Strengthening Our Relationship with our Father in Heaven

 

When my priesthood leader asked if I would be up for giving a talk today, he did not ask me through the time-honored ways of walking up to me at church or in the neighborhood or even by calling me on the phone. He sent me an e-mail, and after I replied in the affirmative he followed up with another email with an attachment of the speaking assignment which I then uploaded to my Google drive via my phone, which was handy for downloading later on my laptop when I couldn’t find my phone. My point is, life seems to becoming more and more complex. I consider this to be a good thing in countless ways. We live in an amazing world where we are blessed with all sorts of technology and advancements that can so often be used for our good. We have the ability to communicate with others around the world, to stay in touch others, to share ideas with the world. I really don’t want my talk to be about all the downfalls of this complex world because I do believe these advancements are intended to be a blessing if we use them correctly.

 

What I do wish to speak of is what we might forget about in this complex world. With our ability to do more see, see more, accomplish more, we have the potential to wind up with a lot of mores. While many of these are good, there are those who have lost sight of the basics of our gospel and our world. Some of us find our relationship with our Father in Heaven being placed on the backburner. In some ways this can be almost laughable. Our Heavenly Father who is the source of all blessings give us what we need, opens doors of opportunity, all the amazing complexities I mentioned, all things that can be used to grow spiritually and even just get through our day-to-day lives, ways to build up His kingdom, and yet sometimes He is the one who is forgotten.

 

I imagine all of us have been in dark places in our lives. Perhaps we have found ourselves crying out to our Father in Heaven. Perhaps we have been at the other end of the spectrum, feeling completely abandoned and alone. I am not in a position to speak for how others have felt and what they have experienced in such times, but I do deeply believe that our Father in Heaven does want us in the camp of the former, seeking Him.

 

In this talk “Of Things that Matter Most”, Elder Uchtdorf advises us to slow down and focus on the basics. He tells a story of turbulence in an airplane: Have you ever been in an airplane and experienced turbulence? The most common cause of turbulence is a sudden change in air movement causing the aircraft to pitch, yaw, and roll. While planes are built to withstand far greater turbulence than anything you would encounter on a regular flight, it still may be disconcerting to passengers.

What do you suppose pilots do when they encounter turbulence? A student pilot may think that increasing speed is a good strategy because it will get them through the turbulence faster. But that may be the wrong thing to do. Professional pilots understand that there is an optimum turbulence penetration speed that will minimize the negative effects of turbulence. And most of the time that would mean to reduce your speed. The same principle applies also to speed bumps on a road.

Therefore, it is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions.

 

On my kitchen wall I have this little wallhanging that says “In the Happy Moments Praise God. In the Difficult Moments Seek God. In the quiet moments Trust God.” I probably don’t look at this enough or ponder it enough, but it does serve as a reminder that Heavenly Father truly is mindful of us and our lives. I feel this goes beyond both just the hard times, or just the good times. If we are giving up when things get hard, or instead only looing to Heavenly Father when things are hard, is our relationship with Him where it truly could be? Are we do wrapped up in the rush of modern life we only have time for God at certain times and certain events?

So, how can we build our relationship with Heavenly Father?

One that occurred to me was to simply slow down, whatever that might mean for each of us. In the same talk, Elder Uchtdorf says the following One of the characteristics of modern life seems to be that we are moving at an ever-increasing rate, regardless of turbulence or obstacles.

Let’s be honest; it’s rather easy to be busy. We all can think up a list of tasks that will overwhelm our schedules. Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list. They flood the open spaces in their time with lists of meetings and minutia—even during times of stress and fatigue. Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.

It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Overscheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.

I imagine everyone’s mileage may vary on what it means to be too busy, but I would daresay that one could tell if they were too busy if they were unable to focus on the most important parts of the gospel, the very things that would allow us to build up that relationship with Heavenly Father. In our mortal world of finite time, are we making the time we need?

After we make the time, what exactly do we do with this time? I imagine this is where the classic Primary answers come into play. We have been told what we need to do… are we getting it done?

In 1 John 17  we read 3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

 

Think of the words of Jesus Christ “Come follow me.” Three words and so simple and direct an instruction. We need to do what He would have us do. Are we living as Christ exemplified? Are we treating others as we have been taught? Are we being honest in our lives?

These things are great basics that work always in our busy lives. No matter what we are doing, we can still be honest, kind, and Christ-like.

As wonderful as these things are and as important as they are for us to do to grow closer to our Heavenly Father, we also ought to go one step further. We need to have personal time to build our relationship. This might come in the form of personal prayer, in the form of scripture study, and in the form of simply considering the blessings and commandments we have been given. We ought to take the time for consideration and reflection, a time to pray to our Heavenly Father and to actively listen and think. James E. Faust said What is the quality of our secret prayers when only He listens? As we study and pray, we should do with the intent of truly speaking to our Heavenly Father.

Part of this time of prayer and study is truly believing in the divinity and truth of our Father in Heaven. Do we believe He is truly there and loves us? Do we take the time to be in awe of that fact?

President Kimball has said: “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures, the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.”

I think this is one of the big reasons we are reminded to pray and to study the scriptures. These are ways of growing close to our Father, ways of speaking to him and reading directly the gospel He has given us. These are proof He exists and cares for us.

Next, we should consider how worthy we are of our Heavenly Father. In no way do I want to negate the love and grace He has shown us in our imperfect mortal state, but His love is one of encouraging us to return to Him one day. Are we working on our imperfections? Are we striving to be worthy of a temple recommend? Are we making use of the Atonement in our lives?

I do believe these things works for each other. If we are doing all that we can to become closer to Heavenly Father, they will become easier. It may be impossible to do these things and not finding our hearts and minds turning toward Him. I know He wants a relationship with us.

We really do live in an amazing time. We have so many blessings in this world, and as fast-paced as they make it be I think the importance of maintaining a relationship with our Father even more important. We need to pray regularly, study the scriptures, and take the time to think about our Heavenly Father and our Savior. They need to become every so real to us. We need to live as the gospel has taught us, to serve others and be examples of that gospel. We need to do these things with the intent of growing closer to our Heavenly Father.

If we do this, we will be blessed. Perhaps our trials won’t disappear. Perhaps our good times won’t be exponentially expanded. But we will be blessed. We will have the support we need. We will be given strength through our hard times. We will better appreciate and rejoice in our blessings. We will have the Spirit with us and that incomprehensible comfort that comes with being close to our Heavenly Father.

I pray and hope that we can take the time to remember just how infinitely important God is to us and to take the time to grow closer to Him.

Schools, stop making kids invite the entire class to their birthdays!

One of my biggest time-wasters on Facebook is one of those notorious mom groups. I like this mom group. It’s faith-based and well have similar understandings on a few essentials. There is comradery.

Which is why I am so angry at something that happened to the child of one of the ladies. Despite tight finances, she gave in to her son’s wishes to throw him a nice big birthday party and invited the entire class.

Yes, it’s one of those stories. No one showed up.

The post was full of sorrow, commiseration, and desires to send that little boy something birthday goodness. Ah, comradery!

But as I read through the posts, I noticed a few references and experiences that built up into a rather big issue:

School policies requiring birthday kids to invite the entire class.

Now, I don’t know if this mom’s kid’s school had such a policy, but other ladies shared horrible experiences where, yes, they were required to invite the entire class.

And I don’t get it.

Oh, to some extent, I do. If you’re going to invite a significant majority of the class, be classy and invite everyone. If you’re going to invite a significant majority of one gender, be classy and invite the entire gender. It just seems polite.

But as a school policy? That’s overstepping in a big way.

Why do schools do this? The obvious thing is to a) teach good social skills and kindness and promote inclusion and b)save headaches from crying kids and angry parents.

Which is why the aforementioned idea of if you’re going to invite most, just invite all seems to me like an important social grace, but nothing that should require a typed policy.

Here are some of the downfalls of such policies I gathered from said post:

  1. Parents can’t always afford big parties that accommodate an entire class.
  2. The most convenient and most impressive big parties are always at some big expensive party place. This is multi-faceted in problems. Kids are more likely to want to go to the Fun Place and parents are more likely to feel comfortable taking their kid to the Fun Place. Better with employees keeping an eye out than at some strangers’ house, right? (The Free-Range parent in me hates this idea.)
  3. While getting along is a fine goal, parents and kids don’t want to be pressured to invite kids were lies a truly toxic relationship.
  4. Invitees’ parents don’t always want to waste two hours taking their kids to some person’s house they don’t know.
  5. The Obligatory Invite (Young Billy has no idea who Sandra in his class is) is rather awkward.  Our kids barely know each other despite being in the same class for three years. Thanks but no thanks.

An interweb search of school policies suggested policies have a spectrum. On one end might be a recommendation to clandestinely pass out invites if you’re only inviting a few. Closer to the other end is the dreaded policy of, if you’re passing out invitations, invite everyone. I even found a few testimonials of if you’re flat-out having a birthday party, you must invite the entire class.

So, what, if we have a party with two kids down the street plus the grandparents, we will be penalized by the school’s secret police?

Clearly, there are reports of schools way overstepping their bounds when it comes to acknowledging a child’s new year of life.

Perhaps it’s not even school policy. Perhaps it’s this new mentality that we have to invite everyone, whether to be kind, impressive, loving, whatever. And perhaps that giant birthday party of screaming classmates does happen now and then with all of its childhood awesomeness. Sure, inviting the whole class does help solve the problem of a kid getting left out.

But now in accordance with those horrible tales of a kid not invited to a party, we now have stories of parties in overdrive, where the cost of inviting the whole class can mean no party at all.

 

An Oatmeal Bath of Steel-Cut Oats

Some time ago, I discovered the wonderful deliciousness of steel-cut oatmeal, and I never went back as far as my own breakfast was concerned. Oh, the other kind would find their way into the house now and then, but that was for baking and cooking and the like.

That category has in the past included oatmeal baths.

My daughter Jade is going through some sort of medical crisis right now. She’s sensitive to something, and we’re getting tests done. That still leaves symptoms to treat remaining.

Today, during my cousin’s baby’s blessing, she broke out into an insane rash/hives/who knows what. She was one miserable kid. We high-tailed it out of there, discussed some strategies as we drove, and decided we would do a combo of giving her an oatmeal bath and covering her in hydrocortisone cream. The latter is wonderful for skin conditions and as to the former, well, all sorts of benefits are touted for oatmeal baths. I personally love them for dry and itchy skin.

Now, your average recommendation for an oatmeal bath involves grinding up some of your kinder, gentler oatmeal, like the quick-cooking kind or at least the rolled oats. I had none of those on hand, but I did have steel-cut and the interweb revealed nothing against those.

They’re just really hard to grind up into a powder if I’m not willing to clean out my blender.

So, I skipped a step. I used the steel-cut oats, poured them into a muslin cloth that I then tied off, and swirled it around the bath tub while it filled with water.

I admit I was apprehensive. Steel-cut oats are not dissimilar from tiny rocks. Would the magical properties of oatmeal be released?

They were! And in a pretty timely manner! Very soon I had a lovely bath with that milky oatmeal cloud into which I might dunk my itchy child.

Do not let steel-cut oatmeal stop you from creating an oatmeal bath! It works as well as anything.

What I Did:

Poured half a cup of steel-cut oats into the middle of a muslin cloth (muslin bag, pantyhose, or any thin cloth will work, you just want the oatmeal stuff to seep out without too much trouble.

Added a 2-3 drops of a child-friendly/bath-friendly essential oil (I used Tea Tree).

Swirled the bag in the bath and under the running water, then left it in there to do its thing. Occasionally I gave the bag a squeeze for good measure.

Let my child soak. The recommendation is at least 15 minutes.

 

 

Composting Dog Poop

I received our dog Steinbjorn into our home largely on my husband’s whim. He has long wanted a dog. I’m a cat person at heart, but had no resistance against getting a dog. I figured he would be my husband’s dog and play with our girls and stuff. Oh, I love this dog, but despite my claim other people would be picking up after his poop, I sort of took over that role. Of my own free will and effort, I might add. Perhaps I’m just naturally attracted to poop.

But, ah, where to put it? Taking out through the side gate to the garbage can seemed simple enough–except we tied and blocked that thing to keep a visiting child from escaping and yet to see a reason to change things. I could always carry it into the house and flush it, often considered an appropriate method.

Or, and this is where my heart really lies, I could compost it.

I love composting. I’m not even an intense composter, just the lazy sort who more or less puts stuff into one of the three bins my husband built. It’s not particularly fast, certainly not the speed composting many speak of, but it is sufficient for our needs and we get the compost we want. It helps with our garden and flowers and grass and is a great way to get rid of household waste.

Could I do the same with dog poop?

My first reaction was… what’s the harm? My second reaction, no. When I first took an interest in composting, leaving dog crap out of the pile was a commandment. And since I’m not in a super-ultra-composting situation, I decide to abide by the commandment.

At least as far as keeping it out of those bins. That compost does end up on vegetable beds.

But that warning of dog poop really was out of concern for spreading disease to food we will eat, right? It’s all about the food.

So what if I created compost that was specifically for everything but the vegetables?

After a little research, I learned that was totally fine and dandy.

Before my husband built the three-bin system, he had bought a pair of plastic barrels, drilled some holes in them, and set them on some wheels so we could add compost and spin it. Turn and dump. It works, and those barrels are still there. One is holding the compost we need to finish spreading about, and the other sits empty and blocking the aforementioned side gate. I’m sure our garden spot looks utterly trashy right now.

But, that second barrel was a great place to stick dog crap and compost it. I marked it with a warning to myself it contained the scary dog poop and therefore couldn’t be use for food and got to work.

Now, I’m the lazy composter that will just add to a pile until I figure it’s good enough, leave it to compost and start a new pile. I’m doing the same thing here. I added a bunch of leftover dead leaves, some grass clippings, and of course Steinbjorn’s poop. I’m adding to that daily, along with whatever else I feel like adding. I now have two compost dumping grounds.

For me, it’s a great. I get to indulge my composting fancy, not walk too far with Steinbjorn’s poop, and have a second source of compost I will use on flowers and maybe the grass.

I rather look forward to cleaning up after the dog.