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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Quest for Grace

The Quest for Saving Grace in a World Obsessed with Saving Face
by, Alicia Rawlins

Suicide and Possible Causes
The topic of suicide strikes a chord all too familiar with me. In the past 25 years, I have had a number of very close family members (namely; my dad, my brother, my sister, and my husband) crash so low that they've lost any desire to live and have been in complete despair; they have either attempted or seriously contemplated taking their own life. It's a problem that can't be overlooked or swept under the rug. We need to confront it and face it head on. Utah ties third in the nation for the state with the most reported serious mental illnesses (SAMHSA). It also ranks among the top 20 states with the highest suicide rates (Suicide:20), and as of this summer, we rose even higher in the charts when our suicide rate spiked among the youth (Hatch). This leaves us desperately begging to know what could be the cause of so much hopelessness and loss of self-worth.
No one really knows why Utah ranks as one of the highest in suicide. There are many theories trying to explain the reasons for so much depression: some speculate that altitude, understaffed medical counselors, not enough treatment centers, and greater access to guns are the problems (Hatch and Kim). Some articles, (Knoll) argue that the spike in suicides among young Utahans has everything to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint’s policy change regarding gays and lesbians who choose to marry or have sexual relationships with the same gender (First Presidency). Though all of these things are surely contributing factors, there’s more research to be done before we can identify all the possible causes. Though it seems there could be a correlation between the suicides and the Church’s new policy; it doesn't take into account those who have never experienced same-gender attraction, who also feel suicidal. Neither, does it take into account all of the efforts the Church has made to reach out and express love to its gay members (Mormon and Gay). Is there a more underlying issue to Utah’s suicide problem--one that strikes closer to the root--which, if fully recognized, would help people of all faiths be more aware and enabled to assist in prevention? I argue that this suicide epidemic is not so much a matter of religious law or policy, but a matter of how we, as individuals, choose to value and internalize our worth, how we are dependent on how others regard us, how we connect--socially and as families. We tend to unfairly compare ourselves to people around us and fear how we fit into the big picture; we misunderstand God’s love, His accessibility, and His grace.
I love living in Utah and find it to be a wonderful place to settle down, to raise my family.  There are so many friendly, happy people, and they seem to enjoy it here too.  Even according to NBC News, Utah is one of the happiest states in America (Dubois). So, why the high number of suicides? An interesting report published in 2011 by the University of Warwick, observed recent research that some of happiest places in the world have the highest suicide rates. University of Warwick researcher Professor Andrew Oswald said, "Human beings rely on relative comparisons between each other... Discontented people in a happy place may feel particularly harshly treated by life. Those dark contrasts may in turn increase the risk of suicide” (Happiest Places). Time Magazine also published an article that showed more research supporting this claim entitled, “Why the Happiest States Have the Highest Suicide Rates,” revealing that our tendency to make comparisons with our neighbors may play a role (Szalavitz).

Being Aware of Triggers
One of the major downfalls of human nature is our tendency to associate our worth with how well we measure up to everyone around us.  Today's digitally social world only compounds the problem when we advertise and compare all our "good" on the street corners of Facebook and Instagram, secretly hoping no one ever sees "the bad" and "the ugly" tucked away in the creaky old cart behind us. A recent social and clinical psychology report stated that “If people portray themselves as happier than they actually are, then perceptions of the happiness and well-being of one’s Facebook friends are likely to be distorted.”  The study goes on to point out that the spontaneous social nature of Facebook and other social media increases the level of daily comparisons which “increase[s] [the] daily depressive symptoms” (Steers). We wear out our days doing everything we can to have the picture-perfect life, comparing and competing, to save face, to one-up our peers, to avoid being looked on as weak or broken. In doing this, we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, on our children, and on others. We become obsessed with hiding our flaws and putting on a mask. We drag these same fearful behaviors into almost every large social sphere, our circle of friends, our schools, and sadly, even our churches.
Cause and effect fully considered: If people spend their days comparing the lows of their life to the highs of everyone else’s, they will always come up short. They will never feel beautiful enough, popular enough, rich enough, smart enough, or righteous enough.  
This pattern of comparative thinking is not based on a healthy fear of God; rather, it is based on the fear of not being socially accepted and can lead to a lifestyle of perfectionism, which in turn can lead to serious depression. In fact, under the word “perfectionism” in Mosby’s Medical Dictionary it states that “failure to attain the [perfectionistic] goals may lead to feelings of defeat and other adverse psychological consequences” (Mosby’s).
A goal to be perfect is a good thing in religious context; after all, it is a Biblical command given by Christ to “be perfect”. But some interpret this to mean, if they don’t obey and perform every commandment with complete precision and exactness, they become unworthy of God’s love and help. The Atonement of the Savior and His unfailing grace become skewed, lost in a long list of rules, commandments, and laws. What does Christ mean then when He instructs us to be perfect even as He is?   The Hebrew word translated as “perfect” is tamim and means, among other things, “whole, sound, healthful” and “having integrity”(Francis).  The Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament—uses the word teleios (the same word used in Matthew 5:48) to mean perfect in the sense of “complete” and “entire” (Lust).  I love that definition of perfect: “to complete or make whole”. It is only logical that something must first be incomplete in order for it to then be made complete. We are all broken but with God as our Great Physician, He makes us “whole, sound, and healthful”/ perfect.
We have the responsibility to recognize if we are prone to approaching our standards with an unhealthy perfectionist mentality and or projecting that same mentality on others, especially in our religions. Terryl L. Givens, a practicing Mormon and a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond,  addresses controversial issues in his own faith fairly and without bias in his book, People of Paradox. He tells of the special challenges that are posed to those prone toward perfectionism--how it can trigger a negative outcome in a religion that is highly monitored through returning and reporting and a belief that they can one day be like God (Givens pp. 308-309). If people can admit they are perfectionist prone, they’re more likely to catch themselves before the mixture of their religion becomes problematic. It’s an emotional coping technique Dan Siegel--doctor of child and adult psychiatry--calls “name it to tame it”.  This is something to be aware of in all faiths. The key component is to make sure we don’t forget to emphasize our infinite worth God and the role grace plays in all our reporting and self evaluations.

Perfectionism, Shame, and Disconnect
To further explain the concern we should have with perfectionism, I’ll now illustrate how it leads to shame, which can lead to disconnection, and other adverse effects. Brené Brown-- a well-known public speaker and best-selling author who holds a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Houston--has done extensive research in human behavior and describes it this way:
Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds...Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame (Brown pp. 128-129).
Perfectionism is not about striving for excellence; it’s not about “healthy achievement and growth”. Perfectionism is all about saving face to avoid shame. She explains that shame is “the fear of disconnection”. We especially feel shame in the areas of life where our choices affect our deepest, most valued, connections. Brown says, “We are psychologically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually hardwired for connection, love, and belonging.” She explains that “shame is the fear of disconnection--it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.”
It is interesting to note that in Dr. Brown’s research, she discovered twelve categories where shame surfaces the strongest in people. Of those twelve shame categories, eight are heavily mentioned in sermons and lessons of the Mormon faith and other Christian churches: motherhood/fatherhood, family, parenting, religion, addiction, appearance/body-image, mental and physical health, and sex (Brown pp.68-69). When we falsely believe we must be flawless in these areas in order to be worthy of God’s love or another’s love, then we set ourselves up for shame,  then fear, then isolation, then disconnection, and possibly thoughts of suicide.
Feelings of disconnection and isolation are extremely important to note because they instill such painful emotions. An association of mental health professionals from more than 30 countries recently published an article showing that in places where there is a higher level of good strong community connection, there is also a higher risk of suicide--especially for those who feel disconnected and especially among the youth (King).  In our churches and communities, we must be thoughtful of our neighbors, family, or friends who have begun to isolate themselves; seek loving ways to reach out to them and promote connectedness. We can certainly do this without compromising our own beliefs. It may be as simple as striking up a friendly conversation, offering a meal, or inviting them to a barbeque. Maybe all they need is a reminder that they are worthy of connection, worthy of interaction, worthy of community, regardless of their standing in any particular faith or religion.

Perfectionist Parenting
Speaking of feeling worthy, I want to take a moment to reflect on how parental rejection can cause a child to form a twisted view of God’s paternal opinion of them. As I mentioned in the beginning of my article, my dad, my brother, and my sister have all either attempted or seriously contemplated suicide. I came to this realization after years of being away from home and having a family of my own. I could now see how my dad’s shame for his imperfections caused him to be disgusted with the failures or flaws in his own children, and his projected insecurities caused my siblings to assume that God must be equally disappointed and angry with them for their choices. I remember one evening about 11 years ago, when my father was admitted to a mental hospital to be put on suicide watch, my sister, who is a self-proclaimed atheist, suggested we say a prayer for my dad. I agreed that it was a wonderful idea. Within seconds of her suggestion though, she quickly declined to say the prayer and nudged me, “You better be the one to pray. God wants nothing to do with me. He’s much more likely to listen to you.” My heart broke for her, and I realized then that, in her mind, God was no different than her earthly father.
A perfectionist is extremely hard on himself/herself and especially hard on others. Parents who are perfectionists can do generations of harm. An article published in Psychology Today affirms that “parents who are obsessively concerned with mistakes raise children who are, too. And there's an interpersonal affect, transmitted by an authority figure in a child's life who is overly critical and demanding” (Marano). There is nothing wrong with  parents’ desire to push their children to excel, to get straight A’s, to strive for a more virtuous and successful life. These desires only become harmful when the parent’s motivating factor is perfectionism (to avoid blame, judgment, and shame). The message of worth fluctuates in the child’s mind, and all they hear from the parent is, “You are only worthy of my love when you can make me look good.”
Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, had a strained relationship with his perfectionist father. This relationship explained much of Michael's drive to become flawless in his sport. After reaching an all-time high in his successful career as an athlete, Phelps began to celebrate his achievements with riotous parties and heavy drinking. He was arrested more than once for driving under the influence, and when a photo surfaced of the intoxicated Olympian and when news spread of his arrests, Michael plunged into an all-time low, crashed rock bottom and contemplated suicide. In desperation Phelps reached out to his friend, retired NFL star, Ray Lewis, who gave him a Christian book entitled, The Purpose Driven Life. Michael said the book gave him hope and he began to believe in God, to understand his life had meaning, and that he was valued even though he had made some serious mistakes. In this healing process, he was even strengthened to forgive his father (Dance).

The Quest to Reconnect
Instead of fearing that our flaws will cause us to be disconnected, Brené Brown suggests that they can actually be the very thing that connects us, evoking empathy and compassion (Brown). Think of the hopelessness that could be avoided if our worth was not associated with our perfectness. How could we help prevent suicide if we spent a little more time focusing on the Atonement and God’s unconditional love, reminding each other in small and simple ways that we all belong? In the New Testament, the apostle Paul recognized that his flaws helped him have a greater connection to the Savior. He said,
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh...Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9-9 NIV).
Made perfect in weakness? That hardly sounds like perfectionism. Perhaps God never intended for us to be without our failures and our flaws? Again, I emphasize that perfectionism is not the same as striving to be perfect through Christ. President of Brigham Young University, Kevin J. Worthen, gave an address where he said that in our striving, failure is “a critical component”. Perhaps, through understanding what “be perfect” really means, suicide and depression wouldn’t be so much of a problem, especially in such a religious region?
There are so many reasons why people consider or attempt suicide; I’m not saying that unhealthy comparing/competition and false association of individual worth are the only reasons, but hopefully, through this paper, they can be considered more. Maybe our loved ones who suffer with depression, who feel they don’t belong, who feel they will never measure up, could be infused with hope once again if we sought for ways to connect with them. Maybe we could seek to show them that their worthiness to be loved is not revoked because they aren’t perfect or because they sometimes fail. Maybe if we all worried a little less about what others think of us, worried a little less about saving face, we might be able to preserve a few lives by directing our attention to saving Grace.

Works Cited

Brown, Brené. "The Power of Vulnerability." TEDxHouston, Jun. 2010, www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability. Accessed 15 Nov. 2016.  
Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly. Gotham Books, 2012, pp. 68-69, 128-129.
Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952.
Dance, Mark. "3 Antidotes to Pastoral Perfectionism." LifeWay Pastors, 17 Aug. 2016. www.lifeway.com/pastors/2016/08/17/3-antidotes-to-pastoral-perfectionism. Accessed 01 Nov. 2016.
Dubois, Lou. "New Study Reveals America's Most and Least Happy States." NBC News, 29 Sept. 2014, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-study-reveals-americas-most-least-happy-states-n213836. Accessed 15 Nov. 2016.
"First Presidency Clarifies Church Handbook Changes." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 13 Nov. 2015, www.lds.org/pages/church-handbook-changes?lang=eng. Accessed 02 Nov. 2016.
Givens, Terryl. People of Paradox. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 308-309.
"Happiest Places Have Highest Suicide Rates Says New Research.” Warwick University, 21 Apr. 2011, www.sciencenewsline.com/news/2011042210360000.html. Accessed 03 Nov. 2016.
Hatch, Heidi. "Utah Youth Suicide Now Leading Cause of Death for Utah Kids Ages 11-17." KUTV News, 05 Jul. 2016, http://kutv.com/news/local/utah-youth-suicide-now-leading-cause-of-death-for-utah-kids-ages-11-17. Accessed 02 Nov. 2016.
King, Will. "Close Community Connections May Be Risk Factor for Suicide." Good Therapy Blog. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20 Sept. 2016, www.goodtherapy.org/blog/close-community-connections-may-be-risk-factor-for-suicide-0921161. Accessed 15 Nov. 2016.      
Knoll, Benjamin. “Is the Recent Rise in Utah Youth Suicides Reallly Such a Mystery?.” The Huffington Post, 05 Jul. 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/benjamin-knoll/is-the-recent-rise-in-uta_b_10798286.html. 12 Nov. 2016.
Lust, J., E. Eynikel, and K. Hauspie, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, 2 vols. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1996.
Marano, Hara Estroff. "Pitfalls of Perfectionism." Psychology Today, 01 Mar. 2008 www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200803/pitfalls-perfectionism. Accessed 15 Nov. 2016.
"Mormon and Gay - An Official Church Website." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, https://mormonandgay.lds.org. Accessed 02 Nov. 2016.
Mosby's Medical Dictionary. Elsevier, 2009.
SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. "State Estimates of Adult Mental Illness from the 2011 and 2012 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health." The NSDUH Report, 28 Feb. 2014, www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/sr170-mental-illness-state-estimates-2014/sr170-mental-illness-state-estimates-2014/sr170-mental-illness-state-estimates-2014.html. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.
Steers, Mai-ly N., Robert E. Wickham, and Linda K. Acitelli. "Seeing Everyone Else's Highlight Reels:How Facebook Usage Is Linked to Depressive Symptoms." Guilford Press Periodicals. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 15 Oct. 2014, http://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/jscp.2014.33.8.701. Accessed 12 Nov. 2016.
"Suicide: 20 states with highest rates." CBSNews, www.cbsnews.com/pictures/suicide-20-states-with-highest-rates. Accessed 03 Nov. 2016.
Szalavitz, Maia. “Why the Happiest States Have the Highest Suicide Rates.” Time.com. Time Magazine, 25 Apr. 2011. http://healthland.time.com/2011/04/25/why-the-happiest-states-have-the-highest-suicide-rates/. Accessed 16 Nov. 2016.          
Walton, Alice G. "New Study Links Facebook to Depression: But Now We Actually Understand Why." Forbes. www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/04/08/new-study-links-facebook-to-depression-but-now-we-actually-understand-why. Accessed 12 Nov. 2016.
Worthen, Kevin J. “Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection. BYU Speeches, 06 Jan. 2015, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/kevin-j-worthen_successfully-failing-pursuing-quest-perfection/. Accessed 04 Nov. 2016.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"And Mary said..." - Ponderize - Week 61

In our church, we use the phrase "magnify the Lord in your calling" quite a bit.  I've been thinking what it means to magnify the Lord.  All too often, we might think this means exhausting ourselves to do more, be more, to run "faster than we have strength" in order to magnify our calling but we forget "the Lord" part.

In Luke 1:46, Mary, the mother of Christ said, "My soul doth magnify the Lord."

What does it mean to magnify something? It means to increase, extend, expand, intensify. 

If it is the Lord that is the one that is magnified first in our heart and mind then He becomes bigger, stronger, more powerful than the other things that may try to consume us... like our fears, our weaknesses, our anxieties, our doubts, and even our foolish pride.  

The problems and struggles we face may seem Goliath in size, but when our soul magnifies the Lord,  we see that God is bigger than any obstacle. With this knowledge, we can do as David did: We will "hasten and [run] toward" those giants, with full confidence that we "come to [our problems] in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel" so "that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel." (1 Samuel 17:45, 46 & 48)

Through a vision that daily recognizes and embraces the all-consuming presence and power of God, we see that God is greater, He's stronger, He is more powerful than any troubles we face, and we will come off conquerors!! With God, we need not fear.   


by, We Are Messengers

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Spread Happiness - Express Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope this day is full of opportunities to be with family and friends and that while you are with them, you take the time to tell them how grateful you are to have them in your life: write it out, call them, express it face to face-- however you do it--give voice to why they mean so much to you!

Because “silent gratitude is of no use to anyone” (G.B. Stern).

Live in Thanksgiving daily. :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"It's not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete."

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes
is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.
They make one story become the only story.”
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Imagine a courtroom where the judge and jury were only given one story to come to their conclusions, to make their ruling. It could never be a fair trial! In order for the court system to work properly, the purpose is to provide many witnesses and cross examinations to make a good case.

Everyone wants a complete and fair trial. The quote I used at the beginning of this post is taken from a really wonderful Ted Talk I watched in my writing class on Monday.  I've been thinking about it all week, thinking about how we unintentionally get the wrong idea of cultures, nations, families, neighbors, and even individuals from hearing only one side of the story.  

Hearing only one side of the story can lead us to assume the best or the worst in others; We might almost worship another human being or completely despise them without ever having met them or from only hearing a single story about them.  Some examples of single stories that come to my mind are the following:

  1. A single story happens when a child comes home from school and tells their parents how awful their teacher is.  If the parent's never take the time to go to the school to meet the teacher, the view the parents form about the teacher is all based on one individual's story.
  2. A single story happens when a person has formed an opinion about a religion based off how it was portrayed in a TV sitcom or Broadway show.
  3. A single story may be formed from the appearance or location of others before we've had a chance to let them speak for themselves.  (A Scripture example: When King Limhi, in the Book of Mormon detains Ammon and almost has him killed, before he came to know Ammon's full story.  When King Limhi realized the full story, his mood and perception changed dramatically. [-Mosiah 7])
  4. A single story can happen with our ancestors, people who've passed away, or historical figures. Even they even fall victim to tall-tales when a single story told over and over through time, makes them out to be gods or devils, instead of human.

These are just a few examples...

Come to think of it... as I write this... even my blog is only a single story that I'm telling of my life. Would perceptions change if I had my children, my husband, my friends, or my parents tell the stories of my life on here from their view?  

I really felt this Ted Talk was extremely worth the time it took to watch it. Chimamanda does such a fantastic job of illustrating the danger of a single story. It compels me to slow down and do some research before I form my own judgments and opinions of others.... and never let one story become the only story.


Monday, November 21, 2016

I Saw an Angel Fly - Ponderize - Week 60

"And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel
to preach unto them that dwell on the earth,
and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,

Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him;
for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven,
and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters."
 - Revelation 14:6-7

Saturday, November 19, 2016

You Really Can

The elementary school called me yesterday to tell me that my foster son was chosen to receive a free bike donated from The Bike Collective. He and a few other students were given the opportunity to pick the one they wanted. He was the first to choose, but when it came time to take it home, he told the office that he changed his mind and didn't want it anymore.

I asked the woman who had called me if he had left the school yet and she said, "He has. And he refused to bring the bike with him."
"I'll be right over. Just keep it there and I'll come pick it up."
I knew the reason he changed his mind about the bicycle, it's because he's embarrassed that he's ten yrs. old and he doesn't know how to ride one.
I explained this to the woman at the office, thanking her for the gift. "I know he's grateful. He's just afraid to take it home for fear he will fall. Don't worry though, we'll teach him right away." I smiled. 

Today, me, my foster son, Micah, and Kaylee took our bikes, skates, and boards to our church parking lot. It's newly paved with tons of space. We all had a great time! 

We stayed for well over an hour just playing... and my foster son learned how to ride a bike.  His face lit up like Christmas as he proudly announced that he doesn't need to take his scooter anymore to school. 

Tonight, as I was making my rounds scratching the kids backs, my foster son continued to reflect on his accomplishment, "Miss Alicia (that's what he calls me), I guess I didn't realize that I could ride a bike but... well...  I guess I really can."
"Of course you can, bud." I said, affirmatively. "There's lots of things you can do that you don't think you can. You did great out there today. I'm very proud of you."
He smiled.

Bike lesson, accomplished!  
Next-up... long boarding lessons ;)  


Thursday, November 17, 2016

No Turning Back!

I never did end up serving a full-time mission but I imagine that many missionaries experience moments where they just want to go home, they want things to be the way they once were, in a place among people who speak their language, and where they are completely comfortable.

What if you were called to serve in an area where you felt like nothing you did made a difference, where the people rejected you, were mean to you, even when you tried to help them, nothing but hundreds of doors slammed in your face? Of course you would have moments where you wanted to go home.

I tried to use this analogy with Kaylee tonight as I laid in bed with her, scratching her back. She was relaxed with my body next to hers but her thoughts were still reflective. Today wasn't easy. Our foster daughter has a little problem with punching, scratching, and kicking others (all behaviors which are strictly forbidden in our family).  We're working on things, it will just take some training but Kaylee had a few wounds that were proof of the struggle today with her new "younger sibling."
She sighed and whispered, "Mom, I don't want to be a foster family anymore.  I just want our family."
I squeezed her tightly and kissed her head, "Honey, I know how you feel and it's okay to have those feelings. You are doing a wonderful job though! You've been so patient, and you're setting such a good example. Our foster kids will learn, we need to give them time."

I reminded her of her cousins who completed their full-time missions this year,
"Kaylee, what if Dane or Bryson decided that the place they were called to was just too hard? I'm sure there were many times they felt that way.  What if when things were rough, they quit and said, 'That's it! I'm going home!' Things weren't always easy but they stayed and finished their missions right up to the end."

She didn't respond to my question but her expression showed that she understood. "Sweetheart," I continued, "We've been called on a mission just like your cousins. Heavenly Father has asked us to serve in this place and with these specific children. We can't quit. We've got to stay here doing this work as long as God needs us to. Not all the moments are bad. We've had lots of good moments with these kids too."
My words seemed to click with her and her expression was more hopeful.

There really is no turning back. We've got to keep moving forward!!

I pray these experiences will become quite beneficial for my children as they face any uncomfortable calling or difficult task in the future:  college, a full-time mission, marriage, or raising their own children. I pray these experiences will teach them to learn the virtue of perseverance forged through faith. If it is a mission that God has called us to (and I know it is), then we can keep moving forward in total confidence and trust.  Everything is going to work out and we'll be better for it.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Serving God - Ponderize - Week 59

My foster son has been doing better these last few days. I can tell he's making a conscious effort to be a little more obedient to the rules and routines of our family.

Yesterday, he was watching Mormon Messages with Micah and was intrigued by the Christmas video where the man kept waiting for the Savior to come to his house as a guest but instead there only came a widow, an orphan, and a beggar. The story concludes with the scripture from Matthew 25:40.

As I quietly watched my foster son-- this kid who is so obviously a stranger and not one of my own--stare at the video, a wave of emotion filled my heart and the truth of the message gave me peace. "Don't give up. All that you do for this young boy, you are doing for Me." I felt strengthened in that moment with and a new vision to handle the increase stresses, anxieties, and conflicts.

In my personal scripture study this morning, I've just started Mosiah. I think this verse will be a good one for the week:

"Behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God." - Mosiah 2:17


Monday, November 14, 2016

ABC - 123

Around 22 years ago I was given a special blessing that reminds me of my life's mission. In that blessing I was told that because of my Savior's sacrifice, I might "not only have life but [I'll] have it most abundantly".  This is a promise to all true followers of Christ! As I reflect on what the phrase means to "have life most abundantly" I think of what we are here on earth for: to learn.

Education is part of the abundant life, especially the education that shapes and molds our eternal destiny.  So, let's talk a little about ABC's and 123's... :)

Thomas S. Monson describes the abundant life as something to be sought after like a quest--through three applied principles:

"A is for Attitude--So much in life depends on our attitude. The way we choose to see things and respond to others makes all the difference. To do the best we can and then to choose to be happy about our circumstances, whatever they may be, can bring peace and contentment.

B is for Believe--in yourself, in those around you, and in eternal principles... Don’t limit yourself and don’t let others convince you that you are limited in what you can do. Believe in yourself and then live so as to reach your possibilities. You can achieve what you believe you can. Trust and believe and have faith.

C is for Courage--Have the determination to make the effort, the single-mindedness to work toward a worthy goal, and the courage not only to face the challenges that inevitably come but also to make a second effort, should such be required. 'Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'(Mary Anne Radmacher)"
- President Thomas S. Monson

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin gave a talk called "The Abundant Life" and in it, he lists three things that describe where we find it:

One-- Living Water: "Fully understood and embraced, the gospel of Jesus Christ heals broken hearts, infuses meaning into lives, binds loved ones together with ties that transcend mortality, and brings to life a sublime joy."

Two-- Love: "Love is the essence of the gospel and the greatest of all the commandments. The Savior taught that every other commandment and prophetic teaching hangs upon it.(Matt. 22:40). The Apostle Paul wrote that 'all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.'(Gal. 5:14)"

Three-- Make a masterpiece: "The third quality of those who live abundant lives is that they, with the help of their Heavenly Father, create a masterpiece of their lives. No matter our age, circumstances, or abilities, each one of us can create something remarkable of his life. David saw himself as a shepherd, but the Lord saw him as a king of Israel."
-Joseph B. Wirthlin

There you have it, my friends. It really is that simple.  It really is that beautiful! This really is the life!! Bless you in your noble quest to further your education! Enter to learn and go forth to serve! I believe in you.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Waves of Grief and Loss

"Grief seems to create losses within us that reach beyond our awareness; 
We feel as if we're missing something that was invisible and unknown to us while we had it, but is now painfully gone."
- Brene' Brown (From the book Rising Strong p.146)

I think that's exactly what my husband is going through, a period of grief--a type of mourning. Our old life that has passed away--how our family used to be, everything that was comfortable and familiar--now feels strange and foreign when he arrives home from work: different faces, different voices, different smells, different behaviors, different conflicts.

For the first few days after our foster placement, I felt the same kind of grief, the same sense of loss for our old lifestyle... and it still surfaces every now and then but I think I've had more time to adjust than my husband.  For two weeks before these children were officially placed with us, they were coming to our house for around five hours every day and went back home shortly after Joseph returned from work... so he didn't get as much of a primer. And still, after the placement, he's at work most of the time while I'm here with them. My ratio of opportunities to adjust simply outnumber his.

Big changes have never been easy for Joseph--the loss of what once was.
I remember two big changes where he nearly called everything off because he was so terrified of the pending upheaval of his familiar routine: our wedding day and our move to Provo. In his own words he says, "I was so terrified, I wanted to tuck tail and run!" And running away, is exactly what he's felt like doing with our new life as foster parents. Admittedly, several days ago, I was right there with him. Sometimes we both ask, "What the 'H' have we gotten ourselves into?!"

There are two things that help us hold our ground though:
One--the miraculous events, timing, and connections that led us to where we are. We know we've been called of God on this mission...
And two--thinking of our foster children's lives and the intense need they have for a stable family, free from living on the streets, free from the scene of drugs, free from abuse.
Where else would they go without having to leave their school, their friends, and the people they've come to know through this ward?

I recognize that this transition is going to take time for both of us and it's likely going to take more time for Joseph, because he's not home as much. The biggest thing I worry about is him being too hard on himself. The other night he said discouragingly, "Alicia, I'm the one who initially introduced the idea of being foster parents but now I don't feel like I can't do this. I just can't do this. I don't feel close to these children at all." I reassured him that I often feel the same but I know we're going to make it!

I've discovered that our older foster child needs about an hour every evening to just talk with me. If I don't allow him that conversation time, he begins to act out in poor behavior and wake all the other kids. I'm grateful though because our conversations have helped forge some very needful bonds, even if they're not as strong as I'd like them to be.

For the past nine nights, during the new bed-time routine, Joseph has been so terribly uncomfortable that the only way for him to cope has been to keep his distance: emotionally and physically. He hunkers downstairs writing in his journal or chats with Chandler for two hours while I put the other five to bed. I recognize how prone he is to depression so I haven't said anything.  The miracle is that the Lord has blessed me with an added measure of peace and strength to help me shoulder this compassionately while Joseph works through his grief of losing our old life.

"I once heard a friend say that grief is like surfing. 
Sometimes you feel steady and you're able to ride the waves, 
and other times the surf comes crashing down on you, 
pushing you so far underwater that you're sure you'll drown."
- Brene' Brown (From the book Rising Strong p.147)

The crashing waves remind me of the familiar story of Peter when Christ beckoned for him to step out onto the water. I know it seems impossible. I know it is frightening and overwhelming at times but I know Who is calling us and I trust Him. I trust Him with all my heart.
We won't drown. He's got this!