Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Re-Review - Still Life by Louise Penny

I learn better from novels than from treatises of any sort.  More is said, in fewer words in a novel.  As I identify with the characters and their problems and choices I find out where my own weaknesses and strengths lie.  I discover my humanity in a much more poignant way.  While this is true of most fiction, it is especially true when reading Louise Penny.  As this is the case and as I have a lot to learn about myself and my motives; I've decided to re-read Louise's Chief Inspector Gamache series.

Still Life is about how we tend to stagnate and then calcify in our habits and circumstances.  About how we get ourselves into traps and how we have difficulty escaping them.  It is about the lies we tell ourselves in order to continue in our self-deception.  And it is about how utterly emancipating honesty can be in our relationship with ourselves and others.

I didn't discover Louise's talent for teaching me of my own vulnerabilities until the last few of her series.  I wondered if the gift was embedded in the earlier ones as well and was actually surprised to revisit her first and discover and then plumb it's profound depths.

I remember the first time I read this I had a sense that the author knew me.  It was comforting to sit with her work.  As I read further into her work, I felt more and more that, "Here is a writer who gets me!"  It wasn't until I read this one again that I realized that her flawed characters were a better reflection of my own character, than her protagonists were.  I like the mix, for I dearly long to be like the healthy ones and see, in her examination of all their hearts that, I can move from one state to the other.

I have a shelf full of self-help books, which I think I'll toss.  Louise Penny has become my own personal therapist.  And while that my sound miserable (sort of like going to the Dentist) it is not!  It is a joyous, enlightening, thrilling ride!  Reading this book has been like going over the spillway after drifting stagnantly on the calm lake, way too long.  How she does this in a cozy mystery is beyond me, but that too is a talent I long to imitate.  There is nothing so powerful as a story.  What a story this is!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Free To Choose

Yesterday, someone noted the continuing problem of losing youth to inactivity in the Church.  He observed age 14 to be the critical point.  I have noticed this too.  14 is not an arbitrary age any more than 8 is arbitrary when considering the age of accountability.

In my work with troubled youth the age of 14 commonly stands out as the age of rebellion.  While there are younger exceptions, there are few older.  Oh, there are older rebels, but the vast majority rebelled at 14.  I believe the younger exceptions stem from accentuated abuse most of the time.  Occasionally, parents ask me how they can avoid these early teen pit-falls to which I always respond, "Your job is to teach them how to make healthy, correct, even righteous choices, and, to prepare them to have full reign to make those choices by the time they reach 14."  Then I advise them to prepare themselves to actually give full reign to their children at that time.  That's the hardest part.  Few accept my counsel.  Few have prepared their youth, to their own satisfaction, for the challenge of such personal responsibility.

Commonly, they ask, "What if I don't give them their freedom?"  To which I reply, "Then they'll just take it anyway."  14 is the age at which God intended His sons and daughters to begin to choose the direction of their own personal lives.  Parental efforts to restrict those choices will quite naturally be met with rebellion.

Another common question is, "What if I haven't adequately prepared them?  Is it too late?"  My answer is always, "No!"  It is never too late.  One of the things we all need to realize is that there are no perfect parents.  As a result no child is 100%, fully prepared at age 14.  We all know that, and you'll, given the chance, notice that the kids do too!  Remember 14 is not the age to be kicking kids out of the house.  They still need a safety net and you, Mom and Dad, are it.  If your children feel free to make their own choices, you will find them frequently seeking advice and assurance about the choices they are making.  If they feel no such freedom, you will be the last persons they will seek for counsel.

Let me give you the classic example:  At age 14, young Joseph Smith had a choice to make, "Which church should I join?"  How many of us would be willing to offer such a choice to one of our own 14 year olds?  It is clear that Joseph felt free to make such a choice.  Did he feel adequate for the task?  Clearly he did not.  But he had been well schooled in how to make such choices and given the freedom, he sought the Lord for guidance.  14 year olds are serious about things.  They are earnest about life and their futures.  They don't want to blow it.  If, like young Joseph, they have been taught that God cares about them and will joyfully entertain and respond to such questions, they are unlikely to make big decisions without first consulting with their Heavenly Father.

You will also notice that after, Joseph received his glorious answer from the Heavens, he still, willingly sought the counsel of his parents to affirm that he was on track.  I don't think Joseph Smith was all that unusual as 14 year olds go.  At least he doesn't appear to be as unusual as his parents were.

I realize these are scary times and our natural instinct is to shelter and nurture.  Too, often though, over-responding to that instinct results in smothering, rather than sheltering.  Remember we, and our children, are called to be in the world, but not of it.  The world is intended to give us experience, which must always be associated with agency, or the good work of the Lord in sending us here will be wasted.

Wild animals tend to flee rather than fight, but when cornered, and fleeing is no longer an option, fight they will.  14 year olds are no different.  If they find themselves in a situation without other options, fight they will. Watch carefully, that you do not press them into such a corner.  Watch carefully, for times when they may foolishly paint themselves into such corners.  Be sure to give them a way to escape.

Psalms 124:7
7 Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are
If Jesus is willing to break our snares, perhaps we should be prepared to do the same for our youth who occasionally become ensnared.  Even Joseph Smith fouled up a time or two as the learned and grew.

As these principles apply to parents, so they also apply to Church Leaders and Teachers, who occasionally apply Satan's manipulative arts and also reap the rebellion of our fledgling children.  Remember that agency is theirs as a God given possession, the stealing of which is evil and will most certainly satisfy Satan's objective for both you and the child.

As a litmus test you might consider that the number one symptom of the manipulator is frustration and the primary symptom of the manipulatee is rebellion.  If you are experiencing frustration or rebellion in your relationship with your 14 year old, please step back a little and let him out his corner, where he can make a more healthy choice.

I believe we can do this and that the result will be far fewer youth lost to forbidden paths than we are experiencing now.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review - The Snow Angel by Glenn Beck

What a heart warming story.  I liked this one even better than The Christmas Sweater.  A story of abuse, fear, devotion, understanding, loyalty, forgiveness and love, The Snow Angel was a great book with which to start the new year.  Thank you John and Jen for and excellent Christmas present.

For me, the jury is still out regarding Beck's politics, but his fiction is so deep, heart-felt and enlightening that I have fully embraced it. One of the things that most greatly intrigued me about this book is the narrative from Mitch's point of view.  Mitch has Alzheimer's and is at a level of deep confusion.  While we can only imagine what goes on in such a misfiring brain, I think Beck has captured it in his deep, empathic first person narrative. Having worked closely with an Alzheimer's patient over the past few years, I really appreciated the perspective.

He also has an enlightening perspective of abuse in families.  Dysfunction is common in today's world, as is it's denial.  Also common though, are angels who love, nurture and rescue.  What a tribute to them this book is.  They are all around each of us.  How reluctant we are to let them offer the healing and redemption they bring.

Five Stars!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Today My Nephew, Davis, Enters the MTC

Elder Rasmussen enters the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah today.  He will be learning Spanish in preparation for service in The Dominican Republic Santo Domingo West Mission.  What excitement we've experienced as our family has anticipated his call.

He spoke in Sacrament Meeting on January 1st.  His talk was short, sweet and to the point.  I'd do well to simply post it here.  Trouble is, I haven't got a copy.  What he taught us on that day has had a profound effect on me and my attitude toward life and it's experiences.  Davis spoke of having some concern about the adequacy of his preparation to be a missionary.  As this anxiety built, he very wisely turned to his Father in Heaven, who led him to seek counsel from the scriptures.  There, he discovered a marvelous principle.  While reading the account of Noah, who built the ark, Davis came to realize that of all the qualifications Noah had in preparation for his call, ark building wasn't one of them.  Noah was prepared (and preparing) to accept the call but his preparation was that of faith, trust, obedience, willingness and diligence - not craftsmanship.

So it is with Davis.  He doesn't speak Spanish.  He doesn't understand all that will be required of him.  He is not at expert missionary.  Those are not the qualifications God is seeking of him.  His qualifications, like Noah's are related to his personal relationship with God and his willingness to do as God requires.  If he continues to trust and manifest willingness, God will qualify him for the task that lies ahead.

This sweet principle inspires me.  How often have I hesitated because I didn't feel qualified to serve the Lord. How often have I mistakenly supposed that I could not do as the Lord commanded.  It has been a week and a half since that short sweet talk spoke volumes to my soul.  Thank you Davis for your fine preparation and for beginning from day one to teach and inspire those you are chosen to bless.
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