Progress is a Series of Small Steps in the Right Direction

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The word disciple comes from the Latin meaning “a learner,” and the older I get the more aware I am of that status within myself. When I think of my kids’ approach to life, the term “intellectually curious” is often used when it seems they are engaged and actively seeking answers to their daily questions. Conversely, “lazy” is the term employed to describe them at rest, and I don’t mean during periods of recovery from life; Lazy happens when they opt to fully disengage from everything…and drool on themselves, rather like I used to be with Facebook! In the former mode, it is less difficult to get things done around the house and to get school work accomplished; they are enjoyable and deep, meaningful discussions occur. However, when they are in the latter state, I’m not even sure they can hear, and I sometimes question if they are still breathing!

But we all have those moments, don’t we? ‘Lazy’ is a much easier state to reside within for long periods of time than ‘intellectually curious,’ which is a shame. Looking at society, particularly my own American society, it appears to me as if Lazy is a huge part of what we prefer to be, of what we choose to be, and there is really no good reason for it. Sure, some are afflicted with naturally short attention spans, but most of us have opted to have such. We want to be disengaged. No wonder the world is in the state it is in (although, I wish our legislators and this president would spend more time on social media or binge watching America’s Got Talent reruns rather than finding new ways to meddle in our daily lives!). Perhaps if we all embraced the truth that we were sent here to be or become disciples, perpetual leCSLewisProgressarners, whose job it is to forever be moving forward with our education, particularly of spiritual things, and even more particularly of things (and people) other than ourselves, even when that progress seems terribly incremental, things here on Earth would be better for all. But, of course, that’s only a dream until we graduate to a higher place. Truly, until such time, I suppose we are doing better than most by simply being aware of our obligation to learn, to progress, to make the most of our finite time on this tiny ball of rock, and to do a little more, serve a little more, study a little more each day.

Some observations on my own improved awareness lately…

Recently, I went to spend a week with my dearest friend in the world and my youngest daughter came, too. As I desperately needed a break from the kids and the house, I was not pleased to have a tag-along for this much anticipated visit, but she was going in order to give my BFF’s granddaughter, who was there for summer vacation, someone to hang out with. The two pre-teens had known each other in early childhood and the last visit (nine years ago) which threw the girls together for any length of time was anything but restful. I was not hopeful that this outing would be much better. Thankfully, I was very, very wrong. They had a blast, and so did I!

What I learned on this trip:

1) When separated from each other, my kids can be so very different from who they are a home. It was nice to see my girl blossom as a friend, an individual, and a daughter during our short vacation together. Maybe she needed the break just as much as I did.

2) With the right person, having and being a friend, even a “bestie,” doesn’t require constant contact. My closest, oldest friend, my BFF, the “aunt,” the “sister” to whom my children are bequeathed should any harm come to me and my husband, once lived walking distance from me, then she moved a quick drive away; then a plane flight became the fastest way to get to her door. Two years ago, she moved back within Texas’ borders and we can be on the others’ couch within three hours, but neither of us make that drive more than once or twice a year. We don’t speak on the phone often either, maybe quarterly if something important comes up. Neither of us are too keen on that phone thing. She and I email slightly more frequently, when there are things to communicate, but even then our messages are the antithesis of verbose.  In truth, I’d love to see her a little more, as for me she’s the big sister I had but never had; the only big sister I have to go to for advice when I can’t think straight, and depending on the day, it seems I have hundreds of questions that only she can answer! In the years we lived close to one another, she helped me out of more than a few jams (and keys locked in cars) when I was a clueless, overwhelmed young mother; she helped me feel almost sane when I was dog paddling in the depths of depression, and she was there for me when my mother died suddenly. She was and is the aunt il_340x270.734204678_171gI wanted my kids to have, to trust, to love, and to know they can turn to if I’m not there or they need another ear.

Still, within the last six years I developed a friendship that was everything I thought I had missed out on from my own sisters and friends over the years, even my BFF. Both fortunately and unfortunately, that relationship burned hot and burned out quickly. And when it died, it died hard. While it lasted, it was nice to feel truly wanted and valued as a friend, like I wasn’t only taking, but giving as a friend. It was nice to feel a close sisterhood with another woman and to have someone with whom to do things; in many ways it seemed like everything I’d missed out on with my own sisters or seen in other female friendships was being fulfilled with this woman.

Alas, our relationship became the living breathing example of the old line, “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.” She had to be in constant daily contact ( even when I was on vacation!) to the point it was nearly suffocating. When I complained of the list of things I had to get done, never was, “Maybe we should spend less time together or talk on the phone less frequently,” the answer. No, it was always, “You should give up X,Y, and Z, (but never me).” I knew on the day I announced that I would be homeschooling my youngest the following school year and her reaction was, “But we won’t get to spend as much time together!” things were wrapping up.

In the years that I’ve had to ponder the painful oddities of that relationship, I’ve come to be grateful for the time, short though it may be, that I do get to spend with my dearest friend. Every visit is like coming home again, picking up where we left off. I still have a hundred questions, but I save up the most important ones for our visits, though lots of them go unasked, and that’s okay. When she moved so far away that it took a plane ticket to get to her, I learned, over time, that I really could find many of the big answers myself; I could dig myself out of some ditches, and I could even call my own locksmith. She is that big sister, she is that aunt, but she is not my mother, and I am not five years old.  Conversely, neither of us are leeches, sucking the life out of the other, or parasites who require the life force of another for sustenance—or validation. Perhaps some women need friends like that, need to use friends like that, thankfully, I learned I don’t. Our is a friendship of the best kind: the self-sustaining kind that doesn’t fade with time or distance. In other words, it is just what I need.

3) My Uncle Leslie, my mother’s youngest brother, is quite wonderful. In the forty-four years we’ve shared on Earth together, I don’t recall ever having any uninterrupted one-on-one time with him. As he lives within thirty miles of my BFF, and my visit with her was going to last longer than a millisecond, I thought it would be nice to get together; and it was.

Like my grandfather, Leslie has always held a special place in my heart; and perhaps because of the rarity of our visits, which seem to have always been predicated upon baptisms, deaths, births, and family reunions, it has been easy to put him on a pedestal. It didn’t hurt, of course, that his was the only example of what seemed to be an intact, well- functioning nuclear family among my blood relatives, which was something for which I yearned desperately. In his house there were no out of wedlock births or divorces, no drug abuse, extra marital-affairs, sexual abuse, or screaming matches. And Leslie’s family, from what I knew, had no welfare queens or shot gun weddings. His family was always active in the church (not that that makes everything all better, but it doesn’t hurt!), his kids went to on to college, married in the temple, served missions, formed cohesive families. In other words, they did all the things I wished my family did, but mostly they just seemed to love one another without reserve. How he and Aunt Linda managed all that when mine couldn’t even figure out the rudiments of society most of the time was baffling.

Similar to the list of questions I always have for my BFF, the list I have for Leslie is at least twice as long. During my sixteen years of motherhood, fourteen of which I myself have been motherless, I have become terribly curious about my mother’s life, the choices she made, the trials she endured, the role my grandparents, aunts, and uncles played in her life, and how they saw her. My visit with Leslie proved a mix of all of those things, and I learned more about him as an individual; I walked away wishing we could make such lunches a weekly event. But regardless of whether we do or don’t ‘do lunch’ again in the future, I am sure that two plus hours we sat together over pizza is going on my short list of “Life’s Best Moments.” Thank you, Uncle Leslie.

Finally, there is this:

4) It is easy to focus on spiritual things when you don’t have to focus on a hundred other things, too. I started a book entitled Walking with the Savior: 365 Days of Miracles by Rena Petterson…three years ago. And never made it past the first two weeks. I restarted it just before my trip, worked on it during the trip, then came home and forgot about it for a week and a half. What is it about the two week macs-lewisrk that keeps stifling my progress on this 365 day journey? Oh, yes, I remember now: life. Well, I’m trying to get back on track with it. Clearly, I need the time within its pages (which also includes time in my scriptures) just as much as I need food and rest on a daily basis, yet “things” come up. Mostly, though, we simply get lazy (see above), and taking the path of least resistance, as we are want to do, leads to binge watching Netflix or any of a number of truly time-wasting endeavors that carry no celestial significance. How easily we get distracted; how easily we seek for things of lesser “weight” on which to spend our precious time. Very often these days I am reminded of a poem I read aloud during a sacrament talk years ago. It is called “The Devil’s Convention,” and is readily available on a hundred different websites. The unknown author echos many of the same things C.S. Lewis captured in his small but important book The Screwtape Letters, and to a lesser degree in The Great Divorce. It reads as follows:

Satan called a worldwide convention. In his opening address to his evil angels, he said,

“We can’t keep the Christians from going to church. We cannot keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth. We cannot even keep them from forming an intimate, abiding relationship experience in Christ. If they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken. So let them go to their churches; let them have their conservative lifestyles, but steal their time, so they can’t gain that relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what I want you to do angels: Distract them from gaining hold of their Saviour and maintaining that vital connection throughout their day!”

“How shall we do this?” shouted his angels.

“Keep them busy in the non-essentials of life and invent innumerable schemes to occupy their minds,” he answered. “Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, and borrow, borrow, borrow. Persuade the wives to go to work for long hours and the husbands to work 6-7 days each week, 10-12 hours a day so they can afford their empty lifestyles. Keep them from spending time with their children. As their family fragments, soon their home will offer no escape from the pressures of work! Over-stimulate their minds so that they cannot hear that still, small voice. Entice them to play the radio or cassette player whenever they drive. Keep the TV, VCR, CDs, and their PCs going constantly in their home and see to it that every store and restaurant in the world plays non-biblical music constantly. This will jam their minds and break that union with Christ. Fill the coffee tables with magazines and newspapers. Pound their minds with the news 24 hours a day. Invade their driving moments with billboards. Flood their mailboxes with junk mail, mail order catalogues, sweepstakes, and every kind of newsletter and promotional offering free products, services and false hopes. Keep skinny, beautiful models on the magazines so the husbands will believe that external beauty is what is important, and they will become dissatisfied with their wives. Ha! That will fragment those families quickly! Even in their recreation, let them be excessive. Have them return from their recreation exhausted, disquieted and unprepared for the coming week. Do not let them go out in nature to reflect on God’s wonders. Send them to amusement parks, sporting events, concerts, and movies instead. Keep them busy, busy, busy! And when they meet for spiritual fellowship, involve them in gossip and small talk so that they leave with troubled consciences and unsettled emotions. Go ahead, let them be involved in soul winning; but crowd their lives with so many good causes they have no time to seek power from Jesus. Soon they will be working in their own strength, sacrificing their health and family for the good of the cause.”

“It will work! It will work!” his angels cried.

It was quite a convention. The evil angels went eagerly to their assignments causing Christians everywhere to get busier and more rushed, going here and there.

I guess the question is has the devil been successful at his scheme? You be the judge!

Does ‘busy’ nean: B-eing U-nder S-atan’s Y-oke?

so-busyHere’s to hoping you & I find a way to be less B.U.S.Y. this week and more focused on life’s truly important things.

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