Friday, March 20, 2009

Smiling Forward

Before spring break, I had a nice stroll through campus on my way to the bus stop. Instead of rushing or even listening to a talk with my iPod, I actually strolled, paying attention to the budding flowers on trees, the buildings' architecture, and the creek that paralleled my way.

As I walked along, I noticed that I was receiving some interesting looks from passers by, followed by little grins. I figured it was unusual to see a fellow walking along with a big smile on his face looking up and around, instead of straight ahead. I think the grins that followed their initial interesting looks were the result of the contagious nature of the smile.

I was reminded of this experience today. Leaving Maryann to do some spring cleaning, I took David and Rebecca to run errands. (I had done some cleaning, too, before I left, by the way.) They decided they would prefer playing together at the supervised play area at IKEA over shopping with me, so I found myself alone in a place I've never been alone before. Strapping a big yellow bag over my shoulder, I headed out to find the items on my list.

I passed a mirror half-way through the circuitous path of the store and didn't recognize myself at first. I thought I had passed some scowling grumpy man. Almost immediately, I laughed at myself and consciously decided to smile forward—to pass on a smile to those around me. While I didn't notice much change in others, I could tell that I was happier myself.

I was reminded of the counsel from Ephesians:

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger ... be put away from you ...

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted (4:31-32).

I think that is why so many people smile when they see our little Benjamin: he has no bitterness, wrath, or anger, but is filled with kindness and love, as shown by his adorable smile. His smile is contagious.

I hope I can catch what he has and continue to smile forward.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Parenting: Lessons from Agriculture and Prayer

I was given a quote to read in our marriage and family class in Sunday School yesterday that touched something inside of me. Even though I don't have an agriculture background (despite attending a high school that was literally in the middle of corn and soybean fields), I feel like I can relate to Loren C. Dunn's story:

While we were growing up in a small community, my father saw the need for my brother and me to learn the principle of work. As a result, he put us to work on a small farm on the edge of town where he had been raised. He ran the local newspaper, so he could not spend much time with us except early in the morning and in the evening. That was quite a responsibility for two young teenagers, and sometimes we made mistakes.

Our small farm was surrounded by other farms, and one of the farmers went in to see my father one day to tell him the things he thought we were doing wrong. My father listened to him carefully and then said, “Jim, you don’t understand. You see, I’m raising boys and not cows.” After my father’s death, Jim told us his story. How grateful I was for a father who decided to raise boys, and not cows. In spite of the mistakes, we learned how to work on that little farm, and I guess, although they didn’t say it in so many words, we always knew we were more important to Mother and Father than the cows or, for that matter, anything else. (Ensign, Nov. 1974. p 11, link)

Upon reading the above quote, I wondered if I could say the same thing. Can I likewise say, "I'm raising children, not degrees," or "I'm building a family, not just keeping a clean house"?

I hope so.

Thinking on the responsibilities I have as a parent reminded me of a comparison I read in the Bible Dictionary under Prayer (link), which is presented below with modifications to show how it was changed in my mind regarding parenthood (swapping parenting for prayer in the quote):

As soon as we learn the true relationship in which [our children] stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and [they] are his children), then at once [proper parenting] becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7: 7-11). Many of the so-called difficulties about [parenthood] arise from forgetting this relationship. ... Blessings [of parenthood] require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. [Parenting] is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

It is humbling to think of the divine charge I have as a parent, especially when I consider how amazingly wonderful my dear children are. I don't want to be one of the many bad influences that they may encounter, but want, instead, to be a representative of their true Father as I teach them in love.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Create: Builder vs. Wrecker

I love my wife. She is cute, kind, loving, and creative. I often catch her serving our little family, and doing little things to make others happy. I also see her drawing, painting, and coloring with our little ones, praising them and giving them art lessons through her loving example—you should see the masterpieces they create! (I think the children's favorite store is Hobby Lobby because we get fun crafty things there that they use to create gifts for grandparents and lasting memories.)

I saw this video recently, and I couldn't help but think of my Maryann. I love how she carefully works to sculpt our family into something amazing—she is creating a loving home on a daily basis.

I'm reminded of the poem I put to memory as a youth and subsequently heard at my college graduation ceremony at BYU (quoted by my classmate Darrell Sonntag, and attributed to the famous poet: Anonymous):

I passed one day through a lonely town,
and saw some men tear a building down.

With a "Ho, heave, ho," and a husky yell,
they swung a beam, and a sidewall fell.

I asked the foremen, "Are these men skilled?
The kind you'd hire if you had to build?"

"Oh no," he chuckled, "no indeed;
The common laborer is all I need."

"You see, I can destroy in a day, or
two what has taken builders weeks to do."

I thought to myself as I went on my way,
"Which of these roles have I tried to play?

"Am I a builder who works with care,
strengthening lives with rule and square?

"Shaping my peers to a well-made plan?
Helping them be the best they can?

"Or am I a wrecker who walks around,
content with the labor of tearing down?"

While I'm sure Maryann will argue that she does her share of wrecking and tearing down, I'll quick to counter that her tearing down is simply masterful remodeling where weakness and vice have entered in.

My sweet Maryann reminds me to be a builder—to create a loving family through the accumulation of little things which have eternal impact.