Friday, August 17, 2018

The Purpose of Family

Each one of us has personal Saviors who act in behalf of our general Savior for us. It is most common that these Saviors are within our own family, ward, or community. It is a total blessing for us to have someone right before our eyes, face to face, talking and listening to us and imparting the Lord's word to us for our specific situations. When we can share our hopes, dreams, frustrations, and true feelings with another person who understands us, supports us, and guides us, this interaction makes life better and more manageable, not worse.  We have a place to "lay our head." We have a personal Savior who is operating through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ who has our best interest in mind and heart.

“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” ~President Spencer W. Kimball

There is a statue of Christ that was damaged in a war with missing hands and a sign at its base that says, "You are my hands."

“A story is told that during the bombing of a city in World War II, a large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives. Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue of Jesus Christ a sign with these words: ‘You are my hands.’” ~Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

When God allows us to be his hands, he gives us the opportunity to develop sustainable relationship of Amae with our family, friends, and community. These are like the covalent bonds we learn about in chemistry. If we all relied directly upon God for all our needs, we would not be able to establish bonds with each other. We would all bond directly with God but not with each other.

Family Bonding
Because we are all separated from God and his immediate love to a certain degree, we all have the need for Amae. Our spirits need spiritual nourishment to live just as our bodies require physical nourishment to live. God designed families as the primary way we receive both physical and spiritual nourishment. Functional families successfully provide this nourishment and thus bond with each other. Dysfunctional families struggle with the ability to provide it and that bond can't be formed. Most families fall somewhere in between totally functional and totally dysfunctional. Because we may not be able to provide the level of nourishment our children need or because our parents may not be able to do that for us, God provides back-up resources. Back-up Redeemers. 

The Fall
Sometimes the inability to provide Amae may be ascribed to purposeful negligence and abuse but other times it may be ascribed to objective random reality. The imbalanced relationship that results in dysfunction may only be a result of random circumstances. In other words, we can probably safely attribute the overall cause of dysfunctional conditions to the conditions of the Fall. Sickness, death, natural disasters, lack of maturity, generational neglect and abuse. The list of inherent weaknesses and misfortunes goes on! All of it can be categorized under the Fall. One dysfunctional condition causes another dysfunctional condition and like dominoes we all go down.   The Atonement of Jesus Christ redeems our AGENCY. It gives us the power to overcome the conditions of a dysfunctional upbringing. It provides us with Amae where we didn't have it. If we choose him (and the back-up resources he has established) as our Redeemer these Fallen imbalanced conditions can be corrected.

My Specific Adversity: What Happened?
What exactly happened to me as a child? As is the case for all of us, God primarily provided that needed spiritual nourishment through my family. That was my first-line resource growing up. Because that was dysfunctional to a given degree, I also had dysfunctional behavior before I learned to turn to my Redeemer for re-functionalization. Thankfully, part of the Atonement of Jesus Christ includes giving each of us Time to find Him and recognize how to turn to and rely upon his Redeeming love.

My parents divorced when I was really little. I barely even remember my dad. He thought it was best to completely sever ties with us so I didn't grow up knowing him. In my teenage years I had some positive interaction with him. He was very kind. But I never had that father/daughter belonging relationship with him that would fulfill the purpose of family for me.

I’m not sure why my biological father did what he did so I don’t want to go into that. I’m only sure that it was a combination of the Fall and his own choices. So he left our family early on. He left us to the care of my mom and eventually to my step-dad. My step-dad was born and raised in an abusive culture. I know he was verbally and physically knocked around a lot by his parents and siblings. So that was passed along to him and then to me and my siblings. 

From his family line, he learned that the solution to get children to obey was to force them to obey through physical pain or threat of it. The imbalanced character trait went like this: If children do not do what you say, you should increase their physical pain. In Behavioral Psychology--Operant Conditioning--this would be called Positive Punishment. Increasing or adding an undesirable stimulus like whipping a horse to get him to run faster. It is hitting a child after she has done something wrong in efforts to create a fear in her to not repeat that behavior again. If you consistently train a child like this she is going to assimilate those character traits, whether she would choose it or not.

These imbalanced methods of training children can indirectly promote other imbalanced character traits in a child when they are the primary methods by which she learns to make her choices. If she did not know she was doing wrong in the first place, punishment was used as a teaching method, and this training was repeated throughout her childhood, what would be the consequence? What would she learn? I know what I learned—a fear that whatever I did could possibly be wrong. No space for trial and error. No time to make mistakes without the hammer of swift and painful judgment coming down on my head. It was not okay for me to be imperfect in any way. I developed an ultra-self-correction mechanism almost like an auto-immune disease and major self-defensiveness against anyone who attempted to correct me. I will correct myself before anyone has a chance to punish me. That was my unconscious attitude. As I grew older, I grew angry. And this is probably the same process that put such intense and virulent anger into my step-dad before me. The results of the Fall--generational abuse and neglect. Lack of Amae.

Neglecting to Protect
The problem is not just in passing on dysfunctional love and character traits but it’s also in NOT passing on functional Amae and character traits. What does a child become when she is not protected by her parents? What happens if the very ones she should go to for safety, comfort, guidance, and support are the ones she has to hide from? How does she develop faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ? Where does the vital nourishing love come from? How can a child learn how to be merciful if she wasn't consistently given it? And this is where she learns to protect herself. She learns that no one has her back. She believes there are no Back-up Redeemers. She learns to Turn and Revile Again.

I share this story knowing that almost everyone has experienced generational abuse and neglect to some degree. And if we see it in ourselves, we may be tempted to evaluate ourselves in Toxic Shame or to evaluate our parents in Toxic Blame. My goal is to objectively see these things as the product of ignorance and the Fall. When we recognize them as such, we can get to a place where we understand how the Atonement of Jesus Christ can be implemented to resolve the conflicts these dysfunctional relationships have created for us. These are the resultant conflicts that we are still struggling with today.

Back-up Redeemers
When the level of love and training our parents provide for us is not enough, the Atonement of Jesus Christ operates on our behalf. God knows what is going on. He works to put into place subsequent levels of resources that redeem us--compensate us. Our siblings may step in to help us because of their mercy and God-given abilities. They can be a resource for us especially when our parents are not. But since they are usually still learning and growing, as we are, and are receiving the same level of dysfunctional training, they often are not capable of playing this role for us. Yet mine did to a certain degree. My older sister was a beacon of light for me. She consistently read her scriptures, prayed, and went to church, which gave me a clue that these resources might be valuable to me as well.

We are all only required to do what we are willing and able to do. Love and Amae are about voluntary sacrifice, not forced sacrifice. We can't force people to love us. If we are willing, we can increase our ability to sacrifice over time in order to provide Amae for others through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But if a parent is not aware of this chance to improve or is not willing to develop his ability to sacrifice for his children, our Savior knows about the situation and will send alternative resources. Others are called into action. Those others can be extended family members, friends, and members of our church. 

I had a few other Back-up Redeemers growing up. My grandparents, my best friend and her family, and my church, its programs, and many of its members. These resources retrained me in important ways to learn how to obtain my desires and resolve my conflicts using higher skills than I was raised with. I discovered for myself that the prophets, scriptures and personal prayers were a vital resource for me. But it wasn't until I developed the faith to really depend upon Jesus Christ to whom they all were pointing that my Amae needs have been completely redeemed.

Where Do I Belong?

In a previous blog post I described a scene out of my own life story. It was a Conflict. It was an illustration of a relationship that was not working. The relationship was dysfunctional. It seemed to be failing in its purpose. There were two people involved, members of the same family, brother and sister. They were children. One was a 13-year-old girl (me) and the other was a 12-year-old boy (my brother). The brother reviled the sister and the sister Turned and Reviled Again and then the brother Turned and Reviled Again. 

Functional Family Relationships
Years later, during my training, I had to learn what a functional family relationship was. And when I did, I was able to see how Conflicts between family members can be prevented or resolved before they get out of hand. So this is what I learned:  

Functional family relationships are relationships that work. They are successful in their purpose. The following scenarios show how to maintain functional family relationships:

Scenario 1:  Kindness Starts with Me
Siblings treat each other with kindness.

Scenario 2: Forgive, Repent, Recommit
A brother reviles a sister and the sister does not Turn and Revile Again. The sister would be previously trained to use one of the following levels of Conflict Resolution Processes given her maturity level:
Level 1: She ignores him and/or asks him to stop. 
Level 2: If the reviling hurt, she talks her own insecurities and needs over privately with a parent and learns how to resolve these personal Conflicts separately.
Level 3: She redirects his behavior.
Level 4: She treats him with continued kindness in return.
Level 5: She thinks about which of his needs aren't being met and/or wonders what adversity (or lack of it) he's experiencing that is causing him to revile others.
Level 6: She seeks for more long-term ways to meet his needs appropriately in order to balance his adversity level.

At any of these levels, if his reviling is continuous and the sister doesn't know what to do about it or have the endurance to implement it, she asks a parent to help resolve the Conflict. The parent implements the higher level Conflict Resolution Processes. The hope is that the brother will repent--say he is sorry for what he did--at any of these levels or that the parent will teach him how to apologize and recommit. Of course this is idealistic. It's the goal for children to work out their Conflicts with each other in this manner. They're not going to have any idea of what their roles are or how to do any of this if they are not trained. It's kind of like wild horses. They're just going to run wild unless they are trained.

Identify the Purpose
When relationships don't work, they don't fulfill their purpose. If that purpose was important to us then we want to fix the problem. We want to resolve the Conflict. So what is the purpose of a family? When it is functional as in the above scenarios, what is the result? What was God trying to accomplish by setting us up in families? These were my questions. In order to assess the answers the Lord had to explain the basic human needs to me. I wrote about this a little in the last blog post but I'm going to review it here.

Basic Humanity
It was a shocker for me to learn that every human being needs love. It seems like a no brainer but I had never really thought about it before--at least in the way the Lord showed it to me in 2006. I remember reading a book called, "The Belonging Heart: The Atonement and Relationships with God and Family" by Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen. It described our basic human need as amae, which is a Japanese concept that translates best into the English word belonging. There are so many different meanings for the word love that I had become completely confused about its core meaning. But when I read this book, I was seeing the concept of love from a whole new perspective. Here's a quote from it:  "The word amae, for which no English equivalent exists, describes the innate need and desire within each person to depend on and feel connected to other people, especially in relationships of love and intimacy." 

Who Am I?
Visualizing what I needed changed my understanding of myself. For a long time before this epiphany I was unconsciously searching for my needs in other places besides family. And I'm now talking about the family in which I am the mom as well as my extended family. I was striving to fulfill my duty as well as I could. I wasn't running off on all kinds of other adventures. I was staying home with my family and working to make sure everyone else was happy. But I wasn't exactly happy. I didn't consider that my needs should also be met within these relationships. I seemed to inherently know that I desired to belong somewhere. I just hadn't considered why I wasn't feeling the amae with my own family.

Spiritual & Physical Nourishment
I learned that love is spiritual nourishment. And just as it is vital for each of us to eat nutritious meals on a daily basis for optimal health, so it is vital for us to be spiritually nourished on a daily basis. And each of us has the power to spiritually nourish someone else through our own words and actions! God is our Father and so he knows that we have these constant needs. He designed the family unit to be the means by which these needs are met. Brothers and sisters, therefore, have the sacred duty and power to love one another. Loving is about treating each other compassionately and empathetically. It’s also about noticing each other’s strengths and cherishing them. Additionally, when one of us makes mistakes and does not do the above duties, which ends up hurting us, we forgive and try to work it out. We recommit so the relationship can Re-Functionalize. The goal is to do whatever it takes for the relationship to work as God intended it to work for all of its members. That way everyone experiences amae.

“WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that…the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” ~The Family, A Proclamation to the World

Time for Change
After figuring this all out with the guidance of the Holy Ghost, I changed some of my goals. I started investigating why my present family relationships weren't resulting in amae for me. I looked at myself first. What did I need to change? I didn't feel bogged down with shame because I hadn't been doing better prior to learning this. I felt energized and excited that if I implemented the true processes of God in my family I would stop feeling this emptiness, this lack of something, this need to belong. I would be filled in the appropriate way. And I trusted that God's plan, when implemented would fill me completely. I just had to understand it better.

Knowing the Definitions
When family relationships are dysfunctional it means that one or more of its members are not feeling that sense of belonging because there is a lack of training and motivation to fulfill duties. They don't feel sufficiently loved, appreciated, accepted, and safe. Neither do they sufficiently love, appreciate, accept, and protect. Functional families are NOT perfect families in which everyone gets along all the time. They are families in which the members have been trained how to repent and forgive in order to recommit and Re-Functionalize when Conflict arises. They are families that know the promised rewards that come with keeping their commitments to one another. Understanding these promised rewards myself motivated me to realign my goals. When I prayed for help in developing the needed skills, it was given to me. Slowly but surely, I became a better wife, mother, sister, and daughter. I'm still working on it. And it turns out that those skills are the same skills needed to Stand Steadfast in Christ. 

Shields Up!

In the Standing Steadfast in Christ blog post I talked about this amazing strength our Savior has to remain balanced in the face of adversity. I spoke of how much I admired this character trait that I also saw in Joseph Smith. A major part of the reason I admire this trait so much is that I know how hurt I would be if those people reviled me like they were reviling Joseph. I know that what they were reviling him about was so intensely important to him. I know about the temptation to fight back. And to see him Stand Steadfast in Christ makes the admiration in me go through the roof.  I know what both Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ could have done in response to the abuse and persecution they received. I know that’s the natural way to respond. It used to be my way to respond. Because I had developed this bad habit AND have subsequently been retrained to break it, I know how amazingly difficult it is to Stand Steadfast in Christ. Now I stand in awe of those who do. I know the strength it takes. I know about the Faith and the Love that need to be the driving motivators. They are my role models and seeing them do this, as well as others, sustains my ability to Stand Steadfast in Christ.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” ~Matthew 5:44-45

In the next several blog posts I’m going to relate to the best of my ability how the Savior re-trained me to Stand Steadfast in Christ. I'm not perfect in it, which probably goes without saying, but man have I come a long way thanks to Him! For the rest of this blog post, let’s just take a closer look at what it means to Revile.

To Revile
To Revile is to criticize, condemn, attack, rail against, slander, vilify, or abuse. It’s also to knock, slam, badmouth, persecute, or crucify. It can be done physically or verbally. The definition we used in the last chapter was: to criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner. So this is one of our major sources of Adversity. Other people reviling us. When we say that we Turn and Revile Again, we’re insinuating that we are responding to some kind of Adversity that we received first. The scriptures call this "the first offense."

“And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.” ~Alma 43:46

"The second offense" is the Turning and Reviling Again. If we're not guilty of either the first or the second offense and are defending ourselves and our families objectively, under the guidance of God, and are not motivated by our own personal hatred and desire for vengeance, then we are right with God in defending ourselves against abuse.

Degrees of Reviling
We can revile someone just a little or we can revile them a lot. This is speaking of the degree or intensity of the Adversity. When my brother called me FAT it was a lesser degree of Adversity than when he got all of his friends to call me FAT. If more people abuse us, the intensity increases. Also, people can lightly criticize us or they can go on and on about how wrong we are and how right they are. So duration and frequency can increase intensity. When we get really specific and detailed in our criticism, we increase the intensity. The last way that I can think increases our Adversity is if the reviling comes from someone we love and/or respect and especially from someone for whom we have given our life. This is kind of like how Judas Iscariot reviled Christ. That would have been extra painful for him since he was one of his twelve apostles who had been a disciple and a close friend for three years. Not unlike pouring salt into the wound. During my training I learned that it was important to understand why I may get intensely upset about something when others think all I need to do is take a chill-pill. 

Specific Weaknesses and Sensitivities
That last reason goes along with this next point. What reviles one person may not phase another. That’s because we value things differently. We're all unique. Remember how I started out describing how much I valued being skinny and pretty since I was nine years old? I did that purposefully to explain why the Adversity I received was so intense for me to bear. When someone knows how to push our buttons, they know exactly what means the most to us. We all have different weakness and sensitivities. Knowing what someone’s are gives us the knowledge of how to love them better or hate them worse.

So given the degree of reviling and the degree to which we are sensitive to it, the total degree of Adversity may exceed our ability to stop ourselves from Turning and Reviling Again. If we are especially weak and untrained, it may not take much at all to get past our shields.

Neglect:  The Opposite of Abuse
We’ve used the word Abuse as a synonym for reviling. Abuse is the main word I’ve chosen to use in the Servant Initiative to describe this concept. So technically Abuse is combining with someone else in a way that hurts them. It is adding a stimulus. It is contentious. It is a sin of Commission. The opposite of Abuse is Neglect. Technically Neglect is separating from someone else in a way that hurts them. It is subtracting a stimulus. It is passive aggressive. It is a sin of Omission. We can use Neglect to hurt someone. The reason behind that is that we all need love for spiritual nourishment as much as we need food and water for physical nourishment. We cannot spiritually live without it; to live in spiritual balance is to have Joy. So without love, we experience Sorrow. Those who are responsible for our care have the responsibility to physically and spiritually love us. In this way they care for our body and spirit. So if they Neglect doing this for us, they leave us in a vulnerable place. We are excessively exposed to injury and reviling. We have more buttons to be pushed. We have more sensitivities. We’re easily reviled by mischief-makers. And this includes Neglecting to protect us and Neglecting to teach and train us how to Stand Steadfast in Christ. The combination of both Ignorance (as a Result of Neglect) and Abuse is so fatal!

In the diagram to the right we can see that there are degrees of intensity for both Abuse and Neglect. Not only can we Abuse a little or a lot, we can also Neglect a little or a lot. The balance between Abuse and Neglect is Love. Love includes Standing Steadfast in Christ, giving Mercy to those who Revile us, instead of doing what comes natural. With Love sometimes we do censure and reprimand. In Mercy sometimes we do separate from someone else. How do we know the difference—when we’ve crossed the line to Abuse or Neglect? That took the Savior a lot of time to explain to me. We’ll get to that somewhere in the next few posts. For now, just know that it's not wrong to combine or separate. It's when we combine or separate too much or too little, given the other person's needs and strengths and our own motives. Are we guilty of the first or second offense in our motives or are we objectively trying to resolve conflicts in a relationship? 

With this information, we can see that most of us were Abused or Neglected to some degree growing up, which has caused us to develop a degree of Turning and Reviling Again. And that's just how it is. We’re not doing a disservice to our parents by acknowledging that. We’re not shaming ourselves by acknowledging that it is probably the case with our own parenting responsibilities. It’s important to look at how we developed this imbalanced behavior objectively. Not with the intent to Shame or Blame. Shaming and Blaming only causes ourselves and others to hide imbalances. It doesn’t turn us to Christ, where we need to go for healing.

I was once ignorant and vulnerable to all kinds of reviling. Now I’m not so ignorant and my shields are fully functional. That’s because of my Redeemer. And it is he who taught me to look a little closer at words such as Adversity, Sorrow, Abuse, Neglect, Love, Mercy, and Joy like we've done in this post. He taught me to look for their synonyms, antonyms, degrees, specifics, and generalities as I evaluated my own personal experiences. All of these treasures of knowledge were a necessary part of my training to develop my ability to Stand Steadfast in Christ. Knowledge and wisdom are the keys to "bring out the prisoners from the prison."

O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted; behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.” ~Isaiah 54:11

Listen: "Wait and See" by Brandon Heath

In the next blog post I’ll write more about why some people grow up to Turn and Revile Again while others grow up to Stand Steadfast in Christ.

“Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.” ~3 Nephi 6:13

Turning & Reviling Again

Being beautiful has been very important to me since I was really young. And for me, being skinny, not fat, was a big part of what it meant to be beautiful. In my mind, I wasn't as yet so successful in obtaining that desire. In fact, I saw myself as failing. I started keeping a diary when I was 9-years-old. I still have it. The first entry reminds me of this obsession.

To transcribe the image to the right, first page (the sentence is continued from the previous page):  “Friday, June 16, 1978…is ugly but skinny. sandy is pretty and skinny they are luky. lesly is ugly but skinny I think tracy is a show off and ugly but skinny the tow twins across the street are ugly and fat. I still like Denies even though she’s fat. she gave me a poster of benji. and she gave me some of her candy. Im kind of fat to.”

What would my 9-year-old self say if she knew I was sharing her diary publicly? I would tell her it’s for a good cause—to help others who have strong Desires like her learn to obtain them through Standing Steadfast in Christ. 

In this blogpost I'm describing the weaknesses I started with as a young girl in order to demonstrate the BEFORE in the before and after story, I'm relating. In the Standing Steadfast in Christ blog post, I spoke of how much I admired our Savior's ability to remain balanced in the face of adversity instead of losing it and Turning and Reviling Again. I sketched a pretty good picture of what it means to have this character trait using examples from both Joseph Smith's and Jesus Christ's lives. But in order to really drive home why I admire this strength so much, I need to show that I was the opposite. And I need to describe how the Savior retrained me. He made this weakness into a strength for me. That's the middle part of the story and the AFTER. It's hard for me to show these things. I expose myself. I'm evidently guilty. But paradoxically I am also guilty by association. Telling this story is a way that I can give my life for Him because it clearly demonstrates that everything beautiful that I am now is a result of his association with me. By myself I was weak. With him I am strong. It is a living testimony of his Atoning power. Back to the story...

I’m not sure where I learned how to value appearances so highly. It could have been from my mother who was always talking about losing weight. It could also have been from society in general which stated so loudly and clearly:  A thin young woman with a pretty face is a beautiful woman. Most likely it was from both. My mom was influenced by her mom who was also always worrying about losing weight. Both were influenced by society’s obsession with weight and appearance. And I know I have influenced my own kids to be concerned about their weight as well. On and on it goes. Where it starts and ends nobody knows.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad value to have the desire to be fit and attractive. I’m saying that if that is our desire, then we need to be taught what we can actually DO to obtain it in a healthy way. How did I need to eat? What foods should I have avoided more? What healthy relationships did I need to develop? What sports could I have gotten more involved in? Did I know that walking, running, playing, moving (which I was doing to some degree--see pic to the right) could burn fat? Who did I need to hang out with more? Additionally, we need to look to REAL standards to know where we stand. Was I overweight or not? Let's look at this objectively. How much should I have weighed for my age, height, and body structure? And how much did I in fact weigh? Now that is sense. I didn’t have much of it back then. I was looking to the opinions of everyone and their dog to tell me if I was successful in my goal or not. Why look to these arbitrary, unstable sources for validation?  (see blog post Choice: The Crucial Conjunction)

...and why the heck would I allow my brother of all people to be my judge?

Because this Desire to be fit and attractive meant so much to me I was very sensitive to people telling me I was fat (even though in that Hello Kitty Diary I was pretty brutal with defining others as such). My sensitivity is very similar to how Anne of Greene Gables felt about her red hair. 

Somehow (Hmmm…I don’t know how!??) my younger brother got wind of this information and as is the case with most siblings, he used it against me. He may have been teasing but from my perspective, it felt like torture. Pure torture. Let’s just say he knew how to push my buttons. 

"Flashback, step into the scene. There's you and there's a very different me..." ~Me Without You by TobyMac

A few years after the above journal entry, when I was around 13-years-old (about 1982-1983), my sensitivity to my brother’s reviling increased. At that age, I was extremely conscious of my body image as most tweens-teens are. I still wanted to be skinny and had even started trying to diet. But as previously mentioned, I didn’t have the slightest clue about how to lose weight the right way. I just did these crash diets that involved grapefruits and toast or just pure starvation. Anyway, my brother had some friends over and he got them all to call me FAT. Not a good idea. I’m sure I must have been doing something to irritate him but I can’t remember what it was. Or maybe he and his friends were just bored. I know when my own boys were young they always needed to have something to do or they’d get into mischief. So I remember this specific day of mischief because of how intensely it hurt. It was one thing for my brother to call me FAT. It was another for all of his friends to do it too.

In response I was angry. Some girls would cry. I didn’t. My brother and his friends were all barricaded in his room. They were holding the door closed and laughing. The anger inside me burned. I tried to get into the room. I was seeking vengeance. That was the only way I knew to resolve the intense conflict within me. Who knows what I was going to do against so many boys if I ever did get in? Definitely not thinking rationally. But I couldn’t get in. So I found a stick, the type which we used to secure a sliding glass door.  I went around the back yard to my brother’s window and swung. Yep. I swung and hit the window. The window broke. The anger inside me ceased abruptly. I had shocked even myself. Now I was scared. I don’t remember what I did from that point on. I think I hid. I don’t know if my brother and his friends were injured in any way. I think it just scared them. 

You know who’s turn it was to revile again. And that’s what he did. He and his friends left the house and they happened upon a police officer in the neighborhood. They told him what I had done. And the dude actually came to our house and knocked on the front door. I answered it. I think my brother and his friends were out in the street watching and laughing. The policeman questioned me. I was SCARED TO DEATH and totally humiliated. I answered him frankly. Yes, I did break the window with a stick. He just told me not to do it again, that it wasn’t good for me to do something like that and left. I felt so much shame. I felt like a monster for what I had done. And that was my brother’s revenge. He brought me to Justice. What did I do in response? Smoldering, deepening hatred for both my brother and myself. Turning and Reviling Again never ends. It just never ends.

I wonder now why I didn’t think of just separating myself from the situation. But that resolution process never entered my mind. If I could go back and whisper something in that little 13-year-old's ear, it would be, “Hey, guess what? You can actually leave this house and stay away from it for long periods of time so you don’t have to be around him. You can go to a friend’s house, get involved in some more school stuff, sports, or other community activities. And in fact, that was what ended up happening in less than a year from this incident when I started going back to church. Thankfully someone from church came and brought me back. I attribute that to my Savior. I was so far from being able to resolve these familial conflicts on my own in the right way. I seriously had no clue. Just Turn and Revile Again. That’s all I knew.

There was something else that meant a lot to me. My younger brother and I are pretty close in age--about 17 months apart. In our early childhood, we were best friends. We did a lot together. We went on all kinds of adventures. Got in trouble together. I developed a dependence on him as a good friend. I loved him. I probably wouldn't have admitted it then. We had all kinds of normal sibling rivalries and squabbles but they didn't affect the foundational love I had for him. We'd get into a squabble and the next minute we were outside playing together. But during our tween years, things changed. Conflicts between us would escalate out of control. I have heard it said that we hate the most those we would have loved the most. I'm pretty sure that's what happened to our relationship during those years.

It would be several more years before I had been thrashed by adversity enough to drive me to my knees. I had to do things my way for a while in order to figure out the dead-end street I was on. I’m not saying I didn’t learn earlier how to stop myself from breaking windows and fighting back in such an obviously dysfunctional manner. It wasn’t too much longer after this event that I learned to hold the anger in much better—hide it. I was motivated by SHAME. The encounter with policemen and other policemen-like people caused Toxic Shame to develop inside of me. But no matter how much I used shame to stop myself from feeling so angry, I couldn't do it. Hiding it or trying to keep it stuffed all inside of me only caused me to be in constant turmoil. Around and around it went. Why couldn't I be good? If the adversity got hot enough, drops of the dysfunction would be squeezed out in my words and in my behavior. But the thing is, the frequency of Conflicts with others decreased as I got older. The Virus became dormant...until I got married and had my own children, which increased the adversity in my life to levels that were very difficult to bear for a person with my Steadfast skill level.

“O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted…” ~Isaiah 54:11

In writing this blog post, I'm working on facing the Shaming Judge. It is part of the Lord's present training process for me. Again, it's important to note that I don't have the close relationship with him that I do because I've been a righteous pillar of strength my whole life. I haven't been. I have this relationship with him because I've been down in the dirt and when I finally had enough I came to him to figure it all out.

"What do I know of Holy? What do I know of wounds that will heal my shame?" ~Listen: "What Do I Know Of Holy" by Addison Road

“And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.” ~Luke 5:31

I know how hard it is to Stand Steadfast in Christ in the face of Adversity. I know about the temptation to fight back. To see others stand steadfast makes the admiration in me go through the roof.  I know what both Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ could have done in response to the abuse and persecution they received. I know that’s the natural way to respond. It used to be my way to respond. Those who Stand Steadfast in Christ are my role models and seeing them do this, as well as others, now sustains my ability to do it too.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” ~Matthew 5:44-45

In the next several blog posts I’m going to relate to the best of my ability how the Savior re-trained me to Stand Steadfast in Christ. I'm not perfect in it, which probably goes without saying, but man have I come a long way thanks to Him!

Listen: "Wait and See" by Brandon Heath

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Why Children Need Their Agency to Grow

Recently, I took care of a little 4-year-old girl for a couple of weeks. She’s the daughter of a young woman I taught in church, who is now 32 and a mom. She has been a close family friend since she was twelve years old.  She and her daughter are staying with us for a few months until she gets back on her feet. In many ways, I feel like I’m playing the grandma role. My interactions with her are definitely more grandma in nature than the mom I used to be when I had kids that age. As I reflect upon the changes in my temperament and abilities, I'm coming to the conclusion that my younger motherhood years were training years. I was like an apprentice. Having seen the journey of a child from birth to young adulthood, I have a more complete perspective of the different stages she goes through. And that gives me greater faith when dealing with fleeting misbehaviors. I know the behaviors won't endure and I also know that my own response to them plays a huge role in my own ability to bear them as well as in teaching the child by example how parents paradoxically sacrifice for their children. After many years of being away from that very difficult training period in my life, I am thankful for the experience and personal guidance from my Savior which have given me greater understanding of the relationship between a parent and a child and the natural conflicts that arise.

I've always loved the scripture in Isaiah that describes the learning process as "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, and there a little." Here is the exact scripture:

"Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine?...For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little." ~Isaiah 28:9-10

My own parents weren't always patience with me as a child. They had their own struggles and were still trying to work them out as do most parents. Consequently, patience was not one of my strengths upon entering my own parent-apprenticeship. However, because I wanted so badly to be patient, I turned to God and asked him to teach me how. He has answered my prayers. He taught me precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, and there a little. Over the course of many years, I've had to learn how to be patient with myself, knowing He is being patient with me. Now that I am nearing the grandma years, I do indeed have more patience.

In taking care of my friend's 4-year-old daughter, I’ve been watching myself to assess the reason I’m responding to her so patiently. I’ve noticed that I now have an overall rule governing my thoughts and actions to strive as much as possible to honor her agency - her right to choose for herself. There are a number of family/home/safety rules she must keep but if her choice to do something doesn’t break one of those rules, I allow her to continue doing it.  While I'm in charge of her, if she doesn’t want to eat all her food, she doesn’t have to. If she doesn’t like something I give her, she doesn’t have to eat it. If she wants a band-aid or a piece of gum, why not?  If she wants to sit on my lap, hop on. If she wants to get down and do something else, off you go. If she is curious about something in my office, if it is safe, let her see it and handle it. I answer her questions about it but don’t go overboard with the answer. I tell her what she wants to know. She determines how much that is. If she wants to use the Swiffer to help me sweep the floor, go for it. If she wants to take the mop from me and do it herself, okay. No reason to stifle the desire to clean when it’s actually there. 

The following song emphasizes this governing rule to allow a child to make her own choices. The lyrics say, "This is your life. What 'cha gonna do?...The choices you make say what you are and who..." Listen: "This is Your Life" by Francesca Battistelli

When I honor a child's right to choose, I tell her yes. I let her make the choice. And when a child is given that choice often enough she senses the love in that. She may not be able to analyze it like I do, but she feels it. Every child knows that she has agency - the God-given gift to choose. I believe children learn to honor the rules we ask them to keep when we honor their agency rule as much as we can.

The movie Miracle Worker by Walt Disney is a retelling of the Helen Keller story. Helen was born seeing and hearing but at 19 months old contracted an unknown illness later thought to be scarlet fever or meningitis which left her blind and deaf for the rest of her life.  When Helen was 7 years old, Anne Sullivan was hired to teach and train her. Helen had acquired a number of bad habits because her parents, in their pity, had not set enough boundaries for her to enable Helen's relationships with her family to be compatible and sustainable. Anne first trained Helen to stop eating off of other people’s plates, eating with her hands, pinching, hitting, or hurting people when she wanted something, throwing things across the room, and collapsing on the floor screaming and kicking when she didn’t get her way. Anne was just beginning to get through to Helen. She was able to help Helen stop the tantrums and other undesirable behaviors but she hadn’t been able to fully teach her about her gift of agency. Helen’s father was satisfied with a more well-behaved, clean daughter. He wasn't interested in Helen's further progression, but Anne was. In the movie, Anne said to him, “I taught Helen one thing. 'No.' Don't do this, don't do that. I wanted to teach her ‘yes’."

When children are habitually out of control, it’s difficult to honor their agency. Because of Helen’s disability, she had developed some pretty bad habits. Those had to be “treated” first in order for her agency to be fully honored. I believe this is why the scriptures tell us to repent first "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand". I see the kingdom of heaven being the Holy Ghost and the angels who stand ready to teach and train each of us. Like Helen, we cannot see or hear them, yet we can sense them. But we won't want to listen to them and indeed can't hear them until we repent of the behaviors we know do not lead to compatible sustainable relationships.

 "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." ~ Matthew 3:2

When I was caring for the 4-year-old girl one day, I made the mistake of giving her some kid-scissors to cut some string she was playing with. When I wasn’t looking, she snuck away and used them to cut her hair. While it wasn’t the end of the world that her bangs were a little shorter, I should probably have thought through some privileges a bit more before giving them. Children also have the tendency to take advantage of the agency we give them. They’re not doing it to spite us any more than we’re doing it to spite God when we take advantage of the agency he gives us. Most of us are just exploring our universe, seeing where the boundaries are, and seeing what happens when we make certain choices. We’re all a bunch of scientists.

I brought the scissor-event up to identify the boundaries of the agency rule.  It’s not love if we give them too many choices. This was shown with Helen Keller's parents spoiling her out of pity. The wise parent and grandparent looks for the balance. We can be overly controlling with our rules and boundaries or we can be underly controlling. We find that middle ground through our own scientific experiments and the guidance of the Holy Ghost.