Thursday, July 31, 2014

Doing Less and Being More

We have spent the last several weeks traveling and visiting with family and friends.  I am truly grateful for all of the wonderful people in my life and for the things that I learn when we share what we are learning from life experiences. I have also had a lot of time to study and ponder during this trip, and I wanted to share somethings about...

 Doing Less and Being More

Before Scott died, the life I lived focused a lot on the things I was DOING.  I was always trying to find a way to squeeze a little more into my very busy schedule and 'to do list.'  I slept 5-6 hours a night, and I rarely sat down in the day. If I did, I was riddled with guilt for wasting my time.  I was always in a rush and accomplishing tasks was a higher priority than building relationships with people. Friends often remarked that I made them tired and asked me how I accomplished so much.  I took great pride in their comments attributing my work ethic and accomplishments to my own effort, dedication, and perseverance.  I measured my worth by what I got done in a day, and what goals I had accomplished.

However, among all this busyness, I had an emptiness.  

I was doing GOOD things, but somehow I knew they were not the BEST things for me.  I was stuck running around like crazy and I was wearing myself out with no end in sight.

There was a longing inside of me to BE MORE than I was. 

I translated that longing into DOING MORE, but no matter what I tried to DO, I just could not find the JOY in living that I was looking for.

Inside of me there was too much stress,
                                         too much worry
too much fretting.

I was constantly overwhelmed.

I couldn't figure out what was wrong...
  • I focused tons of my time on my family; I had good relationships with my children and husband... Check off family relationships. 
  • I did my church assignment, and I was having family gospel study and prayers... Check of my gospel responsibilities  
  • I had hobbies that I excelled in... Check off building talents 
  • I served in my church calling and volunteered for other service opportunities...Check off serving my fellow men.

What was I missing?

Often I felt like I was going through the motions without any added spiritual direction. I was doing service, but I wasn't feeling charitable or empathetic.  I was praying for help and enlightenment, but I felt like the heavens were closed to me for the most part.  I knew I was missing a component.

Maybe I just need to do more spiritual study, I thought?

I started listening to spiritual talks and speeches while I was doing any mindless task.  With that new multitasking plan I was able to squeeze in several hours a day of spiritual study.  Little thoughts to change my behavior or to act in certain ways popped into my mind as I listened.  I acknowledged them as good ideas and made a mental note to even try a few; however, in my rush to do a hundred other things in the day I never took the time to write them down or to act on them.  My study helped a little, but I still was not having any major spiritual experiences, epiphanies or direction.  I still felt rather lost and empty. I knew I needed to BE more that I was, but I had no idea how to get there.

Frustrated, I continued to exist on that normal everyday living level.  Spiritual highs were rare and nice, but not so different from the normal level that I was compelled to sustain them by a higher level of commitment.  In fact, I think at the time, that I didn't even understand how I could sustain them.  They seemed to be random, and I assumed that spiritual enlightenment is simply a rare thing, and something that I was just not capable of getting very often.

Then my husband died...

What used to be normal life was now so filled with pain and sorrow that it was intolerable. I craved  spiritual highs that enabled me to deal with pain.  When I discovered that those highs could actually take some of that pain from me I had the incentive to increase my commitment level.

The 20 minutes of scripture study that was drudgery before became hours of intense searching for answers.  Prayers that were sleepily mumbled as I drifted off to sleep became episodes of pleading multiple times a day.  I started to write in my journal things I was learning.  I dreaded anything that would take the Spirit away from me.  I closely began to monitor the media that I allowed into my home.  Personally I quit watching television and listening to popular music.  I rarely watched movies.

An amazing thing happened...

I started receiving answers.  I noticed the ways that the spirit was nudging me to start to make changes in myself and to reach out to others.  Not only did I notice it, but I committed to act on whatever good thought came into my mind.

This commitment changed my life.

Not only did is open up heaven's help to me, but it began to change my heart.

I felt more love, more joy, more fulfillment.  

I felt directed and I knew I had a purpose.  The drudgery of life faded as I saw and understood lessons I was to learn and people I was to touch.   It began to help me BECOME more than I was and more than I could every have become by myself. The things I was sacrificing did not seem like sacrifices any longer.  They were the means to this greater spiritual light and I was glad to give anything up to simply not have to deal with the death of my husband by myself.

I realized my mistake....

I was doing what I thought I should do to find fulfillment.  I wasn't bothering to listen and ask if what I doing was what God specifically wanted me to do.   With all the seemingly good things to do each day, it is easy to get so busy and overwhelmed that we run around like a chicken with it's head cut off.

We don't not have to do everything!  

We only have to do what the Spirit or what God wants us to do for that day.  That is the only needful thing... Listening to and following the Spirit.  

So the goal becomes to find out what God wants us to do each day....

To scrap OUR massive 'to do lists' in favor of HIS list. 

Now I know that we still have to do those temporal things... the laundry, go to work, make dinner, get kids to school, clean the bathrooms....  I'm not saying that we stop doing those things, but as we are going about our day, we are mindful and flexible to change our plan so that we can do the BEST things with our day.

Our focus becomes SPIRITUAL instead of TEMPORAL

I have found that those BEST things...

  • always focus on people.  They focus on helping and lifting others.  They focus on sharing my light and experiences.  They focus on sharing LOVE.  It means that I am constantly looking and trying to be aware of those who could use a little lifting.
  • always focus on things for me to personal learn or study.  I am prompted to use my mental downtime to listen to or read things that help me grow spiritual and become a better person.  I am prompted to write and sometimes share with others things that I am personally learning.  I am directed to have teaching moments with my children.
  • always focus me on things that I need to change about myself or my habits.  I am inspired to look inward and to improve my thoughts, my desires and my actions.  As I integrate those things into my life, I find that I have more things to study and to share.

I still do many of the same things I have always done in my life,  but I am more willing to let some of my temporal worries go in favor of doing those BEST things.  I no longer worry that my house is spotless, or that I have the perfect gourmet dinner planned.  I don't spend hours getting ready with the perfect outfit.  I don't spend my free time shopping.  I try to eat healthy and exercise, but I no longer spend hours of my day focused on that pursuit.

I have given up many of those things that I diligently pursued in the attempt to find joy and happiness and fulfillment, and I have given my life over to God...

Despite the tragedy in my life, and how desperately I miss my husband,  I am finally finding that peace, contentment, and joy that comes from leading a life that is no longer self driven.  That joy comes from making a difference to people.

In the end, I have discovered...
WHO WE HAVE HELPED along the way is all that really matters.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Picking Back Up My Burden

Picking Back Up My Burden

Backpacking with Cooper a month before he left for Ecuador

After my second son Cooper left on Wednesday, I came home and had to pick back up my burden of sadness.  The last two days before he left were wonderful... God had let me place that burden on Him for that time.  I was enabled and it was easy and happy, but now it is time for me to learn to carry it again.

I have been thinking a lot about this...
trying to understand why sometimes we are carried
and why at other times we feel more of the load

Teaching Cooper to ride a bike

On my run this morning, my thoughts were carried back to the process of teaching my last son to ride a bike...

At first I let him use training wheels.  He learned to steer and how to peddle... how to brake and how to start to balance. When he was zipping around fairly confidently, I raised the training wheels.  At first,  he complained that the bike felt unstable.  I told him to just ride like he normally did.  I showed him how the training wheels would eventually catch him if he wobbled too far to either side.  With renewed faith in the training wheels, he began to gain his confidence again as he was able to correct his balance prior to the training wheel catching him.  

After a few more weeks of practice, the socket set came out and the training wheels were removed.  Wide eyed and with apprehension clearly showing on his face, he mounted the bike.  I promised that I would hold on to the seat of his bike and run beside him.  As we started, he kept turning around to see if I was still holding on like I had promised.  Each time he checked, he swerved his bike.  I told him to trust me and to focus on the road ahead.  I told him to keep doing everything he had been doing before.  

As his began to have faith in my ability to protect him from a fall, he began to focus again on riding the bike.  Soon I was running along side, offering words of encouragement.  I felt him regain control of his balance.  My hand was still on the bike, yet I knew he was no longer relying on me.  Gradually I let go of the seat, checking to see if he was stable on his own.  I kept my hand very near so that I could catch him in an emergency, and so that he did not know that I had let go.  He continued to ride on his own.  Then a wobble came and I reach up to correct the bike before he completely lost control.  
"Mom!"  He replied, "You weren't holding on!"
To his accusation I responded, 
"But I was right there, and I caught you when you needed me."  Then I encouraged him, "You were riding on your own! Let's try again."
Again he mounted the bike, and we started by me holding on.  He gained momentum and soon I was running along side, yelling ,
"You're doing it!  You're doing it!"  
My son's face beamed with confidence and he pulled out of ahead of my stride.

We cannot ride forever with training wheels.  We cannot ride forever with our mother or father holding on to the seat.  Eventually the goal is to learn to ride the bike on our own.
Cooper and his dad after success!          .       

Then my mind went to the last bike ride we went on as a family....

I was feeling the burden of sadness that day as well.  As we biked I thought about the process of going up the hills and then coasting down. One particular hill was quite long and my legs were beginning to burn as I near the top.  I saw the parallels between my climb and the sadness I felt.  As I crested the hill and began to peddle down, I was struck by the ease of the downward travel...

           Speeding along... 
covering more distance with little effort. 

Cooper and Eric on our family bike ride
I saw a pattern... that times of struggle and greater effort where covering distance seemed to be slow and exhausting were always followed by period of enablement where covering the distance seemed easy.  As much as I wanted to ride downhill all of the time, I knew it was the uphill battles that increased my endurance and strengthened my muscles allowing me to travel further and faster in the future.

Then I thought of my current run...

I was about half way done with the loop around the island and my legs were beginning to tire.  My emotional state coupled with my tired muscles made we want to throw in the towel and just walk the rest.  

The thought came to my mind... 
                             "Don't give up yet... 
you still have more in you.
It's the part you run past the point when you want to give up that makes you stronger."

"I still have more in me..."

I was feeling emotionally tired and I wanted to throw in the emotional towel and be done.... 
"Carry me for a while,  I'm tired..." I plead
The response was clear, "Don't give up yet... you still have more in you... It's the part you endure that makes you stronger."
I decided to push myself instead of walking.  

I don't know why... 
maybe just to prove to myself that my spirit was stronger than my body,
that my will could be stronger than my feelings.

I ran until a cramp in my side left me gasping for air.  I walked the cramp off with my arms up in the air and then finished running the final stretch.

Three experiences all tied together and rolled into one...
(Life has lots of patterns that can teach you lessons if you are looking carefully.)

This is the way I see growth....

  • We STRUGGLE with a new situation or problem.
  • As we turn to God for help and seek for answers and understanding, we begin to GROW.
  • Because we are asking, we RECEIVE BLESSINGS and help from God to move forward. 
  • Obedience is easy when we are enabled and BASKING in that light and those blessings.
  • Then comes greater OPPOSITION, extra burdens may be placed on us to test what we have learned and to see if we can continue to be obedient even with added resistance.
  • We may feel some of that HELP, Spirit, light or enablement LESSEN as His hand is removed from the seat.
  • If we REMAIN FAITHFUL and keep pushing up the hill, past the point where we want to give up, we climb to a NEW SPIRITUAL HEIGHT and we are back to receiving blessings and the process starts again.
If we continue in faith, knowing that the hill will end and that the down hill will come, this become a way to grow... 
"grace for grace"- John 1:16
We move forward climbing a hill and coasting down then climbing another.

If we give up, if we don't push through, then later we find ourselves back trying to learn the same lesson again.  The cycle of repeating the same lesson can be a painful one, but eventually we learn to continue through and growth comes.  It just takes a lot longer.

When I am on that upward climb, when I am tired and want to give up, when I feel that hand release and I feel afraid that I will fall, I have to remember....

  • Hills don't last forever
  • I am stronger than I think
  • I have learned what to do, I just have to keep doing it even when it is hard
  • The downhill will come if I continue to climb.
It is easy to be good and do good in the light,
  the test is can I still do it when it is dark and hard.

Q: Will I press forward with faith and hope for the reward in store?
A: a resounding yes!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How Can Goodbyes to Help Me Grow

I put my second son on a plane today,

 and I will not see him for two years...

Two years seems like an eternity.

He is going on a foreign mission for my church, and he can email once a week and call on Christmas and Mother's day- that is it.  I did this a year ago with my oldest son...

Both of my sons... 
my men, who I have relied on and leaned on, gone for a whole year.

This is a very hard thing for a widow to do...

So much loss and so many 'goodbyes'... my heart yearns for  'welcome backs,' but as my son pointed out, 
"I have to leave so I can come back."

And it's good... it's what I want.  He is doing good things with his life, growing up and reaching out to help other people. 
I keep reminding myself...
How can I be sad about that?

Yet sadness is still there.  
Sadness is part of loss.  
It is the cost of love.

Last weekend was hard.  I felt like we were waiting for the impending doom to hit. 

 I had to remind myself that he was coming home
 and not dying. 

I remember feeling like that with my oldest as well. I was really trying hard to put on a happy face, but I think EVERYONE felt the sadness, not just me.

Sunday came.  He was speaking in church, family was coming to see him off, and I desperately wanted to dispel the cloud of sadness so that we could enjoy the last few days.  So I prayed, really, I pleaded...
"Please take this from me, just until he leaves.  Not for me, but for him.  I don't want him to remember his mom being sad.  I need to be happy for him.  I will even take all the sadness back after he leaves, if I can just have two days." 
I went to church, and when he began to speak, I was filled with such an amazing feeling. 

 Happy, and full and running over...

It caused me to cry, and I'm sure people thought I was sad about him leaving, but it was just the opposite.

I was being carried.

The sadness was just gone... just like that.  So abruptly... I have only ever experienced enabling help so powerfully like that one other time in my life.

The afterglow of the experience carried me through Monday and Tuesday and our good-byes this morning.  It wasn't just me either.  I noticed my son and my other children all acted and felt different.  Last night, I talked to my daughter about this, and she said that she had noticed feeling really happy since Sunday as well. She told me she had been sad and having a hard time before as well.

In that happy state, I even found myself thinking, 
"Why was I having such a hard time with this?  It is so easy now." 
I knew I could not be carried like this forever.

This was a gift... a vacation from grief

This morning we saw my son off at 8am and then drove home.  Surprisingly, I made it through without a tear.  We quickly cleaned up the house for a showing at 10:00... 

then it hit me...

The lump in my throat started and this sick feeling deep in the pit of my stomach returned.  I even felt a bit panicked!  Vacation over...

At first I wanted to call people, but I knew that I would only complain and get worked up.  I decided instead to listen to some of my favorite talks from my church's last General Conference.  I listened to a two hour session and then went back and listened to my favorite ones a few more times.  

They talked of gratitude... and of being grateful in the middle of trials.

They talked of the need for burdens and how Jesus can help bear those.

These were words of solace to me.
They calmed my panic and helped me to recenter

It was not the huge enabling power I had experienced the two days prior, but it was enough for me to function again.

Why doesn't God always make it easy for me?

Because He could... I know He could.... I felt that sadness totally and completely gone...

But He doesn't because if I was always carried then...

  •  I would not think it special and I would not know that He was helping me.  I would think that it was all just me. To really understand joy you have to know sadness.
  • I would not have empathy and understanding for others who were suffering without that aided help.
  • I would not feel the need to daily, sometimes hourly think of God, turn to Him and ask for Help.  The pain helps me remember my need for Him.
  • I would never learn to do this by myself.  God wants me to be independent... to act and choose to do good and be good even when it is hard.

Yes, this is sooooo hard...

But everything that is hard gives
 me opportunities for growth.

 Growth that I need,
 growth that I want.  

Even now that I am not being carried, I am not left all alone.
He is there walking beside me... 
giving encouragement as I need it
offering burst of strength to keep me going
stretching my faith
teaching me lessons 
helping me to grow.