Sunday, October 31, 2010

True Charity -- a "Perfect" thought for today

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time, and something I strive to live by (though I can assure you I'm not perfect at it). It goes hand in hand with this beautiful talk by President Thomas S. Monson from the last General Relief Society meeting.*

*The Relief Society is the worldwide women's organization for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. President Monson is our prophet and the leader of our Church. Every 6 months there is a broadcast called "General Conference," where the leaders of the Church speak to the entire church. Every October conference there is also a General Relief Society meeting, where they speak to the women especially.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Parable of the Painting

I have two incredibly smart, cute, funny little boys.

Sammy is the oldest.  He's almost 7 and he is pretty much a genius.  He started reading before he turned 3 and memorized the times tables just for funsies while he was in preschool.  But this post is not about him.

This post is about Josh, who is almost 5.  He is sweet and imaginative and hilarious.  He loves to make people laugh, and he also has a special talent for knowing when people need comfort.  At my husband's grandma's funeral this past summer, he went up to Dan's grandpa and just put his arms around him and loved him for several minutes.  He comes up with elaborate stories about his superhero adventures, assisted by all his animal friends. He loves to be a special helper, and Eliza follows him around all day, imitating his every move.  Right now he sounds like a pirate, because he's trying very enthusiastically to say his Rs (including in words that really should have a W -- ever heard of "taking a showrer" or enjoying a "rarm" day?).  What's not to love about Josh?

I'll tell you what Josh doesn't love about Josh:  that he's not Sam.  In spite of our best efforts to convince him that he is special and wonderful for just who HE is, he is constantly comparing himself to Sammy.  It's understandable, I guess -- Sammy gets a lot of attention for how smart he is and all the things he can do.  It made me so sad one day when the boys were painting pictures together.  They were both putting their best efforts into their projects and doing a really great job.  But Josh took a good long look at Sammy's painting, then back at his own.  He picked up his painting and with a look of such hurt on his face, ripped it slowly and deliberately in half.  I said, "Oh, Joshy!  Why did you rip your painting?  You worked so hard and it was a really great painting!"  He said, "It's not as good as Sam's."  I tried to talk to him about how it was great that his painting wasn't the same as Sam's, because it was his and that he had done his best.  I talked about how Sammy is two whole years older than Josh, so he's had a lot more practice.  I told him I really liked how he had used so many different colors, and how fun it was that he had made up a story to go along with it.  But nothing I said made any difference.  He ripped his painting up into small pieces anyway.

This particular incident happened a couple of months ago, but I've been thinking about it a lot over the past few days.  I wonder:  How often are we the Josh in this scenario?  We look at what others are creating or accomplishing and we instantly devalue our own abilities.  "Oh, I could never ______ like her!"  But instead of trying our best and then tearing it up, we don't even try.  Or maybe we do, but we never share our experiences with others because we think they have no value.  God has given each of us our own special talents and abilities, meant to enrich our lives and enable us to lift others.  Do we throw them back in His face because we think nothing we do will ever be as good as what others do?  And all the while we are hiding a secret sorrow because we want to share, to do, to be everything that we can be.

It makes me think of the Parable of the Talents in the New Testament, which begins in Matthew 25:14.  The basic story is that a man is going away and gives different numbers of "talents" (an amount of money in the parable) to each of his servants to take care of while he's gone.  To one he gives 10, to another 5, and to one, only 1 talent.  When he comes back, the servants to whom he had given 10 and 5 talents had both invested wisely and doubled his money.  He rewards them both equally.  The servant to whom he had given only 1 talent had hidden his talent in the earth out of fear that he couldn't do anything with it.  But the truth was that the master wasn't expecting that servant to earn 10 more talents like the first servant, just to do something with it.  God has given us all different talents and gifts, and he just wants to see what we will do with them.  He's not comparing us to anyone but ourselves, so why do WE do it?

A few weeks ago my husband Dan took Josh out for a special ice cream date.  They talked about all the great things that Josh can do, and came up with a new motto:  "Have fun along the way!"  They talked about how Joshy doesn't need to compare what he does to Sammy -- the whole point of doing stuff is to enjoy doing it, not to worry about how other people are doing the same thing.  Since then, when Josh starts to get into that comparing mindset, we say, "What's our motto?"  And he replies (with varying degrees of enthusiasm): "Have fun along the way..."  At the same time, we are trying very hard to point out all of the things that are great about Josh.  (And balancing that with doing the same thing for the other kids too, of course -- man, being a parent is not an easy trick.)  Hopefully this is just a phase, and we can get through it and we'll all be glad they're not going through it as teenagers... or in their 30s.

I want to challenge you to "have fun along the way."  As adults, it's not just about fun, of course.  We want to find real fulfilment and bring happiness to others at the same time.  Identify something that you love to do, whether you think you're the greatest at it or not.  Do something that forces you to share that gift with others -- teach someone something, give an act of service, create a gift -- and do so unapologetically. 

Don't worry that someone else could have done it better. 

Don't worry if your talents aren't as "visible" as everybody else's.

Don't feel like you have to measure up to some imaginary standard.

Just appreciate the joy and enrichment you felt in doing it, and the blessing it is to someone else to feel cared for.  If you feel like you don't have any special talents, ask God to help you find the gifts He's given you.  He might answer you by bringing a long-lost interest to your mind, or by helping you see a need that you can fill.  Keep your heart open, so that God can show you the beautiful things He's created in you.  Just you, just the way you are.

Our lives are a blank canvas, waiting to be filled with beautiful colors and stories.  Don't let fruitless comparison make you tear it up and hide it away.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

215 Challenge: Random Challenge - 215-words about Why AVERAGE is ...

My awesome hubby Dan just started a very funny writing blog called "The 215 Challenge," where you have 215 words to fulfill whatever the challenge for the day is.  Today he stepped away from his usual goofiness to talk about "Why AVERAGE is AWESOME!"  I loved what he wrote about not comparing yourself to others.  Read this -- I think you'll see what helps ME stay a little more grounded and balanced than I used to be... :)

215 Challenge: Random Challenge - 215-words about Why AVERAGE is ...: "I'm pretty much average in practically every way. Pick nine random other people and line me up with them. Rank us on anything you like and I..."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The CoffeeShop Blog: How I don't do it all and can live with that.

 I'm already a big fan of the fun stuff for wannabe photographers like me on Rita's blog, but she posted this yesterday and I knew I had to pass it on.  She expresses just perfectly what I was talking about in my first Best Self/Worst Self post... plus she's actually funny. :)  Definitely worth a few minutes to read!

The CoffeeShop Blog: How I don't do it all and can live with that.: "We went to the pumpkin patch this weekend. There was a sea of pumpkins and happy children in cute little black and orange fall costumes. ..."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Let It Shine

Need an uplifting moment today?  My beautiful friend Eliza Wren Payne's newest music video is a celebration of letting who YOU are shine out.  It's full of all sorts of beautiful people and it really made me so happy...

Watch Let It Shine!

And yes, the loveliness of her spirit did influence me naming my daughter Eliza.  Can't you just hear it in her voice?  If my Eliza can grow up to be as loving, caring, and open-hearted as Eliza Wren, I will be one proud mama indeed.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Choosing Happiness

I haven't posted in a few days, because I've been trying to figure out how best to communicate my feelings on this next topic.  I think it's because this is something I've been struggling to communicate for years -- the subject of happiness.

I think if you asked nearly anyone who has known me for more than a few minutes to describe me, one of the first adjectives they'd use is "cheerful" or "positive" or just "happy."  And I am all those things, and I love that about myself.  But all my adolescent and adult life, I have gotten crap about it.  "No one is that happy all the time."  At times, people have accused me of being fake, of just pretending to be happy so that I can keep up the "perfect" facade.  Nothing has ever had more power to hurt me than that accusation: FAKE.  When people that I really care about call me that, it breaks my heart because I suddenly feel like they don't know me at all.  Or they don't understand what makes me... me.  I don't do fake.  I think there is a big difference between being fake and  choosing happiness, but I have never been able to clearly articulate my feelings.  That's what I'm going to try to do here, so bear with me...

Choosing happiness requires conscious action and thought.  No one's life is so free of trials that they can be effortlessly happy all the time.  When you look at people and you think, "Of course they're happy!  Their life is perfect; what would they ever have to be unhappy about?" you can be sure that they have their own sorrows and struggles.  The very purpose of life is to struggle, to learn and grow and overcome, and that can be a painful process.  But we can find happiness in the midst of all of this if we choose to.  I want to talk about three tools that I use to choose happiness.

First, forgiveness.  Being willing to forgive offenses large and small keeps us from becoming bitter and unhappy.  Give others the benefit of the doubt, don't be quick to take offense, and realize that they are also imperfect human beings.  That works well for the little things.  Big things take more time and perspective and work, but you can do it.  Don't let the actions of others determine your own happiness.  Learning to forgive is truly liberating.  When you learn to forgive others, you can more freely forgive yourself for your own mistakes and give yourself permission to move forward and be happy with who you are right now.  Consciously choosing to forgive others and to forgive myself helps me feel happy.

Second, faith.  Faith is a huge key to happiness for me.  I know deep down in my heart that God loves me and He has a plan for me.  He wants me to be happy -- forever, not just today or tomorrow.  So when troubles arise, I try to keep that eternal perspective.  I know that the hard times will not last forever.  I know that the trials we face are meant to help us learn and grow.  And while I'm not always great at figuring out exactly what I'm supposed to be learning at that moment, faith helps me not get bogged down in unhappiness.  Do you know that God loves you, that He knows you personally and He wants you to be happy?  If you can't honestly say that you KNOW it, I challenge you to take a few quiet minutes to yourself, get down on your knees, and ask Him.  I promise you that He will answer you.

Third, gratitude.  I know I just talked about gratitude in my last post, but I don't think its importance can be overstated.  We've all heard "Count Your Blessings" a bazillion times, haven't we?  It really is the key to choosing happiness.  I am grateful to God for everything around me.  Yes, life isn't perfect.  Yes, there are times I am disappointed or I wish things were different.  But I cannot deny the blessings in my life, and that helps me choose happiness.  I am also grateful to the people around me -- my family and loved ones and even lots of random strangers -- who do so much to lift me up and bless my life.  Feeling their love helps me choose happiness.

So, forgiveness, faith, and gratitude -- great tools for choosing to be happy.  And when you choose to be happy, you can be cheerful and positive and all those other great adjectives.  Even when life is challenging, you can be happy.  Not just act happy or look happy on the outside -- you can really and truly BE happy.

I also want to talk about times when "putting a happy face on it" can do more harm than good.

#1 -- If you aren't happy, don't fake it.  You have to give yourself permission to have feelings other than happiness, too.  Choosing happiness doesn't mean that you bottle up any unhappy or uncomfortable feeling and just pretend it doesn't exist until you explode.  Choosing happiness means you face those emotions head on and deal with them so that you can make peace with yourself and others.  That peace is what allows you to experience real happiness.

#2 -- If you need help, get it.  For some people and in some situations, you need more help than just "making a choice."  Clinical depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders, and a host of other problems need to be addressed professionally as well as personally.  They aren't things you can control just by the power of positive thinking, and you shouldn't feel like a failure if you need help.  Admitting that you need help and getting it is part of choosing real happiness.  I have seen so many people that I love dealing with these kinds of struggles, and I admire their strength so much.

#3 -- If you are in a bad situation, get out.  Don't "put on a happy face" to hide abuse or to cover for the bad acts of others.  You are beloved, by your Heavenly Father if not by the person you are with, and you do not have to stay in a bad situation. 

Hmmm, did I cover everything I've been mulling over for the past few days and weeks and years?  More or less.  I wish I was eloquent enough to express my feelings perfectly, but I think this will have to do for now.  I'm sure I'll revisit the subject many times on this blog.  Thanks for listening.

Tomi Ann

P.S.  If you think others might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to share it wherever you share stuff. :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010


The expectation of perfection is a prison.  We lock ourselves and others in without even realizing it, and soon we find our way blocked at every turn by walls we've built out of misguided expectations.  Then the Perfect Police keep us in.  Who are the Perfect Police?  Contrary to what you might think, the Perfect Police are not other people telling us what they expect.  The Perfect Police are the voices we create in our own heads, telling us we'll never be perfect but that everyone else thinks they are and expects us to be, too.  It's the voice that belittles our efforts.  It's the voice that tells us we have the right to judge others for not living up to our expectations.

It's time we liberate ourselves.

Liberation from the Prison of Perfection frees us to love ourselves.  When we shut out the Perfect Police, we see ourselves as we really are -- flawed but beautiful, imperfect but beloved.  We give ourselves credit for the intent of our heart and the effort we put in, rather than focusing on the finished product.

Similarly, liberation frees us to love others.  Accepting that those around us are also imperfect human beings allows us to not take offense when they make mistakes.  It allows us to look deeper, to find the whole person rather than relying on appearances.  Liberation frees us from feeling the need to sit in judgment of others.  We know that they aren't perfect, but we also acknowledge that we aren't either, and we can make a conscious decision to leave judgment to the One to whom it truly belongs -- God.

Although it may seem paradoxical, liberation from the expectation of perfection frees us to improve ourselves and become what God wants us to be.  If we let the Perfect Police constantly beat us down by telling us we'll never be good enough because we'll never reach our own impossible standard of perfection, how long will it take before we completely throw in the towel?  But if instead we build ourselves up with the reassurance that we need only do our level best, and that no mistake is so big it will block our path forever, we can keep moving forward and getting up when we fall.

Perhaps most importantly, liberation frees us to feel gratitude.  If we stop feeling bitter because our life isn't the uninterrupted perfect bliss we imagine it should be, we can feel gratitude to God for the countless blessings He gives us.  If we stop belittling ourselves, we can feel gratitude for all the things we can do.  If we stop judging others, we can feel gratitude for the efforts they put in and the intents of their hearts.  Gratitude is the ultimate weapon against the voices of the Perfect Police.

It's time to free yourself from this prison of your own making. Tear down the walls you've built from unrealistic expectations.  Tell the Perfect Police to take a hike.  Enjoy the freedom to love yourself for who you are NOW and give yourself permission to become all that you can be, and you will be able to give others that same freedom.  Free yourself to feel the joy of gratitude, and you will find peace even in imperfection.

Thank you for reading,
Tomi Ann

P.S.  If you think others might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to share wherever you share stuff!