Remember Gratitude, Charity, and the Hand of God in our Lives.

Here is Rob’s talk from a couple of weeks ago. It’s really excellent. Drumroll, please…….

Julie so aptly and thoughtfully captured how gratitude can be experienced in life both in times of happiness and ease and times of difficulty. It doesn’t mean we deny the feelings of difficulty, sadness, loneliness, and pain. We feel them, understand them as the school teachers that they are and move forward by connecting with ourselves, loved ones, and the Lord.

I like to think of and teach the gospel in simple terms. In terms and through feelings that my children can understand and that I can internalize in a deep and emotional way. Living the gospel should ultimately help us feel good and whole. If I don’t achieve that in my efforts to live the gospel I ask myself why and see what comes up.

I’m not going to tell you or imply that you should feel guilty for not feeling enough gratitude. I don’t want to cheat you from the potential to feel gentle and uplifting feelings from the Holy Ghost. Today I hope to share my thoughts in terms which engender, faith, hope and charity.

The English author Aldous Huxley wrote, “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” I find myself all too prone to this tendency of ingratitude. There seem to be so many reasons to be detached from our blessings.

President Faust said that, one of the evils of our time is taking for granted so many of the things we enjoy. This was spoken of by the Lord: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” (D&C 88:33.) I’d never really thought about how taking for granted the things I enjoy was rejecting the heavenly gift. But it is!

The Apostle Paul described our day to Timothy when he wrote that in the last days “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy.” (2 Tim. 3:2.) These sins are fellow travelers, and ingratitude makes one susceptible to all of them.

President Faust also taught that gratitude is an expression of faith and a saving principle.

He said, a grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.

Elder James E. Talmage said, “Gratitude is twin sister to humility; pride is a foe to both.” Humility is tied in with being teachable and being teachable opens us up to the blessing of further divine attributes.

Someone has said that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”8

President Joseph F. Smith has instructed us that “the spirit of gratitude is always pleasant and satisfying because it carries with it a sense of helpfulness to others; it begets love and friendship, and engenders divine influence. Gratitude is said to be the memory of the heart” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 262).

Gratitude seems to tie in with Faith, Hope, and Charity pretty seamlessly. I find this fascinating. So having a general attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving can lead us to the divine gift of Charity.

So how do we develop gratitude and recognize the hand of god in our lives when we live in such a fallen world and there is so much around us to drag us down?

Do material possessions make us happy and grateful? While we should be grateful and happy for the things we possess they will not be the things to connect us to others or to instill a deep sense of gratitude for the Lord.

Does social media make us happy and grateful? Really think about that for a minute. To me the answer is no, most of the time at least. I find it helpful and interesting in small doses. I’m very grateful that I can choose not to open the firehose of twitter when I need more calm in my life and I don’t want to disrupt my sense of gratitude.

President Faust said (in the 80’s), without question, we need to be informed of the happenings of the world. But modern communication brings into our homes a drowning cascade of the violence and misery of the worldwide human race. There comes a time when we need to find some peaceful spiritual renewal.

Those things which provide deep and lasting happiness and gratitude are the things which money cannot buy and social media cannot deliver: our families, the gospel, good friends, our health, our abilities, and the love we receive from those around us. Unfortunately, these are some of the things we allow ourselves to take for granted.

So how do we develop gratitude and recognize the hand of god in our lives? President Joseph F. Smith, provided an answer. Said he: “The grateful man / woman sees so much in the world to be thankful for, and with him / her the good outweighs the evil. Love overpowers jealousy, and light drives darkness out of his / her  life.” He continued: “Pride destroys our gratitude and sets up selfishness in its place. How much happier we are in the presence of a grateful and loving soul, and how careful we should be to cultivate, through the medium of a prayerful life, a thankful attitude toward God and man!”9

President Smith is telling us that a thoughtful and prayerful life is the key to possessing gratitude and to allowing the good to outweigh the evil.

Bonnie Parkin (Past RS President) said that gratitude requires awareness and effort, not only to feel it but to express it. She said that gratitude is a Spirit-filled principle. It opens our minds to a universe permeated with the richness of a living God. Through it, we become spiritually aware of the wonder of the smallest things, which gladden our hearts with their messages of God’s love. This grateful awareness heightens our sensitivity to divine direction. When we communicate gratitude, we can be filled with the Spirit and connected to those around us and the Lord. Gratitude inspires happiness and carries divine influence.

President Thomas S. Monson stated: My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.

I feel prompted to share some things, attributes, and people that help me feel grateful as I close. This list not exhaustive; however, these things help me keep a balance in my life as I recognize that these good things are greater than the evil that surrounds me.

  • I’m grateful for music as a medium to express and feel so much emotion. There is music for every mood, for every experience. Despite my love of music I’m also learning that sometimes silence is needed to hear myself.

  • I’m grateful for mountains and for nature. I’m grateful to know that the Lord cares enough about natural beauty to create wonderful places for to enjoy. I’m grateful to live in a place so close to nature.

  • I’m grateful for long-form writing for its power to develop ideas and convey thoughts

  • I’m grateful for the art of listening. It is not a skill that I was blessed with but with great effort I’m making improvements. I’m regularly surprised by the insights and blessings that come from listening to people.

  • I’m grateful to possess a deep relationship with Julie. I’m grateful for her forgiving nature, her strong opinions, and her confident intuition. It is so great to know and hear her and also to be known and heard in return. I’m grateful that we get to grow together.

  • I’m grateful that heavenly father has blessed me with three children and I’m so grateful they start as babies and grow from there. I’ve needed time to mature and grow to be anywhere close to as good of a father as they deserve.

  • I’m grateful that the Lord uses our weakness as well us the perils of mortality to keep us humble, to refine us, and to teach us divine attributes. He doesn’t cause these things in our lives but I’m glad he uses them. It would be so much worse if we just had to suffer through them for no benefit.

I’m so grateful to understand that I don’t need to be perfect to be acceptable to the Lord. I’m grateful to know that by staying teachable, through open communication with the Lord and my loved ones, and daily practical repentance, I can be found acceptable to the Lord today, despite my weaknesses.

A Drowning Duckling Dies: How We Deal with Sadness

One beautiful summer evening our family walked around a park full of trees, flowers, and a pond. In the pond lived some fish, turtles, and ducks. The children love prancing around the perimeter of the fenced-in pond, interacting with the little creatures as much as humans can.

Rob and I wandered off and left the kids to play. I returned a short time later and all three children ran up to me, frantic and full of feelings. They told me of tragedy, taken place right before their innocent eyes.

One of the little baby ducklings was missing patches of down (probably the result of bullying, the kids concluded). This little guy had caught their eye and they’d been keeping a close watch on him all evening. Suddenly, the duckling found himself too far from the shore and unable to catch his footing on the rocks. Stuck in deep water, he tried, helplessly, to swim. Still new to this sport and being further impeded by his missing built-in flotation device, his bitty head slowly dipped lower and lower into the water.

With big eyes and the inability to save the duckling through the fence, Nate, Madeleine, and Caroline looked on in helpless horror as the dear little duckling drowned to death.

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Now, a few different morals to this story could be had here, but I’m not here to talk about morals. Instead, I want to focus on the dissimilarities in emotional response encountered by each member of my family. For an event that was experienced together, it’s interesting how they individually coped with it.

Once the retelling of the event took place and the initial shock wore off, each child was left with the horrible (yet completely natural in nature) scene stuck in their brains. I found myself empathetic to their plight and immediately initialized my comforting-mom mode.

When Rob arrived at the scene, the children frantically retold the happenings once again. Caught off guard and unprepared to respond appropriately, Rob laughed. I chided him with “the look” and he composed himself, then offered due comfort. Once the children’s trauma was acknowledged by both parents, each of their true distinctive emotions became evident and began to show and seep.

Each child reacted to the same trauma in starkly unique ways. Nate became suddenly quiet. He was solemn. He worked hard to hide his tears, even after Rob and I assured him it was okay to cry. After some minutes of allowing himself to feel really sad, he was able to come back up for breath and refocus on moving forward.

Madeleine, through brute force, instantaneously allowed her spunkiness and goofiness to override any of her sorrow. She didn’t want to feel anything unpleasant so she ignored the fact that something bad even happened. She became hyper, silly, and tried so hard to get everyone else on board. She wanted to move on, pretending nothing was wrong. Even though her brother and sister were feeling deeply, she wouldn’t allow herself that opportunity.

Little Caroline openly bawled, unconsolably, for 30 solid minutes. No amount of hugs or listening ears or words of comfort had any effect. The terrifying image replayed itself over and over again in her head and she kept saying, “I just like the word death…I don’t actually like death in real life!”

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Don’t you find it fascinating how each child responded to the same event? Of course people cope with hardships differently, but to see these three contrasting emotional responses by three different children at the same time was an eye-opening glimpse into their hearts.

Nate needed reassurance that it was okay for him to not be a “brave” big boy, and that feeling sad isn’t something shameful. Madeleine, in addition to learning how to allow herself to feel a completely natural response, also needed to understand that others may have different emotional needs to be acknowledged instead of ignored. Caroline needed to feel the full extent of her grief and given enough time (and patience on our part) to do it.

As the father and mother of these sweet souls, Rob and I are working harder than ever to not only listen to them, but to feel with them. We are working harder than ever to not only be in their proximity, but to truly connect them to us through honesty and a sense of emotional safety.

Rob and I both used to believe that this type of parenting would raise weak personalities. However, we are slowly learning that the opposite is true. We are now beginning to see the differences between coddling and comforting, cajoling and communicating. We are now beginning to understand that the intentional act of consistently offering a feeling of emotional safety and emotional acceptance are, indeed, at the core of confidence.

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I’m really sorry that an innocent little creature had to perish and that our children had to witness it, but I’m also grateful for the glimpse it gave us into who our children really are and what they each really need. It is an understanding that we will need to tap into throughout many future occasions, I’m sure.

For the last 6 months, Rob and I have been working so hard at becoming emotionally whole human beings.  We have a long way to go, but these little moments of clarity are the fruits of our labors and the motivation that keeps us moving forward together.

Things I Admire About My Children

I have been thinking a lot lately about my children and how much I truly admire their individual qualities.

I can definitely understand why Christ tells us “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Nathan:

  • Has always been the nicest big brother. He helps his sisters with everything. He is so patient with their demands. He gives them his advice. He teaches them. He makes them smile.
  • Loves to have discussions with his mom and dad. He likes to talk about the day, his interests, struggles, politics, anything having to do with science, and the gospel.
  • Gets very sensitive about hurting feelings, his own guilt, and disappointing others. It takes very, very little to correct him. 

Madeleine:

  • Is gregarious, joyful, smiley, and playful. She reads, acts, sings, dances, bounces, and loves life to the fullest.
  • Tries really hard to be inclusive. She is a caretaker. She gives up her own needs for those of others. She is gentle with little children. She is selfless. 
  • Craves physical touch and loves to hug, wrestle, hold hands, and anything else that helps her feel important and connected with others.

Caroline:

  • Has constantly shifting emotions but tries really hard to be her best self. She works to follow rules and instructions. She tries hard to overcome obstacles and impulses. She never gives up.
  • Is soulful. She is learning what feeling the spirit is like and what she can do to feel it more often. She is in tune with how good it feels to have the Holy Ghost with her and bursts into song about it. 
  • Smiles a lot. She laughs. She giggles. She loves surprising others and making them laugh. She wants to be in on the joke.

Admittedly, I don’t always feel only gratitude and awe at these little ones…but I’m realizing more and more how much I need them.

I need them to teach me. I need them to lead me, guide me, and walk beside me. I need them to help me find the way.

I also need them to love me.

And the amazing thing is that even through all of my seemingly insurmountable motherly imperfections, they do!

What a gift.