Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Three Questions for Charting Your Course

I think that, somewhere inside, everyone wants to have a clear, specific course for his or her life.  It's just a natural desire.

But from what I have observed, it's not common for people to find it. 

So I'm writing this post for those who are in the process of charting a life course (or revising a life course that hasn't quite worked out) who would like some new ideas to consider.

I was telling Eric the other day that if I could choose to do anything in the whole world, I would do exactly what I'm doing.  I know that's a privilege.

The interesting thing, however, is that I didn't always feel that way in the past--even when I was doing pretty much the same things I'm doing now.

What has changed is that I went through a process of answering three powerful questions that totally clarified my course.

Now I wake up excited and go to bed content.  I have confidence in the work I do,  I feel happy, and I don't get as impatient with myself because I can see the big picture (except on the days I don't get enough sleep and have hormone issues . . . then I have meltdowns).

I haven't known exactly how to write about this process because it's really special and sacred to me, but this morning some ideas came into my mind, and I feel like this is the right time to share.

I'm simply going to explain the process I went through, and though part of it is specific to my religion, I'm confident that--whatever your belief is in a higher power or whatever resources nourish you spiritually--this can be replicated.  (But you'll have to let me know!)

Step #1: I wrote three questions at the front of my book of scripture.
  • Who am I?
  • What are my responsibilities (to God)?
  • How can I best fulfill these responsibilities?
(The idea for these questions came from Julie B. Beck, one of the women I admire most, who spoke at a conference I attended in April 2010.)


Step #2: I assigned each question a color (to make it easy to distinguish my markings).
  • Who am I? (BLUE)
  • What are my responsibilities (to God)? (GREEN)
  • How can I best fulfill these responsibilities? (RED)
Step #3: I started reading through my scriptures with those three questions in mind, and whenever I found an answer, I would mark it with the appropriate color.



Step #4: I put sticky notes at the back of my book--in three different sections--so I could record the answers and have all of them in one place.

The sticky notes started piling up quickly.  I finally got smart and bought those full page-sized ones.


Step #5: I read this book just about every day--really thinking about these questions, praying that the Lord would help me to learn what He wanted me to do, and recording the thoughts that came to my mind.

Because I went through this process slowly and read other scriptures during my study time, as well, it took me about two years to finish.  But that's okay.  It's not a race.

Since then, I've been looking through these notes periodically, but because it's hard to read sticky notes that are piled on top of each other at the back of a book, I decided it was time to compile them.

Last Sunday, I took out all my post-it notes and lined them up on the counter so I could see everything I learned in one place.

This is from the question, "Who am I?"  (Alia helped me blur this photo because these notes are really personal.)



And this is what I got from question number three (for some reason, the Question #2 photo has disappeared):


My children were watching me line up all these notes, and they were asking questions.  I told them that these notes contained some of the most precious ideas I had ever received from God.

Yesterday morning, I had the idea to take my "Who am I?" stack and read it into a digital voice recorder.  I sat on Grace's bed for about 30 minutes, reading the notes line by line and making a personal podcast.

As I was recording myself reading these, however, I realized that perhaps my children or grandchildren might listen to it someday, so I included some special messages to them and challenged them to go through this same process to discover who they are.  It was a really sweet and powerful experience.  Can't describe it in words.

I'm planning to record two more podcasts with my other stacks of notes and then type all the notes into one document, so I can read through them whenever I need to be reminded of who I am, what I'm supposed to be doing, and how the Lord is going to help me to do it.

I can't even tell you how helpful this has been so far.

I was at a Retreat for Power of Moms a few months after I started this process, and I was really nervous.  The morning of the event, I woke up with this question replaying itself in my head.  "Who do you think you are?"

It was starting to get me down.  I started doubting myself and wondering why on earth I was even trying to help mothers.

After awhile, I couldn't stand it anymore, so I said to that voice, "I'll tell you who I am."

And I opened my scriptures and started reading all the things I'd written under "Who am I?  These were insights and thoughts that had come from God--specifically tailored to me.

After reading through my notes, that voice and that question (Who do you think you are?) simply went away.  And I felt an increased ability to do what I needed to do.

If I could make one recommendation to everyone in the world, it would be to chart your course by asking God these questions.  Then listen.  Write it down.  And do it.  Not to be dramatic, but our very lives are literally at stake.

The power and peace that has come from this process is indescribable.  I feel happy and light.  I know I can accomplish the heavy tasks that are set before me.  I know I'm supported by a power that is so much greater than my own.

Each of us has an immeasurable value, and when we go to the Source to discover that value, it will literally transform us.

I want all of us to feel that.  I want all of us to know that.  And I want all of us to become what we are really meant to be.  

Much love,
April

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Magic that Happens When You Put the Phone Away

I was sitting at my son's basketball game last night, talking to a friend whose smart phone recently died.

She's been using a "non-smart" replacement phone for a couple of weeks until she can get a new iPhone with her plan renewal, but in the process, she's noticed something that I think will resonate with all of us.

A smart phone can often become more of a distraction than a help.

And by always being available to "everyone else," we, as mothers, are becoming unavailable to our families.

Have you felt that, too?

There has been lots of talk about what role "the phone" plays in motherhood, and I think we're all trying to figure out the right balance, but it's become more and more clear to me in the past few months that I have to be extremely deliberate about how much time and attention I give this iPhone of mine.

Because there is something else that matters more.

A few weeks ago, I decided that I would only check my email and text messages at certain intervals during the day.

Wow, that was hard (but I'm keeping at it, and it's making a big difference!  More on that below . . .).

On one Friday afternoon, I picked up Spencer from kindergarten just four hours before I needed to leave to our L.A. Power of Moms Retreat.

There were some last-minute emails flying around and a few logistics I needed to figure out, but as I got out of the van, I resisted the urge to check my phone for any incoming messages.

"Hey Mom!  Do you know there's a black car down the street that looks just like my friend Phoenix's?"  Spencer asked.

"No, I didn't know that.  What does it look like?"  I responded.

"It's kind of like a rectangle, and it's kind of long.  Do you want to go on a walk to go see it?"

It was raining outside, and I was hungry, and I still needed to pack things up and get the kids settled before I left.

Typically, I would have said, "Maybe another time, honey, but we need to get in for lunch."

But this time, I said, "Yes!  Yes I would like to go on a walk.  Do you want to take our umbrellas since you didn't get to take one to school today?"

(He'd had a bit of a meltdown that morning because he wanted an umbrella to use during the 90-second walk into the classroom, but we only have golf-sized ones, and he had a hood that worked just fine, so we didn't let him.)

Well, Spencer got the BIGGEST smile on his face, and we went into the garage to get our umbrellas, and then we walked up the street, checked out that cool black car that looked just like Phoenix's, and then made the two-minute walk back in the rain.

(I did take out my phone to snap a picture:)


And then I realized something about myself that pricked me in the heart a little bit.

I've let myself get too distracted by my phone and my task list and my schedule.  And I'm pretty sure I've missed out on some special moments like the one above.

There are all kinds of reasons and excuses--good ones--that I can provide, and I AM with my children for most of each day, but I don't want to miss chances to walk in the rain with my kids or paint nails on the kitchen floor with my daughters or laugh with my husband at night before I go to bed (because he is hilarious).

So I've made the decision that when my kids are around, I'm going to do everything I can to be accessible to them.  And that means I've been missing text messages and not responding to emails as quickly as before. 

But something sweet and precious and magical is happening in my life that I simply can't afford to miss.

Any other thoughts on this?  I'd appreciate anything you have to add.

Love,
April


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What You Need to Know Before Taking the Family to Disneyland

When I graduated from high school, I got my very first "official" job working at Disneyland during the summer and holiday seasons.


Whenever I tell people this, they excitedly ask, "What did you do?"  (Like maybe I got to fly from the Matterhorn during the fireworks show or dance with Mickey on a parade float or something awesome like that.)

And then I tell them I worked Guest Control for the shows and parades, which basically means I stood on the sidewalk (with a flashlight wand) and told the guests where they could find the closest restroom or what time the next parade would start.

No, it wasn't glamorous, and I was paid just about minimum wage, but I loved every single day of work.

I got choked up on my first day because I was so happy to be there.  And I cried on my last day because I was SO SAD to leave.  And every day in between, at least one person would ask me if it was my first day of work because I would skip around the park enthusiastically, smiling, making new friends, and doing my best to spread that Disney magic.   

Disneyland was my element.

Fast forward seven years, and I was the mom of three preschoolers, living in an itsy bitsy apartment in Southern California, waiting until we found the right house to buy.

I looked around for a preschool I thought Alia would like, but then I discovered that for $99 a piece (that was the price back then), I could buy annual passes to Disneyland for me and Alia--and Grace and Ethan could get in free.

And that was the start of "The Perry Family's Disneyland Preschool."

Over the past eight years, we've had family passes on and off, when it's worked with our vacation budget and our family circumstances, and though I'm sure there are still tons of things I can learn, I can confidently call myself a "Master of Disneyland with Children." (Is that bragging?  I'm not trying to brag.  Please forgive me if it comes across that way, okay?)

So now that I've learned all of these things, what do I DO with them?

I've hesitated even talking about Disneyland on my blog or Power of Moms because I understand that not everybody has the opportunity to go to Disneyland.  (And some people don't even like Disneyland, which I honestly can't comprehend.)

But this idea of a "Disneyland Kit" has been in my mind for months, and so I'm currently in the process of putting together a downloadable resource to help parents really make the most of their Disney vacation.

It will most likely consist of an eBook, a planning template, and a couple of special downloads, and my hope is that it will bring lots of new friends to Power of Moms--as well as enable families to create wonderful vacation memories to last a lifetime.  (Seriously, parents invest thousands of dollars and weeks of vacation time--sometimes to travel across the globe to get here.  I want them to have the time of their lives.)

And it's been good for me to work on something so fun.

Saren and I spend hundreds of hours each year creating web pages, typing up newsletters, responding to emails, and figuring out lots of details for our website--which is well worth it, when we look at what an amazing community we get to be a part of--but sometimes I just need to open my computer and "type happy."

That's what this Disneyland Kit is for me.

So the reason I'm writing up this post is because I want to know if there's anything you think needs to be included in this Disneyland kit.

Do you know of any bloggers who are already talking about this? Do you have any favorite books on the subject or best app recommendations for a smart phone?  Do you have any advice you're dying to share?  (You can check out our Power of Moms Facebook thread if you want to see what's already been said.)

And if you have anything else to add, please email me or leave your ideas in the comments.

(If you have specific questions you'd like me to address in the kit, please leave those, as well.)

Thanks so much!

Love,
April




Monday, February 11, 2013

Report on our Orange County Couples Mini-Retreat

On Friday night, Eric and I had the privilege of attending and facilitating the very first Orange County Couples Mini-Retreat for The Power of Families.

It was a beautiful evening with a great group of parents.

After a full day of rain, we were a little worried that everyone was going to show up soaking wet, but the skies cleared up nicely, and we arrived a bit early--to find that Melanie (our wonderful friend who arranged for us to use her clubhouse) had already gotten the chairs set up.


Loved this room.  It was perfect.


Since Eric and I were busy keeping the evening running, our 10-year-old daughter Grace was kind enough to snap a few photos (this was from the beginning of the night, when we talked about creating strong parenting partnerships): 


I've gotten used to sitting in rooms full of moms, so it was neat to see such an active group of dads participating in the group discussions.


Eric and I walked around from group to group--listening in and gleaning bits of wisdom from each of the discussions.

During this first break-out, everyone was sharing their best advice for creating strong partnerships.  We talked about having a weekly planning session where we can get on the same page, making date night a priority, setting realistic expectations, and learning how to really check in with one another to make sure our spouses are doing okay.


We all want to have fantastic marriages, but with the heavy demands of work and family responsibilities, it requires effort.  By putting a few good habits and routines in place and making marriage-strengthening a conscious effort, our goals become so much more achievable.


After we finished the Parenting Partnerships segment, we moved on to Family Systems and discussed building a strong family culture, establishing a family legal system, and creating a family economy.

For each session, we had a few minutes of presentation, a small-group discussion, and some reflective writing time.

Below, I've included a variety of photos from the rest of the night:


Laurie (our Power of Moms board member over PR) and her husband John are pictured below, bottom left:


I wish I had a better photo of Nora and Ricardo (bottom right).  A couple of weeks ago, Ricardo googled "Mini Retreat Marriage Southern California," and he found US.  (I don't know if there could have been a more perfect string of words to lead them to our Retreat page, but I'm SO glad they made it.)  They really contributed to all the conversations, and it was great to see a couple so united in strengthening their family.


Honestly, each person who attended was such a delight to meet.


Melanie and Marinda (the two moms in the center of the photo, below) helped with all the logistics of the night.  Thanks for making this happen, ladies!


And my sister Laura and brother-in-law Jim are below on the left (thanks for coming!):


This photo is blurry, but this is Emily (our board member who runs our Twitter feed) and her husband Eric (center):


And I like this picture.  Eric is standing at the left, presenting some ideas to the group, and Grace is holding the cute baby who attended that night.  (Can you tell Grace is in heaven?)


I could go on and on, but basically, I want to thank everyone who joined us, and for those of you who have the chance to attend a Retreat in the future, I hope you'll do so. There's something about meeting together in person that simply can't be replicated online.

As I was looking through these photos and some videos of the event, my five-year-old son, Spencer, was eating a bowl of mint-n-chip ice cream at the counter behind me.

"Mom?" he said, "Am I going to go to a retreat when I'm a dad?"

"Yep," I responded.

"Yay." he said.

(Loved that.)

So for the future Mrs. Spencer Perry, I've got him all conditioned for you. . . .

Okay, and now there's one more thing I need to say about these Retreats. 

I don't know if people know this about me, but attending and presenting at Retreats scares me to death.

I love the Retreats, and I'm planning to do many more in the future, but my stomach hurts for days before, and I can never really sleep the night before--or after.

It is a thousand times easier for me to sit behind a computer screen than to get out in front of people, but there's this quote my brother-in-law shared with me that I think of often:

There's no growth in the comfort zone--and no comfort in the growth zone.

At some point, I'm hopeful that these Retreats will be natural and easy for me, but for the time being, I have to plan a few days of down time at the end of each event so I can get over all my anxiety.

(Hope you don't mind my honesty.)

All right, I'm closing up now.  We're introducing our kids to the Star Wars movies this week, and it's time to watch Empire Strikes Back.

Hope to see you at our next Retreat!

Much love,
April


Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Night My Mom Almost Missed Her Concert

My 13-year-old is collecting stories of faith for a special family book she's putting together.

And today I'd like to record one of my mom's most faith-promoting experiences.

She's never shared it with anyone outside our family because she thought people would think she was making it up, but she's given me permission to share it here, and I hope I can record it appropriately. 

About 50 years ago, my mother had just two young children--my brother Robert and my sister Linda--and she was expecting my sister Susan.

Here is my mom (right) with Robert and Linda in the wagon. My Uncle Duane is on the left, and my grandparents are in the center.  (I don't believe my mom was expecting Susan yet in this picture.)


Mom had been participating in a regional church concert, and the women's chorus had been rehearsing for weeks.

The day of the final performance came, and just moments before she was supposed to start getting ready, she received a phone call from my dad, saying something had come up, and he wasn't going to be able to come home and care for the children while she went to the concert.

She looked around at the messy kitchen and her two little children eating their dinner.  She looked down at her protruding belly and felt completely overwhelmed as she contemplated the effort it would take to get everyone cleaned up, secure a babysitter, and find a ride to the concert.

She thought about how hard she had worked to learn her part for the choir concert and how excited she had been to sing.

And then she did exactly what I would have done in her situation.

She started to cry.

Leaving Linda in the high chair for a moment, she went into the back room and knelt by her bed.  Emotionally unable to say a formal prayer, she just let the tears flow and repeated the words, "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry."

She was sorry that she was so weak.  Sorry she was going to waste all of the effort she'd spent preparing for this musical number.  Sorry if she'd let the Lord down in some way.

And then something amazing happened.

All of sudden, she felt an electrifying, empowering feeling of energy course through her whole body.  It went down her arms and into her legs.  It lifted her up from her knees with the kind of strength she had never in a million years expected to feel on that night.

"Why am I saying I'm sorry," she thought, "when I feel better than I have ever felt?"

So with that energy, she ran into the kitchen and quickly cleaned up the dinner dishes and got the children settled.  She called a babysitter who usually never wanted to babysit but this time agreed to come right over.

She called a friend down the street to see if she could get a ride to the church, and her friend said, "Well, I'm running a little late, but I can take you if you can be ready in five minutes."

And then she went quickly into her room, put on a skirt and a blouse, brushed her hair, and had so much energy that she couldn't even sit down.

"I was running around the house, and I felt like I was meeting myself coming and going.  I didn't know what to do with all that energy!" she told me.

When she and her friend arrived at the church, they discovered they were just in time.  The women were all lining up to go into the choir loft.  She was so happy.

She sang her part--just like she'd practiced it--and she felt elated that she'd been able to get there, when it had looked utterly impossible just moments before.

After the song was over, she thought, "I'll just sit down here in the audience and enjoy the rest of the numbers."

But then something interesting happened.

The overwhelming fatigue she'd felt previously returned with the same intensity.

"I felt completely drained.  Like I could barely move.  The energy was gone."

As she was arranging to get a ride back home, she quietly asked the Lord, "Why couldn't this energy have lasted all night?"

The reply?

"Because I want you to know that this evening was My special gift to you."


I've thought of this story more times than I can count.  It's beautiful to me for many reasons--mainly because it represents the simplicity and power with which the Lord has blessed my life over and over again. 

My mom could have spent the evening being mad at my dad for being late.

She could have said, "Look at me--pregnant and tired and doing all this housework.  What's the point of even trying to do anything else?"

But she didn't do that.  She didn't even think it.

She turned to God and poured out her heart to Him.  And that night, He gave her a beautiful, personalized gift.

That gift, however, wasn't just a singular event.  It was an experience that strengthened her faith.  And it strengthened my faith.  And now it's strengthening my daughter's faith.

I hope that by sharing this story here, it will also strengthen yours.

Love,
April

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