Saturday, March 30, 2013

We are a "happy family"...right?

Twice a year my church has a large televised conference teaching basic joyful life principles, especially about families. One conference was particularly terrific—until we actually involved our family. As we all listened to wise words, bickering, snickering, and outright contention were pretty much the modus operandi.
The apex came when one of the speakers said that the most important thing in life is our family. Just then our nine-year-old stood at the doorway of the room and announced, “I hate this family!” then slammed her bedroom door. We found out this outburst was completely justified because it had been about the design of a blanket fort and she had not been able to have it her way.
I thought about what the speaker had said. Did that mean we were doing it wrong because my children were being pills? Dealing with the matter at hand, we paused from watching the conference and talked with the girls (after a calming time out) about how the key to getting good things was behaving in a good way, etc., etc., etc. Ironically, not an hour later we enjoyed relative peace as the girls played in their blanket fort, the dog sighed contentedly, and I made a yummy big brunch with the hum of family chit chat surrounding me.
All was right with the world.
And it hit me—that’s a family. One minute you want to pull out your hair (or theirs), and the next you're roasting marshmallows and thinking how to make the moment last. So if there is some contention, a little door slamming, and some good old-fashioned sticking out of tongues, know that you're doing just fine.
Meanwhile, take a deep breath, give a hug, share a smile, and say something good about each family member as often as you can. They may not respond in kind but you will have set the tone. Families have stretching and growing pains, some stages lasting longer than others. So put on a smile, see the good in your stage, and move on with joy.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Only Eyes That Count

There is a huge difference between being good enough and being perfect. Those who are perfectionists have difficulty seeing that difference, unfortunately, and so they allow despair and discouragement to derail their progress. Why is this so?

While I have a touch of the perfectionist in me, I am not incapacitated by it. Long ago, I realized this journey toward perfection commanded by the Savior, would take eons, lasting well beyond this mortal life.

That is not to say that, as a mother, I haven't had, and don't still have moments in which I wonder "Am I good enough?" As I watch my son or daughter flounder and struggle over a life issue, I can't help but ask myself, "What kind of mother am I? Couldn't I have prepared them a little better for this?" It's interesting to me that, other than "Mother of the Year" competitions, there is no ranking system for parenthood. We have to rank ourselves.

Writing is a different matter. There are ranking systems and plenty of awards competitions that serve to pat certain writers on the back, while causing others to doubt their own ability. We have the oft-disputed 5-star ranking system on Amazon and Goodreads, allowing perfect strangers to weigh in on the fruits of our countless hours of creating, writing, plotting, and revision. An author friend recently put forth her own list of "Do's and Don't's" for readers when it comes to ranking a book. Many authors feel as she does, but not all. I, myself, reserve the coveted 5 stars for those books that impact me profoundly, causing me to think about its contents for at least a few days.

But her point is valid. Those rankings make a huge difference to authors, not only in terms of sales but in terms of self-esteem about their craft. If we get a 3-star review or (shudder) even less, we can't help but ask, "Am I not good enough?"

As we approach Easter Sunday, the day when we most celebrate Christ's atonement and resurrection, let's remind ourselves that all that the Savior suffered in Gethsemane was a powerful response to that question: "Am I good enough?" His answer: "Yes." He tried us in the balance and did not find us wanting. His sacrifice was for every single one of us. No, we are not perfect, but we are, all of us, most assuredly good enough.

And then He broke the bands of death so that we might have eons with Him to continue our pursuit of perfection.

When it comes to ranking ourselves--as mothers, as writers, in anything, really--we cannot afford to listen to others or, sometimes, even to our own inner doubts, for we "see as through a glass darkly." His are the only eyes that count.

Monday, March 25, 2013

40 Days with the Savior

40 Days with the Savior is an amazing inspirational book by Connie Sokol that helps prepare your mind, heart, and soul for the Easter Season, or any other time a person wants to become more like closer to Jesus Christ. The part I like best about the book is the thought provoking question she posts after each section. Connie shared the following excerpt from this new publication in her newsletter last week.



Mark 6:54-56

And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him . . . And ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard he was.

And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.

Maybe it's because I'm knee deep in raising seven children, ages nineteen to seven months, but I can see in this scripture that Jesus understands exactly how it feels to be a mother.

The scripture says that the people came straightway-meaning, as soon as they caught sight of his ship they ran to Him like bees to honey. And then they ran and told everyone else to bring all their sick because look, He's here, and He will heal you!

Have you, to some degree, felt like that as a mother-that someone is always needing you or touching you, wanting to be made whole, or at least wanting to get their homework question answered or school paper signed? Busy helping, women often don't have time to go to the bathroom when they need to-a truth I can attest to from almost twenty years of mothering.

Jesus knew how it felt to have people throng Him for His healing power. Can you imagine the energy it took for Him to do that amount of healing? And yet you don't hear in the scriptures of someone coming up and saying, "Sit down, take a rest. I'll come back tomorrow." No, it seems everyone wanted what they wanted, when they wanted it, without considering how the Healer was doing.

Sometimes mothers feel like that-a little used and taken advantage of. The endless cooking, cleaning, washing, and carpooling feels expected rather than appreciated. So on those days when a spouse's gratitude seems scarce and society's expectations high, remember that He gets it. He knows how it feels, and He relied on His Father to help provide the energy to do it. So can we.

Just for today, appreciate how the Savior gave and served without price or complaint, and how He looked to spiritual renewal in order to achieve it.

What is one way the Savior's life and example helps me be a better mother?

I highly recommend this book for meditation and devotional exercises.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Religious Addiction v. Religious Conversion

            My comments today are about the idea of “religious addiction,” how it is different from conversion, and why it is detrimental to society. I know it isn't about being a mom, or even really about being an author, but it's something I've thought a lot about and want to share. 
            Before I begin, I’d like to say that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe in the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith said is “the most correct of any book on earth,” and I believe that man will “get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Introduction of The Book of Mormon). Likewise, I believe the LDS religion is the most correct religion, and that man can get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other religion. It has brought joy into my life, and I enjoy sharing the Gospel with others who might also benefit from the joy I’ve found through the LDS doctrine.
However, while I believe in the everlasting Gospel, in God and His Son, and in modern day revelation, I still believe that my church is run by people, and people are not (and never will be) perfect. I believe God’s Word is totally correct, but I don’t think we necessarily have all of it right all the time, as imperfect beings. 
Therefore, I believe my church is the most correct church, if not the only church or moral philosophy that has any truth to offer. Everyone has lived different lives, believed different things, and been in different stages of spiritual growth throughout their mortal experience, and I truly believe that most people, whether they belong to my church, a different church, or no church at all, are just trying to be the best they can, whatever that means for them at that time.
And that is why I find it so horrifying that religious addiction exists. Religious addiction has been the source of persecution, genocide, war, and despair throughout history (consider the Crusades or the Middle East, which are NOT the only examples), and Latter-day Saints are not blameless. There are many out there who are addicted to their religion, not converted to it, and that saddens me greatly.
What is religious addiction, you ask? Well, Psychology Today says that “addiction is a condition that results when a person…engages in an activity that can be pleasurable but the continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.” Religious addiction is the same as any other addiction. You receive pleasure in the feeling you get when you serve others, or live righteously, or when you think ahead to the promised blessings if you follow God, but you do it because you think you must, or because you like how it feels, or because everyone else is doing it. Not because your heart has been changed.
I read an article in a Postmodern Literature class I took at BYU that outlines symptoms of religious addiction. It’s copyrighted by Paschal Baute, and it is adapted from When God Becomes a Drug, by Leo Booth. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the entire list, and you should look at it. But for my purposes today, I’d like to focus on the symptoms of religious addiction that cause people to belittle, persecute, be contentious toward, and judge anyone who doesn’t believe exactly as they do. I believe that religious addiction exists, and I believe that it is not the same as religious conversion.

  • …rigid [and] obsessive adherence to rules
  • Uncompromising judgmental attitudes: readiness to find fault or evil out there
  • Conflict and argumentation with science, medicine, and education
  • Progressive detachment from the real world, isolation and breakdown of relationships
  • Manipulating scripture or texts … claiming to receive special messages from God
  • Attitude of righteousness or superiority: "we versus the world," including the denial of one's human-ness.
The ultimate temptation of the believer is to assume that his or her way to God is the best or only way for others. The particular Way to God becomes what is adored, not [God himself].

            This list is filled with a lot of negative words: Rigid, obsessive, uncompromising, judgmental, conflict, argumentation, detachment, isolation, manipulation, denial—Now, take Christianity. None of those words describe Christ. We can’t be like Him, if this is what we are instead. Religious addiction results in a lack of love and respect for others, and it has harmed humanity.
Your way might not be the best and only way, so work on improving yourself, not on improving others. You can share your beliefs; you can have discussions, but don’t be self-righteous. Be open-minded, and accept the good in all religions and philosophies, while deciding for yourself what is true and what is not…for you. This will lead you to conversion, as well as keep you from addiction. One leads to positive behaviors and attitudes, the other to destructive ones.
            Man is that he might have joy. Find happiness in your conversion, and let it change your heart to make you a better person. If you’re grouchy, filled with guilt, or judgmental because of the religion you practice, then you probably are not converted. Maybe you’re even addicted. Let your fruits be charity, love, and kindness, not intolerance, superiority, or contention. What you do shows who you really are. Are you converted? Or are you simply addicted?

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Thursday, March 14, 2013


My father died 11 days ago. He suffered a severe head injury as the result of an accident and lay in a coma for 10 days before his 66-year-old body shut down. I was able to drive to Phoenix from my home in Southern California and sit with him and hold his hand before he died. My siblings gathered from the four corners to join the vigil, and then we planned and had the funeral together last Friday.

My father had 10 children, and my siblings and I represent as broad a spectrum of beliefs and opinions and political stances as you can possibly imagine. It was relatively easy for us to decide that we wanted the younger grandchildren to sing the Primary song "I Am a Child of God" as part of the memorial service. But coming to consensus on other music and words that would reflect Dad's rather eccentric life was a tricky dance. 

Then I had a flash of inspiration. I had used the Beatles song "Blackbird" at a very low point in my novel Dispirited. My character Rich sings it as an act of faith at a moment that is literally and figuratively dark--and he eventually finds his way through his difficulties.

I chose that song very consciously when I wrote the book. For me, "Blackbird" has always been about rising up out of despair, of doing the best one can with what one is given, and of taking a leap of faith "into the light of the dark, black night." My father had loved the Beatles. It seemed a perfect choice for the teenage grandchildren to sing as a gift to their grandfather's memory.

I downloaded a choral arrangement of the song, which my genius husband and equally genius cousin, Sam Cardon, were able to simplify in light of our lack of available rehearsal time. The musical number ended up being the highlight of the funeral service for me. To hear those young, pure voices united in singing words of hope comforted me in a way that is difficult to express. The memory of their performance continues to light up the dark for me. 

I'm home now, struggling to move on with my life even as I allow myself the space to mourn the loss of my father. Now, as I turn to my work in progress--a novel I'm almost finished revising--I realize that one of my characters loses her mother near the end of the story. I look forward to pouring my grief into the words that describe my character's loss; I can use my experience to make hers more real for my readers. 

It seems I'll travel full circle as I do so--having used something from my writing to help deal with reality, then mining a painful reality to deepen the emotional effect of my writing. "Everything is copy," said Nora Ephron, and she was right. All of our life's experiences--joyful and painful--can add wisdom and meaning to the stories we tell, if we have the courage and faith to let them. 

Paul McCartney was right, too. Grief has broken my wings, but I'll fly again. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Meditation on the Meaning of "Three Little Birds"

My mind has recently been changed on a technique for improving how a person thinks about and talks to themselves. In previous times I thought affirmations were silly. Standing in front of the mirror saying things about myself I didn’t believe felt like a lie and totally ridiculous. Every time I tried I would have “Cool Runnings” flash backs, and give the whole thing up as insane.
I was fortunate enough, however, to attend one of Leslie Householder’s classes at the American Night Writers Association’s Time Out for Writers conference. There were two game changing things that I took away from that class: 1. Faith (which I knew was any action word) can be applied as behaving as if the blessings in which we stand in need, have already been given to us, and 2. Write your affirmations down and read them every day.
The second change was such a, “duh, why didn’t I think of that,” alternative to a daily mirror narrative that I came home, and within the next two days had covered the wall next to my computer with half sheets of card stock that said things like, “I exercise every day,” and “I am a best-selling and beloved author!” Those papers are there every day conveying to me that my goals and dreams are reality in the formative stages, and one day I will able to say those things with verity and conviction.
The first idea, the one about faith, took a few days to digest. At first it seemed like the height of hubris to behave as if the Lord had already given you everything you want, but then I got to thinking about what the Lord can do. Which is everything. And if we really believe that the Lord can do all things, and if we are keeping our hearts in line with his will for us, then we can assume, based on his promises, that everything we need will be taken care of, that solutions to difficulties that arise will present themselves, and that while the Lord will allow us to meet with trials He is not their author.
Operating in this kind of paradigm also means looking at gratitude differently. If we are living as if the blessing to come are present already, then don’t we need to come to the Lord in gratitude for that which will be. It’s made my prayers take on a new quality. And as is typical to me, has added a whole new level of guilt to my tendency to worry and fret over everything. This morning I found this quotation from C. S. Lewis, “Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith, but they are afflictions, not sins.” I’ve always thought that having faith meant not worrying about most things, because you believed the Lord had a plan for you and everything would work out as long as you were doing your best. The story of Job doesn’t exactly jive with that notion. Anyway, Lewis goes on to say, “Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ.”
So I’m trying to breathe through the anxiety, read and live my affirmations, and let go of the guilt. Also humming, “Three Little Birds” helps. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Review of Forest Born by Shannon Hale

One of the things I have enjoyed the most as a mom is sharing good books with my children.  My children all have individual tastes, but there are certain authors we all love.  Shannon Hale is one of those.  We were introduced to her through The Goose Girl, the first of her Books of Bayern series which we read together and loved.  As we found Enna Burning and River Secrets, we developed favorites in the series.  My football playing, wrestling, shot putting, photographer son's favorite is The Goose Girl.  My football playing, weight lifting, piano prodigy son's favorite is Enna Burning,  My quiet, tennis, violin, piano and harp playing daughter liked River Secrets best but then she hasn't read Forest Born yet.  Personally, I don't have a favorite.  Like each of the children mentioned, each of the books has its own personality which I tried to highlight by pointing out some of my children's other interests (and to show that manly men like good books about girls, too).  Like my children, each book stands on its own and is lovable for its own personality.  Isi, Enna and Razo are in all of the stories, but each one is a different character's story.

Forest Born is the story of Razo's little sister Rinna.  The youngest in a family of seven children and the only girl, she is always in someone's shadow.  She mimicks her Ma and Razo because she loves and admires them but is she really herself?  She is quiet, helpful, dependable and undemanding until the day her world begins to change- Razo has grown up and leaves to make a life for himself.  Suddenly she is feeling things she had not before and something is changing inside of her.  She finds comfort and peace in the trees that surround her until Wilem comes along. She begins to worry that she has turned bad.  The trees have suddenly become distant even as they surround her and the tightness in her chest just won't ease. Rinna's story is not the dark and fiery action of Enna, or the brave and humorous story of her brother Razo or even the quiet, powerful, enduring story of Isi.  What I got out of Rinna's story, was courage and truth.  The ability to face the truth about ourselves and our choices and actions is a hard thing.  To accept that truth, forgive ourselves and find peace even harder.
I loved this book as much as I loved the others.  The story pulled me in, making a place for me.  I struggled along with Rin as she learned things about herself she would not have ever guessed and at first could not accept.  I hope I have also learned to see myself honestly for who I really am- all of it.

If you have never read any of these stories, I would highly recommend them.  I find lessons in most things I read, but I am weird that way. This book as the others before it is an engaging story filled with mystery, danger, treachery, and action.  Who knows maybe you will learn to talk to the wind, or fire or water or the trees or...    

Monday, March 4, 2013

Find Your Inner “Fun” Mom

The other day my children were being…let’s say, their ages. And I was being…let’s say, a seven-time, ancient-of-days mother with a newborn. After one more round of LOUD, OBNOXIOUS INTERACTIONS WITH THEIR SIBLINGS, I got the concept that they were bored and said, “Hey, let’s do a game!”

For the record, I did not feel like doing a game. But, I decided to take a dose of my own speaking-to-women medicine and do an impromptu Fifteen-minute Jar—a glass jar filled with little ideas of fun activities children can do in fifteen minutes (and hopefully draw out to an hour…or more).

I have to say, this worked like a charm. Better than a charm. Maybe even a whole charm school. Because we pulled out “Make a commercial” and it was like a lightning rod to their energy karma. I gave them some nearby props to choose from (as in a binky and a TV remote) and they went gang busters. They had ten minutes to create the commercial and then it was filming time with my iPhone.

You would have thought an Oscar was on the line.

The whole experience was utterly hilarious, and wonderful, and a stroke of genius from somewhere. I was able to sit on the bed nursing my not-so-little wubba now, and they were able to go at it and exhaust their hyperness, at least by a degree. After rehearsal, they performed, I filmed, we reviewed, and all agreed it was a total success. How can you go wrong with the Pester Zester Remote Zapper (a remote zapper for pesky younger sisters—and said sister was in agreement), and the Magic Baby Binky (magically makes the baby go to sleep). So successful were these initial runs that they pleaded (yes, pleaded) to do another one.

Knock yourselves out, said I.

So give in to your fifteen-minute side and encourage your kids to brainstorm some fun quick activities. At the very least, it gives you fifteen minutes of peace and quiet while finding, and appearing to be, the Fun Mom once again.

P.S. For Mommy Author blog followers ONLY, receive a FREE Life is Too Short for One Hair Color ebook when you purchase my new Life is Too Short for Linoleum (the above is an excerpt) for only $2.99 on!