I once watched a professional stoneware artist working at the wheel, throwing pots. I asked him questions about the formation of the outer walls and how he made the varied shapes he was forming. He told me he only pays attention to the center and the outside walls take care of themselves.
Too often our attention is directed to our outer walls, or the way we appear to others. We find ourselves worthy only if we match up well against everybody else. We compare and compete then find ourselves lacking, never convinced we’re good enough. If we pay attention to our own personal journey, how we compare to others won’t matter any more. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be the best. We don’t have to compete with others. We have only to be better than we were yesterday.
I remember a day when the parents of the students in my daughter’s ballet class were invited to attend a performance demonstration to see the progress of the dance students. There were obvious differences in the levels of ballet technique and performance competency as the girls followed the teacher’s commands and performed a choreographed dance for us.
My daughter had struggled with shyness for years, along with learning to cope with legs that were several inches different in length. Taking ballet was her idea. She’d found the courage to take classes as a beginner with other girls who had been taking ballet for ten or more years.
Watching her dance that day was amazingly beautiful to me. It didn’t matter how she compared to the other girls. Even her teacher could not possibly know what she had overcome to get to this personal level of grace. Someone attending that class as an observer could not possibly make a judgment that was accurate about her competency or accomplishments. Then I realized only a parent who truly knows and loves their child can accurately assess their progress. So it is with God; only our loving heavenly parents can accurately assess our progress.
As I watched my daughter turn a pirouette that day, my heart caught the very instant she stopped, stood still and smiled at me. Time stopped and she was the only ballerina on the dance floor. That shining moment of grace still dances in my heart to remind me that we all have a parent in heaven watching us with great love like I watched my daughter that day.
The time between our entrance and exit on the stage of life is fleeting and precious. Those around us are dancing as fast as they can but generally no one notices. We all need an audience who knows how hard we’re trying and how far we’ve come. Instead of looking out there for applause we need to look up there. The master potter is at work and is lovingly placing the soft clay of our souls into the hot kiln of life so we can each emerge the unique shining vessels we can become.


Calling Jesus

One Sunday the children in my class of three-year-olds at church were having a heated debate. During the course of most Sunday lessons I am called many different names by my young students including Mommy or Hey You. I am comfortable with all of these names but the children often feel they must educate their fellow students about my “real” name which happens to be the one they like to call me.
One tiny thin-boned little girl took a deep breath, placed one hand on her hip, pointed the other at her rowdy male classmates and stated emphatically, “Her name is Sister Baadsgaard!”
“No she’s not,” a boisterous little boy answered jumping to his feet with his fists forming punching machines ready to defend his claim. “Her name is Grandma!”
Another little boy with big blue eyes and long eye-lashes who rarely spoke whispered, “Her name is teacher.”
That day at church we sang, I’m trying to be like Jesus by Janice Kapp Perry. The words welded those children to my heart as I sang, “I’m trying to be like Jesus; I’m following in his ways. I’m trying to love as he did in all that I do and say.”
The children in my class didn’t know the words to that song and they didn’t appear to be watching the chorister. One boy poked his neighbor. One child crawled out the back of the folding chair and another started disrobing. Though it appeared they weren’t listening, they were. It occurred to me that these children were already like Jesus. I was the one who needed to live the meaning of that song.
During his ministry Jesus often asked for the children to be brought to him. Then he told the adults to behold them with new eyes and become like a child – humble, submissive, teachable and quick to love and forgive. Jesus always had the time to love and bless people one by one; each soul received his individual time and attention.
When all my children were small, I could never find baby Jesus in the nativity set during the holiday season. I usually located the tiny porcelain babe in a manger tucked away under my daughter’s pillow or hidden under my son’s bed. I finally understood that each of my children wanted baby Jesus for themselves. So I purchased a nativity set for each of them.
When my children are young they call out to me in the blackness of their bedroom for comfort and reassurance when they feel lonely and scared. As adults my children call me on the phone when life is hard and they feel sad or afraid. I try to tell them what Jesus would say if he were on the other end of the line. Yet I always feel inadequate and limited in my ability to bless.
That’s why each of us needs our own Jesus. Christ gives hope to a confused world and to us. Because of Jesus we know love conquers fear and the meek will eventually inherit the earth. It doesn’t matter what we call him but if we call him. Whether we call him Savior, “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) or simply friend – if we call him, we’ll never be alone or comfortless again.


Licking Honey Off a Thorn

I finally went to the doctor. I’d been experiencing pain in my shoulder for a couple of years and it kept getting worse. I don’t like to go to doctors. I believe most pain goes away if you give it enough time. I’ve learned - sometimes it doesn’t. Pain, doctors tell me, is the way our body signals that something is wrong and needs attention. If we couldn’t feel pain, we’d leave our hand on the hot stove.
Emotional pain is like that. Sometimes we ignore our pain hoping it will eventually go away; but buried pain never dies. One woman told me she was depressed, bitter and angry for years. Her husband had abused her then left her for another woman. She said one day it dawned on her that God had not abandoned her; she had abandoned God. She was going it alone even though her Heavenly Father was there, willing to help. A realization came to her one night when she looked up at the stars.
“Where are you, God?” she asked defiantly.
As she gazed into the night sky, she suddenly and powerfully felt the love of God. She realized the stars in the heavens were always there, even during the day; but their light and beauty were revealed only in darkness. In a similar way, she understood God was always there but only in the black times in her life did the absolute perfection of divine devotion reveal God's most brilliant and ennobling love.
Childbirth can be described as an ocean of pain that ebbs and flows like waves. At the crest of each wave, the labor pain is at the peak - then it gradually subsides. There is a small break between waves, where the laboring mother is allowed to regroup and then brace herself for the next pain. The closer she gets to actually giving birth, the closer the waves of pain come together. When the mother is actually delivering a new child, the pains don’t have any break between them. That’s when the mother wonders if she can hold on any longer. But she does - and because she does, new life is born.
We all need to be reborn, given new life through pain, whether emotional or physical or both. When we develop a new heart and rebirth of purpose, it follows the difficult times, the peak of pain when there is no let­up, when we think we can’t go on. But we do. So we are reborn many times in life, reborn to joy - all following great pain.
Each life has meaning and purpose under any circumstance. We are asked to find that purpose and meaning through pain. God invites us to choose betterment over bitterness, growth over self-pity, and inner peace and joy over jaded attitudes. Hell is self-absorption. Heaven is other-absorption. So we choose.
The doctor I went to ordered physical therapy and medication. I learned to stretch and exercise my tendons and muscles in new and healing ways. The calcium deposit in my shoulder won’t go away but I can better deal with it by facing the truth, educating myself and maintaining new healthy routines. In a similar way, many problems in life don’t go away. We will keep becoming more than we were if we face the truth, educate ourselves and maintain new healthy routines. I heard someone say once that life is like licking honey off a thorn. Without pain we would not experience the fullness of joy. Without joy we would not discover the meaning and purpose in pain.


Lessons from the Farm

One of the great things about living on two acres is there is room to grow a garden, tend a mini fruit orchard and raise animals. Our family knows from personal experience that eggs don’t come from cartons at the grocery store and apples often have worm holes. When we are personally acquainted with the natural world, we learn perfection in nature or ourselves is more a process that a product. We can cut out the worm hole and still enjoy the rest of the apple. We can accept our humanness and still be happy.
Growing a garden certainly teaches us that we literally reap what we sew. Though we never get corn where we planted potatoes; we sometimes do get volunteers from previous plantings and some very interesting combinations of present plantings. We have harvested squashes and melons that have cross-pollinated forming totally unique varieties like canta-watermelons or crookneck zucchinis. Buried seeds from a previous year will sometimes grow into a new seedling without being purposely planted again. If we keep planting and working with hope our lives will often produce a harvest we did not expect. The magic and mystery is that we never know for sure what unexpected gift is coming.
There is another part of the law of the harvest no one talks about. We can labor very hard tilling, planting, weeding and watering but sometimes a sudden frost or storm will destroy all our hard work. This turn of events often requires that we hang on until we can plant again next spring. Sometimes children walk into forbidden paths, illness strikes or the people we love die. Eventually we reap what we sew– but sometimes it takes more time than we thought to see the return on our investment.
Our mini farm has also taught us about the law of the jungle or survival of the fittest. The birds in our neighborhood know the exact morning we plan to pick our cherries. The night before, these birds swarm our tree, strip it of every single piece of fruit and leave piles of pink poop under our deck railing to taunt us. Sometimes we’ve been tempted to eat green cherries just to get our share. Finally we decided to call our crop a free will offering. Likewise, when people steal from us, we can eat bitter fruit and become sour like them or consider our bounty a gift - and move on.
Gophers tunnel into our garden and devour the root vegetables. My husband sets traps but they keep coming. Raccoons strip the leaves off our corn and devour every kernel on the cob before it makes it to our barbeque. Foxes and stray dogs think our pigeons, rabbits and ducks make a tasty supper. There are predators out there. Bad things happen to good people and hearts are broken by tragedy or betrayal. We don’t always get what we deserve but we are invited to learn from both the bitter and the sweet, trusting that God will someday make sense of it all.
Nature and life is not always a boundless harvest; sometimes it hails and destroys our crop or death comes too soon. Life is hard; yet life is also sweet. In the end it is not the gardener with the flawless garden who wins but the one who has overcome the most without giving up hope. Who we become is our ultimate harvest.



There are times in all our lives when we feel alone and discouraged. There are days when we question whether anyone understands or cares – when we can’t remember the melody or find the will to sing it. At times like these I believe it helps to join in the strength of those around us.
I play second violin in an orchestra. The other members of the group who play in that section sit in front, behind and on both sides of me. When I lose my place in the music I listen carefully to the musician next to me while I scan the notes on the page to locate where we are in the score. Before long I can jump back in and start playing again. The player next to me can’t stop playing to instruct me without losing their place. So when they can tell I’m lost, they will whisper the number of the measure we’re on.
We can’t always solve the problems of others but we can listen carefully so we are aware when someone around us has lost their place. We can learn to be more in tune with the needs of those around us and we never know what positive influence we have. For example, one day after I’d given a talk at BYU Education week, a woman approached me and said, “You don’t know me but when I was a teenager I read something you wrote that helped me more than you’ll ever know. I was going through some awful things and had decided to end it all. Then I read the article you wrote in the New Era called ‘Holding On’. So I did. Those words literally saved my life.”
Though we are often unaware, those around us are starved for attention and compassion. We can’t always stop our life and rush to save them; but we can in effect whisper the number of the measure we’re on by offering a kind smile or a gentle word of appreciation, affection or encouragement. Before long, they will be able to find their place in the music and start playing again. A symphony simply does not have the same power without every instrument playing their part.
When our orchestra is playing disjointed and out of tune during rehearsals, our conductor will make us stop, memorize a few bars and then ask us to close our eyes and play the music without looking. He will further instruct us to listen to those next to us and also across the orchestra so we can hear how our part fits into the whole. It is amazing how much better we all sound when we do that. When we are focused only on our part and our eyes are glued to the sheet of music in front of us we are too concerned with self – unable to play the notes together as beautifully as we could.
If we want to get in tune with those around us we have to occasionally get our minds off ourselves long enough to truly listen. Then we will notice subtle expressions of need and hear the silent cries of those across the way. When all of us listen this way, we can play the score of life with infinitely more harmony and grace.
So, at those times when we feel abandoned, we need to glace around us. We are not alone; we are surrounded by caring people. When we are lost, they will help us find our place in the score and when they are lost we will help them. If we listen carefully with our hearts and glance up to the master maestro, the melody is never far away. There is love all around and inside us. All we have to do is listen.



Sometimes when I crawl in bed at night I can’t go to sleep because I mentally rehash every trouble or concern in my life until each muscle in my body it so rigid I can’t relax. Then I worry that I’m worrying too much. Before long, I’m checking the clock again noticing another hour has passed. Eventually I have to tell my mind, “Stop thinking! You can not solve one single solitary problem in your pajamas while you’re in bed in the middle of the night. Let the day go. Face tomorrow when you wake up.”
Sometimes this personal reprimand works and sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t I close my eyes and imagine I’m sitting alone at the beach on the Oregon coast watching the waves roll toward my bare toes wiggling in the sun warmed sand. Then I begin a relaxation game. First I become aware of each muscle in my body beginning at the top of my head and working down. I tighten each muscle then release. Next I imagine my arms and legs dissolving like sand into the sea. If I have another worry thought and tense up again, I have to start all over.
Once I’m relaxed I listen for my inner rhythms, the steady beating of my heart - the constant rise and fall of breathing. If I turn off my worry thoughts long enough and allow myself to simply experience the moment, my tension dissolves and I feel as though I’m floating. This gentle cadence of pre-sleep relaxation takes me back to when I was a child and had the simple faith to drift comfortably into slumber knowing God was watching over me.
Like the waves on the beach, like the beating of our heart, life is continual motion. We can not hold on to yesterday any better than we grasp a wave in the palm of our hand. Nothing is still; nothing is unchanging. There is no way to stop the constant pulse of the cosmos. Yet the Master of the Universe mercifully allows each day to end so we can regroup and refresh before the next wave.
There are times when unexpected challenges come at us like sudden storms at sea. When we feel most adrift or afraid, it helps to take a deep breath and go deep. Somewhere anchored inside each of us is stillness. Like the eye of the storm, this private quiet center allows us to be at peace even during the height of the tempest or against the stiffest wind. Hope and gratitude allow us to ride out the storm until the dark clouds part and sun shines through again.
So, when we’re lying in bed at night worried about the storms in our life, we have to tell ourselves, “Stop thinking and start listening. We can not solve one single solitary problem while we’re looking outside ourselves for the answer. Take a deep breath, go deep and feel the stillness.”
Storms come and storms go. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. If we are searching we’ll find hidden treasures in the quiet tide pools among the rocks when the tide is out and we never know what new gift the next tide will wash up on the shore. No matter what happens to us – life goes on. Sometimes we are on the beach watching the waves roll in and sometimes we have to get up and dance in the rain.


That Fat White Cat in the Windowsill

The other day my daughter boarded the school bus that stops in front of our house and sat down. The boy in the seat behind her tapped her on the shoulder.
“Hey, what’s with that big fat white cat in your windowsill every morning?”
At first my daughter was confused. She looked back at our house as the bus pulled away trying to see what the boy was talking about. Then she realized what the boy was looking at.
“That’s not a fat white cat,” Alisa answered. “That’s my mother.”
The couch in our living room is level with the windowsill and I usually slouch down so the kids on the bus can’t see my white bathrobe. I guess I didn’t slouch down quite enough.
John, Alisa and I do a lot of waving back and forth before they board the bus each morning. As a matter of fact - while they stand on the street in front of our home waiting for the bus to arrive - we wave, blow kisses and send hands signals back and forth about how much we love each other for minutes on end.
It won’t be long until John and Alisa are too self-conscious to show me so much affection in front of their peers. Junior high school has the well earned reputation for gobbling up free spirited affectionate elementary school children and turning them into don’t-embarrass-me-in-front-of-my-friends tweens (youngsters stuck self-consciously between childhood and adolescence).
I have learned that you have to savor children while you still have them. You can’t take anything for granted because childhood doesn’t last. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years. One morning you wake up, look outside your living room window and nobody is there blowing you kisses any more. You have to appreciate unbridled affection while you still can.
One of the reasons I write is so I can savor life times three. Once just isn’t enough. I write so that I can savor my life first while I’m living it, second while I’m thinking and writing about it and third while I’m re-reading and remembering. I have learned that life goes by so much faster than I thought it would and if you don’t notice how blessed each day is and really relish the moment – your life becomes a blur. You have to throw open up your heart, wrap your arms around your loved ones and embrace each other with gusto every single day. There will be a last time my son and daughter blow me kisses at the bus stop.
John and Alisa are my last two elementary school age children. I am not in a hurry to see them grow up and leave. I have a feeling that fat white cat in the windowsill will still be waving when they leave for high school and college. And she will still be in the windowsill with her nose pressed against the glass when they come back home with their own little ones for me to hold.


Parent School

A few months ago I watched my daughter march into the stadium with hundreds of graduates. The wind was blowing, flags brilliant, music rousing and faces radiant. My daughter had spent many long years earning her degree. After all the pomp and circumstance of that commencement ceremony what touched my daughter most occurred before she entered the stadium. Faculty and alumni lined the streets leading to the stadium clapping and shouting their congratulations with comments like:
“You’re the hope of our future!”
“Way to hang in there, work hard and never give up!”
“We’re so proud of you!”
As I sat in the bleachers that chilly day in Philadelphia, I realized society doesn’t recognize or reward parents. We neglect to give the most necessary members of our society any kind of diploma after they’ve spent many long years taking care of the human race. Yet I also realized that even if we held graduation ceremonies I don’t think many parents would attend.
Parents don’t do what we do so someone will give us a diploma to hang on our wall or so we can earn more money. We don’t do what we do because others will admire or praise us. We do what we do because we love our children and eventually everybody’s children. Parents may be largely invisible to society - but not to God. Each scraped knee we tend and each night of sleep we sacrifice is a personal purification process. For parenthood is God’s school. The graduation ceremonies are unique for each man or woman.
Parents pass through educational ranks something like this: When we quit feeling sorry for ourselves we graduate with the Associate of Amateurism degree. When we stop being so hard on our self we graduate with the Bachelor of Blunders degree. When we finally learn to rely on God to clean up our messes we are awarded the Master of Muddling degree. When we understand we need to keep learning for the rest of our life we graduate with our Doctorate of Humility degree.
Graduates at universities add to their cap and gown costume as they get advanced degrees. They start out wearing simple black caps and gowns then progress to colored hoods placed over their shoulders and finally velvet stripes down their arms. Graduates from parent school start out wearing fashionable clothing, progress to maternity or work clothes then wear anything that allows them to get down on the floor and play.
After all we’ve learned, lived and loved we seasoned parents need to line the streets applauding new parents marching toward selflessness shouting things like:
“Way to hang in there, work hard and never give up!”
“You’re the hope of the future!”
“We’re so proud of you!”
Then we can all throw our tasseled caps into the air together, take pictures and keep on doing what we love forever. The most prestigious letters we can have printed after our name are M.O.T.H.E.R or F.A.T.H.E.R.


What Matters More?

Lots of people ask me how I find time to write when I have ten children.
I tell them, “I don’t find time to write. I make time to write. I’m afraid if I stop, I’ll forget all the good parts of my life.”
Writing about being a parent is also my personal attempt to give honor to vital work that is often unappreciated and unheralded. Ordinary activities like fixing a meal, sweeping the kitchen floor or changing a diaper are often overlooked when it comes time for recognition. In our society we give adulation and millions of dollars to individuals who can dunk a basketball, walk down a runway in a bikini or pretend they are someone else for a movie camera. Taking care of children seems to be too common, boring and ordinary to garner societal attention or remuneration. Yet it is in those vital relationships we form at home where all the qualities of human greatness are neglected or nourished - like love, compassion, forgiveness, patience, kindness and charity.
So, I write and write and I can’t stop writing because the events and relationships that are happening in my family and your family will only happen once in the history of the universe. If we don’t observe, contemplate and gain insight from the profound uniqueness of our own life and relationships we form, they will be lost forever.
I remember a day when my daughter Ashley called me to the west window to see a sunset. I was busy and told her I’d be there in a minute. By the time I walked into the dining room and looked west, the sunset was gone - the day ended. I was too late. I don’t want to feel that way at the end of my life – too busy doing anything less important at the price of what was truly significant.
Somewhere deep inside of me I have been given an absolute personal conviction that being a person who loves and cares for others is incredibly important. I also know that we become role models much more quickly than we think. Little eyes look to us to see how human beings behave in this world.
History teaches us that battlefield victories fade, leadership changes and the flames of fame are quickly snuffed out. At the end of the day there has to be someone to go home to. A man or woman who feels peace and joy at home has accomplished the greatest feat in life. Yes, family life has ups and downs, twists and turns, triumphs and failures. Yet learning to forgive, love and cherish those in your own home is the truest measure of a life well lived.
The most exciting journey we take in this life is the one that invites us to discover the capacity of our heart. That is a journey we best take at home. When we truly love someone, it changes the way we see ourselves, the world and each other. There is a deep sustaining sustenance that feeds those who serve. How we take care of those who can not care for themselves is the test of a nation, state, community and an individual.
What matters more - How many people know our name or how many people know we love them? How many possessions we have, or how many possessions we have given away? How much talent we have or how much we’re used our talents to bless the lives of others?



It has always bothered me that menopause isn’t called womanopause. I mean who’s doing the pausing here? I’ve heard about all the hot flashes, night sweats and mood changes that accompany the loss of fertility. Why doesn’t anybody talk about the pause part? I think pause should mean – pause - stop and ponder.
Growing older is not what I expected. I mean I used to think old people were old people. We’re not. Older people are just regular people in old bodies. We stay pretty much the same inside as the years go by but the body goes south. Life is so much shorter than I thought it would be. I think we’re more likely to learn something along the way if we take the time to contemplate what our experiences have taught us.
Once I was sitting next to Emily Watts at a Deseret Book Time Out for Women. We were both on the program and waiting to speak to a large gathering of women.
“They’ve got me billed as the one who’s giving the mother talk,” I said turning to her. "I’m not comfortable appearing to be some kind of expert. I mean, what to I know? I don’t feel like I really know anything about being a mom.”
“Yes you do,” she answered. “Think about it.”
And so I did.
Thinking about it is the part I’m interested in. By the time we hit our fifties, most of us are inching up on the tail end of the crowded years. For the first half of our life we hurried around like Martha taking care of all the needs in our family and the universe. Now it is time to be more like Mary and choose more carefully the better part. Raising a family is a lot of hard work interspersed with moments of indescribable joy. If we don’t take the time to share our dear and not so dear motherhood experiences, the younger moms coming up through the ranks will think they are alone. When new moms lock arms with old moms we are a formidable force for good and much cheaper than therapy.
We spend the first half of our lives acquiring and accumulating. We spend the last half unloading and thinning out. We come to understand less is more. We spend the first half of our lives wishing everybody would leave us alone so we can get something important done. We spend the last half of our lives trying to get those same people to come back because we realize they are the important part.
Menopause ushers us from a fertile time for our bodies into a fertile time for our minds. We are given our bodies back, though a little wider and sporting a C-section scar or two. Now we’re asked to see what we will do with a seasoned heart. That’s why we’re called grand mothers. We don’t have to give birth any more or be the disciplinarians – just the lovers. That’s what makes grand parenting so grand.
Motherhood follows the same cycle of life as in nature with spring time, summer, autumn and winter – each following the other in an eternal round. Whether we’re starting out or ending up, we all have something valuable to offer each other. We start out feeling like we’re giving up something more important to raise children and end up realizing raising children is the important part. We start out thinking we’re sacrificing our personal development and end up realizing the process of learning to love someone is the ultimate road to personal development. We quite literally find our self when we lose our self. In the end we come to know that everything that matters most is sitting around our kitchen table. And that’s something to pause and think about.


The Echo Of Their Laughter

I remember the years when I was basically home bound with many young children. Sometimes I wondered if I should be doing something more important “out there.” On my hard days I had moments when I wondered if I was throwing myself away for children who didn’t seem to appreciate anything I was doing for them. When we are mothers of young children we are generally young ourselves or at least new to being a parent. It is not easy to painstakingly extract our selfishness. So we hang on as long as possible, hoping someone will eventually appreciate all we do. One day it dawns on us – the eyes God see everything and that’s enough.
Most of our behavior with our young children is a private experience even they won’t remember – consciously. Yet there is another memory of the heart – a deep personal feeling we carry inside that tells us if we are loveable or unlovable, safe or unsafe and whether or not we can trust others. We learn these things from our parents and we take those feelings with us when we leave home.
On those hard days when the baby is screaming, the toddler paints his entire bedroom in petroleum jelly, and the preschooler gouges the new sofa with a butcher knife it’s hard not to feel like you’re going to go crazy. Feeling overwhelmed is a chronic parenting condition. It’s not easy to work very hard every day without pay, recognition or reward for little people who throw up all over us, scream in our face and throw things at our head. It’s not easy to fix nutritious meals that mostly wind up on the floor. It’s not easy to clean a house that is being destroyed even as we work. It’s not easy to be romantic with our spouse when we haven’t even had a chance to take a shower all day. It’s not easy to be a parent of young children. It takes years to grow into our role.
We know we’re making progress when we finally stop feeling sorry for our self. We’re ready for the next school in parenthood when our life becomes less about us and more about them. Our perspective shifts. We realize being a child isn’t easy either. Hey, it’s not easy being three. Try climbing up on a commode that is twice as big as you are. When we begin to look at our children the way an educated art patron in a museum looks at Michelangelo’s David or the Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, we will see them as the masterpieces they really are.
Taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves is a mission – a calling and worthy our best effort. If we work very hard and give our all to our parenting career, our children might turn out well and they might not. We are an important part of our child’s life, but we can’t realistically take all the credit or blame for the adult our child becomes. We only have to take the blame and credit for how we turn out.
No matter how many battles we fight on the home front, our name will not appear on a monument. We will work our whole life for something we never see finished. But if we make the necessary sacrifices, parenthood will be a personal cure for self-centeredness and an anecdote for false pride. The primary relationship we have in this life is with our self. There is nothing like parenthood to make us face our self and seek divine help. Then when we lay our head on our pillow at night, we may not see the dream of CEO printed on our office door or visions of mansions and luxury cars. We will see the radiant faces of our children and hear the echo of their laughter.


Making Today the Best Day of our Life

One day my mother-in-law turned to me and said, “I used to think my life would get so much easier after I got my children raised. It doesn’t. It just gets worrier and worrier until you die.”
At the time I thought she was throwing a wet towel over all my dreams for an easier tomorrow. Like her, I was living white knuckled hoping my life would get easier some day. From my perspective, her life seemed a lot easier than mine. Her comment got me thinking – maybe life’s challenges don’t go away; they just change to new ones. From that moment on I decided I had no more time to waste hoping for an easier tomorrow. I was going to make every day, the best day of my life.
I think my mother-in-law was trying to tell me that as we age we have more and more people to worry about because we have more and more people we know and love. We start out being concerned about a small nuclear family group and friends. Soon we grow up and that group expands to include our spouse and children. Soon those children grow up and our worries include their spouses and children. Then the grandchildren grow up and our heart grows to include their spouses and children.
Even though we can’t stop being concerned about all the people we love, we can learn the important difference between everything we’re concerned about and what we can actually do something about. Then we do what we can and leave the rest in God’s hands. Understanding that God alone is in control of the universe is the greatest stress reliever in the world. When we develop an attitude of gratitude for everything life throws at us, things have a way of working out.
On the day my mother-in-law left this life she was dying in one room of the Payson hospital while her great grand daughter was being born in another. While I watched my sister-in-law dashing between floors trying to say goodbye to her mother for the last time and hello to her grand child for the first time I didn’t know if I should be happy or sad. Then I wondered if birth and death are not so different. Our perspective makes us sad or happy. If we’re in heaven when someone we love is born, we feel sad because we’re going to miss them and we wonder what’s in store for them. The people on earth are rejoicing and welcoming a new family member. If we’re on earth when someone we love dies, we feel sad because we’re going to miss them and we don’t know for sure what’s in store for them. The people in heaven are rejoicing and welcoming an old family member back home again.
Perhaps if we had a broader perspective, all our hellos and goodbyes, our struggles and challenges would be seen as gifts to help us grow in knowledge, wisdom, patience and compassion. It is our perception that causes us worry or rejoicing. The truth is – there is no easy time of life. In essence, each day is a series of problems to solve, overcome or endure. The secret of a fulfilling life journey lies in our ability to be grateful for everything even when we’re knee deep in challenges. Making the personal decision to be grateful releases us from the quick-sand of self pity and opens our hearts to the personal growth we experience from good days and bad days. Then every day can be the best day of our life.


Here They Go

When my daughter April was small she put her hands on her hips and informed me she was old enough to walk to school by herself.
I’d always walked beside her on the way to school with her younger siblings in tow. I was careful to teach her to look both ways before she crossed the street. I also taught her not to talk to strangers. So when she asked me if I would let her walk to school alone, I was scared.
I knew I could watch her from the street corner and make sure she arrived safely but I really didn’t want to let her go it alone. Yet, when I looked into her eyes I knew I would hurt her confidence if I told her all the reasons to be scared.
So I agreed.
When the big morning arrived, I reviewed all our rules then walked her to the street corner. We hugged extra tight and said goodbye. Then she walked away without me. My heart fell out on the sidewalk
I wanted to scream, “No, you can’t do that. Someone might hurt you!”
Instead I said, “Way to go April. You’re so big. I’m so proud of you.”
I secretly followed my daughter that day, hiding behind every bush and tree so she wouldn’t know I was right there making sure she was safe. I noticed she really did look both ways on street crossing without being reminded and not a single scary stranger approached her.
After I watched April open the school door and step inside, I turned and plodded back home. I’d spent years making sure she was safe and well cared for. Now she was ready to take on part of that responsibility herself and I felt happy, proud, sad and scared all mixed up together.
Then it occurred to me that God watches over us like that. He doesn’t want to hurt our progress and growth, so He lets us walk through life thinking we are alone when He’s always there hiding behind every bush or tree, watching over us.
We parents face our child’s first sleep-over, first choir tour, first date or first college dorm with anticipation and regret. We want our children to be independent but we never feel like we’ve had enough time together. Our busy lives never seem to include enough one-on-one bonding with each child. All too soon we realize we’ll never get our son and daughter’s childhood back even for a moment.
We parents walk a fine line wondering: How do we protect our children without being over-protective? So we try – but often feel like a drunk man – weaving on and off the protective versus smothering straight line, unsure how to put one foot in front of the other and walk away. When are our children really ready to play alone in the back yard, walk to school, drive a car, leave for college or get married? Probably never. Yet life is constantly nudging – pushing us and them forward. Always sooner than we’re ready, it is - ready or not, here they go.


The Greatest Seat of Power

My daughter called me the other day and said, “I feel like all I do all day is clean up poop.”
She was the mother of a four week old newborn who had just exploded with so much gusto it shot up his back, through his arm holes and out through his pants. Her toddler had just made a deposit on the floor next to the potty chair then stepped in it and tracked it around the house. Her preschooler was still resisting toilet training yet refused to wear training pants or diapers.
Before the children came, this same daughter had penned a literary quality novel about deep philosophical issues. Recently she sent an e-mail to me that read, “Once there was a mother with three children in diapers. She went crazy. The end.” Though it appeared her individual identity and purpose had been lost – in reality her individual identity and purpose had been found.
I recently walked through Washington D C and noticed almost every honorary statue depicted a man who led an army or held high political office. Some of their names were familiar but surprisingly most were not. The vast majority of battlefield victories had faded from our nation’s collective memory and most the famous leaders of the past are largely unknown today.
I longed to see a statue for all the invisible women who had conceived the great ideas that gave birth to this nation. I believe the greatest seat of power is in a mother’s lap. Great ideas and philosophies begin as desires in a noble woman’s heart. Those desires grow into thoughts and those thoughts grow into ideas. Eventually those ideas grow into words. Words are powerful – they give structure, form and permanence to dreams. The words that most affect us are those we learned at our mother’s knee.
While in Washington, I gazed up at the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments and walked past the White house. I viewed the courtroom in the Supreme Court building with nine empty chairs. I thought about power – the kind that lasts. I have come to believe that all great strides in knowledge, wisdom and positive social reform were once whispers of hope in a woman’s heart. Mothers have the opportunity to plant tiny seeds of ideas and possibilities in their children’s minds. If the seeds are good, when their children grow up, they became the givers not the takers of the world. The hand that rocks the cradle really does rule the world.
We now have women who lead the highest institutions of government and commerce in the land. Does that make them great or simply more visible? It is not our position in society that makes us great – but our goodness, the strength of our character and our willingness to sacrifice for the well-being of others. We need good men and women to lead our nation and corporations but we need more who lead our children. What happens in our house matters more than what happens in the House of Representatives. For a nation conceived in liberty cannot remain powerful if it does not remain good. A nation will not remain good unless the children are nurtured in love. So I thought for a moment before I answered my daughter.
“Some days it feels like that,” I said, “but you are doing so much more. Try to imagine your little ones as the great men and women they will be some day. The way you treat your children today will be the way they treat the world tomorrow.”


Two Report Cards

According to my children, lots of parents pay their children if they get good grades and I am missing the good parent boat. I’ve never been a subscriber to that philosophy. When you pay a child for something that is outside their control, you set them up for a lifetime of misery. Getting good grades, making the team, being picked for the solo, winning the election and all the other anxiety that comes with growing up is stressful and competitive. I like to reward my children for the courage to try and the determination to work hard, not an outcome that is determined by some one else. An arbitrary test grader, peer voting choices or a teacher’s grading process shouldn’t determine our inner sense of achievement.
This is what I tell my children when it comes to school grades, “I want you to work hard and do your best with the gifts, resources and time God gave you. The grade you receive from the teacher is interesting but it shouldn’t matter most. The grade you give yourself matters infinitely more.” We all know we’ve received an A for sub par effort and a lesser grade when we worked very hard and gave it our best. That’s why I tell my children they should rely more on what they think about their effort. Too often we teach our children to look outside themselves for validation.
Too many of us think we are motivating our children when we are really teaching them that we should be rewarded for every good thing we do. If you get an A I’ll pay you fifty dollars. If you clean your room I’ll give you a trip to the candy store. If you get into the right college or choose a career where you can make lots of money, then I’ll be happy and you’ll be happy. So you end up with children of intellectually gifted parents stressing about every test and grade - children of athletically gifted parents scared to death they won’t make the team - children of stylish parents worried about their clothing labels. The reward we ultimately receive for good deeds and personal effort should be intrinsic or a good feeling about our usefulness to others.
My adult daughter called the other day. She was going to be graduating with her Ph. D in anthropology that week and we were making final travel plans.
“You know Mom you always told me I could do anything I wanted if I worked hard and didn’t give up. Yet it wasn’t what you said but what you did that influenced me most. I watched you work hard and achieve your dreams. I told myself, if she can - then I can. You didn’t pick my dream for me; you just showed me how to have a dream and then go for it.”
We are all one-of-a-kind human beings with unique gifts. Each of us has our own way to shine. It’s not our job as parents to pick out what our child will be good at – but to expose them to various opportunities then support them when they choose what to do and who to be. And we have to keep becoming and doing ourselves to show them how. There will always be two report cards – the one the world gives us and the one we give ourselves. The one we give ourselves always matters more.


Can I Hold You?

The other day my little girl reached up to me with her soft gentle arms and asked, “Can I hold you Mommy?”
She did not ask, “Can you hold me?” She asked, “Can I hold you?”
As I picked her up and snuggled her close, I knew she was asking the one question that will always bring us peace and joy.
My husband is also a wise soul. Whenever we go on a family hike and he notices the youngest child looks tired he says, “You know I’m getting so tired. Think you could hold me for a while?”
Then he picks up the exhausted child and carries them until they’re rested. They never figure out that Daddy is really holding them. They believe they are helping their father by holding him. That is the essence of real love.
Too often we waste too much time waiting for the other person to appreciate us, notice us or honor us. We forget that someone has to do the appreciating, noticing and honoring first or we’ll all be waiting forever and gravely disappointed. We can’t force others to love us. We can only choose to love them. When we feel lonely, we need to go out there and help someone else feel less lonely. When we feel unappreciated, we need to go out there and help someone else feel appreciated. When no one honors us for our hard work, we need to go out there and honor someone else for their hard work.
My tiny daughter was wise beyond her years when she asked to hold me. For while she was holding me I was holding her and it didn’t matter any more who started the whole thing. That’s what happens when we want to do the kind, thoughtful or loving action first. We ultimately receive what we give.
The other day I heard two of my young children arguing.
One child said, “I’m me and you’re you.”
To which the other child replied, “No! I’m me and you’re you.”
They kept up this argument for a long time. This is the universal battle that never ends between individuals or nations. We are so sure that we’re right and the other guy is wrong that we forget to see that we’re both right and we’re both wrong.
We all see the world less the way it is and more the way we are. We have tunnel vision and forget nobody will be important to each other until someone sees the world through the other person’s eyes.
Money might make the world go round, but holding and hugging, caring and compassion is what makes us want to stay on for the whole ride.
Now when my husband and children come home at the end of the day, I try to remember my young daughter’s wise question and ask, “Can I hold you?”
Then when skin touches skin you can’t remember who started this moment of joy because you are both being hugged. You’re just mighty sure you don’t want to be the one who ends it . . . and all is right with the world.


It Matters

While resting in a hospital bed after giving birth to my tenth child, I answered a phone call from my oldest daughter.
“Mom,” April gulped, “my back hurts and I can’t walk.”
“Some people feel labor pains that way, “I answered. “Better get over here and get checked.”
“But what if it isn’t labor after all?” my daughter answered. “I don’t want to go to the hospital and have those guys send me home.”
Now I know most mothers and daughters don’t go into labor that close together but that is exactly what happened to April and me. A few minutes and pain pills later, I was in the labor room again, only this time coaching instead of pushing.
I became a new mother for the last time and a new grandmother for the first time so close together it left me panting. My husband and I used to watch our young children growing up and sentimentally lament, “Boy I hope it won’t be too long between the time we have our last child and when our first grandchild is born.” Little did we know.
Experiencing pregnancy, childbirth and new motherhood along with my daughter felt like a mystical linking of generations one moment and a medical experiment gone mad the next. My daughter and I raced each other for the bathroom, craved the same frozen yogurt and kept each other company in the waiting room at the obstetrician’s office. Everybody we met asked us if we’d seen the movie “Father of the Bride Part Two.” Talk about a crazy way to bond.
Yet the moment I saw my grandson enter the word, I was awe struck and euphoric. It was like singing, dancing and flying without leaving the ground. The circle of life, love and family didn’t end! My baby was having her baby.
There in that labor room as I stroked my daughter’s moist forehead, I realized in the most tender sort of way that everything I’d done as her mother for the past twenty-four years was worth it . . . absolutely everything. Every single moment I’d chosen to spend caring for my child was far more important than anything else I’d determined to do with my life. As I watched my first grandchild enter this world, I knew my part in the creation and development of his mother was my life’s most important work. I understood the whole purpose of this life was bringing down children from God and helping them find their way back to Him.
Before that moment, I simply could not begin to comprehend the importance of loving someone. It occurred to me that a thousand years from now, my babies would still be rocking their babies and the miracle of life of love and love would go on forever. I also understood that taking part in the creation and development of another human being was the greatest way to give birth to my own best life. I’d never even imagined I could feel so much joy.
Now when I see an exhausted and discouraged mother, I pat them on the back and whisper, “It matters. Everything you are doing for your family matters – so much more than you know.”


The True Meaning of Success

I was driving home the other day when a billboard caught my eye. It was a large picture of an older woman with her arms crossed in front of her chest. She had a broad smile on her face. The caption read, “Put poor kids though college . . . pass it on.”
Hey, I’m doing that too, I remember thinking.
Only the poor kids are all mine. Ross and I have always lived on a modest single salary. People told us you can’t raise a big family without two incomes these days. You can – if you want to bad enough. We had a dream when we married. We wanted to raise a large family and make investments in our children. So we made plans and went to work so we could offer all our ten children a university scholarship when they graduated from high school. We knew investing in human beings brings meaningful dividends.
As the years went by we both had opportunities come to us that would have required we limit our family size or the amount of time we had to spend with our children. We passed. We had a vision. We knew what felt right for us, a personal formula for success that felt good to us in our own soul.
We all need a vision – an inner flight plan that takes us where we want to land. If our vision only includes acquiring more material possessions and not blessing the lives of others . . . that is what we will end up with in the end. Through the years we have observed people with stuff visions. When they achieved the big house, new car or notoriety they sought, it did not make them happy. Lives spent on self and acquiring more possessions never satisfies. The thrill of ownership fades as quickly as the red paint on a new sports car.
I starting writing newspaper columns so I could afford to give all my children piano lessons. Writing about being a mom was something I could do at home. One thing led to another and pretty soon the columns became books.
One Saturday morning I was signing books at Barns and Noble when someone walked up and said, “Wow, you’re an author. That’s so glamorous. I’ll bet you lead a pretty exciting life.”
I chuckled as I recalled the morning’s events before I got to the store. I’d snuggled with my husband and a half dozen kids in bed, done three loads of laundry, cleaned up after soggy waffles then nursed and changed the baby. Before I hopped in the van to drive to the bookstore I spied a pile of do–do on our driveway covered with flies. I noticed my toddler near the mess minus his pants and underwear.
“Do you know anything about this?” I asked
“Sorry Mom,” my little boy answered. “I had to go real bad and I couldn’t wait.”
So I quickly dragged out the garden hose and ran some bath water. We splashed until my little boy laughed so loud it made my heart sing. I was late for the book signing, but I really didn’t care. All the people I cared most about weren’t at the store.
“Actually,” I said turning to the stranger talking to me at the author signing table, “writing is pretty boring compared to being a mom. Now that’s exciting.”
When it looks good to the world but doesn’t feel good in our soul, it isn’t success.


The Ultimate Career

When I was in college contemplating marriage and motherhood, I was told over and over again from numerous sources not to waste my life on a husband and children. I was told that if I really wanted to make a difference in the world I should seek success in a professional career. I was told I would be fulfilled only if I “found” myself and made a great deal of money. I was told it didn’t matter who raised babies, any competent adult would do. What I was told and what I felt was true was very different. Now, many decades later, I’m so grateful I listened to my heart.
The decision I made to marry and have my first child was a choice made with faith-filled naiveté, hope and youth. Twenty-four years later, the decision I made to have my last child was made with faith-filled reality, wisdom and age. I certainly knew about all the work, risks and problems involved with my choice, but I also possessed a deeper awareness and understanding of the potential joys and rewards. Even then, all those considerations dimmed in the new light that this decision was not just about me any more. My inner spotlight was now focused outside myself. Interestingly, I discovered that my life had become more important as my own needs became less important.
Life eventually teaches us what is most meaningful and what is most meaningful is the love of family. That’s it. A career is a means to sustain life, but it isn’t a meaningful life. The love and service we offer our spouse and child is the most important work we will ever do and the best way to find our self by losing our self. We might get detracted and focus on commitments that matter less along the way, but ultimately life will teach all of us that our greatest joys and sorrows, regrets and rewards will always come from home.
This doesn’t mean family life is easy. On the contrary - real families are full of victories and failures, triumphs and tragedies. Spouses who are loved and adored sometimes return that devotion and sometimes they don’t. Children who are nurtured and protected sometimes grow up to be strong, well-adjusted adults and sometimes they don’t. There is not always a direct correlation between the quality of our love and the outcome of our marriage or parenting. There is a direct correlation between the quality of our love and the individual growth of the man or woman who does that loving.
So for all you working hard at the sacred craft of soul care - don’t give up. There is no clear easy path through the overwhelming and conflicting commitments we have to our spouse, children, friends, church and community. Yet, we must never forget that our heart-felt acts of service and small daily efforts do matter. The eyes of God see everything.
There is nothing more important to do with our lives than offer something beautiful to our spouse or child . . . whether it is a back yard rope swing, forgiveness, a finger paint masterpiece hung on the refrigerator door or most important . . . our unconditional love.



Most parents are professional worriers. I mean if we don’t – who will? Our children race around like there is no tomorrow so somebody has to step up and worry about those crazy rascals – right? Wrong. Half of all the hospital beds in this country are filled with constant worriers. Mental stress can lead to migraine headaches, arthritis, heart trouble, cystitis, colitis, backaches, ulcers and depression. Worry robs us of the moment because we are too busy living in the past or the future.
I’ve been picking the brains of older wiser parents ever since I brought home my first new baby. I wanted to know what they knew . . . quick . . . like I preparing for war before the battle. I was always surprised by the #1 answer I received when I asked, “What do you wish you’d done differently while raising your children?”
“I would enjoy them more.”
Joy and worry are like oil and vinegar; they don’t mix well. In the past I believed parents who told me to enjoy my children had a loose screw upstairs or were simply so old they forgot the hard parts. I knew being the mom was exhausting. I certainly didn’t appreciate all those sentimental grandmas and grandpas telling me to enjoy my sleepless nights, potty training, barfing marathons, science fair projects, Cub Scout pine wood derbies, proms and driver’s license practice sessions. What I really wanted was for someone to validate how hard it is to be a mother or at least feel sorry for me and tell me I could go back to bed. I think I was also searching for some one to guarantee that all my hard work would be worth it and all my children were going to turn out all right.
Now I realize that all I’m really in control of around here is - me. Now I know for certain that I will love each of my children forever no matter how they turn out. So most of the worry and self pity is gone - leaving room for a lot more joy.
Worry is and always will be a fatal disease of the heart for it signals the end of gratitude and faith. Fear takes up so much room, that there is little space for anything else. Because I’m a grandma now, I know that the years when you have your children at home are few and precious. Before you turn around, you have to share them with a spouse, grandchildren, the in-law family and the world.
Abdicating my self-appointed role as the family worrier has set me free to enjoy my life one day at a time. I used to have preconceived ideas about how events and people were supposed to turn out. Now I just show up, smile and see what’s going to happen next. We don’t even know if we’re going to be alive tomorrow, so getting hives over anything in the future is rather pointless.
When we let go of worry we are finally able to savor the peace and joy that is ours for the taking. If we are paying attention, each day has at least one blazing moment of splendor. Like a sunset, if we don’t look west and relish the gold, the moment passes and the day is done.


On the Road to Fuddy-duddy

I got in a car accident the other day. The problem is I have often pointed out to my teenage children that I have never received a ticket or caused a car accident for fifty-four years. Now I’ve done both. When I stopped at that stop sign, looked right and left and pulled forward, I had no idea how that red car appeared out of nowhere. Like magic - poof! There it was. Crunch.
I am an insurance company’s worst nightmare. I immediately pulled my van off the road, raced to the other vehicle, made sure she was alright, hugged her told her I was sorry for ruining her car and her day.
I think I’ve officially entered my fuddy-duddy stage. I can see through my glasses pretty well straight ahead, but they don’t work so well when I look right or left. I guess what I really need is wrap around glasses so I can see on the sides of my life.
Someone once said to me, “Be nice to old fuddy-duddies on the road. You will become one of them sooner than you think.” Boy, were they right. When I looked around me at my 35th high school reunion, I wondered how all those kids got looking so old so fast. Then I realized I was one of them.
I don’t like to complain about getting older. I mean the only alternative is dying young. I’ve always been happy to tell everybody how old I am on my birthday because if I wasn’t that old, I’d be dead. I have also learned not to take life too seriously because we’ll never get out of here alive.
They say that the joy of life is the ride. What they don’t say is that while you’re on that ride you’re going to get in some accidents right after you change your insurance from comprehensive to liability because you’ve never been in an accident before and you’re tired of paying those premiums. Then . . . wham! You wreck your car, someone else’s car and your pride. There you are minding your own business and suddenly you cause an accident, get handed a FTY citation and still have to pay to get your car fixed on your own dime. Then you have to attend traffic school if you don’t want the bad driver points on your record.
Well, I refuse to be intimidated or humiliated by reality. The real miracle is that I’ve never been in an accident before when I’ve been in so many near misses – my fault and their fault. The real miracle is that no one got hurt. I think we add years to our life and life to our years when we stop a hardening of our attitudes. We don’t have to wonder, “Why me?” “Why now?” The real question is, “Why not me?” “Why not now?” Bad things happen to everybody. Some times it’s our fault and sometimes it’s the other guy’s fault. We don’t have to spend the rest of our life feeling picked on. That’s life.
After the accident, the auto body guy said it wasn’t worth the money to fix our thirteen year old van. It would cost more to fix it than the vehicle was worth. But I fixed it anyway. I don’t think you have to give up on cars or people and send them to the junk yard just because they get a little older or a little banged up. I’m just not ready to let go of my old van . . . my sense of humor . . . or my love of life.


Providing Comic Relief

I’m always trying to get my children to take me seriously, but I’m seldom successful. Take the other morning for example. I have a son who takes roughly a quarter century to get his shoes and socks on. If I don’t remind him to dress his feet long before we need to go somewhere, the whole family winds up sitting in the van breathing exhaust fumes while he slowly and painstakingly ties his shoe laces in quadruple knots. So I walked into the kitchen, placed my hands strategically on my hips attempting to look like a person with authority and said, “John, you need to hurry up and get your feet on.”
For some reason I can never get my mouth to say what my mind is thinking. It’s embarrassing. It also doesn’t help that I can’t even get my own children’s names right when I address them. I know perfectly well who I’m speaking to but my mouth never cooperates. Say, for instance, I’m standing directly in front of my daughter Ashley. As I open my mouth to address her, it goes something like this . . . “Ap, Ab, An, Am . . . . A – s – h – l – e – y.
I don’t know what my husband and I were thinking when we named all our daughters with names that start in A and all our sons with names that start with J. It makes me sound like I have a serious stuttering problem every time I attempt to address one of my own children.
I also try to get my children to be truthful, but that attempt always back-fires. Take the other day for example. A very important person I was trying to impress with my professionalism called my home and asked to speak to me while I was occupied in the bathroom. When my young son answered the phone he was suppose to say what we’d practiced together . . . “Hello may I help you?” Instead he said. “Who you are? What you want?” After the caller asked for me I heard him reply, “She can’t talk cause she’s . . .” then I heard my son tell the caller exactly what his mother was doing in the bathroom. I never had the nerve to return that phone call.
The other day I was quietly sitting in church minding my own business. The closing song had just finished and I knew it was my turn to walk to the front of the chapel and say the closing prayer. When I stood up, my young daughter had a sudden attack of attachment anxiety and grabbed my skirt trying to hold me back. This was her usual behavior so I pulled away, reassured her and started walking up the aisle.
She was persistent and called after me, “Mom, Mom, Mom!”
I ignored her as I walked up the long aisle and approached the steps to the podium hoping everyone would think it was someone else’s little girl shouting.
Then my daughter stood up on the bench, cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Your skirt’s falling off Mommy! Everybody can see your underwear!”
I glanced down. Sure enough; my skirt actually was falling off. I realized I had just been exposed to the whole congregation during my long walk up the aisle. I reached down and pulled up my skirt while embarrassed church elders covered their eyes.
“Thank you honey,” I said into the microphone just before I bowed my head and said the closing prayer. “You can sit down and be quiet now.”
Maybe mothers weren’t meant to be taken seriously. Maybe we actually plan to provide comic relief for our families . . . and church congregations. Of course we never do dumb things by accident. I mean telling our children to hurry up and get their feet on, stuttering a long list of grunts before we can say our children’s names or strutting down the aisle at church in our underwear is all carefully planned . . . right? It’s all part of our clever attempt to help others feel better about their own goofiness by comparison. Right? Yeah right.


Baby Blessings

People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one. Bringing home a new baby changes your life . . . forever. Newborns have a distinct way of literally waking up the entire family. God gave babies the ability to cry for a very good reason. They can’t be ignored. This new little person might be small, but they let everyone in ear shot know when they are hungry, tired, bored or in need of a diaper change. Babies demand our attention, our time and a life-time commitment.
It’s a good thing God let people start out as bundle of soft cuteness. Babies are simply irresistible. There is nothing more beautiful than a newborn just out of the bathtub with a shiny nose. On the other hand, babies need constant care day and night. Some babies are good eaters, sleepers and poopers and some aren’t. Some babies adjust easily to new people and situations and some don’t. Some babies are easy to sooth and some aren’t. Some babies have a happy pleasant disposition and some don’t.
Parents never know what flavor they have until the weeks and months of sleepless nights and busy days stack up on each other and wear you out. Then right about the time you’re ready to throw in the towel, your newborn smiles at you and you’re ready to try again for the rest of your life. You see God also gave babies soft round cheeks and charming toothless grins for a reason.
When I brought my first premature baby home, I was more than hyper-vigilant. I was afraid that if I stopped watching her, she would stop breathing and die. So I stared at her like a hawk, even peeking when I showered. After a few weeks of no sleep and constant anxiety I realized I couldn’t go on like this forever. So I got on my knees and cried. Then I asked God if He would please watch over her while I slept. I had forgotten that God was already watching over both of us.
That was my first lesson in learning the difference between what I could actually do something about and everything I was worried about. As the years went by and more and more babies came to my house, I learned other things as well. I learned that everybody has several chances to have a happy childhood and I wasn’t going to miss my second chance. I learned to laugh at myself. I learned to relax and enjoy my children. I learned to worry less about how my sons and daughters looked to others and more about how they were feeling inside. I stopped trying to control them and worked more on controlling myself. I learned to make big and little choices with my heart.
And I learned about loss. When three of my babies didn’t come home from the hospital with me, I learned to never take anything for granted, especially babies. Everything can be taken away. I also learned that days melt into weeks . . . weeks race into years . . . and children grow up.
In the end, I suppose the best thing I’m still learning is how to love. So now I’m back on my knees again asking God to watch over my grown children and grandchildren while I sleep. I have learned to leave the universe in God’s hands - not mine. That’s where it was and is all along.


A Prayer for Caleb

In my family we have a secret code to communicate our love for each other when we are out in public. We wink. When one of us is about to perform or speak, we look for a family member’s face in the crowd. Then we wink at each other. Closing one eye and winking is our secret code for saying, “I love you. You can do it. You’re wonderful.”
About three years ago, my grandson Caleb was born into our family. He must have known before birth that he would never be able to speak to us because he was born with one eyelid permanently closed. So, he is always “winking” at us, always communicating, “I love you. You can do it. You’re wonderful.”
Caleb has one eye lid permanently closed because he is missing one of his eyes . . . and he is also missing his brain. All the doctors said he would die soon after birth. They were wrong. Caleb is three years old. He is a medical miracle. The doctors say he can’t see, hear, speak, think or move. Those who know and love Caleb understand he has his own unique way of experiencing the world and communicating his love to those around him.
After Caleb was born the hospice people told us to buy a burial plot and continually warned us of his imminent death. We soon learned you can not live well in a state of fear and sadness. We decided we could spend Caleb’s entire life anxious and scared he might die at any moment, or we could celebrate each day we were blessed to have him with us. In the beginning, my daughter April celebrated Caleb’s birthday every week instead of every year with balloons and cupcakes because we simply did not know how long we would have him with us. We stopped the cupcakes after we gained ten pounds, but the celebrating goes on.
We all prayed for a miracle when we first learned about Caleb’s condition. We got one. Caleb’s birth, life and mission have had a deep and lasting impact on our lives. His spirit, eternal identity and most of all the loving, individual relationship he has with each of us is truly a miracle. Because of Caleb we know that each of us has a divine purpose and that the physical body is a sacred gift we should never take for granted. We better understand the worth of a soul and the resiliency of the human spirit.
Caleb’s five year old brother Matthew said, “Grandma. The doctors said Caleb was going to die, but he didn’t. That’s the first miracle I ever saw!”
Sometimes Caleb’s baby brother Mitchell pulls out his feeding tube while they hold hands riding together in their double stroller. Sometimes the only intervention that can get Caleb’s heart rate up is when his older brothers Josh and Matty crawl in his crib, hug him and sing, “I am a Child of God.” For the past three years, Caleb’s parents have spent 24 hour days without much sleep humbly and gratefully caring for their four sons.
If you have a moment please offer a prayer for the little boy who has never been able to utter a single word and yet has taught everyone who knows and loves him – all the secrets of a rich and meaningful life.

The Real Expert

New mothers often ask me for advice about how to nurture or raise their children because I’m the mother of ten and I’ve written lots of books full of parenting information and ideas. What I think a mother needs most is renewed confidence in her own instincts. I vividly remember trying to follow my pediatrician’s advice to keep my newborn’s feedings at three hour intervals. I was pacing the living room with a hungry baby one day trying to hold her off for another hour when I suddenly realized how ludicrous my actions were. I knew my baby was hungry and that if I fed her she’d be happy. Why was I allowing some “expert” to tell me what to do with my own child? I immediately sat down and fed my hungry baby. We both stopped crying.
I whole heartedly believe that mothers should read all the latest information they can find and be willing to listen to other’s advice. Then neatly tuck all that material in the file drawer for later reference and look into your child’s eyes. No matter how incompetent you feel as a new mother, you are the one person in the world that spends the most time with this totally unique new person – the one person who knows and loves your child best. On those hard days, if you pray and ask God to help you understand and act on your child’s most vital needs, you will be taught by the only true expert who knows and loves both you and your child.
Feelings of perpetual incompetence are part of being a mother. They start at birth with feeding and sleeping issues but soon grow into discipline and independence issues. Though the issues change, the feelings of mothering incompetence remain constant. You’re never been the mother of this child at this stage in their development before - until the day you die. The truth is, even if you don’t have all the answers and know just what to do, you have made a commitment to be there for your child and care – forever.
There will be times when your baby, toddler, teen or married child will come to your with a tummy ache, a skinned knee, friend problems or a broken heart and you will not be able to take all the pain away. So you will hug each other and cry together. In the end, knowing someone cares is what children need most.
Maybe you’ll never become a nutrition expert, understand the current discipline techniques or get over the empty-next syndrome, but you will always be vital to your child’s sense of well-being. You move from diapers to driver’s licenses to dorm rooms and back to diapers faster than you think.
While I was walking out the door after visiting my daughter who had recently given birth to her third child, she looked into my eyes and asked, “What do you do when you feel overwhelmed Mom?”
“Get on your knees and pray,” I told her. “Have a good cry. Then get up and go back to work.”

Bridal Shower Philosophers

Men and women bond differently. Males stare at the same football game on TV. Women talk. When someone in our gender decides to get married, we like to gather, gab, eat goodies and give each other presents. It’s called a bridal shower. Bridal showers don’t have anything do with bathing like my young son asked. Bridal showers are parties we women give each other to celebrate our decision to join our lives with a man. Our sister, daughter, niece, granddaughter, or friend is about to become someone’s wife and create a brand new family. So we set aside a Saturday afternoon to honor her choice and wish her well on her new journey.
Bridal showers used to bug me. I got tired of all the silly games such as contests to see who could make the most beautiful toilet paper wedding dress or pin-the-lips on the groom. I thought they seemed silly and trivial. These days I actually look forward to the bridal showers I’m invited to. These days I see the multi-generational bonding of women to honor our newest bride as an important feminine cultural rite of passage.
Every woman who attends a bridal shower is at a different place on her life’s journey. The oldest woman present is usually a widow longing for the touch of her husband’s hand. The retired woman is wondering what to do with a spouse who is suddenly under foot and home all the time. The middle-aged woman is trying to find a rare quiet evening to spend alone with her husband without the children. The newlywed has most likely faced her first reality check with her knight in shining armor. The single woman wonders if the opportunity to marry will ever come. Every age and circumstance has its own set of challenges and joys. Yet when we join together to wish our daughter, sister, niece or friend well as she begins her new journey, there is power in the room – the power of united women to bless our newest bride with tender words of advice offered with gentleness and love.
After all the games are over, refreshments served and presents opened there are usually a few quiet moments when the women in the room contemplate their own marriages, widowhood or singleness. The woman in charge often asks each guest to give the soon-to-be bride marital advice.
A hush comes over the room as each woman becomes contemplative. Then the words come - words like:
“When my husband and I ran into a rocky patch in our marriage I tried to change him. It didn’t work. I finally figured out that you can’t change anybody but yourself. I changed me. That has made all the difference.”
“I have learned that love is a choice not a feeling; you make a choice to love.”
“Love is a verb - what you do, not how you feel.”
“If you love your husband exactly as he is, then he becomes all you’ve ever dreamed of.”
When the words stop and everybody goes home, there is a feeling of hopefulness that we each take away. We know we will gather again when another of our own chooses to become a bride. Even as we slowly step toward death, we know some new bride will be stepping into marriage. The circle of life will begin all over again - all because one woman and one man choose to love each other.

Pay Day

Sometimes when you’re in the middle of raising a family the continual noise, chaos, conflicting schedules and constant demands can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get discouraged. Family building is a wild ride that invites us to throw out every single ounce of pride and selfishness.
Like a roller-coaster ride, family life is full of hills and valleys. On the way up we feel like laughing and on the way down we feel like screaming. Sometimes we wake up, stare at the ceiling and wonder how we are going to get the kids to do their homework, practice the piano, clean up their bedroom, brush their teeth and be nice to each other for one more day. I mean what’s the point? We just have to turn around and do it all over again the next day. Finding a moment to relax and simply enjoy our children seems like an illusive dream.
Amidst the chronic drama of every day life most parents wish they had several body clones. Then we could be in six different places at the same time. For a typical week day schedule means that Cub Scouts, youth activity, church planning meeting, choir concert, baseball practice and a baby shower all fall on Thursday at exactly 7:00 p.m.
Real families don’t look like those fake photo shoot models in the slick magazines or play out like the contrived plots of Hollywood movies. Real families try, fail and try again. Real families give each other headaches, hassles, hugs and heart failure. Real parents find ourselves wondering if our children even learned one thing we tried to teach them over the blare of their loud music and quarreling. It’s easy to grit our teeth and wonder what we were thinking when we got ourselves into this whole mess.
Then suddenly pay day arrives and we’re ready to go back to being the mom or dad for one more day. Golden moments are God’s pay - our salary and year-end bonus all rolled into one. These moments are like sunlight dancing on water, unexpected flashes of light that make tears come to your eyes.
Moments like . . . licking vanilla ice cream with Joseph on the warm west steps . . . discovering Arianne’s secret garden hidden in the trees, feeling April’s soft infant skin on my lips while I blow bubbles on her belly . . . hearing the crack of the bat when John hit his first run . . . laughing while Jordan flipped cartwheels in the living room the night before he got married . . . rubbing warm noses and soft checks together with Alisa at bedtime . . . holding Amy in the oxygen tent at the hospital . . . listening to Ashley sing like an opera star while I’m peeling potatoes in the kitchen . . .cheering as Aubrey made her three-point shot . . . and jumping to my feet after Jacob made the winning tackle.
Much like fireworks in July – golden moments are inner explosions of joy that fill your whole body with color and brightness. Time stops just for an instant and takes your breath away.

Feeding Souls

I’ve been taking notes at funerals. This is what I’ve learned. Those who don’t really know the deceased usually get up and preach a sermon. On the other hand, when the speaker truly loves the departed their remarks generally fall into two categories. Category #1. This person fed my body. You’d be surprised how many funeral talks discuss what delicious food the deceased person prepared and served. Apparently feeding people leaves a genuinely lasting impression. Category #2. This person fed my soul. Invariably the speaker will tell the congregation a few experiences about how the deceased impacted their life.
In the past I used to believe that if people didn’t have to eat, my life would be so much better. But I’ve been reconsidering that mind set lately. I’ve decided that if we didn’t have to eat every few hours, we’d lose our reason to gather. I now believe that physical hunger is God’s secret gift to us – the daily thirst that keeps those who care about each other coming back for more.
As a newlywed, if someone had told me how much of my life would be spent shopping for food then preparing and cleaning up after meals, I wouldn’t have believed them. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As the mother of ten children, I’ve often found myself wondering when this feeding frenzy will end. I’ve dreamed about what my life would be like when my family looked at me and saw a tired woman instead of Sunday dinner.
Mothers of newborns feel like morphed human pacifiers. Mothers of toddlers long for the day when eating a family meal won’t require rain coats and fire truck hoses for clean up. Mothers of school age children hear themselves spouting phrases like, “You don’t like that? Eat it anyway. There are children starving in China.” Mothers of teenagers watch hopelessly as their offspring inhale colossal quantities of everything edible on the premises. Mothers of married children are not surprised when their growing posterity comes home to visit - precisely at dinner hour. I’ve decided we can find frustration and resentment with all this eating business or we can unlock the secret and start having fun at our own banquet.
What if universal hunger is the biggest reason we stay connected? What if feeding those we love was not a daily drudgery but a pleasure? If we were not required to feed our newborns every few hours day and night, would we develop that tender bond that can never be broken? If we didn’t prepare a warm meal every evening for our family, would we ever get together and talk to each other? The gift of hunger actually keeps those we love coming back to be fed again and again at our table.
In my early days of mothering I used to say, “All I do all day long is feed one end of these kids and clean up other. Nothing I do really matters.” Now I deeply respect people who choose to feed people. For I understand that nourishing my family is one essential way to show my love. I’ve learned that when we serve with joyfulness, we not only give food to bodies - we also nurture spirits. Now I choose to focus more on the sustenance I have to offer than what family members decide to take away from my buffet.
Someday I hope those I have lived with and cared for will be able to say, “She fed me – both my body and my soul.”