Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tender Mercies

Nothing really profound to say today, but I just wanted to share some recent "tender mercies."

We've been trying hard to "live within our means," so we've been carefully tracking our budget. Last week we ran out of gas, milk and just about everything edible in the house a couple days before pay day. To make things stretch, we walked to more places and we ate weird food storage-y items. We scrounged for change in the couch, etc. to find seven dollars to put gas in the van for the last day.

We were down to the last 2 diapers. I ransacked the car, all diaper bags, my purse, etc. but turned up nothing. With one more day to go, I was wondering if I should go door to door asking for diaper donations. That night we put the last two diapers on the two babies for bed. It was late, like 9:00 and we were ready for family prayer. Suddenly there came a knock at the door.

It was the ward clerk! For some odd reason he came over at that hour to bring us a reimbursement check for some Scout stuff my husband had bought. Weird. Usually they would just want until Sunday to give that to us. The check was for over $100. As we knelt for family prayer, I told the children that it was a miracle. The Lord had seen our obedience, our sacrifice. Although we weren't going to make it another day with no money, He saw our need and swooped in to fill the gaps. What a tender mercy!

Despite the lateness of the hour, John looked at me and said, "go get milk and diapers and put gas in the car!" I did so happily, grateful for the love I felt and for the lesson we all had learned.

Similarly, I recently started worrying that I needed to be signing our soon -to- be four year old up for preschool somewhere. He is very intelligent. He already knows most of his letters and I can see that he needs the extra challenge. However, as I researched, I discovered that such a thing would not be in our budget.

The very next day I got a strange call. My other children's elementary school called and said that a certain woman (the mother of another child there) wanted to speak to me and left her number with the school (since we had recently moved and switched phone numbers, she didn't know how else to reach me). Although I know this woman well and admire her, I have never spent much time with her, other than casual conversations at school functions. I was curious to know why she wanted to speak with me.

I called her back, but left a message. She called me, but I couldn't talk just then. As a busy mother herself, the two of us played phone tag for days. Finally I saw her at a school event. I apologized for not getting through to her, but she said it was fine and then explained her reason for calling me.

This sweet woman has a large family too. Last year, the unthinkable occurred. Her bright-eyed, toe-headed toddler, about four at the time, had been accidentally run over and killed by an extended family member in their own driveway.

Of course the whole family was devastated. But they were also enfolded in the arms of the Savior's love as they bravely soldiered on. As part of the healing process for them, they decided to generously set up a "scholarship" at the preschool their son had attended and loved. She was calling to offer that scholarship to me.

I was flabbergasted to say the least. I hadn't told anyone that I was investigating preschools, not even my husband. Furthermore, since we had moved, I had not been around the elementary school much and had not seen this woman for months! Why she thought of me I'll never know. But she explained that she had awakened in the night on more than one occasion with my name coming to her. I humbly and gratefully accepted her unbelievable offer.

I don't always understand the Lord's will or His timing, but I do know that He keeps His promises. And for us, at this time as we struggle to raise nine children on a budget, we know that He has truly multiplied our meager efforts and showered us with tender mercies.

I, the Lord, am abound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no bpromise.

D&C 82:10

Bring ye all the atithes into the storehouse, that there may be bmeat in mine house, and cprove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not dopen you the ewindows of heaven, and pour you out a fblessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Malachi 3:10

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lost and Found

I am not a jewelry person. I can't even wear my wedding ring at night. Having grown up a tom boy, it just feels foreign to put on rings, earrings or especially necklaces.

My sweet husband, however, comes from a family of jewelry wearing women: they are Southern, they are beautiful, and they accessorize brilliantly. Consequently, I really tried for a few years, but just couldn't get the hang of it.

On one occasion, my sweetheart bought me a beautiful pearl ring (pearls are the one gem I do love). Still, the three different "golds" and the leaf design just didn't seem quite like "me." You can imagine his dismay at my complete feminine dysfunction.

Finally, after years of frustrating gift giving attempts, my patient husband lovingly presented to me the most perfect piece of sterling silver, ever. It was an anniversary gift, purchased on the streets of Philadelphia during a day trip of sight-seeing with our out-of-town family. I had stayed behind with my nursing newborn, allowing John the freedom to shop all day without me (with the added benefit of my sister's discerning eye!)

I still remember exactly where we were, out on the back porch of our 1905 Dutch Colonial there on Shadeland Ave. in Drexel Hill, when he pulled it out of his pocket. The night was perfect. Clear, balmy. The stars were twinkling. The children were in bed. All was calm. Our extended family happily chatting inside. He held a black velvet pouch. I started to panic. My thoughts were: "Oh no! not jewelry! What will I say? How will I respond? Can I fake it? Will I hurt his feelings?" But then, I saw it.

The most perfect ring every crafted; for me, that is. A simple sterling silver masterpiece. It actually consisted of three rings: One larger in the middle, two smaller bands above and below. And best of all, they were held together with another small band going vertically in the back (making them comfortable and keeping the three bands together as one). I couldn't believe it. I think I cried. I couldn't hug him enough. It was so thoughtful, so loving AND so perfect all at once.

It sounds silly I guess, to be so happy about a piece of jewelry; something so flat and empty. But to me, it symbolized a love so kind, so pure, so patient and long-suffering. A love that had endured countless rejections, yet kept trying to find that perfect little something. And now he had found it. Wow, what a guy.

As you might imagine, I am simple when it comes to clothes also. I have a few "staples" and I wear these items over and over again. Well, this perfect ring became my jewelry staple. It was so comfortable, I wore it every day, sometimes I even slept with it on!! It went with everything. I could dress it up or down. But I always knew that no matter what I was wearing, no matter what my mood, it would always just "fit."

As I pondered this, I realized how this circular little ring symbolized our marriage. Our temple ceremony had been simple, chaste, eternal. We are not a flashy "power" couple, but we are sturdy, comfortable, and bound together forever as one. Since I wore the ring so often, people assumed it was my wedding ring; and I guess for all intents and purposes, it was.

Seven years later we moved to Utah. We lived with John's wonderful parents for six months while waiting for our new home to be built.

We were excited about our new house, but were nervous about the price tag. We had spent years getting totally out of debt, except for a modest mortgage. Going to a bigger, new home would put us back into a hefty debt situation. It seemed worth it, but we couldn't shake the nagging feeling that it just wasn't right.

We decided to move in anyway. We loved the neighbors, the location, the 3 laundries, the 7 bathrooms, the mud room, the stage, the 3 car garage, the view and so on. There was nothing NOT to love. It was perfect! except for one thing.

Slowly, our once idyllic marriage began to change. There was a lot more stress. Little disagreements about paint color, tile, how much to spend on the yard, etc. crept into our conversations. The stress could be felt more and more, even by the children.

About this time, something else happened. Since I often remove earrings wherever I sit to read and always set rings on the kitchen window sill to wash dishes, I often lose track of them. This practice isn't too dangerous because most of my "jewelry" is from Walmart and I don't mind losing it for a few days now and then. However, the one perfect ring was different. I always kept track of that. I made a distinct effort to make sure I knew where it was at all times, even when I took it off.

Over time, however, I became so completely overwhelmed with maintaining our huge home and huge family that I did lose track of that ring. One day when I wanted it, it just couldn't be found in any of my usual spots. At first I didn't really panic because I assumed that it would just show up in the normal course of life, but after four years of looking, I had to concede that it truly must be lost.

I tired not to reveal my feelings. I wanted to hide how profoundly sad I was, how responsible I felt for the loss. I didn't want my husband to even know I'd lost such a special thing. When he finally found out, I tried to downplay the loss and told him I'd replace it. I hunted all over to find one like it. I was sure they had been mass produced and were probably everywhere, but I was wrong. I couldn't find anything like it at all. Not in Utah, not anywhere else we traveled either, not even back East.

In desperation, I went to a popular silver store in the mall. I found three separate rings which somewhat resembled the one, but I had to wear them all together and they were not all uniform sizes. This was uncomfortable and annoying. Often one would just fall right off my finger. I could never keep them altogether when not being worn. I had to go searching every time I wanted to wear them. In the end, my baby took one off during church and flung it. Weeks of looking turned up nothing.

Again the metaphor was clear. I had allowed our marriage, once simple and "just right" to become "lost." It had become a victim of our new and improved lifestyle. Where was the love? The long-suffering? The benefit of the doubt? It was lost, somewhere in the never-ending piles of sample paint cards from Home Depot.

Although we were "happy" and getting by, the deeper joy and peace that comes from truly "living within your means" was missing from our life.

Something had to change, we both knew it. We felt compelled to get out of debt as quickly as possible. We knew this meant selling our dream home (during a recession!) and finding a simpler place to live where we could afford some real joy.

It was not an easy or fast process. It took over a year to find buyers and another suitable place to live. However, with the Lord's help, we were able to do both after much difficulty and sacrifice.

We moved into our "new" home seven months ago. It has been an adjustment to go back to fewer bathrooms and only one laundry, but a happy adjustment. What we have lost is nothing compared to what we have found. The peace, love, and mutual respect has returned to our lives. The crazy "busy-ness" has tempered. The stress has all but melted away. And although we miss our sweet neighborhood friends terribly, still, we have greater peace.

We live in closer quarters now, but rejoice to do so. I can hear my teenage girls giggling just down the hall (ALL NIGHT LONG!). Our single story family room is "just right" for cozy snuggling in front of the real wood burning fireplace. Our mature yard is a jungle for toddler explorers and mud pie makers. Our shrunken square footage has required me to purge much of our over-sized furniture, leaving only the most essential pieces.

And our marriage? Wow. It's just like the old days, only better. Not only do we share love and peace again, but we appreciate it too. We know what was lost, and has been found.

The other day, I was cleaning out some dresser drawers that hadn't been packed up for our move. They had been taken from one house to the next with all the contents completely intact. I discovered many outdated clothing items and was making quite a pile for DI when I came across a small box. Hmm. I'd never seen it before, it looked like trash. I impulsively began to to toss it toward the garbage. But suddenly, I hesitated. What if there were something inside? I decided to check. As I opened the smashed little box, tears sprang to my eyes. There it was, the perfect ring. I couldn't believe it. It had been with me all the time, perhaps squirreled away by a child at play. All the sad, hard years, it had been with me, just hidden away, buried deep inside; waiting to be found again, when I was less preoccupied and ready to appreciate it's sturdy, simple, eternal beauty once again.

I kneeled down in thanks and poured out my simple prayer to God. I thanked Him for giving us the experience of feeling lost, of allowing us to be found, of healing our hearts, healing our family. But mostly I thanked Him for teaching me so profoundly that He, like my perfect ring, has really been with us all the time. When I was ready to turn my life back over to Him, I "found" Him ready and waiting.

And the ring? I wear it almost everyday. The perfect reminder of my perfect husband and my perfect Father in Heaven who's perfect love has found me once again.

Luke 15: 8-10

8 ¶ Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one apiece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the aangels of God over one bsinner that repenteth.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Red Light, Green Light

Anyone with kids and a minivan knows how torturous red lights can be. Generally speaking, if you are in your van during the hours of 8 am to 7 pm (sometimes later!) you are likely the "taxi driver" and likely late for something.

I have been known to pray for lights to change when particularly strapped for time. My children even get into to action by chanting "green, green, green, green!" as we approach each intersection.

This is not to say that I speed, exactly. Although I have "pushed the limit" in the past, I try not to do so anymore. Still, I often wish I could drive with no pesky pauses!

My tendency to despise interruption has been tested repeatedly as a parent. Any mother knows that it is nearly impossible to do anything from reading to visiting the restroom without a little friend or helper appearing. Forget trying to paint something.

Recently, however, I have begun to appreciate the "red lights" in my life. Let me explain.

I first pondered this while nursing a baby. I am ashamed to say that in the beginning, I was frustrated at having to sit down and do nothing else but feed the baby. Some women are blessed to be able to read, etc. while nursing, but I am not physically capable of doing so. Let's just say that my situation requires two hands and total attention. At first I felt annoyed. However, I gradually learned to love and then to anticipate my alone time with each child. We shared quiet moments of gazing at one another. It was if the whole world stopped spinning for just that sweet time. Of course, it never lasted long as the toddlers always found just the right contraband activity while mom was occupied. But I wouldn't trade that time. I learned the value of a "red light."

Generally speaking, moms are multi-taskers (I help with homework while cooking, I mediate fights while scrubbing toilets). However, when it comes to really meaningful stuff, I have to be focused.

So, last week my oldest daughter, a thoughtful, poetic girl, told me she needed a monologue for her advanced drama class audition. I threw out some ideas that I thought would fit her personality, she googled them. When she found one she liked, she asked me to come watch it with her. I was running around, making dinner, driving people here and there, putting out fires, as is my daily routine. I avoided watching it for a long time, but finally, with rag in hand, STOPPED and watched it (I didn't even sit down, but at least I stood still).

The one she chose was "Emily" from Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Those of you who are familiar are likely nodding just now. I had forgotten the full message, I just remembered that my daughter reminded me of Emily in some way. As I took the time to really watch it ( a great performance by Penelope Ann Miller from 1989), I felt haunted. As if Emily could see right through me. A busy fake. But even more, I felt exposed to my beautiful daughter. She knows me better than anyone I think. One of her spiritual gifts is discernment. She can read people, people like me.

There I was, standing with dripping rag in hand, my eyes unwittingly filled with tears. I felt frozen as if I couldn't go back to where I had been before the "red light." I couldn't just "get back to work" because it suddenly seemed so hypocritical or even pointless.

Still, someone had to make dinner. Eleven people ain't gonna feed themselves every day. But I learned something. I realized that sometimes, gazing into each other's eyes really is important. Sometimes those pesky red lights are very, very special. Maybe one day, we'll come to realize that the "red light" moments in our life are actually the ONLY thing that really matters. It is during those pauses in our general pursuit that we find ourselves really "living," perhaps because when we pause, we are actually "loving."

About four years ago I had just had baby number eight. I was still in the newborn stage (baby was 4 weeks old) and I had no desire to go out anywhere much. My wonderful, spontaneous husband came home from work one day and announced that we were going camping. All of us. Even me and the newborn. Hmmm. Talk about a "red light." I couldn't imagine anything more time consuming, difficult and crazy with a baby. However, he had been to southern Utah with his work and wanted to share the beauty of that place with us. I really really really didn't want to go. Camping in tents, outside with a nursing newborn did not sound appealing. In any any way. He assured me that he would take care of all the food. This was the ONLY reason I agreed.

I watched as he single-handedly bought, prepared and packed all the gear and food. We loaded everyone up and headed south.

I don't need to go into any more detail, but let me just say that that experience has proven to be the single most memorable/successful family trip we've ever had. For years afterwords it was all the little children talked about. They loved it, they adored it. They drew pictures of us in the "desert" and shared it with teachers, friends, strangers. When asked about favorite destinations, they never say "Disneyland, New York, Washington D. C., Mexico" (the other places we've been), instead they always answer, "camping in the desert!"

As I pondered this lesson this week, I was reminded that so often in the gospel there are ironies. When we "lose" ourself, we "find" ourself, the "greatest" is the "least," etc. I have realized that often what I perceive to be "red lights" are actually "green lights."

Instead of waiting impatiently for the lights in my life to turn ("We got the loan!,""I graduated!,""I've lost 20 pounds!"), I have realized that I am missing it. I am missing all the beauty and joy of life, tapping my foot, engine revving in the fast lane.

I resolve this week to do some gazing. I want to ponder. I want to appreciate. I want to enjoy. I want to savor. I want to stop, sit, listen. I am grateful once again to my priceless children who teach me everyday to be a better person.

As I have been driving this week, whenever I come to a red light, it is an opportunity. I turn, I look at them, we smile, we giggle, we sing, I tickle toes. I tell stories. I ask questions. I listen. I love. I live.

Our Town
written by Thornton Wilder

Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I'm dead. You're a grandmother, Mama! Wally's dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it - don't you remember? But, just for a moment now we're all together. Mama, just for a moment we're happy. Let's really look at one another!...I can't. I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back -- up the hill -- to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute? (part one) (part two)

38 ¶ Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named aMartha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art acareful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath achosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.