Friday, February 27, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 107

~1~

A little more than a week into my Lenten practices and it's still going well!  In my efforts to let go of "Stuff" my kitchen has never been cleaner or more organized.  Whenever I walk into or through my kitchen I feel a little thrill of accomplishment and satisfaction.  And with a nice clear palette to start from, it's been easier to keep it uncluttered.  Just tackling one small area each day has been key for me.  I don't get overwhelmed when the job is just a handful of kitchen drawers or only the pantry.

As another bonus, I reorganized so that my kids can reach the appliances they use most often, like the toaster, without climbing up on the counters, and they can also find a sharpened pencil when it's homework time.  I discovered stuff I needed to use up and placed it prominently where it'll actually get used.  I cleaned the counter my microwave sits on, folks.  That was icky.

~2~

One of the challenges for me through this "40 Bags in 40 Days" practice is that I tend to keep items that might be useful rather than just throwing them away - you know, the "reuse" part of the three 'R's - so I can almost always come up with a reason that a certain item might come in handy some time in the future.  Case in point:


I use plastic grocery bags for a myriad of purposes including as garbage bag liners, collecting food scraps for our compost pile, as trash bags in each vehicle, to pick up dog poop (when we had a dog), packing material, but even with all those ways to use them I unearthed way more than we could ever use.  So I put out a call to my facebook friends for ideas and got some great ones!

* Check at Wal-mart or local grocery stores for a recycling collection point.
* Weave them into a rug (one example here).
* Donate them to a local animal shelter or dog park.
* Donate some to a daycare or elementary school (for wet clothes after those inevitable accidents!).
* Check with your local food bank to see if they need some.
* Local thrift stores may also need them for shoppers.

It feels good to "let it go" and it feels even better when I know it's going somewhere it will be helpful for others! (And yes, I still kept some to use for all those purposes I mentioned above.  But I'm also going to start taking my reusable tote bags to go grocery shopping so I don't end up with such a huge pile of plastic bags again!)

~3~

And as for the other part of my Lenten focus this year, I'm really enjoying Yoga with Adriene.  I've worked my way through her Foundations of Yoga series, short videos that focus on different yoga poses, and I've started her new 30 Days of Yoga.  I appreciate her "ease-in" approach and the variations she offers for people of all strength and flexibility levels.

I've been surprised how easy it's been for me to get up early (most days) to do yoga.  My husband will attest that I'm not a morning person, but - at least for right now - laying in bed drowsy doesn't hold the same appeal as getting up and getting going.

My posture has been much better this past week, I've noticed.  I'm more aware, especially when sitting at the computer, of when I'm slouching or slumping or hunched over and more conscious of where I'm holding tension or stress (usually my neck and shoulders!).  And when I'm aware of it, I can do something about it.

~4~

Allowance has been an ongoing conversation in our house.  This article spurred me to consider doing things differently.  A couple of the money (hee hee!) quotes:
...in an era in which teenagers make six-figure decisions about college and five-figure ones about how much student-loan debt to take on, the greatest act of protection we can commit is to talk to our children about money a lot more often.
...Allowance amounts can vary, but here’s the big idea: Give your kids just enough so that they can get some of what they want but not so much that they don’t have to make a lot of difficult trade-offs. Let them own those, so they know what it’s like to make financial decisions that resemble grown-up ones.

...Once you know the entire budget, hand it over in a lump sum. Do the same for athletic equipment, musical instruments, art supplies, and anything else you’ve deemed a need. Then, stand back and watch them fail spectacularly. No bailouts; you should want them to feel their mistakes deeply and earn money to solve their problems if need be. Better now than at age 24, when errors lead to wrecked credit scores and worse. 
This is similar to the Love and Logic approach.  Allow small failures while kids are young to help them learn the lessons that will prevent the bigger, more expensive, more dangerous failures when they're older and the consequeneces are more severe.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 106

~1~

A couple of days into Lent 2015 and it's going well so far!  The junk drawer in my kitchen and my kitchen counters have never been neater or more organized.

This is the "after" of the junk drawer. (The "before" is just too embarrassing.)
My boys can now find a sharpened pencil and eraser when they need one!
I've also done two days of Yoga with Adriene in the mornings, just learning the basics right now (and as soon as I post this I'll go do another).  Two days down, thirty-eight to go!

~2~

I really need to get back to the book reviews.  There's at least a dozen books I've read without reviewing them yet!

One I'm still working my way through is Julie Smith's Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels (Part 1 and Part 2).  It's basically a study guide for the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the remarkable thing is, it's about 98% questions!  The author lays a little bit of ground work and then just asks you questions to think about and consider.  She'll point out other scriptures that may be relevant and invite the reader to draw connections; she'll provide a bit of historical detail and ask how that might change your understanding of the story; she'll highlight differences between the gospels and help you think about why those differences exist.  It's been an incredibly valuable tool for my New Testament study this year (I've gotten through Mark and Luke and just started Matthew), and it's certainly one to be used over and over again.  I'll post a full review when I'm done (promise!).

~3~

Speaking of book reviews, let's do a quick one right now!

As the boys have gotten busier, it's been harder to find time to read aloud to them all together, so it's taking longer to get through books, let alone a series.  But we finished Taran Wanderer, the fourth book in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series and the boys were immediately clamoring to start the fifth and final book.  I think this is one of my favorites of the series.  There's non-stop action and you can really see growth in Taran as he journeys across Prydain and encounters new friends - and new enemies - along the way.

My boys liked how Taran saved Doli and the whole dwarf nation from being turned into frogs or other creatures by destroying the wizard Morda.  They groaned every time Dorath and his band of marauders showed up.  They loved meeting the Commot Folk, like Lucky Llonio, Hevydd the Smith, Dwyvach Weaver-Woman, Annlaw Clay-Shaper, and the brave souls of small Commot Isav,   Really a fascinating cast of characters in this one.

I appreciate that this book shows more complexity in Taran's character than the previous offerings.  He's growing up, recognizing that the glory he thought there was in being a warrior hero isn't all it's cracked up to be, and that sometimes there's as much bravery in plowing a field or weaving a cloak, if not more.  His time with Craddock was also tangled and nuanced like nothing he'd experienced before.  There wasn't a simple right or wrong choice as his desires and honor and questions battled within him.  Definitely one of the best of the series.

~4~

I just registered to attend Northwest Pilgrims this year and I'm so excited!  I can't wait to meet Jana Riess and lots of other amazing people!  Early bird prices are in effect through the end of the month if you'd like to come, too!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent 2015

I've written here before about holy envy and some of the spiritual practices of other faiths that I've learned from including Ramadan and Lent.  There is so much value in getting out of whatever rut you're in and seeing things through new eyes.  I love the idea of spiritually preparing for Easter, of both giving something up and adding something to our lives to draw us closer to the Savior, and I'm gratified that quite a few Mormons seem to be coming around to this idea more.

In thinking about what I need this year to help me "fall deeper in love with Christ", I've decided that I need more space and less clutter - physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  There's so many different directions that could go, but I'm going to try to keep it simple, giving up something and adding something.

So I'm giving up "stuff".  

I'm doing the 40 bags in 40 days challenge, which isn't as rigid as the name suggests, to declutter our home.  I'll get rid of things we no longer need, hopefully donating them to others for whom they could be useful, but getting them out of our house one way or another.  And I won't be buying things that aren't necessities - food, toiletries, etc.  Of course, what one person considers a necessity, another person may consider frivolous, so there's some leeway there, but I'll be focusing on keeping any purchases I make simple and necessary.

And I'm adding "peace".

"Adding peace" would probably look different for every single person, but my "adding peace" is going to include 20-30 minutes of meditation and yoga in the mornings.  I'll also be minimizing my time on the internet, limiting non-communication, non-banking, non-necessary stuff to 30 minutes a day.

And my 30 minutes for today is just about up.

What, if anything, are you doing for Lent?  And why?

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 105

~1~

A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted the first episode of A Path Appears, a three-part PBS miniseries based on Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's book of the same name.  Here are Part 2, focused on poverty, and Part 3, about domestic violence.  Again, in each of the episodes, I love the focus on what people are doing to help, the programs that are working and changing lives around the world.

They all expire on Monday, February 16, so if you haven't watched them yet, get on it!

~2~

This is an interesting TED talk about how "perception is a subjective experience" and "what we think we see is actually filtered through our own mind's eye."  She applies this concept specifically to how different people experience exercise, but it has really wide applications beyond that.


~3~

I really like how Beauty Redefined is reframing ideas of beauty and modesty in healthy and empowering ways, educating people how to actively combat the negative messages we get about body image from the media and other sources.  Here's a recent post of theirs on that oft-maligned piece of clothing: leggings. Some of the money quotes:
...you could never be clothed perfectly enough to ensure everyone perceives you the way you intend to be perceived. You could never obscure your shape or essence or beauty enough to prevent someone from having sexual thoughts about you and blaming you for those thoughts. That is because objectification happens in the eye and mind of the beholder.You are the only one who can control whether you objectify another person...
Self-objectification works as a harmful tool to keep girls and women “in their place” as objects of sexual appeal and beauty, which seriously limits their ability to think freely and understand their value in a world so in need of their unique contributions and insight...
Research shows a level of “modesty” or less-revealing/more-covered clothing can be an important tool in safe-guarding ourselves from being in a constant state of self-objectification. This idea of “modesty” and less-revealing/more-covered clothing will inevitably vary from person to person and culture to culture — maybe even dramatically. That does not matter. We have got to stop worrying about everyone else’s choices and start focusing on our own. You get to decide what “modest” clothing means for you. For some, leggings will fit very squarely in the category of covered and comfortable. For others, leggings will make them feel exposed, uncovered and uncomfortable, which fuels self-objectification. You get to decide how leggings make you feel. Other people also get to decide how your leggings make them feel. But you don’t have to carry that burden. They need to do that.
Good stuff.

~4~

This has been a rough and stressful week with some unpleasant surprises.  So yesterday I treated myself to a pedicure.  It's been too long since my last one and I decided to get a little whimsical with the nail art for Valentine's Day.


Life just seems a little brighter when I have soft, happy feet and pretty toes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Embarking in the Service of God

Last night was our annual New Beginnings program.  It's an opportunity to introduce any soon-to-be Beehives (girls turning 12 this year) to the Young Women program and to reiterate the purpose, goals, and values to those who already are young women.


The Mutual theme for this year is taken from Doctrine & Covenants 4:2, so my remarks focused on deconstructing that verse.  A reasonable approximation of what I said follows:

O ye that embark in the service of God, 
see that ye serve him with 
all your heart, might, mind and strength.
(Doctrine & Covenants 4:2)

I love the word "embark"! It's such a great word, full of promise and hope and optimism and action. It implies the beginning of a new adventure and reminds me of the scripture that tells us we should "be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness." Young Women should be a time of a lot of embarking, of trying new things, exploring, questioning, stepping outside of comfort zones, setting off on new and exciting adventures.

As we "embark in the service of God", I'd like to take a closer look at just what "service to God" entails. Doctrine & Covenants 4 has a reputation as a "missionary scripture" - many missionaries memorize the whole section to provide them with motivation and guidance as they share the gospel - and that's wonderful. But this scripture has a much wider application. President Monson has even specifically said that this section "was not spoken of missionary work alone." So what does "service to God" mean?

Any time we are helping to further the purposes of God, we are in his service. And he's told us exactly what his goal is: "For behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life" of his children. Obviously, missionary work counts, and our young women share their experiences talking to their friends about their beliefs during our "missionary moment" every week.

The scriptures tell us multiple times that when we serving God's children, we're serving God. So when these young women reaching out to and befriend others, or when they tie blankets for the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery like we did last week, they are serving God.

Doing family history work and temple work is another opportunity to serve God. Finding those relatives and performing ordinances on their behalf helps further God's purpose and we'll have the chance to do that later this month.

One aspect of serving God that doesn't seem to get as much air time is developing our own talents and learning new skills. When we expanding our abilities, we're also expanding the ways we can be an instrument in the Lord's hands. Whether it's learning to change a tire like we did last fall, or learning a little sign language as we did last month, everything we learn increases our abilities to help others and to find joy in life.

Finally, I believe that when we grow closer to God, we are serving him. When we pray, study our scriptures, perform those daily devotional acts that draw us nearer to God, we are participating in the work of salvation for ourselves and thus, serving him.

In this scripture we're told to serve God "with all [our] heart, might, mind, and strength." Lots of people have shared their thoughts on what it means to serve with those four characteristics. My interpretation is by no means the only one, but these are the thoughts that came to me as I pondered and prepared for tonight.

When we serve God with all our hearts, it means our motivations are pure. We should serve God out of love, and certainly not out of fear or shame or guilt. Even serving out of obligation or duty is not the ideal, though sometimes we all have to grit our teeth and do something just because we know we ought to. President Uchtdorf said:
Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood. Love is the healing balm that repairs rifts in personal and family relationships. It is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and our talk. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Ensign, November 2009)
If we realize that love isn't at the center of what we’re doing, it’s worth taking the time to figure out why and how to re-center our motivation on love so we can access the joy that comes from serving with all our hearts.

To me, serving God with all our might means we have a mental, emotional, and spiritual toughness and determination. I recently watched a documentary called Maidentrip about a girl named Laura Dekker. She was determined to be the youngest person to sail around the world solo, so she set off about a month before she turned 15 and spent a year and a half on her sailboat Guppy by herself. She set her goal and mapped out her course and a timeline. Along the way, she had to make some adjustments to her plan, due to threats of pirates or bad weather or to make needed repairs to her boat, but she kept her final goal firmly in mind.

Likewise, we need to keep our final goal - eternal life with our Heavenly Parents - firmly in mind. We'll need to make adjustments to our plan as we go along in life and unexpected circumstances arise, and our course will look different from the course others may take just because we're all different people. Serving with all our might allows us to "just keep swimming", as Dory says.

On to serving with all our mind. Our minds are precious gifts from God and he expects us to use them. In Doctrine & Covenants section 9, Oliver Cowdery was rebuked by the Lord for not thinking for himself, for expecting the Lord to just tell him what to do. He was told instead to "study it out in your mind" first and then ask God. That counsel holds true for us as well. We can't grow and learn if we don't engage our brains, if we wait for others - even God - to do our thinking for us. Hugh B. Brown, a counselor in the First Presidency for many years, said:
More thinking is required, and we should all exercise our God-given right to think and be unafraid to express our opinions, with proper respect for those to whom we talk and proper acknowledgment of our own shortcomings. (Hugh B. Brown, “A Final Testimony”)
This is a major focus of the new youth Come, Follow Me curriculum (now in its third year), to encourage the young women to ask their questions, express their thoughts, wrestle with new ideas, and participate in discussions on gospel topics.  Think.  Express your ideas and opinions respectfully, stay humble, and use the brain God gave you.

Talking about serving God with all our strength, I'm going to go in a slightly different direction.

We are all human and we all have limitations. I believe that God is able to help us accomplish things that would be absolutely impossible on our own - Philippians 4:13 is one of my favorite scriptures - but he also expects us to be wise stewards of the talents, blessings and resources he’s given us. He does not want us to run ourselves into the ground, and especially not in his name.

The inestimable Chieko Okazaki, a former counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, has written on this topic several times:
We’re counseled not to run faster than we have strength (see Mosiah 4:27). Let’s look at our own circumstances, appraise our own strength, get in touch with our own desires... (Cat’s Cradle, 43)
Only you know your circumstances, your energy level, the needs of your [family], and the emotional demands of your other obligations. Be wise during intensive seasons of your life. Cherish your agency, and don’t give it away casually. (Lighten Up!, 180)
I can't think of a more intensive season of life than the teenage years. You are all so involved in such good and worthy activities, and this Church asks a great deal of you as well, so be wise. Serving God with all our strength requires that we evaluate for ourselves what the best use of our time and energy is and what activities and assignments we may need to say "no" to for now, in order to have sufficient strength to serve him as he wants us to.

I've shared this quote from President Julie B. Beck many, many times, but here it is again:
The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life. (Julie B. Beck, “'And upon the Handmaids in Those Days I Will Pour out My Spirit,'” Ensign, May 2010)
Learn how the Spirit communicates with you and use the incredible gift of personal revelation as a tool to help you make wise decisions in how to embark in the service of God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength.

Next week we'll be working on Personal Progress for our activity, so I'd encourage each of you to work on some aspect of Personal Progress this week, whether it’s starting an experience, finishing an experience, or moving forward on a project. Those of you who are done aren't off the hook; consider ways you can embark in the service of God, or serve him more a little more of your heart, might, mind or strength. For our soon-to-be-Beehives, I'd encourage you to plan out a path to finishing your Faith in God program before you turn 12 if you haven't already.

I'm grateful for you young women, for the Young Women program, and that I get to be a small part of your lives. I'm grateful for the gospel and especially for my Savior who has experienced everything, so I know that I'm never alone. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Going along with the nautical "Embark" theme, the girls
decided on "under the sea" type decorations.
Non-crafty me made those pink jellyfish!  Aren't you proud??

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 104, Or TWO WHOLE YEARS!!

It's been two whole years of weekly Friday Fours!  Wow...  I probably should have planned something profound for this milestone, but as usual, these are just links and such that caught my eye recently.

~1~

It is absolutely remarkable to me (in a good way!) that an article like this was published in BYU's student newspaper.  Proof that hearts and minds are changing.

"Helping LGBTQ/SSA churchgoers feel welcome in an LDS environment" suggests that heterosexual members of the Church imagine what it might be like to be LGBTQ, points out that BYU is ranked as the 4th most LGBT-unfriendly university, and shares some heart-breaking statistics:
Seventy-four percent of LGBT BYU students have suicidal ideation, and 24 percent attempt suicide, according to a survey of 100 LGBT students conducted by the Understanding Same Gender Attraction group (USGA).
And then it gets to the heart of the matter:
Forget about your stance on LGBTQ/SSA issues. Whether you are a supporter or non-supporter of specific LGBTQ/SSA topics, how can you treat other people with kindness?
Drawing from the experiences of LGBT BYU students themselves, the article makes five specific suggestions.  I especially appreciate "Assess your perspective" and "Choose your words carefully." I hope to see more articles like this coming out of BYU.

~2~

I'd never read this Benedictine blessing until I ran across it in this beautiful post about what we can learn from other faiths written a few years back.  There are a couple of different versions floating around, but the general message is the same:

A Fourfold Benedictine Blessing

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done,
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
– Sister Ruth Fox, OSB
I love how she reframes discomfort, anger, tears and foolishness - things we don't usually pray for - as blessings to both us and others if we use them as God intends.

~3~

The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is fascinating to me.  The past few years have brought much more to the forefront, with the publication of the Joseph Smith Papers, more focus on women's history, black history, and uncovering and disseminating a more thorough and less simplistic view of complex historical events.

I stumbled upon this article about the history of black Saints - some slaves and some free - in the earlier years of the Church.  Names like Jane Manning James, Green Flake, and Elijah Abel should be as familiar to us other early Saints.

Jane Manning James & Elijah Abel, two stalwart early Saints
~4~

I am not a fan of Matt Walsh.  This blogger put it into words a year ago better than I could have.
See, the thing is, I’m starting to realize you’re just a polemicist. A talented and witty polemicist, sure. Maybe even an insightful one, occasionally. But even the best polemicist in the world is good for only one thing: making his readers really mad — either really mad at him, or really mad at people who disagree with him. And mad-all-the-time just isn’t something I want to be...
It’s not healthy for me to think that my position is the only reasonable one, and that everybody who disagrees with me is an idiot. And it’s not healthy to think that if someone disagrees with me, the only possible explanation is that she’s not thinking as hard as I am...
See, this might be na├»ve of me, but I’d like to think humanity can do a little better than calling each other stupid on the Internet. I’d like to think we can have intelligent discussions, find common ground, and move forward on important issues.
And I don’t think reading your blog is helping with that.
Amen and amen.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 103

~1~

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the authors of Half the Sky, one of the most impactful books I've ever read, have another book out entitled A Path Appears.  It's also a PBS miniseries, the first episode of which you can watch at this link, at least until February 17.

A Path Appears focuses more on the solutions, on what people are doing to help and what we can do to contribute as well.  The episode I linked to above is about sex trafficking and prostitution in the United States and is profoundly moving and paradigm-shifting.  It's far more prevalent than any of us would like to believe, even in our own backyards, and almost always involves coercion and involuntary servitude - modern-day slavery.  It's horrifying and heart-breaking.  But there is hope.

~2~

Becca Stevens, is an Episcopal priest and her efforts to help women who have been trafficked are highlighted in the first episode of A Path Appears.  She founded Magdalene, residential communities helping women who have been trafficked, prostituted, and addicted.  She also created Thistle Farms, a series of companies that employ dozens of these women, helping them learn valuable skills to allow them to become more self-sufficient and successfully transition out of where they've been.

She's made a real difference to dozens, if not hundreds, of vulnerable women. She's one of my new sheroes.

~3~

Neylan McBaine, the author of Women at Church, wrote this insightful piece reacting to two articles in the February issue of the New Era, pointing out the false "either/or" that the juxtaposition of the two articles, one directed at young women, the other directed at young men, implies.

I think she's dead on.  These messages, whether intentional or unintentional, matter.

~4~

I had a lovely date night with my husband this evening.  We finally watched the last Hobbit movie and I did this:


In case you can't see it, that's my newly re-pierced ear.  I first got my ears pierced when I was 12 or so, but about ten years ago I wasn't wearing earrings often and the holes closed up.  So in about six weeks, I'll be able to wear whatever earrings I want again.

Tried to talk my husband into a belly button ring, but he didn't go for it. ;)