Category Archives: Parenting

A Bulletproof Marriage

So I started dating this new guy.

We’d known each other for a couple of weeks. He was tall, blond, funny, and a little cocky. He told me he was good at tennis. So when he invited me one weekend to watch him play in the annual 4th of July tennis tournament in his hometown I tagged along. I was curious if this guy was actually as good as he said he was.

Of course, I didn’t know anything about tennis. So I sat on bleachers outside the courts, next to his 14-year-old brother who was clearly amused by my vast ignorance. But he was nice and patiently answered my questions and kept me updated on the score. As the tournament progressed I began to see that my date really did seem to excel at this sport. I smiled. I sat up a little straighter. I flipped my hair. If anyone asked me who I was I didn’t bother with my name. I just pointed out to the court and said, “I’m his date.”

But the best was yet to come.

During one match my date jogged up to the chain link fence and said to his little brother in mysterious tennis language, “Watch this. I’m going to ace him on the next serve.”

“What is an ace?” I asked loudly, not wanting to be left out.

Whispering, (because that is what you are supposed to do when you watch tennis) the little brother smiled and said, “Just watch.”

I peered wide-eyed through the fence as my date prepared for his serve by bouncing the ball a few times and casting a piercing stare across the net. Then he tossed the ball up in the air, at the same time bending his knees and pulling back his racket. Time stopped for just a moment as he waited for the ball to make its decent. Then, when the ball was in the perfect spot, he whipped his racket out from behind him and pummeled the ball,  hurling it across the court. Before his opponent had a chance to even wet his lips the ball crossed the net, hit the corner of the service box and shot passed him, rattling the fence. Without his opponent even touching the ball, my date had scored.

Then he turned, pointed his racket straight at me and said, “That is an ace.”

Six months later we were married.

Rising in Love

Falling in love was so exciting. Scott was by far the most fascinating person I had ever met. But soon the “falling” part of love quickly got . . . well . . . impractical. Life happens. How are we going to divvy up responsibilities? How do we pay for the things we need and still have something left for things we want? Should we go into debt or wait till we can pay in full? Should we move or should we stay? Then children come along and all of those fun, private “couple-moments” are the first thing to be thrown overboard as each of us is just trying to do our best to keep the ship afloat. When all this is going on, who has time for each other?

In addition to that, those wonderful things that attracted you to each other in the first place can become unbelievably annoying. (“You are going to go play tennis again?”)

That is when you stop falling in love . . . and you start rising.

Falling in love is spontaneous, unexpected, surprising, a little reckless, and oh so easy.

Rising in love is deliberate, thought-out, scheduled, and sometimes very, very hard.

I don’t know why some marriages work and some don’t. I am only an expert on my own marriage (although Scott probably thinks he’s the expert). I don’t think anyone gets married with the expectation that the marriage will fail. At the beginning every bride and groom intends for their marriage to last forever. After all, we are soul mates. Nothing will ever extinguish the love we have for each other. We are bulletproof. Right?

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But before you know it there are a zillion bullets zinging toward your marriage every day. Bullets from the outside, bullets from the inside . . . and you realize your marriage is anything but bulletproof. Often it is the small, “every-day” bullets that can do the most damage.

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My husband travels a lot. (Leaving me with lots of time to write blog posts.) On this particular trip he was going to be gone over Valentines Day. We had been having some internet issues with the way our phone and internet were set up. Sometimes the internet and phone would both crash and in order to get things working again Scott would unplug a bunch of cords and push some buttons and plug cords back in, blow three times, say the magic words, watch little green lights come on, do the hokey pokey and turn himself around and then the internet would start working again. For some reason I could never get it work, and my greatest concern was that the internet and phone would go out at the very moment one of my kids started choking (or some other catastrophe). I voiced this to him several times. Just before he left Scott handed me a paper of detailed instructions on how to restart the internet should it fail. Then he picked up his suitcase and said as he rushed out the door, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry I didn’t get you flowers.”

I held the instructions to my heart. “This is better than flowers,” I said.

We dodged a bullet.

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I remember one week when Scott had back-to-back sports activities. One night was church basketball, the next night was doubles tennis (mixed!) then he got up early and rode his bike with friends, then that night there was another tennis match. Meanwhile, I was languishing at home with three girls under three, gulping for some respite like a dying goldfish stranded on a counter gulps for air. Then came the last straw. He came home from school, went to put on a new type of sports outfit, grabbed a new type of sports paraphernalia,  turned to me and said, “Do you have any cash, Mom?”

Ah . . . Mom?

Well, that was the end of his sporting events for the week. He felt so bad that Saturday he surprised me with a light box he made himself that I could use for my art projects.

We dodged another bullet.

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Then there was the time I was a week overdue with my fifth child and I found out I had contracted lice.  Yes, you read that right: LICE. In my HAIR. “The world is ending!” I told Scott. But he helped me wash everything in the house and then he sat on the bench behind me and pulled every nit out of my very long hair. It was not romantic. But it was true love.

Another bullet dodged . . . which was a good thing, since that night we had a baby.

There are other “rising in love” stories, most of which will only ever be known to Scott and me. And I know there will be many, many more in the future . . . since we have a lot more rising to do.

Connected at the Core

After we had been married for a while one of the teenagers in our church youth program asked her mother a perplexing question, “Why did Brother and Sister Dyreng get married? They have nothing in common.”

What an observant child. Scott likes sports, Chelsea likes to read. Scott likes dogs, Chelsea likes cats. Scott likes to go to bed early, Chelsea likes to go to bed late. Scott thinks math is interesting.

But we do agree on some things.

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When it comes to the important things, Scott and I are connected at the core. As for the things we don’t have in common–the things that make us opposites–well, that just keeps life refreshing.

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Despite what you may read or hear otherwise, marriage is still the best place to find happiness, the best place to give children the best odds for success, and the best place to develop selflessness.  It is hard to rise by yourself.

(Click here for a short video that shows a heart-stopping example of what I mean.)

More and more I am discovering that the key to success in marriage can be summed up in one word: generosity.

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Giving what is expected, and then giving more.  And when that happens, marriage isn’t something that you are working hard to hold together . . . the marriage is what holds everything else together.

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So there is no such thing as a bulletproof marriage. And that is good, since it keeps us on our toes.

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To the Mother of Young Children

Part 1

You have only so much love

In your cup.

Most of it goes to your children all day

but you share some with neighbors

and their children.

Sometimes you save some love for yourself

but not very much, because you’ll need love for

older parents

teachers

friends

strangers

and the family dog.

By the time your husband comes home

you only have a little love left.

You could drink the last bit up yourself or

you could give it to him.

Of course you give it to him

because that is the kind of person you are, and

you know that there will always be more in the morning.

Sure enough, when you wake,

your cup is full again and

you pour out your love again

to all those thirsty people around you.

 

Part 2

One day

you use up all your love

for the people around you and

when your husband comes home

there is no love left in your cup

for him.

So instead you go to sleep

because you know

there will be more in the morning.

And there is.

And as long as your cup is full every morning

you know you’ll find a way to make it last.

 

Part 3

Then one morning you wake to find

that your cup is empty.

The children clamor for your love

but your cup is empty.

Your husband yearns for your love

but your cup is empty.

Your friends and neighbors and teachers and

strangers and family dog need your love.

But you are empty, empty, empty, empty.

Everyone depends on you.

Everyone is thirsty.

You want to say, I need a vacation!

But everyone knows there is no such thing

as a vacation for mothers.

This is a problem.

So you try to fill up your cup with your tears

but that is hard

and besides, no one wants to drink

your tears.

 

Part 4

This is when

you come and find Me

and hold out your cup.

(Please be sure it is not upside down.)

I will then fill it with My Love.

And when you know your cup is filled

with Love from Me

it will fill your heart

and your heart

will become a fountain.

And then you will not need a cup

anymore.

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Camping With Kids

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

When I say the words “camping with kids” what images come to mind?

Inconsolable babies? Thunderstorms? Full diapers, mysterious rashes, tick bites? Mosquitoes, bats, burned food, no food, rustic latrines with no toilet paper, snakes, mountains of laundry . . . shall I go on? Would you rather not talk about it?

For parents, camping with kids can be one of the most pointless, frustrating and miserable things you may ever do in your lifetime. Why would you take your entire family out of their normal schedule and air-conditioned environment and purposely put them in a situation where they are cold, wet, dirty, hungry and as uncomfortable as possible?

Scott and I have taken our kids camping in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

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Sinks Canyon, Wyoming

We’ve camped in bitter cold, pounding rain, merciless wind and catastrophic thunderstorms. We’ve camped in the mountains, on beaches and in the swamp.  And we still go out for more. We can’t get enough of it. We love it.

Perhaps we are insane.

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Hurricane Campground, Virginia

I understand if you say that camping with kids is not for you. It is a lot of work. When we go camping we only take the things we know we will use and it still looks like we are planning a three-week vacation to the moon.  You’ll have to bring diapers and bikes and pack-and-plays and books and sleeping bags and tents and extra clothes and food and stoves and dutch ovens and coolers and propane tanks . . . you get the idea.  And remember, you will need at least an entire day to prepare for your camping trip and two entire days to clean up when you get back!

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And then there are the nights! Oh, the agony!

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Hurricane Campground, Virginia

It will most likely be one of the Top Three Most Horrible Nights of Your Life, right up there with the other two times you went camping with kids. You will either be freezing cold, sweltering hot or getting eaten alive by invisible bugs. You will hear strange noises, have weird neighbors, and there will almost always be someone who needs help finding the outhouse (hopefully it will be one of your own children and not someone from the next camp). And if you bring a baby, even one that regularly sleeps through the night, expect that just when you finally drift off to sleep he will wake up with a 4-alarm cry. If you expect to sleep through the night, you are in trouble.

Better instead to expect to have a great story to tell everyone else at breakfast.

And speaking of breakfast, did you know camping has a magical effect on food? There is something about not having an option for food for miles and miles that makes any scrap of food taste unbelievable. Dirt and charcoal become flavor enhancers instead of reasons to throw food away. It is miraculous how the outdoors changes your perception of “tasty.”

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

And when food does turn out perfectly, well, you eat like kings. Grateful, ravenous kings.

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

If the above scenarios seem unappealing to you, than camping with kids is not for you. But then, isn’t that the point? It isn’t for you, right?

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

What you see as a world of work, your children will see as a world of discovery.

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Eastatoe Falls, North Carolina

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Grayson Highlands, Virginia

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Merchants Millpond, North Carolina

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Stone Mountain, North Carolina

Camping gives kids the opportunity to do a lot of things that are normally off-limits. They can get as dirty as they want. There is no schedule to adhere to, no clocks, no lessons, no school.   Boys can swing from trees and girls can find their inner Amazon. They can revert to their carnal nature that their parents are always trying to suppress.  They get to sleep outside, pee outside, eat with dirty hands. They howl at the moon. They worship fire.

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Camping builds character exponentially and fosters gratitude. Little things become big things: a zipper that zips up–a miracle! A warm sleeping bag–a luxury!  A spoon–incredible! Dry socks–to die for!! A flashlight with batteries–heaven!!

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Eno River, North Carolina

Camping makes work meaningful and concentrates the big, grand, hard-to-fathom Law of the Harvest into a small period of time that they can comprehend. Would you like a fire to get warm? Gather fire wood. Would you like a tent to sleep in? Set it up. Want to get across the lake? Paddle.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

 

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

But getting kids to do that stuff is easy. The hard part is getting everyone to fold up the tents when we are done, because seriously, who wants to go home?

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Merchant’s Millpond, North Carolina

Have I convinced you yet? No? Well then I know what you are thinking . . . the cost!  Surely it must cost a lot of money to get all the camping paraphernalia you need to go out in the wild, especially for kids. But I guarantee that it will cost you less to take your family camping, even if you had to buy all the gear from scratch, than it would take to get your family to Disneyworld. And you can use your camping stuff over and over and over again.

Plus, when you are outside and you don’t have electronics and time commitments, strange things start happening. Kids talk to each other. Kids talk to you. They play games with real, live people.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

They get to use things like knives and axes; tools that were used for hundreds of years before computers. Tools every child knew how to use by the time they were twelve. Tools that built civilizations.

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Ferron Reservoir, Utah

Then, if you really want to see something cool, give your kid a camera and tell them to go far a way. Then see what they bring back.

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Ferron Reservoir in Utah, taken by Sophie

For me it is worth it just to see how excited they are to sleep in hammocks or see the light on my son’s face when he says, “You mean I can go to the bathroom in the WOODS?! Awesome!” (Granted, my daughters’ reaction is quite different.)

When they are 75 years old they may not remember the video game or the toy or the book you gave them, but they will remember the tree that almost hit your car (true story!) and the time you fell in the creek, and they will remember listening to the coyotes howl and they will remember the way that trout wriggled when they touched it. And every miserable act of suffering will become a legend in the grand hallways of your family history.

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Duck Fork, Utah

But when it all comes down to it, the reason I go camping with kids is for the adventure. There are not enough adventures in our current lifestyle. Why? Because all we do is push buttons.  We push buttons for work, for fun, for social needs, for school. Believe me, unless you are breaking the code of the Enigma, it is hard to have an adventure pushing buttons.

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Some place in North Carolina

So go on. Get out there. Suffer. Be miserable.

And make adventure happen.

 

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Talking to a Child Who Does Not Want to Talk to You

Several years ago I was in a quaint, small-town bookstore. As I chatted with the sixties-something bookstore owner she noticed my three daughters. “Are those girls yours?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said proudly.

“Hmmm . . . ” she said, stroking her chin. “Come with me.” She beckoned me to an obscure corner of her store, and, glancing furtively at my girls, she leaned in close to my ear.  “Let me give you some advice,” she said in a low voice. “Someday, when your girls get older they will want nothing to do with you. They will not even want to talk to you.”

“No,” I reassured her, “Not my gir–”

“Listen closely,” she interrupted, “and I will tell you what to do when that happens.”

Then she whispered to me her secret. It was truly brilliant. I tucked her advice away in my mind so that I would be able to use it someday “when my daughters want nothing to do with me” (which of course will never happen). I will share her secret with you.

But first I am going to tell you another story.

I was that child once.

I was that child that didn’t want to have anything to do with her parents. My rebellion hit when I was in my second year of college; the year I fell in love with Trouble.

My parents were frightened for me. My brothers were disappointed in me. My sisters prayed for me. Everyone did all they could to persuade me and admonish me and warn me that I was dating Bagley Family Enemy #1, but I wouldn’t listen. Why? Because when you are 19, very few things matter more than a 6’4″ green-eyed boy who also happens to be an excellent kisser.

Around the time all of this was happening I went to Wal-Mart with my dad. Just before we checked out he grabbed a stuffed bear from the shelf.

“Why are you buying that?” I asked him.

My dad shrugged mysteriously. “Just in the mood.”

In the mood to buy stuffed animals? I thought. Dad, you are weird.  I eyed him suspiciously as he paid for his purchases and we left the store, the bear tucked under his arm.

“So . . . are you going to name him?” I asked as we walked to his truck, wondering what my mom was going to think that night when my dad cuddled up with his bear.

“Who?” he said.

“The bear,” I said. “What are you going to name him?”

“Oh, yes.” Thoughtful pause. “Him.”

Him?”

“Yes. His name is Him.”

On that bewildering note my dad put the bear down in the backseat, drove me to my apartment and dropped me off.

A few weeks went by. Awesome weeks. Trouble and I went on long drives, we ate out a lot, we laughed a lot, we kissed . . . a lot.  All the while I knew I was creating quite a panic on the home front.  And as I desired to be with Trouble more and more, I visited home less and less. After all, why would I want to go home only to get reprimanded? Trouble made me happy. Trouble was all that mattered.  Me + Trouble = True Love.

Then, early one morning, I opened the apartment door to leave for my campus job. There on the doorstep sat a vaguely familiar stuffed animal.

It was Him.

Under his paw there was an envelope with my name on it.

I brought the bear inside the apartment, sat down and opened the letter. “Dear Chelsea,” it read. “This is a letter to Him. Since Him cannot read, I was hoping you could read it out loud to Him.”

Okay . . . I thought. My dad truly is the King of Weirdness. But, I sighed, if he took the time to bring this bear to my apartment in the middle of the night I decided to at lease humor him. I read the note (out loud, as directed) to the bear. It wasn’t anything ground breaking. Just a letter about life and working through tough decisions.

I wasn’t stupid. I knew what he was trying to do. A few days later there was another letter on the doorstep addressed to Him, presumably for me to read out loud.  Then letters started coming in the mail, too. It was happening so often that my roommates were getting thrills every time a “Him letter” showed up. And even though I stopped reading them out loud (too many ears in those apartments!) I secretly began to look forward to the letters because a.) my dad was a funny man who did unpredictable things, and  b.) I wasn’t as happy with Trouble as I wished I was.  Trouble was a good kisser . . . and that was about it.

My dad wrote to Him about everything: decision making, being wise, having an eternal perspective, and even techniques on how to get to sleep.  He drew diagrams and pictures so Him (who had a small brain) could understand.

I did finally break up with Trouble. And then we got back together. Then we broke up again.  Finally Trouble went on a mission, but it wasn’t until he came home two years later that I finally pounded the last nail in the coffin of our love. Believe me, Trouble is hard to shake off.

The letters to Him weren’t what saved me from getting into serious problems with this young man. But the letters to Him kept me connected with my dad in a unique and vital way. The fact that my dad took the time to make his messages creative told me that he loved me but did not want to offend me. And because his method was so strangely endearing I didn’t have the heart to get defensive about the advice I was getting. Each letter was a gentle reminder that I was loved and I was being prayed for, and most of all, that I was being trusted to make the right choice on my own.
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Now, back to the bookstore owner who had me cornered in her store.

This is what she told me:

You will need a bag of mini marshmallows, some tooth picks and a little candle. Late at night (when people are most willing to share their deepest dreams and fears) invite one of your girls to the kitchen table. (You must only do this with one child at a time.) Light the candle. Turn off the lights. Stick the little marshmallows on the toothpicks. Roast your marshmallows. Because the candle is so small you will have to sit very close to each other. Because you are doing something edible she will not leave. And because you are doing something unpredictable she will know that you care. Then let her talk, and you listen.

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I’ve already done this with two of my kids, with magical results. (I am starting this method early, as a preventative measure.)

It is our job as parents to remind, correct, discipline and warn. But it is worth remembering that kids may not always listen to words, but they always listen to love.

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“If a man’s heart is rankling with discord and ill feeling toward you, you can’t win him to your way of thinking with all the logic in Christendom. Scolding parents and domineering bosses and husbands, and nagging wives ought to realize that people don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree with you or me. But they may possibly be led to if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and ever so friendly.”   –Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

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Shovel Your Way To Washington, D.C.

Usually when we have a snow day it is really exciting and there is cheering, cartwheels and confetti throwing. But when you have snow day after snow day after snow day . . .

By the eighth snow day my kids’ brains were beginning to atrophy. They were counting bricks in the dining room (there aren’t any) and chasing each other with kitchen utensils, while I was curled up in a little ball in my closet nibbling frantically on chocolate.

We had planned a trip to DC planned this weekend, but because of the snow we didn’t think we’d even be able to get our mini van out of our cul-de-sac. You see, we live at the bottom of a hill where even snowplows dare not go (at least for the fist two days after a storm . . . sometimes more) and we were stuck. Scott would still be going to DC (because he was going for business) in his 4×4 truck, but we would be stuck at home.

Stuck. At. Home.

To humor us Scott tried four times to get the van up the hill to prove that it was hopeless. “There is just too much ice on the road,” he said.

But Sophie was determined. She rounded up her sisters and they all took shovels to the top of the hill. And for the better part of an hour they cleared two tire tracks in the snow.

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Five hours later we arrived in Washington, D.C.

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We saw the White House. (Free)

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The Museum of Natural Science. (Free)

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The Library of Congress (Free)

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We surreptitiously ended up at Ford’s Theater. Not part of the original plan, but a great bonus. (Also free) IMG_4873IMG_4868

The International Spy Museum (A great hit, but not free.)

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And The Red Velvet Cupcakery (Not free but worth it.)

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To end our whirlwind 2-day trip we stopped off at the temple.

We saw the model:

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And the real thing:

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“Did you learn as much as you would have if you had gone to school for those two weeks?” I asked the kids as we drove home.

“More!” They said.

All because a girl and her sisters were willing to shovel.

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Thanks, Sophie!

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Teaching Children to Be Believers

The first thing you might notice about a Mormon sacrament meeting is the noise.

In almost every Mormon congregation (besides college wards and nursing home wards) there will be a moderate-to-loud roar of children. Children crying, children asking, children chewing, children humming, children making car noises, or if you were near my pew today, children burping.

But now imagine you are a four-year-old boy.

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You have to sit still for an hour and ten minutes.  You are scrunched between three sisters, a mom and a baby while you listen to people give sermons using words which you don’t understand.  You are told you are not to make noise unless you are singing hymns from a hymnbook that you can’t yet read. And when you feel the urge to kick or run or jump or yell your mother hands you crayons and expects you to draw. For my 4-year-old who can’t even stand to wear shoes on his feet, I would have better luck making him eat the crayons than use them.

There are strategies I’ve used over the years. I’ve brought food, bottles, blankets, books, notebooks, markers, pens, magnets, toy cars, silly putty, flannel toys and truckfulls of Cheerios. I’ve drawn things for him, read things to him, explained things to him, colored pictures of him, spelled words for him, folded origami for him, created pipe cleaner animals for him.

But there comes a time when the child can no longer stand the monotony of the meeting, and no pipe cleaner animal or origami creation or cheerio will suffice. If he does not get to beat his chest and howl or toss his shoe three pews back he will explode. And since you are not allowed to howl or throw your shoes at church, that is exactly what he does.

When this happens he must be taken out.

They say the most effective way to correct an unruly child at church is to take him to an empty classroom where there are no treats, no snacks, no toys to play with and they can sit there and calm down. The theory here is that he will see that it is more “fun” to come back to the pew than be in a toyless, sugarless room.

Once I took my misbehaving 4-year-old into a deserted room to let his temper tantrum run its course. He yelled and screamed and pounded the wall. I told him we would stay in there until he calmed down. My plan backfired on me, though, when a man who was teaching a class on the other side of the wall my son was pounding on opened the door and  asked if everything was alright. We had to leave, of course and go some place else.  But the other classrooms were full and it was raining icicles outside. So we went back to the pew. Child 10 points, Mom 0.

Another time I took him to a deserted room and turned off the lights, hoping that a toyless, sugarless, lightless room would do the trick. I didn’t leave him in there alone, of course. I stood next to the door, frightening the next three adults who unsuspectingly opened the door to see my face staring at them from the darkness.

And then there was the time that he was being good. I remember it very clearly: he was sitting with his hands folded, swinging his feet and making soft buzzing sounds with his lips. Ahhhh . . . I thought . . . this is great. This is nice. He is calm and quiet. And just as I was basking in those thoughts the woman in front of me turns around and asks, “Do you want me to take your son out?”

After which I promptly burst into tears and had to walk around the parking lot by myself for 15 minutes.

Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves and our children through this mutual torture session? Why? Is anybody getting anything out of this? Is it worth it?!

Yes, yes, yes!!!!

We Mormons are pretty over the top when it comes to teaching our kids about religion. We bring them to three hours of meetings on Sunday. We give them another devotional on Monday night. We read scriptures as a family every day. Teenage boys pass the sacrament and hold the priesthood. Teenage girls can preach from the pulpit. Children of every age take the sacrament (our communion).  Youth give lessons, participate in leadership meetings and sing in choir (the choir pianist just got his driver’s license last year!). At 6:00 am every weekday morning they take seminary classes where they memorize scriptures from the New Testament, Old Testament and Book of Mormon. They are expected to dress modestly, act modestly, they have a pamphlet of standards they carry around with them. They don’t have sex. Once a month they fast. They go on missions.

Who does this anymore?

I’ve heard some people say we brainwash our kids into believing the doctrines of our church. But that is not brainwashing. I’ll tell you what brainwashing is, but we have to switch into a darker gear.

The Dark Side of Teaching Children

Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Child Soldiers Who Escaped Islamic State.  In it they interviewed children that escaped Islamic State military training camps where children as young as 8 regularly witness beheadings. Where children are gathered, school-field trip style, and given candy as they watch executions. There are many more graphic details that I can’t go into on this blog because my children read it. But suffice it to say that Islamic State knows how to do a few things really well. And one of them is to raise a generation of devout believers.

In his book Acts of Faith Eboo Patel wrote:

“Many mainstream religious institutions ignore young people or, worse, think their role should be limited to designing the annual T-shirt. By contrast, religious extremists build their institutions around the desire of young people to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact.”

Are we Christians doing our part provide today’s youth with “a clear identity to make a powerful impact”? Americans in particular have set aside many rituals that once gave children purpose and destiny: prayer, baptism, repentance, chastity. So how do we expect children to make good decisions when they have no moral foundation? Many parents seem to have no problem releasing their children into an immoral world without giving them a spiritual direction. Instead we arm our kids with phones so that they can get answers to their problems from Google instead of God.

I even have Mormon friends who do not want to “indoctrinate” their own children with Mormon beliefs so that they can be “open-minded” and make decisions for themselves.   This is crazy!  Children come to earth with minds like open buckets. If parents do not fill that bucket someone else will.

But how do you know what you are filling their bucket with Truth?

I don’t know if I’m filling my kids with Truth or not, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is the Truest thing I have found, since it has already brought a lot of happiness to my own life. My aim is to give them the hope that there is so much more to this sad, earth; that there is a greater Plan, a greater Designer and greater Hope, and that death is not the end, but just graduation. I am teaching them that no matter what horrible mistake they make they have a Savior who has died for them and will forgive them if they repent.  I teach them to not forget they are children of God, and not to forget that everyone else is, too. I can’t prove to them that God exists, but no one can prove that He doesn’t.

“We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” We unapologetically flood our children with this knowledge.

We can’t be ambivalent about our children’s spiritual education when there are people on the other side of the world teaching their children there is value and honor in intimidation and killing. We must match their increasing darkness with our increasing light.

Children need a moral education that goes beyond teaching them to recycle, wash their hands, play by the rules, and don’t do things that will get them in jail. They need to have a spiritual identity. And with that spiritual identity will come an inner voice that will guide them to make choices consistent with their beliefs.

Humans are born hungry to believe in something. If we neglect our children spiritually they will find other places to fill that void. Science can prove a lot, but one thing that science will never be able to tell is us what happens to us after we die. Only faith can claim that prize. And why not choose a faith that in the process will make you into the best possible person you can be?

Last Sunday I watched my son, now 5,  get ready for church without prodding and without complaint. He sat in the pew reverently and thoughtfully, cradling scriptures he brought himself. This lasted for a record 20 minutes before he finally stood on the pew and tried to swipe the scriptures from the girl in front of him. Hopefully this trend can keep improving, and by the time he is a young adult he will have the power and knowledge to make an impact on the world because he will have a gained personal testimony. He will choose light instead of darkness, he will choose to spread the Good News instead of spreading hatred, and he will choose to ignite hope instead of instilling fear . . . or worse, indifference.

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The Thief of Happiness

Last week we took our kids bowling.  We rented two lanes, side by side. Scott and I were on one lane, and four kids were on the other, with the fifth child orbiting.

Scott typed in everyone’s name on the computer and each child oo-ed and aah-ed as they saw their name appear in the neon screens above us. How exciting! Bowling is so fun! We chose our balls and began our game.

Everything started out just fine. We had some unconventional positions, some sliding, some ball-bouncing, a few spares, a couple strikes. The scores started to add up.

Well, some of them did.

It soon became apparent to one of my children (who will from this point on will be referred to as the Star of the Story) that she was not improving. In fact, her siblings were surpassing her. Including her younger siblings.

By the time we were on the ninth frame, the Star of the Story was not having fun at all. And each time she bowled she became more and more emotionally discombobulated. Then came the second-to-lowest moment: In an effort to improve her score she threw (and I mean threw) her ball so hard that it catapulted out of her lane, over the gutter and into ours, knocking down the pins in the middle of my turn. She was devastated and embarrassed.

We managed to cheer her up a bit, at least so that she would not give up. On her final turn she picked up her ball with renewed determination. She stepped forward, aimed, and with all her might flung the ball across the polished hardwoods where it bounced, bounced, bounced and landed in the next lane. Again.

What happened next?

The Star of the Story was in tears, two others crying for completely unrelated reasons, one was indifferent, and one was supremely happy because she had broken 100, beating everyone including me and, dare I say, Scott.

Mercifully, though, the game was over, and we got outta there.

Comparison is the thief of happiness, a wise woman once told me. Had there not been a screen up there telling us everyone’s score, the Star of the Story would have had a great time. Her attitude would have radiated to everyone else and by the end everyone would have been laughing. Without the numbers I believe she would have found it hilariously funny that her ball went rogue. In fact, the others probably would have tried to get theirs to do the same thing.

It took a full hour and a trip to Chick-Fil-A before the Star of the Story could finally see the humor in what had happened. We all agreed that next time we go bowling she would most likely be the first one to beat her previous score, where as Little Miss 106 may have more of a challenge.

There are a lot of numbers out there that we measure ourselves by, which is, when you think about it, pretty silly.

If the Star of the Story can learn how to lose and start again using her Own Best as her gauge, then she will find much happiness in her life, since joy is not found in conquering others as much as it is in conquering yourself.

In the end, she is the star to no one’s story but her own.

 

 

Photo credit: Badger Explosion, April 18, 1943, Nevada test sight by Federal Government of the United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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