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Change

We were putting on our masks to go to the grocery store. As we went to check out, we waited as the cashier sprayed down the register. Things are different now.

I remembered how 9-11 changed how you fly on an airplane, and I thought that maybe certain things will always be a little different now. Maybe we will disinfect things a lot more often. Or wearing face masks will be more common. Maybe people will stay home more when they get sick. Perhaps in 20 years, things that seem weird now will be common and people won’t think about it much.

We adapt to change so quickly sometimes that we forget that the change ever happened.

Do you know that bananas used to be different? We had a certain variety of banana that everyone ate, and then it all died, and now we have different bananas.

Kodak wanted to be the best filmmaker around, but then digital photography came along and Kodak basically went out of business.

We used to call and talk to people on the telephone. Now I connect to people in a myriad of ways, usually with my phone. Phones used to be things you used to call people. Now phones do everything. I can do calculus on my phone.

Statistics used to be doing calculations and now it’s basically learning how to use coding to manipulate data.

I used to live in a small town when I grew up; now that town is huge and all the traffic patterns are different.

Our lives are always changing. And it’s okay. Change can be good or bad or neutral, but things always change.

Except for the few things that stay the same: ancient trees, rocks, mountains, religion.

And the nature of life sort of just stays the same. We are born, we live, we struggle, we die. With all of the changes that happen, our struggles and our joys have always been the same–we strive to do the right thing, to help each other, and we make mistakes and we fight, and we seek meaning and purpose and happiness. We increase in knowledge and then make stupid mistakes anyways.

Things have been changing. And yet, so much has stayed the same. I am still here, and in a shifting landscape, I find that the most important things are still here with me.

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Acceptance

A lot of people are feeling panicked and afraid and stressed out. This is a rough time. But things will go back to normal. They always do.

I have been trying to find good information about COVID-19, but here is one things I’ve learned: we have not had enough time to come up with the right data to make completely accurate models. Things may be better than we think, but I sincerely doubt that they could be worse than worse-case scenarios.

We aren’t sure what to do because we don’t have all the data right. We can’t tell the future and so we don’t quite know how to prepare for it. The leaders of our cities and states and country are trying to figure out how to minimize negative impacts. But no matter what they do, there will be negative impacts. The tradeoffs are not great right now.

I fully support social distancing, but we don’t need to overreact and panic. I am hopeful that when the data becomes more and more accurate, it will be better than we think. We do not need to shut ourselves in our houses in fear, but we can wash our hands, keep our distance, and prepare our healthcare system.

This is a tragedy. These are hard times, and I don’t want to ignore the difficult time people are having. But bad things always happen. We had deaths from heart disease, cancer, the flu, car accidents, drug overdoses. We are working on all of those problems. People get sick. It sucks. We have a hard time understanding the scale of any tragedy and there is not a great way to put it into perspective.

With this pandemic, we just have too much information in the wrong places, leading to too much fear and confusion. We have to trust in experts, let them do their job, and make the best out of what we have. We don’t need to be afraid, but we can be prepared.

We cannot avoid every bad effect anymore. We are going to have major consequences in health and economics. People will die, and it is incredibly sad and hard. But acceptance of the tragedy can help us be more rational in figuring out how to lessen the worst effects without being so afraid that we overreact and create more harm than we have to. Worry and fear can be a useful catalyst for action, but actions need to be kept within rational and sensible bounds.

I am grateful for epidemiologist who are trying to come up with more and more accurate models. For economists who are studying economic impacts. I am grateful for imperfect yet helpful policies that will help keep us going.

I have faith. I have faith that we can come out of this better than we will be before. This is not a catastrophe. This is not the end of the world. This is hard and it’s terrible, but we move forward like we always do.

I have been very worried and stress, but my mind feels a lot more clear now. Accepting that a hard thing is happening helps us move forward and make the best of it. We can’t eliminate this from our lives. But we can keep moving forward and doing the best we can.

Things I am hoping for right now:

*People be rational and make the right decisions to minimize the loss and negative effects of this pandemic.
*That we can find appropriate treatments that shorten hospital stays and reduce severity of the disease.
*The death rate starts getting lower and lower.
*Increase testing ability and more equipment for health care.
*That there are more asymptomatic people than we realize and we will be able to achieve herd immunity.
*For a quick economic recovery–where people can get their jobs back quickly and businesses can find capital to keep going and that the recovery bill does it’s job in providing more expansive unemployment and that when we do open things up and get going again, we have minimized the reduction of GDP and long-term unemployment.
*And that there will be an end of this and life will go back to normal, except for it will be a better normal because we have learned and grown from this experience.

Please don’t be angry and afraid. Just keep trying,

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Solutions and Decisions

Everyone faces difficult questions. Moms ask: Should I stay at home with my kids? Should I go to work? What is best for my kids? What is best for me? How do I take care of my children and my finances and my mental health? Is it selfish to have ambitions? Is it okay to focus on myself? Is it better to focus on other people?  Are public schools right for my kids? What about charter schools? What about online classes? What about private school? Should I homeschool? Should I move? Should we change jobs? Should we change careers? Should we go to school or not?

If you are in a different situation, you are asking different questions, but they have the same weight. Everyone is asking those sorts of questions all the time.

Sometimes we need to answer the questions and figure something out. But sometimes we are asking the wrong question. 

Sometimes I feel like I need to answer a question right away and figure it out. But then I just feel frustrated. I think that if I come up with an answer and I solve it, that everything will be right. And then when there isn’t a solution, I keep trying and trying to make something work. 

But often, I don’t need to ask those questions in the first place. A solution can come slowly, if I am patient. Or there may not be a solution. 

Sometimes life is not an equation with a variable that you can figure out. Life is a lot more messy than that, with approximations and confusion and imperfection. 

We often try to fix things, but in our effort to fix it, we lose the nuance and imperfection and chaos and beauty. 

We can throw away the needless guilt. We can throw away the thought that if we somehow tried a lot harder, everything would fall into place. We can stop pretending that we are able to take care of everything and everyone all at once. Because that isn’t going to happen. There are tradeoffs.

So instead of trying to solve life like a math equation, just do the best you can in the messy chaos. 

This applies to everything in life. We want solutions. We want to fix things. But politics and housing prices and healthcare and viruses don’t have one easy solution. Things are complicated. There is usually not one solution that works great for everyone.

Except loving other people. And prayer. And gratitude. 

Come to think of it, being grateful for what we have is a good way to start solving things in the right way.

do something, essay, meditations

Friendship

Option 1: Abigail is living her life. She has her routine: wake up, get ready, work, spend time with her family, read a book, go to bed. She has the occasional events with church and work and community and life. She lives in her own little sphere, and it’s pretty happy there. A bit lonely, but she has her routine that she keeps doing over and over again, so it’s okay. Social media and videos help with the loneliness. And if she gets feeling down, she does something special like taking herself out to dinner and travelling to see something new.

And then one day, Barbara knocks on her door at 7:00 in the morning. She brings Abigail breakfast with orange juice. It’s weird, but Abigail likes orange juice. Abigail isn’t sure what to say. And Barbara isn’t sure what to say either, but they exist there together eating toast, until they both resume their routine and go to work. Abigail is late, but she finds that she is happier than normal.

In the evening, Abigail texts Barbara and tells her thank you and that they should get together sometime. Abigail doesn’t expect a response, but Barbara says, “How about we go to lunch on Saturday?”

And so Abigail ends up having sushi with Barbara, and while she is there, Barbara offers to babysit her kids so that Abigail can have a date night with her husband next Friday night at 6:30.

But Abigail feels confused. She had been living happily in her sphere and no one bothered her, but here is Barbara, inserting herself into Abigail’s life and she feels like she finally has a friend.

Barbara comes and babysits on Friday. And then Abigail decides she is going to text Barbara something a few days later, though this feels a little awkward and weird. “Hey–do you want to go have lunch again tomorrow?” And she nervously clicks send.

“Sure! That’s sounds awesome!”

And so it continues. Abigail finds out that Barbara has lots of other friends, and then Abigail get lots of other friends, and then she don’t exist in her own little sphere at all. She doesn’t feel lonely very much anymore.

Option 2: Barbara thinks it is too awkward to bring someone over breakfast first thing in the morning, and so she stays home and sends the occasional text message but never feels like she has any friends.

Friendship is not about giving people space. It’s not about waiting for convenient times and it does not take place on the internet. Being a friend is when you insert yourself into someone’s life and you both end up happier because of it. It can be awkward. There are missteps and confusion. You do things wrong a lot, but that’s okay. You can’t keep waiting for an invitation. Friendship doesn’t wait for an invitation. Friendship is the invitation, and it comes from you.

 

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It’s okay to not be okay

When I was younger, I remember hearing from people who were so happy and optimistic. They seemed to deal with difficult things with grace and gratitude. And I wanted to be like them.

I thought that if I was good enough, I would be able to go through life without deep pain and struggle. When hard times came, if I had enough faith and trust in God, then it wouldn’t hurt. I could meet it with optimism and faith and joy.

That was a lie I told myself. I didn’t want to feel pain. I was running away from pain, thinking that I wanted a perfect and happy life where I had this amazing attitude all the time. I thought religion meant that I wouldn’t have to feel pain. I thought being good enough meant that I had a good attitude at all times.

And now I have felt deep pain that has teared me apart and put me back together. I have not had any deep tragedy in my life. But I have had struggles that have driven me to despair. I have faced my own imperfections and saw that I would never be the ideal I had set for myself.

I sat with my pain today. I didn’t feel guilty. I didn’t try to make it go away. I didn’t feel a need to be productive and happy. I just let myself cry. It was a small thing: I missed my home that I can’t live in.

And I didn’t tell myself I needed to have this amazing attitude. I didn’t need to feel happy and put this pressure on myself to be and do everything right. I didn’t need to fix the problem either.

I have had a hard time sharing pain with others because I’ve always ran away from it in my own life. But when I prayed today, it wasn’t with this hope that things would work out. Because that isn’t true when you are in pain: things won’t work out because they hurt right then and that pain is real. And it’s okay to not feel hopeful and optimistic. It’s okay to cry.

I know the moment will pass and I do know that hope is around the corner, but I am also finally okay with the fact that life will hurt. My hope is no longer in the deliverance from pain. I prayed that I could continue in the life I have, knowing that it will continue to hurt for a while. I’m not desperately looking for the way out.

The biggest comfort comes in knowing I can move forward with the pain, knowing that my heart is big enough to contain it.

Because in the pain, there is also joy. Almost all of our pain comes because we had happiness. We felt loved. We loved others. Joy and sorrow often come together: we love knowing that we will someday say goodbye. We work knowing that it will someday be torn down and forgotten. We live knowing we will die. We build a home knowing we will leave.

There is sorrow because there is joy and joy because there is sorrow. And I want the joy. Which means that I must accept the sorrow that goes with it.

If hard things happen to me, I don’t have to tell myself that things will work out. I don’t need to skip over the pain and fight it with optimism and hope. I don’t need to say everything is fine and put a brave face on.

I will let myself cry. I will let myself be imperfect. I will let myself sorrow and know that things can be hard and overwhelming without recompense. And I will not apologize to others for being sad, excusing myself as if sadness was some sort of flaw that should be hidden away. I will have the integrity to not be ashamed of my struggle.

(Or I will feel guilty and hide and make mistakes and that’s okay too because I’m still learning.)

I am finally not hiding from what life is, though the process has been slow and continues.

But in the end, I am more grateful for the hard times than the easy times. I have found myself more in failure than in success. I feel so much less ashamed of myself in realizing my imperfections.

Life is messy and chaotic and beautiful because of it.

essay, home

Things I Learned From Getting a Building Permit

Recently, I obtained a building permit for a remodel. The reputation of this building department was quite negative, and I had heard stories of people taking years to get permits to build their houses. I was doing a remodel, not a new building, but I wondered if I could even get a building permit by myself.

We decided to try it anyway. I had contacted architects and builders and no one got back with me, and I don’t think they wanted to work on this project. I love the house because my grandpa built it, but it is unique.

So for months, I researched and worked and I came up with my own building plans.

We submitted the plans and I did not expect them to be approved. There were a few different departments who had to review plans. I got one rejection for my site plan, and I immediately called the department and talked to him about a few things and get on the same page.

A while later, I got another rejection. I again picked up my phone and called the health department about my septic system. I gathered up some information and emailed that out.

Then one morning, I got an email. Everything else was approved. I literally did not believe it when I saw that email. I was sure that they would be rejected. I had worked on it for so long, but there things that I was guessing at. And they just approved it.

I resubmitted a site plan. I wasn’t sure they were going to approve the new one, but then they did. The person reviewing the plan called to make sure that I was planning on working on this for 18 months. Yes, the July 2021 date was correct.

After paying my fees, I have a building permit. I am grateful for my sister, Liz, who did a grading plan for us. Besides that, I did it all.

And now, things I’ve learned:

  • Be honest. I tried to be as honest and open about everything about my house. It was tempting at times to try to hide something or stretch the truth, but it was so much easier to be honest. And it worked.
  • Follow the rules. I could have tried to remodel without a building permit, but that wouldn’t have been legal. I tried to do what the county wanted me to do and follow the rules they had to the best of my ability. I looked up building codes and laws and tried my best to follow it all.
  • Being honest and following the rules brings inner peace. I feel at peace with myself and the plans and the project. I have nothing to hide and I have nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Stick yourself out there. I wanted to hide because I didn’t always know what I’m doing, but I didn’t hide. I submitted things. It was scary, but it was okay.
  • Work with people and they will work with you. I think because I called and talked to people on the phone, they actually helped me out and approved things when it wasn’t technically perfect. I would explain my project honestly and what we were planning and doing and then it felt like we were on the same team instead of working against each other.
  • Ask questions when you need to and admit when you don’t know something.
  • You can do more than you think you can. I didn’t think I could do this in the beginning. I did it because I didn’t really have a choice–I wanted to remodel this house and no one would work for me so I had to come up with plans by myself. And I did it.
  • Building isn’t very complicated. Building basic buildings and remodeling does not require you to be an architect or an engineer or have twenty years of experience.
  • You can learn to do just about anything on the internet.

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Confidence

The other day, I was making some phone calls. I have told myself that I don’t like talking on the phone and I thought that I wasn’t very good at it. But during this phone call, I paid attention for a minute and I realized that I am good at it. I was probably better at it than the person I was talking to, and she was getting paid.

For a lot of my life, I have dreaded making phone calls because I was afraid that I was going to say the wrong thing and have awkward moments. I had this in my head that I my brain would turn off when I was on the phone. But it doesn’t. I am perfectly capable of thinking during a phone call.

But because I haven’t had any confidence, that means my fear has caused the awkward moments I was afraid of. When you don’t have confidence, it’s really hard to do your best. You become a self-fulfilling prophecy and doom yourself to failure.

You interact with people better if you are confident in your own skills and happy with who you are. You exercise better when you view yourself as a strong person who enjoys exercising. You perform better if you know that you can perform well.

Confidence can be a really helpful thing to overcome fears and get things done. Just tell yourself that you are good at something. Even if you aren’t quite sure. Just pretend. And you usually will surprise yourself of your own capabilities.

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I Don’t Need All the Answers

Information is so easily available that we can basically find whatever information we want. Some of it is incredibly useful, but some of it is also inaccurate and even destructive.

When I teach my kids in school, we don’t combine religion with other subjects. I teach science from a completely scientific perspective. We watch lots of videos about evolution because my kids like animals. I also teach creation, but I teach it separately.

Religion for me is a matter of faith, and I approach it very differently than I do any other area of study. Even when I try to be intellectual about it, I don’t care very much about proof. Faith is faith, and faith is good when it brings me joy and blessings.

There are a lot of questions in the world and there are a lot of evidences for one thing or another. What we think and believe changes, and it can change really rapidly. So we almost completely rely on other authority for what we know. We often believe things that are completely false because it’s our instinct to immediately believe something. We’re not very good at being skeptical and really figure out what is true and not. Either we believe everything or we believe nothing. Knowledge and truth can seem slippery and confusing.

But I do believe in truth. And I believe in can be found in a lot of places.

I don’t think truth is intellectual. Sometimes the most important things are our own experiences and our own feelings. And while truth is not relative, our own experience and viewpoint is relative.

Truth may not always seem consistent because we don’t fully understand something yet. And I think truth can be more complicated (and a lot simpler) than we want it to be. It’s not always a matter of true or false. Sometimes it’s both at the same time and exists in probability instead of yes or no. Sometimes we see contradictions where both sides are right.

Sometimes we are asking the wrong questions, so there is no answer to the question. And if knowledge is a puzzle, then sometimes we are using the pieces to build the wrong puzzle, which is why we might find holes and unsolvable problems.

We just can’t understand everything. And that’s okay.  I don’t understand it, but I’m going to keep living anyway.

I love learning in lots of different ways. But in all the complications and theories, my favorite sort of truth is something that I can’t really express and I don’t even know if I fully understand it.

The greatest joy I have found is in my family, in my church, and in trying to love and do good to others. I don’t always understand everything about the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I do know that it has brought me direction in my life, purpose, hope, and happiness.

I love going to church and reading the scriptures. Whenever I wake up and read scriptures first thing in the morning, I have better days. When I pray and try to follow the promptings I receive, amazing things happen.

And that’s truth right there. I make mistakes and I’m wrong. I have questions and I don’t understand. But I don’t need proof, because I have hope and I have happiness, and that’s enough.

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Humor in Misfortunes

Recently, I’ve been learning how to laugh at myself and my life.

A few weeks ago, I hit a deer. While on a deer hunt. In a new-to-us minivan that we had literally just replaced the brakes and tires in a few days before. It was so completely unfortunate that I found it hilarious.

A lot of misfortunates are just sort of funny.

The populations of the towns I live in have been decreasing for a while. We lived in a town of 5,000 people. And then in a town of 200 people. And right now I don’t even live in a town at all. If you discount temporary and seasonal residents, then there is a population of about ten where we live, and my family is six of that.

A few years ago, on my daughter’s birthday, I took a wrong turn and ended up driving an hour in the wrong direction, adding two hours to our trip. I will probably never mess up a birthday quite as badly as that. Only up from there.

Sometimes it’s good to laugh instead of worry. Laugh when you have no idea what you’re doing. Laugh when you fall over. Laugh when you are sick. Laugh when you accidentally ruin things. Laugh when you get lost. Laugh at your ineptitude. Laugh when you are afraid. Laugh when you’re confused.

***

My kids have had the weirdest journey through schooling. My daughter had seven kids in her kindergarten class and about 14 in her first grade class. She went to three months of second grade in public school. She is currently reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and she will finish two weeks after starting it. I go to the library and she gets ten or more books, and in a few days, she’s read them all.

My son has gone to three months of half-day kindergarten and some preschool. He reads small chapter books now. He is learning third grade math, and he basically has a calculator in his brain.

And I thought that I wasn’t good at homeschooling. My kids love worksheets (they do them for fun sometimes). I got them handwriting books to improve their handwriting, and they not only finished them, but they keep asking me to get new ones.  They engage in their own science experiments. They read and read and read. They love puzzle books. They explore outside, make lists, and ask really good questions. The fact that I thought I wasn’t very good at homeschool is sort of hilarious because my kids have learned so much.

And I’m currently enrolled in public school (online college classes) while I homeschool my kids, which is also sort of funny.

***

I can worry about things and feel guilty and cry. Or sometimes I can just laugh.

The other night, I wanted to sleep well, so at 1:30 in the morning, I tried to find my daughter’s special blanket so that she would stop waking up. Well, it took me over a half hour to find it, and then she kept waking up anyway, and I ended up losing quite a bit of sleep. Because I wanted to sleep well in the first place. It would have been better if I would have done nothing.

I am reminded of this quote:

I remember loading up our children in a station wagon and driving to Los Angeles. There were at least nine of us in the car, and we would invariably get lost. Instead of getting angry, we laughed. Every time we made a wrong turn, we laughed harder.

Getting lost was not an unusual occurrence for us. Once while heading south to Cedar City, Utah, we took a wrong turn and didn’t realize it until two hours later when we saw the “Welcome to Nevada” signs. We didn’t get angry. We laughed, and as a result, anger and resentment rarely resulted. Our laughter created cherished memories for us. (from “Come What May and Love it” by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.)

Instead of being annoyed at my husband, I can usually laugh instead. I can laugh when ever I accuse someone of being cranky, because that inevitably means that I’m the cranky one. I can laugh instead of fight, laugh instead of blame, laugh instead of wallow in my misery.

Life is messy and chaotic and unexpected and it’s good to just laugh at the absurdity of it all sometimes.

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Guilt and Apology: Letting Go of Unrealistic Expectations

Have you ever said that you were sorry when you didn’t actually do anything wrong?

I have. Sometimes I find myself constantly apologize for myself, as if I was a constant inconvenience and never doing as well I need to.

Apologizing can be necessary and a really good thing to do. Saying I’m sorry when I have hurt someone is meaningful. But have said it too much, to the point where my existence almost became an apology. But I don’t have to apologize for existing, or for having weaknesses, or for never always doing everything quite right.

I’ve heard from a few different places that you can substitute “I’m sorry” for “Thank you.” We say things like this: I’m sorry I’m late. I’m sorry for not doing better. I’m sorry for not getting it done. I’m sorry that I talk so much. I’m sorry for having emotions. I’m sorry I’m not perfect. But we can say this instead: Thank you for waiting for me. Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for spending time with me.

When we are always apologizing, we just end up sticking shame on ourselves and clinging on to unrealistic expectations. It makes other people feel incredibly uncomfortable sometimes, because they often want to help and be with you and they don’t mind the inconvenience because they like you.

Sometimes apologizing is simply a reflection of our own insecurities.

I have been trying really hard lately to let go of unnecessary guilt just like I’m letting go of unnecessary apologies. They are the same thing, really. We can’t ever change what happened, but we can know that change is possible now and in the future.

So I have to let go of what happened and look forward to doing better. I am so glad I get to keep trying. There is so much hope in the world.

I’m not going to apologize for not being perfect, because no one is. But I can be grateful that I can keep trying. I’m grateful for hope. I’m grateful for letting go of expectations and knowing that I am worthwhile and being okay with myself while still striving to improve.