It's been an emotional few weeks in many areas of my life and my heart is feeling a bit tender. I know so many people who are struggling right now--struggling with money or relationships or faith. Struggling with addictions or depression or any number of other burdens--seen or unseen. I'm tired of the acrimonious debates around--not between candidates, but between regular people who ought to know and be better.
The longer I live and the more deeply I feel God's presence in my life, the more I realize that he is, above all, loving and generous.
I don't think he's wishy-washy or apathetic. I think he loves us enough to want us to be our best. I also think he's demanding and that he is mighty. He is not created in our image--we our in his and he expects certain things of us.
But that being said, I am confident above all that he loves us. Deeply and eternally, more powerfully than the most affectionate mortal parent has ever loved a child.
And while I believe he is demanding, he is not petty or capricious. And he is unfailingly generous.
I believe that God is a loving father. A perfect, eternal, being who's entire raison d'etre, who's entire work and glory is bringing about the eternal welfare and happiness of his children.
I wish all of us could be kinder and more loving to each other--especially to those with whom we disagree.
Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of our faith taught it this way:
“While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ [Matthew 5:45.]” (source).
We are so ungenerous with each other. We are suspicious of motives and judgmental of actions. We do with each other exactly the opposite of what we hope for ourselves: we look at actions with the harshest of interpretations and from that judgment, we infer motives.
We judge ourselves on our intentions and what we hoped to do, but we judge others on what they have done and what we assume they meant.
We affix each other with labels that reduce the humanity and dignity and value of other people. Liberal. Conservative. This. That. All of these are shorthand for, "I don't have to consider you as a person, as my brother or sister. Because you are different, I can discount what you say and feel."
If we were generous like God, we would assume most people meant well even when they did badly. We would assume that things they said might not reflect the person inside. We would hesitate before judging them. We would love them in spite of disagreeing with them.
Love doesn't mean "agree" or "endorse". Being generous doesn't mean endorsing a person's actions and beliefs.
But can we not just be kind? Can we not presume good faith? Must every disagreement between us become a skirmish between Good and Evil? Must every difference be proof of the absolute idiocy or knavery of our opponents?
I am convinced that there is very little that I know as much as I think I know it. Time and experience have softened or changed many social and political opinions I had earlier.
The one thing I've learned, one thing I know, is that God loves us all much more than we comprehend. That he is always far kinder and more generous than we are.
One of my favorite verses of scripture is unique to Mormons. It reads:
"Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used..." (D&C 59: 18-20 source)
To me this defines generosity. I love that I worship a God that made beautiful things to please our eyes and gladden our hearts--things with no other utility than to make us happy. And I love it even more that doing that makes him happy--he made beautiful things and it pleased him to do so. Regardless of how we act or if we thank him or anything. That is love and generosity and I wish we could all show a little more of it to each other. Especially when we deserve it least.
Okay, this isn't a showtune. But I don't have a category for just cool songs. We're working on this song in one of my classes. I always feel so happy and uplifted whenever we work on it. I thought I'd pass it on.
Are you all a little tired of The Road Show yet? It's ok, you can be honest. I will admit I'm a little tired of it! I love it and am happy with it and hope it does very well. And, I'm sure I'll be blogging more about it in days to come. But how about we change the subject today?
I do apologize for being behind on my reading of all your blogs. It's been a youth trip to Palmyra, then a youth conference and work stuff and Road Show stuff, so I'm a bit behind. I'll get caught up, though.
For a few months now, I went back to reading the four gospels in the New Testament. I felt myself wanting to reconnect to the Savior. I wanted to refresh my understanding of His life and ministry. I want to be able to follow His example--and to do that, His example needs to be fresh and clear in my mind.
It has been a wonderful experience, a reminder of things I've learned before, and a chance to learn things I had not considered. I've decided all start blogging about some of the thoughts I've had because, well, because I want to and this is my blog. A lot of the things I've noticed this time have to do with discipleship--what it is and how it seems to work. I've noticed some patterns that seem common in the experiences of all that came to Christ then. I think they are still in place for those who come to Him today.
When I opened up to the first page of the Book of Matthew a few months ago, I was overwhelmed by a sweet and profound peace. The strength and comprehensiveness of this peace overwhelmed me. It was like I was returning to a special place, a safe place, a place I knew well. The Book of Mormon uses a phrase I like, "encircled...in the arms of his love." (2 Nephi 1:15). That was how I felt that night.
My spirit bathed in the warmth and love and peace that flowed from my reading that night and when I was finished, i went to sleep, feeling exactly like a small child wrapped in his father's loving embrace.
It's not that the scriptures in the opening of Matthew are so beautiful or powerful that they stirred my spirit. To the contrary--it's 17 verses of "begats". But that was when I felt this love and peace.
It is a little like passing through a very plain front porch and entryway into a home where your parents or grandparents live--a warm and cozy place you feel safe and loved.
But beyond that, I think it was the Holy Spirit saying, "Yes, this is where you should be tonight," validating my attempt to reconnect and renew my acquaintance with my Master.
This was kind of a busy weekend. Lots of drama. One of the most painful parts of my job, the thing about it that I hate, is casting the play. It is brutally hard for me to have to disappoint so many children, all of whom are anxiously harboring hopes that they will get "THE role."
It is hard to begin with and compounded by the fact that I have been an actor, so I know how much it hurts. I don't enjoy knowing I am hurting them.
Yes, it's a good life lesson, yes, it's something they need to learn, yes to all of those things. It's still hard. And I don't like it.
It was far more difficult than usual this time around. Call-backs for Fiddler on the Roof were Friday. Call-backs are sort of like the whole season of American Idol crammed into one long afternoon/evening. At the end, there are two or three finalists left. Then, I excuse them and go home and make my decisions.
I've done this for over 20 years, so the actual deciding is not usually that hard--it's generally very clear who is best suited for the roles.
This year the finalists for one of the leads were my daughter and one of her close friends.
I wanted my daughter to get the part. I hoped she would get the part. But she had to earn it on her own merits. I treated her fairly--she had no disadvantage or advantage. If she had been best for the role, I would have cast her and not blinked.
But she wasn't. She is good--very talented and promising. But she just didn't fit this particular role as well as her friend.
Saturday was a bit rough at our house. But good in the longish view. These kind of lessons are very important. I felt sorry and sad to see my daughter struggling--it hurt more than I can describe. But I knew it was necessary for her to have this kind of experience. I love her but allowed her to have a difficult, heart-wrenching experience. I think I learned a little more about the nature of God.
So that was my weekend. And Sunday was crazy busy as well.
The good news is that Sherrie recorded our song on Friday. So, that will be available soon. I'm so excited about that. She is very talented and you will definitely want to hear this song. There will be a short version on the book trailer and think I'll post a short clip here and then, if you are interested, you can download it or order a cd.
Sherrie was a hero because we found out at the last minute that we couldn't use elements of "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," which she had masterfully woven into the accompaniment. So, with 48 hours to record, she had to rewrite it. Thanks, Sherrie.
After school today, I taught some voice lessons. I do this almost every day of the week. It's a helpful supplement to our family income and it's an enjoyable chance to work with a student in a more focused way than I am able to when I am teaching a class.
One of my students today was so excited because a friend had taught her how to play "Heart and Soul" on the piano. She wanted to show me and while I watched her, I noticed the look of sheer delight and joy on her face. She sincerely found great joy in what she was doing.
That's one of the reasons I teach--because I like to see those moments when the joy of understanding or comprehension flashes on a face.
Learning, especially in the areas I teach, should be joyful. It should be exciting.
Here's the paradox, though, and the great dilemma. True joy comes only when something has been mastered or understood. And this understanding comes only after practice and work. This often requires nagging and reminding and disciplining. If I let my students do only what they want, they will experience a lot of mediocrity, but no real joy.
So, for my students to experience the joy, I have to be strict with them sometimes. I have to push them and coax them and correct them. Sometimes this seems to take the joy out of it.
As a teacher, then I face these questions: how do I balance rigor and joy? Strictness and fun? Discovery and exploration with practice and precision? These are especially relevant when dealing with middle school students.
It's the same for parents, I think. I don't claim that these thoughts are original or novel. Just what I'm thinking about at the moment.
Are there larger implications here? Something this might tell us about the nature of God and why He does some of the things He does?
I only write on evenings and weekends. My real job (the one that pays the bills) is teaching middle school choir and theatre. I know, I know. “Theatre director” is not what most people think of when they hear “real job.”
But in my case it’s true. I work at a wonderful, private, K-8 school. Last week was our big show--Annie. Truthfully, I’ve never really liked the play (at least after my crush on the girl from the 198whatever movie passed). But I decided to do it for several reasons, none of which I will bore you with.
The performance was last weekend, and notwithstanding the weakness of the script, it was quite good (I'm being objective, here). Beyond that, I had one of the most enjoyable experiences of my 23 year career. That was largely because of the amazing kids. We’re a K-8 school, so the 8th graders assume the status of seniors. They are the functional leaders of the school and I have learned that there is not much I can do to counter the tone that they set in the play.
Happily, this year’s crew of 8th graders was a large group of incredibly sweet kids. There’s really not another term for it. They were just very sweet kids. Another teacher compared them to a whole class of Golden retriever pups—big, excited, affectionate, enthusiastic, energetic, and a bit sloppy. They have made my year wonderful and I very fond of them. That's them above (and yes, I secured their parents' permission to post this photo).
The fact is, I love them dearly. I think about them, worry about them, pray for them, and hope the best for them. I have encouraged, disciplined, motivated, pushed, and prodded them now since they entered middle school three years ago. They have occupied a substantial amount of my time for those three years and they now occupy a proportionate place in my heart. I can’t express the depth of my affection for these kids.
I realize as I write this that I might sound silly or sentimental. But it’s true. I love these kids. But not because they’re perfect.
To the contrary.
This photo is far more reflective of reality. They goof off frequently and have a hard time focusing more often than not. They often talk instead of listening, and burst out in laughter at inappropriate times. They are immature in many ways. They smell bad sometimes. They forget things I’ve told them a hundred times. They misplace critical props, lose costume pieces, and occasionally forget important cues. Their actions have often made my life more complicated and sometimes very frustrating.
In other words—they are 13 and 14 and they act like it. They may look like small adults, but while they might look like adults physically, they are as far away from emotional maturity as Spring Break is from Christmas vacation (in middle school time, that is dog years).
So why do I love them so much? Well, I think I love them because they are 13 and 14.
I love their quirks and foibles. I love watching them struggling to master all the crazy things they have to deal with--socially, emotionally, academically, theatrically--in their very topsy-turvy adolescent worlds. When they do get something right, it's incredibly exciting. When they don't, I'm rooting for them anyway.
Their quirks usually make me laugh--a warm, sympathetic, I-remember-what-it's like-laugh. When I do get irritated, their sincere contrition, high-fives or hugs, and sad puppy-dog faces melt my heart. Ultimately, I expect them to be quirky 13 year olds. Anything else is just icing on the cake.
My affection for them is also supported by the fact that they get the big things right. They are kind to each other and are respectful of me. They follow the big rules I’ve established (memorizing their lines, coming to rehearsal, etc.).
I’ve been thinking about this. Are 8th graders to adults as mortals are to our Father in Heaven?
Perhaps we look a little bit like Him, but we, too, are light years away from his level of progression and maturity. Does He love us in spite—possibly even because of—our quirks and foibles? Does He smile the same way I do when one of them does something that seems incredibly stupid to an adult, but seems perfectly appropriate to them?
Do my sincere apologies after thoughtless, but not malicious, choices melt His heart and warm His soul? Does He, at some level love me because--not in spite of--my flawed humanity? If I basically get the big stuff right does that enable His abiding love for me to work together with my basically good intentions?
I don’t know for sure, but deep down I have a feeling. And it gives me a lot of hope.
My latest release:
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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