Friday, February 29, 2008

You Don't Have to Control Yourself Yourself

This has been an interesting week filled with epiphanies.

It all started in the family relations class. Now you have to know that my husband is ward mission leader and my close friend has a husband who works on Sunday so the two of us go spouse-less to this discussion on marriage, which can get a little dangerous. (My comments might be a little more restrained if I had Greg poking me in the ribs instead of Sonja egging me on.) Anyway, we were talking about anger and other extreme emotions and the teacher said that we had the power to control not only what we did but how we felt. Immediately my hand shot up. "There is no way," I said, "We have the power to choose how we react to our feelings and whether we feed them into something horrible, but the initial response is totally out of our control." She shook her head and claimed we did. So I turned to Sonja, my partner in crime, who shrugged her shoulders and agreed with the stinking teacher. I left furious. Some people have as their gift and curse a very active limbic system, they love more and freak out more. What about depression? Are we expected to simply control that with our minds? The more I chewed on it, the more angry I felt.

On the way home I blew. Greg asked me about my lesson and I told him that the pee brains in family relations said we could control our emotions- have you ever heard something so asinine?! Greg laughed and said it was the natural man in me speaking and left it at that. In the hustle and bustle of preparing Sunday dinner for a small army, the subject was left behind but somehow the Lord wasn't done with me yet.

Monday we had an abbreviated FHE. I assigned the lesson to George who pulled a slip of paper from his scriptures, obviously left over from an old lesson. It was a quote from David O. McKay which said, "Spirituality is victory over self, coupled with communion with the infinite." Each person in the family talked about how they could become a better victor over themselves and I was reminded of trying to control my emotions but I thought secretly that I try so hard to control my reaction to my feelings that if I was required to try to manhandle my heart-- well, just chuck me down to hell right now because it would be impossible.

On Wednesday afternoon I picked up Rachel after school and brought her to my house for the missionary discussions. She is a young woman who has started coming to mutual and wants to be baptised. I love her desire to learn and when I picked her up she immediately began to ask me what it meant by the baptism of fire talked about in 2 Nephi 31. I told her that was when we receive the Holy Ghost. She asked me if it happened during the ordinance after baptism. I said that was part of it but the real baptism with the Holy Ghost is a personal thing, it is when you are filled with the Spirit and make the commitment to try to keep it with you always.

Although the struggle to maintain the spirit is a lifelong pursuit, that initial baptism of fire can happen in a moment and be life changing. I remember soon after I was baptised, sitting in Primary (it was on Tuesday afternoon right after school) and listening to the prelude, "There is a Green Hill Far Away." I pulled out the hymnal and began to read the words to myself, when suddenly I was bathed in the fact that this was real. The whole church thing wasn't some myth my parents had stupidly swallowed. Jesus really, really loved me, died for me, and was alive and watching over me right that very minute. I could feel it almost at a cellular level. I began to cry and my friend poked me to ask what was wrong. I said, "it's true!" and she thought I was weird- which I was, but it was still true.

As I talked to Rachel, there was this little voice at the back of my brain trying to be heard. She left and I pulled out my scriptures and read about the people who had had that profound experience of being baptised by fire. First, there were the apostles on the day of pentecost. After they spoke in tongues and Peter explained what was going on to the people, those that had once mocked were "pricked in their hearts" and asked what they should do. Their desires were changed. Second, look at the people who listened to King Benjamin's address. The Scriptures say that everyone of them said, "because the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2) Finally when Ammon, the arm-cutter, preaches the gospel to King Lamoni, the man faints and later his wife does the same thing. After a while the people become contentious and Abish wakes them up. Immediately the king tells the people about all the incredible things he had learned. Although many wouldn't listen, they declared that "their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil." (Alma 19:32)

For me, maybe this change of heart is the change of emotions, initial reactions, we talked about on Sunday but I can't do it alone- just as the people in the scriptures couldn't. We need the Holy Ghost to help and we need to ask for that help. Sometimes the answers might come as the automatic gift of being faithful but other times it can come through inspiration to find physical or medical answers that give us direction and added strength. At other times the answer may be that we have to endure the "thorn in our side" a little longer, but if we can buck up and do our best, we are promised it will be removed. And when that thorn is removed, we will be blessed with empathy and strength that would never have been ours without it.

It was yesterday morning that the last nail got whammed in my heart and I gave up and believed. I was walking with Sonja and talking about my son who is a senior. We had planned on him going to BYUi this next semester but through a combination of him dragging his feet and me not pushing hard enough, he missed the deadline. I took this as a personal failure but my friend told me that maybe my son didn't really want to go to school yet and what if that was the right thing for him. She asked if he was reading his scriptures and living the gospel. I said, of course. Then Sonja asked that if he had the spirit, then don't you think his desires or the lack of them are the right thing and therefore righteous.

I went home crying because there was that "desire" thing again. So if we open our heart to the spirit, our hearts will be changed, and eventually our desires will be righteous. George didn't want to go to school until the winter; I don't think it was laziness, he just wasn't ready. What a stretch that was for me to trust his feelings, and my own. If we really have the Spirit, then our passions and desires can be just what the Lord would have us do. Lately, I have felt so driven to write. The ideas seem to ooze from my brain, unlike any time in my life. What if that is coming from Heavenly Father. It is my time. Now I can go overboard and get in trouble. Heaven knows, I am well aware of the sound of the echoing whoosh you hear with the Spirit leaves. It is black and white for me. I know if I only write while the kids are in school then I think my desires might actually be righteous- what a concept- actually wanting and enjoying doing the right thing.

This doesn't mean that the natural man won't scream at me now and again with things that are inappropriate but the key is to recognize where our desires are coming from. Mine are still probably 2/3rds to 1/3 but as I feed the best desires, I can hope for a complete change of heart until "I have no more desire to do evil." And when that day comes I will never again want to jump out of my car and wring another driver's neck or clobber my twelve year old for forgetting his homework again or want to play hookey from church meetings, taxes, obligations or life and just drive away and be FREE! I can't wait for that day but for now I'll feed the Spirit, starve the natural man and finish doing my taxes. Yuck!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Marcus is Going To Albania!

Marcus came home a semester early from BYUi so that he could earn money for his mission. We require our children to earn half their money because first, we believe if they earn it, they will most likely take more responsibility for it- and with five boys.. well.

It is hard for a young man who is chomping at the bit to have his own life to bend to 11 pm curfews, lights out by 9pm, and no Wii on school nights. But Saturday brought those days to a close. The big envelope arrived and the family gathered around to find out where their big brother would be for the next two years.

He ripped open the thick manilla paper and began to read slowly aloud when his ten year old sister Sarah looked over his shoulder and called out "Albania."

"Where is Albania? What language do they speak? Do we know anyone that has been there?" I drew a total blank about this country and ran to the internet. Putting it in a Google search, I pulled up the CIA factsheet. Marcus was still trying to read his acceptance letter, and I began throwing out facts for all to hear.

In 1992 Albania ended their communist rule (later than Russia?)... high unemployment, widespread corruption, organized crime networks and political opponents... dilapitated physical infrastructure... inter-ethnic tension. I scrolled down and found out it is beautiful, right by Greece and on the Adriatic sea but then I read about tsunami's and devastating earthquakes, deforestation and water pollution.

At this point I think all excitement had gone out the window. I should have stopped but I wanted to hear something Albanian so I did another search and found some Albanian movies so we could hear how the language sounds. The only problem is unemployment is such a huge issue that every site I looked at had a lot of "questionable solicitations around them." Apparantly that is another issue. Finally, his younger brother, Camron said, "Mom, the prophet probably saw that he was a 5' 7" 300 lb. football player and went, 'We need him in Albania!'"

It is actually a relatively new mission. How exciting to be able to share the gospel message with someone that has never heard anything about it. I'm sure it will be a wonderful time but as his mother, I can tell you, his faith will not be the only one increasing. With a lot of prayers and a little nail biting, I'm sure it will be wonderful, but do you think it is against mission rules to send a kevlar vest? What if it is black or dark blue?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Keeping my Playdough Clean

I don't buy playdough anymore. Not because it sticks to my carpets, which it does, and not because it dries into shriveled blobs when the lid isn't put back on. No, I don't buy it because we can never keep the colors clean. It starts out great and then one of my children decide to make a blue flower with a yellow center. Her project turns out beautifully but when she is done admiring her work, she squishes everything together and there is this yellow cancerous mass in your blue that you can never really get out. Each time we play it gets a little worse until finally every container is filled with an ugly swirly pinkish brown mess and the playdough is declared ruined.

School had such clean compartments like the playdough containers. Everything stays in its place. A bell rings and it's time to read, another bell and it is time to eat, and another bell and time to play. When I had my first baby, I planned on running my life like that, keeping all the playdough in clean little cannisters but by the time I had my third son in four years everything was smushed together. My days be a mixture of constant eating, bathing, playing, sleeping, reading and crying with no shape or form and with a croupy baby sometimes that continued late into the night. My life was just like that pinky brown swirly mess.

So when my youngest went to kindergarten I decided I was going to change. I was going to have clean lines and keep all my colors separate. My time was my own and I could control it, right? So I planned on spending an hour scripture reading and calendaring, then do housework until ten, when I would start writing until lunch. At which time I would put in my lean cuisine, and write until two when I would put away my computer and make an afterschool snack, happily greeting my children as they walked in the door. My life was going to be orderly, I would be thin and everything would be perfect. So how have I done?

Well, the first glitch was that my wonderful pre-missionary son comes home for lunch (say good bye to the lean cuisine), then my great husband works from home now and then, which is great but a constant interruption. Then my bishop decided I should be the YW president and I've got wonderfully talkative friends. There are always little needs that I can't seem to leave unfilled and then I got this contract on a book I'm writing with my sister and have been feverishly trying to get it done to meet our deadline, writing late into the night, or in the car during basketball practice. Ahhh. My life is still one swirly mess of pinkish brown goo.

Maybe it is practice for the eternities. Maybe life is supposed to be full of noise, fun, hope, work, mess, love and craziness- or maybe I need to plan better, live with a timer and force myself to keep my colors clean. I just bought some more lean cuisines- we'll see.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

For You It's So Easy- NOT!

Last night I attended the Worldwide Leadership Training. I had heard it was on raising a righteous posterity and went prepared to feel guilty. Halfway through the event, I found myself crying not with guilt but with relief. I was agreeing with so much of what was said that I left feeling like it was doable and that I was actually on the right track.

Many of Sister Beck's comments were touching and I loved how Sister Tanner reminded everyone that the ideal is one thing but reality often looks very different. But the comment that won the day was when Sister Lant told us about how hard she had worked to get all her little children ready and to church on time. She would start Saturday afternoon and it was exhausting. One day after arriving at church with her brood, a sister walked up to her, put her hand on Sis. Lant's shoulder and said, "Oh, if my children were as good as yours, I'd have a big family too. For you it is so easy." Sister Lant admitted she cried during the entire meeting. It hurt!

Right after I had my first baby and started staying at home for the first time, my visiting teacher was the Stake President's wife. When she found out that I had decided to be a full-time mom, she looked at me and laughed, "Well, it is nice that you can do that, my brain is just too quick to handle being home all the time." I was young and swallowed it, feeling like an idiot and a failure for days.

Why do we do that? The truth is both sides behaved less than their best.

Often comments like those above are done in admiration or ignorance. Sometimes they are subconscious reflections of an individual's struggle with that principle and are said to alleviate personal guilt. In those cases I hope women realize the impact of their words and love and support these great mothers who sacrifice so much to raise a family because it is disgustingly hard. Other times they really are meant to hurt. So what if they are? As I look back on it, my biggest disappointment is in my own reaction.

Most of the world thinks I'm insane for having seven children. I remember walking into a grocery story with my first four children all under the age of six and having a woman sneer at my posse and say, "Don't you know what causes that?" I smiled back and said, "Of course I do, isn't it great!"

When I had my fourth child, a little indian woman who believed the world was already over populated delivered my beautiful first daughter. While I was on the delivery table she asked me if I was ready for a tubal, since I was already numb. I looked at her in shock and told her absolutely not. She shook her head and commented, "Then you'll be here next year in the same position." I smiled at my perfect new baby and replied, "I certainly hope so."

When people in the world make such comments, I am delighted because it allows me to express truth. I believe that if they bring it up, the topic is free game and I can openly express my side of the issue, which I do- in detail. But when women in the church do the same thing, especially someone I admire, it hurts- but it shouldn't. If I really remembered what I knew to be true, I would be sad for them, that they didn't have the vantage point that I do.

At my father's funeral my entire family came to mourn his early passing. I have eleven brothers and sisters with large families. We have never lived very close to my family but that day all the brothers, sisters, spouses, cousins, grandchildren, great-grandchildren sat side by side in the chapel. We filled the entire center section. In the middle of the funeral we stood up and sang our family song, "What does it mean to be an Edwards!" In the very heart of our grief I knew and my children knew the joy of being couched in a loving family. They knew that no matter what there were hundreds of people that were bound to them eternally and would do anything to help make their life better. They felt the joy of the most essential part of our Heavenly Father's plan.

That's why I had every one of my beautiful babies and changed thousands of diapers and spent day after day being more like a chair than a human being as my clingy, croupy third baby was never happy unless he was in my lap and I wasn't doing anything else but rocking him. That's why I get up way too early every morning to drive my teenagers to seminary in my pajamas and stay up way too late helping them with homework at night. That's why I drown in laundry on a regular basisand spend half my life either doing dirty dishes or nagging my children to do them. That's why my thyroid blew out with hormonal shifts during pregnancy, my knees where pulled out of alignment from widened hips and I lost my waist entirely. But the price is worth it, so worth it.

Tonight we all gathered together and watched a stupid movie with arms and legs hanging over each other in comfortable, connecting peace. Earlier today my thirteen year old spoke in church with confidence, expressing his pure testimony and I beamed. And two days ago my second son came home doing a victory dance because his missionary papers are finally in. The price is huge. It is yucky, hard, routine work to raise a big family but it is also fun, glorious, intellectually and physically satisfying, and the most incredible blessing of my life.

So the next time someone says something about how easy it is for me, I'm going to smile confidently and say, "I wish! But the work is worth it because look what I have to show for it."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Writer's Block and not Doing your Homework

Tonight was bedlam. I was watching a nine-year-old girl for a friend and the younger children were running around our feet, screaming in glee and showing off. To top it off I was late starting dinner and forgot I was having dinner guests until they arrived at the door. Somehow I had also asked my teenager to make dinner rolls. Of course, they weren't ready in time and the kitchen sink was piled high with all the dishes she had used for her small little salty mounds of what tasted like hardened playdough. My older sons and my husband were loudly debating the option of writing in Kermit the Frog on their ballots rather than vote for McCain who looks like the GOP candidate with our guests and I was running around frantically, trying to get edible food on the table. It was bedlam.

By the time the guests left and dinner was cleared I noticed my thirteen year old son who had been working on his math homework the entire time slumped over face down in his open book. I sat next to him, looked at the broken pencil and bent dinner fork, and guessed it wasn't going well. "Can I help you?" I offered.

"No! This is so stupid; it is impossible. It won't do what I want it to. I hate it!"

"Well, buddy," I tried to soften his frustration, "maybe if you look at it a different way..."

"There is no other way!" He smashed his face two or three times back into the page, returning to his lifeless stance.

I lifted the book and saw percentages. I explained that the key to percentages is that "of" means its the denominator but he wouldn't believe me. So I went back over his work, most of it incorrect and showed him how to do it. After the third correct answer in the back of the book, he began to see hope that it might work out. He did a problem and got it right and then grabbed the pencil and I became to him. Less than ten minutes later he closed the book with satisfaction, finished with his impossible task and ran upstairs to catch the last of American Idol before family prayer.

What surprised me as I watched him go was how similar his experience had been to my own just the day before. I was working on a chapter about "small sins." I had a scripture I wanted to weave into a C. S. Lewis quote that totally correlated to the topic but everytime I tried to segue it together, it was AWFUL. I couldn't make it work; it just wouldn't twist and squeeze into compliance. The entire day I only produced four pages of ragged, nasty copy and when my husband got home, I felt like I was an idiot to think I could even attempt such a massive project with my addled brain.

My patient husband pulled me away from the computer and we talked about it. My problem was the same as my son's, I wasn't willing to let go of my false idea so I could let a better one enter. Greg made some other suggestions and we talked about themes of the book and the big picture and a whole new and better connection came to mind that lead to the introduction of three more quotes and life was fabulous and you couldn't tear me away from flopping out the ten fabulous pages I produced today.

Now as I look back on it, I wonder how many times I wasn't willing to let go of what I had to take in something better. How many times have I felt too busy to attend a meeting or said no to a friend who had invited me to lunch or didn't ever make a phone call I thought about but let life get in the way? I remember after I lost my baby and my father passed away just four days later I sort of shut down. One day a woman my husband worked with came over to take me to dinner. I told her I didn't want to go out but she would not let me politely say no. When we got in the car, I began by talking about my loss but she wouldn't let me. She said that it would be there when we got back but for an hour I was going to go on vacation from all that pain and have fun, and I did. When I got back, it was amazing because suddenly I wasn't still marinated in it. I realized I could be free of some of the extreme emotion that was drowning me. I hadn't realized I had that ability but once I did, it was easier.

Part of being a writer is seeing connections others don't see. They say there are no new plots, only new perspectives on the old ones. But if we don't let go every once in a while and open our minds and hearts, we can spend our whole lives trapped in the same old, same old.

Thank goodness for mothers that can do math, husbands who can put up with their crazy wives and close friends who pull us out of our comfort zones against our wills.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Reading People

Tonight was date night for my husband and I. Usually we go to a fast food joint and hit a movie, but tonight was different. I gently persuaded my husband to take me to POWELL's which claims to be the largest bookstore in the world. For a man who dislikes reading email, this was a real stretch and proof of his undying love for me because he hated every minute of it.

On the other hand, I was in heaven! I loved peeking at books I had only heard about. C. S. Lewis talked about George MacDonald's Princess series which I looked at and was surprise he liked them so much. I found an incredible commentary on Shakespeare that is simply brilliant and I got to see a large author's signing, dreaming that someday I would be in the chair of honor with a line around the room waiting for my signature and a few choice words of advice. We left with my head still in the clouds and as we buckled up, my husband Greg let out a shudder and said, "I have never seen so many weird people in my life."

I looked at him oddly, ready to refute what he said and then paused. My mind had been so enthralled in the books that I hadn't really focused on the people in the crowded downtown bookstore late on a Friday night. Recalling them, it suddenly all became clear to me. (Now this is in no way an exhaustive study so if I offend you, take it in stride. It was also late on a Friday night which precluded teens and young mothers) but what I noticed was there were three types of people that were there- no four.

1- The most noticeable group was the Fantasy/SciFi , edging to occult crowd and they were prolific. Although some are just typical teens and Young Adults, many have multiple piercings and tattooes, and color their hair either black or some non-human shade. As a group they are surprisingly amiable and intellegent. I think they are just trying to make the world a little more like the books they read and have a screaming desire not to get lost in the crowd. I like them a lot but I can see why my husband feels out of his element- and I guess that's a good thing.

2- There was also the hoity-toity intellectual types. They usually wear cashmere scarves or shiny leather gloves and are impeccably groomed. At this store I noticed quite a few but they may have come for the booksigning which was in the art section. It was a very high-brow affair from the snippets of conversation I caught about his career in Chicago and his fascinating insights...blah...blah. The only problem with these people is I have an uncontrolable desire to mess up their hair. One day I'm going to blow.

3- There was also a large number of dishevelled, slightly overweight, quick thinking nobodies. These are the voracious readers who live with a true reading addiction that must be fed. Living in their minds is so vivid, it beats any type of reality. I ran into three literally. They are the people who are so focused on what they are doing that they don't notice you until you bump into them and even then, they might not respond. Perhaps all true readers are this way to some degree.

4- Last but not least there were the tag-a-longs. Poor men and women dragged into the store against their will who try their hardest to look interested in something that couldn't care less about. They were peppered throughout the store in sorry numbers either munching at the coffee bar or sitting in the SciFi section reading books on Zombies.

Either way, it was a wonderful night and I came home with a stack of books nearly as tall as I am. It was great until I starting thinking- which type of person am I? There is a definite part of me that is the rebel that doesn't want to get lost in the crowd. I don't have tatoos or piercings but sometimes I'll do or say outlandish things for the shock value.

There is another part of me that I fight against that is the elitest. Sometimes I feel that I am the only defender of the truth and the rest of the world are idiots. I'll sit listening to a conversation with my arms folded, amazed that anyone could even think in such low-flying circles and never see the glory of what was really meant by a piece of literature, a scripture or political commentary. I spent most of BYU in my elitest mode which was a bad thing.

Lastly, the reading nerd- yup, I suppose I'm guilty of that one too. When I get into a good book, the house could be on fire and I would be totally oblivious. I do try to descend to reality on a regular basis but I recently found out that writing is worse than reading for taking us away to a place that only exists in our minds. It's wonderful but a little odd.

I looked at my normal husband and was suddenly grateful for the anchor that he was. Wow, do you think being triple wierd is like a double negative and they cancel each other out? I sure hope so.