Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Random Acts of Kindness: Share Your Light and Get it Back in Return

Random Acts of Kindness

When you share your light, you get more back than you give in return

I found a new little way to give service today, and it just really brightened my day. I find myself looking for these opportunities all the time now.  These small acts lift my spirits and help me to not only be happy, but to feel JOY again. It was easy and simple and I thought,  
"Wow, I could do this more often!... I need to do this more often!  I have to be more aware and look for these opportunities.  I need to pray to find them."
Service helps to heal me!

This is so opposite of all of the advice I got when my husband died...
"Take more time for yourself... Take it easy... Go watch a movie, Get a massage, Indulge yourself."
It was all about ME, ME, ME.

Honestly, those things band-aided the problem for the moment, but did not move me forward.  They brought TEMPORARY pleasure, but not lasting JOY or HAPPINESS.
(I am not advocating that you don't take time to do positive things for yourself to help the healing process.  Studying and reading books that taught me how to heal,  journaling and pondering were all key components that helped me to process the tragedy of my husband's death, but reaching out to lift others is what has really helped me to heal.)

Back to my experience today...

I decided I needed to take dinner over to a friend who has been under a lot of stress trying to raise a large family and go to school at the same time. Knowing the size of their family, I determined that a few Papa Murphy's pizzas should do the trick. It was still early in the morning, about 10:30, when I arrived at the store. The door was locked. Frustrated, I looked for the store hours to see when it opened. 
"Gosh, darn it! Not until 11:00"… Sigh… 
"I guess I have to come back later this afternoon."
As I was standing there contemplating, an employee from the back hurried up to the front and unlocked the door. I said, 
"Oh,  I'm sorry. I know,  you don't open until 11:00." 
I completely expected her to tell me to come back later.  Instead, she replied, 
"That's okay. Come in. We're here anyway."  
I was so surprised! Normally employees wait until the last minute to open the doors not wanting to have to do anymore work than they are officially contracted to do. Both girls in the store cheerfully made my pizzas. I told them about the family I was helping. She handed me my order with a cheerful smile, I went to walk out the door, and then a thought popped into my mind,
 "You should thank her." 
So I told her how much I appreciated that they had gone the extra mile to help me that morning and how unusual I thought it was. I told her what great employees I thought they were.  Again I went to leave, but a second thought entered my mind, 
"You should write a note to their manager to let him know what great employees he has." 
I remembered how much my husband appreciated good employees and how good he was about thanking them everyday.  I asked for some paper, and on the back of an order form, I  jotted down a quick note.  As I left I felt so good about the interaction. Good because they had served me, and because I had done something kind in return.

As I drove home, I thought how easy it would be to NOTICE when people do extra kind things for me, to verbally THANK them, and then to write a note to their supervisor if possible. I thought, 
"Sure, it might take a little extra time, but I bet those girls will have an awesome day when they give their manager the note." 
That's worth a little extra time... 
 Isn't it?

A little LIGHT… 

All it takes is ONE little light shining in the darkness.

As we share that light, others began to let their light shine. 

How much light can you spread  today? 

Here's my favorite 'get up and dance' song about spreading a little light and pushing back the dark.

Try to spread a little light today and then come back and post. 
I would love to hear all the great ideas that are out there.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lessons Learned in Helping Others: Change takes time- part 2

Lessons Learned in Helping Others:
Change takes time
part 2

I have learned that change does not happen overnight.  

Change takes lots of time and must happen line upon line. Often there are two steps forward and one step back. However, we do not have to endure this process alone. Through the pain and exhaustion that often comes, we can turn to the Lord for help.  I found this out as I was helping someone who was spiritually struggling. I knew the Lord wanted me to help them, I knew of their potential, but I found myself very worried about them breaking my trust. I was worried at the hurt I would feel. 'What if...' thoughts consumed my head as I created all sorts of possible scenarios in my mind.  I felt I could not function. I couldn't concentrate on helping anyone else. I could not concentrate on my children. My patience was gone. I found my own grief seeping back into my mind. I knew all of these feelings were not from God, but from Satan.  Over the next few days I prayed and studied and read about not being judgmental (See prior post: The Lord Looketh on the Heart:  My journey to becoming less judgmental.) 

"Heavenly Father, I just can't bear this anymore.  I can't focus and be a good mom.  I can't help other people.  If I am supposed to help this person, then please lift this pain so that I can do my work." 

Then it was literally gone.  

The pain was replaced by understanding, empathy and peace. 
That's how I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

Praying when I felt that way,
 allowed God to show me how the atonement
 could enable me to be His hands. 

If we are truly doing the things that God wants us to do and we don't have the ability to do it on our own, He will enable us with those abilities. That is the enabling power of his grace. Remember, God can take weak things and make them become strong.

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I  give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my  grace is sufficient for all men that  humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make  weak things become strong unto them.  Ether 12:27

As I turned my will over to God in this matter, I was also given understanding. My worries and lack of trust were lifted. I knew that the process of change that this person needed to go through would be up-and-down. I knew that it couldn't happen overnight. I understood that for every two steps forward there might be a step backwards. The Lord gave me patience to deal with the situation. He gave me distance and perspective to emotionally withdraw myself. I knew that I had to unconditionally care about this person no matter what, and the Lord gave me the tools that enabled me to do it. That was a testimony to me that I was on the right path. If ever those feelings have tried to creep in again, immediately, I remind myself of the answer to that prayer.   As soon as I have done this those feelings have left my mind.  

Lessons Learned in Helping Others: Becoming Vulnerable Can Help Heal Pain  part 1

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lessons Learned in Helping Others: Becoming Vulnerable Can Help Heal Pain - part 1

Lessons Learned in Helping Others:
Becoming Vulnerable Can Help Heal Pain
part 1

Often when we go through difficult things we pull inward and become more guarded. We want to protect ourselves from more hurt and pain. Although it is counterintuitive, I have found that making myself vulnerable has helped to heal my pain. 

A friend of mine shared this thought on a Widow/widower's Facebook group.
"Living a life of purpose, mission or service can be intense, sometimes heartbreaking and exhausting, and at the same time enormously fulfilling." 
This statement hit the nail right on the head for me. The things that I have been recently experiencing as I try to reach out and help others fall under the categories of 'intense,' 'heartbreaking,' and 'exhausting.'  Yet, despite it all, they bring me great fulfillment and joy. I have come to realize that all of these emotions mean I'm doing it right. I remind myself of quote I had in my room as a teenager.  It says, 

 "I never said it would be easy... I only said it would be worth it." 

Worth it, it is in the long run, even though in the moment we may not feel that to be the case.  I personally believe that before we came to earth, we signed up to do hard things.  We did it for two reasons...

  1. We wanted to learn how to become better...more like Christ.
  2. We loved and wanted to help those we love.

When I was struggling with the heartbreaking and exhausting part in one particular situation, I prayed for extra guidance. This was the thought that came in my mind after that prayer, and I wrote it down.

 "Don't be afraid of the pain you must go through.    It will teach you the empathy that you need to learn." 

To me, this realization opened my eyes to feeling pain. 

It helped me to...
 accept it, 
understand it, 
and find purpose in it.

Christ wept for those he served.  He put his whole heart into his work.  I realized that I couldn't hold back love because of fear of being hurt.  The only way to really influence someone and make a change is to unconditionally care about them. 

Caring opens us up to potential hurt, 
but caring creates faith in the person we are serving. 

As they feel our love for them, they will remember and become confident in God's love for them.  As we trust them they will gain confidence to make those changes. Sometimes people are so broken that they don't know what to believe in. They no longer believe in themselves or in the love that God has for them. They feel unworthy of that love, and some may even choose to believe that it does not exist. 

Sometimes they wonder if they're worth saving. 
They need someone to believe in them so they can start to believe. 

It opens a place in their heart for it to grow. 
It opens up the opportunity for change.

When people don't make those changes and choose to pull away, it can hurt.  To combat this, we have to trust that God loves them too.  His hand is stretched out still. He will find ways to bring them back. 

Sometimes we simply have to keep caring,
choose not to get offended and hurt,
keep encouraging,
keep expressing trust and confidence in them,
and wait patiently.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Boy: A Poem Written by My Grieving Son

The Boy
A Poem Written by My Grieving Son

I have learned that grief is such an individual thing. 

Watching my four children grieve has taught me that.  

Each one was in a different place when their dad died,
 each one was equipped with different coping mechanisms, 
and each experience has been unique.  

My youngest son, who was 13 at the time his dad died, really struggled.  That seems to be typical for middle school aged children.  He bottled things up and did not want to talk.  For that matter, he did not want to do anything except watch television, read books, and eat. He would not even turn in the homework that I had helped him to do.

What did we do?  

First, I went to see a counselor, who clued me into some of the issues he struggled with.   


I loved him and let the school go.  
We worked on our relationship. 
I took him out of school and for lunch once a week.
As a family, we talked about a purpose for dad's death.  
We pitched mulch together.
We turned more to God.  
I encouraged him to go somewhere by himself and 'talk' things over with his dad. 
I found moments to talk with him about things little by little.

I did not know it at the time, but Eric also wrote...

A month ago I found this poem on the floor by his desk.  I picked it up and read it.  It was amazing, and  I thought how much it fit him and how I saw that 13 year old boy stricken with grief.  

I asked him where he found the poem.  To my surprise, he told me that he had written it.  I was really impressed and told him how wonderful I thought it was... heart wrenching...but so heartfelt.  

Then I said, "So you're the boy..." 
He nodded. 
"Do you still feel that way?" 
He said, "No.., that's how it was in the beginning." 
My heart ached for him... 
but I felt the need to ask, "So where is that boy today?" 
There was a pause without a response. 
So I continued, "You need to write another poem." I just left it at that.

In his English class, in a 30 minute time span he came up with the second stanza and emailed it to me.

I am pleased to say that 17 months after the accident, my now almost 15 year-old young man is in a much better place. Not only that, but I think he found a voice he did not previously have.  I will let you judge.


The storm was raging
Rain and lighting and wind
The sea was a torrent
Mountainous waves crashing down
A fishing boat road up and down
The boy was huddled in the boat
Knuckles white and eyes closed and tears streaming
The cry of his father still echoed in his ears
Sorrow and fear are a dark cloud that almost consumed the boy
The storm raged and thundered
The boy was alone in the stormy sea
The stormy sea, the sea of life

The edge of the storm was calm
The water was still and motionless
The boy stood on the fishing boat looking out at the sea of life
His clothes were damp, but his cheeks were dry
The loss of his father still ached his heart
He had beaten the choking cloud of despair
He stared at the sun-bathed horizon
The wind stirred and began to push the boat out of the storm
The wind pushed him across the sea of life
A sad smile split his face as he was pushed across the foaming waves
The wind pushed him away from the storm towards the horizon
The wind, the wind of hope

Monday, April 7, 2014

Growth and Strength of Character Through Trials: My Magnolia Inspiration

Growth and Strength of Character Through Trials

My Magnolia Inspiration

Spring has come so late this year. The winter was so very harsh and cold, much colder and longer than is typical for Southern Missouri.  I have a lot of plants in my yard that are very sensitive to the cold, and this winter I worried that the extreme temperatures had caused severe damage and die back.  For me that means lots of extra work pruning and replanting, something I was definitely not looking forward to.

Today, to my pleasant surprise, when I looked outside, some of the trees that I was worried about were in full bloom.  Only a week ago, the branches were dormant.  Not a sign of life was apparent, but now with the addition of some warmer temperatures last week and the added hours of daylight, those dormant branches have come back to life.  Even though today it was only in the 40's, the trees were pushing forward with their spring preparations in spite of the cold.

As I pondered on the blooming Magnolia, I saw an interesting parallel between it and my life, or for that matter, to anyone's life who is currently struggling with trials.

In the dead of winter, to the naked eye, the tree appears to be completely dead.  We know of course that it is not, but that it is conserving energy by becoming dormant during difficult growing conditions.
All of it's energy for life is turned inward for conservation.

When a large trial first hits us, we may go dormant like the tree.  We pull inward, we grieve, we try to emotionally find a coping mechanism.  This is not a state that we can remain in forever.  If we are to survive long term and to grow, we must prepare ourselves to receive the light again.

In spring, when the daylight hours become longer and the temperatures warmer, the tree begins to bloom and leaf out in preparation for summer; however, the tree starts its preparations while still in winter.

We like the tree must start our preparations.  We pray, we study the words of the prophets, we seek to know God's will and to accept it.  We listen for those first signs of spring.  They are subtle and interspersed between cold spells, but if we are preparing and listening we will notice them. Because of our spiritual dedication, we will begin to hear the whisperings of the spirit again.  We will know when it is time to leaf out and we will know what to start to do.

Some may think that the tree could survive longer and better if it simply stored it's energy.  The roots take up nutrients and needed fluid.  Why doesn't the tree just remain in it dormant state and use what it can gain from it's roots?  Certainly that would be simpler than growing new leaves every year!

With all of our leaves gone and the chill of winter surrounding us, it is hard to think of the effort of leafing out again.  We may want to stay in our protected state, conserving instead of reaching out.

However, a tree can only survive season after season by turning outward. It cannot exist alone on what it's roots bring.  It needs the sugars produced by light during the process of photosynthesis in order to live and grow. (Now you are getting the scientist in me!)

In the uncertain temperatures of spring, it begins to leaf out and to bloom.  The tree knows that summer will surely come.  It needs additional food for growth, propagation and to survive the next winter. That food is produced by its leaves.  It must put forth effort to produce the leaves that will glean the light. Those preparations, the formation of leaf and flower buds started months ago in the dead of winter when there were no signs of spring.  The tree had to act in faith prior to confirmation of warming temperatures.

Leafing out in the cold can be a scary proposition.  Some years an unwelcome frost singes the new leaves.  Sometimes the blossoms are completely destroyed, and very little or no fruit is produced that season.  Even worse, in extreme situations a late ice storm may cause enough damage that portions of the branches die back, causing the tree to run dangerously low on it's energy reserves as it tries to leaf out again.

Despite all of these potential dangers, the tree, sensing the arrival of summer, in faith begins that formation and emerging process.  It takes it's internal energy and uses it to create something beautiful outward.  Nectar for the bees, foliage to protect the birds, shade for me to lie under, and eventually fruit for me to enjoy.

The interesting thing is, that in turning outward to bless others, the tree receives renewed strength.  Strength that allows it to grow and prepare for the next winter.

Sometimes when we have had a particularly cold winter in our lives, it is very difficult to have the faith to reach outward when everything that inside us says to just conserve our strength.  This is especially true when we are in the dead of winter and only see the very volatile spring temperatures in the near future.  If we, like the tree, will remember the pattern of past years, when the light and the warmth have always come, and act in faith to form those buds, then we will be ready to receive the light when it comes.  Light or blessings always come after, not before our action.

I'm not saying that we won't sometimes need a little pruning to get rid of die back, or that some years our fruit load will be low. Nor will we have record growing seasons every year, but there will be growth and progress.  We will receive added strength to go through our next cold spell.

God gives us light, but if we do not leaf out, we can not use that light.  If we remain dormant and turned inward then we will have to rely on our own strength.  The minute we choose to act in faith outwardly, then we can utilize and be blessed and strengthened by that light.  Light, or grace, is the enabling power that helps our character to grow.  It helps us repair and become stronger.

Just this morning before I looked out the window I was reading a book by one of my church leaders, David A Bednar,  called Power to Become.
He said, "One of the greatest indicators of RIGHTEOUS CHARACTER is the capacity to recognize and appropriately respond to other people who are experiencing the very challenge or adversity that is most immediately and forcefully pressing upon us." 
"Character is revealed for example, in the power to discern the suffering of other people when we ourselves are suffering... "  
"Thus character is demonstrated by looking, turning, and reaching outward when the instinctive response... is to turn inward and to be selfish and self-absorbed."
I thought of the Savior and the perfect example that He set for us.  He always turned outward in compassion and service even if and especially when He was facing His own trials and pain.

Jesus epitomizes strong, righteous, moral character.

So why can't the tree just stay leafed out all year? Why do we need to even have the cold?

Interestingly enough, many fruit trees require a frost to set the new buds that will bear next years fruit.  Without the winter, there would be no fruit.

Evergreen trees also experience very slow continued growth.  Their growth and progress is much slower than their deciduous counter parts.  A Deciduous tree experiences rapid growth in the summer.  It's ability to store energy and then harness the light in the growing season makes for more rapid growth over time.  So the difficulties actually strengthen the tree.  During the winter, the tree is not idling sitting by and biding its time.  It is actively preparing for the next spring by creating the new buds, moving sap to the roots of the tree, and strengthening it trunk.  If the tree did not do this, the roots would die during the long winter.

In times of trial we have to work inwardly on our spirituality.  We cannot just sit and wait for things to get better.  We have to nourish our roots, we have to prepare our buds, and we have to strengthen our trunks so they will withstand the winds.  The things we glean in the summer, will sustain us through the winter, but with faith in the spring we must bloom and leaf out again.

I have found added strength by reaching out to serve others in my time of trial.  Service has lifted me from sorrow, it has given me a new purpose, and it has helped me gain empathy for others and better perspective in my own life.  I am grateful for this cold winter in my life and for the things that it is teaching me.  It is helping me to become a stronger tree, and I needed that.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How Do You Stay Strong and Resolved?

How Do You Stay Strong and Resolved?

This question asked by a friend of mine has prompted a lot of thought.  A few recent experiences have taught me a really cool and powerful principle that answers this question....

When we are tempted to do something we know we shouldn't, we can pray and ask God to dismiss that influence and give us added strength to be strong.  Afterward, we have to listen to the positive thoughts that come into our mind and act on them. 

In a previous post called... There is an unseen war going on here, I talked about the idea of God's angels and Satan's forces surrounding us.  Satan's forces are trying to discourage, tempt and degrade us, while God's forces try to encourage, protect and enlighten us.  Those angels that surround us have the power to banish Satan's forces if we ask God for help.  When Satan's forces are gone, we can better hear the Holy Spirit and His direction of what to do to avoid that temptation. If we pray and then act on received prompting, we will be protected.  

This doesn't just work with temptation to do something wrong, but in anyway that Satan and his crew work to try to thwart us. 

If you are suddenly feeling irritated or sad and depressed, you can do the same thing.  
Say, "Heavenly Father, I am feeling... Please dismiss that influence and help me to be happy so that I can ... take care of my kids, do my job at work (whatever good, important thing you need to do)". 

Then again, we must listen to that voice in our minds and act on that positive thought.

 This is our way out...
out of sin, temptation, discouragement, anger, resentment, etc. 

Note: negative emotions that have been held for a long time are harder to banish, and sins that we have repeatedly committed are harder to overcome  However, with consistent, repeated prayer and action, we can be given added strength and protection to overcome anything.  

We really are not alone in our fight.  God's forces are just waiting  for