"Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely."

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pressing Forward

May 7, 2015
Tonight I am feeling overwhelmed and frustrated...and tired. There is always so much more to do than can realistically be accomplished.  And lately, every little extra thing just makes me feel crazy!  I cannot do one or two or ten extra things.  I need a break!  Every night I write the most crucial things to be accomplished the next day.  I stress and agonize over which important things can be postponed.  I pray for direction and wisdom.  I say many silent prayers for guidance each day, pleading with the Lord to help me hear and understand His voice.  I am sad at my lack of capacity and the deep desires of my heart which are very often ignored out of necessity.    

I long to read more, write more, organize more, clean more, teach more, sleep more, workout more, explore more with my kids, connect more with friends and family, ponder and pray more, serve more, go to the temple more, prepare more for everything that matters and implement the things I already know more.  I want to make progress. For many years now, I feel like I have just been keeping my head above water.  There have been lots and lots of meaningful experiences, don’t misunderstand.  But I feel completely inept in every area of my life.  I mean, sure, I have successes here and there.  But real, solid progress – in ANY one area of life, totally eludes me.  Maybe I’m just getting better at treading water.  

Sometimes I wake up in the morning with a song in my head.  I’ve noticed that there is always a message in the song that I need that day.  The other night I had a dream that I was teaching Jason’s institute class for a day.  Only in the dream, I hadn’t prepared for the class at all, because I had found out only moments earlier that I’d be teaching.  Right before class began, I frantically scrambled for an idea of what to teach.  A scripture immediately popped into my head:  Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”  In the dream, I mentally went through each aspect of this scripture that we could discuss together.  When I woke up, the phrase that seemed glued to my brain was “press forward.”  

You know when you are in your early 20’s, so full of vigor and excitement for life, not knowing what the heck you are doing yet, but just so thrilled at the seemingly endless possibilities?  And then, do you remember looking at people older than you – maybe in their mid thirties to mid fifties, who seemed totally burnt out and just settling for mediocrity – as though their loftiest goal was simply to survive life?  I determined early on that I would NEVER be that way.  But now that I am in the thick of it, there are moments when I just think, all I want is to rest for awhile!  And I feel so darn exhausted (physically and emotionally), that I slip from working hard to be my best and live life intentionally to just sort of surviving.  But just sort of surviving is not why I am on earth.  It is not honoring the purpose of my existence; it is NOT pressing forward.  There is such a forceful spiritual current moving society backwards, that if we do not press forward with steadfastness in Christ, we will be swept away with it.  What a destructive force is apathy! 

Perhaps the true frustration is that despite all the pressing forward, I feel like I am virtually in the same spot as always.  I don’t like the feeling, but it does occur to me that standing still has some positive connotations as well - especially when I take all the powerful, insidious currents into consideration.  If I am steadfast and immovable in this world, it means that I am strong – or at least getting stronger.  Pressing forward has tremendous value, then, even when progress is not evident.  I don’t feel that this thought is fully formed, but the idea of it gives me hope.  Since I don’t have any super powers, doing more of all the meaningful things is often not an option.  But Christ makes up the difference each day as I truly give my all (and how I wish my all were SO much more)!!!  Sometimes my all seems pretty darn pitiful.  Still, I am encouraged.  I hope you are encouraged, too.  I trust that more is at work here than what I can see with my mortal eyes, and I have hope that I can change!  I may never be the perfect person that I envision, but I have hope that the journey I am on is molding me into something even better. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

This Mother's Day

I recently read an article written by a woman my age.  It was about her mom, for her mom.  It was beautiful, and it made me realize that I don't need to write about my mom's death to process it any more.  What I need and long to do is write about her life! I started writing on Mother's Day weekend, and soon realized that what I had to say would be much longer than a blog post - or even 10.  So here it is - just a few words of tribute to my beloved mother, Ruth.

This is my mom when she was a little girl.  I don't know what age she is in this photo, but I think maybe around 10.  I love this for so many reasons.  When I look at this picture, I feel like I'm looking at myself too.

Here she is as a college student - beautiful, ambitious and ready to take on the world!  I never could tire of her vivacious energy or warm smile. 

I think one of the things that made mom so great is that she never tried to fit any mold.  She never fretted about how to be a good mom.  She never sat around reading articles about how to perfectly discipline a child, how to create chore lists, or how to make the perfect birthday party.  In fact, my mom was not a disciplinarian at all.  She never was super organized about chores (or about anything, really), and stressing about a birthday party was the last thing on her mind.  Don’t get me wrong.  Her kids were her life!  We were the very heart beating in her chest!  To me, mom’s genius was that she just lived her life with all the integrity, courage, and gusto she possessed…and it was a lot!  She didn’t stress out constantly about whether things were perfect, and she certainly wasn’t comparing herself to others (frankly, she was too busy to notice what they were doing)!  She just lived well.  We were along for the ride, and what we learned was huge. 
(Me and my mom when I was 4) 

(Me and mom at my wedding - 9 years ago)

Our birthdays were amazing even though she usually threw something together last minute.  She was just so incredibly good at getting 8 million things done at once!  When I turned 5, she made the most perfect Strawberry Shortcake Cake ever.  She didn’t spend the month before trying to figure how to make a perfect cake, she just bought the cake pan from the grocery store and whipped it up like it was no biggie - as though she had worked in a bakery half her life!  She had so much talent for decorating and beautifying, that I’m sure she’d have been a pinterest guru if pinterest were around when she was raising us.  But she would have never had the time for that – or the interest.  There were bigger priorities on her mind than cake tutorials. 
(This is the only picture of that birthday party that I have - I wish I had been looking at the camera or that we could get a better look at the cake, but this was the 80's, people.  Regular moms did not take 300 pictures at every event back then.  Nor did they fancy themselves photographers.  So, I guess it'll do!)

She could whip up a mouth-watering meal in 30 minutes out of scraps…and she often did!  I can’t tell you how many times we’d ask her on the way home from church what was for dinner, and her enthusiastic and cheerful reply would be, “it’s a surprise!”  Amazingly, the surprise was always delicious.  And no matter how hungry she was, she would ALWAYS give us what she had to eat if we wanted it. I know it seems trivial, but this really underscores her generosity.  
(Here mom is baking up a storm, or maybe just modeling a new apron on Christmas Eve a few years ago)

Mom led a purposeful life, full of many meaningful ventures.  She loved her business because her business gave her the opportunity to change lives.  She was all about inspiring people to fulfill their purpose on earth…to live intentionally.  Her intensity and drive to pursue goals gave us the opportunity to do the same.  To me, it seemed like the only normal way to live!  I won’t lie and say how much I loved her being on business calls all the time or having endless meetings.  What I loved most were the times that she wasn’t working…like the week before Christmas when we’d bake cookies and make wreaths and decorate and beautify and play games every night as a family!  

(Mom spending some quality holiday time with Weston and Sophie - 2010 and 2011)

I loved weekends, just like all kids do.  On Saturdays, my brother often had soccer games.  My mom rarely missed any game Mike played in.  Even though it was fun, I was sometimes embarrassed by her excessive enthusiasm and over-involvement.  I can still see her on the side-lines repeatedly shouting, “be aggressive Mike!!”  I’m sure it never occurred to her that the other moms didn’t do that.  Why should it?  I also remember going to the Price Club and watching Star Search on Saturday night.  Those were the days!
 I loved Sundays too because mom NEVER did work on Sunday.  She would play the piano and I would sing hymns (cheesy perhaps, but we loved it)!  We often baked on Sunday, and during the warmer months we’d lay out by the pool and talk and do our nails. 
(Mom and me in Hawaii when I was 9 years old - that trip is a truly sweet memory from my childhood.  I love the way my mom is looking at me in this pic!  I wonder what book I was reading...)

Every time mom prayed, she would thank God for allowing us the privilege of living on the earth at this time.  She seemed to always have uppermost in her mind the importance of preparing for the return of Jesus Christ.  She emphasized that we should never waste anything – not our time, our talents, our intelligence, or our opportunities.  She constantly taught by her actions and words that we should anxiously be engaged in the things that truly matter (learning, serving, working, doing).  I love that about her!  She certainly wasn’t perfect, but you could never say she was lukewarm about anything.  She didn’t let her imperfections prevent her from pressing forward with genuine enthusiasm.  She’d try to improve, but not waste time on regrets.  Her positive attitude permeated our life.  I didn’t fully appreciate these golden traits until I was older.
 (Mom doing business in Europe - it is so like her to take a pic next to some gorgeous flower arrangement!)

 (Proof that mom didn't always work.  Yes, those are UNO cards in her hands!)

It seems that motherhood was effortless for my mom.  Life wasn’t effortless, but lovingly bringing us along for the ride was second nature for her.  All of her pursuits would have felt meaningless without us. She adored and admired us, and seemed to have confidence that we could do anything…which she told us all the time!  No challenge was too great that we couldn’t succeed with flying colors (according to her)!  She would have us help her with business presentations – whenever she could convince us to, anyway.  She once had me fly to Ireland (when I was 19) to do a couple days of business training before she even got there.  I seriously didn’t think I had a clue what to do, but I guess I did well enough, because she seemed pleased with how it all went.  It is impossible to measure how much confidence she instilled in us with her sheer certainty that we were brilliant and could do anything, but I know I want to instill this same confidence in my own children.  I realize now that she saw our weaknesses, but didn’t focus on them. 

(My mother's greatest achievements. How I love this picture of my brother and me!)

Mom was in no way perfect, but for every flaw she had, there were a million ways that she made up for it.  For example, she made huge messes, especially when cooking.  And she usually cooked everything on high because she was in a hurry.  But she never got mad at us when we spilled things or messed something up, or locked her out of her room without a key.  Yeah, I did that once on accident.  She didn’t waste one second being upset with me.  She didn’t ever waste her time getting upset over the mistakes kids are bound to make – even if it meant huge inconvenience or added stress on her.  We never felt that we were a disappointment to her, and we never wanted to.  She loved us so well and esteemed us so highly, that I don’t think either of us could bear the thought of disappointing her.  I know I couldn’t.

 (Me and mom at my high school graduation)

After she passed away, I became quickly and painfully aware that no one else was as proud of me as was she, and if they were, I certainly wasn't going to hear about it on a daily basis!  Her encouragement didn't make me arrogant.  It made me feel loved and capable.  I am still surrounded by people that love me and are kind to me, but I sure miss the lady who knew my weakest spots and still believed in me one hundred percent of the time without reservation.  I am pretty sure this quality she possessed to truly believe in others is the reason that at least 15 different people told me after she died that she was their best friend.  She made everyone feel amazing, important, glorious.  The truth is, she believed that they were!

 (My mom with her dad, on the day my grandpa and grandma remarried each other (I was 12).  I found a letter recently that my mom had written me when he died (I was on my mission at the time)...she talked of how much she would miss his frequent phone calls, enthusiasm, and constant encouragement.  I know the feeling, mom!)

She especially could think no evil of her children, or so it seemed.  I am not sure really how this fierce conviction in our absolute goodness didn't produce conceited, ridiculous humans, but I think it had to do with something deeper.  She didn't think we were perfect, but she had an amazing way of reminding us of who we were and of what we were capable.  Once, when I was wasting my time hanging out with a boyfriend on a Sunday, not really feeling like going to church, she responded in a genius way that I'm sure she never thought twice was the only way she would ever think to respond in a situation like that.  Instead of lecturing us or trying to force us in any way to get our butts to church, she simply asked, "Are you two noble spirits going to church today?"  She was so sincere and earnest in her praise of our noble nature, it was nearly impossible to resist the invitation!  And that was her way.
(Mom was always an affectionate person...and she certainly was never too busy or preoccupied to 
snuggle with one of her grand kids!)

(My mom with her lovely mom a few years ago.)

This Mother’s day, I am strengthening my resolve to be more like my mom - to love my kids more perfectly, to encourage them more continuously, and to choose patience over regret.  I won’t waste time obsessing about my imperfections; instead, I will push forward with gratitude for the opportunities that each new day brings. 
I love you, mom!!!!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Missing mom...

I have wanted to sit down and write for a long, long time.  There is a unending dialogue in my mind of all the things I want to write, but today I have one thing on my mind: my mom.  It has been exactly 18 months since we watched her slip away from this life.  I remember well those last moments.  Time stood still and there was a thick, rich heaviness in the room.  It is difficult to put into words, but the heaviness I am talking about was a deep sense of solemnity and immense peace.  It was powerful, but not overpowering.  It was richly comforting, and seemed to cover our grief like a thick blanket, although there was still so much sadness too. It was a day full of intense hours after a night of no sleep and many, many intense days before it.  It was painful and beautiful all at once, because we could feel mom's transition from physical life to the spiritual realm.  I know there were others there we couldn't see.  Loved ones who were there to greet her.  I could feel them close.  I hate that I had to lose my mom, but I am thankful for the peacefulness of her passing and the fact that I was there.  I cannot imagine how much harder it would have been to let her go had I not been with her as it happened.

For a long time after her death, I kept thinking about those last couple of days. I couldn't get the images of my mom on her deathbed out of my mind. I kept reliving the experience, wondering why I didn't say this or do that and just wishing I had been able to get there sooner. I forced regrets out of my mind, because my mom would never want me wasting my time on those.  For a very long time, the last day of her life felt recent. Now it feels foggy, like a distant memory...holding Sophie up so she could kiss her grandma on her face one last time, seeing my brother's and my husband's tears, asking my mom questions even though I knew she couldn't answer because she was unable to speak.
I'm glad I almost never relive those moments anymore.  But I hate that her absence has been so long now. Oh how long these two years have felt to me!


A while ago I had a dream that I was on a boat, on some kind of a trip.  The details are all hazy, but I was with my mom.  We weren’t having any kind of profound conversation in the dream.  In fact, I’m pretty sure we were just kind of making small talk about the weather and other such things.  In the dream, she had never died, so I just felt normal.  When I woke up, I was instantly aware of how much I missed her.  Not all the things she did for me or said to me…just her presence.   I miss her every single day in many different ways, but since I haven’t spent time with her in awhile, I forgot how comforting her very presence is to me.  A few days ago I was looking at the calendar to see what day the 12th is (because I always do that now), and I was shocked to realize that this month it will have been 21 months since she died.  21 MONTHS!?!?!  That just seems like such a long time.  That is longer than the time I was on my mission - which officially makes this our longest separation ever.
I think of her many, many times each day.  I felt like I was swimming in thoughts of her the entire month of December, which  brought me joy but simultaneously made me want to crawl up into a ball and cry my eyes out every single day. Right after losing a loved-one, you are inundated with concern and love (which is amazing). You are also conspicuously ignored by a few who probably just don’t know how to react, but that is a post yet to be written (seriously, I have pondered it for awhile now).  After a few weeks, people stop asking how you are doing.  We all have to move on with our lives, and frankly, that is good.  And really, in my case, I did feel an immense amount of peace and comfort, so I was okay.  I continued to push forward with the important responsibilities in life and sometimes I would even go a whole week without even feeling super sad.

The kicker for me is that life is peppered with periods of high stress.  In those highly stressful times, the grief and pain come flooding back. My mom was always the one to help me feel sane when I was overwhelmed with anxiety or self doubt.  She built my confidence and encouraged me in ways that no one else could.  I ache for her wisdom, comfort and voice of reassurance! I know that I have everything I need to make it successfully through life, but the stressful times are worse than they used to be.  I miss my biggest fan cheering me on!   

Also, strangely, many surges of heartache are completely unpredictable.  Sometimes when I think I should feel sad, I feel awesome!  Other times, when everything seems to be great, the sense of loss is suddenly palpable and I'm mourning all over again. This year we watched “You’ve Got Mail” a couple of weeks before Christmas.  I have always really enjoyed that movie.  It’s just cute.  Anyway, there is a scene when Meg Ryan is decorating the Christmas tree in her quaint little book shop.  She is narrating her email to Tom Hanks and says, “tonight I missed my mom so much I could hardly breathe.”   It is a simple line, but it struck me straight through the heart.  I knew exactly how she felt... 
Some things get easier with time, but I am not convinced that this is one of them.