Culturally, we have sent a message that a person is not of complete value until they are married. Which naturally leads to the belief that if one loses that value through loss of the marriage, they are less-than. They aren't a "full" member, and by extension, a “complete” daughter of God.Read More
Unlike the Pinterest meme, I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason.” I believe in every individual’s God-given freedom to think and act however they choose (within or without the law), which can lead to some truly terrible and unfair events.Read More
I would like to be able to say that I never again did something dumb to win another’s approval, but I can’t. What I’ve hopefully done is made it to a place where I am trying to win the right people’s approval, for the right reasons, and in the right ways.Read More
Lately, each time I've thought about writing a post to get going on Relationship Refinery, I quickly feel like it's futile and almost superficial in the midst of the global events going on. So I didn’t write; I just did a lot of angry texting and fight-picking on Facebook. You may have noticed.
Then, I quit. All of it. Social media, TV, caffeine, sugar, arguing, blaming, and all that. The numbness went away. I began to feel again, to think about things other than politics again. That was a nice week... (baby steps)
During that week, I watched Jim: The James Foley Story for the third time to bring me back to myself.
Jim the film is… well, it’s something I will flatten if I write too much about. It needs to be seen to fully get the picture of who Jim (James Foley) was. But let’s just say the film made me think about Jesus, a lot.
In short(ish), James was a somewhat accidental conflict-photojournalist who first was captured in Libya as he documented their uprising. He was released after 45 days, and to his family’s dismay but ultimate understanding, he went back to document the horrific scenes of Aleppo, Syria.
He was captured by ISIS/ISIL, which at the time was an unknown force-- not even the U.S. government (seemingly) knew about, much less suspected, this group. He was held in the worst conditions imaginable with another journalist for about a year, before being transferred to yet another prison where 16 journalists from other Western countries were being held.
After another year, most of the other journalists were released, while James was taken to the top of a hill, made to read an anti-American script condemning his family and country, and then beheaded on camera in one of the most viral stories of all time.
The documentary was made by his family and does a remarkable job at making the story an uplifting portrait of James, amid the most somber and heartbreaking circumstances. The things I have learned from his example I fear can’t be captured here, but they are by far the most profound things I have picked up from something I watched on TV, and that’s because they helped me better understand Christ and His example.
Here is a person who is in the worst place imaginable, with the least amount of hope and the most amount of uncertainty. The other prisoners talked about how during the torture sessions, they would have much rather taken physical torture than the mental torture of never knowing what was in store for them. James, a devout Catholic, really wanted to pray. In order to do so, he converted to Islam so that even though he wasn’t able to verbally pray to Jesus, he could kneel five times a day to pray to Allah and hope his prayers were being heard.
One of the other prisoners described it this way,
“Religion is like language. It's the love that matters. So even though James prayed to Allah, he needed that. He needed that connection to his God, and he also needed that connection to his mother and family.”
In these dark, dark days, James thought about beautiful things and was known to always be at peace. On Christmas day, as the men sat in a circle telling each other something they liked about the others, one of the prisoners said to James, “You are pure good. There is no evil in you.” He then went on to say that that Christmas, being with James, was the best of his life.
Can you imagine? You’re a prisoner in a literal death chamber, experiencing the best holiday of your life because you’re sharing it with someone who brings light into your heart.
Amid these conditions, Jim was described by every prisoner as a steadying force, unselfish and honest. That although every one of them at some point had “cheated” with food, hoarded food, snuck food without sharing, Jim never did. Jim took the worst of the beatings because he would request the most of the guards- always petitioning for more food for the group.
At one point another prisoner and James had endured excruciating physical torture for hours. The other prisoner, Daniel, was in the corner crying from what he called the worst pain of his life. James, somehow not in tears, reached out to comfort Daniel in the midst of his own suffering.
One of the most powerful examples of his selflessness was when Daniel was about to be released. He thought it would happen any day now, yet James had no word whatsoever that he himself would be released anytime soon. After six days of thinking he would get out that day, Daniel was in the depths of despair because it hadn’t happened and was terrified of what would happen if he didn’t get out. Jim went to his side, put his arm around him, and told him it would be ok. He said, “Daniel, you are going to get out. It’s going to be ok. You will go home.”
He then went to the other side of the room and sat quietly. 15 minutes later, the guards came to release Daniel.
The fellow captives were so certain of Jim’s goodness through and through, that one of them said that he is positive that even while Jim was kneeling before the terrorist, about to be murdered, there’s no doubt that Jim was admiring the view of the sunset as he passed.
Another ex-prisoner remarked, “He died as a free man. I ended up being released; he ended up free.”
My little brother and I watched this film together and afterward he wondered aloud how he himself could make that kind of an impact. Go to Libya? Syria? Zambia? Become a conflict journalist?
We talked about how, even within the best of intentions, that focus can end up being one of the Adversary’s tools used to keep us locked inside ourselves. You can’t do anything if you can’t go abroad. You can’t do anything if you can’t reach the masses. Or change a law. Or unseat a president. Or feed the hungry millions. Or have some big fancy job making a lot of fancy money.
Every time I watch James’ story, I feel immense sadness for his family. But I can’t help but feel their pride as well, particularly his parents’. To have a child die is a tragedy unmatched.
But when I think of how remarkable it would be to discover that my son was known, in the darkest, most hopeless place, to be a person of integrity, unfailing charity, optimism and humility... I can’t help but believe that their joy in that knowledge has gotten them through many dark days.
Nothing would put my heart at more ease than knowing that Charity, the pure love of Christ, was my child’s legacy.
His parents said that they came to know their son through the people in his life, after he had passed, as they met his friends and former fellow captives for the memorial service. People like him don’t go around talking about how they are saving the world one good vibe at a time, so other people have to do it for them.
When I say the film makes me think of Jesus a lot, it’s because I’m given a visual of perhaps how our Savior might have conducted Himself had He been in similar circumstances: serving the poorest and most war-torn among us, giving up all material possessions, remaining faithful and connected to God throughout it all, and always, always being there to comfort another in pain despite His own, likely worse, pain.
That’s why I watch it despite the sadness. It reminds me that if all I do in this life is look outside myself every possible moment, wherever I am, even if no one but a few people in a prison cell will see it, it will be the best use of my life.
Recently I was visiting my aunt and uncle in California with my two toddlers who were out of sorts from a month of travel. My three-year-old had imprinted on this basketball and needed to play with it at all times. He had taken it outside where it was raining, then brought it in and was distraught that it was wet.
Of course my simply toweling off the ball wasn’t good enough for him, and he kept screaming. Since I found this to be unreasonable (“I want it dryyyyyyy”), I was bracing myself for a long tantrum and not giving into his lunacy. My aunt, who was minutes away from needing to leave for church, patiently came over and said, “We could go dry it with my blow dryer. Would you want to do that?”
As I watched her blow dry my son’s wet basketball, a sort of preposterous thing, with a smile on her face as if it were the most normal thing in the world--all while my son’s tears streamed down his face and he calmed down-- I had the thought, this is what the pure love of Christ looks like. I was surprised, because there were a dozen other things she had done that week that might have looked more obviously that way.
But this encompassed the spirit of Charity in such a lovely way that I couldn't miss it. Charity is discerning, but when it has to choose, it errs on the side of looking at something as “helping” rather than “enabling”. It doesn’t ask questions like, “But if I give in this time, then won’t he keep asking for other ridiculous things?” or “Yes he’s sad, but it will be good for him to not get his way.”
It says, “You know what? What would it hurt to help him feel happy? I have the power to comfort him, it’s not hurting him or me, so I’m going to try.” It’s not concerned with spoiling, or only helping those who help themselves, or forcing lessons onto a person. It’s just about giving when we can, and trusting it will all even out somehow.
"There is no such thing as a self-made man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the makeup of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our successes." -George Matthew Adams
So I’ll write. Because relationships--typically one-by-one and not by the masses-- are how we make the difference, and I need an endless stream of reminders to push me outside of my default stay-in-my-bubble-and-keep-things-medium mode.
I mean, literally as I write this, I just snapped at my husband for looking at me while I'm eating a messy bagel. As I write this thing about being just a tiny bit less selfish and a tiny bit more kind, I'm snarky over perhaps the dumbest thing ever.
I need these reminders more than everyone.
I'm easily prone to overwhelm, so my purpose for this site is to provide a place to remind us that there is much refining to be done without total overhaul. Push ourselves without pushing our own buttons. (Just made that up, clearly. Will someone please think of something catchy for this idea... I'm too overwhelmed.)
Refinement: it isn’t everything at once; it’s something at many times. (Better?)
It's thinking of your spouse or your mother or your neighbor in need even one time when you’d normally be thinking of yourself, and then actually doing something with the thought.
It’s looking at the towel on the floor and making the decision to be happy there is a person in your life to put the towel on the floor, rather than throwing said towel in said person’s face.
With God, it’s kneeling to pray just one of the times you would rather do it curled up in bed, or just praying a little, maybe during a commercial break, when you would rather not pray at all.
With yourself, it’s literally patting yourself on the back (I’m serious, get your hand and put it on your back) after you do that 15 minute workout or make a $5 donation to that GoFundMe page, when you had the strong desire to stay home or keep scrolling.
It’s after a week of tiny things like this, suddenly thinking, see? Little by little, I can do this. I can be better than I ever thought possible. So little has changed this week, but my hope has become brighter than it has been in years.
That’s what’s amazing about refinement. It’s not about the literal amount of change made in a given area; those are drops in the bucket of endless things you could be doing.
It’s about showing up and showing God you haven’t quit. You haven’t thrown in the towel (or thrown the towel), even when your desired outcome (of the election, the marital disagreement, the promotion or the kid’s birthday party) didn’t occur.
Give Him an inch, and He will give a yard.
That’s why I’m here. I’m going to keep showing up to this site, to put on screen things that matter to me, even though my voice is small and far from revolutionary.
If I can help someone think a little more about their spouse’s point-of-view, who in turn is more compassionate to a colleague in need, who is then more motivated to listen to their child with a little more patience, who then goes to school and befriends a lonely kid… then it's a ripple worth making.
There are no sandblasters here, only little chisels and scraps of sandpaper chipping away the calluses we’ve developed from staying in our same ruts, climbing the same mountains, pushing away the same calls to someplace higher. Little by little we can soften up, and ultimately, shine.
I have been having this feeling in my heart lately… almost a warming where I had been chilled into complacency or apathy for too long. I’m trying to identify if it’s empathy, in an expanded sense that I haven’t before experienced. As if I’m finally mature enough to have earned it. Or mature enough to have nurtured it. It’s not an entirely comfortable feeling. It’s an ache, but a loving ache. It’s different than sadness or anger at a tragedy. It’s different from compassion. It feels divine, like it’s coming from another place, a most true and real place.
The only clues I have as to what it is are in the moments in which it appears. They are moments of heartbreak, but not mine: only heartbreak in the lives of others.
I think it started in moments of heartbreak for those close to me, but quickly began showing up while reading fundraising requests on Facebook, until it greatly piqued my interest when it fluttered through while I watched the news. I have always felt so distant from those scenes, or so bombarded by their frequency that I failed to see them any longer.
Perhaps I have been exposed to this sensation before, and quickly stifled it because I was not yet comfortable with the vulnerability required to feel the longing helplessness by which I identify the onset of this feeling.
Even now, the feeling is fleeting. Encouraging it to stay is a most delicate effort; I must be unafraid of the feeling's power. Although it seems light at the onset, I can sense that the feeling has deep roots, capable of turning my life in all new directions.
It’s somewhat strange, 31 years into life, to be experiencing what feels like a brand new emotion. I’m unfamiliar with how to sustain it, how to interpret it, what to do with it.
So for now I simply feel it. I like it, even with its tinge of discomfort. It makes me feel connected; human.
I can see why I shut it out. It isn’t pleasant to have to care about the news. If I care about that car accident, then what is going to hold me together when an entire busload of children are injured?
If I break the seal on my heart for the man shot in an everyday burglary, how will the contents of my soul spill over when 49 people are murdered in one night?
If I allow myself to shudder at the thought of the panhandling woman at the gas station going hungry that night, how will I ever be able to sleep with the awareness of the millions of starving children across the world?
It’s uncomfortable, all that caring. But somehow, without knowing what has changed, I have begun to creep past the discomfort into the gentle expansion of my soul that increasingly accompanies my awareness of these heartbreaks.
This feeling has given me a glimpse as to how there can be people in the world who give their whole lives to help others. Literally, give it all away: time, talents, resources. Who feel as deeply for the life of a stranger as they do their own brother or lover.
I guess I always thought this was a “type” of person, someone other than me, a “better” person, gifted in empathy and compassion and rescue.
I’m beginning to see how “that person” could eventually be found in me. But I’m also seeing how much heartbreak and feeling and pain it will require. It feels daunting to take that all in, to ask myself in every situation,
“Can you imagine?”
The infrequency with which I ask myself this is enough to expose just how afraid I am of the answer. Because each time I ask it of myself, regarding any person in any heartbreaking situation, I am brought down, through my imagination, to depths I have never personally had to endure.
Thank God, thank God, that my Savior has paid for it all, lest we all become paralyzed from the collective heartbreak of the world. Allowing me to be able to empathize, to feel on another's behalf, and know that somehow, somewhere, peace, mercy, and justice will prevail.
As I write here, the obviousness of this whole thing strikes me and I’m embarrassed that it took me this long to realize. The feeling I’m having when I see another suffer, and I choose not to look away but rather to imagine their heartbreak… to mourn with them and rest in their pain...
"But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him." -Moroni 7:47
In college, I studied behavioral science which covers psychology as the central science. I could list the symptoms of depression off the top of my head.
And yet, the signs escaped me when they were mine.Read More
...In my case, I owe the quality of my relationships in dating, marriage, spiritual, and with myself to lessons initiated by my best friend, Stacy. Lest you think this is placing a bit too much power in one person’s hands, I’ll explain.Read More
...it’s easy to feel like your worth as a person, male or female, is inextricably tied to your relationship status. It’s not. But marriage is something that a lot of us desire, since a large component of the Gospel is finding joy through family relationships. However...Read More
(Photo: Us as babies on our first trip together.) ...I often heard the phrase ‘Love is not enough’. As in, “Love is not enough to make a relationship work long term". But wait, Love is everything, right? All we need is Love?Read More
I didn’t take my native culture to New York with me. I had always been dead-set on marrying later, having children later, and having them because I wanted them, not because of any social, religious, or cultural pressure. That’s how I went into it, but nothing could have prepared me for the depth of feeling I would develop for the children I lived with, loved, and nurtured over the next few years. It was as close to motherhood as I would come for almost a decade.Read More
A few days had passed since our Thanksgiving feast. My husband came into the kitchen to tell me it was time. We gathered next to George’s bedside, Jon and his siblings surrounding their father. My son, Clayton, was sitting on my lap quietly observing the sudden swirl of activity and tears. As George was given a departing blessing, sending him peacefully to the other side, his pulse weakened and finally stopped. Amid the sounds of sobs and sniffles, a light and happy sound broke through- Clayton was laughing. A welcomed, surprising sound brought tearful smiles to an unlikely moment. One of Jon’s brothers looked to the baby and asked, “Did grandpa tickle you on the way out?” adding welcomed levity to the otherwise heartbreaking situation.
In the moments that followed, I thought back to my last few encounters with George. His son’s wedding a month before, and his elation at finally seeing his last single son marry a wonderful woman. During that same week, he and I sat alone in the kitchen as I told him about a compliment someone at church had paid him, wanting us to pass it along. He humbly nodded as I recounted the story, expressed gratitude, and then expanded on his love for his religion and his Savior. He had endured to the very end, and his future was as bright as his faith.
My mind wandered back to almost a year earlier, the many days of me, in my post-baby-delivery state, living in his home, being a mess of emotions and fluctuating moods. Him, every single day and every single run-in, greeting me with a smile, asking how I was doing with every bit as much sincerity as he had the last time I saw him not an hour earlier.
Although I almost always turned down his offers to help or make me dinner, he never stopped asking. It would have been much easier for someone with severe arthritis and a failing heart to shout rather than make the trek down the stairs to ask, he never did. He always came to me like a tried-and-true gentleman.
I thought of last year’s Christmas season, where he had offered to organize the local care center’s Secret Santa tree- which included cutting out paper stars and writing the desired gifts on them. When many stars were left without Santas, he purchased the gifts and brought them home to wrap. He knew each person by name and trudged through the Christmas rush to numerous stores to get the perfect items for each person. I offered to help him cut out the ornaments and wrap the gifts, as his hands weren’t exactly nimble after years of arthritis.
My heart was so touched seeing that he was actually planning to cut out each one, and was genuinely surprised and supremely grateful that I would be willing to help. He had been prepared to take care of the these all-but-forgotten people's Christmas wishes, even knowing it would take him all day on his own.
A few months after that Christmas, he would go into the hospital to find that he needed a 6X bypass on his heart due to many blockages and failed stints. Upon discovering this, I looked back on the time leading up to it and realized what pain he must have been enduring. It made his small acts of kindness that much more humbling to remember.
To me, the light I felt surrounding George is the same one I feel surrounding my baby boy. It's purity of heart and soul. It softens me, disarms me, sometimes against my will. That’s why I felt it especially fitting when Clayton responded with lightness and smiles during a time when darkness and gloom could have prevailed.
Even in his death, there was light. It was as if George’s feelings of being relieved of the pains that his mortal body had given him for decades were communicated through the mouth of a babe. All is well, I am free.
Dozens of times a day, Clayton will come toddling into the room, make eye contact with his dad or me, and smile and laugh as if he hadn’t seen us in weeks. It might have been 10 seconds. George’s greetings, to a tired new mom who often couldn’t bring herself to respond in kind, were just as warm.
In many tributes given of George following his death, it has been often said that he made people feel as if he had waited his whole life to meet them. Just like a child, so free with love.
Perhaps the example of George that I treasure the most, is his extraordinary love of being a father. I benefit every day from being married to a man who saw first-hand how raising children brings the greatest of life’s joys. That joy was written across George’s face every time he sat quietly and watched his seven fully grown, yet rowdy as ever, children laugh with and enjoy each other.
I hope to never forget his soft chuckles as he fell miles behind in a board game, having no concern whatsoever for winning. He was just happy to be there to play, and usually, to watch one of his kids win.
Several of his children spoke of times growing up where they would walk by their dad’s office and notice him kneeling or speaking, and they would eavesdrop as he poured out his heart to God on their behalf. How could a child not feel loved by their father, knowing his deepest desire from God was their welfare?
I think often of a beautiful sentiment expressed in the eulogy given at George’s funeral by one of his sons. He quoted a line from the movie, Oz, the Great and Powerful.
Oz has reached the end of the journey and saved the day. Glinda the Good Witch says to him,
“For the record, I knew you had it in you all along.”
Oz replies, “Greatness?
Glinda: “No. Better than that. Goodness.”
He went on to say that George was not a great man. He was better than that, he was good.
There is much ado surrounding the flashy, prominent, status-laden men of society. Many of them are considered great, but few of them are good.
Another one of George’s sons sat with him months prior to his death, both of them knowing the end was approaching. The son explained how even in the midst of this knowledge, George changed little in his life. I’ve thought of this a lot these past few weeks, wondering what it would take to get me to that point. How many, if they knew they had only months to live, would feel totally at peace continuing to live life the exact same way, day-to-day? Only the pure in heart, only the good.
As I watch my son grow, I can’t help but feel goodness grow in me. His purity carries with it the goodness I saw and felt from George, as only a child could do. I see the goodness in my husband as he strives to carry on this legacy, to promote goodness in the world, beginning with working hard at loving his wife and son.
While in the hospital after open heart surgery, George was heavily sedated but a little coherent. After visiting one day, Jon said “I love you” and went to leave. George responded, “I love you. Who is it?” Of course, he didn’t need to know who said it before responding with love.
Good fathers are a rare and diminishing breed. The more I see of this world, the more I am filled with gratitude for having been given one of my own, one who taught me to marry a man who knows what a real father looks like.
If kindness is the essence of greatness, then one can only be truly great if one is also good.
“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better… But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”
Until we meet again, rest in peace Grandpa George.
Today, my testimony is my most precious possession. I would not be living a wholehearted life without it, and things in the day-to-day would be incredibly different.
My testimony is only so valuable to me now because I earned it.Read More
They say everything you need to know you learned in Kindergarten: Share everything, play fair, don’t hit people and all that. This is knowledge you have in your brain. While helping my 9 year old nephew with his multiplication flashcards, he said, “Even when I went camping for like, three days, I came back and I still knew my sevens!” I told him he’s lucky that he’s a kid- because when he learns new things, they stick in his brain really well, so much better than his rickety old aunt's. We talked about how, when I’m watching the flashcards go by, the way I know the answer is by remembering what my elementary school teachers taught me.
Even though I multiplied numbers all through high school, college, and beyond, each time since elementary that I did so was because of a recollection of what I learned all those years ago. Each experience further solidified the answer in my mind, but mainly I only had to learn them once and I was good for life.
For things of the world, it is usually enough to simply remember them. The english word remember means to bring a memory or fact back to your mind. Remembering something in the most basic sense of the word is to pull it out of the deep storage of your brain and place it in the front. Acting on it, loving it, or feeling it, is not included in the standard English 'remember'.
In Spanish or Latin, however, the word remember translates to recordar. The root of recordar, 'cord', means 'of the heart'. To remember something by this definition means to pass it through your heart again.
Ever since this concept was shared with me by an Ecuadorian home teacher, I have noticed how important this distinction is when dealing with spiritual matters. I could say, “Everything I need to know about the gospel I learned in Primary”, and figure, “I know what the commandments are and I know right from wrong, therefore, gospel education: complete!”
The problem with that is that it takes the most important ingredient out of spiritual learning: The Spirit. The Holy Ghost is the mechanism by which important truths (all truth, in fact) are passed through our heart. Commandments, facts about Jesus’ life, Articles of Faith can be known in our minds forever. But, they will do us little good if they fail to change our heart.
Of course, “Changing your heart” can sound like an abstract concept, but there are practical ways to achieve it. I learned a big perspective-changing piece of information while listening to the Teaching By the Spirit Workshop by Gene R. Cook, Emeritus Seventy (amazing CD that will change your teaching/speaking skills for life). He pointed out that when Jesus visits the Americas, in 3rd Nephi, 20:1, He is about to administer the sacrament and also teach them the commandments. He commands them to cease to pray (orally), but not to cease praying in their hearts while He speaks to them.
Elder Cook points out the powerful idea that although the Savior of the World is in their presence and teaching them, they still need to invite the Spirit of the Father into their hearts and into the meeting. Even Christ’s teachings would mean little if they were not accompanied by the Holy Ghost.
Whether we are teaching a lesson, talking to a friend, giving a speech, or teaching a child, the most important factor is whether or not the Spirit is with us. The rest of the workshop talks about the need for worthiness and invitation of the Spirit as above even the most intricate of planning. Spending hours on handouts, table settings, our hair, the flowery words and analogies we will use, the dozens of extra stories we will share, all matter very little if we are stressing out, being mean to our husband, or failing to pray and ponder on what the Lord would have us do.
If we allow the Spirit into the room, into our hearts, and create an environment in which it can enter into the heart of another, the Lord can teach much more precisely, more personally, and with far greater impact than we ever can. Not only will He speak to our minds what we should say, He will also speak to the hearts of others exactly what they need to know. If we were only trying to get a concept or fact into our minds or into the minds of others, we would simply need to teach to the mind and create mnemonic devices for rote memorization. But if we want to help 'recordar' things (wrong usage, I know) we have already learned a dozen times, it is through the heart alone that this happens.
When I look at the promise to “always remember Him” in light of this definition, I see why we hear it every week. We already know what the prayer will say. We may have scores of scriptures memorized that we can bring to mind at a moment's notice. In the temple, we already know what is coming next. But since these things are truth, if we choose to not only remember them but to also 'recordar' them by prayerfully seeking His presence, the same words can pass through our heart again for the Holy Ghost to testify of their truthfulness.
With how easy it is for the toughness of life to kill our motivation to choose the right, the depth of feelings that come from the Comforter can carry us through with confidence and stronger commitment to endure to the end, in a more powerful and longer-lasting way than using only our mind can.