Monday, February 23, 2009

Clueless or Creative

As I commiserated with my best mommy friend Becky (I think we referred to our little ones as “leeches” that day), she said that she expected her headstone to read:

Here Lies Mom
Keeper of the Stuff

(…as in “Mom, hold this ” or “Maaahm, where’s my shoes?”)

Not wanting my headstone to look exactly like hers, I imagined mine would say:

Here Lies Mom
Family Referee

(…as in “Mom, she took my __!” or “I had it first!”)

Bickering between siblings was considered an inescapable fact of family life by everyone I knew. Still, I hated it. I wanted a family of peacemakers, not rabble-rousers. It was frustrating that I was following the counsel to teach my children to follow Jesus and all else that we are commanded to do in order to invite the Spirit into our homes-–yet the daily, even hourly, disputes continued. The “natural man” aspect of it grated my spiritual nerves raw. It just wasn’t right.

One day as I was reading King Benjamin’s address, he started talking directly to me:

“And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness. But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:14-15)

Even as the rightness of it flooded my heart, I knew that another Family Home Evening lesson on the evils of contention wasn’t going to cut it. What more could I do in my little vineyard? Wait a minute--I told myself--you may be clueless, but you are also creative! Sit down, think it out, pray it out – be proactive. A glimmer of hope lighted a distant corner in my brain. I knew the answer was in there…just a nudge or two from the Spirit and I might yet come off conqueror!

I recently conducted a workshop on creativity called: “A Gift for Expression”. The room was full of musicians, but what we learned about the subject applies as much to moms and musicians. Elder Dean L. Larsen points out for instance, that Father expects all of us to cultivate our creativity: “It may well be that this aspect of our development in mortality is as important in the eyes of a creative Heavenly Father as many other attributes that receive greater attention and emphasis.” We ought to be focusing on becoming more creative; the way we concentrate on becoming more patient or humble or forgiving - or, as Mary Ellen Smoot (former General Relief Society President) puts it: “…we are children of God. Shouldn’t we be about our Father’s business? Shouldn’t we be creators as well?

Becoming a “creator” for the first time at age 21, I remember being more afraid of the potential hurts I’d cause as a young mom, than of the hurt I would pass through in childbirth. With multiple personalities to deal with as my family grew, there was no way I had enough education or experience to handle the complexities of “people-making.” My pre-natal worries were eventually subdued in prayer: “You have the Holy Ghost,” I heard. “Use him.”

Crawford Gates, LDS composer, suggests something interesting about the gift of the Holy Ghost as it relates to creativity: How does it make us different? May I suggest that one of the ways the Holy Spirit helps us is that it makes us more creative?” President Uchtorf verifies that this is true: “The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create.”

That doesn’t sound like the Holy Ghost will dictate to us though, does it? “Heavenly Father wants to help us find the creativity within us. It wouldn’t encourage us to do that if he were to say, “Get a piece of paper and write this down” (Jack Weyland). Remember: “…you must study it out in your mind: then you must ask me if it be right…” (D&C 9:7-9) That little tidbit from church history would certainly bear out the presumption that the answers are within us–if we employ a little perspiration before inspiration, as Elder Maxwell puts it, or in another turn of the phrase: “Inspiration complements our creative efforts” (Crawford Gates).

So where do the creative solutions really come from? Elder Maxwell says that they “spring out of our seeing possibilities we have not seen before, seeing connections between patches of truth and beauty, and responding to them in ways we have not done before.”

Alright then: back to my homespun warlords. I rolled up my sleeves, took out a piece of paper and wrote down the following:

The problem: Kids clashes.

(The truth) They shouldn’t be doing it.

(The beauty) They don’t have to be doing it. We can learn a better way.

What I needed next was to “see” or “create” the connection between this patch of “truth” and it’s corresponding patch of “beauty”. Hmmmm…. I thought and thought about it for quite a while. I eventually reasoned that the munchkins needed to learn to settle their own spats…and that boiled down to…communication skills! Ah-ha! Now we’re on to something! A crazy idea started to piece itself together in my imagination and a whoosh of light gave me the tingles.

I rearranged the living room so that Grammy’s big, round, rag rug was front and center. Then I called the kids into a “come-to-Jesus” meeting, (as my Christian friends in the South would say).

“Here.”I explained, “is The Rug”. From now on, any parties suffering a disagreement will be immediately referred to “The Rug”. The parties in question will face each other, sitting Indian-style, knees touching (absolute rule). You will have to decide who presents his case first. The other will have to listen without interruption. When Party One is completely aired out, then Party Two speaks his mind – same courtesies applied.”


I shouldn’t have been surprised that they were intrigued, even enthusiastic. It sounded more like a game than an unhappy consequence. It wasn’t long of course, before the first “players” presented themselves, their whines competing for my attention. “STOP!” I covered my ears. “On The Rug!!!” They marched off and I watched them from a crack in the door. Quietly and with childlike reasoning, they established their defenses. Within ten minutes the two of them ran off together to do something completely different. Wow, I marveled. It worked!

And it continued to work for the next several years. It got to the point that all I had to say was, “On The Rug!” and they settled on the spot, one or the other acquiescing. Sometimes the litigation morphed into more of a contest of who would be the peacemaker first.

After discovering “The Rug”, I became innovative in dealing with other mommy-dilemmas like getting chores done and keeping toys picked up. I testify that as mothers and fathers we can—and ought—to be creative as we mold our ideal family life. Elder Ballard laid down the gauntlet this way:
“People [insert ‘your children’] deserve quality alternatives that YOU, with the influence of the Holy Spirit, are capable of providing.”

I'm having so much fun with your comments and emails! Let me know about one your creative “mommy” or “daddy” ideas, or one your parents used, or even just your thoughts on the subject. This will get you started: Follower Laura’s creative solution for toy clutter: "Making Bread: Toy Catalog".

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wish List

My little grandson, who I've pet-named "Biscuit", pulled himself up onto the low stone wall surrounding the fountain with speed and agility. I held his waist as a precaution, visualizing his headfirst tumble into the clear water, which, now that I think of it, wouldn’t have been so bad on a February day in Florida. It was 80 degrees yesterday.

I love Florida winters. For 13 years I loved rolling down the car window, letting my bare arm ride the wind, gloating at the top of my lungs: “Hello Buffalo! Hello Minnesota! I live in Orrrrlllaaandooo!” My little riders would giggle as they imitated me, which must have been a sight for the car behind us. By a fluke, our daddy’s career had transferred us from aspens to palm trees and I was determined to make the best of this foreign environment, which in truth, I was not all that fond of. There was something wonderful to be said however, for routinely spending family home evening at Disney World.

Home is now in the Douglas firs, on the opposite corner of the map, so this weekend I am not Resident, but Tourist in this world of “Worlds” (did you know there’s even a “Sock World” here???) It’s Biscuit’s fourth birthday, he still lives here, so Grandma’s back, and we’re doin’ Disney, perched on the fountain at the entrance to Epcot…

“Here’s a penny Biscuit. Throw it into the water and make a wish.”

He grinned and looked at me quizzically.

“A wish is something you would like to have - or to happen.”

He looked through the bubbles at the coins on the bottom of the fountain. “See? Other people made wishes here too.”

He still hesitated. I took another penny out of my wallet and squeezed my eyes shut. “I wish Biscuit will grow very tall.”

My penny flew through the air and splashed into the waterfall.

His eyes lit up. With a fling that surprised even me, his penny sailed to the very top of the tiered fountain. He was joyful. The whole tossing business proved great fun for the next ten cents, but he never did enjoin a “wish” upon his pennies. He didn’t get it and I couldn’t explain it.

Somehow, when I very young, I knew all about wishes. Clear summer nights in the Pacific Northwest are perfect for outdoor sleep-over’s and my brothers and I often toted our pillows and blankets into the yard. There I thought deep thoughts (for a little person) and wondered at the universe just out of reach. And I always made wishes. My Disney-inspired conversation with Biscuit made me realize that it’s a practice I’ve never outgrown.

As recently as last week, straightening my “writing” desk, I wished once again that I could find the time to finish my book. The dust was pretty thick. No one had touched that desk, that keyboard, that stack of books and notes for a long time. Of course, no one would, but me. Funny that I thought the auspicious moving of the table to the front room would make any difference. Just because it’s in plain sight doesn’t mean I’ll have any more time than normal to write.

I felt hopeless and was tempted to put all the dust-collecting paraphernalia away until a little cricket appeared on my shoulder and whispered:

Make a list. Take inventory of every wish you can ever remember making.

Exercising a rusty brain took some doing, but I finally had my list. I starred at those thirty wishes with amazement, including the first few which were made under the stars by a little girl with lots of faith. Twenty-five of the thirty had materialized and there was every possibility that the other five still might.

The first wish I ever made reflects a child’s priorities, but it was real and sustained and added-upon every time we took a family vacation. I had forgotten it altogether until I made my list. There must be at least fifty stars bearing the innocent aspiration:

I wish I lived next to Disneyland.

Just tonight, my sweet friend Dana shared with me a Meridian article written by H. Wallace Goddard entitled: “You Can Write Your Blessings—If You Do Right” which I strongly recommend for a fuller treatment of this subject. I quote the opening paragraph:

“Heber C. Kimball made an extraordinary invitation: “I have said often, you may write blessings for yourselves and insert every good thing you can think of, and it will all come to pass on your heads, if you do right.” (From an address in the Old Tabernacle, August 1853.)

I have loved “the right” all my life. I believe that God delights in my happiness, the way I delight in giving my grandbaby happiness. In the eternal scheme of things, among stars and comets and nebula, I am my Heavenly Father’s little girl. If a dream is a wish your heart makes, only He can know it and only He can fill it. And since compiling my "wish list" I BELIEVE more than ever that He will.

What do you think a wish is? I hope you'll share one or two... or if you make your own "wish list" I'd love to hear about it.

"When You Wish Upon a Star"
Video by Mona and Grant. Music by N'Sync. Photos by NASA.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fairy Tale Endings

Thank you thank you thank you dear friends for your loving, deeply insightful comments and emails on "Angel Talkin". Ashley and I will treasure every single one and hope you will all take the time to read those comments. Though I appreciate your looking forward to Mona's Musings each week - more than I can say - I appreciate even more what you teach me...

“Keep your courtship alive. Make time to do things together – just the two of you. As important as it is to be with the children as a family, you need regular weekly time alone together. Scheduling it will let your children know that you feel that your marriage is so important that you need to nurture it. That takes commitment, planning, and scheduling.” Elder Joe J Christensen

I was committed. Boy, was I committed. And as it turned out one Friday night, I should have been committed.

If you are familiar with musical theater, then you know that the scenes where the whole town is on stage singing, “Ooooooklahoma!” or "One day more!" or “Oh-oh-the "Wells Fargo Wagon is a comin’ down the street!” are called “production numbers.” Though I was a professional mother from 1980 on - I also had a bit of fun directing live theater. The similarities are uncanny. For instance, staging a scene with lots of people and action in it is not unlike feeding yourself and four kids breakfast at the same time: one on a booster, one in a high chair, one in an infant seat and one in your arms nursing. Just getting out the door for our first morning errand was no less than a major “production number”.

After five days of taking-half-the-day-to-start-the-day, I was ready for a DATE NIGHT. No, let’s say I was half-crazy for a date night. And to me, at that stage of my life, “date night” meant “all-about-ME-night”. I expected to be wined-and-dined (you know what I mean), oooed-and-ahhhed over, and listened to with rapt attention, which, to his great credit, my honey managed to pull off nearly every Friday night. (His cue was the entrance of the babysitter.) However, if my prince, on rare occasion, slipped off his steed in the slightest -- if he was anything less than perrrrrfectly chaarrrming (due to worldly worries which I could not and did not try to comprehend) -- his Cinderella, who had miraculously gone from apron-and-hair-scarf to ball-gown-and-crown, would turn into a cold pumpkin come midnight.

One such night had started out alright. We had a nice dinner out, even a movie. When we got home, the kids were already tucked in fast asleep. Things were going so well for Prince that he let his guard down. While I disappeared into the bathroom to get ready for bed, he paused at the computer for a quick check-up on some business. Baaaaaaaaad idea. For some reason that I can’t really explain all these years later, I had got it into my head that getting on the computer was violating the Date Night Prime Directive:

Ye shall not take your eyes or ears
off your woman - even after returning to your native environment.

As soon as I realized that I was talking to myself in the bathroom (because of course I was jabbering incessantly) Cinderella morphed into the Wicked Queen.

We went to sleep fairly miserable that night. If I remember right, it was one of those nights they tell you NEVER to have: hurt husband, sulky wife, back to back, on opposite sides of the bed.

But hold on -- this is where the magic comes in.

Early the next morning, the phone woke us up. Our stake executive secretary issued a summons for Dale and I to be at the stake president’s office within an hour. Ooooookaaaaay. We by-passed our usual morning kisses and cuddles and got ready saying as little as possible. The moody cloud dampened our spirits all the way to the church and followed us right into the stake office.

President called me in first.

“Sister Z,” he said, “we would like you to speak in our upcoming adult session of stake conference.”

I nodded numbly. Speaking was all right with me and even though I didn’t feel too brilliant at the moment, I had no doubt I could come up with an impressive topic that would wow the congregation.

“What we would like you to speak on is – “

Oh no! An assigned topic?!

He cleared his throat, adding a second to my suspense, then pronounced:

“- strengthening marriage through patience and understanding.”

I went ashen.

I exited. Dale entered. I could not even look him in the eye as we passed.

Four minutes later, he emerged. The door closed behind him.

His head was hanging - so much so that I became concerned. I rose from the couch where I had been waiting.

“What is it honey?”

He lifted his chin to look at me, a tear about to wiggle down his cheek.

“I’m speaking in stake conference.”

“I am too. Did he say what he wants you to talk about?”


We just stood there. I wanted to hold him, and he hold me, but humiliation held us both.

With more than a little awe in his voice, he finally said:

“The importance of romance in marriage.”


“The marriage that is based upon selfishness is almost certain to fail….The one who marries to satisfy vanity and pride…is fooling only himself. But the one who marries to give happiness as well as receive it, to give service as well as to receive it, and who looks after the interests of the two…will have a good chance that the marriage will be a happy one...

“Love is like a flower, and, like the body, it needs constant feeding. The mortal body would soon be emaciated and die if there were not frequent feedings. The tender flower would wither and die without food and water. And so love, also, cannot be expected to last forever unless it is continually fed with portions of love, the manifestation of esteem and admiration, the expressions of gratitude, and the consideration of unselfishness.” President Spencer W. Kimball

I testify that Father in Heaven is concerned about your marriage. He knows the intimate details; every conversation, every thought, every act. Your success as a couple is his ultimate desire. Becoming one in marriage is a prerequisite to becoming one with Him and the other way around (John 17:11).

...the real “happily-ever-after”.


Click on this picture for a WONDERFUL music video of
"The Story of Cinderella" by Jim Brickman.
(Especially wonderful with your spouse beside you.)

CHECK THIS OUT: Little girls have ALWAYS been enamored with my son, Grant. A friend finally figured out why: he looks and behaves like a DISNEY PRINCE (lucky Bri)! In addition to singing a beautiful Young Nephi in With Mine Own Hand, Grant performs with BYU's hugely popular VOCAL POINT, performing on BYUTV Feb. 13th: An Uplifting Evening with Bronco Mendenhall.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Angel Talkin'

Last weekend, in the name of togetherness, Dale and I bartered. I’d go with him to the electronics store, if he would come with me to “America’s Largest Antiques and Collectibles Show” at the fairgrounds near our house. We hit the Show first and clipped along because I figured (and I was right) that I had about 20 minutes to shop for a treasure before he started feigning exhaustion. We were moving so fast (by my standards) through aisles of dolls, dishes and dainties, that I almost sailed past the booth of “It’s A Wonderful Life(click to watch 60 second clip) memorabilia. Dale slowed me down and pointed to the attractive older woman who stood in the middle, signing posters, DVD’s and books. He then pointed to banner above her head:
MEET ZUZU”. (Click for "Zuzu" site)

It took a second to register…then…oh my goodness! It was the actress who played the littlest Bailey:

“Look, Daddy. Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

I admit to being star struck for a second before blurting:
“Zuzu’s an antique!”

Though Zuzu and her petals were adorable in the Christmas classic, my favorite character has always been the eternally bumbling, but oh-so heartwarming, “Clarence”. Here’s why:

I know we’re not supposed to aspire to particular callings in the Church. Primary, Sunday School, Seminary, Young Women, Relief Society…it has all been grand. But there is one position that, like Alma (Alma 29:1), I admit to coveting -

The Best Job in the Whole Kingdom:


First Class. (Actually, I’d be thrilled with Second Class – but I’m naturally ambitious and would certainly try to earn my “wings” as soon as possible.)

I’m not talking about counterfeit angels (2 Ne. 9:9), or those who receive the unpleasant assignments like vengeance on the wicked. I am talking about the Angel rank who get to open dispensations (D&C 128:20), or make good guys out of bad guys (Alma 27:11-17), or deliver tidings of great joy with heavenly hosts singing back-up (Luke 2:13-14). I love angels.

And I’ve loved them ever since they became regular guests in our home; that is, ever since Ashley was born.

When my baby was all cleaned up and swaddled, the labor and delivery nurse placed her in my arms and said something I will never forget: “A perfect little girl.”

Ashley was about 24 months old when we finally received a diagnosis that explained her inability to crawl, toddle or talk: severe, bi-lateral, diffuse brain-injury.

Twenty-eight years later, I can testify that the nurse was prophetic. Ashley is indeed perfect; so, perfect, that the angels are her closest friends.

From her earliest days on earth, Ashley has been fascinated by light. You may have noticed the same characteristic in your own newborns. Their little eyes rivet on the brightest light in their immediate environment. Tantrums often ebb to a snivel when they notice the bulb, the lamp, the stream of sunshine reaching into the crib. Besides this fixation with light, Ashley would also become engrossed with blank, white walls. Her stare was so intent, I sometimes waved my hand so that it passed through the air at the point of interest, wondering what I might be “touching”… something, or someone, Ashley could see, but I could not.

Ashley is generally a silent person. She has never spoken one word and goes day after day without voicing at all. But on occasion, on very specific, predictable occasions, Ashley makes a lot of noise. Whenever we have moved into a new ward, it has taken the members a few weeks to adjust to the fact that hymns are sung, babies are blessed, missionaries give farewells, and baptisms are performed with Ashley squealing joyfully in the background.

It takes only a little observation to realize, or sense, that Ashley is not making random sounds. She is communicating. Enraptured, she focuses on a spot in the room, usually near the ceiling, and goes to town – expressing herself with happy abandon. It’s a trial for me, as her mother, not to squelch the “conversation” in deference to all the rest of us, for whom the veil remains as thick as brick. But our fellow Saints have figured it out by and by through the years: Ashley is a living Spirit-O-Meter. When she’s rock- and- rolling we’ve got company – heavenly company.

These sessions between Ashley and the Angels are not limited to the chapel. As the kids were growing up, you could count on family prayer or Family Home Evening to have a drop-in or two. One of those evenings proved especially memorable for our family…

Ashley started up with the “angel talk” (as our elementary-school-aged kids referred to the phenomenon) at our very first notes of “I Believe in Christ” (which was one of our favorites, and apparently, one of the angels’ favorites). We sang over her loud jabbering as best we could while she nearly jumped out of her skin, captivated by something in the corner of our living room, right above the television set. One of the kids said the opening prayer. The bubbly banter continued. I began to teach the lesson. Ashley’s excitement (and the decibel level involved) only increased. It had been a long day and my patience was wearing thin. I just wanted to get through that lesson, get the kiddos to bed, and flop on the couch.

When I realized I was nearly shouting to be heard by the rest of the family, my exasperation reached its peak. I looked up and turned around to face the corner where our visitor was obviously hovering and said very politely, if not matter-of-factly (over Ashley’s cries):

“Would you mind moving to another part of the room so that I can continue the lesson?”

What happened next absolutely floored us.

Ashley’s ‘shouts of exaltation’ instantly – and I mean instantly - melted into tiny whimpers.

“Mmmmm?” She looked to her left and then her right, alarmed.

“Mmmmm?” She looked over her shoulder with a bewildered expression.

“Mmmmm?” She was about to cry.

The rest of us sat in stunned silence for a long minute.

“Well…” our oldest son broke the spell tentatively, “that proves it. Not that we needed proof! But………that proves it.” His last words dissolved into a whisper, his blue eyes as wide as I’d ever seen them.

“Mona,” my husband at last spoke up solemnly, “you scared them away.”

I chaffed.

“No I did not! I just asked them to go to another part of the room! I didn’t mean they had to leave!”

They probably did not actually leave. More likely, they just disappeared. And I’m certain they reappeared, the next night, and the next, and the next. Angels love homes where the Spirit abounds. Angels love the Sacrament and family prayer and hymn singing. And most of all – I’m sure of it – angels love babies, and little children, and hurt people like Ashley (3rd Nephi 17).

You see now why I’d like to be an angel? What better company to be in than the Pure and Innocent of the earth? However, since the office of Angel appears by all scriptural accounts to be a Priesthood function, I will be “content with the things the Lord hath allotted unto me”(Alma 29:3): living with Ashley who speaks “the tongue of angels” (2 Nephi 32:2-3) fluently.

And that is, after all, a rather wonderful life. (Click to watch 60 sec. trailer)

Thank you for your birthdday wishes at "Cherry-ty (Over Chocolate) Never Faileth". And holy kisses (Romans 16:16) to my Follower Friends

OTHER READER FAVORITES: "Who's Body Is It Anyway?" , "Leave it There"