Monday, June 30, 2008

The Best Six Seconds of the Week

I walked to Church alone yesterday with Conor in the stroller. Adam woke up extra cranky and didn't feel like going. I sat in our regular pew, trying to keep Conor occupied with one surprise after another from my "Bag of Tricks". Instead, he wanted the crackers from the baby behind us and the fruit snacks from the little girl in front of us. Thank goodness they both knew how to share.

The first speaker, well, I don't know what his topic was about because I could only listen in, like, six second increments, but I did hear him lead into the story of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish leader was trying to trick Jesus with questions about how to get into heaven. Jesus' response was to love God with heart, mind, and soul, and to love one's neighbor the same. The leader then asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"

I wrestled with Conor, cynically thinking, "well, if it's the person hardest to be kind to, the person that makes life most difficult, then today it is my husband." I looked up to see what his answer would be.

He paused, and then he said, "I think sometimes our neighbor is our husband or wife. It's far too easy to be unkind and to treat them in a way we would never dream of treating other people."

Okay, okay. Lesson learned. Mission accomplished.

Monday, June 23, 2008

When Nice is Hard

I'm forever hammering two 'rules for life' into my children's minds:

1. We treat people the way we want to be treated, not the way we are treated.

2. You don't get blessings for being nice to your friends. It's easy to be nice to people you like.

And, I'm forever hammering into my own mind the following rule for life:

Just because you think it, and just because you're right, doesn't mean you should say it.

But don't you just get sick of being nice all the time? Especially when you try your hardest to be nice and someone still takes your words and contorts them into something nasty? Or when life has handed you a very unfair set of circumstances and demanded that you deal with it and just be the bigger person? Don't you sometimes just want to tell everyone what you really think of them for good or for bad and then rally everyone else to your cause?

Well, it doesn't mean you should. You get the blessings when it's hard to be nice and you do it anyway.

I read a wonderful series of articles on marriage by Wally Goddard on Meridian Magazine. The principles he discussed could easily apply to any relationship, not just a marriage. One of the things he said is that when we feel irritated with someone (or any other in a range of negative emotions, I assume), that is our invitation to elevate our thinking and our actions. We are invited to correct a flaw in our character, not the other person. Holy cow.

But, isn't that a heart-stoppingly lovely way to look at things? And won't it keep me busy.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

My Other Sister

An unexpected vacation came to town in the form of my bestest best friend, Amber, and her family (minus one son). She called on Monday from her home in St. George and asked if they could come on Wednesday and stay for a few days. Are you kidding me? Move in and STAY! Amber is so much fun, and I never feel any pressure around her at all. I can look my best or my worst, and none of it matters. I don't feel pressure to entertain her or give her false 'happy' answers. She just loves me. And I love her for it. I couldn't wait for them to get here.
Amber and I met in Show Low, Arizona, when the ward boundaries changed and rocked her world. I was not disgruntled at all about the change because it brought her into my life and I loved her immediately. We were assigned as visiting teaching companions, and later served in Primary together, but mostly, we just knew we were meant to be friends.
She was the one who blessed my life with the Mary Kay opportunity, giving me a way to be home and support my children as a single mom. She was the reason I had success so quickly. I kept going and going because she believed in me and I didn't want to prove her wrong. She poured belief and strength into me during really fragile years.
During that time, we got to travel all over the country together for Mary Kay conventions and Seminars. We were in New Orleans together just months before Katrina hit.

Amber's the kind of friend who is loyal through and through. She only sees good in me, even though I work very hard to convince her that I am deeply flawed and undeserving. She is my biggest fan, I think, and I am her biggest fan, and I love her like she was blood. I trust her implicitly. She knows my deeply spiritual side; she knows my raunchy, vulgar side. I can't even really express in words what she means to me, but she knows. One of my favorite things about being single was jumping in my car and heading to St. George to stay with her for the weeks or weekends that my kids were with their dad. She's one of those people that I never tire of or need a break from. Her home was a haven for me, and still is. And so, I always want her to come visit.
The better news? (Well, for me, anyway) Since her oldest son couldn't come, they had an extra ticket for Wicked! and offered it to me. I love that show! It was my third time seeing it, and they had great seats. Every time I've seen it with a different cast, and so it's always fresh and new in that way.

And Amber and I realized that now she and I have seen it together on both coasts! We first saw it in New York together with our friend Luisa. So much fun. I really must go put that soundtrack on and give it a whirl.

on Broadway in NY

in Los Angeles

We took the kids (and my Conor) to Universal CityWalk, which I'd never been to, but had heard good things about. It definitely helped me reach my 10,000 step goal, but it was hot. Conor especially loved the shooting fountain thingy, and it cooled off the girls, too.

Yesterday we spent the day at the beach at the Santa Monica Pier.

Conor loves the beach, and had fun with his toes in the waves, his shovel in the sand, and his mind on catching one of those sea gulls with goldfish crackers. They weren't fooled, but it kept him busy.

Amber's princely husband, Kevin, took over Conor duty for me so I could go play in the water with Amber and the girls. I don't think I've played in the ocean for 20 years. I always sit and watch everyone else because I hate the hassle of sand in my swimsuit and saltwater in my eyes. I don't like to be sticky and sandy, and I never get my hair wet. Amber wouldn't take no for an answer, and what have I been missing? After the terror of impending death wore off, I had a blast in the waves with her and her daughters. We laughed! Well, they mostly laughed at me, but I had a fantastic time, and wished so much that my own kids had been there to see me finally in the fun! I learned a lesson. I can't keep sitting on the sand so my mascara doesn't smear in the ocean. That's deep. Life-changing even.

We got home late in the evening and got the kids settled and then the four adults went out to dinner at Rocky Cola Cafe in Montrose. A disappointing Philly cheesesteak (aren't they all? I hardly ever get lucky, so I don't know why I keep trying), but Adam regaled us all with hysterics from his childhood. His stories never disappoint. They aren't for young or prudish audiences, but nobody tells a story like Adam does.
Amber's family left this morning, and I miss them already, but what a fantastic diversion! What a treat they gave me in so much fun and activity! Conor was showered with love and attention, and I had a few days with my precious Amber. The one and only. My sister of the heart.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Did Somebody Move the Sign to Easy Street?

These pictures were taken just a few weeks before Adam and I married. When we met, I lived in Utah, and he in California. We knew we loved each other; we needed to make sure the kids could at least stand each other. So, we arranged to "meet in the middle" in St. George, UT at the home of my best friend for a weekend of "future family", to see how it all gelled.

The kids instantly loved one another. Their ages melded seamlessly. Lyndsay had always wanted a sister, and here was a ready-made one, only two years younger. Sean wiggled in right between my two boys, and everyone seemed right at home. It felt too good to be true.

It was. It always is, isn't it?

Boy, I look back at these pictures and think of the fantasy that all would continue to flow so smoothly. I thought the hardest part of a second marriage would be blending the kids together, and that seemed to go without a hitch. Besides the fact that we were moving to a new state and needed more income, I thought we were headed for Easy Street, and I believed that after the heartache that both Adam and I had endured, it was well-deserved. Now, almost three years into the adventure, I'm not sure what is the hardest thing about a second marriage. I'm not even sure what's easy, if anything, about a second marriage. But, we definitely missed Easy Street somewhere along the way. How come I can never find Easy Street?

Every facet of this new beginning has been difficult. Adam and I knew each other only a few months before getting married, and because we lived in different states, we had even shorter time actually together. Love conquers all, huh? Let me tell ya, love doesn't even begin to conquer all. Love, I'm finding, which we have plenty of, is not nearly enough. The movies lied.

I remember a close friend and mentor confiding in me once that she and her husband had come close to divorcing, though they had six children together. They decided to stick it out, and don't regret it for one minute. Her words to me: "Commitment is a much stronger glue than love ever will be." Boy, was she right.

One of the findings of Judith Wallerstein's intense study of marriage and divorce, which she published in her book, The Good Marriage, was that couples who described their marriage as "unhappy" or even "very unhappy", five years later, if they remained together, described their unions as "happy" or "very happy". Interesting. Must have been that commitment. You gotta ride the wave. In other words, life can't suck forever, right? One of the other findings in her study was that successful, happy marriages needed to go through at least one very trying, stressful make-it-or-break-it time. That's how you test the commitment, and that's how you beef it up to the next notch. The happiest marriages all had experienced really difficult losses, betrayals, or heartache, and had come out on top. In this, I'm no lightweight.

Marriage is hard, though I hate to admit it. I am an idealist and in my mind marriage should not be hard. It should be hard work, but not hard. There is a difference to me, and I'm always willing to work. I just didn't know the work would be so emotionally and spiritually wrenching and exhausting. Second marriage is harder. Even happier, it's still harder, because of the other relationships involved (ex-spouses, ex-spouses' new spouses, etc.) hanging on by tentacles, threatening to strangle at any moment. Throw in children from first marriages and the fragile relationships of step-parenting. Add all the wounds that come from the break-up of the first marriages and then toss in the differences in discipline, parenting philosophies, and financial habits. It's one serious project. Being under the microscope doesn't help much either. Kids getting grilled at the other parent's house about "how things are going", and exes making comparisons, taking notes with which to indict you, when you're only trying your best to play the hand you were dealt.

I guess since that first trip to St. George, we've had to "meet in the middle" many, many times. And on some things we're still in heated standoffs. But that's okay, right? We don't have to have it all figured out yet, right?

I'm in it for the long haul. I'm dying to see where this train goes, where this wild ride leads. I have to let go of the ideal, which I'm not sure even exists, except for in one marriage that I've seen in my life. The Golden Standard. (she knows who she is) The rest of us will just have to settle for imperfection and heated standoffs, mixed up with passion, love, laughter, and phenomenal make-up sex. It keeps it interesting, and interesting is real.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Busy, busy

It's hot. I don't do well in hot. But here's what I've been up to:

I have finally had a breakthrough creatively for the Christmas play that I was asked to write for a ward in Arizona. I really want it to be perfect and I was blocked for two months. Yesterday, while the baby was napping, I took out some Christmas books by the two writers that I most connect with style-wise (Richard Paul Evans and Carol Lynn Pearson) and submerged myself in Christmas to feel the "mood". And then it hit. The idea came, and I began to write in a new direction. I feel excited about that breakthrough and can't wait to see the finished product. This is the first play I've ever written. The first fiction, even, so I've been nervous. I'm hoping it's a blessed project. (Hang on, Sara! I'm trying my best!)

I finished up Anna Quindlen's Rise and Shine. I really admire Anna Quindlen. I'm reading Loud and Clear right now also, a collection of her essays. She's one smart cookie.

I began reading Stephenie Meyer's The Host. Big, big expectations, coming from my love for the Twilight books. This is very dedicated of me, Stephenie, because I am not a science fiction fan. But you did say that even if we didn't particularly feel we were science fiction fans we would like this book, so I'm taking you on your word. So far, so good. My mind has a hard time with that much imagination, but I think I'm following you.

It's hot. Did I mention that? I mention it again, because I'm currently drenched with sweat from walking with Conor in the stroller to Bank of America to make a deposit. I set a goal of hitting at least 10,000 steps every day while my kids were gone. That means that places I might normally drive to, I'm walking to. So far, I've made my goal. Yesterday, in fact I made 12,555 steps. Because I walked to the post office and home. And then I realized that I needed to go to the bank, which is right across the street from the post office. But I didn't realize that till I got home. So out again I went. And it was hot. Right now I'm only at 8188 steps and it's 6:35pm. But I will get them done by 9pm, I promise!

My BFF Anam Cara Supreme, Amber, is coming to visit me tomorrow! I can't wait to see her! Her whole family is coming, and darn it, mine is gone. But we will have fun as only we can, and on Thursday night I get her extra ticket to go see Wicked! again! whoo-h00! That means that she and I will have seen Wicked! on both coasts together! Very cool.

I'm having an identity crisis. But that's normal, right? This, too, shall pass?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Here We Go Again!

Yesterday was that dreaded day. The one where I say goodbye to my three older children for six weeks while they go to visit their dad in Arizona. I didn't act quickly enough to buy airline tickets, so I rented a car and drove them across the border. This was good because we had that last five hours to spend together before we parted.

This gave them time to insult the music I was playing, which happened to be Simon and Garfunkle's concert in Central Park.
"Garfunkle, Mom?"

"That's right. Garfunkle. And if you're an American and you don't want to be considered ignorant, you should not say it that way. Please don't tell me you are now a music snob. This music is part of your musical culture. And it's my job to make sure you are musically literate. Plus, it's good. I promise you that Radio Disney does not good music make."

We listened to the whole thing twice and I sang every word in harmony, just like my mother always did. And Conor danced. And when the other teen started to bag on it, the first teen actually piped up and defended it. ("It's not that bad." Darn straight.) Maybe we're making progress.

We saw a hawk fly low right over the highway in front of our car with a snake hanging from its beak.

We discussed Lyndsay's birthday party plans for when she returns. This will be the 5th year in a row that I have not been with Lyndsay on her birthday because it falls right in the middle of summer.

We talked and cracked up, and Aiden counted down the milemarkers. When I could see the exit overpass in the distance, I said, "Oh, I just got that knot in my stomach." Lyndsay said, "Me too. I think our knots are tied together." Probably true. We pulled off the highway at Exit 69 on I-10 and there were my former in-laws waiting to take them away. That was weird. But I squeezed every last ounce of love I could from them. I stared at their faces real close to memorize every freckle and dimple and scar. I kissed them. I took one last picture of each one.

I cried a bit when Lyns couldn't hold it in, bless her heart, and then I watched them drive away. Conor and I headed for home.

Paul and Art sang along with me while Conor danced in the back seat, "Homeward Bound" and "The Sounds of Silence".

It will be a long six weeks. The house is empty and clean. And Conor doesn't know where everybody went. But I have big plans to pass the time and I can't wait to get started!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

An Angel for Conor

Since he was born, Conor has seen angels. I'm sure of it. You know how babies are about six weeks old before they can smile? Well, from almost his very first day on earth, whenever we laid Conor in his crib to change him, he would immediately crane his neck to look to this one particular corner of his crib and he would smile. I mean really smile. It happened every single time for his first month or so of life. We would call the kids in and say, "watch this", and put him in his crib, and sure enough, there he would go. We would look at that corner of his crib and see nothing, obviously, but we liked to believe that Conor had a visiting angel who just wasn't ready to say goodbye yet, and only he could see him. (or her) I actually felt a tinge of sadness on the first day that I laid him down in his crib for changing and he didn't look over for his angel. He's on his own now, I thought.

But thankfully, he is not.

Conor has a very serious allergy to walnuts. We don't find a genetic link to this allergy on either side of the family, so it's concerning, and completely new territory for me. We've had some close calls with him, the latest last Sunday. And I'm a little weirded out that the one tree on our property is a walnut tree, of all things, but I'm equipped with Baby Benadryl and an Epi-Pen Jr.

And angels.

Conor also is more daring and obstinate than any of my other kids have been. He figured out how to open the doors, before we knew he had figured that out, and while I was in the bathroom, he went out the back, grabbed the rake, and headed down the driveway and across the street dragging it behind him. The neighbor brought him back, just as I was freaking out to come out of the bathroom and find the back door open. I have tried to hammer into his 21 month old mind that "You don't go into the street! You will get SMASHED!" And now that he's proficient at opening the front door too, we try to be vigilant about only using the back door (which is much harder for him to open) and keeping the front door locked.

Last Friday, Dylan and Aiden came upstairs, where I was with Lyndsay and Conor, to tell me they were going across the street to Sarah's house, the girl with Down's Syndrome, to watch a movie with her. She lives directly across from us, with a large picture window that looks onto the street and our house. Lyndsay and I kept tabs on Conor who went from toilet to toilet to dresser drawers to brother's top bunk to toilet to. . .well, you get the picture.

But then he was quiet.

Bad sign. I called for him. He didn't come. I heard the whisper, "Go check on Conor," and I called him again. Nothing. Again, more urgently, "Go check on Conor". I looked through the upstairs rooms and didn't see him, and peeked over the stairs to see the front door open. The boys had forgotten to turn the lock. This is happening in lightning fast speed, of course, less than a minute from the first time that I called his name, and I flew down the stairs and out the door where at that moment I saw a car stopped in the street just before our house, Conor standing on the sidewalk at the edge of the driveway (where he could see his brothers through the window across the street, and where I'm sure he was battling with the whole, "Mom said don't go in the street or I'll get smashed" thing, a dilemma of gigantic proportions to a toddler) and I saw Dylan come swooping across the street and sweep him up into his arms and bring him home. It was literally all within 60 seconds since I had last fished him from trouble with Lyndsay. I was so grateful that I had obeyed the prompting. I was so glad that the horrific scenarios playing out in my mind had not been true.

But the best part for me happened later that night when Aiden came and sat down next to me and said, "Mom, the coolest thing happened today. I was watching the movie at Sarah's house with my back to the window and all of a sudden I had this strong feeling to turn around and look out the window. So I did, and there was Conor standing in the driveway. I told Dylan, who ran out to get him."

I told him how I had had the same kind of feeling, and I told him that it was the Holy Ghost warning both of us at the same time so that we could protect baby Conor from danger. I wanted him to know and remember that feeling because it's so hard to adequately describe, and yet undeniable when it occurs, and here was my newly baptized son having maybe his first real experience with this gift that he's been taught about his whole life. I told him how proud I was of him for obeying immediately and not questioning such an odd prompting as 'turn around and look out the window'.

Even better, later that evening, Sarah's mother came over and told me the story from her perspective, that they were all glued to the television, when out of nowhere Aiden spun around in his chair, looked out the window, and yelled, "Conor!" She asked him how he knew to look, and he simply said, "I just had a feeling I should". I love that.

I believe that every person has a mission to fulfill here on earth. I believe that each of us comes equipped with talents and even trials that will help us to fulfill the measure of our creation and our unique earthly purpose. I believe that Conor must have greatness in him to have such opposition so young in his life, but I think that's why he has angels. And I thank them for helping me to keep him safe.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Soul Friend

In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul love; “Anam Cara” refers to the Celtic spiritual belief of souls connecting and bonding.

In Celtic Spiritual tradition, it is believed that the soul radiates all about the physical body what some refer to as an aura. When you connect with another person and become completely open and trusting with that individual, your two souls begin to flow together.

Should such a deep bond be formed, it is said you have found your “Anam Cara” or soul friend.
Your “Anam Cara” always accepts you as you truly are, holding you in beauty and light. In order to appreciate this relationship, you must first recognize your own inner light and beauty. This is not always easy to do. The Celts believed that forming an “Anam Cara” friendship would help you to awaken your awareness of your own nature and experience the joys of others.

With the “Anam Cara”, you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an “Anam Cara”, your friendship cut across all convention, morality and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul”.

This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship. When you love, you open your life to an Other. All your barriers are down. Your protective distances collapse. This person is given absolute permission to come into the deepest temple of your spirit. Your presence and life can become their ground. It takes great courage to let someone so close. Where a friendship recognizes itself as a gift, it will remain open to its own ground of blessing….. When you are blessed with an “Anam Cara”, the Irish believe, you have arrived at that most sacred place: home. This bond between friends is indissoluble.

~ from “Anam Cara…Wisdom from the Celtic World“, by John O’Donohue

I love this idea. It is a lovely tradition, and I have been lucky enough to have several of what I call 'soul friends'. For some reason, we have been drawn together, despite distance or difference. They are some of my most cherished blessings. You know who you are.

I believe that Piper is an Anam Cara to me. I feel that way because her friendship happened as the result of prayer. I was struggling to be happy in my present circumstances. I was feeling alone and discouraged, and I was having a difficult time focusing on my blessings and creating an abundance of gratitude and cheerfulness in my life. I can remember one morning getting dressed for the day, all the while praying and struggling in my heart for answers, and Piper's avatar came vividly into my mind. Clear as day. I think we had said hi to each other in passing on the cre8buzz site, but that was it. But suddenly there was this magnetism. I knew that I must get to know her. I knew that she had something I needed to learn and could draw from. So I emailed her from my profile page. I was direct, and even a bit bold, but I knew that she would respond with grace and kindness, which she did. And from that moment, we clicked.

The more I get to know Piper, the more wisdom and providence I see in our friendship. I have great admiration and compassion for her, as she is a single mom of two boys, struggling to be all things to them to bring them up in goodness and faith, while trying to heal from a traumatic and destructive marriage that she wanted so much to believe in. I've been there. I can feel those days as if they were still weighing upon my soul. My heart goes out to her. But what I love about Piper, is that despite incredible difficulties, her focus is on blooming where she has been planted. Her blog name is "Bliss in Bloom". She made that up! Isn't it magical? And it's so Piper. She has no regrets. She harbors no bitterness. She gives all glory to God and is grateful for the experiences she has passed through that have helped to form and refine her. She is passionate about life and her future.

Her About Me reads, in part, "I have a strong desire to be a force for good. I want to be a fearless giver. I want to love fearlessly. I want to live life like I mean it. I have a strong desire to be an encourager and an edifier to everyone I meet. I just want to be a blessing."

ME TOO! Teach me how! Well, that is part of the reason that I need Piper in my life, and part of the reason that God allowed our paths to cross on some random site on the internet, she in Oklahoma City, me in Los Angeles. But she is my soul friend. I feel connected to her. And I feel indebted to her.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I had the sweet privilege of meeting Piper in person. She flew to Phoenix to stay with me and was even brave enough to meet my entire family at our family reunion. She fit right in! As I watched her walk down the terminal at Sky Harbor airport, I recognized her immediately. We hugged, and my heart laughed. I was so happy to have her in person! And it felt completely natural and familiar, as soul friends do. She is a mighty woman. Mighty in faith, mighty in goodness, mighty in grace, mighty in the vision that she has created for her life and her existence on this planet. I have no doubt she will achieve her every aspiration. Piper is easy-going (that's how she rolls), witty, considerate, and very sincere. She has the ability to put people at ease instantly and to make them feel as if they've been old friends. She's a great listener and a trustworthy confidante. She also gives the warmest advice! She lives for her boys, and her eyes light up whenever she mentions either of them. I know she is a supremely talented mother. It is a pleasure and an honor to call her my friend. And if you want to visit one of the coolest blogs ever, stop by Bliss in Bloom.

Piper, dear, rest assured you are a blessing. Thank you for being my friend!