March 15, 2012

stumbling blocks or stepping stones? you choose!

my aunt once told me- when you're filling out forms where they ask if you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, etc., etc., just check YES.  we have it all.
this is true in more ways than one.
there are things that i can not talk about on my blog-- because they are not mine to talk about.
but, there are lessons that i have learned from my family that i can share.
these lessons are mine-- even if the stories aren't.
and so, i am writing this post.

i have always been a good kid.
for the most part, i came from a pretty good family and i had a pretty good childhood.
i have OFTEN thought-- we would make a PERFECT Dr. Phil family.
my parents separated when i was young, i was raised by a single mother with my sister.
my mom remarried when i was in 7th grade, she had three more children with my step-father.
they are now divorced.
my mom lives in Texas, my father lives in New Jersey, my sister lives in Virginia, and my step-father, his new wife, and my two brothers and other sister live in Germany.
i have two parents and a step-father, many aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, who love me.
really, i know that is true.
i don't believe i was raised perfectly, but i do believe i was loved.
there are many, many, many people in the world that have it worse than me.
i know it.
many in my own family had it worse than me.
EVERYBODY has something.
even seemingly perfect families, aren't.
i know that too.

i recently befriended a few older women who go to church with me.
some are struggling with their grown children, who are having a hard time.
one woman looked at me in a pitying way and said, "I know you can't understand what i'm going through, but maybe someday, when your children are older, you will understand."
i smiled back at her and thought, "Sweet lady, you don't know what i understand."

there are two types of hurts in this world--
pain that you suffer yourself and vicarious pain-- suffering for someone else.
both hurt.
as i review my life i feel that one of my greatest gifts is the perspective i have been given.
i have felt the pain and suffering that comes from much of the world's evil even though i have always made pretty good choices for my own life.
even though i will never know exactly what another person's life is like, i have a great amount of empathy for those who suffer.
i have tasted much suffering and i have tasted joy.
i know that true happiness comes from keeping the commandments of God.
there is a right and wrong.
you can not do wrong and feel good for very long.

in my immediate family there has been divorce, physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, attempted suicides, incarcerations, mental illness, depression, child pornography, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental break-downs, multiple sclerosis, conversion to mormonism, disfellowship from mormonism, persecution of mormonism, agnostics, catholics, dealing drugs, rape, being drugged, multiple affairs, break-ups and get-back-togethers, teen pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality, immorality, excessive religiosity, fierce republicans and fierce liberals, extreme poverty, wealth, many who never graduated high school, some who later got their GED, and addiction... lots of addiction.

i have spent time in therapy.
i have spent years trying to break the cycle...
(the cycle isn't just addiction, it is dysfunctional THINKING and ACTING that leads to the need to medicate with sex, drugs or alcohol or food, reality tv, excessive reading, excessive laying on the couch, buying things, excessive making things, etc... what is your addictive tendency?)
i have tried desperately to take the good from my past and leave the junk...
i have learned a few things.

yes, bad things happen, but everyone can choose how they deal with it.
i can choose, they can choose.
when life throws you rocks they can be stepping stones or stumbling blocks.
you can turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones and so can they.
victims can be heroes if they choose to be.

and oh how i want to SCREAM when i hear good, good parents beating themselves up because their children didn't choose to live the life they had hoped they would choose.
parents are NOT responsible for the choices that their children make.
YES- there are some pretty crappy parents out there.
and, there are some pretty screwed up kids.
but, haven't you ever met an AMAZING adult that came from a really hard background?
our birth does not determine our destiny-- our CHOICES determine our destiny.
everybody has a choice.
and some people just need to learn for themselves.

you may not be able to choose whether or not you have issues.
but you CAN choose how you're going to DEAL with your issues.
what you're going to MAKE from the scraps you were handed.
even Victor Frankl, in the Holocaust said, they took everything from him, but he still had a choice--
he could choose to be bitter and die, or to forgive and maintain his heart.
agency is a gift from God.

2. Your PAST does NOT define you.
this can apply both to those who come from hard situations and those who made bad choices.
this is something that i want to SCREAM at people in my family who seem to blame everyone for the state of their life.
get up and make it better!!
everyday is a new day-- we can CHANGE.
we choose TODAY the life we want to live.
our destiny is determined by our choices.
never stop starting.
you can become anything you want to be if you fight for it.
some people, they are great athletes-- they practice 10,000 hours shooting baskets and they learn a great skill.
me, i've practiced 10,000 hours being KIND, being DISCIPLINED, being a good mother, a good wife, handling my emotions, recognizing thought patterns that i have that are not healthy and reprogramming them, learning how to get along with people who choose lives different from mine.
i've read books, i've watched other people, i've sought help and healing and grace...
i've made plenty of good intention-ed mistakes.
(it's funny that the same people who expect you to forgive LARGE inadequacies in their behavior are very quick to point out the smallest weakness in someone else's behavior.)
i have never stopped trying.
and, i am what i am today because i've REALLY, really worked at it.
i still have a ways to go.
and even when i make mistakes I know that tomorrow i can do better.
my past does not define me.

3. Stop FOCUSING on what you are getting and start FOCUSING on what you are giving.
i believe there is a great cycle of life.
you can focus on the hand you were dealt, or you can focus on the cards you are passing on.
if you were abused-- don't abuse!
if you were neglected-- don't neglect!
if you lived in a home where there was criticism and cruelty-- be kind.
if you were hurt by addiction-- stay far away!!
if you didn't have the best mother or father-- be the best mother or father you can be!
if you were raised in a dysfunctional home-- get HELP so you don't raise your children in a dysfunctional home.
if you are old and see things that you should have learned when you were younger-- learn them NOW.
this life is a time to LEARN and GROW.
start today making your life a little bit better.
if you were only given one talent-- don't hide it in the ground!!
go, see if you can end up with two talents by the end of the week!
make lemonade from your lemons!
ultimately life is only so much what we get and so much more what we give...

from a VERY young age i was focused on the life i wanted some day.
all through high school i WANTED to rebel- but i knew that getting bad grades would ultimately only hurt me and my future.
i began taking notes in my journals when i was VERY young.
i watched families.
i knew the kind of family i wanted to have when i was older, i knew the kind of man i wanted to marry, and i knew the kind of young woman i would have to be to get that kind of family.
i can't quote the statistic, but i know there is a very high percentage of children from broken homes who themselves have children in broken homes.
because of my background and my nature, i was a very needy young woman.
i needed a father, but wanted a husband.
i remember sitting in a human development class where they were discussing the plight of daughters from broken homes and i felt doomed to failure.
i asked my teacher after class- what can i do to avoid perpetrating this cycle?
he told me, "find someone you want to marry, fall in love, and then don't marry him.  You can marry the next guy you want to marry."
that made me laugh.
and, for me, it actually happened...
only because i fell in love with two boys and both left the country to serve Mormon missions.
Todd was the third person i dated that i could have married and i did.
i thank heaven every day for that saint of a man.
i don't even know why i wrote that part in here-- only because it was odd advice that has stuck with me.
i'm really not sure why my teacher said that or whether or not my silly pre-todd romances really helped our foundation.
but, i will say that in my previous relationships i was very eager to please or to become the person they wanted me to be.
when todd came around, i did not feel desperate, i already had someone who cared about me.
i suppose having a missionary helped me be a bit more selective.  :)
i love easily-- but i was VERY careful who i dated seriously.
i would ask myself-- is this the type of person that i want as the father to my future children?
is this someone that i will be able to tell my sons, "I hope you grow up to be just like your father?"
i am also certain that Mormonism saved me.
being taught NOT TO DRINK and NOT TO HAVE PRE-MARITAL SEX kept me from MUCH of the heartache that i have witnessed in those i love.
you might think that mormon's are a bit extreme.
but, i have SEEN what drugs and alcohol and premarital sex can do to people's life.
i saw that life and i have NEVER, even for a moment, felt like i was missing out by NOT having that life.

people get stuck in the MUD of their past.
blaming others for where they are-- making excuses for the poor choices they are making.
it's my opinion that wallowing in the mud is not as helpful as figuring out how to get out of the mud and moving forward.
focusing on the future helps you get where you want to go.
blaming others for where you are keeps you facing backwards.

4. you can't FIX anyone.  not even yourself.
oh the years, the YEARS i have spent trying to help... to teach... to understand...
the hours and hours and hours that i spent on the phone praying for wisdom to advise...
praying i would know just the right thing to say or do to help make things better.
listening to HOURS and HOURS of someone else's crap when my own children were fixing lunch for themselves and i wondered why having small children was so hard.
hah!  it wasn't the KIDS, it was the ADULTS!!
i have learned this truth...

Martin Luther, the inspired Reformer, once wrote:
The kingdom of God is like a besieged city surrounded on all sides by death. Each man (and woman) has his place on the wall to defend, and no one can stand where another stands, but nothing prevents us from calling encouragement to one another.

No one can stand where another stands...
Oh, how i know this is true!!
We CAN NOT fight someone else's battle for them... and if we try we are leaving our own spot on the wall open to attack.
we CAN shout encouragement to each other.
i need to get better at doing this...
but, we can't fix anybody.
we can't even fix ourselves.
true healing comes from God.
when you open your heart to him, show him the hurt, show him why you need to heal, he will heal you.
and your healing will be miraculous.
He can fix you and He can fix them.
He loves them just as much as you do.
He is weeping with you when they hurt.
He is cheering with you when they they are happy.

as a teacher of youth i loved the book, "teach ye diligently" by Boyd K. Packer.
in that book, president packer explains that sometimes as a youth leader, you will have a child come to you to confess a sin or ask for help with serious issues in their life.
he suggests that if that happens you gently lead them to the proper channels...
whether it is prayer, encouraging them to talk to their bishop, or encouraging them to talk to their parents.
sometimes we try to become the Savior for someone else.
that is not our job.
we can't fix someone else and we are not helping when we try to rescue them.
i felt great joy when i first learned to give them to God.
i had to say out loud to myself...
even if they kill themselves, it is not my fault.
life is a journey that we each have to travel...
for ourselves.
"a man who's changed against his will is of the same impression still."
we have to focus on our own future and just keep walking forward, shouting encouragement to those nearby.

so, what about dysfunctional family relationships?
some in my family just cut the strings to unhealthy relationships.
if it hurts, if it's dysfunctional, if there is no positive, it's just over.
no contact.
and i totally understand that.
sometimes i am jealous of that approach.

but, this is what i have found.

5.  families are forever.
i believe that we are eternally linked to our parents and our siblings and our extended family.
i believe that there will come a time when the hearts of the children will turn to the parents and the hearts of the parents will turn to their children.
even when i try to cut myself off from my dysfunctional family-- they are still a part of me.
i can't run very far.
i believe that i will never be truly healed until i have found peace in my family relationships.
i don't believe peace means i will ever have a father that i can call for advice when i'm having a bad day.
i am fully aware that peace may never happen in this life.
i am very hopeful that it can happen someday.  
i believe in forgiveness, in mercy and in justice.
i believe in change and in understanding.
i know that my God is big enough for me and my family.  
i am one who sometimes takes a break.
i am one who sets boundaries.
i am learning to forgive and i still hope.
i never stop trying.
i always call again.
i keep sending my silly christmas cards with a prayer-- oh, may you know that you are loved as you open this token gift.
i TRY to keep my family bridges open even when i know they are in need of repair.
maybe i'm dumb for doing this... but it's who i am. 

i should also say this.

6. Good doesn't always look picture perfect.
i don't think someone has to live exactly the way you want them to live to be good.
i don't think your relationship with your parents has to be Brady Bunch to be good.
i don't think your children have to be married, Christian, educated, sober people to be good.
i don't think your past has to be ideal to be just what you needed to make you the best person that you can become.
yes, there is something magical about a family where no one ever deviates from the ideal.
but, some of my FAVORITE families, are families where things don't look perfect but relationships are still strong.
i think there is beauty in agency and variety.
there is much goodness to be found in the world.
sure, i think happiness is most likely found in a family with a mother and father, founded on good moral principles-- but i don't think my life is the only good way.
i don't.
you don't have to look like me, or act like me, or talk like me, or believe like me, to be loved by me.
you don't. 
i also don't think i have to look like everybody else to be good either.
in his book, believing Christ, by Stephen Robinson, he uses the analogy of the diving contest...
there were some diving perfectly from the low dive and some looked like crazy maniacs from the high dive...
they were judged not just on how perfect they looked, but on the difficulty of the dive.
people were sometimes surprised that the crazy high divers were getting higher marks than the calm, gentle low divers.
i would add... our job is to make diving from the high dive look easy.  :)
yes, we will belly flop.
we will wonder if our life is always going to be hard.
we will look at those people who seem to be laying down on the sidelines getting a tan
and we will wonder if that will ever be us.
and then, we will remember that people are counting on us.
those who went before us and those who are coming after us.
we will climb the ladder of the high dive one more time.
we will do everything we think is right and we will pray.
and sometimes we will dive beautifully.
and sometimes we will hurt.
but the only choice we have is to swim, smile and try again.  

i know that there is much joy in life.
life is what we make it.
there is much wisdom to be found in climbing.
we are happiest when we are serving.
no success will compensate for failure in the home.
you don't fail until you stop.
life is good.  

and, oh, i found another one..
way more than he is condemning and damning.
i know it.
There really is good and there really is evil.
and, good is stronger than evil.
bad thoughts don't come from God...  ever.
when Satan talks, he tells you that you are bad, unworthy, not good enough, broken...
when Christ speaks, he tells you that you are SO GOOD that you can do better.
he whispers PEACE and LOVE even as He is helping you to change and become more like Him.
doubt, worry, despair, depression, worthlessness, fear, anger, hate... those feelings do not come from God.
if you feel condemned by God, if you live with the daily weight of not being good enough...
just REPENT, say you're sorry and try again.
tell yourself 100 times that you are LOVED and LOVEABLE.
run to him instead of away from him.
most people prefer the term "Heavenly Father" to "God."
most people see "Heavenly Father" as a kind, loving father and "God" as a condemning judge.
i don't.
i have a hard time with "Heavenly Father"... but oh how i fit comfortably in the arms of my "God."
there is room for all of us.
i know it.

good night.
sorry for the novel.
have a good life!!
CHOOSE to make your life good!


Tiffany said...

Thank you for your writing, thank you for your wisdom, thank you for being willing to put your thoughts down so I can see them! Great post!!!!!

Diane said...

I grabbed your blog from the big families facebook page! This was an awesome post, and so very much how I feel about things.

I didn't grow up in a broken home, but I grew up around and through and with a lot of mental illness. I can understand where you are coming from.

My siblings say that my life is perfect and just blessed and that I am "lucky". They do not recognize that I actually worked hard and studied and repented and spent a lot of time trying not to end up in the same place they are in. And that they can do the same.

Anyway, thanks for the very inspired thoughts.

Kent and Lieren said...

Thank you Jen for sharing your inspired thoughts, they were good reminders and what I needed to hear!

Bridgette said...

I love your insights. This is well written and heart-felt. My favorite part is the diving analogy. Very original. Your ability to rise above your circumstances is admirable. God Bless!

Alison said...

Love this post Jen!

Eat My Scabs said...

THis just teaches us everybody has hard things in life. Hope we never judge and are always kind. nice post and great words of encouragement.

Anonymous said...

I'm am a 67 year old grandmother and have lived quite an interesting life with many joys and sorrows. It if so refreshing to learn things about life from such a young person. I love your writings.

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