Monthly Archives: July 2014

Strange Mormon Customs: The Bishop & Me

Here is a crazy scenario for you: What would you do if your husband, just an ordinary guy with an ordinary job, was suddenly asked to be the minister of your church? How would you feel about that? How would it affect the relationship with your neighbors and friends? Would they treat you differently? Would people start to expect more of your family?  How would you feel, being married to the minister?

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Me and the bishop in a meadow filled with flowers. This is going to take some getting used to.

Most people don’t have to worry about this scenario. But Mormons do.

What is a bishop?

A bishop is the Mormon version of a pastor or a minister. He is called to serve and preside over a congregation (ward) of about 300-400 people.   I asked my husband what the official duties of a bishop are and he said, “There’s like . . . a thousand of them.”  So I looked it up and the bishop’s duties are mainly six:

1. He is the spiritual leader of the congregation

2. He presides over the Sunday services in the church

3. He leads the youth and teaches them about their priesthood responsibilities

4. He helps people who have committed serious sins and encourages them to repent

5. He manages tithes and organizes financial assistance to members of the ward who are in need

6. Organizes and manages other organizations in the ward (Relief Society, Young Men and Young Women, and Primary)

See, Scotty? The bishop doesn’t do that much.

How is a bishop selected?

In our church you don’t “run” for bishop. You don’t campaign for it, you don’t petition for it, you don’t apply for it, and you don’t ask for it.  Because “aspiring to the honors of men” is the opposite of what the priesthood is about.

All assignments in our church, including the bishop are given by revelation. Although a bishop is selected by the stake president, the calling must be confirmed in the stake president’s mind by the still small voice. There are many qualified people who could serve as the bishop of a ward, but it all comes down to the Spirit. We believe that in the end, it is God who selects the bishop.

How is a new bishop trained?

The new bishop usually has very little warning that he is going to be bishop– no time to go to a divinity school or seminary. There is no training period. Everything is learned on the job. One day he is sitting with his family in the congregation, the next day he is whisked up to the stand, leaving his wife and children on the bench to weep like orphans.  Then he stays behind the podium for five to six YEARS until it is time for someone else to have a turn. Sometimes a man will serve as one of the two bishop’s counselors for a while before becoming a bishop (as in Scott’s case; has been a counselor for the past 3 years) and that is helpful, but it is not a prerequisite.

How much does he get paid?

Zero. Every calling in Mormondom is pro bono. And that is why it works so well.

All of my past bishops worked in other professions. For example, I had one bishop who was a painter of fine art. One owned a golf course. One sold motorcycles and atvs. One was a computer programmer, one sold real estate, one was a plant manager, one was a biostatistician.

Now our ward will have a tax professor.

When you consider that Mormon bishops are not trained clergymen, and are unpaid for all of their time, you should also come to the conclusion that Mormon bishops have a learning curve. The bishop (like the rest of us) deserves forgiveness. In advance. His over-supportive, enthusiastic, blogger wife? Even more forgiveness. Which leads me to my next topic:

The bishop’s wife

I found it interesting that when the stake president called Scott to serve as bishop he met with us both. He spoke to both him and me. He told us it was our calling (plural) not his calling. There will be much of Scott’s calling that I will not know about because he will be helping people work through the process of repentance and he will be helping people with welfare needs–both are confidential matters not to be discussed with anyone, even (and probably especially) a wife. But there will be many ways I can help him. Also, I will have to do more at home without him since I will have to share his free time with the rest of the ward. And, when he is overwhelmed with responsibilities and concerns it will be my job to make him laugh and recuperate. But if Scott has a burden to carry, I will not let him carry it by himself. I mean really, look how strong my arms are. That man needs me.

There is a quote by C.S. Lewis, the most famous non-Mormon to be quoted constantly by Mormons, that says,

The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only–and that is to support the ultimate career.

Scott’s main job as bishop is going to be to strengthen families by bringing them to Christ. But that is what I do for our family every day. minute. second. Some people might say that I will be supporting my husband in this calling. That I am his sidekick. That I am his cornerman. But you could also look at it the other way around, that his calling is supporting me, and that, by being a bishop, he is my sidekick and my cornerman.

We are partners with the same vision that, if everything goes as planned, will result in the same destiny. We are two parts of a whole. His contribution is like the bones of the body, giving it structure and definition. My contribution is like the muscles of the body, keeping things moving and strong. A body cannot  function without both.

One of my good friends is married to a bishop in another ward. One day I emailed her to ask her how she was doing. This was her reply. I found it very beautiful and insightful, and her words stayed with me for many months.

We are doing well, thanks for asking. We do our best to help our ward. Of course, there is only so much I can do but I do try to support my husband. There is so much we cannot talk about but there are some things I can help him with or at least give my opinion. I truly believe that this is not a male-dominated church. My testimony of that has grown so much. You may not see the faces of the women as much but they are there and their influence is among us whether we know it or not. I think it must work like that with Heavenly Father too.

What it means to be a leader

Some people get the idea that the bishop (and his family) are selected because they are better at keeping the commandments, or they “have it all together” or they have less problems than everyone else.

Excuse me while I laugh and wipe the tears out of my eyes.

Just because you have been called as bishop does not mean you are extra special or that you have “arrived.” Being the bishop does not mean you are most likable or popular person in the ward. It doesn’t even mean that you are the most righteous person in the ward. (Although sometimes, as in Scott’s case, it might mean that you are the best-looking.) It means that you are the person that God wants to be the leader for a while.

And what is God’s definition of a leader?

It is this:


I am honored to have a husband who is worthy and willing to be called to serve the wonderful people in our ward. I realize I am probably naive, and that this will be much harder and more of a sacrifice than I am expecting. I’m sure the “coolness” factor will wear off pretty fast.  But I know from experience that in our family we would much rather serve than be served.

So let the work begin.  Wish us luck. And a prayer or two wouldn’t hurt, either.

 

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Teaching Children To Work

Long ago, back before the button was invented (and I’m not talking about the kind of button that keeps your pants up), eight-year-old children would wake up before the sun and go out to milk cows. Ten-year-old children would make bread from scratch. Twelve-year-old children would saddle their horse and bring home lost sheep.

Now there is very little for an American child to do besides enjoy one leisure activity after another.

But just because we don’t live on farms anymore doesn’t mean we can’t still teach our children how to work. Scott and I encourage our children to work from a very young age. So far all of my daughters can wash dishes by hand, unload the dishwasher, make cookies from scratch, put sheets on their own bed, make simple dinners on the stove, fold and put away all their own laundry and wield a paintbrush.  My four-year-old son can water plants, wash windows, bring groceries in from the car and open the door for me when I am pushing the stroller.

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Ironically with all of this working my house still seems to be mess. But that is because we are a project family.

I was told once that the key to building confidence in children is not with compliments but with accomplishments.  We are not perfect at this, but here are some things we have learned so far:

1. Complaining is Wonderful

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. . . because that means they are doing something hard. We are not afraid of complaining. We tell them we love to hear them complain because that means they are growing. Any time a routine is changed there will be complaining, every time a tradition is changed there will be complaining. But once they get into the new routine (and if we are consistent), that will become the new tradition. Over time, every family develops a unique culture based on their traditions. In our family we are trying to build a culture of work and industry.

There are ways you can minimize the complaining, though, like this:

2. A Prepared Mind is A More Agreeable Mind

A child who knows they have to work at a certain time does better than a child who is told, all of the sudden with no warning that they must go out and weed the garden. Even though kids aren’t “busy” the way we define busy, they feel like they are busy and we still need to respect that. We’ve learned that asking them to do a job when they are in the middle of a fun game or book results in a lot of foot dragging and eye rolling. Let their minds get used to the idea first. For instance, on the way home from the grocery store tell them: “When we get home everyone needs to help unload the car.” If you wait to tell them when you’ve parked in the garage and they are walking inside the house you might be too late.

Also, this helps a ton:  IMG_3690

Every Saturday this chalkboard is filled with jobs, and in the summertime, every DAY it is filled with jobs. Sometimes they are assigned to specific people, sometimes kids can sign up for what they want. But this way they are prepared and they know there is an expectation (and sometimes a time limit!) They also know that if they finish their jobs first, mom won’t interrupt them later when they are trying having fun.

3. Meaningful Jobs

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Part of learning to work is realizing that hard work can make great things happen. Find jobs for them where there is a meaningful ending, not just moving rocks from one side of the yard to the other. Teach them the Law of the Harvest. Tackle big jobs a little bit at a time. If it is too easy they won’t feel like they’ve done something important and meaningful. If it is too hard they will get discouraged. Making the jobs an age-appropriate job is important. However, I do think children can do more than we think they can.

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Naomi’s green hair

 

4. Working Together

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My kids complained for YEARS about folding clothes. I would sequester them in a room  with a huge pile of clothes and not let them do anything until they were done. This always resulted in much fighting, and clothes folding became a detestable, unpleasant and excruciatingly long and inefficient task. Then one day I sat on the top of the gigantic pile of laundry and made them all sit in an area, far apart from each other. Then I sorted the clothes by pulling an article of clothing out  of the pile and throwing it at the owner. If I threw them the wrong thing then they could throw it at the real owner. It became quite hilarious to throw training bras at my four-year-old son who then got to throw them at his older sisters. There were clothes flying everywhere, faces were happy and we were done in twenty minutes.

I have learned that I can’t just expect my kids to work if I am lying in my hammock and pointing my finger. I have to show them how to work. In fact, teaching kids to work  means a lot of work for you. Unfortunately there is no way around this. 🙂

5. Learn To Live With This:

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Paint on carpet.

and this:

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Paint on ceiling

 

One friend of mine, whose children are all grown now, told me that children can’t do meaningful work until they are 12. I believe this is true. Kids younger than twelve are still developing their hand/eye coordination, their stamina, and their fine motor skills, and mentally they are still in a magical la-la land where standards of perfection are measured by how much pink paint can be used, not how it is used.  Rarely does their work turn out to be satisfactory. But that is not the point. They are children, not professionals. When the eggs drop on the ground remind yourself that you are not baking cookies, you are raising daughters. When paint gets on the carpet remind yourself that you are not painting a room, you are raising sons. Keep training them, keep the opportunities plentiful and don’t expect perfection. There will come a time when you won’t have to keep re-doing their work. But they won’t get to that point unless they’ve made a lot of mistakes first.

6. Turn Up The Volume

When possible, play their favorite music or book on CD while they are doing the task. We did this while we painted these bookshelves.

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Danny was too young to paint so he got put in charge as the DJ and he was more than happy to hold the iphone and pick songs for the girls to listen to while they worked. They spent an hour joyfully painting and singing without one argument.

7. Take Photos

Take photos of great accomplishments.

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Telling them “We have to take a photo of this!” tells them they are doing something that your family values.

Also, before-and-after photos can be a very powerful way to show children that even something that seems impossible is possible!

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Before

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After

This blog post is just another method I am using to get my kids to work. I want them to see that I value what they do so much that I want to tell the world. I want them to see that other people will value their hard work as well. And you thought this post was for Facebook. 🙂

8. Help Them See The Real Reward

People bribe their kids all the time. I do it too. Babysit your brother and I’ll give you a cookie. Wash the car and I’ll give you a dollar. Practice the piano every day for the next 10 years and I’ll buy you a ferrari.

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Clean out the grout in my bathroom and you get whatever your heart desires

But you know when your child has learned the value of work when the product of their work becomes the reward. They will see that if they paint their room their reward is that they have a brand new room that they can decorate and feel happy about. I try to make sure my children realize what they’ve accomplished by having them take a moment to sit down and really appreciate what they’ve done. (My dad would literally take a chair and sit down opposite his finished project and gaze at it for hours.) I explain to them that now something exists that didn’t exist before, and that they are not just painters or organizers–they are creators, and that is a divine quality. I remind them what the project was/looked like before their hands touched it, molded it, painted it; that before they came a long this was just a pile of sticks, or a marked up dirty wall or a messy room. This takes a while for children to learn, but I believe that eventually they will learn that hard work can make their dreams come true.

9. Work = Happiness 

When I was 21 years old I came home from college for Christmas break. I had just broken off an engagement and I was sad, depressed and at rock bottom. What did my dad do? He put me to work. I spent many hours that Christmas in his shed, painting little benches for nursery children. I learned for myself that work can be a great medicine. My children don’t understand that yet, but someday, when they hit rock bottom, they will come home, I will hand them a paintbrush, and we still start working together. And then they will understand what I am talking about, and all my hard work will pay off.

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I would love to hear how you help your kids work and what projects they have done. Then I will share it with my kids. We can always use more inspiration. 🙂

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How To Sing The National Anthem

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The National Anthem and I have a long, bittersweet history. I have performed this song for firesides, basketball games, gymnastic meets, scouting events, baseball games, rodeos and horse races. I have sung before audiences of ten and ten thousand. In the 20 years that the Star Spangled Banner and I have been sharing the stage we have had our moments of great glory and complete humiliation.

If you are ever asked to sing this song in public, by yourself, I would warn you that the experience is not for the faint of heart. Here are some tips from an old anthem veteran:

2 weeks before you are scheduled to sing– Review all the lyrics as often as possible. Remember, this could be your MGM (moment of great magnificence), or it could be your MTMYSAYWTTYOSSW (moment that makes you so ashamed you want to throw yourself out a second story window).  Get to know the words intimately. Think of them when you go to sleep at night. Think of them in the morning. Walk around the grocery store whispering the anthem under your breath, just to make sure you can sing the words in any situation and any circumstance. Get those words so cemented in your mind that if someone asks you “Do you know what the time is?” you say, “the twilight’s last gleaming.”

1 week before—Find a place where you can sing at full throttle. Ideally where no one else can hear you. Closets are good. Bathrooms are even better. Most people know the Star Spangled Banner was originally a poem by Francis Scott Key while he was watching the Burning of Washington in 1814. (I say most people. I knew one woman who publicly credited Orson Scott Card for writing the National Anthem.) But did you know there are actually four verses to the National Anthem? We only sing the first and, ironically, it ends with a question mark. Which, when you are in the midst of preparing to perform the song, seems appropriate since one never knows what will happen during an a capella performance. Singing a capella is like rock climbing without ropes. No matter how skilled or how experienced you are there is still the possibility that you will fall to your death.

1 day before– You will probably wake up with a nagging feeling that something you fear is following you around. Oh yes. It is the National Anthem.  Keep singing the lyrics over and over, and make sure you get the “gleaming” before the “streaming” and not the other way around. Of course the most important notes are the first three: Oh-oh, say. Those are important because if you do not get the right pitch from the beginning you will not be singing a high E and the end, but something much worse, like a high M, and you might have to resort to some awful “trick” to cover up like pretend like you are crying. Which I have done before and is not very convincing.

5 hours before—Around this time you will become hypersensitive about your throat.  You will probably clear your throat obsessively and swallow at least 35 times per minute. This is normal. Never in your life will you be so worried or aware of the amount of mucus in the back of your throat. Drink water, but not cold water. Gargle if you have to. Nothing can sabotage your performance!

1 hour before– You will probably start feeling shaky. Don’t be surprised if you get a headache, break out in hives, or have sudden episodes of bonelessness. Just practice singing it again a couple times, just to be sure. It is a challenging song and too much practicing is not good for your voice, so don’t overdo it, but you can keep reviewing those first three notes: oh-oh say. oh-oh say. oh-oh-say. Like I said, those first three notes will determine whether or not you can inspire patriotism in hundreds of beating hearts or if you will have to grab your keys and make a quick exit.

30 minutes before–You arrive at the event. Usually by this point my throat is dry and my eyebrow is twitching like goldfish that has been flipped out on the counter. If that happens to you, just remember that the National Anthem is always the first thing on the program so soon you can get back to being normal again. You might look down and notice the words to the anthem are printed on the program. Now everyone, you realize, even the people who don’t know the anthem, will be able to follow along and will know exactly which words you mix up. Or forget. Like that one time that I performed at a horse race when I was seventeen. I couldn’t remember “whose broad stripes and bright stars” so I sang the only words that came to my mind: the rocket’s red glare. The only problem was it wasn’t time to sing “the rockets red glare.” But by then my mind had gone blank and I couldn’t remember any other line, so I sang “the rocket’s red glare” three more times until finally I got to the right place in the song and belted out AND THE ROCKETS RED GLARE! THE BOMBS BURSTING IN AIR! And I have never been so grateful for bombs before. So perhaps there is an Orson Scott Card version after all.

15 minutes before–Make sure you take note of you appearance before you walk up to the stage. Are you showing anything you shouldn’t? I only mention this because one time I sang in jeans for a rodeo and had my fly down the entire time.

10 minutes before–The event begins and the emcee is welcoming everyone. You are getting hot flashes, cold flashes and weird luke-warm flashes all at once. Your trembling hands have twisted, crushed, and mangled the program and now it is on the floor in about six hundred pieces. But all of that is okay, because singing the National Anthem is one of the hardest songs for amateur singers to pull off, and produces the same biological chemicals that course through the veins of a cowboy straddling the back of a bull before the gate opens. I have no scientific evidence to support this, of course, except that I can see the whites of your eyes, the beads of sweat on your forehead and your face has drained itself of all pigment. Don’t worry, you are going to be grrrreat!

5 minutes before–Then the color guard marches out. They are just boys. Boys who will never remember you . . . unless you mess up. Then they will remember you forever, and on the playground the next day, they will impersonate you with astonishing accuracy using the same sound effects usually reserved for barnyard animals. That is the trouble with singing in public. No matter how many good parts you have in your performance it is only the mistake that people notice. That is why it must be flawless. You cannot fail. Oh-oh-say. Oh-oh-say. Keep repeating it.

3 minutes before–The announcer now says “please rise for The Pledge of Allegiance.” Are you okay? You look green. But don’t think green. Think red, white and blue! Here, breathe into this paper bag. And save the bag, just in case you need to put it over your head if you forget the words. Remember, Oh-oh-say, oh-oh-say, oh-oh-say. . . .

1 minute before–The colors have been posted and the flag is in its proper place, looking regal and majestic. Meanwhile you have laryngitis, bronchitis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever all at once, plus the tingling sensation of an invisible noose tightening around your neck. Your stomach is lurching, your knees are trembling, and your heart is racing. Just don’t forget to have fun!

30 seconds before–PLEASE REMAIN STANDING FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM, says the emcee, and you start looking around for a fire alarm to pull. But instead you need talk to yourself. Take a couple deep breaths. Tell yourself you are awesome. You are a champ. But don’t pump yourself up too much because, after all, pride cometh before the fall.

Your dainty high heels thunder like barbells as you walk to the microphone. Ka-boom, Ka-boom Ka-boom. Try, at least, look like you are a queen, even though inside you feel like slime. Hold the mic in your hand like a wine glass, not a like you are gripping a helicopter skid that has you dangling over a canyon. Repeat in your mind: Oh-oh-say. Oh-oh-say. Do you have the right pitch? Are you sure? Are you positive? Well, it is too late now, so if you don’t, just look like you have the right pitch.

10 seconds before–But now you are center stage and there are three hundred pairs of eyes looking at you, making you feel as exposed as a freshly peeled banana, and the audience is hungry. There is no turning back now.

This reminds me of last summer when I sang this song before a crowd of 10,000. Yes, I said that right, 10,000. I won’t tell you where because I am also going to let you in on the secret: it was prerecorded. All I had to do was walk out there and lip sync. Perhaps the program director had heard the “Rockets Red Glare” story and decided to take preventative measures. The day before the performance I was taken to a small radio station and ushered into a recording studio. I belted out the anthem several times, and they took the best take. The next evening before the performance I was spared the pre-performance jitters and nausea knowing that this time there was no way I could mess up the words. I went out there and pretended like I was singing my heart out. It was luxurious.

But today is not prerecorded. It is all you. A capella. What is the exact translation of a capella, you ask? It means “loss of dignity, friends, and self-respect if you fail” in Italian, I think. But don’t think about that. Smile graciously and look over your audience. Make it look easy. Force yourself to do this thing you fear.

2 seconds–There is one more thing I forgot to tell you.

The song is a battle in itself. You are in a war against your fears. Will you succumb? Will you retreat? Or will you stand firm before the firing cannons? Will your flag still be flying at the end? Remember that being able to sing is not for you, but it is for others. Performing is a gift. Broaden your smile. Use your eyes and your face and your posture to let the audience know that you are not afraid. You are about to set off some fireworks.

And now begin:

Oh-oh say can you seeee. (Good. You got the most difficult line down. Good start, check. Good pitch, check. Now what was the next word? Oh yes–)

By the dawn’s early light. 

What so proudly we hailed, 

At the twilight’s last gleaming. (You passed the second great hurtle. I said “first gleaming” once at a minor league baseball game when I was twenty-three. That will never happen again.)

Whose broad strips and bright stars

Thru the per-o-lous fight (I know it is actually per-i-lous, but no one sings it that way.)

O’er the ramparts we watched

Were so gallantly streaming. (Thank heavens, you made it through the gleaming vrs. streaming part. The rest is easy, as long as you breathe.)

And the rockets’ red glare! (My favorite part.)

The bombs bursting in air! 

Gave proof through the night (now comes the most important line, the line that makes this song what it is)

That our flag WAS STILL THERE!

Oh say does that star spangled baaa—nnneeer ye-et wa-aave (Almost done. Now the entire audience is bracing themselves for the next line. Will you make it? Will you burn and die?)

O’er the land of the FREEEEEEEEEE! (Hold this out as long as humanly possible)

and the hooooommme–

of the–

BRAAAAAVE!

And, like our beautiful flag, you are still standing: battered, exhausted and–miraculously–victorious. Now thank the Lord you were able to have this experience to sing one of the greatest songs ever written.

Play ball.

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