My Dear Child, Please Remember This Version of Me

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There was a day last week that I felt like a stellar mom. Let me be clear: days like that are rare. Usually, I find myself battling a pretty ruthless guilt complex—and the guilt always wins. Guilt for my dwindling patience, guilt for allowing too much Netflix, guilt for not having enough fun activities planned…

But for whatever reason, there was a day last week that brought with it a higher degree of patience, an energy that matched Milo’s, and this willingness to push my own agenda aside completely.

It was a good day.

After about ten rounds of the airplane game, some hilariously failed crafts, and a pattern of NOT checking my phone compulsively, we were at the park. Milo wasn’t feeling particularly brave that day, so I slid down that yellow plastic slide with him in my lap. As we glided down and my hair got all static-y, I had the thought, Please remember this version of me.

Please remember the mother who got out the play-doh and fingerpaints when the kitchen was already an epic disaster. Please remember the mother who let you help with the dishes even though it’s so much easier to just do it myself. Please remember the mother who held it together when you mural-ed the white walls. Please remember the mother with a wide smile—not the frustrated mother with her face in her hands. Please remember the mother who watched countless shadow puppet tutorials on YouTube to up her performance and make you laugh. Please remember the mother who sacrificed a side project to spend more time with you. Please remember the mother who said “yes”whenever she could and “no” only when she absolutely had to. Please remember the mother who gave you her time instead of hoarding it for her own selfish use. Please remember the mother who held you tight when you were sad and whose daily goal was to make you belly laugh to the point of tears. Please remember the mother who welcomed yet another wet kiss even though you’d just eaten your third pickle. Please remember the mother who taught you the important things. Please remember a mother whose list of priorities always began with you.

Well, guess what? I was not that mom this week at all. I was recovering from the stomach flu and after being, erm, couch-ridden for a couple days I felt so behind on laundry and household duties that Milo slipped to the bottom of my priority list.

I ordered Chinese takeout for dinner that night (because, who has time to cook when there are about ten loads of puke laundry to do?). I felt like the fortune in my fortune cookie was mocking me a bit when I read these ironic words:

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Entertaining and delightful? I was anything BUT that day. I was grumpy and impatient. I was “too busy” to read to or play with my boy even though he was starving for some attention. I felt like a crap mom. The shame kicked in and while looking into Milo’s big brown eyes I thought, If this was, heaven forbid, my last day with you, would I be at peace with how we spent it?

The answer was a definite NO.

Motherhood is that kind of roller coaster. One minute you feel like this Olympic nurturer, and the next you feel like you’re dead last in the mom game.

How I wish I could give my child the best version of me every day. Maybe some mothers out there have it figured out? But I don’t. I’m too human, too imperfect, and usually just too…..tired.

So I’ve come to two conclusions.

  1. God, knowing He’d send these perfect little souls to such imperfect parents, must have instilled a great sense of forgiveness in them.
  2. I can’t be the absolute best version of me my every waking moment, but I can try to be that version of me more often.

If I can find the strength to be the best version more than the mediocre one, then maybe, just maybe, that is the mother my children will remember. Of all my responsibilities, is this not the one worth giving my all?

One of my heroes, Rachel Jankovic, said:

“Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.”

 

Dear Reader

 

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Dear Reader,

I can’t pretend to know what you are going through. I don’t know the details of your life, the silent pleadings of your heart, or the shattered dreams of your past. I don’t know what it is like to to face the things you face, to carry your daily load. I may not understand your grief or your heartache.

But I know someone who does.

As Elder Bednar so eloquently put it, “There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first. In a moment of weakness we may cry out, “No one knows what it is like. No one understands.” But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He has felt and borne our individual burdens. And because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice (see Alma 34:14), He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy. He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power. Indeed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.”

If you’re feeling alone in your suffering, may this be a reminder that you are not alone or abandoned. Christ is aware of you because He died for you. Whatever battle you are fighting in this very moment, He fought it first and He won! With His help and His grace and His love, you can too.

I’m so grateful for Jesus Christ. He is the answer to every problem and the prescription for any affliction. I love Him more than I can say. I know He loves YOU, dear reader.

Go forth and trust the Savior of the world.

Call upon Him.

Embrace Him.

Serve Him.

Remember Him.

 

Praying for you always,

Jessica

What I Learned from my 10-day Social Media Fast

During the Women’s Session of General Conference, our dear prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, challenged the women of the Church to participate in a 10-day social media fast.

I officially completed my fast, and I must say it was like a juice cleanse for my soul (not that I’ve ever actually done a juice cleanse in my life, but you get what I’m saying).

In his conference address, President Nelson said, “The effect of your 10-day fast may surprise you.”

I knew when he issued the challenge that I’d be blessed for participating, but I was surprised—surprised by how much Heavenly Father blessed me for it.

I learned a handful of important things:

I learned that my fingers have a mind of their own and tap the Instagram app almost automatically. (I had to delete the app from my phone so that I didn’t mindlessly and inadvertently open social media.)

I learned that I was wasting way too much time scrolling through pictures and posts of people I don’t know all that well.

I learned that I don’t need social media to keep in touch with the people who matter most to me.

I learned that I don’t need fancy vacations or a perfect house with white kitchen cabinets or 10,000 jumpsuits to be happy (although I am a huge fan of jumpsuits).

I learned that I miss the 90’s and the pre-Instagram/Facebook/Twitter era of my youth.

What I learned, though, doesn’t really compare to what I felt during my social media fast.

I felt PEACE. An elevated sense of peace. A life-changing peace. The type of peace I didn’t know I could feel while not in the temple or an inspiring church meeting. It was so refreshing to disengage from the world and political divisiveness and all those things that are just a waste of time. I felt the Spirit more consistently and more poignantly. Some of my most powerful spiritual moments and confirmations occurred during this fast.

I felt GRATITUDE. The Spirit blessed me with a heightened awareness of my many, many blessings. I wasn’t thinking about all the things I don’t have, but instead all of the things I do have that I don’t really deserve. I wasn’t making comparisons or envying so-and-so’s freshly microbladed brows. I wasn’t wasting time entering giveaways I knew I wouldn’t win for things I don’t need. My eyes were opened to the myriad blessings that God has been generous enough to grant. I felt lucky that everything and everyone I need is within my reach.

I felt PURPOSE. Because my mind wasn’t lost in cyberspace for embarrassing amounts of time, I was more deliberate about how I spent my day. I was more present for my husband and my son. I devoted time to family history work and ministering and revisiting the most recent General Conference Talks. My offerings were small, but I was blessed for simply trying.

I felt JOY. I felt so much joy because I felt close to my Savior, and that was definitely the paramount blessing from this social media fast. Eliminating unnecessary distractions from my life allowed me to focus more on Jesus Christ and His goodness. In just ten days my testimony of and love for Him has grown dramatically. 

I know President Nelson was inspired to issue this challenge. Throughout the past week and a half, my heart burned with additional confirmations that he is a prophet called of God. He closed his conference address by blessing us with the ability to “leave the world behind.” This is the only way to lasting peace, joy, and ultimately eternal exaltation. Count me in!

 

Lessons from a Sonogram

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I used to think phrases like “stop growing” or “time needs to stand still” were those obligatory statements thrown around by parents of babies and toddlers. Now, as I catch glimpses of my baby, who honestly looks like a mini teenager, I find myself thinking those exact cliches.

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I don’t recommend scrolling through your camera roll if you’re feeling this way because as much as I am loving this toddler phase, I felt a little nostalgic as I revisited pictures of Milo as a newborn. It made me a little baby hungry, in fact.

Now I know there’s never a “good” time to get sick, but the thought of another hellacious pregnancy at this time in my life seems especially overwhelming.

With Milo, the morning sickness was cruel. I remember throwing up an average of fifteen times a day for several weeks. I couldn’t eat. I was dehydrated. I felt so weak that even holding a book in my hands made me shaky.

If you’re one of those people who “loves being pregnant” don’t tell me because I might punch you in the face. No, I’m kidding…but seriously, don’t tell me.

I recognize that I am so, so lucky to have gotten pregnant when so many, including some very close to me, struggle with infertility. But I’m not exaggerating when I say there were days I thought I might literally die.

On top of the morning sickness, I got a really bad infection early on in my pregnancy.

My doctor prescribed an antibiotic, but it seemed to do more harm than good. He concluded that I’d had an allergic reaction to it, and I went in for an emergency visit.

I wasn’t expecting to do an ultrasound that day, but my doctor figured What the heck?! I was there already and my first scheduled ultrasound was only a week away anyway.  Before the ultrasound, he looked at me and said, “You know, they’ve conducted studies about ultrasounds and morning sickness. Women who see their baby for the first time have reported a significant decrease in nausea in the days that follow.”

I was beyond excited to see my baby, but I felt cynical about that “fact.”

When I saw those wiggling limbs and that tiny profile shot on the monitor, I melted. Motherhood became real to me then. There really was something in there—someone—and that little person was mine.

I’ll never forget how I felt that day. That image of my baby literally showed me that there was a grand purpose to all of my suffering. The end result of a long 40 weeks would be human life!

I left that doctor’s appointment with a renewed sense of optimism. I immediately hung the sonogram on my fridge, and it served as a tangible reminder that all the puking and fatigue and discomfort would be worth it. It was like a blueprint of a future joy.  

And guess what? My doctor was right. I really did start to feel a little better after that first ultrasound.

Throughout my pregnancy, I’d often think about how nice it would be to have a “sonogram” so to speak for every trial we face—-some image or glimpse into the future that would shed light on our current suffering. I’d be a lot more patient and accepting of my hardships if I could just know the “why” behind the strife and how I would be blessed in the end.

But I guess that’s where faith comes in.

We’re taught that after much tribulation come the blessings. That is reassuring and hopeful.

I wonder, though, is it so outrageous to ask God for some spoilers? Am I lacking in faith if I plead for a figurative sonogram regarding my trials?

Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!”

Sometimes I think we need to be content with answers like Just trust me or everything will work out in the end, but I also think there are times when it is appropriate to ask God for “eyes to see” what sacred blessings our current trials will yield.

I acted on this thought just a few months ago when I felt like misery was swallowing me up. I couldn’t understand how the trial I faced would ever work out for my good, and frankly, I thought it would destroy me.

I remember kneeling on the bathroom floor with swollen eyes, pleading for some understanding about my suffering. I boldly asked my Heavenly Father to just let me see why this trial was happening and where it would lead if I endured it well.

I felt so acutely aware that He loved me then and that a happy future was in store. That comfort eased my “spiritual nausea” the same way that my first ultrasound lessened my morning sickness.

The revelation didn’t stop there. The Spirit communicated some very clear answers after that night. God unrolled the blueprints “line upon line” until I refused to abandon my faith and trust in Him.

When we suffer so deeply and so intensely, it’s easy to feel like God has unrealistic expectations of us. But He doesn’t expect us to do it alone. Christ will take our hand and lead us from point A (the trial) to point Z (the blessing) with grace and compassion and empathy until that metaphorical sonogram becomes our reality.

I think we’d also do well to remember that the most magnificent blessings in life often come after a lot of grief and anger and frustration and waiting. They often come after much sorrow and self-pity, and tears—sometimes endless tears. But when they do come, they come gloriously.

No matter how Heavenly Father chooses to intervene or how vivid the revelation, we can embrace our Savior and know that that these words of the beloved President Monson ring true:

“The future is as bright as your faith.”

Life: A Great Balancing Act

F1B27AA3-27AD-4B3A-834E-6F75F14B45B5I witnessed a pretty impressive multi-tasking effort the other day.

This teenage boy was skateboarding, walking his massive dog, AND talking on the phone all at the same time.

The over zealous Golden Retriever was practically dragging the kid like a scene from a movie, with the skateboard wobbling violently and the phone nearly slipping out of his hand.

As he rolled on by, I couldn’t help but think that this was the perfect visual for how my life feels sometimes.

I find myself trying to tackle 7,493 tasks at once. I am a mother, a wife, an employee, a friend, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With each of those titles comes a million and one responsibilities. So I do my best to be the supportive wife and the fun mom and the hard-working employee and the reliable friend and the invested church member. And then, just when I think I can no longer keep my head above water, another responsibility is thrown into the rotation.

By then, I’m drowning.

At the end of the day, there are a million things on my to-do list left unchecked and a handful of half finished projects reminding me that I fell way short. Life can be demanding, and as I’ve been thinking about achieving greater balance in my life, I’ve started to wonder if balance is an achievable feat at all.

A tiny little moment helped me redefine my definition of success. And now, I like to think less about my clumsy attempt to obtain balance and more about prioritizing.

So here’s the skinny:

I hadn’t done laundry in a week, and the giant grass stain on the knee of my jeans was a blatant reminder of that. I got to work piling as many darks into the washing machine. When a pair of little hands waved a book and said, “Read, mom,” I responded with, “Okay, just give me one minute!”

Then time stopped the way it does when God wants to have a teaching moment with you, and I heard these words in my mind:

Stop. Read the book. Show him he is the most important thing in your life.

I couldn’t not listen when the prompting was so undeniably clear. I dropped what I was doing and scooped Milo up in my arms, and we read not one book, but 1,000 books (or so it felt like it).

Was it worth it? The little arms wrapped around my neck and the very wet, uninhibited kiss after we’d read proved it was 100% worth the tiny sacrifice I made.

I feel like God continually reminds me to put people before tasks. After all, that is the disciple’s way. That is Christ’s way.

I like these words from Elder Uchtdorf:

“I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished.

“I can’t see it.

“Instead I see the compassionate and caring Son of God purposefully living each day. When He interacted with those around Him, they felt important and loved. He knew the infinite value of the people He met. He blessed them, ministered to them. He lifted them up, healed them. He gave them the precious gift of His time.”

Instead of asking myself how I will achieve x, y, and z, I need to ask myself What’s the most important thing I can be doing in this very moment?

The most important thing to me will always be the people I love.

“They that Be with Us are More”

This is something that has been on my mind for a while now, but I just haven’t known how to put it all into words. I feel like it’s important, so I’m going to do my best to articulate the craziness that is my brain.

Life can feel overwhelmingly discouraging. I feel safe inside my little world, but beyond my bubble there is severe political unrest, women and children who are victims of sex trafficking, countries at war, murder, drug abuse, pornography, daily tragedies that make the news, and countless diabolical plots-in-the-making. Sometimes the world just feels so…dark.  

Striking a healthy balance between being informed about current events, but also maintaining my faith in humanity feels, well, impossible.

To add to that, those voices that oppose the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aren’t getting quieter; they are louder than ever. I can’t even get on the internet these days without feeling bombarded by such voices that criticize, mock, and belittle the core of my beliefs.

And you know what? It really bothers me. It bothers me that those who haven’t honestly researched the doctrines of the Gospel in the right places (The Book of Mormon, LDS.org, etc.) feel they have the right to declare it false. It bothers me that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often get accused of being closed-minded, when our adversaries are too close-minded to really listen to what we have to say. It bothers me that some who have left the Church for whatever reason have made it their life mission to likewise draw as many away from the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. It bothers me that anti-Mormon literature is so ignorantly read and valued as truth. It bothers me that stereotypes are assigned to members of the Church with no regard to diversity that exists within this great organization. It bothers me that our missionaries are sometimes treated like they aren’t even human. It bothers me that our prophet can be regarded as anything but charitable and accepting. It even bothers me that all this bothers me at all!

There’s just this constant opposing force, and unfortunately, it’s not going away. In fact, it’s only going to get worse.

This seems to be going in a pretty dismal direction, huh? Don’t worry, here comes the hopeful part…..

My mom teaches Gospel Doctrine and she recently taught about the prophet Elisha and his terrified servant. They were surrounded by the entire Syrian army. Can you imagine more depressing odds?

That young servant of Elisha’s felt understandably terrified. He cried out as he digested the number of soldiers they were up against, wondering what on earth they were going to do.

To his frightened and discouraged servant, Elisha responded, “Fear not:  for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16).

Then He prayed that the Lord might open his servant’s eyes “that he may see.”

As the scriptures say, “the Lord opened the eyes of the young man;
 and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about
 Elisha (2 Kings 6:17).

That terrified servant beheld the divine means of support and protection. He literally saw this grand heavenly army that would save him and the dear prophet.    

This story is a good reminder that we are likewise supported and protected as we face our own modern-day “Syrian armies.”

Sister Sharon G. Larsen said, “When we are on the Lord’s side, regardless of numbers or worldly power, we are in the majority.”

So to anyone who feels helpless in this ongoing war against evil, to anyone who feels their testimony is too vulnerable to withstand the opposing voices, just remember:  “They that be with us are more than they that be with them.”

The armies of heaven are truly with us every single day. Angels on both sides of the veil run to our rescue. Because of that, we can feel hopeful instead of helpless.

I’ve been praying for my own eyes to be opened so that I, like Elisha’s servant, can truly “see” my heavenly advocates.

Let me end with this:  The Gospel is true, Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World, and God always wins.  

Said God, “I have Something Better for You.”

I once heard the profound thought that God answers our prayers in one of three ways:

  1. Yes.
  2. Not right now.
  3. I have something better for you.

When we pray and beg and plead for the deepest longings of our hearts, we just want a solid “yes” from above. It’s hard to recognize #3–I have something better for you—as an actual answer in the moment because it doesn’t feel like an answer at all; it feels like a disappointment.

We can usually only recognize this type of answer in retrospect.

One of the most monumental blessings I have ever received began as a monumental disappointment.

To share this disappointment-turned-miracle, I must take you back to the not-so-glamorous classroom setting of my high school nutrition class.  

I sat a few seats behind a very attractive, Greek god-esque, quiet and mysterious and heart-throbbingly intelligent boy by the name of Brad. During our joint high school experience, we had a total of one class together, one real instance of eye contact, and one conversation.

It was about potassium. I’ll remember it always.

So while daily interactions did not transpire, I did stare at the back of Brad’s head for an entire trimester. I guess that thick head of dark hair was enough to convince me that someday I would very much like to marry him.

This is the closest thing I could find to the high school version of the back of Brad’s head. See what I mean about the Greek god thing? 

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High school graduation took us on separate paths, and they didn’t cross again until six years later.

I was wrapping up my student teaching experience, figuratively sprinting toward the finish line actually, because I was beyond ready to be a real teacher. It just so happened that the school where I did my internship was hiring, and I felt I was the perfect candidate.

I knew that school inside and out. I’d walked those halls for months, tutored those kids, interacted with the administration. I was well-versed in the district curriculum, I understood the school policies, I knew the faculty. How could they not give me the job?

*SPOILER ALERT:  I didn’t get the job.

I was confused and crushed and even a bit hysterical. I locked myself in my room and questioned God and asked why and cried tears of the Amazon rainfall intensity. Not only was I denied my dream job (I know, I’m quite dramatic sometimes), but I felt suddenly insecure about my performance as a teacher, or at the very least, my effectiveness as an interviewee.

After about 72 hours straight of feeling sorry for myself, I decided I needed to take some action. I needed to get my life on some alternate course and do something.

Handsome pants Brad was on my mind because I had run into his friends a week earlier at a grocery store of all places, and they mentioned in our quick chat that Brad was their roommate.

I also had this Cafe Rio gift card. It was given to me as a graduation gift, but it came with a challenge scribbled on the accompanying note:  “Find a nice boy to help you use this.”

So I did the only real BOLD thing I’ve ever done and I asked Brad out. The message I sent went as follows:

“Brad, I ran into your roommates the other day. It got me thinking about how I haven’t seen lots of cool people since high school…including you. And let me just preface this by saying that I NEVER do stuff like this. Like, ever.

“I recently received a gift card to Cafe Rio for graduation. It came with a challenge:  Find a nice boy to help me use it. So I pick you.

“Because this is totally out of the blue, I’ve provided some simple options for you to choose from.

“Option 1: ignore this message. I’ll totally understand.

“Option 2: Reject my offer and I’ll move on with my life.

“Option 3: Meet me at Cafe Rio so we can order $30 worth of food and discuss all that post high school life has offered us.

“Talk to you soon . . . Maybe . . . . . “

 

I’ll be forever grateful he picked option 3!

We sat at that table in a nearly deserted Cafe Rio for five hours. He told me his life story, and I told him mine. He described that one time he ate 13 mangoes all at once and I confessed my insecurity over my alarmingly long toes. We talked about the Gospel and what we wanted in life and our families and everything from Tom Petty to joshua trees. While I can’t necessarily claim I loved him on that first date, I knew I was going to fall in love with him.

And I did. Like lightning-speed fast.

In hindsight, I am overwhelmingly grateful I didn’t get that first teaching job for which I applied. I’m not sure what would have happened if I did.

Would I have been too content to even desire to be in a relationship at that time? Would I have hit rock bottom in an alternate way, enough so to finally act on my feelings for Brad? I simply don’t know. But this I do know:  

That initial disappointment became the catalyst to my own personal happiness, to the literal fulfillment of my ultimate dream.

Sometimes life can feel like a series of disappointments that happen upon our life haphazardly with no purpose, but let us remember these words from Steve Jobs: “You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.”

That means that we have to TRUST. Heavenly Father sees the whole picture, and He can orchestrate something beautiful that will lead to unimaginable happiness.

He really did have something better for me and that something—that someone—was Brad.

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I am so unapologetically in love with this man. Our marriage isn’t perfect, but I believe we’re perfect for each other. He is patient and understanding and kind and every other noble adjective I can summon. He strives each day to make me happy.

And happy I am. I’m thankful for an all-knowing Father in Heaven who didn’t give me exactly what I thought I wanted. I’m eternally grateful for my #3, that He had something better for me in mind.