Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The "Nuts and Bolts" of Scripture Study for Moms with a Young Family


Note from April: A few months ago, I wrote a post called "Three Questions for Charting Your Course," where I shared how reading the scriptures while looking for answers to specific questions has helped to guide my life. 

In the comments of that post, I invited anyone who wanted to know more about the "nuts and bolts" of scripture study with young children to email me, and I would send them additional information.  I thought maybe one or two people would contact me, but I've now gotten to the point that I can't keep up with the emails.

 
So below, I've included the full text of a chapter I wrote on this subject back in 2006.  
 
I was hesitant to put all of this on my blog for a couple of reasons.  One, it's REALLY long, and blog posts are typically between 200 and 1000 words.  Two, this blog works in partnership with the website I run, Power of Moms, which unites mothers of all backgrounds.  We try to keep things as principle-based as possible, so it's rare for me to teach anything that is specific to my religion.
 
However, this morning I felt like this was something I needed to post on my blog, so I thought I would add a simple note of explanation, and I'm hopeful that the ideas I've included will be of help.
 
Love,
April 

 

Cling to the Scriptures as Our Lifeline to the Savior
(Updated from a book chapter I wrote in 2006)
           
         During my junior year of high school, I received a small chart from one of my teachers at church with a space to check off for each day of the year that I read my scriptures.  I started January 1st and made it my goal to get every spot colored in—even if I could only read for a few minutes each day.  Ten years have passed, and I have tried to continue the habit of reading daily, but something interesting happened to me once I became a mother.
            Our first daughter was born when I was 21, and I stayed at home with our little baby while my husband went to work each day.  The long hours alone in our apartment, completely opposite from the busy life I had led as a college student, drove me to study the scriptures as I never had before.  It was no longer enough to just read for a few minutes and put a check in a box.  I needed the scriptures because hearing the voice of the Lord was the only way for me to handle my transition to motherhood.
            As more children came to our family, large chunks of uninterrupted time did not readily present themselves.  Sleeping and showering became top priorities, and I wondered if I would ever be able to study my scriptures again without being needed by a child or dozing off before I could finish even one phrase.  I often fall short, but with encouragement from my fellow mothers, a little bit of creativity, and a lot of help from the Lord, my scripture study has again become a time for spiritual rejuvenation. 
            I need to clarify that I am far from being a perfect scriptorian, but now instead of feeling inadequate with my meager abilities, I believe the Lord can teach me what I need to know in the time I am able to offer Him.  He teaches us line upon line as we show Him He is the most important person in our lives and His voice is the one we are most interested in hearing.
            Those of us who have grown up in religious families or as active members of a church have been reminded to read our scriptures more often than we can count. We all know it is important to do, but unless we have had experiences truly feasting on the scriptures, we may subconsciously leave the responsibility of deep gospel scholarship to those who do not balance their schedules around children.
            If we want to be powerful mothers, we need to receive the scriptures as a precious gift from the Lord.  This chapter offers five suggestions to help you get started or keep you moving as you increase your knowledge of the gospel and enjoy quality time learning from our Redeemer.
            First, believe you can read your scriptures consistently.  Second, be willing to read when the circumstances are not perfect.  Third, involve your children in regular family study.  Fourth, welcome experiences with the scriptures, and fifth, know the scriptures are talking to mothers.
           
Believe You Can Read Your Scriptures Consistently
            Most of us probably would not say, “I don’t believe I can read my scriptures every day,” but we do seem to have a lot of excuses ready to go:  “My children take all of my time.”  Or “I just can’t focus on the scriptures when I’m tired, which is always.” Or “There is just so much to do—reading my scriptures is just another thing on a list that’s already too long.” Or “I’ll read the scriptures more when my children are out of the house.”  Perhaps you’ve heard these before, or thought them like the rest of us, but the time has come for us to believe that we can feast on the scriptures every day. 
            Feasting is more than just looking briefly at a verse; we can take our time to study, ponder, learn from what we read, and actually feel something in the process.   If you do not know how to feast, find someone in your neighborhood or social networks who does and ask for some training (my experience has taught me that most people who feast love to teach others to do the same).   My mother refers to her study as “Divine Fellowship.”  She prepares time each day to commune with the Lord and feel His love.   Problems will most certainly arise that will make our study more difficult, but to put it simply, if we do not believe we can do it, we will not do it.
            We may start with good intentions and then simply get distracted by something like an emergency trip to the doctor or the realization that we have just run out of milk and bread.  Another challenge may be that we read each day because we are “supposed to,” but we miss the whole point of why we are studying in the first place. 
            The Lord does understand that our lives are sometimes hectic, but that is exactly why we need the scriptures.  Even when our husbands have been working long hours and our children have been sick, we need the power of the scriptures as much as anyone else.  Our callings as mothers and wives are important to the Lord, and the insights we receive as we study our scriptures can be just as powerful.  He especially wants to speak to us, strengthen us, and support us when our child has the stomach flu or when we have been cooped up in a small apartment for days without relief. 
            We do not want to see scripture study as an optional activity that is relegated to the end of our “to do” list, but we also do not need to beat ourselves up if we do not perfectly reach our goals.  The book Glimpses, about a woman I greatly admire named Marjorie Pay Hinckley, recorded a cute insight from one of her family letters.  She said, “I have a new project, one chapter a day from each of the standard works.  I have been on it for four days and am only three days behind.  Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried” (p. 79). 
            A friend of mine who has an amazing love for the scriptures said it beautifully, “I used to feel disappointed with myself when I did not read my scriptures, but now when I don’t read, I just miss it.  I know when I have the ability to read, I make that choice.”  She knows that scripture study brings her closer to the Lord, but serving her children can also do that.  I love her words, “When I have the ability to read, I make that choice.”
            That is usually where most decisions hinge.  When we get to the point where we can make a decision, what do we choose?  The latest fiction novel?  Social networks?   TV?  Chatting on the phone?  We do not have to cut out all of our fun hobbies and activities, but we can be careful about what we choose to do first.
             Believing that we can read the scriptures each day may also include the belief that we can read for an extended period of time.  A few years ago, I accepted a challenge from a mother in my ward to study the scriptures for an hour each day.  The adjustment was a bit difficult—okay, it was very difficult—but once I discovered the thrill of cross-referencing and the power of footnotes, the hour flew by.  Every day has definitely not been perfect, but the impact it has had on my life has transformed my perception of who I am and who my Savior is. 
            A former president of our church named Howard W. Hunter taught this principle beautifully:  “It would be ideal if an hour [of scripture study] could be spent each day; but if that much cannot be had, a half hour on a regular basis would result in substantial accomplishment. A quarter of an hour is little time, but it is surprising how much enlightenment and knowledge can be acquired in a subject so meaningful. The important thing is to allow nothing else to ever interfere with our study” (Howard W. Hunter, “Reading the Scriptures,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).
If we make our scripture study a priority each day, we will be ready to learn the mysteries of God and hear the voice of the Lord as He leads us through our individual challenges.  The Spirit will help us to know what to do with our time, but we must believe we can read.

Be willing to read when the circumstances are not perfect
            Can you visualize the following scenario?  You have just had a wonderful night’s rest, and you woke up naturally at five o’clock, ready to curl up in front of your fireplace with your scriptures, church books, and marking pencils neatly laid before you.  Your children are sleeping peacefully, and soft instrumental hymns play in the background while you take notes in your journal and receive new insights. 
            Doesn’t that sound lovely?  I am not trying to mock this ideal because it has actually happened for me about three times in the past six years.  However, if I were to wait for this perfect moment to come around, can you guess how often I would read my scriptures?  Yep—once every two years.
            In the talk quoted above by President Hunter, he suggests we have a regular time to read each day.  Some mothers read for the first part of every nap time, others read while they are nursing their babies, and many mothers read at night (these are the ones who are good at keeping their eyes open).  Mornings work the best for me because my brain has not yet had any threats of being turned to mush.
If your current schedule is lacking in predictability, here are a few ideas to get you thinking about how to incorporate the scriptures into your life.  The Lord can help you to tailor these suggestions to your unique situation and make it possible for you to hear His voice each day.
First, keep multiple sets of scriptures around your home, so you will always have one handy if a quiet moment strikes (the inexpensive copies produced by our Church work beautifully).  You may want one in the kitchen cupboard, so you can read while something is in the microwave or if your children get involved in a game.  You could also keep one by your bed, one in the car, one in the living room, one in the linen closet, one by the CD player, and yes, one in the bathroom. 
The bathroom does not sound like the ideal place to receive revelation, but if that is the only place you have a chance to open a book, the Lord will understand.  If your children are content with and capable of playing in the bath for awhile, you can sit on the floor by the tub, shield yourself with a towel, and read until they are ready to be shampooed.  If they have not yet discovered the acoustical delight of squealing in the tub, you could read aloud to them.  The point is that if the scriptures are readily available, it is easy to seize the moments that open during your day.
If you prefer to read consistently out of the same book so you can consolidate your markings, just move your scriptures a couple of times during the day so they will be close.  Moderation and personal discretion are definitely principles that apply here, but as you carry your scriptures or see them as you work around the house, you will remember they are a top priority.
            Second, get creative in finding a private place and time to read.  A close friend of mine lived in a studio apartment when she had her first child, and her little girl would not nap if her mother was in the same room.  Each day at nap time, my friend sat in their bathroom and read her scriptures.  She later told me that those hours contributed to one of her most spiritual times in life.   Obviously, it was not just being in the bathroom that made her spiritual—it was investing a substantial amount of time reading her scriptures.
            I promise I’ll stop talking about bathrooms, but I have to add this one last experience.  When my husband finished graduate school, we moved into a tiny two-bedroom apartment while we shopped for a home.  I had a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-year-old who were not very good at sleeping in the same room, so my little one-year-old, Ethan, slept in the living room. 
            I wanted desperately to wake up early each morning for my Divine Fellowship, but I didn’t know where to go without waking somebody.  I thought back to the experience of my friend in her studio apartment, and I created a little study area on the floor in our bathroom.  I brought my pillow, marking pencils, and scriptures in there, and the months in that apartment yielded some of my most treasured spiritual experiences.
            Growing up, I remember frequently seeing my mother read her scriptures out in the car.  She referred to our Civic wagon as her office, and she would sometimes leave the noise of the home to read and think there (we were old enough to care for ourselves at that point).  If we ever could not find her in the house, we would peek out the front window to see if she was in the car, but we rarely interrupted her study (though she might remember things differently).
            Every time I visualize my mother, I see scriptures on her lap.  When I woke up for seminary (my early-morning gospel study class), she was on the couch studying her scriptures.  If I popped in her room after school, she had her scriptures out on her bed, heavily annotated and highlighted.  If I was going to be late coming from a drama rehearsal and needed her to wait in the car, she would say, “That’s okay.  Take your time.  I’ll have my scriptures with me.”  It was such a blessing to know my mother loved the Lord and loved her scriptures.
            Another idea that has worked is to establish a 7:00 rule in your home.  That means that mom is on duty starting at 7:00.  If the children wake up before then, they can look at books, play with toys, or watch cartoons, if you approve, but breakfast is served at 7:00.  Of course, diapers sometimes cannot wait to be changed, and hungry babies need to be fed, but once children are old enough to wait, they can be taught to respect your morning study.  From personal experience, the 7:00 rule works about 20 percent of the time—mainly because life doesn’t like to wait until 7. 
            One morning I got up at 6:30 to get a half hour of study in before my day started, but the moment I opened my scriptures, my Kindergartner appeared at my bedside to report that her ear infection was really hurting and her little sister had soaked the bed.  That is when I go to Plan B and read during our quiet time (described below).  I try to have Plans A-Z available so scripture study will happen no matter what.
            Having a daily quiet time is helpful way to carve out time to read.  Once children outgrow their morning naps, they may still need a little break during that time.  Every morning after my children have eaten breakfast, gotten dressed, and have had an opportunity to play or read for awhile, they start whining and acting fussy.  If I separate them and give them each a quiet place to play and a special container of toys, they will play quietly for the next 30-45 minutes.  That way I can read my scriptures without using their sleep time (which is valued above gold). 
            Opportunities to read our scriptures come more frequently when we do everything we can to protect our time with them.  If we are in a position to do so, we can limit our errands and busy work as much as possible so we are not constantly rushing out the door.  If our lives get so busy that scripture study gets crowded out, we may have taken on too many things—some of which may be nonessential.  The Lord wants us to be successful at reading our scriptures, but if we are signing up for fifteen activities each week, He will be squeezed out of our lives.
It is also easy to get sidetracked by all the media available to us.  One darling woman I know had a hard time reading her scriptures every day, so she accepted our Sunday School teacher’s challenge to read for two weeks and then report her experience to the class.  She explained to all of us that she was so busy reading the scriptures that she stopped reading the many popular magazines to which she had subscribed. 
“Just put them in a pile for me to read later,” she told her husband.  However, as the pile began to get a bit unwieldy, and as her devotion to studying the scriptures continued, she said, “Why don’t you just put those magazines in the trash?”  Her decision confirmed the truth of the oft-quoted principle taught by President Ezra Taft Benson: "when we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives” (Ensign, May 1988, 4).
To some, this might sound like a whole lot of work.  It is, but it is work that will not feel like work.  As the blessings of the Lord come to you, your life will completely change for the better.  Making the Lord our top priority is a way we can thank Him for making us His top priority.

Involve your children in regular family study
            There are always days when a mother’s “alone time” is taken up with urgent family needs, pressing tasks, or sheer exhaustion.  If early-morning study does not happen one day, and if necessary errands crowd out a morning quiet time, having a regular scripture study with our children can bring us at least one opportunity to read the scriptures.  Involving our children can bring beautiful experiences and teach us the principles of the gospel in an entirely different way.
            One way to involve children is to read on their level.  The Gospel Art Kit or the illustrated scriptures are wonderful.  Audio tapes are available, and the children honestly can’t get enough.  Many families have discovered these tools and use them daily in their family scripture study.
            In addition to reading on the children’s level, you can bring them up nearer to your level.  One close friend of mine and her husband have been gospel teachers for years, and they have five boys under the age of ten.  Each morning, they sit around the breakfast table with their scriptures and red pencils, and they learn to cross-reference, underline and find answers to doctrinal questions with the use of the Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary.  I’m not quite to that point, and I do not know if I will ever be to that point, but it is a testimony that children can learn more than we sometimes give them credit for.
            A couple of days each week, my little girls like to sit by me on the floor with their own copy of The Book of Mormon and their colored pencils (their set matches mine).  They neatly underline random scriptures and sit quietly (sometimes only after a few reminders) while I read on my own.  If they do not feel like reading or marking, I let them be my pencil monitors.  I tell them which of the five colors I need, and they take turns handing them to me.  This keeps me focused on the principles I am trying to find in the scriptures, and I am always amazed at how long they will sit holding the cup of pencils. 
            Invariably, the cup spills or a pencil has to be sharpened, and they are excited about being useful.  My son, Ethan, would rather color on the walls with the scripture pencils, so I just try to keep him occupied with toys—I have not lost hope for him yet, though.
            One cute thing you will notice is that your children will mark their scriptures the same way you do.  My daughters put little circles around the verse numbers, underline with the same colors, and even annotate in the margins.  When we started doing this, my daughter Alia only knew how to write two words, so in her margin is written “Alia Mom” over and over again.  When my daughter Grace turned three, she brought her scriptures and pencils to me and asked me to tell her where it said “Jesus”.  She carefully circled that word and then continued searching for familiar letters and numbers.
            Recently, a friend of mine taught me how she studies the scriptures with her three-year-old son.  They have a special study time each afternoon when she teaches him a five-step process: pray, read, ponder, write, thank.  Her son has his own scripture journal to record what he is learning, and they memorize scriptures, sing primary songs, and do a hands-on activity each day.  I saw the Liahona they made by spray-painting a gerbil ball gold and gluing a compass inside.  I saw Nephi’s ship that was made out of craft sticks, and I saw dozens of journals they had filled with pictures and words describing truths of the restored gospel.  Sometimes her little boy “writes” and then tells her what it says so she can translate it into legible letters.
            She does not do these things because she feels obligated to do them.  She does them because she loves the Lord and is excited about teaching her son what she knows.  After visiting with her, I was excited to use plastic army men to act out Moroni’s battle with Amalickiah, and my children were thrilled to be a part of it.  The Lord reminded his apostles, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not” (Luke 18:16). What better work can we do besides bring the little children to our Lord?  One morning I said to Alia, “I hope that one day you’ll love the scriptures.”  She looked at me very seriously and said, “But Mom, I already do.” 

Welcome Experiences with the Scriptures
            Until I became a mother, I didn’t know that there was a difference between reading the scriptures and having experiences with the scriptures.  You may think I was a little clueless, but I had not learned that the scriptures literally speak to us, just as the Liahona gave written messages to Lehi’s family in the wilderness.  Because of this discovery, I am excited to read the scriptures to hear what the Lord wants to say to me.             
            A time when I most felt the scriptural text speaking to me was a morning when I was routinely awakened at 4:30 a.m. by my one-year-old son, Ethan.  He must have been teething or going through a growth spurt or something, but for about two months, he woke up every morning at 4:30 and could not go back to sleep. 
            I changed Ethan’s diaper, gave him his bottle, and then went into the next room to read my scriptures—always keeping out a listening ear so I could take him downstairs if his cries threatened to wake the girls in the adjoining room.  I knelt to pray and asked the Lord to please help Ethan go back to sleep.  Starting “Mom Duty” at 4:30 got me off to a grumpy start, but I knew that the Lord could help me make good use of those morning hours.
            I got up and sat at our desk, opened my scriptures to the page marker, and read the first words in the top left-hand corner.  They were the words of Isaiah: “Ye are weary, he waketh morning by morning” (2 Nephi 7:4).  I felt perfectly understood by the Lord at that moment, and I felt the Lord remind me that He knew I was tired.  He knew that Ethan was waking up every morning at a challenging hour, and He wanted me to have time to read my scriptures and feel close to Him.  Ethan immediately fell back to sleep, and for the next 45 minutes, I read, studied, and felt closer to my Father than I had in months.
            Another powerful experience happened when I was pregnant with my second child, Grace.  I had had “one of those days” caring for a two-year-old while waddling around the apartment with my growing tummy.  Alia was being a little rascal, and my patience supply could not keep up with the demand (I wish I could buy stock in patience).  I sat down on the floor and handled the situation with all the maturity I could muster: I simply started to cry. 
            Alia came over to me and asked what she could do.  I pointed to a Book of Mormon on the nearby bookshelf and asked her to bring it to me.  I did not know where else to turn, so I opened the scriptures with the hope that the Lord would give me some kind of guidance. 
            After flipping a couple of pages, I came to King Benjamin’s address, and I felt impressed to read his testimony of the Savior and the prophecy that the Savior would carry all of our burdens and be crucified for our sake.  “All right,” I thought.  “The Lord wants to remind me that He suffered more than I can even comprehend.  I don’t need to feel sorry for myself.”  I continued reading through the next verse, and came to the phrase, “And His mother shall be called Mary.”
            Tears welled up in my eyes, and I could feel the Savior teaching me that He, too, had a mother on earth.  She was a woman who also went through pregnancy and discomfort, and the tender love the Savior has for His earthly mother is the same tender love He has for us, His younger sisters.  The Lord did not scold me for being weak and tired—He just reminded me that He understands.  I felt transformed by His power, and my outlook brightened in those few moments it took to read those verses.
            One final experience I’ll share happened during a time I felt quite unimportant as a mother.  I had just moved to a new neighborhood, and I was adjusting to our new church congregation and community.  Because my children and I stayed home most of the time (to satisfy their napping and feeding needs), I felt out of place compared to all of the “minivan” moms around me who were heavily involved with school, sports and church activities for the youth (little did I know that those mothers wish they could spend as much time at home as I do).
            I opened my scriptures one morning, asking the Lord to please help me to know that He hadn’t forgotten about me.  As I read various scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants and followed the footnotes, I was led back to section 6, verse 34.  These are the words that popped out to me:  “Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.”
            I immediately envisioned myself and my children as the Lord’s sheep, a little flock He holds close and leads by His loving voice.  Warmth replaced the loneliness I felt, and I thanked the Lord for caring enough about my concerns to teach me these precious truths.  I continued my study—looking in the Topical Guide, using the footnotes and reading words I’d previously highlighted.  By the end of that hour, I knew I had just had a private tutoring session with my Father.
            It is those kinds of experiences that keep bringing me back to the scriptures.  I know I have only touched the surface of what is available to us, and that is why I am willing to do whatever it takes to read.  If we pray for spiritual experiences and look for principles that apply to our lives, we will always receive them.  The Lord will give us specific impressions, and though the verses we are reading may not necessarily be talking about our present situation, the Lord has the power to transform them into answers for us.

Know that the scriptures are talking to mothers
            When I turned 12 years old, I was asked to give my first talk in Sacrament Meeting on Mother’s Day.  I wanted to include a scripture in my talk, but besides the one about the striplingwarriors being taught by their mothers, and the accounts about Mary and Eve, I did not know any others that seemed appropriate.  I finally decided to share the story of Ruth and Naomi (a mother-in-law), but I was a bit confused as to why the scriptures have so few references to mothers. 
            Now I will jump ahead 15 years….  In the July 2005 Ensign, Henry B. Eyring shared his method of reading and marking the scriptures.  When he was called to be an apostle of our church, he purchased a new, inexpensive set of scriptures in which to mark and categorize each verse that pertained to what the Lord wanted him to learn and do in his calling as an apostle (p.23-24).  After I read that article, I felt impressed to apply that process to my calling as a mother. 
            I got out a piece of paper and wrote down the top five things I felt the Lord wanted me to learn about motherhood, and then I assigned each a specific color.  My dedication to this study jumped up a notch when, the very next month, the president of our church, Gordon B. Hinckley, invited all of us to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year.
            This process has taught me that although the word “mother” is not frequently mentioned in the scriptures, we can apply the teachings of these sacred records to our callings as mothers.  The parallels that have come out of the Book of Mormon have added a depth to my mothering that I did not know I was missing.  There are limitless ways to study and mark the scriptures—I will just share two things I have learned through this process so you will get the idea (not that you are unable to figure this out yourself, but if someone had explained this to me five years ago, I would have been thrilled.).
            One of the principles I felt the Lord wanted to teach me is that I must trust Him.  I have been using the color orange to mark the verses that encourage me to do so.  A few of those verses include, “Look to the great Mediator” (2 Nephi 2:28), “Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith” (Jacob 3:1), and Alma 15:10, where Alma shows his trust in God when he pleads on behalf of Zeezrom by saying, “O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.”  One interesting thing is that my orange pencil is currently the very shortest of my five pencils—a visual reminder that the Lord wants me to trust Him every day.
            A second principle I have focused on is that as a mother, I must share my testimony with my children and teach them about Jesus Christ.  When I come across a principle that I want to teach my children, or when I find a scripture describing how the Lord will help me teach, I mark it in green.  One of these scriptures is Helaman 5:18: “they had power and authority given unto them that they might speak, and they also had what they should speak given unto them.”  This reminds me that when an opportunity opens in which I can teach the gospel to my children, the Lord will help me to know what to say, and I will be able to testify with power and authority. 
            Another scripture that demonstrates the power of a parent’s testimony is Alma36:17.  Alma the younger says, “I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.”  If I can live with the valiance of Alma, my children will one day remember the words I speak, and they will hopefully be willing to submit their lives to God. 
            Other scriptures I have marked teach the difference between spiritual and temporal death, describe the characteristics of stalwart disciples, or warn about the dangers of pride.  Although my children will probably be reminded of these principles in Sunday School or Seminary, I want them to learn them in our home first.  By specifically marking my scriptures for that purpose, I have a record of the teachings I do not want to forget to pass on.  Teaching by the scriptures gives us more confidence in God and less fear of the adversary, and the Spirit of the Lord will bless our homes.
            The biography of John Adams describes the feelings he had while traveling to Philadelphia in the summer of 1774 for the First Continental Congress, “We have not men fit for the times.  We are deficient in genius, education, in travel, fortune—in everything.  I feel unutterable anxiety” (p. 23).  As our founding fathers prepared for the birth of a nation, they knew they needed the best the colonies had to offer.  They needed men who were already prepared—not men who had been idling away their time and did not understand the demands of the day.
            InAlma 49:8, we read about the Lamanites who came to battle against the Nephites and hoped to bring them into bondage.  When they arrived at the city Ammonihah, they saw that captain Moroni had caused it to be uniquely fortified, and they were completely astonished.  The Nephites, “were prepared for them, in a manner which never had been known among the children of Lehi.” 
            In our world today, we must be “fit for the times”—prepared to teach and strengthen our families, our friends, and our communities in a way that has “never been known among the children of [men]”.  The battles that rage today are more treacherous than ever before, and they require men and women who are prepared with the armor of God.  We must become better than we have been.  We must cherish the scriptures and use them as the means to approach our Father and hear His voice. 
            Mothers, feasting upon the scriptures may not be simple, but the power of the Lord will be with us as we seek to hear Him and know Him.  It is by His power that we are able to do all things, and drawing close to Jesus Christ is worth our best efforts.  He will prepare us with His power if we will turn to Him and receive of His Word.  I know this to be true, and my prayers are with you as you do this most beautiful and noble work of motherhood.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Best Way to ENJOY Your Mom

I'm feeling so much gratitude today . . . and I'm really, really happy.

Thank you, everyone, for your support and encouragement over the past couple of days. 

When I posted "The Best Way to Lose a Mom" on Wednesday, I was in a very hard place.  I felt a bit nervous to share so many personal details in such a public way, but what I've discovered about this online world is that we're here to help each other.  The more we're willing to share what's hard for us, the more we realize that we're not alone, and the less "hard" our lives feel.

So thank you for your comments, your Facebook messages, emails, text messages, and phone calls.  You've helped me shift my perspective from "how to lose a mom" to "how to enjoy your mom." I can't even tell you how grateful I am to have you as my friends.

And now I want to give you a little report so you'll know how you've influenced my life.

Yesterday I took my children out to see my parents for a few hours.  Your words kept ringing in my ears--to savor my time with my mom, to listen to her stories, to hold her, to kiss her, to involve my children, and to realize how precious our time is together.

So I did just that.

We got there in time for her physical therapy appointment, and I made some videos of the exercises so I can help my mom get into a good routine. 



I then sat with my dad on the couch and asked him if he is doing okay.  He insists that everything is fine, and he is quite honestly doing a phenomenal job keeping the house clean, doing all the laundry, cooking the meals, and giving my mom all her medicines, etc.  It's a long list!  I can tell he's tired, but he is so devoted to her, and I think that's inspiring.



We took a walk down Second Street with our dear friend Shirley and had so much fun tasting foods from the various restaurants there.  (They do a "Stroll and Savor" two days a month during the summer, and it is fantastic.  If you get the chance, you must go.)

These boys are always running!

You buy $10 coupon books there, and then you can sample items from the restaurants for $1.50 - $3.  It's great.

 

At times, my mom would say things like, "Tell me the names of your children again." or "I think I left my car parked on the other side of the city."  But overall, she was happy as long as my dad was holding her hand.


The sweetest part of the visit was right before we left.  I brought out a new tub transfer bench to help make bath time easier.  My children settled down to watch a show on TV while I wheeled my mom into the bathroom, helped her undress, slid her feet into the tub, scrubbed her body with a soapy-warm washcloth, and shampooed her hair.

That was the second time I've bathed her, and I'm surprised at how much it feels like the hundreds of times I've given my own children baths. 

She was so appreciative through the entire process, saying things like, "Oh, thank you!  It feels so good to be clean.  My sweet April, you make my life so happy."

When my mom was a little girl and her daddy would get her out of the bathtub, he would say, "Under the wing!  Tickle, tickle, tickle!" when he dried under each of her arms. 

My mom always did the same to me.

And yesterday, I did that to her. 

While I was saying, "Tickle, tickle, tickle!" and helping my mom get dry and warm, I can't even tell you how privileged I felt to be doing such a simple, physical act of service for my mother.  It was just a little thing, and I know my family members who live closer do so much more, but as I stood there in the bathroom, dressing my mom in her nightgown, helping her brush her teeth, and rubbing sweet-smelling lotion on her arms and neck, I thought to myself, "There is nothing in the entire world I would rather be doing right now."

Part of my emotional turmoil lately has been trying to decide where to invest my time.  Power of Moms is growing amazingly well.  We had hundreds of thousands of visitors last month, we have two books being published right now, our volunteer board is growing, and there are so many opportunities to do media appearances, Retreats, collaborative projects, and tons of other details I won't even try to record.

I'm still moving steadily on these projects, but taking a day a week to be with my mom and dad and slowing my life down so that I have time to enjoy my husband and children feels right on every single level. 

As my children and I tucked Mom in bed last night, she said, "Now I'm going to make pancakes and waffles for you tomorrow morning for breakfast.  What time do you want to eat?"

Knowing we were heading home--already way too late, but wanting to play along, I replied, "Oh, about nine."

"All right, nine o'clock it is.  Maybe the children can pick some dandelions or flowers you can spare from your garden, and we can put them in a vase on the table.  I'll lay out a nice tablecloth, and we'll have so much fun together!"

We kissed her cheeks, told her that sounded fabulous, and then slowly crept out to the car so she wouldn't know we were gone.  She won't remember these plans in the morning, but we will make it happen as soon as possible.

This time with my family is "my deeper yes".

This is the life I know I'm supposed to live. 

Not a single day is easy, but I feel a sense of purpose and meaning that honestly makes life a joy.

Thank you for all of your help and support.  Love to all of you--especially as you're going through your own unique challenges.  Maybe you don't feel comfortable sharing yours as openly right now, but I hope you know that you absolutely are not alone.

-April















Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Best Way to Lose a Mom

My mom has had dementia for a little over three years now.

It started very subtlety. We were on a girls' weekend when I was speaking at a conference, and she asked me for a second time if we should leave a tip for the hotel maid (we'd already had a two-minute discussion about it). I remember freezing for a moment, wondering if her mind was beginning to go--because, you see, my mom's mom also lost her memory, and since the age of nine, I had been carefully watching the signs to see if it would happen to her.

Well, yesterday my sister Laura and I had a good talk on the phone about this.

Laura lives right across the street from our parents, and, in a recent conversation, she asked Mom if she knew who her children were. Mom was struggling to recall all eight of our names, so Dad took this picture from 1986 off the wall and held it in front of her.

 

"Now there's Bobby and Linda . . ." she started.

Then a pause.

And pointing to me (bottom left), asked, "Now who's 'Smiley Face'?"

"That's April!" My dad reminded her.

"Oh, yes, April. Of course. And who is the little boy?"

"That's Ryan."

"Oh yes, Ryan."

I had to chuckle a bit when Laura shared that story. I could just hear my mom's cute voice and see her trying to figure out our names.

"Maybe I shouldn't tell you this," Laura said.

"No, it's okay." I replied.

"We can laugh a little now, but we need to accept the fact that she's not going to get better. She's eventually going to forget who we are. There's no reversing it."

"I know." I said softly.

But now I can't get that conversation out of my head. I have been thinking about it since yesterday afternoon, and I realized that I need to discover the very best way to lose my mom.

I already know the worst way. It involves lots of crying, lots of discouraging moments, and hours of quiet where I close myself up and mourn.

Some of that is okay, but it worries my children. They don't like to see me so sad, and I know there has got to be a better way to do this.

So through a lot of thinking and a lot of prayer, I've come up with a few solutions, but to be quite honest, this blog post is a bit of a cry for help.  I know so many people who have lost their moms, and I'm hoping that if you are one of them, you can be a guide for me along this path.  And then together, we can be a guide for others.  Maybe even for our own children.

The first thing I decided is that I am going to BE a good mom.

It's so easy to get distracted, but yesterday afternoon, I made root beer slushies for my children, looked through their brand-new yearbooks with them, and simply enjoyed the sounds of laughter as they jumped on the trampoline--with the sprinklers on full force. I am going to do everything I can to savor my years with my sons and daughters because, even though I desperately hope it will never happen to me, there may come a time when I won't know them.

Number two, I'm going to spend as much time with my mom as possible.

I talked with my friend Jennifer at our Park City Retreat, and she told me that she recently lost her mom to cancer. Knowing about my plans to spend more time with my mom, she said, "You will never, ever regret that."

Her words keep coming back into my mind.

Right now I can make the drive about once a week, and it means the world to me.



Number three, I am going to write down the details of her life and all the most beautiful things she taught me--and I am going to use those stories and experiences to help other moms.

This reminder keeps coming to me over and over again: The best way to lose a mom is to use the goodness of her life to strengthen others.

That's one reason I feel grateful for Power of Moms and this blog. I have a place to share my mom's life and her influence, and my posterity will have the chance to know her through me.

Thanks for going through this with me.  For some reason, even though I don't know who reads this, I feel comforted knowing you're out there.  I appreciate any advice and wisdom you have to share.

Much love,
April

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Studio 5 Interview - "Mommy is a Person"

Right before our Park City Retreat last week, I had the opportunity to be on a TV show called Studio 5 to record a segment based on a post I wrote called "Mommy is a Person."

You can click this image and select the second video, if you'd like to watch it.

It was a great experience, and I took lots of "behind the scenes" photos, but before I go into that, I want to share a couple of quick stories.

When I was in second grade, we were instructed to create clay figurines and then write stories about them.  I made a seal and wrote up a full page about "Sammy the Seal."

When it was time to read our stories aloud to the class, I shoved mine to the back of my desk and told my teacher I hadn't completed my assignment.  I preferred to take a zero than stand up in front of that class.

In fifth grade, I was asked to give a two-minute talk in front of the other children at church.  My mom wrote my talk for me, and as soon as I got to my Sunday School class, I promptly slipped it into the trash can.

I told my instructor that I had sadly lost my talk and couldn't remember enough to say anything in front of the group.

She found it in the trash can and said, "Here it is!  Now you can give it."

To which I responded, "No thank you."

She didn't pressure me at all, but simply said, "Do you mind if I read it?" 

No problem there, so I sat at the back of the room on my mom's lap and listened as my teacher read my talk.  For some reason, I just couldn't bring myself to get up there.

Over the course of 24 years, I've somewhat-overcome my fear of speaking in public.  I present at Power of Moms Retreats, and I am constantly recording videos and podcasts,  but these stories from my childhood came roaring back into my mind when I was preparing to be on television.  Total anxiety for days.

I tell you this because when I do a write-up about a media appearance, I want to be perfectly clear that this is not something I do because it's fun or easy for me (although there is definitely an element of fun to it).  I do this because I believe in Power of Moms and I want to spread the word about ideas and resources that help mothers.

So now that we're on the same page, here's a little photo walk-through of my day. (And for those of you who would like to do more media appearances, I've included some ideas for you below.)

Alisha Gale, our chief editor at Power of Moms, and I flew in at just about the same time on Friday morning.  Neither of us had much sleep the night before, but we made it, and here we are at the car rental area.  (I don't know why I feel the need to photo-document all these little steps, but I think it does make it easier to tell the story.)


We drove a few miles to the TV studio (I, of course, got lost and ended up in an abandoned train yard) but we eventually met up with my sister Page in the parking garage for Studio 5.


I can't tell you how comforting it was to have my sister and Alisha with me.  I so appreciate them.

We got buzzed into the studio and made our way to the make-up room . . . past this control room that looks so fun. 


Page helped me curl my hair and loaned me some of her jewelry for the recording.


And then one of the producers (a darling lady named Mindy), came in to prep me for my segment.


I was kind of laughing because it felt so "Hollywood."  Sitting at a mirror surrounded with light bulbs, doing my hair and make-up, talking to a producer, and preparing for an interview on TV.  That was pretty fun, I must say.  I was trying to act like a professional, but inside I felt like a little girl, totally enthralled with everything around me.  (Eric keeps reminding me that I am a professional now.  I just keep forgetting.)

Here's a snapshot of me and Alisha:


And then one final picture before it was time to go to the "green room."


Those who are waiting to go on the show sit here and watch the live TV broadcast.  The Studio 5 staff brought us water bottles, made sure we felt ready to go on, and were so incredibly kind to us.


A few minutes before my segment, they brought me into the studio so they could put on my microphone and let me get situated at the table.


Here's a panorama of the studio (well, half of it).  I was really feeling excited at this point.


Brooke Walker, one of the main hosts of Studio 5, joined me at the table right before they started filming our segment.  She's been on the show for eight years and does a fabulous job.  Honestly, filming a one-hour live TV show five days a week, with a variety of guests and topics, is incredibly demanding.  I admire her talents in this area.


Once we started filming, everything felt very comfortable.  Brooke reminded me not to look at the cameras, but just to have a conversation with her.  Those 8 minutes went by so fast, and she made it totally doable for me. (Thanks Brooke!)

After we finished, I took off my microphone . . .


smiled a sigh of relief (along with the cameraman) . . .


and then got to meet Camille from Six Sisters' Stuff on my way out.  She was filming a segment on how to make a Cinnabon Cinnamon Roll Cake, which my children are now dying for us to have someday.


That was it!  We then made our way back out to the parking garage . . . stopping to take a couple more photos:



Then we moved on to the other activities we'd planned for the day, and I started breathing a little deeper. 

Before I close, I just want to provide a few ideas for those who would like to do more work with the media.  Here's the basic process we went through:

(1) A couple of years ago, our PR Manager at Power of Moms, Laurie Brooks, emailed Studio 5 with a synopsis of what we do at Power of Moms, particularly highlighting our Learning Circles.

(2) After a few months (from what I remember), they asked us if they could record a segment about an actual Learning Circle.  You can see it here.

(3) Then, over the last year or so, Studio 5 has occasionally come back to us for other interviews about our featured content.

This is my interview from last April when my post, Your Children Want YOU! went viral.

Here's Saren's great interview about loving every age and stage.

And another one by Saren about simple family practices that promote values.

Allyson Reynolds has been on there three times, talking about being the "perfect mother," cutting Dad some slack, and appreciating the "now."

I don't have an extraordinary amount of media experience, but if you feel like your current project would be great as a feature on TV or radio, I would definitely recommend that you do the following:

(1) Establish a solid platform of people who like what you do.  Get feedback, make sure that what you're doing meets a need, and become an expert in your field.

(2) Contact local media outlets with press releases featuring the details about what you're doing.  Follow up with phone calls and talk with contacts who may be willing to help you.

(3) Be patient and keep pursuing your passion.  Saren and I decided long ago that we wanted to build Power of Moms because it was the right thing for us to do--not because we were hoping to get noticed in the process.  Media appearances are wonderful, but we have to love the work we are doing.

(4) Continue to pitch ideas and develop content that offers a fresh perspective and interesting ideas.  TV shows are craving good content.  Help them do their job.

(5) When you are asked to do an interview, guest post, etc., make sure you're pleasant to work with.  (Promptly reply to emails, show up on time, help promote the media outlet to your audience . . .)  That makes it easy for them to ask you back.

I hope these ideas are at least a little bit helpful.  I decided that if I am going to blog, I am going to make everything I write about as replicable as possible.  I want to be sure I'm never setting myself up as someone trying to get attention or pretend like I'm better than anyone else.  Because I know I'm not.  I'm just trying to make a difference and help other moms.

Thanks for all your support.

Love,
April

















Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Report on the Park City Retreat

I just returned from a beautiful weekend at Richard and Linda Eyre's home where we held our Park City Power of Moms Retreat.

This Retreat was particularly special because (1) we also held our annual Power of Moms Board Gathering where I got to meet with 20 of my dearest friends (some for the very first time!) and (2) this was my last Retreat for awhile as I'm simplifying my schedule so I can spend more time with my mom (she's home from the rehabilitation center now!).

Here are some photos from the Retreat:

First, Andrea Davis and Rachel Nielson.  Andrea works on our Book Team, and Rachel is one of our editors.  This was my first time meeting both of them.  Such a treat!


Tiffany Sowby (our wonderful Retreat Manager and Trainer Manager), and Dawn Wessman, our Bloom Manager.

Here are Saren and Rachelle (Rachelle does our spotlights and was the professional photographer at the event):


And here's Elsje Denison (from our dedicated editing team), Rachel, and Jessee Ure (one of our newest board members!):


Mary Croxford and Megan Stewart work with our Monthly Value:


And this is JaNae Messick, our Mind Organization for Moms Team Leader, who is also planning the D.C. Retreat with Saren, and Lacy Anderson, who has worked with our podcasts and is jumping into some new roles on our board:


Koni Smith handles every email that comes in through our "Contact Us" form, which is a huge help on a daily basis, and Alisha (on the right) is our Content Manager, which means that all submissions go straight to her.  (She and I got to travel together, and it was so fun!)


Here are the board members who fit at this main table (thank you Eyres for welcoming us into your home!).  Allyson Reynolds, who runs our Motherhood Matters blog, Christy Elder, our podcast editor, and Anna Jenkins, our Publications Manager and "Scholarship" Coordinator, weren't pictured above, so you can see them below (far right, peeking out from the middle, and far left):


Koni, JaNae, Saren, Lacy, Linda, and I sat across the kitchen at this table.


We enjoyed a lovely dinner and had a two-hour board meeting, where we discussed ways we can help Power of Moms better serve the mothers of the world.  SO many ideas.  (I'm still processing them!)

Here's our new photo for our Board Page (But oh, how we need the other half of our board in there.  Next year . . .):


After our meeting, we just talked and talked, set up chairs for the Retreat the next day, and took pictures together.

Here's me and Dawn:


And Me and Allyson:


We stayed up way too late chatting, but it was so much fun to hang out in our pajamas and just enjoy time with people we never get to see in person!

Saturday morning, we were up bright and early to get ready for the Retreat.  More than 80 people came, and it was spectacular.

Saren and I slipped out to the front porch to take a quick photo together:


Someday we're going to be grandmas, and we're going to talk about those "good old days" when we were young mothers putting on so many events.

This is me and JaNae, who I have been emailing for months, and I felt like I already knew her.  It was an instant friendship once we finally got to connect in person.



And just one more of me and Rachelle.  Rachelle is one of those people who is so thoughtful.  She sends me encouraging text messages, mails a card for my birthday, and just watches out for me.  I feel such a sisterhood with these ladies.


Every time I see a room full of deliberate mothers ready to start a Retreat, it takes my breath away. 


Tiffany did a fantastic job talking about being "Fabulously Ordinary."  Have you read her post?  It touched my heart deeply.


Incredible mothers.  As I look through these pictures and reflect on my conversations with them, I am honestly in awe.


We spent the morning talking about Peace, Purpose, Order, and Joy--the themes in our Power of Moms book (if you don't have a copy, Sunday is the very last day to get this first edition!).  These women are so insightful.


In the afternoon, we talked about Family Systems, and we had a few husbands join us (because it's so much better to talk about these ideas with your spouse, if possible).  I loved meeting them.


A Power of Moms Retreat is always full of discussions.  That's why I like these so much.  Everyone gets a chance to teach, and often it's the ideas learned in the small groups that really hit home.











At the end of the Retreat, we have to say our "Goodbyes," which are always the hardest for me. 


We take photos with our new friends. There are lots of hugs.  Occasionally we get to hear some of the stories these mothers are carrying in their hearts. 


This is me and Sarah, who was in my freshman dorm back in 1996.  I LOVE these mini-reunions and only wish we had more time to talk.





It was fun to finally meet Kirsten and Brooke from The Crafting Chicks.  There are so many sharp women building online communities.  I appreciate the chances we have to connect.


This is just about half of our editing team (Elsje, Rachel, Anna, Alisha, and Sarah).  It's so funny that we work together just about every single day, but we only see each other once a year.  These women are the ones who make the daily content on Power of Moms happen.


I had to snap a photo with Linda Eyre, one of the most influential women in my life.


I never dreamed in a million years that her daughter would become one of my very best friends and that we would be working together to strengthen mothers and families.

This is a dream come true for me.


And now I'm back home with my husband and children--living through all the chaos that is inherent with family life.  I've been exhausted and kind of grumpy and a little overwhelmed, but in spite of all our imperfections, this is my number one dream. I'm grateful to be part of a family. 


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