Thursday, May 1, 2014

Love At Home: an impossible ideal or challenging possibility?

In the cottage there is joy, when there’s love at home;  hate and envy ne’er annoy, when there’s love at home.  Roses bloom beneath our feet, all the earth’s a garden sweet, making life a bliss complete when there’s love at home.  Hymn #294 LDS Hymns,  Love At Home,by John Hugh McNaugton,  second verse.

As a child, feeling repressed and constrained, or as young mother feeling depressed and overwhelmed, this song sometimes brought me inward groans of the completely unrealistic!  A bit of time and perspective however, have made me treasure the beautiful water-color ideal it now paints for me.  For several years recently, much of my time and effort has been immersed in the details of weddings for each of our five children, and the building of relationships with individuals who will become the newest threads in our great family tapestry. Getting to know each of them and how they fit into their own extended family fabrics has been interesting and thought provoking.  There is so much to learn from other family experiences.  I have felt great joy that our children are uniting with companions who have had happy upbringing (one need not have a 'perfect' upbringing to be happy, thank heavens for our children, because we were not a perfect family)  and who love their siblings and parents and value family connections. I feel so happy for each of them when I hear of the memories and traditions and successes of each family that I know will, over the coming years be woven into the lives of our own family now in some way, to create a new design in our own tapestry.  All of this effort has been such a blessing for me, as it has allowed me to consider, compare and to remember what we did well, to analyze what we should have done better, and to look at our place in life now, where we can choose anew, the kind of influence we want to be and the memories we want to make as a couple with our siblings, nieces and nephews, children and their companions, and on our grandchildren, neighbors and friends.  

A few months ago I was asked to prepare and present a class for the women of our Stake Relief Society, (church group), on Creating a Purposeful Home.  Really they wanted me to teach on how to make our home a mini Missionary Training Center. But isn't the real goal of us becoming missionaries to become such devoted disciples of Christ that we feel compelled to share that great message of hope and redemption with all we know?!  Creating a home that encourages and develops that kind of Discipleship, I realized, happens most consistently and successfully, when planned, and lived daily with THAT in mind.  What is our personal purpose for creating a family?  Do we really have one?  Do we just NOT want to live alone?  Certainly we should consider this question seriously and make a plan together on what we as husbands and wives want for the families we are building.  Once we know what we want for our family, we can make a plan on how to get there, what to change and what to leave out that may interfere with our goal.  Fortunately for me, this challenge was made infinitely easier in that I was privileged to be raised by parents who also modeled this kind of home.  Studying and preparing for this class was an exhilarating experience of great effort, and then humbling inspiration.  Thankfully, like the "book of life experience" (ie. 'advice'),  I read and edit each time I give as a wedding gift, I have had the privilege of sharing this class more than once as well.  I have new insights each time I prepare to give it again, and I realize how mothers of young children, so in the thick of the nearly overwhelming demand of child rearing, education, behavior and health concerns blended with financial worries, and relationship development between spouses and children, feel they will never survive, much less succeed at such a challenging and yet VITAL task.  

I remember feeling all of those things, sobbing too often, at how incompetent and hopeless and exhausted I frequently felt.  And yet, miraculously, just shy of 27 years after the life changing entrance of our first child into this life, quickly followed by four more, I not only survived, I would do it all again for all the satisfaction and purpose and positive change the process has wrought in me.  Each of those beautiful people are part of me, and are independent, faithful, optimistic and hardworking, but most of all, loving and outward focused.  Success came in spite of my incompetence!   It is a gift I treasure each day as I think of it constantly.   It is not so for all families....

( I had a sobering experience this week, made more so in contrast to my own currently happy family circumstances, and a book I am listening to.   Contrast or opposition does sometimes assist in helping us to prize the "better part".  In my effort to process what I experienced and feel, I write, seeking an elusive power of expression much greater than myself.)

There is a young man in our community just a year younger than our daughter Kaloni, who has been on trial these last few weeks for a very serious charge.  I did not know him, but a friend in our ward knew him as she worked in a middle school office here in town and felt drawn to him, and his potential and she asked for my moral support in behalf of him and especially his parents, thus we together sat through the closing arguments of the disturbing trial last week.   I understand those feelings of recognizing potential in young people, as I feel it now in many of our remarkable church youth and I remember feeling similarly as several of our children's friends, especially boys, passed in and out of our home over the years. Some now bring me joy each time I think on their names, or see a post by them, their wives, or parents.   A few of those boys have brought me sorrow and sadness as I feel they forfeited much of the promise of their youth and gifts, through unwise use of their agency.   None however, is in as serious a trouble as this young man.  He will now spend a minimum of 26 years in Prison for 1st degree murder and will be nearly as old as I am now, when he is again free.... but still perhaps imprisoned by a terrible label, and lost opportunity and development.  It is a horrific predicament....  I ache terribly, for him, for his parents and loved ones, for the victim and his family, and for our society where we each suffer in some way from lives broken and gone awry in unthinkable ways.

Many years ago, as a small child who loved to read especially if it could be done in the sunshine outside, my Mother suggested to me one of her beloved childhood books, The Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter.  I loved the sad story with a happy ending, of a hard working, resourceful, benevolent girl, who desired education and was willing to work and sacrifice for it,  full of descriptions of the beauty and magnificence of nature, and read it a number of times over the years.  Thus began my appreciation for other books by the same author, such as Freckles, and knowing my admiration for this author Jeff found several beautiful old copies of her books as a gift for me.... but I was in that "thick of mothering" and they were left unread but loved for their charming "oldness" on my shelf.  I recently rediscovered her books and have been happily listening and re-listening, to one titled ‘Laddie’ as I go about my happy work of homemaking, gardening and again wedding planning for the last time.  This book, has become one of my very favorites, if not my very favorite at least in the way it describes the general way I feel about my life as a whole; my happy, safe, charmed childhood, loving and devoted parents, and dear siblings, and now children and companions, who are already responsible citizens and benevolent, concerned neighbors, and role models of value and influence.

From the beginning of the book, I see myself in the self centered teenage 'Shelley ' resenting my  youngest siblings for the extra work and less time and attention more babies represented to me, before, like Shelley, I learned the truth Mom always told us that "the greatest gift Dad and I gave you is each other".   Then I recognize the special relationships portrayed between kind loving siblings, and I related to a childhood full of imaginations, forts, and nature, encouragement of faith as well as knowledge and learning by wise committed parents of a large family of children.
I recognized trouble with neighbors, and the sacrifice of siblings for each other, of parents who were influential and beloved in the community while still being humble and striving to avoid prominence.

I loved and admired the way father and mother in the story speak of, protect and support each other, grateful to have had parents as committed and to have a dear companion who treats me so kindly.  Over and over it is a story that reminds me of my life and of the "ideal' family life,..the “there is beauty all around”  kind…. The story is set shortly after the Civil War, in the wooded farmlands of Indiana, and yet it truly describes MY ideal... A life that values learning, order, progress, and finds the greatest beauty in productive fields and orchards, and a family that loves God, spends time together seeking out one another and seeing His gracious hand daily in our many blessings.   A life that acknowledges, and works together through suffering, sickness, worry, and disappointment, but one that sees enough of Providential Goodness, that the others minimize and fade until they are just bitter but important ingredients barely remembered in the recipe of character building.  Without them we would not rise, leavened, tempered, and changed, with compassion, humility, and grace.

'Laddie' is a story idealized (some reviewers say sappy even), but for me it has been heavenly, soothing, uplifting (think Article of faith #13  “… virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy…”)   and endearing  as it has taken me on a winding path of cherished memories into my own free happy childhood, my mothering of five small, busy, rosy skinned towheads, and on to grown up cooperation between siblings to serve or do a good deed, as well as the altered relationships of parent/child, to friend/peer that I have now experienced with both my parents and our children. It is a story I know that if lived in home after home, by fathers and mothers who unitedly know what they want, will then work to create, and there would be far less of the heartache found in the family I mentioned above.   

It is not so idealized a story that it is unrealistically, impossible.  

I know because it has been MY story,

both as a child and now as a mother.   May it be yours in the future if it has not been so yet.

PS.  'Laddie' is a book I recommend for reading aloud with your children, and when you are done, especially if you have lots of boys, try her book called Michael O' Halleran.  It is a story about a wonderful, resilient, resourceful boy of integrity and obedience.  He reminds me of a brother I know....  ;)

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth."  3 John 1:4