Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happily Right Now

(This text is from an LDS fireside talk I delivered on Sunday, July 15, 2012. It's longish, but hopefully worth the read. Consider yourself warned.)

“Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman.”

What is it about the phrase Once upon a time that resonates over the centuries? It's a cliche, the cliche above all others in my opinion but each time it is uttered we know where the story is going to go. 

It has resonated for so long and is so many stories because it’s true. 
Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman and that young woman is YOU. 
President Deiter Uchtdorf has said, "You are living your own version of a fairy tale." You are a daughter of a great King, you are a princess, destined to be a might queen, a goddess even, but right now you are separated from the loving arms of your Heavenly Parents. You are in a lone and dreary wilderness under harsh and difficult conditions and much like the princesses in the earthly fairytales many of you have forgotten who you are and how you are supposed to get back home where you can experience your happily-ever-after. 

So what exactly is this happily ever after we keep talking about, how do you find it and what does it mean for you. 
Happily Ever After is a vague term isn’t it.

The fairytales haven’t done a lot to clarify it. Usually the story ends just as the Happily Ever After is getting started. You know how the story goes. The young maiden is restored to the throne. She is in a beautiful wedding dress, she’s beaming with happiness as she looks lovingly into the eyes of the brave, strong and incredibly handsome prince at her side. 

And that’s about it. The text underneath the image says that she lives happily ever after and we the readers are just supposed to believe it. 
But such an ending doesn’t tell us what Happily Ever after really is. 
Does the princess just live in never ending bliss? Does she have children? Do they make messes? Does the prince put on a little weight and grow a beard? Does she have any more trials or afflictions or struggles or does she just spend the rest of ever after looking adoringly into the eyes of her one true incredibly handsome love? 
What does your Happily Ever After Look like. How do you envision your future?
To tell you the truth, the Fairy tale version of Happily Ever doesn’t sound all that appealing to me. Is that really what all the struggles in this life are really for?Do you see any of the following in your future?

But do you see yourself living an endless life in endless light? 
Do you see yourself in an immortal body more glorious and beautiful that you can possibly imagine? 
Do you see yourself with a companion also in a glorious and immortal body at your side loving and adoring you as much as you love and adore him and spending eternity enjoying the blessings of being with your children? 
Do you see yourself in mansions of glory?
Do you see yourself living in eternal joy and happiness? 
Do you see yourself with the people you love who seek after peace and happiness in a place where there is no deception, malice or cruelty? 
Do you see yourself spending eternity with a Heavenly Father and Mother who adore you more than you can comprehend and an Elder Brother who knows you so well he has bled and suffered and shed tears for all of your pain, disappointment and heartache? 
You should answer yes to these questions because this is just a small sampling of the Happily Ever After that is promised to the faithful in the scriptures. It is your birthright from your Heavenly Father but in order to receive ALL that is yours, you have to make it to the end of the story. 
Imagine how disappointing a fairy tale would be if it went something like this:
Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman, a daughter of a mighty King who was separated from her loving family and cast into a miserable lone and dreary wilderness. She thought the journey was hard, and it was, and sometimes she got depressed and discouraged— as anybody would and it seemed that all the other young women in the wilderness were having a lot more fun (because they were posting all about it on Facebook) even though they weren’t making the best of choices . 

She decided that the journey back to her kingdom was just too hard. So she hooked up with a hot young huntsman and gave up ever trying to get back to her parents or the gorgeous and very virtuous prince who would truly love her because it probably didn’t matter all that much and chances are Happily Ever After was probably over-rated anyway.  
So she settled for what was easy right now and spent the rest of her days living with much heartache, disappointment and regret. 
The End. 
Is that how you want your story to end? 
Of course not. 
That is why it is so important you are careful with the choices you are making right now because there really is a Happily Ever After out there for you that includes all of the blessings the Savior has offered you. 
In the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon in chapter 15 verse 11,  the prophet Abinadi describes the type of person who will receive the blessings we are talking about here. He describes them as “Those who hearken unto the words of the prophets and believed that the Lord would redeem his people and looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you . . .they are the heirs to the kingdom.”
Abinadi has given us a basic formula to find our way back to our kingdom. There are a couple of words I want to focus on in that scripture:
Hearken, Look Forward and Believe. 
So if you want your happily ever after you need to hearken to the prophets. Now hearkening is more than just listening. To hearken to something really means to listen and obey. 

Also referred to as Keeping the Commandments. 
Let’s face it sometimes keeping the commandments feels like such a sunday school answer. The reality of keeping the commandments is that there are times when it is really hard! Especially when you feel like you are the only person on the planet who is struggling to do it. 
But it really is the only way to be happy. 
Honestly, making poor choices might feel exciting at first and instantly satisfying, it might give you a thrill and feel exhilarating but once that rush is over you will feel terrible. You will feel regret and sorrow and there will be consequences. Because every choice has consequences, they are unavoidable. 
As the Prophet Thomas S. Monson has stated, “you can choose your actions but you don’t get to choose the consequences of those actions.” The consequences of poor choices can be long, painful and if the sins are serious enough eternal in nature. 
Don’t sacrifice what you want most for what you want now.
Keeping the commandments is the only sure guide to lasting happiness.
Your Heavenly Father loves you, he wants you to have joy, he wants you to have exciting experiences, he wants you to experience fun, laughter and pleasure. As long as  you experience these things within the parameters of the commandments you will live a life without regret and feel the peace of a clear conscious. 
Remember the commandments are not to bring you down or spoil your fun they are the road map to lasting happiness and are created to bring us the least amount of pain and disappointment. They are the guide and protection that will keep you happy. 
But I also want you to remember that because your Heavenly Father loves you so much and he knows sometimes your going to stumble he has provided a way for you to recover from sin. 
If you have made poor choices that have brought you bitter pain and disappointment know that you can be fully forgiven and receive all of the blessings of Heaven. If you have made mistakes that you regret you can still have your Happily Ever After but it requires that you repent and turn away from sin. 
There will still be consequences from your choices even after repentance and some of those consequences might be painful but you can still receive lasting happiness it’s not too late. Your Heavenly Father and Savior love you and they want you to come home.
So keep the commandments and choose happiness which is the second way Abinadi said we could be heirs in the kingdom.
Abinadi stated that we need to look forward to the Savior. 
Which I believe means that we don’t need to dwell in the past, don’t wait for tomorrow, look at what is in front of you and cease today.
Don’t wait for Happily-Ever-After to happen to you.  Choose to be happy today. 
Do you understand what I mean by that? 
Is so easy to look at our past and dwell on our mistakes, disappointments and pain. It’s easy to become so tangled up in regret we spend our time searching for ways we think we could have made the past different. But the past is unchangeable. It has already happened. The only way to over come is to forgive, let go and lose the regret. 
It’s also very easy to look forward to some event in the future we think will make us happy and waste precious life experiences waiting for it. 
For example, we might say, “life will be so much better when I’m out of High School.”
“I will be so happy when I finally have a boyfriend.”
“Once I’m in college everything will be so much easier.”
“When I am finally married all my problems will be solved.” 
“I can’t wait until I’m a mom, I’ll be so happy then.” 
“Once I build my dream house, or lose ten pounds my life will be perfect.”
Do you see what I mean?
Waiting for an event or a thing to make us happy will only bring us disappointment. 
Because an event of a thing won't change who you are or how you see your life. To quote the movie Cool Runnings the true story of the Jamaican Bobsled team who competed in the Olympics,  “If you’re not enough without the Gold medal, you’ll never be enough with it.” 

If you are disappointed with an aspect of your life, you are  the only person who can change that not another person, thing or event. 
The above list can bring us much joy and happiness, in the right season, but if we’re always waiting for something better we will miss all of the daily gift that hold joy. 
When we say we are waiting for our Happily-Ever-After we are looking for an end to all of our troubles and Heavenly Father doesn’t work that way. The only way for us to understand joy is to first know sorrow, pain and affliction. He is Eternal, our lives have been endless and they can be eternal. But first we much learn and grow and for all of us that means we must know sorrow. 

But you don't have to dwell on pain. We can be happy even in affliction. In fact some of the happiest people I know have suffered and experience great affliction. 
Don’t wait for something to happen to you. Choose to be happy today. 
Because if you wait for the perfect day you will miss all the messy wonderful moments we are meant to experience. 
The joy really is in the journey. 
Ditch the fairytale thinking and find happiness right now. 
There is a universal truth about happiness. Happiness is something you choose no matter your circumstances. 
Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist who lived around the time of WWII. His education had taught him to believe that whatever happens to you as a child shapes your entire life. So basically you don’t get to choose the outcome of your life, your experiences do. So if you had a lousy childhood according to his early theories you are destined to have an unhappy life. 
Well Frankl was also a Jew and was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp during the war. His parents, wife and brother were all killed in the gas chambers. He was tortured in horrific ways. Each day he woke up never knowing if it would be his last. He had very little control over what happened to him and could have easily lost all hope and let himself die. 
One day after being tortured, he was naked and alone in a small room. As Steven R. Covey writes, "he began to be aware of what he later called the last human freedom. The only freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment. They could do what they wanted to his body, but Frankl realized HE could decide within himself how it was going to affect him." 
NO matter what happened to him he always had the freedom to choose how he responded to it. 
The single greatest lesson I have learned in my own search for happiness is that I can’t always determine what is going to happen to me. (Because we will ALL suffer sorrows and affliction) but I can determine how I’m going to respond to it. 
Which means that though I can’t control the weather I can control what I’m going to feel and how I’m going to respond  to it. 
So let me ask you, if it rains when you hope for sunny skies how are you going to respond? 
Are you going to cry and shake your fists at the heavens and ask why or are you going to stick it out, look for the good in the moment, learn from the experience and make the best of the situation? 

Happiness is a choice not made on a grand scale but how we choose to live and enjoy our lives every single day. 
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin a member of the Quorum of the twelve explained that whenever hard things happened to him his mother used to say “Come what may and love it.” He goes on to describe this statement. 
“Every life has peaks and shadows and times when it seems that the birds don’t sing. Yet in spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, and wiser and are happier as a result.” 
However, In order to choose to be happy you must first believe that happiness is for you.
Abinadi said that those who inherit the kingdom Believe the Savior. Not believe in him. They Believe him. Meaning you need to believe he will redeem you. 
He has promised you all of the rich and wonderful blessings I’ve mentioned earlier and many, many more. He has hand tailored  a life for you that will bring you more joy and happiness that you can comprehend but in order for you to receive it, you have to trust him. 
You have to believe the truth of who you are and what is promised to you especially when life gets  hard. Believe the Savior has created a path back to your Father in Heaven for you. FOR YOU.
Because once you accept that the Savior has Atoned for you, you can have your happily ever after and your happily right now. 
So keep the commandments, choose happiness today and believe your Savior has a happily-ever-after waiting for you. 
Believe him when he says he loves you, He has given you the world reach out and take it and believe him when he says there is a happily-ever-after tailor made just for you. Because it’s true.
I say these things in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ amen. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

{Annmarie investigating the function of the epiglottis on the internet.}

My six-year-old is stubborn and inquisitive. She constantly bombards me with questions and doesn't stop until she gets a satisfying answer. When I'm feeling less patient, I tell her the answer to Life the Universe and Everything is forty-two and send her out to play.

But the questions persist.

I realize part of that is her age and part of it is imbedded in her DNA. When I was six (and twelve and twenty-eight) I wanted to know everything. My mother got so weary of the constant inquisition she bought me a set of world book encyclopedias. I read them cover to cover, earmarked my favorite parts and read them again. I even tried to pack the entire set off with me to college but they fell apart.

I've never outgrown that need for knowledge and doubt my daughter will either. I still want to know everything about everything. So I understand her deep hunger. She doesn't just want to know. She needs to know and can't be satisfied until she has an answer.

Lately, her obsession is human physiology. She want's to know how every system in the body works. Here are a few examples of her recent questions:

"Where's the esophogus and what does it do?"
"Do my kidney's only process drinks or soup too?"
"If my liver is a giant filter what happens to all the bad stuff it separates?"

Thank you Professor Gardner for forced memorization. Had you not forced me to peer inside a human cadaver my sophomore year in college I would have never been able to tell my daughter that the liver is basically a giant coffee filter.

Google helps with the answers I don't remember but it's just not the same as those old encyclopedias. There's just something powerful about holding the answer in your fingertips. We recently purchased a DK How it works book on the human body. It's the size of a coffee table. You should see Annmarie pack it around.

Anyway, while my little one was mulling through Circulation and Digestion. I'd been asking a few questions myself.

One of my physicians suggested cutting things out of my life to help me recover. So I'd been asking myself what can go. I love so many things. Right now I can't do them all. So I'd been trying to do a little selective amputation. What do I give up? Teaching? Writing? Cooking? Yoga?

They all bring me joy. So how do I choose which one to let go?

I'd been wrestling with this subject for a while and didn't feel like I was getting a satisfactory answer. In walked Annmarie with that giant book of the human body under her arm. I could see a question burning in her brain and I was so, so tempted to give her my standard Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy answer but she looked deeply troubled. I dropped onto my knees, so I could look her in the eye, and asked. "How can I help you my dear?"

She wrapped her fingers firmly around the book's binding. "There are so many parts of the body. And they all do important things, but which one is the MOST Important?"

I sat on my feet and pondered the question. Was it the heart? Brain? Lungs? Kidneys?

"They're all important?" I said. "You can't live without any of them. If you take one system away the whole body suffers."

I understand this concept because ONE SYSTEM in my body is out of order and it's impacting ALL of them. Each system of the body supports the others. They are all unique and important.

Well, isn't cutting pieces of my life away akin to cutting out organs? Yes, there are foreign cancers that invade and must be removed to preserve the whole. And sometimes there needs to be surgical adjustments to help organs better function. But how can I choose to eliminate entire parts of myself? They are all parts of my whole.

I don't think my physician meant for me to cut out parts of my life that nourish me. I think he meant that I cut out things that erode, cancerous burdens that seem urgent but are ultimately not important. Like the laundry! Or the ringing telephone! But instead I have tried to amputate parts of myself.

I gave up writing because I thought it was an all or nothing deal. Then I did the same thing with teaching. I've compartmentalized my life, cutting it into segments to make myself well. But these amputations have negatively impacted my health.

Writing pumps my heart and teaching fills my lungs. Gardening, yoga, music, and painting all serve a function. I cannot live my life without them. They are all necessary parts of my whole.

Monday, August 22, 2011

{Down but not out.}

Dear Blog,

Life is not easy. And lately I've been a little testy. You see I had the opportunity to talk to an amazing woman who has had health issues similar to my own. She is a gorgeous wife, mother of eight and grandmother to dozens. She has an amazing attitude and carries herself with spunk and sparkle. As we talked I flooded her with questions which spilled so fast I don't know how she grabbed any of them. But she caught hold of one I've been desperate to have answered.

"What can I do to feel better?"

 She smiled softly and said, "Take care of yourself. Carve out time just for you."

I got a little weepy at the simplicity of that statement and added it to my healing list: Eat bushels of fruits and vegetables, consume my daily allowance of fiber, exercise daily--even if it's just a little light yoga or a ten minute walk. Don't drink alcohol, soft drinks or smoke cigarettes. Cut out all processed sugars. Open myself to guided meditation, eastern medicine and purified water. And live with a rock solid positive attitude, chew on platitudes with breakfast.

But before I could fully process "me time" into my daily regime she added,

"But I can't say you will every fully recover. There will always be physical struggles."

If she hadn't revealed this statement with such kindness I would have thought she kicked me in the stomach. Because I've believed/hoped/prayed a healthy diet and attitude are enough to shrink a tumor and heal a soul. And that snippet of truth is one bitter pill to swallow.

I'd thought I'd been handling things really well. In truth? I've been mired in denial. Things aren't that much better. I have seen improvement. But damn it. I'm only 37, I'm not ready to feel so old. And I am MAD! I'm so angry I want to throw dishes at the walls. I DON'T WANT TO HAVE PHYSICAL STRUGGLES! Sometimes there's so much anger inside me the worlds not big enough to contain my epic tantrum!

But . . .

I really like my dishes and don't want to repaint the walls. And I live with the most patient man in the world. Who tells me it's alright to be angry. Which sort of takes the hissy wind out of my sails. Then I cry and he holds my hand, even though I am sure he wants to throw a couple dishes himself.

He leaves me alone and I pray which lately is really not much more than the muttered word help. Then the tears subside and I find peace and I pray for others like me, who might be hurt, angry and scared. Because the greatest lesson I've learned this summer is that prayers are more powerful when they are performed on the behalf of someone else. I've witnessed miracles for others. And I've received some too. Maybe I will always have physical struggles, maybe I won't. But I know my good days are a gift from a prayer performed by another. And I'm grateful. Thank you. I'm praying for you too.



Friday, August 5, 2011

                                                                                                                                                                         {copyright Jason Stevens}

I believe happiness is a choice. We may not always be able to change our circumstances but we have total control over how we react to it. Sometimes it's easy to let life's ups and downs dictate how we feel. Similar to how easy it is to let the weather affect our mood. I can't control the weather. But I can control my mood.

I can't always control how my body feels. But I can control how I choose to deal with it. I can choose to feel sorry for myself and wish things were how they used to be or I can focus on how I manage today.

Recently,  I let myself have a grand pity party. There were big sloppy tears, teeth gnashing, more tears. All I wanted was to go back to how things used to be. I wanted my old life back and I knew there is no going back. No matter how this chapter in my life ends, life will never be exactly like it was before. I've grown too much, I've learned too much to see my life through an old lens.

There is no going back. I can only move forward, accept the things I cannot change and create my own internal weather.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

{Em on a climbing trip}

My oldest daughter is at a girls camp this week. I miss her. It's the first time in five years I haven't been at the same camp as a volunteer. Wow life turns on a dime, doesn't it? 

But the good news is that I get to spend the week uninterrupted with this kid. 

Which means we will probably be doing a lot of this: 

{She's got an obsession with shoes}

Look at those cheeks! I die over those cheeks. And those toes. Baby feet are one of my top ten favorite things.  I'm not kidding. They made the short list. And that chin is way up there too. I used to bury my face in the folds under that chin and smell that sweet baby goodness. And those chubby fingers. Argh. Stop me now before I get her out of bed just to nuzzle her ears. I'm mad crazy for my offspring. The end. 


So sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been under the weather. If you've contacted me recently and have not heard back don't take it personally. I'm working on getting better and it's practically a full time job. 

Love you all. Thanks for sticking around. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Summer!

We found a surprise in our brooder boxes this weekend! We were so excited by the first egg we had a mini-celebration. Farm fresh eggs are the best.

And then we had a lovely fourth with great friends. It was a blast! Kim over at Going Gordon posted a great slide show of the festivities.

Wow, I wrote this post while my kids were watching Enchanted. Can you tell?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

{My petunias after the microburst}

Last night a microburst ripped through our cul-de-sac. It took about a minute-and-a-half for the finger of God to tear a hole in our street. The entire neighborhood converged to survey the damage. There were some broken tree limbs, missing lawn ornaments and a few loose shingles. My neighbor's trampoline ended up wrapped around a flagpole. It could have been so much worse, at least everybody was okay.

We were all grateful but sad for the neighbor girls. The trampoline is their most favorite possession in the entire world. They practically live on it. And even though it is just a trampoline, they've had some struggles this spring and a ruined tramp' felt like the last straw on the camel's back.

Sometimes I wonder why we assume we have any control in this world at all. Life can change so fast. As cheesy at it may sound, life is a lot like being on a trampoline. One second you're up, the next you're down and then you're spiraling through the air in a cyclone.

But as devastating as yesterday may have seemed. It was filled with small miracles. A secret angel slipped over to the neighbor's house and with some spare parts and springs from another airborne casualty he made it all better. I heart secret angels!

Tonight the air smells of the rain soaked desert, crisp with sage and russian olives, which is the best fragrance in the entire world! As I clear the dead fall out of my flowerbeds. I find another small miracle: blossoms on my mock orange. I planted the shrub six years ago. Not once has it ever bloomed. But tonight it's bursting, bringing new sweetness to the summer cocktail.

The Norse God and I have adopted a saying, "not all days will be like today." It's meant for the hard days when we don't think we can take anymore to remind us that the pain won't last forever. But it works on the good days too. Life brings microbursts and flowers, sometimes in the same storm. Take it all in. You never know how long it's all going to last.

I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow. I'm still learning to be okay with this part of it. Here's hoping for less rain and more flowers.