The most wasted of all days is one without laughter – E.E. Cummings

Tag: daughter

Thinking Inside the Box

Carlee HansenAt the end of last October, I started a family journal. As much as I love writing, I am less than stellar at telling Dear Diary all about my day – at least I haven’t been as good at it once I stopped having a different crush every week and my journals evolved from lock-bearing, rainbow-covered hardbacks to something a little less ostentatious. Journaling is time consuming and arduous and frankly, most of my days aren’t filled with events that reach ‘write it down’ caliber. So for years I’ve brushed off the need to record my personal history and move on to more critical matters, like recording my favorite television shows.

Anyway, last October I kept having this want to write things down for my kids – the activities that we did, the places that we went and so on. Partly I wanted them to remember our history and traditions and carry them forward; but mostly I just wanted some ammo for when they get a little older and try to tell me what a crappy mom I am: “Uh uh uh, March 4 last year I took you to the Treehouse Museum. Who’s the crappy mom, now!?” The more I thought about this (and saw how sassy my girls can get), the more sense it made.

Enter the box.

On one of my many trips to the largest retailer in America who shall remain nameless because I’m not being paid a commission, I purchased a less-than-flashy index card box. Wait, strike that. I think it was my mom who was running to said retailer and asked if I needed anything and I shouted in anticipation, “Yes! A cheap box to hold index cards! And index cards!” Yes, that’s how it went.

Important side note: if this ever-popular retailer would like to talk about commissions for mentions on my blog, you know where to find me. That is all.

Anyway, I filled my box with index cards and got to work. Every day I wrote a single sentence(ish) – something we did, places we went, laundry that was folded, something. Some days were fun (last year on October 29th, Mack went bowling for her first time and scored and 87) and others lacked the luster that I would hope would go on each card (there are countless days that say words like “laundry”, “Lunchable” and “movies”. Probably more than I want to admit.). But the point isn’t the content (exactly). The point was to write something down. And I’m proud to say that I made it. 365 days of cards, each with a bit of information about what we have done as a family in the last year. And I learned a few things along the way. Let’s be honest, you knew this was coming:

You might think that writing a simple sentence every day is a pretty easy goal. Well, Snobby Sally, it wasn’t for me. Just remembering to open the box was a task. There were times when I had to play catch-up (thank the heavens for iPhone calendars) for an entire week. (Also thank heaven that my goal wasn’t 100 push-ups a day. Am I right? Imagine catching up on those suckers.)

Take away: don’t procrastinate because catching up is miserable. Shout out to all my high-school peeps struggling with this on a daily basis, yo!

If you’ve been to my house in the last year, you’d have noticed that whatever my table décor was at the time, it was always accompanied by this little blue box. I had to put it there so that it would annoy me enough to stay up on my entries. And it worked. So, in true Stephen Covey fashion, I submit this as a truth: If you want to accomplish something that is hard, you better put it right in your face. Like right in your face. Like look at it every time you pass the table, in your face. You have to constantly think about your goals, look at them, and dream about them (I only had like six nightmares about index cards in the last year. Pretty good, I’d say.).

I once read a poem called “The Will to Win” that I repeat (the first couple of lines) in my head whenever I have a goal to reach. Even though my goal was “only” to make a journal entry each day for a year, I had to repeat this to myself because I struggle. Although it’s probably more applicable if you are training to be the next Tiger Woods, I still found it helpful for me to stay on task . . . and to stop having dreams about giant, blood-sucking index cards.

The next thing that this little project taught me was about time – it’s limited and if you are going to fill it, fill it with something that is worth writing down. This doesn’t mean daily trips to the zoo or “Firework Tuesdays” or anything even close to that. Let me explain:

I mentioned earlier that there were a lot of “down” days over the last year – ones filled with tedious tasks like grocery shopping at (your name could be mentioned HERE, big retailer man!), or nursing kids back to health with unlimited iPad games and popsicles. But as I’ve wrapped up the year, I’ve become ‘okay’ with the fact that that is my life! Lots of plain-Jane days interspersed with noteworthy moments like a mom and daughter date to Lagoon, funerals of relatives and their loved ones, trips to the lake and first steps.

My goal this year was just to write something down. Anything. And I made it. My goal for this year is to notice. I’m not going to change anything about the way I parent (although I should) or the activities that we do (although I should) but I am going to take the time to notice the miracle moments every day. Amidst the laundry and shopping and homework, there are amazing, noteworthy things to write down like my daughter telling her first knock-knock joke or my baby falling down six stairs and giggling at the bottom (don’t call CPS – this doesn’t happen often) or my husband bringing home dinner because he knew I was tired. These are the legacy moments that I want my kids to look back and remember – the ones that show our character (even if they won’t prove what a stellar mom I was by visiting Chucky Cheese once a month).

The last thing that this little project taught me was probably the most important: I can do hard thing. I can do annoying things. I can do things that I have a bad attitude about. And I can do them for a whole YEAR! It’s astounding, the resilience of the human spirit, isn’t it?

But what’s more important is that those things become less annoying, less hard, less tedious when we see them for what they actually are: important. We set goals because something behind the goal is important to us. I’ve found that the mean (the goal) is very rarely what I’m after; it’s what I gain in the end that is why I set goals, this little blue box included.

My goals: I want to remember my family at this stage of life. I want my kids to remember our traditions and the things that we did. But most of all, I want them to remember me. I want them to see what I thought was important, that I saw them sharing (that one time) . . . and that I noticed.

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I’m a Believer

“Why are you Mormon?”

I’ve been asked this question multiple times in my life but it’s never as important or life-changing as when it’s self-directed, me asking myself to really think about why I live the life that I do. I think people of all life styles should (and do) encounter these quiet moments of introspection to evaluate the life they are living and better understand if they are truly happy. I remember the first time, and I was in 12th grade.

I had just sat down in debate class. When I was in high school, debate was that controversial class that high-schoolers took to prove that they were free-thinking and liberal and all of those words that were not part of my vocabulary at the time. The most liberal thing I had done in my short 18 years was being late for curfew . . . and even then I called first to let my mom know I’d be tardy. I’m such a rebel. I took debate because it counted as a fine arts credit and it was the only way to get out of art and ceramics. That’s me, always doing things for the unconventional reason: naivety.

Anyway, as in most Northern Utah high schools at the time, there were more than a handful of students in debate that shared similar religious convictions but there weren’t a lot that liked to wear them on their sleeve – literally. How many shirts can you own with a picture of Che on the chest? I digress. My point is that it was a decisive time for a lot of students – what do I believe? What do I want to do with my life? Can I really get away with wearing socks and sandals? You know, really critical issues.

One day, some topic I’m unable to recall now was brought up and there was a clear divide in the room as to opinions on the subject. I could have taken a Sharpie and drawn a line called “Religion” down the middle of the room and it would have only cemented the obvious difference in perspectives. Debate ensued. And as with most high school seniors, we all kept our cool and had a pleasant discussion about religion and belief systems. The end.

Or, we did what is more “high school” than I want to admit and we argued, because that’s when you do when you are 18 and know everything. Debate went back and forth about who was correct and I, in all of my life wisdom, decided to offer up my obviously Mormon-based opinion. Before I knew it, a classmate who I thought I knew well was in my face with the following retort:

“You don’t even know what you are saying! The only reason you think that is because your parents make you! You go to seminary* because your parents make you. You don’t even know what you believe! You just follow the crowd.”

*As a side note, I wasn’t trying to become a priest. In Utah, most high schools offer religious studies (seminary) for an hour during the day for those that are interested. In high school, people likely would have thought that I enjoyed it more than P.E. which was only sometimes true. (If we were doing fitness testing, it was for sure true.)

Well, after this O’Reily-type retort, I did the only thing I could think of: I kept it together long enough for the bell to ring and to go sit in my car during lunch and cry. Don’t feel bad for me – a LOT of girls do this at some point in high school. I’m actually glad that mine was over a fairly important topic and not because I had my skirt tucked into my undies while walking down the hall.

Anyway, I think the reason that I was so frustrated was that I had nothing to say back, not because I didn’t have an excellent rebuttal but because I felt like the right thing was to keep my mouth shut and move on.

The truth of the matter is that unlike a lot of religious families (not just those of the LDS faith), I actually didn’t have parents telling me what to believe or forcing me into religious practice. Despite having a fairly strong LDS heritage in my family, my parents were never religious during our (mine and my brother’s) growing up. They never asked me if I was enrolled in seminary other than conversationally, they never worried if I was attending church or not. They never forced me to do anything, other than to be nice (I’m still working on that). By the time I was 18, I had already spent countless hours getting to know my religious convictions and whether or not I was willing to commit to that phrase – “being religious” – for the foreseeable future; and I did it all on my own. No prodding, no pushing, no judgment.

So really, in a classroom that probably had multiple students that were living their religion under the direction of their parents (no shame or discrimination here), I was obviously the wrong tree to bark up. If anyone had a “you don’t even know me” bullet that could have been fired, it was me. And I said nothing. Why? Sometimes it’s better that way.

If anything, I had an a-typical, albeit wonderful, generally religious upbringing; my parents taught us to love God, to count our blessings, to be kind, to serve others, to have an opinion, to believe people were good, to be honest and handfuls of many other important general principles about life but rarely was it under the umbrella of the LDS church. I will say that it was all of those principles that lead to my activity in the LDS church and have allowed it to be fairly seamless living since then. But the actual organization of the LDS church and all of its wonderful oddities were not the lens through which religion was presented in our home.

So that day was the first of many times that I decided to take a step back and ask myself, “So why do you do it? If it isn’t your parents or your friends, why do you live the way you live? Why are you a Mormon?”

The answers that came that day are the ones that I continue to hold onto all these years later. The reasoning has likely changed slightly because life changes and circumstances determine perspective, but the basic principles are the same. So, why am I a Mormon?

Hope

As a Latter-day Saint, hope is the basis of our faith. In fact, many times in our religious sermons, those words are used interchangeably. We hope for/have faith in many things that we believe will bring happiness. These include a belief in God, faith in eternal life, trust that there is a specific plan for each of us and hope that by using our agency to make good choices, we can live as families throughout the eternities. For me, all good things. If you don’t like your family much, that may not be a selling point. Jokes, jokes.

If there is one thing that I think unites religions around the globe, it’s a sense of faith and hope. Religious people everywhere find safety and solace in the knowledge that someone who is all-knowing and all-seeing is in control, which brings hope that tomorrow could be the best day they have ever had, whether or not they have the power to make it so. There is a sense of release that comes from thinking that there is a bigger design, something in store for us all if we’ll just hold on a little bit longer.

There is a strong sense of bravado that comes with the declaration that there “is no God,” like a person is unwilling to admit that there could be anything beyond or more important than themselves. It’s amusing to me that we will esteem titles issued or demanded by men (political offices, military rankings, etc.) but refuse to acknowledge that there could be something beyond ourselves that caused all of this.

I remember being put into groups in a math class in college – we were given a pre-test and lined up around the room according to our scores. Once we were ordered, we were numbered off in groups, 1-6, starting with the highest score in the class. When the groups were finished, we all had a smarty-pants, a “will know most of the answers”, a “going to struggle” and a “probably should take a lower math class” participant in each group. Our professor figured that the two more-advanced students could help the less-advanced on homework and group quizzes.

When we lined up, I noticed that I was NOT the smarty pants in our group. While I did score decently on the pre-test, I definitely wasn’t the head-honcho in our little math family. At first I was a little offended that my good-grade streak in high school apparently meant very little in college algebra; but soon enough, I was so grateful Kayse, our resident genius. I can’t imagine the pressure she felt (she never showed it) to make sure she understood all of the principles we were being taught because she had to help all of us slackers. When we had a question, we went to Kayse. I’m actually pretty sure that she knew more than our professor but I could never prove that she was a Harvard implant that was being paid to help out at a junior college.  I digress.

Anyway, I thought about how hard it would be to spend a semester dragging up the grades of a bunch of math nimrods as part of your “you signed up for this class” duty. That is a lot of pressure. Having the answers or knowing where to find them ALL of the time is a huge task, one that I was relieved was relegated to someone else. Kayse gave me a huge sense of relief throughout that entire semester. I knew that if I struggled (which I did) or had times when I was unsure of myself (which I was), she would be there to help me pull through with words of advice and a reassurance that college algebra was, in fact, doable.

This little math anecdote mirrors how I see one role of God in my life – a being with supreme intelligence that not only knows the answers but is willing to teach me how to find them if I will be humble enough to ask. I still have to do work, a lot of it, because in the end, the grade is my own. But there are no rules that say I can’t ask for help along the way. In fact, it’s encouraged. I was taught at an early age that I should trust God; He knows my struggles and understands everything from my heartache to my joy and is the place that I can turn when I don’t seem to be getting it. I have always received comfort in knowing that someone else knows the answers . . . even when they were math-related.

The Big Picture

I love the sense of community that I feel when I meet with friends and neighbors to discuss issues that extend beyond our homes and our immediate neighborhood. Religious services facilitate those meetings for me. In church services, we are able to discuss welfare concerns both for our immediate community and how we can contribute to world-wide needs and concerns; we discuss safety, service, education, finances and community responsibility.

One of the biggest problems plaguing the world today is an incredible sense of self-entitlement; everyone is looking for the best for themselves and their immediate family. “How can I benefit from this situation? What can I gain? How do I make my situation better?”

I believe that religion provides and outlet to look beyond ourselves, to focus on the needs of others before we worry about ourselves. In the LDS faith, we are taught that how we use our time is just as important as the mere fact that we have time. We call these choices our “work”. Most organized religions don’t have a doctrinal foundation related to this principle as they believe that we are all saved by grace (us too, but not as a stand-alone principle. We believe that we are saved by grace after all we can do. See “work” above.). Despite not having doctrinal direction on work, I believe most people have some spiritual tie to this principle, otherwise why are most people good? Why do we make good choices? Why do we help neighbors move, donate to cancer causes, stop at lemonade stands, volunteer to help pets, the list goes on. I believe that it’s because there is a spiritual connection (feel-goods) tied to helping others and focusing on issues beyond our own. We do these things because it feels right.

My faith helps facilitate opportunities to serve, as do most. Beyond even my basic need for this, I want my kids to know how to put themselves aside and help in the community that surrounds them. Technology is only making our self-involvement worse; with each new selfie stick that is sold, my heart dies a little. By the time my kids are my age, there will be literally no reason to leave the house. I desperately want my kids to know that turning outside of themselves to serve others will help solve whatever internal battles they are facing. I have found that to be true in my own life and have witnessed the same in many others. It’s remarkable.

At this point, you are probably thinking that I haven’t been overly specific about why I’m a Mormon – hope and a sense of community are the basic tenets of a lot of the world’s religions and say nothing specific about what sets the LDS faith apart from others. In this thought, you are correct.

The most important part of all of this, the reason why I’m a Mormon, is because it suits me.  Every principle, every facet, every directive resonates in my bones. I believe it. I love it. I trust it. This same feeling echoes through the minds and hearts of millions of church-goers around the globe, and not just LDS church-goers. This same conviction exists in millions of people in a variety of denominations.

I think that this is the miracle of belief – it unites people in ways that are beyond words. I’ve always felt that belief in something is exponentially better than belief in nothing; it causes us to be better people, to love harder, to think deeper and to have trust in things we may not be able to understand as of yet. It brings peace in trial, strength in struggle and hope for better things to come.

I’m a believer because it makes me better. I’m a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, an author. And I am a Mormon.

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