Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No longer in the driver's seat

Katie and I went to Utah this weekend to attend the LDS Church Young Women General Broadcast in Salt Lake City. I thought this would be a great way for Katie to get some freeway driving time. She did most of the Nevada-driving, and she learned about how to handle a car in high winds. On the way there, she also took us into Salt Lake City, learning how to manage a busy freeway with road construction. She did a great job, and she actually drove more than I did.

Although I am looking forward to having two additional drivers at my disposal, it is actually nerve-wracking to teach a teenager to drive. You spend the first chunk of their lives as the driver. Then suddenly you find yourself on the passenger side of the car with no steering wheel and no brake pedal. You become the instructor, giving tips and encouragement, but you are really out of control of the decisions they make. All you can do is make suggestions about how to handle things, and then pray. You relax a little as they get better and time goes by. But then you tense up as they come up on heavy traffic or bad weather, anxious about how they will handle something new and unable to do anything about it except give a few tips and clench your hands. At one point, after Katie was tired of driving, I got back behind the wheel. It felt so good! I was back in control! But I couldn't stay there because this was her chance to learn. This was her chance to experience some hard driving situations with an adult around as a safety net. I knew someday soon she would be driving on her own, and she needed the practice. So I got back on the other side of the car.

It occurred to me some where along I-80 that teaching a teenager to drive is not unlike parenting a teenager. For so long, you make most of the decisions as the parent. Then suddenly, you climb into the passenger side--no steering wheel, no brake--and you become more of an observer rather than the driver of their lives. You can encourage and give tips. And you can pray. If you get mad when they make mistakes, it doesn't seem to help and maybe even seems to make things worse. But boy is it hard not to do! They are the drivers now. And you tense up as you see them face something new, worried about how they will handle it. But you have to let them make some decisions and handle some things on their own. This is their chance to face some hard life situations with the safety net of parents around in case they need help. Someday soon they will be on their own, and they need the practice. So you try to stay on the other side of the car.

Maybe all this is why so many parents warn about the teenage years. The problem is that, although you can't control the car, you know how dangerous driving is. You don't want them to get hurt. It's so hard to give up control and to trust them. And your life is at risk, too!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What matters most

Rich's sister, Jen, told me about an interview she saw with Jim-Bob and Michelle Duggar of TLC's show 19 and Counting. Jen wrote, "They were answering FAQs. One was from a mother of 8 who said-I struggle to keep my house picked up. Your house is always so clean, how do you keep it so clean? The dad was really cute. He answered with- It's more important for your kids to be happy and loved than it is for your house to be clean."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Remembering to use the Atonement

This is the book our book club is reading this month: Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
So far, I love it (although I am only on page 32.)

As I was reading the other night, one paragraph really struck me. The book tells of other historical figures who influenced Wilberforce. One of those was George Whitefield, who helped to bring forth Evangelical Christianity. This is what it said about Whitefield's religious beliefs:

He [Whitefield] saw that the Bible didn't teach that we must work harder at becoming perfect and holy, but that we must instead throw ourselves on God's mercy. Moral perfection wasn't the answer: Jesus was the answer. Jesus had been morally perfect and we weren't supposed to save ourselves--we were supposed to ask him to save us.

We know from revelation that we need both obedience to commandments and the Atonement to save us, but I often focus more on how well, or how poorly, I am doing and less on depending on the Savior. For instance, lately I have not been able to keep up with life like I want to. Actually, if I really think about it, I have never been able to keep with life the way I would like. But, in the past, I always recognized that was because I was pregnant or nursing (or both!) and so would rely heavily on the Savior to make up the difference. I remember spending much time on my knees, praying that the Savior's Atonement would make up for my many, obvious weaknesses and shortcomings. But now I am not pregnant or nursing. I don't have any excuses, and yet I seem to be less capable than ever! Or at least that is how it has felt. I have been so discouraged that I can't seem to do better or handle more or overcome these persistent weaknesses.

I was feeling this way the other night when I read that quote from the book. Then I remembered the Savior! That's right--I don't have to do it all on my own! The Savior is still there, He is still perfect, and His Atonement is still at my disposal. Maybe it is even more at my disposal than ever before because I am not justifying why I am not perfect. I am just admitting it and admitting my dependence on His perfection to make up for my lack of it.

Don't you just love the Gospel?!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More food for thought

Last night, I was irritated with my older children. They were tired after an early morning and long day, including track practice. In addition, Katie has a pulled hamstring, again, plus other aches and pains that come from jumping hurdles. So they both went to bed early. When I came into the kitchen later, I saw that they had both ignored their evening chores, even though I had reminded them each several times. I was bugged. I stormed around, thinking that I was tired, too, and complaining in my heart that I am always left to finish the chores if they don't do them, as if I don't have enough to do. I was working myself into a real fuss until a thought came into my mind that really made me think.

"How often do I fail to do the chores I am assigned by my Father in Heaven?"

I thought of all the times I haven't followed promptings to help someone or haven't been very diligent in my visiting teaching. I also thought about all the times I have let thing slip in my church callings. It was pretty easy to see that I am certainly not perfect, either, in this area. That made me wonder how many times Heavenly Father has had to get someone else to do the job I have been asked to do. Tail a bit between my legs, I was suddenly feeling much more patient and understanding towards my busy teenagers.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Car trouble...or should I say child trouble?

Three times in the past two weeks, someone has left a light on or the door open in our van, draining the battery.

The first time was two Sundays ago. I had a 7:30 am church meeting. Rich always handles getting the children ready on his own better than I do, so when 9:10 rolled around and they still weren't at church, I began to worry. I sneaked away during the Sacrament hymn, leaving behind the huge portion of empty bench I had covered with scriptures, tote bags, and hymn books, to ask our home teacher to call Rich and find out what was up. He discovered that our van battery was dead because someone had left the inside light on Friday night. That meant it had been on Friday night and all day Saturday. That meant the battery wasn't just dead, it was completely drained. After our battery charger didn't work, Rich was able to borrow a more powerful one from the neighbor. They all filed in just as the Sacrament was coming to an end but, thankfully, before anyone else could claim our empty bench! Did I mention Jacob was assigned to bring the Sacrament bread? (I had wondered why Teachers had been coming up the aisle, one at a time, with piles of individual slices of what I now realize was newly-defrosted bread from a loaf in kitchen freezer.)

The second time someone left a light on was last Sunday. It was Daylight Savings, so we had been struggling more than usual to get everyone up and going. It wasn't until we sprinted out to the van and all climbed in that we realized the van was, once again, dead. Another light had been left on the night before. Lovely. Rich popped the hood and headed to get the charger when Jacob reminded us that he had been assigned the Sacrament bread again, in an effort to redeem himself from the previous Sunday. Oh no! By this time, it was 10 minutes 'til. I jumped in Rich's car with Jacob, leaving him with a completely dead battery, an inadequate battery charger, and no jumper cables for the second Sunday in a row while I attempted to get up to the church with the precious bread. Let's just say Rich was not happy about this situation. (I have to insert here that maybe somebody ought to figure out that you better not give the Pettingill family the responsibility of the Sacrament bread unless you are going to pick Jacob up and bring him yourself or unless you don't mind defrosting bread at 5 minutes 'til.) I drove like a mad woman in an unsuccessful attempt to get the bread to the church on time, telling my permitted driver the whole way that he was never allowed to drive like this no matter how late he was. Then I took a spot on the very back row of the chapel, on the metal chairs no less, and waited for my family to show up. This time, at 9:25, I knew Rich was in for it once again. Why don't I bring my cell phone to church?! I sneaked out, this time after the Sacrament, knowing that no one would take my ten saved chairs (nobody wants to sit on the back row), and called Rich's cell on the foyer phone. Dead battery story, take 2. Except this time, it is Daylight Savings Sunday, so the kind neighbors with the extra-powerful battery charger are apparently still asleep. The family finally dragged in to the chapel at 9:50. The teachers once again razzed Jacob for being late and assigned him the bread again! (What, don't we get any credit for a dead battery, for heaven's sake?!) To be sure that we redeem ourselves this time, I think we'll sneak in during the Stake dance this Saturday night and put the loaf of bread on the Sacrament table before we take the kids home. I also think I am going to send an email to the Teacher's Quorum and ban Jacob from ever being assigned the bread again.

Today, Rich informed me that somebody left the van doors open last night. This afternoon I drive the middle school carpool, but at least this doesn't involve the most sacred ordinance of the church. And at least we know way ahead of time. And at least it's not early in the morning, so we can just go over and knock on the neighbor's door with our heads held high, and a promise that we really are going to get this fixed, to borrow the charger.

Do you ever think that your family would run so much smoother if it didn't have all the children in it? (Just kidding.)

Food for thought

Yesterday, Anna, who is 2 1/2, had set up a little bed for herself and her two babies on the couch. She was siting on a blanket laid down on the couch and then had the babies on her lap. She was trying to get a second blanket pulled up over herself and the babies, but it kept getting stuck on her foot. She was getting more and more angry, and she was shouting with frustration. I finally came over and asked "Can I help you?" She wanted to do it herself, though, and told me so.

As I stood over her, watching her struggle, I knew how easy it would be for me to help her. Something that is so hard for her, to arrange a heavy blanket, would only take a moment for me to fix.

Finally, in desperation and tears, she said I could help. I pulled the blanket off her foot and straightened it on her legs. She was relieved that the blanket was now positioned correctly and so went on happily playing with her babies.

As I walked away, I thought about myself in relation to my Heavenly Father. How often are there times that I am struggling with something in my own life but am reluctant to ask for heavenly help? Do I insist on "doing it myself" when a loving Heavenly Father stands ready to assist? Do I try to handle things that, in my immature spiritual coordination, are difficult tasks for me but would be simple things for Him? How often do I wait until I am angry and in tears with a situation before I think to kneel down and petition heaven?

Just some food for thought.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Keeping the penny a penny

God knows a mother
needs fortitude and courage
and tolerance and flexibility
and patience and firmness
and nearly every other
brave aspect of the human soul.
But...I praise casualness.
It seems to me the rarest
of virtues.
It's useful enough when
children are small.
It is important to the point
of necessity when they
are adolescents.
--Phyllis McGinley

I have been thinking today about casualness. What is casualness exactly? The Mary Engelbreit illustration in the book that goes along with that quote is of a mother leaning back in her chair on the porch, glancing over the top of the newspaper she is reading, as her obviously distraught, pre-adolescent daughter speaks to her with what appears to be great emotion. I think it is staying calm, being the eye of the storm, when emotions or chaos are raging around you. It is being the one to have a clear head. It is smiling in the face of frustration and difficulty. It is keeping things in perspective.

One of the reasons that I have a hard time with casualness is that theory and reality can be so vastly different. For instance, I may think through my day in the morning, deciding that we will get these chores done, and do these fun activities. It all seems so manageable in the quiet peace of the morning hours before the family is up and stirring. Then theory meets reality. I didn't picture the baby being sick or fussy or the feet-dragging and fighting that inevitably occur as we try to get things done. I didn't plan for the elaborate and very important game they are in the middle of playing just as I am ready to do something with them that is important to me. These things all tend to make me frustrated and impatient that my grand plans for the day are not happening like I imagined. Even worse are the days when I don't get up before the children, and I spend the whole day in reaction mode. On these days, I never even get a grand plan for what was supposed to happened and instead am carried from one crisis to the next without feeling in control of anything. On those days, the reality of life is so very, very...well, real. It is so hard to smile and be calm when life feels like it is whirling out of control.

I think another obstacle to casualness is lack of perspective. In Gloria Child's memoirs, she describes a close friend as always doing everything "as if her life depended on it." Sometimes I forget that my life does not depend on being to church or to a child's basketball practice or to an appointment on time. It doesn't depend on whether the chores get done tonight, or tomorrow for that matter. Can I learn to be more consistently casual and not get upset when we are running late and Jeffrey can't, for the hundreth time, find his shoes? Or when the big kids are fighting with a little kid about who gets to sit where in the van? Or when one child says just the right thing to make another child cry and I have to stop, again, and help solve the conflict?

So how do I learn to be more casual in these emotionally charged situations? I know that going to the temple always helps. The temple helps me forget the daily worries and remember the big picture. It helps me shift from focusing on the small picture of daily life to the grand scheme of where I came from and why I am here and what this is all really about anyway. I always leave with a greater ability to be more calm, more patient, more casual. Maybe that is why we are encouraged to go as often as possible--to keep perspective.

Maybe keeping perspective is the key. This reminds me of an analogy I heard in a talk on BYU-TV . The speaker said that if you tape a penny to the wall and put your eye right up to it, it will take up almost your whole range of vision. But it you step back a foot or two, it comes into proper focus. If you step across the room, it becomes even smaller. If, theoretically, you could still see it from the other side of the house, think how small it would become. Or the end of the street. Or the other side of town. The speaker used the penny to represent our weaknesses, saying how we can keep them in perspective. I think it also works to think of it as other people's weaknesses, or the day-to-day problems that can seem so frustrating at the time, or even the crushing life worries that weigh us down. These things can all seem so immense at the time but are often less so when viewed from the proper perspective. How about viewing them from the perspective of our Father in Heaven, or from the perspective of the Savior? Everything changes when we look at things through Their heavenly, eternal eyes.

Writing this reminded me of an example that happened a few weeks ago. I was feeling really down. I had started my period (which could be enough said right there). I was feeling like our current trials, far beyond not having another baby, things like on-going health problems and employment worries, were never going to end. I was feeling hopeless. I had driven the middle school carpool and had pulled into our driveway. I sat in the car, lost in those deep feelings of discouragement and self-pity. Then I looked up. Here is a close-up of what I saw.These are the blossoms on the trees just outside our bedroom window, which I can also see from the driveway where I park our van. I took this picture yesterday, so the blossoms are turning to green leaves now. On that day, the tree was just overflowing with white, cheery flowers. The sky was full of clouds, so those bright, happy blossoms really stood out in the gloom. In that moment, as I sat in the van, I regained perspective. I almost felt like Heavenly Father had made those trees fully blossoms that very day, a little early for the year, just for me. That helped me see things as He seems them. Somehow, all the worries and fears and discouragement receded as I remembered that Heavenly Father is there, that He will answer our prayers, that He is in charge. I was able to remember why I am grateful for these trials and why I have faith that they are happening for a purpose. I remembered how much my Heavenly Father loves me and how He has answered my prayers so many times in the past.

I guess that is why, in addition to going to the temple regularly, we are encouraged to read the scriptures and pray every day. It's why we go to three hours of church on Sunday. It is also why I love BYU Women's Conference, and General Conference, and EFY music. And it's why Heavenly Father gave us the gift of the Holy Ghost, so that He can speak gentle, encouraging thoughts to our hearts and to our minds. All these things help keep the penny a penny.