Monday, October 20, 2014

I Like Anniversaries of Stuff

Sixteen years ago, today, on Ocotber 20th, 1998, Brandon proposed marriage to me. Obviously, I accepted! Here's our very 90's scrapbook page of the event:


(This was back in the day when taking selfies meant you just got what you ended up with! You couldn't see them until after you paid for the film to be developed. Which means, we had to be very good or very lucky!) 

Here's the link to the story of how it all went down. 

Analyzing Friendship or Reconciling Boundaries with Personality

I've been pondering about friendship, boundaries, and my strengths/weaknesses all weekend. For a background, dear reader (since very, very few people know), a friendship imploded on Friday. It had been pretty weak for months, but when this friend's family members started attacking me (and I'm still terrified they'll comment on this post with more foul language --thus the comment moderation), it was pretty much awful and the friendship was over. For now, anyway. I always hold out that bridges can be built again. Forgiveness works miracles. But before that happens, sometimes it's best to let it lie for a while. The most frustrating part, however, was that until a few days ago, I thought it was being repaired.


Still, this whole thing made me wonder: "Is it I?"

I'm not a stranger to imploding relationships. Not really romantic relationships (although I've had my fair share of those, but the last 16 years has been full of Brandon, and that is a very good thing), but mostly friendships. And it's been hard not to think that I'm the reason they didn't last. Because what else is the common denominator, dear reader?

Sure, I have my reasons why they didn't last. And the truth is, friendships are meant to ebb and flow throughout life. Some of my dearest friends from long ago I rarely speak to (Christmas letters, birthdays), but we still feel a kinship that will never die. Some have just kind of faded with the wind... nobody's fault, no hard feelings, they just go. Some become acquaintances, some stay acquaintances, while the thing we have the most in common is mutual respect. Other friendships face incredibly tough trials and pain, but come through it stronger for it.

I spent a lot of time praying for answers and praying for the friend I mentioned at the beginning. Truth is (and you can disbelieve me all you want), I actually spend a lot of time praying for the friends and family who are no longer a part of my life. Just because our relationships have become toxic does not mean I hate them. In fact, I actually dislike very few people. I think what it comes down to is boundaries. Some boundaries mean I limit my interaction. Some boundaries mean I have access to express how I feel or how they have hurt me. Other boundaries mean complete silence/inaccessibility. And the more I prayed about it, the more comfort I received that sometimes (like in the current situation), silence is just best.

One friend said this to me (I'm not quoting her accurately or word for word, but this is the gist): "As a friend, I will be loyal. I will be loyal throughout all the hard times and I'll stand by you. But when you turn and attack me, then I'm done." It's honestly all about those boundaries! One can forgive the attacker without continuing to allow themselves to be attacked.


So as I was pondering over my life (I honestly even thought back to high school), I realized that most of the time, I was limiting contact and setting up boundaries to protect myself, but I've not always been very good at it. There's only been one incidence where I feel it was my fault for not just keeping quiet (and it was a doozy and happened several years ago). But I've decided that I can't dwell on these things. I make mistakes. Sometimes I make really big mistakes. Don't you, dear reader? Don't you find yourself making mistakes and saying horrible things to people without realizing it, or without meaning to? Do you ever find yourself crossing over other people's boundaries and hurting them, intentional or not?


Interestingly enough, Elder Cook said something that pricked my conscience. He said:


I know he was talking about how we disagree politically or religiously, but it can apply to friendship. Honestly, this is one of my hardest weaknesses to overcome. I'm not very sensitive to disagreements and I seem to long for friendships and companionships that reflect similarities in beliefs. But when it comes to friendship, shouldn't this counsel be so easy to follow? Shouldn't we all agree that the biggest concern is how we follow Christ? Yes, it should. Unfortunately, it's an every-continuing path that has not been fulfilled. How could it? We're mortal and we're going to mess up, thus needing Christ. This doesn't make Elder Cook's admonition untrue --it means we all have work to do. Well, at least I have work to do.

I remember, once, being screamed at by a friend who was guilty of being caught engaging in immoral activities late at night. The one who walked in on her was not reprimanded --I was. I remember how unfair that situation was, that I was the one being attacked over and over again, simply because I was the one brave (stupid?) enough to take it. I remember in college being treated horribly by a hurting roommate (whom I still love), and I hid my own knowledge of the awful thing she had done as to not hurt her feelings. I remember being the one to go to a friend who had decided, in one fell swoop, to eradicate her friendship from an entire group of close friends. I was the only one brave enough (calloused enough? Stupid enough? Blunt enough? Rude enough?) to confront her. I remember being attacked and complained about behind my back my ward members because I wasn't doing my calling "right." I have been the "middle-man" between friends, trying to resolve it for all of us. I remember losing the respect/friendship of some of my husband's extended family because I decided to call a spade a spade and confront situations that felt unfair and unfeeling. I remember that after burning one friendship to the ground and then carefully rebuilding it, I again confronted a hurtful situation and again the relationship was torn apart. 

Each of these would paint a picture, if I allow it, of a very mean-spirited and broken woman (i.e. me) and you, dear reader, would easily assume I was a horrible person. I have been called horrible things by many people. I have been mocked a lot, and I have been made fun of most of my life. I am still the butt of many old jokes (because "I can take it"), and I can give you examples of how I have been the fall-guy for many relationship situations simply because I have cared enough to try: from bullies in 6th grade, to well-meaning but teasing family members, to vicious attacks from strangers for what I write on this blog, to being the person accused of poisoning the minds of mutual friends and, again being the fall guy.

I don't tell you this, dear reader, to illicit pity or sorrow. I honestly don't want it. Please don't placate me, because that's not what I'm searching for. I'm writing this out because that is how I work through my feelings/thoughts, and because it is what it is. This is my attempt to figure out why this keeps happening to me. The pain is excruciating at times. And for a long time, I could not reconcile my personality and strengths of honesty (transparency?) with friendships because to me, they were always at odds with each other. No matter how delicate I approach a situation, my intentions are not always easy to decipher. I struggle with a lot of things, but I don't think I ever realized how much I struggle with friendship. And you, dear reader, might wonder, "well, then, why doesn't she just keep her mouth shut?" I have tried, dear reader. But for some reason, the honesty and can't-be-a-hypocrite gene runs deeply in the makings of my very soul. I'm getting better at silence, but I'm still a pro at just speaking my mind. 


I did have a thought, though, and a friend once told me this: "You care too much, Cheryl. You get involved to deeply." Perhaps. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing, although learning about boundaries is truly helping me to know when to get in deep and when to stay on the surface. Maybe if I didn't care so much, it wouldn't happen so often. Ha! That sounds ridiculous, though, and such a contradiction: "perhaps if you didn't care so much, people wouldn't be so mean to you." Well, there could be truth in that, because if I didn't care, it wouldn't affect me. But it always does. It always affects me deeply. 

So, dear reader, how do you go about setting up boundaries and maintaining friendships? When have you known it was time to let go or to stay and work it out? When have you felt the need to protect yourself or confront hurtful behavior? Have you ever made a mistake that cost you a friend? 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Blerg

Things making me really sad right now: 

*I just found out that a man whom I loved and admired passed away from cancer a month ago and I didn't even know he was sick. He lived in our ward in Provo, and I blame myself for not knowing, but I'm also so frustrated that nobody thought to tell us. I feel just sick inside that I lost the chance to tell him good-bye in this life and that I didn't realize he was gone.

*Another man in our Provo ward passed away this week, just a few weeks shy of his 100th birthday. He and his wife are my heroes in so many ways (his wife was such a dear friend), and just knowing that I'm not there to mourn with his wife and my friends is so hard for me.

*I have been deeply hurt by passive aggressive public flogging of me and my dearest friends for just doing what we truly thought friendship meant, where now the only option we have is silence (and yes, I realize this sentence is it's own form of passive-aggressiveness, but I honestly have been painted into a corner and can do nothing else. This mentioning of it is probably already too much and shows my immaturity).

*Making difficult (but not horrible) life decisions.

*Turning completely into a night-owl from my previous early-morning persona, which means the mornings where I only have one child are spent puttering around the house. And online. And watching episodes of Gilmore Girls. Instead of cleaning the house.

*My messy house.

*No energy to clean said house.

*Very little emotional support.

*#3's push-back on school (he'd do awesome if there was no writing or homework required. And the homework is actually not unreasonable and writing is a must in this world).

*Guilt about... everything.

Things making me happy right now: 

*Autumn

*Sunshine and Autumn

*Making good friends in the ward

*The scriptures

*A house, food in the fridge, cars that run, education for my kids, clothes, shoes, books, washing machines, dishwashers, heat, blankets, socks, friends I can count on, medicine, movies, Gilmore Girls, Jane Austen, beautiful children, sleep, and herbal tea.

*Knowing that even though the sad and hard is really sad and hard, I can do sad and hard things. Maybe not all at once, and maybe not right away, but I can still do them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Under Construction (Not the Blog. Me!)

It wasn't the best day, today. I'm not surprised. I just came off of a wonderful week with my husband and a spectacularly spiritual and peaceful Sunday. I mean, the kids and I even worked on their Faith in God booklets! (Well, #2 and #3 and I, although #1 did some personal progress, too.) FHE last night was  hit! We had such a great time (#3 taught the lesson on the Word of Wisdom and we played Apples to Apples and also practiced the song we're singing as a family in Sacrament Meeting in a few weeks.)

So, of course, I needed some kind of opposition, eh? I call it the Moses Phenomenon. And I should blog about what that is, sometime...


Let's see... I was down for the count during the morning. Incredibly joint pain along with exhaustion meant I needed to rest and that also meant #6 was on the iPad for way too long (he mostly watched "Animal Mechanicals," and that's educational TV, so, we're calling it a win, today). It also meant I spent the day in yoga pants (don't I often?). I was overwhelmed by some frustrations and consistent disappointments I'm facing in my life right now, and so emotionally, I was drained. Well, hormones don't help that, either. Go figure.

I got in a yelling fight with my oldest before she left for YW's tonight. That was lovely. Especially considering all the wonderful things she did (play with her brothers, start the laundry, help with dinner). Blerg.


I was so tired and gross-looking that I drove to the bus stop, and then on a whim, went through the drive-through at Chic-Fil-A for lunch with the boys to compensate for driving 100 yards down the street. I'm glad I didn't look super gross, too, because the person taking my money at the window was a young man who lives in our ward!

The news today was depressing, seeing child-killers and everyone trying to play God with fertility and suicide. More death, more disease, more problems in the world... The bills keep coming, the kids keep fighting, my struggle to get above pettiness and negativity feels inadequate at best...

I read more blog posts about how to be better mother and homemaker; I read other posts about how to just let it all go. Neither of them made me feel good today. I was annoyed with everything and everyone online. Angry Birds was the only thing that sounded reasonable, today!

When my husband walked in the door from work, he kissed me and then laughed as I was stirring up the end of dinner.
"Honey, I'm sorry, but this is too funny. You are barefoot, pregnant, and... stirring macaroni and cheese."
He laughed. Normally I'd laugh, too.
I said, "You can go back to work, now."
So he kissed me again, hugged me, and did the dishes. (Smart man!)


The house is a mess. Absolutely trashed. The oldest three are with their dad at the church for various activities and the younger three are with me. The table hasn't been cleared, yet, the rest of the dishes need to be finished, the laundry needs to be hung, and all I want is to be hiking (okay, maybe just sitting down somewhere) on Mt. Timpanogos in Utah.

I have no idea why, but I received a random magazine in the mail today that talks about the West Coast. Beaches, mountains, my old vacation spots, the Bay Area where we used to live (San Francisco is my favorite city next to London. Seattle comes in third). I think it was a cruel hoax, since I'm feeling so homesick right now. Don't get me wrong, PA is beautiful, but I crave my mountains. I crave REAL mountains with snowy peaks and jagged rocks and pines and aspens and elevation extremes. I long for the scent of that mountain air, along with sagebrush in the rain (so heavenly!), and the wind sweeping down the Snake River Valley. I want to know where North is just by looking at the mountains!

Gratefully, autumn is gloriously red and yellow and orange, here, and there are still plenty of leaves yet to fall. This means it will last a bit longer! The weather is absolutely perfect, too. 60's to 70's and holding!

Also, gratefully, I know these kinds of days do not last. They come and go, they arrive eventually, but they are like the wonderful days: just days that pass. It's trying to convince my brain of this truth that becomes the trick. I'm not sure if this is a Down Day or just a regular ol' bad day. I'm kind of praying it's a Down Day because that means I am so much better than I have been this past year. My last big Down Day was two months ago! TWO MONTHS! Dear reader, this is a beautiful and epic thing! My Down Days were 4-5 days a week for nearly 4 months... now it's only 1-2 days every 2 months?? I'll take it!!


You know, I won't always be so focused on my mental illness. I won't always have to struggle with it the way I do now. I won't always be pregnant. I won't always be obese. I won't always have tiny little children begging for my time. I won't always have a constantly messy and demanding household. Everything passes. Time runs on, and even though my kids feel it goes so slow, I look at their eyes and realize they know more than they did yesterday. One day they will remember how much easier it was being a child than an adult, and they, too, will see the passage of time begin to speed up with such... quiet relentlessness.


So, time goes on, the bad days and the good days meld together, my life keeps going, and optimism and strength will win out in the end. I'm fighting fierce battles, dear reader. Battles in my brain chemistry, battles against evil for my soul, battles against the information that could define my children if I let it. I'm a warrior, you know. And just writing all of this down has helped so much; I'm feeling much better...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Orlando Getaway

Brandon and I went to Orlando, FL this past week!

We originally had planned to take all of the kids, but a few months ago we decided we needed a few days together, instead. It also fit our budget better. Thanks to our awesome babysitter (Sis A. from our ward), we were able to have a great time!

Wednesday:
We flew down (via Boston), attended the fireside the BYU football team held (they do this every night before a game --it's all focused on the gospel and what matters the most to them, which is Christ!), and had dinner at a really cool restaurant that serves just appetizers.

Thursday:
We went to the Temple! We attended a session in the morning and it was wonderful. We took our time, and aside from rude remarks from people ("are you sure you're not having twins?? You're not due until February!?! You look like you're going to give birth next week!!" Sigh... Lovely, right? Why do strangers think it is somehow common courtesy to comment on the large-ness of one's life-giving womb?), it was such a peaceful time.



Then we went to the BYU vs. UCF football game! Holy huge campus! Apparently they are the largest university in the country (over 70,000 students). We spent some time at the BYU tailgate party, met some nice people from Idaho (who are related to me!), held alligators(!) and enjoyed a really exciting game. It was full of incredible highs and lows, and although we lost (still questioning that last play and the lack of a holding call from the refs), we had a great time.






Friday:
We got up early and went to Disney World! Yep! The kids aren't very happy with us, but oh, well. It reminded me of when we went to Disneyland on our honeymoon! I wore the wrong shoes (although my Chacos are usually perfect for this kind of thing) and ended up in a lot of pain by the end of the day (but a soak in the tub back at the hotel helped a lot). Still, it was a fabulous day! What is it about Disney? It's so clean, organized, efficient, fun, magical, and happy. The happiest place on Earth! Okay, actually, when I think about it, the Temple is much happier, but you know what I mean. :) The whole time we were there we kept commenting that "the kids would love this!" and "wouldn't this be great for the kids?" so we are seriously considering figuring out a way to get our kids down there sometime. It's been 8 years since we took our kids to Disneyland, and since they still talk about it (well, the girls are the only ones who remember), we know it's a vacation they would really love. It's only a day's drive for us, so it might just work! We'll have to wait and see. (Plus, #2 can't stop talking about wanting to see Harry Potter World at Universal Studios, so, who knows...)


















Saturday:
We flew home, again via Boston. We came home to a clean house and very happy children. Our babysitter was amazing! We then watched a movie with the kids and jumped right back into our routine. Sunday was so busy (music rehearsals, potluck, talks, and meetings).

It was a wonderful few days alone together, and aside from all the walking, it was relaxing, too.

Where have you gone with your spouse, lately? Or a long time ago? Or are you planning a trip, soon? 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Hello, Glorious October!

It's Autumn! It's Autumn! Pennsylvania is in full Autumn! Well, not quite full. Apparently it takes a bit of time. I'm not used to 6-8 weeks of glorious Fall! Usually it's only 3-4 weeks (in Idaho/Utah) and by October, it's over. It's just getting started, here! I'll need to take a million photos and share them with you soon-ish.



Things making me sad, lately: 

*People losing their testimony of the gospel and leaving the Church. How they place the blame on others for their own choices to leave (the list of reasons are very long). How quickly they change and begin behavior they would never have thought of doing before, now that they have all this "freedom." Watching it happen is hard and brings up all kinds of past feelings of when I saw it happening years ago to others I love.

*The Supreme Court being cowards and not just making a decision on the gay marriage issue and instead letting things drag out in different states until it's finally legal everywhere. Sigh... Gay marriage being legal everywhere. Inevitable, I know. Frustrating, though. I know people will disagree with me on this, but it doesn't change how I feel. I'm not angry about it, just... sad. The voice of the people has been shut down, not to mention what this does to individuals eternally. Religious and Voter rights are now a joke. And I have lost respect for the Supreme Court. I'm also nervous about what this means for public school education in the future.

 *My ribs are pulling apart even more during this pregnancy; I may need to find a chiropractor soon. They've always had a hard time due to my large babies and my incredibly short torso, but I don't remember feeling this separating pain this early in a pregnancy before.

*The let-down of real life and all of the worldly crud after the spiritual high of General Conference.

Things making me very happy, lately: 

*General Conference! And the realization that everything that was taught this last weekend was meant to give strength and resolve to people of God to withstand all of the scary wickedness in the world.

*Autumn!

*The breakfast Brandon made for all of us yesterday morning (it was a feast of deliciousness!)

*Sweater weather (I love to wear cardigans)

*My cold is finally dissipating and #6 is also feeling much better. Only a bit of hacking left!

*Accomplishing in giving our wiggly, screamed-at-the-salon-and-so-they-couldn't-even-do-it two year old a haircut this morning! He's a cutie:






*Learning to be confident in who I am (even more than before) and not worry about other's issues; not making their issues my own --especially when they are not under my stewardship.

*Talking to one of my BFF's on the phone today for 2 hours.

*Looking forward to a quick get-away trip for Brandon and I later this week! And grateful we have an incredible babysitter.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Preparing for General Conference October 2014

I posted this to Instagram and Facebook:

It's a beautiful Fall Friday and I'm getting everything ready for General Conference tomorrow! Next up: clean the whole house and bake yummy treats! #ldsconf #pennsylvania #sharegoodness

The request for where I got my ideas has multiplied (to 3 people!) and so I decided to just put the links to what I used right here.

(Just FYI: General Conference is tomorrow! For two days, we get to hear real Prophets and Apostles of Jesus Christ teach us. It's a worldwide event, broadcast via satellite, some TV stations, and the Internet. I look forward to this every six months and we have tried to make it a priority in our family. Our kids look forward to it, too! It's pretty much our favorite holiday experience next to Christmas and Halloween.)

I don't always do the same thing every six months. So, this is just what I'm doing this time and although I got most of my ideas from these websites, I tweaked them all to fit my family dynamic.

General Conference Wall: 
This is where you put up the photos of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on a wall in the living room. I gave all the kids their own sticky notes, and they take notes or draw pictures  during that particular leader's talk. Then they stick their note to their picture. Immediate collection of notes to review at FHE next week and in the future!

Where I got the idea:
Cranial Hiccups (formerly Chocolate on my Cranium)
We Talk of Christ We Rejoice in Christ 
Hand Full and Loving It (She has other great ideas, too!)

I give the kids their own baskets (you could use folders or buckets or bowls or whatever) and provide a pen, pencil, crayons for the younger kids, notecards (the big kids use them for note-taking, the younger kids for drawing pictures) and then I put in their sticky notes and their "packets."

In the past, I've provided big, thick, packets that ended up... not used. So, I've reduced it significantly. The older kids take their own notes, anyway, so the less I give them, the better. What I've included this time and the links to where I got them:

Picture find

Word hunt

Word search and Crossword puzzles

I honestly found most of my ideas right here.

Then I bake! This weekend I'm making pies (peach and cream pies), chocolate pumpkin treats, cinnamon rolls, rolls, and I'll let the kids have a few treats I usually don't buy (their favorite candy). Dinners will include crockpot soups and a Mexican Feast.

Now, if I can just get the house all clean, we can enjoy tomorrow a bit more!

HAPPY GENERAL CONFERENCE WEEKEND! 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Just Some More Navel-Gazing Musings, Not Much More

The kids have left for school. I'm listening to Schubert, looking out my window at the dissipating mist. Leaves have fallen in the yard; the vines that twist and cover our trees are now aflame with bright red. Birds fly from branch to branch and the geese have already flown overhead to stop at the nearby lake to rest. There are breakfast dishes (and dinner dishes) to be washed, the 2 year old still sleeps, and rather than join the land of the living, I am comfortable under a fleece blanket as I type. 

I can't forget to have breakfast today. Yesterday, I forgot to have lunch. For my growing baby, these are not good habits to adopt. For my already obese body, unintentionally cutting a few calories won't hurt me. Or my growing daughter, for that matter. The ultrasound is tomorrow and I pray they will only find good things. 

Sickness is finally leaving our home; I spent the weekend bedridden with a virus that threatened all of my mental faculties. It attached itself to others, and my husband slept most of yesterday fighting it off. I cannot hear out of my left ear --I'm hoping to get rid of the blockage before it becomes an infection. I still can't breathe well, but asthma does that to a person, regardless of illness. 

Yesterday, after school, I was reminded again about the difficulty of managing a large family. Each one needs me and I only have one voice and two hands. It's a delicate dance. I answered questions while reading to the Kindergartner and I signed forms as I reminded others of math worksheets. In my weakened state, I gave out chore assignments and felt only a flicker of guilt when dinner was delivered pizza. 

I read a lot. All day long, I'm reading novels for me, children's books for them, articles in the news, articles on parenting, I grab a speech or talk from Prophets and Apostles and listen as I make meals or clean rooms. Most of what I read is good. I am careful to weed out the vulgar, the depressing, the sensational, the gossip, or the overly-political. I search for knowledge, but only truth. When I read opinions, I am open to their thoughts, and as I attempt to refrain from criticizing, I find myself thinking, "this has all been said before. And it will be said again." (insert laugh, here)

I am months behind on organization and deep-cleaning. The feral monster, Nesting, is clawing at the doors and will be let in soon for more than just a temporary afternoon. Frustration fills me as I rest, trying to recover from my illness, but I know I need patience. 

Ha! Patience! That ever-present need and teacher, the one who wraps me and folds me into a suffocating cocoon, gently trying to remind me that no matter how much I struggle, the answers won't come right away, the decisions to be made won't happen overnight, and God, although aware of every fiber of my soul, won't just give the truth to me without effort on my part. I attempt to relax against the natural woman who is pounding at the door, begging to let things be easier, to let life be less exhausting, to have the answers and joy and everything just finally given to her on a beautiful plate of English bone china. And even as my natural woman knocks and knocks and pounds and pounds, there is that spark of illumination that tells me, "If you would calm down, you might find what you are looking for." 

My kids yell and fight and I know it is a result of my yelling and fighting. Where do they learn these words? These phrases? These horrible sentences uttered in anger and frustration and impatience? Ah, that would be me. I see memes and quotes and articles on the necessity of being a good example to children. I read about successful mothers who have eradicated all yelling and spanking and have happier children and homes. As I read them I feel the tug of depression and despair because I try their methods and I fail. One. Right. After. The. Other. Failure is a constant in my life. I hear, "apply the Atonement of Christ!" and I try. I try. I pray and I give and I attempt silence and soft speech and I do my best. And then I fail again. And again. Who are these women who eradicate sin so easily and access the Atonement as if it were an item they could pick up and examine with all-seeing eyes? 

I am reminded of faith. Faith is my rock and my anchor, and faith has steadied me through all of these years of failure and pain. I have faith in Christ, I have faith in His love for me. I have faith that patience and perfection will come; but I worry that my faith in the process wavers constantly. Do I have enough faith to see it through? To get through this rough time? To conquer the demons that would so easily beset me and overcome me with their darkness and evil glee? 

There is always something to conquer and to overcome. As I age, I feel I am adding to the list more and more. Time is not my friend, and with each passing year, I feel the urgency to adjust my sail and get back on course. Physical health, mental health, emotional health, spiritual health... each one is needed, each one is slightly ignored in order to placate another; balance is a constant struggle. In some ways, a battle. 

I remember once, last year, before conceiving the baby (another act of faith), wondering what it would feel like to let the physical go. To give up. To decide that obesity was for me. For two seconds, I felt relief, and then after those seconds were over, I realized it was not an option. To continue on the path of physical self-destruction I had created for myself was to end up more afraid, more sick, more immobile, more incapable of doing all of the things that need to be done --as a mother, as a wife, as Cheryl. I have climbed mountains! I have swam in oceans! I have hiked through valleys and deserts and forests! I have carried children in my womb and on my back. I have nursed their stomachs and their souls. My body needs to be in a state of health so I can carry my grandchildren. So I can hike mountains with my husband. So I can swim in oceans until I am weathered and white. [But let's go back to those two seconds when I felt relief. In those seconds, I also learned something great about myself: I have moved past the myth that my worth is dictated by my appearance and my size. I am worthy of joy, intimacy, love, friendship, kindness, respect, admiration, and comfort, no matter my physical appearance.] 

The truth is, I do not have to run marathons or win races or model or have perfect skin in order to have a healthy body capable of what I desire. I only need to put in some effort.

And there's the operative word again. Effort. Diligence. Try. Work. Elbow grease. Yes, Grace covers what I cannot accomplish --but that doesn't mean I get to sit around and do nothing. Learn nothing. Experience nothing. I still need to create effort, for how else can I learn? 

Baby steps, dear reader. I have been an optimist all of my life. The last few years have threatened to derail that part of my personality and I refuse to give it up. I face big struggles, many which I make public, some which I do not. All together, it means life is not simple, nor was it meant to be. But I do know one thing: even as I struggle with my understanding of the Atonement and even though I keep banging against these crosses I have been asked to carry, I have my faith. And my faith is strong. And my faith has always seen me through. Fear and Fools may mock, but they will learn: Faith in Christ is the only thing that will get me through all of this, through my life, through the pain. And yes, sometimes He says, "take some asthma and depression meds, woman!" and so I do. Sometimes He says, "give up your outside desires and focus on your family" and so I do. And sometimes, He even says, "you need to carry this for a while. But I'll be next to you the whole time." I know this, that no matter what comes my way, no matter what new things I'm asked to face, He is always there for me and only a sigh away. He is only a step between despair and joy. 

And I love Him for it all. 


Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday Ramblings. And Stuff.

I am the RS meeting coordinator in our ward. Most people don't know what this means, and so I just say, "you know, the homemaking/enrichment leader" and they go, "Ohh! Yeah! Okay." 

We just had our big Super Saturday (Christmas crafts, food, a great service project) and I'm really glad it's over. There are still details to tie up, but they are minimal compared to the work and stress of putting it together. I don't have a committee, but the women in our ward are pretty amazing with helping out, so it was a smashing success! The RS presidency really wanted to do a Super Saturday because they hadn't had one in over a decade (I think?). So, I tried to make it as streamlined and simple as possible (for the sisters and for my sanity. That last part was important). Here's a photo of all the crafts we did: 


We did: 
*Advent books (covered in Christmas material, with a scripture, song, and story for each day in December leading up to Christmas). 
*Sock snowmen (rice-filled socks, tied off with string, with beads, buttons, material, and sticks to decorate).
*JOY blocks (simple blocks painted, papered, with stickers for the letters, and then covered in mod podge).
*Necklaces (cream and crystal beading with different colors of ribbon). 

We sewed pajama bottom for an orphanage in Russia (a sister in our ward lived there for a number of years and helps the orphanage whenever she can. It's called a handicapped orphanage --the kids there end up living there for life). 

And lastly, we had a brunch with Christmas breakfast foods. 

It was a great day! I'm so grateful for all the people who were willing and able to help. I'm hoping next year will be a bit better attended and more will participate. 

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Within the last two months, we've had three ward presidencies re-organized: Young Women, Primary, and Relief Society. Gratefully, I still have my two calling (RS mtng coordinator, and RS pianist). I owe Brandon's calling in the Bishopric to keeping me out of a stressful leadership calling and I'm very grateful at this point in my life! Maybe in another 2 or 3 years I will be ready to do more... (And I just realized this could make it look like I was hoping or expecting a leadership calling! But, dear reader, I can assure you that I was not!)

(Although I did just accept an assignment from the music chairperson to write the whole Sacrament Meeting Christmas Program. Felt like home to me! I adore music callings, I adore organizing musical programs. Still not sure if saying, "yes" to do it was the right answer or not, though...)

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Another sign I am getting better: I don't give into the temptation to wallow and sit around in the mornings. From January to May (2014), each morning, after getting the kids off to school, I would let the boys play on the iPads or watch TV pretty much all day and I would sit around and wallow. Of course, I didn't really have much of a choice. I was barely able to muster up enough strength to get them into clothes outside of their pajamas and get myself dressed. I was surviving, and it was hard. 

I did have a few days like that this summer, but they started to become fewer and further in between. 

And now, since the start of this school year, after I get the kids off to school, more often than not, I am able to do whatever needs to be done... and I do it without anger or malice or frustration. Today I was able to start a load of laundry, do the dishes, wipe off the counters, shower, and dress in something that makes me feel pretty, as well as get #6 dressed and fed, and send off a few important emails --all before 9AM! This is big for me, dear reader. 

And just FYI --no, I usually don't have to do the dishes in the morning. The big kids do their kitchen chores each evening, but Sundays kind of get lazy around here (for everyone!) and so Monday mornings mean I have a bit more to do around the house. And I'm okay with that. 

This afternoon we have planned a playdate with some new friends. #5 made a good friend at school, and so his mom and I have coordinated and we're all meeting at the park after lunch. This morning, as I was getting ready, I was so tempted to cancel. My anxiety meeting new people here has been hard to overcome, especially since I feel like such a minority (just religion and large-family wise). But, now that I'm up and showered, I'm not as worried, anymore. It'll be fun and I'll be fine. 

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Trying to get over hurt words from strangers is hard. I don't think I will ever get used to it. It feels like it's coming out of left field, a sucker punch when you weren't looking. And when it's your character and motives they attack, without knowing who you are? Ugh. Just hard. Can forgiveness still happen while you feel the left-over sting? I honestly want to know.

It reminded me of my friend who received a mean and shameful letter from an anonymous neighbor who reprimanded them for not keeping their small farm's yard mowed. My friend's mower had been broken for most of the summer, and they did the best they could. She was absolutely mortified about the letter, but it taught her something great. You can read about it in this blog post

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Last night, Brandon decided to do a spur-of-the-moment bon fire. I love the smell of campfire, and it was so lovely to sit out there, but holy cow, mosquitos, go away! It's Autumn, now, didn't you know? 


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My brother and SIL blessed their baby girl over Labor Day weekend. (They live in northern California.)  It's so hard to be so far away from all of family, especially when I see all of my nieces and nephews growing up so quickly! Here's a photo of their beautiful family: 


And I just did the count! When my baby girl is born, my parents will have 17 grandchildren. Pretty awesome, since they only had four kids! 

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The Washington D.C. Temple is closed for maintenance, so we're going to try to get to the Manhattan temple this weekend. I hope it works out! I haven't been to the temple since May and I miss it a lot. It puts everything into perspective for me --the point of life. The point of families, the point of Jesus Christ. I'm grateful for the covenants I have made. I know they make me stronger and help me withstand the pain and trials that come my way.

And honestly, I could dwell so easily upon all of that pain. I have, before. Financial problems, my chronic health conditions, raising a big family, marriage struggles, extended family issues, loneliness, and then my mental illness (which I could have included in my chronic health issues, but I'm talking about my others ones). Mortality is hard. But it's hard enough facing it with Christ, the Holy Ghost, and covenants --I can't imagine facing it without those things. 

(From our 15th wedding anniversary trip in January 2014)

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Last thought (I promise): 

Friday, September 19, 2014

When Self-Esteem Equals Selfishness

I have spent a lot of time in therapy over the years and trying to figure out how to take care of my mental illness (depression and anxiety). The over-arching consensus amongst professionals seem to be summed up in these few words:

"Take Care of Yourself"

Pinterest and FB and even Instagram are full of sound bites and memes that absolutely agree. From "it's not selfish to think of yourself" to "you can't help others until you put on your own oxygen mask," I've seen how the social ideology is to focus on the self in order to serve others.

I tried this concept for a long time. Because it seems to make sense. In a way, it does. But the fine line gets crossed over too frequently and it's hard to find it, anymore.

Time away from home, time away from the kids, time to myself, focus on me, saying "no" to everything stressful, serving myself before others, taking the time to analyze every feeling and thought and wrestling with it and wringing it out and spending hours telling all my closest friends and family (sister, mom) about all of it... I have done the "me" thing. I have done the "it's not selfish to put yourself first" thing.

And guess what, dear reader? It's not true. It doesn't work.

Truth is, it's not been helping me at all. Whenever I focus on myself like this, I tend to get quite a bit worse. People want to be around me less. I'm more ornery. My depression lasts longer. My therapist doesn't understand why I refuse to give into it beyond the "you cannot run faster than you have strength." (Mosiah 4:27), But, dear reader, I can't give into it. Why?

Well, thanks to a friend for sharing a speech ("The Doer of Our Deeds" by M. Catherine Thomas), as well as some serious reflection and meditation and prayer over this, I have learned some very important things. Here's what I've surmised:

First: There are no positive references to self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-love in the scriptures. Anywhere. If it's referred to, it's referred to as something to STOP doing. All you will find will be like unto what I linked to up there (the Mosiah scripture). Wisdom and order, yes, but that's a no-brainer. I need to eat and sleep and take a shower! I need to read and relax and laugh and breathe. I need to be nice to myself and talk with friends and date my husband. I need to realize I'm doing better than I think I am and see things the way God sees them. But sometimes, there is not enough time in the day to choose both me and the kids. So, who wins? The kids or me? The husband or me? The neighbors or me? Which do I choose as I'm making millions of tiny choices every minute of the day? If I choose others instead of me, am I making a horrible mistake? The world says I am making a mistake, but I don't buy it.

Second: Christ taught us to serve others. Sacrifice. Put God, Him, and others first. "He who loses his life shall find it" (Matthew 10:39). Christ is the epitome of selfless service, and He has asked us to follow Him and to be like Him. He knows that if we do, we will be more happy than we can even imagine. Is it easy? No way. It takes a lifetime to practice and understand, and without His help, we just can't do it.

Third: Taking the time to serve others, especially those under my stewardship (i.e. my husband and children, those under my calling, those I visit teach), and seeing it as a privilege instead of a frustration or burden, has done better things for my brain than taking the time to serve myself ever did.

Fourth: Two things seem to create guilt --Sin and Satan. Sin causes guilt because we know what we've done is wrong, and the Holy Ghost is prompting us to repent. Satan causes guilt because he's a big jerk-face and the more we listen to him, the worse we feel. I have found that if I take the time repent and ignore Satan (or just tell him to get the heck outta here), I am much, much happier.

I've learned that serving others is infinitely more important than focusing on "me." Our society has become so self-possessed and I honestly think it's caused a lot more harm than good.

Example!

Once, when Brandon was out of town, I had to take the kids to finish cleaning up the church. It was our assigned Saturday and because Brandon knew he would be out of town, he and #1 (and others) did a lot of it after mutual on Tuesday (good man!). I had told some of the other families that they didn't need to help because there wasn't much left (I thought?!) and I had to do it really early (long story, but it has to do with dropping off my mutual-aged daughter for a stake YW thing). Anyway, I arrived with the kids. I was so mad at Brandon. Angry that he wasn't there to help us, angry #1 wasn't there to help us, angry that I was up so early with so many kids to clean a big church, angry because I was tired and pregnant... just mad. I wanted to go home.

The philosophy of what I had learned from the "it's not selfish to be selfish" world would have told me to just go home. Call someone else to do it. Refuse to do it because I had every right to say no! I was tired and pregnant! I was supervising all these small kids! My husband wasn't there! I wasn't getting paid! Why didn't I think of this? Why didn't I plan ahead and give myself a break? I needed to focus on me, people!! I have depression and anxiety and I was TIRED!!

Well, the kids and I cleaned the bathrooms (some of which were so gross) and the kitchen; we vacuumed and checked for any garbage that might have been missed, we wiped down windows and drinking fountains. I sent kids to sweep the gym floor, and we double-checked each room to make sure it was clean. We re-stocked toilet paper and paper towels as needed. #3 mopped the bathroom floors. It took about two hours for our small brood to finish.

When we left, I felt chastised because it was a good experience. The Holy Ghost confirmed to me that what we had done was wonderful. We had cleaned the House of the Lord, we had served Him and our entire ward, the Stake presidency, the Philadelphia mission office, and the Family history library (all which use our building, although we didn't wander into locked offices, of course). I had taught my children the purpose of service and hard work. We stopped at Dunkin' Donuts on the way home as a reward for all our efforts, and the kids chatted about how good they felt doing those hard things. I felt so wonderful. I apologized to Brandon for being angry; I apologized to the kids for my bad attitude. And I did feel good. I felt peaceful and satisfied. The Spirit told me that what I did was sanctified and pure, regardless of my original attitude.

That, dear reader, is what happens when we forget ourselves and get to work (President Hinckley). That's what happens when we ignore the world's philosophy of self-esteem and follow Christ's teachings of service, instead.

And I have several more examples of this in my life --many in the last few months alone.

So, I would encourage you to take care of yourself, yes, but in that same vein --serve others willingly and quickly. Be swift to serve. You'll be grateful you did. So will your self-esteem.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This mid-September

Road construction is a must, I know, but it's frustrating when it's on your small, country-ish road that has no sidewalks. It's also frustrating because you never know if you'll have access to your Kindergartner's bus-stop (blessedly, he's the only one who gets off at our stop, so the bus driver looks for me and is more than willing to go down about 30 yards before stopping). But it's a small price to pay for smoothly paved roads come wintertime! Which has me looking at our own driveway with much trepidation...

(at the bus stop)

I'm patiently awaiting the arrival of a spectacular PA Autumn. Last year, we arrived just after it was ending (we had a lot of leaves to rake!) and so my anticipation is not being satiated by all of this green!


I see some yellow here and there, but I'm anxious for some reds and oranges, dear reader. I can't bust out the pumpkin desserts and the scented candles until I see something! I did decorate for Autumn, though. It couldn't be helped. I may bake pumpkin cookies this weekend just for the sheer joy of it! (Although, if I'm being honest, pumpkin everything is welcome all year for me. Especially if it has pumpkin and chocolate!)

 

 



All back-to-school events, open houses, teacher meetings, etc. and so forth are complete! I am once again grateful for the wonderful education my kids are receiving, here. I'm impressed with the culture that permeates the district with teacher/parent communication and the desire/expectation for all students to reach their potential. Yes, this means a lot of work on my part, but an hour or so of homework supervision each school night doesn't bother me because A. my older two are completely independent and I just answer questions or lead them to solutions and B. what I do with my younger three is mostly sign things and read to/with them.

 Here's an update on the kiddos:


#1: She is rocking 8th grade, plans on joining student council and art club, and seems to be finding her niche. I love watching her interact with her sister now that they are at the same school again! And, as always, she is amazing when it comes to looking out for her brothers.


#2: She has transitioned to middle school rather well (6th grade), but she's decided against extra-curriculars. She might participate in 6th grade intramurals in the Spring, but until then, she's focusing on school because of the Gifted Program (I'll call it GP). Aside from the big module project for GP and missing other classes for GP (while still having to make up the work), she is also in Algebra (only 3 or 4 6th graders have been allowed to take it). But she's finding her groove and will do well!

(silly selfie)

#3: He is loving being at the "top" of elementary school (5th grade). His Misophonia is not stopping his progress, and the school has been great at accommodating any needs he has in that area (headphones, testing alone, leaving the classroom, etc.). He and I had a pretty big war over homework the first day, but we quickly settled into a groove and he's off to a wonderful start! I really hope that he'll continue to improve and do well. He has confidence, and it really helps.


#4: Ah, sweet 2nd grade! It's a good place for him and he doesn't worry me too much. He's more than happy to finish his homework and the truth is, he's always been that way --he's anxious to learn and to do a good job. Like his sisters, he's very independent when it comes to his homework. His spelling and handwriting are impeccable! I'm proud of him.


#5: Kindergarten! I was worried he might be in over his head, because he wasn't very prepared (my fault), but you know what? Neither was #4 and he's doing well. #5 had a rough start (not wanting to go to school, not willing to get ready, etc.) but he's doing wonderful, now. He's made some good friends in class, already, and he's happy to tell me about what he's done at school each day. Even his behavior at home has improved over the last few weeks, and I realize it had more to do with his anxiety of starting school than anything else!


#6: We hang out at home. He's my errand buddy, my chore buddy, and my schnuggle buddy. He currently loves trains, Dora, books, and sticks. I really should cut his hair, but it's so cute!

(My baby bump)

#7: She's growing! I'm 19 weeks on Saturday, so I'm almost half-way there. I'm still exhausted, but my appetite has come back a bit more, as well as energy.

How is your September going, dear reader?