck!

I know in my head and heart that fear and faith cannot coexist, but it's one thing to know and another to be able to do. I really am sort of wired to worry. And the more I worry, the more my brain and body want to go to that place of worry.

It's like swimming upstream to try to change that.

But swim I must. For months, going on years, I have been working to build my faith through personal study and worship and by reading lots of books and going to a therapist. (She's a specialist in chronic illness and a woman of deep faith, and true angel in my life.)

This week, I had another something go wonky with my body which entailed another doctor's visit. A perfect storm was building for another pity-panic party. I woke up Tuesday with pounding heart and racing brain.

BUT, I am grateful (shocked might be the better word) to report that perhaps for the first time in my life, somehow I was able to push beyond the yuck and go -- AND STAY -- in another place in my mind -- a place that allowed the Spirit to penetrate through the panic and calm my soul - and STAY. I feel more than His peace -- I feel His power.

What a long-awaited-for gift!

I'm reminded of something my therapist has taught me. Repentance is not just a change in sinful behavior, but a change in how we see ourselves, life, others, and God. It often requires a new way of thinking. (See the Bible Dictionary definition of repentance -- talks about a changed view of self, others, God...I'd add mortality to that list.)

Such change is not just a spiritual endeavor. It involves real, physiological changes in neural pathways in our brain, many of which are both part of and reinforced by our fallen natures. My fears are an example. I think I *am* wired to worry, but as I said, I've sure developed a talent for it, too, through lots and lots of practice! This is an example of how the "natural man" can manifest itself -- not just in depraved sinfulness, but in distorted thought patterns that can keep God's peace at bay. We aren't bad people if we struggle with these things. Faith really is like any other exercise! It takes lots of time and repetition and patience and consistency and all of that.

But with that exercise and God's help, we can develop a new mind.

Let me be clear here. I know not everything about our brains can be fixed in this life, and in fact, some of that brokenness may be part of the necessary opposition for our journeys. Some mental illness is beyond agency's ability to affect. My experience has been that there are things I have tried to focus on fixing in my brain and have felt wrong about addressing right now. Others I have worked on and have had little success.

But on the other hand, I have felt pressed to focus on things like this kind of spirit-choking fear. I think I needed to get to a point in my life (yes, through a whole lot of "experience") where I was able to tackle retraining my brain.

And can I just tell you that progress has been colossally slow?

But now, this experience gives me hope. I know I'll slip into old patterns of fear again, but maybe, just maybe, I can practice going to this place and build a new road in my brain!

You know, I don't always like the learn-by-experience plan that is central to God's work with us {grin}, but when I taste the fruits of faith like this, I can embrace the plan more fully. (Fighting against God's plan has never yielded good fruits. Yet another pathway that needs some work.)

It's a wonderful thing to read the scriptures or sit in Sunday School or go to the temple and have the Spirit testify of the truth of the Atonement. I think all these things have helped plant truth in my spirit.

But it's truly miraculous for me to see those truths come to fruition in my life and take hold in a new-mind kind of way, even if just in a small way.

The Atonement is real.

We've just got to keep on working, exercising our faith (not giving up, and sometimes just showing up!)...

...And waiting. Waiting on Him.

- - - - - - -

What truths help you in times of waiting?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Oxygen for the Mommy Race

Actually, I still maintain that I need to get off the track, but this post gives me a chance to take a breath from the panic post I wrote earlier. This may illustrate one benefit of me having two I try to work through some truths that can help keep me on track (on the track that matters, that is).

Tonight, I read a post that was just what the Doctor ordered.

Am I Doing Enough? reminds me of the crux of Sister Beck's recent Women's Conference talk (and apparently it's the talk she is giving as she travels, because I have heard this report from several women now who have had the privilege of having Sister Beck visit their area).

She talks about activities in three areas of life: essential, necessary, nice to have (to me it rings similar to the whole "good, better, best" thing from Elder Oaks).

Here's the list as Kiley shared it:

1. Essential Things (things you must do to attain eternal life):

* Pray Daily -- don't wait to pray, because you will never have a convenient moment.
* Scripture Study -- every day spend time in the scriptures.
* Temple Attendance -- whenever you can.
* Regular Church Attendance

2. Necessary Things (things you need to do to get through life):

* Eating, sleeping, bathing
* Serving
* Getting an education
* Managing your resources

3. Nice-To-Dos (things that are not essential but you enjoy doing):

* Reading, gardening, sewing
* Using the computer
* Watching television or movies

I'm trying to consider how these categories can transfer over into my role as a mother. I appreciated Sue's comment on my panic post. Spiritual and emotional time with children -- teaching of truth, connecting with them, trying to build a home environment where the Spirit can dwell, helping them feel loved and cared for -- these are essential things. The important things are the quehaceres (there is no word in English that says it quite as well), the tasks that keep us going physically (and also have a spiritual element to them as we help our children prepare for adulthood). Would nice-to-dos be extracurricular activities? I suppose for everyone that will all fall out differently. But I do think it's all too easy to confuse busy-ness with success. And I also think that it's not always so easy to discern where one category ends and the other begins. No wonder Sister Beck is urging us to seek personal revelation constantly!

You know, in spite of the health issues that are obviously weighing me down right now (the hard-ness of it all comes in waves, I've found), my husband and I do still try to teach my children and keep the gospel at the center of our life. We care about spending time as a family (and I think we are doing better at that than we used to). I try to connect with each of my children every day, to show love and interest in them. Although sometimes only barely, I keep us fed, clothed, and going with the schtuff of life. We try to do some service, and we try to have some fun along the way, too.

So, you know, maybe I need to just take a chill pill. (Surprise.)

I have to remember, too, that there is an Atonement -- a welcome balm for all us imperfect mothers.

Inhale. Exhale.



Friday, June 4, 2010

I'll add my amen, sister!

People who know me know that I spend a lot of time thinking and writing and talking about the importance of women in God's plan. One element of our role about which we are reminded is that of being nurturers. This was actually a powerful theme I felt woven throughout this last General Conference. I don't know that I've ever witnessed a conference quite like this last one in that regard.

Sometimes it's easy to equate worth with visible positions or headline-worthy accomplishments. But this post, Amen sister, by my friend Dalene is a perfect example of how sometimes (often) it's the little things that can make a difference. I think moments like this where love is shown are moments that can help young people (and help us!) discover the reality of divine love.

Heaven only knows that those of us who are mothers simply can't be there in every moment for every need our children have. Thank heaven for women like Julie who, in small and simple ways, step in to help.

I'm grateful to Dalene for capturing this moment and this message in such a powerful way. It's stayed with me all week. Every time I read it or explain it, I get a lump in my throat.

Go read it. You'll be glad you did.