Family-centered Valentine’s Activity Calendar

If you have followed my Christ-centered Thanksgiving and Christmas activity posts then I hope you love this one as well.  I wanted to put together activities last year to make Valentine’s day more meaningful, but then my Grandma died and life got crazy and I didn’t have a chance to get to it.  This year I started early, because February is actually going to be crazier this time around with a wedding and a baby blessing, but those have been planned with ample notice, whereas funerals just happen when they need to happen.

As I was thinking through incorporating the wedding and the baby blessing into the calendar, lines from the Family: A Proclamation to the World kept coming to mind.  Initially I put it out of my mind and thought it wasn’t really related to Valentine’s day, and then it hit me that if I want to make Valentine’s Day meaningful then really Valentine’s Day is ALL about the family and the teachings in the Proclamation.

Obviously some of our bigger activities are not universal (unless you also have a family member getting married in February and another family member who recently had a baby, in which case we should be friends!), so I’ve tried to include a few ideas for alternate or extra activities that go along with the same theme.  And if you are a member of another faith, I’m sure you can still incorporate these ideas based on your beliefs, and I think you will find more similarities than differences in the beliefs outlined in the Proclamation on the family.

  1.  I love to see the temple- walk around the temple (or if you live too far away look at pictures) and explain it’s importance.
  2. THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan… The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.” Wedding time!
    • If you don’t have a wedding to go to this month, or even if you do, you could pull out wedding albums, pictures, that wedding DVD you watched like once, and any other mementos from your wedding and show them to your kids.  Talk to them about your wedding day and how special it was.
  3. “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” Baby blessing time!
    • Pull out baby pictures and any mementos from when your kids were blessed (or Christened).  Tell them about their blessing and how much of a blessing it is to have them in your life.
  4. Learn the song Love One Another, Children’s Song Book pg. 136.  Including the sign language could be really fun.  This is a really great activity to throw in on a day you know will be very busy.
  5. HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ” Trade off date nights with the kids.  Obviously this is going to look different for each family depending on the number of kids, but for us we’ll do this over two nights, I’ll take one kid and my husband will take the other and then the next night we’ll switch.  Go as simple or as big as your budget and your calendar allow.  Maybe it’s just a walk or ice cream (or a walk to ice cream so it cancels out!) or maybe it’s bigger like a performance or game.  The biggest thing is that it’s dedicated time to them and their interests.
  6.  See above (and if you’re family is big enough you could just do one on ones the rest of the time until Valentine’s day and ignore the rest of the list!)
  7. We love our cousins!  We’ll be blessed to have cousins visiting so we’ll party hard with them, but if cousins aren’t available you could make Valentine’s to mail to them.
  8. We love our grandparents!  Make Valentine’s for grandparents
  9. “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” Do a wholesome recreational activity as a family.  For us this will probably be the Renaissance Festival.
  10. Heavenly Father loves us so he gave us a Prophet.  In Arizona we will have a special fireside with President Nelson and President Oaks this day.
    • If you’re not in AZ you could talk about going to church to take the sacrament and read John 3:16.
  11. Make a fun heart craft
  12. “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” Focus on compassion, do some kind of service project.  We will probably take a meal to a refugee family through Gathering Humanity.
  13. Make Valentine’s for friends and classmates (and by make, I mean write their names on little store bought cards, but if you’re crafty and into really making cute Valentine’s for everyone then POWER to you!)
  14. Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself- take treats to neighbors.  We started this a few years ago and our neighbors LOVE it.  Christmas time always gets so busy and we always end up getting sick so I decided to stop pretending like I was going to take around Christmas treats and now we just do Valentine’s day treats.  It’s way better than hunting down a babysitter and trying to get in to an overcrowded restaurant.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope this helps you make the time very meaningful for your family!

Come Follow Me Family Home Evening for little ones- Jan 2019

Can I just say how excited I am for this Come Follow Me curriculum.  There’s a lot of reasons:

  • studying the same material across age groups
  • home focus- which goes right along with some of my feelings about deliberate parenting
  • multi-modal learning- it’s making my educator heart sing
  • lots of opportunities to use my laminator- also making my teacher heart happy 🙂
  • FHE whenever works best for your family (which relieved all of the guilt I have had about having community choir on Monday nights!)
  • Family Home Evening ideas!

I keep thinking I should film the craziness that is Family Home Evening at our house but my 4-year-old is typically in his underwear and I’m not going to put that out there for the internet.  It’s kind of a circus and I’ll admit that I have gotten to the point of yelling, and threatening, and time out.  I’ve been better recently about keeping my patience and the kids have been a tiny bit better about listening.  One of the things I noticed was that they could smell fear and lack of preparation; the weeks where we were just throwing something together went really badly.  The past few months we started just using the Behold Your Little Ones manual, and that’s when I noticed that things started getting better and I think it has everything to do with my husband and I having a plan and being organized.

With the new curriculum I want to get even more organized and I figure if I take a day and get everything prepped for the coming month then we can have super low stress family home evenings after church on Sundays.  And if I’m already doing the work, I figured I’d share with others and hopefully make things a little easier for you as well.  So I’ll give you ideas for how to take what’s in the curriculum and make it work with little ones, and at the end of the post there’s a combined materials list for the whole month.

Dec. 31- Jan 6  We are Responsible for Our Own Learning

Prep Materials: plant, rocks, thorns/weeds, pot for planting, print/ laminate sower game

Song: Faith pg. 96

Lesson: Review the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13:1-23.  If you are a super overachiever you could plant seeds ahead of time in rocks, among weeds or thorns, and in good ground and compare how they have grown.  I’m not so good at the growing things from seeds thing, so I’ll probably just fill a cup with rocks, show the kids the weeds in the front yard (maybe pull some while we’re at it!), and buy a plant already growing in good soil.  We’ll compare how things grow in different types of soil and talk about needing to listen well at home and at church so we can learn about Jesus really well.  Then we’ll  dig a hole (a favorite activity for my kids), put our new plant in, water it, and get it some sunshine (but not too much!).

Activity: Sower game

 

Jan 7- 13 Be it Unto Me According to Thy Word

Prep Materials: Christ’s lineage print outs, Pictures of ancestors, optional names and titles for game

Song:  Family History- I Am Doing It pg. 94 (or go to the Family History Section in topics, there’s a surprising amount of songs in this category)

Lesson: Christ’s lineage is laid out.  Below you will find an attachment with His ENTIRE lineage, do with it as you please depending on your kids’ reading and comprehension level.  Then there are pictures that just have His most famous Ancestors.  I plan to print those out, laminate them, and turn them into ornaments.  I will do the same with pictures from our own family tree.  I’m just going to go ahead and leave our Christmas tree up until we get to this activity, but you could make a tree out of paper, or just do the activity on the floor.  We’ll first talk about Christ’s lineage and then put our own family tree together.

Christ’s Lineage Pictures

Christ’s Lineage (this is the entire lineage given in Luke 3 as a list, if your kids can read and have a decent attention span you may want to put the names in a bigger font and print them to put together as well)

Activity: Let the kids play with the print outs.  I am going to print out 2 sets of our ancestor pictures and Christ’s lineage pictures and play a simple memory game.  If your kids can read you may want to have them match the picture with the name and title (great grandma, great-great grandpa, etc.)

 

Jan 14-20 We Have Come to Worship Him

Prep Materials: Kid friendly nativity set

Song: Picture a Christmas pg. 50 or Nativity Song pg. 52

Lesson: Hopefully they remember a lot from having just gone over the story, it’s like Christmas Eve round 2!  Use a kid friendly nativity set, if you don’t have one, you might be able to find one on clearance right now, or, I just have this little printable set.  Put the characters (yes even the animals) in a bag and have the kids pull them out at random then talk about that character’s contribution to the story.  Then have the kids tell the story the best they can (probably good to have the camera ready!!)

Activity: Just let them play with the nativity!

 

Jan 21-27 We Have Found the Messiah

Prep Materials: Flashlights (with pictures of Jesus if you want), Objects to find (could be church related, could just be for fun)

Song: Teach Me to Walk in the Light pg. 177

Lesson: Explain that Jesus is the Light of the World.  Either make a room in your house really dark or wait until it’s dark outside.  Give the kids a flashlight (you could tape a picture of Christ to it to help with the visual), then send them on a scavenger hunt.  You could do church related things like a picture of the Prophet, scriptures, church clothes, etc. or just fun items, or a mixture.  The final item could be some sort of Celestial treat!

 

Jan 28- Feb 3 Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

Prep Materials: two mason jars, food coloring, water, bleach AND/OR a tea bag (with a string), a cup with water, a lighter

Song: When I am Baptized pg. 103

Lesson: You could do either of these object lessons or both to teach about baptism

#1- super simple and guaranteed to work.  Fill a mason jar with water, the other one with some bleach.  Talk about mistakes that we make and drop food coloring into the water with each mistake.  Then explain that when we are baptized our sins are washed away- dump the bleach in and the water will return to clear.

#2- sorta complicated, and sometimes it doesn’t work quite right- you should definitely do a practice run!  We used to do this on the mission a lot and would turn it into kind of a story and get really into it- until our mission president told us we had to stop playing with fire, I’m sure he didn’t expect to have that conversation with a set of sisters, but it’s really cool.

Take a tea bag (it can be any kind of herbal tea but the bag needs to be the kind that is folded in on itself with a staple and a string (as opposed to sealed around the edges) and preferably individually wrapped)

Tell the kids that the bag wants to get to heaven but it can’t.  Toss it up in the air a few times to show that it can’t get there.  It will need to go through some steps to get there.

1- It needs to have faith so first off it’s gotta leave the comfort of it’s wrapper (or box if they aren’t individually wrapped).

2- Now it’s out but it still can’t get there, put your finger on the string to “weigh it down.”  Explain that it’s going to need to let go of the things holding it back by repenting.  Take off the string.

3-  Toss it up and down again, see that it’s doing better now but still can’t make it to heaven.  Even though it repented and let go of the weight it still has some things that need to be washed away.  Carefully take out the staple and empty the contents into a cup of water and explain that baptism washes everything away (but do NOT get the bag itself wet!)  Now you should have a tube, carefully stand it on one end.

4- Explain that now it’s standing taller, it’s getting closer, but it still needs one more thing, the gift of the Holy Ghost.  Sometimes the scriptures call this the baptism by fire because fire also purifies.  Light the top end of the tea bag tube on fire and as it burns it should suddenly float into the air “up to heaven!”

Activity: Set up a washing station in the sink or bathtub with toys that are dirty.

 

Full materials list for the month

plant

rocks, thorns/weeds

pot for planting

Sower game

Pictures of ancestors

Names and titles for ancestor matching (optional)

Christ’s Lineage Pictures

Kid Friendly Nativity Set

Flashlights (with pictures of Jesus if you want)

Scavenger Hunt objects

2 mason jars

food coloring

water

bleach

AND/OR a tea bag (with a string)

cup with water

lighter

 

 

#LightTheWorld Countdown for Little Children

I am so excited about this year’s light the world campaign and the opportunity to combine it with our annual tradition of having a Christ-centered advent calendar.  My kids call them circle activities because we use muffin tins to create our calendar so they take a circle off each day to find out what our activity is.  I have been doing them for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter the past couple of years (hoping to add Valentine’s day this year!) in order to keep our celebration meaningful, deliberate, and focused on the Savior.

I’m by no means anti-Santa, I love Santa, we do Santa.  But, I have had to DO nothing in order for my 4 year old and 2 year old to learn about Santa. He’s everywhere- in fact he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…

However, I do have to be deliberate and intentional in making sure they learn the true meaning of this time of year.  It’s not all strictly “religious” but I make sure that we find ways to tie the “just for fun” things back to the Savior.

As I mentioned I love the #LightTheWorld campaign for this year especially.  This time it’s broken down by week:

1- Light the World (global focus)

2- Light your Community

3- Light your Family

4- Light your Faith

As I sat down to start brainstorming our calendar I struggled a little to figure out how we could make sure the kids were actually involved in and understanding global service.  I reached out to friends for help and got some great ideas to incorporate into our calendar.  A really cool idea that didn’t make it on the calendar is the Light the World vending machine.  There is one in Gilbert by the water tower (also one at Temple Square in Salt Lake, Manhattan, London, and Manila- and if you can’t get to any of those there is a way to donate online at that hyper link).  This is a vending machine for charities- you choose to donate a pair of glasses, or a chicken, or clean water, etc!

Additionally- we’ll be kicking off our celebration before the calendar actually starts, I could just add it but it would throw off the perfect 24 spaces on the calendar and that might make my slightly obsessive brain explode.  But, we’ll be attending a local Live Nativity on November 30th at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.  It runs the 30th-1st.  There is also the Walk through Bethlehem in Chandler that sounds amazing but as I looked at our crazy calendar for the month I realized I needed to pair down a little and the time and distance on that was going to be a little too much for us this year.  That one runs the 14th-16th.

I’ve had a lot of fun thinking through how to incorporate these ideas for my little ones, and I really hope this helps others find ways to serve and make this season meaningful no matter the ages of your children or if we belong to different faiths- together we can Light the World!

 

1- Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad!”- We’ll be attending a Christmas party- this is an example of how I incorporate a “just for fun” event and still make it meaningful.  This day has also been set aside as a Day of Service.  We will be bringing food and toy donations to the party as our service for the day.

Week 1- World

2- Jesus speaks to the world through His prophet- watch the Christmas Devotional

3- Missionaries are sent around the world to share the gospel- color pictures to mail to a missionary in a foreign country

4- Refugees have had to leave their homes in other parts of the world and come here to be safe.  Take a meal or other donations for refugee families.  If you’re in AZ then Gathering Humanity is an amazing organization!

5- Jesus created the world- Decorate the Christmas tree and talk about the days of the Creation

6- Jesus is the Light of the World- go to a light display (probably Glendale Glitters for us)

7- We believe in a God of miracles for the whole world.  Tell the Hanukkah story.  I’ve purchased this children’s book which tells the story and has beautiful illustrations.  I include Hanukkah each year for my kids because one of my best friends is Jewish and while we won’t be able to celebrate together this year, I have cherished memories of lighting the menorah with her growing up.  Also, I want my children to know and understand that God loves ALL of His children and provides them with miracles even if they believe differently than we do.  This also fits in so well with the global focus, no coincidence that Hanukkah lined up with week 1 this year, amIright??!

8- Asylum seekers come from different parts of the world and arrive here with nothing hoping to find safety.  Make and donate a backpack asylee kit.  We will have the kids pick the backpack and stuff it with the necessary items (my 2 year old LOVES backpacks right now so this will be a good way to get her involved).  We will be partnering with Gathering Humanity again for this one.  And special thanks to my cousin for guiding me to this idea!

Week 2- Community

9- Donate to the Humanitarian/ Fast offering fund.  We typically just do this online, but in order to get the kids involved we are going to go old school and use the paper slip and envelope and actual cash then have the kids hand it to the Bishop.

10- Angel craft

11- Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Make little ornaments and take them to our neighbors

12- Nativity Craft- I bought a cute little foam kit at Hobby Lobby.  They have a few different ones depending on your kids skill level (and your capability for handling messes!)

13- Take toy and clothes donations to Maggie’s Place.  One of our Thanksgiving activities was to clean up and clean out the playroom- this is where those will be going.

14- Jesus was born in a stable- go to a petting zoo to see the types of animals that might have been there.  We will be heading over to Superstition Farm.  This might seem silly, but we have done this a few years in a row now and the kids LOVE it.  Two years ago my son ran around the petting zoo yelling, “Jesus, where are you!”  Apparently when I told him we would see animals like the ones that were there when Jesus was born, he figured we would also see baby Jesus.  Last year we went after we saw The Star and they started calling all of the animals the names from the movie.

15- Jesus healed the sick- take treats to the NICU.  Our daughter was a NICU baby so we make sure and take treats to current NICU parents this time of year.  Be aware if you decide on a NICU for service it is best to call ahead and you really will just drop off the treats with the desk.  Small children will most likely not be allowed into the NICU.   We walk to the door together as a family and then my husband takes the kids to a nursery viewing window while I take the treats in to the actual NICU.

Week 3- Family

16- Jesus said, “Ye shall meet together oft.”  Church!  It might seem like cheating because we do this every week anyway, but I call it being creative with my resources.  Also, I think it’s good to periodically talk about WHY we go to church.

17- Light your family- Make little gifts for Grandparents

18- Cards for cousins

19- Jesus asked us to pray together as families- have family prayer and review how to pray

20- Gingerbread Stables

21- Family Movie Night- The Nativity (8 minutes- live action) Christmas Story videos (more very short videos telling the story) Joy to the World (about 45 min total), and we’ll probably do a VeggieTales or The Star

22- Make memories with Family- activity with extended family and open presents with them

Week 4- Light Your Faith

23- Sing Choirs of Angels- sing Christmas songs at church and with our opera singing relatives coming into town!  My husband’s brother is engaged and we will finally get to meet his fiancee this day!  Their common interest in opera brought them together!

24- Bethlehem dinner- I make lamb and other foods similar to what they would have eaten at that time in Bethlehem.  I’m hoping this year to eat it by light of a candle from that era as well.  Then we’ll read the story from Luke 2 and hopefully have the kids act it out!

 

Merry Christmas!!!  I hope this has given you some good ideas to incorporate in your own family’s celebration!

Thanksgiving Activity List

It’s that time of year again! Time for another round of holiday circle activities!  A lot of these are similar to last year where I also gave an in depth explanation of why and how I do this.  But to sum up I make a calendar using muffin tins and have an activity each day for my 2 and 4 year old kids.  This helps make our holiday prep and observance more deliberate and meaningful and to prevent going straight from asking for candy to asking for presents and forgetting to be thankful in between.

IMG_20161031_151857448

I live in Phoenix, so the outings are naturally Phoenix based, but they are pretty easily adaptable to wherever you live.  And if you do live in the Phoenix area then I would LOVE to have you join us on any of our outings.

Thanksgiving Activities 2018!

  1. The Pilgrims came to America in a boat called the Mayflower- I think I’m going to be brave and try to fold boats out of paper this year- but if I chicken out or if you’re just not that brave either then just use a bath toy.  We have a water table so we’ll float a boat in that on the back porch, but it’s also fun in the bathtub, sink, or a large tupperware.
  2. Hand turkeys
  3. Pilgrim coloring page (I’ll be at Time out for Women so this will be an easy no prep activity for daddy to handle)
  4. The Pilgrims came to America for religious freedom, they wanted to go to the church they felt was right without being persecuted- go to church
  5. We are thankful for our bodies- go for a walk
  6. We show gratitude for our food by sharing with those in need- donate food- depending on the schedule we will donate to a food drive or take a meal to a refugee family through Gathering Humanity, maybe both 🙂 that link will take you to their sign-up genius where you can sign up to deliver a prepared meal for a family’s first night in their new home, purchase two weeks worth of groceries (both of those can be done using Wal-Mart pick-up if your schedule doesn’t allow for drop off, or you can sign up to set up an apartment or help in the warehouse- this has been an amazing and simple way to serve the community
  7. Begin Thankful Tree- I bought a thankful tree last year at Target, it has paper leaves to write on, we will start it today and then add to it throughout the month
  8. We are thankful for cousins- color pictures to mail to cousins
  9. We are thankful for animals- go to the zoo
  10. We are thankful for Primary/ Nursery- color pictures for their teachers and deliver them the next day at church
  11. We are thankful for the brave men and women that keep our country safe- color pictures for Operation Gratitude, this group sends care packages to active duty soldiers and veterans, they have some specific guidelines so look them up before you start
  12. We show gratitude for our home by keeping it clean- pick a chore
  13. We are thankful for our food- color a picture for the cashier (we’ve done this a few years in a row and they are always surprised and so grateful)
  14. We are thankful for Preschool- make a card for the teacher
  15. We are thankful for our minds and imagination- go to the Children’s Museum
  16. We are thankful for Grandparents- color pictures for Grandparents
  17. We are thankful for the earth- go to the Botanical Garden
  18. We are thankful for the temple- walk around the temple grounds
  19. We are thankful for friends- make a treat for a friend
  20. We are thankful for daddy’s job- take him lunch at work
  21. We show gratitude for our toys by cleaning them up and sharing with children in need- pick up and select toys to donate (bonus of getting ready for new toys coming in a few weeks for Christmas)
  22. Thanksgiving feast!
  23. The Native Americans helped the Pilgrims- visit Native American ruins, we’ll be heading up to Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff (it’s connected to Sunset Crater National Monument so you get to see a volcano while you’re at it!)
  24. We are grateful for our family- fun family outing, for us this is going to be attending a horse race- I tried to find a way to make horses fit into Thanksgiving but all I could come up with was family time 🙂

 

You may be wondering how we afford the Zoo, the Children’s Museum, the Botanical Gardens, a National Park, and a horse race all in one month.  We’re not rolling in the dough, and those that know me know that I’m pretty cheap.  So here’s how we make it work- the kids get a zoo membership from Grandparents as their birthday present and the Children’s museum as a Christmas present.  For the Botanical Gardens, I watch for a culture pass at the library which gets two adults in for free so we’ll only have to pay for the 4 year old (they also have a free day once a month but it’s a Tuesday and I wanted to go as a family so we’ll use the culture pass to go on a Saturday).  The National Monument is $15 (per car) for both the ruins and the volcano and the horse race is only $2 admission.  So we’ll be able to do all of these things in one month for about $35 out of pocket.  While we’re thankful for daddy’s job and the financial security it brings, we are also thankful for all the money saving ideas we can find!

IN the World

This post is an extension of remarks I offered in a recent sacrament meeting.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have paid clergy or preachers.  Rather, each week different members of the ward (congregation) are asked to speak on a specific subject.  I was recently given this opportunity with the prompt “How can we be in the world but not of the world?”

I feel that we frequently focus on the end of that phrase- not OF the world.  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, succinctly and eloquently taught us how to do this:

“We will have to stay calm under peer pressure, not be impressed by popular trends or false prophets, disregard the ridicule of the ungodly, resist the temptations of the evil one, and overcome our own laziness.”

This is so important especially in our day where so many lines are being blurred and crossed, however, I think we sometimes pay too little attention to the beginning of that phrase where we are asked to be IN the world.

While this exact admonition is not found word for word in the scriptures, the idea is certainly there and similar commands are made both anciently and in modern times.

In Matthew 5 we read:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Additionally, Elder Quentin L. Cook said:

“We cannot avoid the world. A cloistered existence is not the answer. In a positive sense, our contribution to the world is part of our challenge and is essential if we are to develop our talents.”

We are not to be cloistered, or under a bushel.  We need to be on a candlestick and contributing.

Why is that important?

President Russell M. Nelson taught:

“True disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to stand out, speak up, and be different from the people of the world.”

I don’t know about you, but I would like to be counted as a true disciple.

President Spencer W. Kimball offered these thoughts:

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”

While that was specifically directed towards the women of the church, it does not take the men off the hook.  Missionary work is driven forward as we are different, and articulate.  As we stand out and speak up, and as we are a light.

How then can we appropriately be IN the world to be this light?

We can:

Be Involved

Be Inclusive

Be Informed

Be Inspirational

 

Where do we do these things?  Sister Neill F. Marriott taught that we carry a circle of influence with us wherever we go.  I want to discuss 3 circles in which we can carry a significant influence.

 

First in our communities.

Do you know your neighbors?  Are you involved in their lives to any degree?  Do you include them in yours?  My uncle once said that the garage door opener was a destructive force in neighborhoods.  And it’s kinda true, we never have to talk to our neighbors because we don’t have to spend time in our front yards unlocking our doors and it feels awkward to just ring our neighbors’ doorbells for no reason.  Which is why I love Halloween…I get to ring my neighbor’s doorbell, they give my kid candy, and then we chat for a second.

Other Holidays are a great opportunity to connect- I used to make plans to carol to our neighbors at Christmas, but to the dismay of my high school dreams of eternal duets, my husband doesn’t like singing in public, my kids don’t sing on command, and it’s a little less cute for me to sit there and solo on the porch.  Also, we always get overbooked and sick right around Christmas.  So the last 2 years I scrapped the Christmas caroling idea and now we take treats to our neighbors for Valentine’s day.  They love it.  We have an older, wheelchair bound gentleman down the street and he loves our visit.  This last year we met a new neighbor on Valentine’s day, she was actually crying when she opened the door because she was going to have to put down her dog the next day.  I followed up with flowers a few days later to make sure she was doing ok, but I would have had no idea what was going on if I hadn’t taken her a Valentine treat.  Find a reason to knock on your neighbors’ doors periodically, and spend some time outside- in your yard or out for a walk so you have opportunities to meet and talk to your neighbors.

Additionally, the Church Handbook of Instruction states:

Members are also urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.

This will depend greatly on your season of life and time availability, but find ways to serve whether on a regular and scheduled basis, or simply donating goods.  There are many opportunities to serve refugees in our community depending on your time and resource availability you could set up an apartment for an incoming family, make and drop off a meal for their first night in the country, stock them up with groceries- you can even do a clicklist and someone else can pick it up if you have the money but not the time, or you can simply donate goods as you declutter your home.  You may be involved on the PTA, or HOA.  Join a club or sports team.  I’m part of a community choir, I’m the only active member of the church in the group- which is completely opposite of any other choir I’ve ever been a part of, but I’ve had many opportunities to answer questions, and share experiences with other members of the choir.

Get in the world by being involved and inclusive in your community.  Avoid being of the world by being offish.

 

The next sphere I want to talk about bridges both locally and nationally.  And since we’re already discussing one taboo topic- religion- let’s just go ahead and discuss politics while we’re at it.

Again from the handbook:

“As citizens, Church members are encouraged to participate in political and governmental affairs, including involvement in the political party of their choice.

Members are encouraged to register to vote, to study issues and candidates carefully, and to vote for individuals whom they believe will act with integrity and sound judgment. Latter-day Saints have a special obligation to seek out, vote for, and uphold leaders who are honest, good, and wise.”

In the last Presidential election, which as you might remember was a little heated to say the least, and an incredibly close call in the end, 45% of adults in the US did not vote.  Please don’t be part of that 45%!  We just had an election about 2 weeks ago…did you vote?  We have another one coming up in about 2 months, will you vote in that one?  And more importantly, will you be an informed voter?

Getting informed is time consuming and can be frustrating as it can be difficult to find unbiased information but it’s SO important.  Take a look a multiple sources, including looking into the other side of the argument.  It may or may not change your opinion, but it will certainly help you make a more informed decision.  It will also help you engage in more civil and constructive discussions on the topic.

We also need to decide what principles will guide our decisions and stick to them.  May I suggest that one of these guiding principles would be to follow the prophet, even, and especially when he may say something that goes against our typical political line of thinking.

Earlier this year I posted something from President Nelson that went against the grain of a certain line of political thought.  The topic and political side are unimportant, but I want to share an exchange that occurred with another member of the church that I knew from my mission.

She responded:
“I’m alarmed that the prophet would make such a [leftist or rightist] and non-sensical comment.”  She went on about her thoughts on the topic then concluded with: “Why do people… now apparently including our prophet!, think that laws impact people’s choices at all??? Utterly ridiculous”

I was a bit shocked that a fellow active member of the church would speak out so derisively of our prophet.  Even to go so far as to call him ridiculous.  But, while this example was extreme, I had noticed multiple examples of a similar attitude when the church made an official statement that went against someone’s political leanings.

I responded to her with these thoughts:

“I don’t think of this as a [leftist or rightist] view. I think that the Prophet is the center, and sometimes the right aligns to center, and sometimes the left aligns to center.

I think the most important thing is to look introspectively and make sure that we are aligning our political views, the policies we support, and our general behavior with God and His teachings rather than trying to make Him and His teachings fit into our political views.”

With the recent statement on the Medical Marijuana bill in Utah, a friend and fellow blogger published an amazing article on this exact same subject of following the prophet.  I highly recommend reading the post, but here is a quote I stole from it by Elder Neal A Maxwell from 1978:

“Discipleship includes good citizenship; and in this connection, if you are careful students of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. … But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).

President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, or political life” (CR, April 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.”

Please be IN the world by being involved and informed politically but avoid becoming OF the world by putting party above Prophets.

 

The last sphere of influence I will discuss today is our potential global influence via the world wide web.

Social media is a two edged sword, on the one hand it can turn into a major time suck which can take us away from real relationships and higher priorities as well as turning into a war of words and tumult of opinions.  On the other hand, it offers a convenient way to keep in contact with friends, family, and associates and gives us the opportunity to share goodness on a large scale.

 

Elder David A. Bednar, in his address that began the #sharegoodness campaign, taught the importance of our online presence:

“The Lord is hastening His work, and it is no coincidence that these powerful communication innovations and inventions are occurring in the dispensation of the fulness of times. Social media channels are global tools that can personally and positively impact large numbers of individuals and families. And I believe the time has come for us as disciples of Christ to use these inspired tools appropriately and more effectively to testify of God the Eternal Father, His plan of happiness for His children, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world; to proclaim the reality of the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days; and to accomplish the Lord’s work.”

Sharing goodness isn’t just about always sharing church related material.  I feel it’s more about HOW we share than specifically WHAT we share, and should certainly extend to how we share our opinions on secular matters such as politics, current events, and really any issues that are argued on the internet.

He offered these guidelines to help us as we post on social media:

Be Authentic and Consistent and Seek to Edify and Uplift

“Our messages should be truthful, honest, and accurate.  We should not exaggerate, embellish, or pretend to be someone or something we are not.”

Last year I posted an “end of year review” detailing some of the fun things we had done throughout the year.  We had gone on several trips, etc.  After I posted it, I just didn’t feel well, authentic.  The post made it seem like 2017 was this beautiful fairy tale year.  When in fact, 2017 was a really hard year.  I was struggling with post partum depression, we had 3 ER visits, found mold- hence the ER visits, and my car basically exploded.  Yes, it had a lot of fun moments as well, but I realized in only sharing the fun, I failed to share the goodness.  I failed to share how we had learned and grown and the miracles we had seen despite the challenges.  So I wrote a blog post end of year review to be more authentic and accurate.

From Elder Bednar:

“Our content should be trustworthy and constructive. And anonymity on the Internet is not a license to be inauthentic.”

“We and our messages should seek to edify and uplift rather than to argue, debate, condemn, or belittle.”

Before you post something, make sure it comes from a trustworthy place.  Unfortunately, many entities put together posts and click bait articles that are not entirely true (or just outright lies) and specifically intended to stir contention.  Before you share stop and check that it is true, and then think about how it is worded, will it be informative and potentially inspirational, or will it primarily come off as judgmental and offensive?  A good guide can be to ask yourself if you would say it or share it if the person you disagree with was standing right next to you.  Name calling or insinuating that the other side is stupid is by no means constructive, it merely tears down and creates a bigger divide.  It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Consider the example I gave earlier of my friends’ response to what I posted from Pres. Nelson.  She used words like non-sensical and ridiculous to describe our prophet, even if it wasn’t the prophet, but someone else I held in high respect it would still be rude.  She also insinuated my stupidity which immediately put me on the defensive.  Perhaps a better way to have worded her post could have been:

While I respect our prophet and your opinion on this issue, I am confused by this statement.  The church often emphasizes the need for personal responsibility, and I’m concerned that more laws would not change behavior.

That would have gotten her same point across without being offensive.  You can and should boldly share your opinions, but you ought to do it pleasantly. Because…

“Authenticity is strengthened through consistency. The gospel messages you share will be accepted more readily if your Christlike example is evident in the ongoing pattern of your posts.”

If your other posts and comments do not follow His example and demonstrate His love, then people will not be keen to listen when you share a message that is specifically gospel related.

Elder Bednar went on to say:

“Brothers and sisters, share the gospel with genuine love and concern for others. Be courageous and bold but not overbearing in sustaining and defending our beliefs, and avoid contention. As disciples our purpose should be to use social media channels as a means of projecting the light and truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ into a world that increasingly is dark and confused.”

Let’s be in the world wide web by being inspirational but not of the world by being offensive.

In closing I want you to consider the many temples we have in the world.  While we have temples in many areas that are primarily known for their high Latter-day Saint populations, we also have temples in places like New York City and Las Vegas which are certainly more well known for their worldliness.  Temples are here IN the world, but are certainly not of it.

Sis. Marriott shared this insight:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” We too as [children] of God have been placed all around the world, like temples, and we each have our own unique look and outward design, like temples. We also have a spiritual light within us, like temples.

We have our own roles on the earth.  Each is influential. Each role will have moral power as we reflect gospel truths and temple covenants in our lives.”

I invite you to consider how you can individually be more IN the world by being involved, inclusive, informed, and inspirational then having the integrity to not become OF the world.

What my auto-immune disorder has taught me about privilege

A few months after my son was born I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Disease.  While Hashimoto’s might sound like it would be associated with cool Asian ninjas or something like that, it’s not.  It’s an auto-immune disorder in which my body fights against my thyroid gland so it doesn’t produce enough of it’s thyroid junk (I know super medically technical here) which causes a range of random issues.  I mean really, the list of symptoms for low thyroid is long and random.  I experience everything from sluggishness to increased cold sensitivity to depression.  Other symptoms I’ve been lucky enough to skip over include hair loss and infertility, however I have a good friend who experiences these struggles.

The most obvious symptom for me, and perhaps my favorite (not) is unexplained weight gain.  Quick crash course in Hashimoto’s, one of the major associated problems is low metabolic rate, and digestive issues that prevent your body from absorbing nutrients properly.  When your body doesn’t receive enough nutrients it thinks it’s starving, so it goes into this like hibernation mode and starts hoarding everything it DOES get, in case the apocalypse comes tomorrow.  Seeing how the apocalypse keeps not coming all it does is make me gain weight, or prevent me from losing weight.

Now, I know what you may be thinking because before I was diagnosed, and frankly before I started seeing a specialist, doctors kept telling me the same thing.  Losing weight isn’t that hard, it’s just a matter of eating less and exercising more.  Hahahaha, shut up.  It’s not actually that simple.  I typically eat less than 1500 calories, I exercise regularly, and I’m on my feet either cleaning or chasing children for a decent portion of the day.  So if it was a simple math equation I would be pretty darn skinny.  But it’s not that simple and I’m not that skinny.

Now here comes all the but it’s the type of calories you eat, and you need to try this work out, and have you done this cleanse.  You need to be Vegan.  You need to be Keto.  Go dairy and gluten free.  Sugar is a tool of Satan.  Eat this super food and try this shake.

And I’m sure all of those things would probably help, but here’s where we start talking about privilege.

It has come to my attention that there is a decent amount of the population who eats normal foods in moderation (including dessert) and exercises moderately who stay at a pretty normal weight.  I’m not talking about body builders and fitness fanatics, I completely recognize that they work really hard to keep their bodies at peak performance.  I’m talking about your run of the mill human beings who have normal lives with normal sized bodies who can shop in the normal section of a clothing store.  They might have 5-10 pounds they’d like to lose, but overall they look fine and feel fine.

Now don’t tell me these people don’t exist, because I know some of them.  I see slender people post pictures out getting ice cream with their spouse or friends.  A few months back I walked past a room full of thin ladies sharing a box of doughnuts, they are all still thin.

Here’s the thing, I spent a lot of time meticulously counting calories consumed and expended.  I’d be so good for several weeks and lose a couple pounds, just to have one moment of weakness, eat two cookies, and gain 3 pounds.  It’s a vicious cycle and those cookies didn’t weigh three pounds.

It’s excessively frustrating to be putting in extra effort and achieve no results while watching others put in normal effort and achieve normal results.

That’s a privilege, that normalcy.

That doesn’t mean that I think naturally slender people should have to share some of my fat to be fair.  No one owes me their healthy thyroid.  And I’m not going to sit around whining about my crappy thyroid (ok, I take that back, sometimes I do).

So when someone brings up other aspects of privilege- race/ethnicity, socio-economic level, upbringing, gender, etc. please don’t take it as an insult or a threat to what you have.  Don’t assume that they think it should be taken away or that you didn’t work for what you do have.

But…please be aware that there are unseen forces that can cause different groups a unique set of challenges.  And as Margot Lee Shetterly put it in her book Hidden Figures they may “need to be twice as good to get half as far.”

If you can’t do anything else, just respect the challenge.

When the boy from the inner-city school who was raised by a single mom with a GED ends up in a low paying job; rather than pointing out the obvious that his life might have turned out better had he gone to college, respect the challenge!

When the child of immigrants didn’t complete their homework because they were translating for their parents; rather than assume they were lazy, respect the challenge!

When a woman is passed over for a potential promotion for which she was well qualified, rather than pointing out that she took time off for her children when the man did not, respect the challenge!

Once you’ve got that down, then we can start to look at potential changes to level the playing field.

Last summer I finally reached a point where I had to see a specialist for my thyroid.  Literally the first thing he said when he walked in was, “Let me guess, they keep telling you that you are low side of normal.”  I nodded my head.  Then he said what I had been thinking for YEARS.  “Well if you’re developing nodules and can’t lose weight then obviously that’s not enough thyroid.”  Over the next several months and under close monitoring he more than doubled my dose of medication.

And guess what…I lost 40 pounds.  And I didn’t even have to do anything crazy.  Suddenly with a normal amount of effort I began achieving normal results.  I didn’t even have to force my fat on innocent skinny people.  With a small change that just evened the playing field, I was suddenly able to succeed.  I didn’t have to be twice as good to get nowhere, I could be normal and get somewhere.

There are many programs and groups that attempt to level the playing field with varying results.  I’m not here to debate each approach, but I do think we need to start being aware and considering what can be done as far as supporting ways to level the playing field.  This will be different for everyone but it may come in the form of voting in favor of certain programs, donating time or money, or just starting by changing your heart and attitude.

One last lesson I learned.  Don’t use your challenge as an excuse to make it worse.  Like I said, it’s very frustrating to put in effort and not see real results so at certain points I ended up using that as an excuse to self sabotage.  While losing weight was extremely difficult before my doctor fixed my meds, sitting around eating ice cream definitely did not help the situation.

I read this great blog post comparing privilege to cars sharing the road with bikes, “What my bike taught me about white privilege.”  The basic analogy is that being white or otherwise privileged is like driving a car and being underprivileged is like riding a bike.  While it’s legal and gets you where you need to go, the road is not designed with bikes in mind and favors cars a great deal, even if not by law by social practice.  You really should read the post.

However, after I read it, I thought about the times I’ve been driving when a bicyclist has put themselves in a very dangerous situation by not obeying the laws.  Most often by riding against traffic and not wearing a helmet.  Everyone retains their personal responsibility to do what is in their power to make their situation better.

So while it is so important for those with privilege to respect the challenges of others and reasonably attempt to level the playing field, it’s also so important not to make the situation worse by eating all the ice cream or riding against traffic.

 

 

 

 

#RedforEd…now let’s talk budget

As a former educator in Arizona I’m super duper #RedforEd.  The pay is terrible, and even when salary comes up a little they kill teachers in other ways, like ridiculously high insurance premiums.  High stress + terrible pay/benefits = High teacher burn out.  I quit so I could stay home with my children.  Everyone’s favorite question to ask me is if I plan to go back once my children are in school or grown.  The honest answer is:  No way in HEdoublehockeysticks would I go back to that level of stress for so little money.  I do keep my certificate active in case it became a necessity to return, but I have no plans of going back.  That’s sad, and I know I’m not the only teacher that feels that way.  We are losing good teachers, or people that could be amazing teachers are avoiding the teaching field because it’s just not worth it.  I could soap box on this for a long time, but suffice it to say that I think a lot of issues in education could be improved if teachers were paid a competitive salary.

So Arizona teachers- I stand with you.  I would strike with you.  I support you.

But… we need to have a serious discussion about where this money is going to come from.  Unfortunately money doesn’t grow on trees (and if it did the inflation rate would be atrocious!)  There’s only two ways the State can increase the amount of available spending money- raise taxes or cut money somewhere else.  Unfortunately no one can agree on how to do this, which is really at the heart of so many political battles, not just education.

Propose that we raise taxes (whether that’s income, sales, sin, or luxury) and someone is going to throw a fit, propose we cut back on this or that budget and someone is going to lose their job and extra people are going to throw a fit, propose that teachers just suck it up and you’ve got strikes.

This is going to require coming together, looking at priorities, and making some serious compromises on several levels.  It’s not going to be easy, but it’s long overdue and it’s gotta be done.

There’s no one tax or cut that will solve the problem, it needs to come from multiple places.  I’m going to attempt to give pros and cons for suggestions I have heard from others or have thought of myself.  As I’m not an expert on State expenses I am very open to suggestions, in fact I’m writing this with the purpose of getting the conversation started.

TAXES

Income taxes

I don’t love this idea, because if you raise salaries and then tax them more then what was the point.  Also, I kinda like having the money that we work for.  But, I think we could handle a small increase in taxes, a little bit from each household could go a long way.  It wouldn’t solve it, but in conjunction with other measures it’s a viable option.

Sin/ Luxury taxes

Maybe I like this idea because as a “saint” with a non-luxurious lifestyle it doesn’t really impact my budget.  But the point of the luxury taxes is that those buying the luxury items won’t be hurt as much by the relatively small increase in price.  Sin taxes are sort of weird from an ethical point of view.  On the one hand I’m saying don’t smoke or drink because it’s bad for you, on the other hand, if it’s supporting education then please don’t stop because we need your money.  Also, I know a lot of people who drive to the reservation to buy their cigarettes to avoid taxes so there are ways around it.

This could be extended to raising the fees on police citations, but again, it’s almost begging people to speed so that we can increase revenue, and it brings up other issues with cops being more likely to issue citations to certain groups of people.

I think there is definitely some room for discussion here, but it’s by no means a full solution for funding.

Cut spending on other state funded programs

Public Safety and Department of Transportation

These are a no go for cutting in my mind.  My dad used to be the head of traffic for ADOT and now he’s a teacher (glutton for punishment much?)  And I’m pretty sure he would start twitching if we started trying to take more money out of the transportation budget.  Turns out that people like driving and having less traffic issues.  And public safety- well, I for one prefer that there are officers available if I need them.  So let’s leave these alone.

Parks and Rec

I like parks, I like having clean and well maintained parks.  We make use of parks on a regular basis.  I’m not suggesting to let the parks go.  But…the park we go to got a giant face lift this last year.  It’s nice, and my kids really like it, heck I really like it.  But, the old equipment was fine, it was not presenting a safety hazard.  So if it came down to brand new playground equipment or a little more funding to education- I definitely would have chosen to stick with the old equipment and send that funding to the schools.

An episode of Parks and Rec is running through my head right now, and I know Leslie Knope would hate me for saying this, but I would also be ok if they cut back or got rid of Parks and Rec classes especially if that meant more funding to extra-curricular activities at schools.

SNAP/EBT

A lot of the requirements on the SNAP or EBT program are federal mandates as far as what can and cannot be purchased using the card.  By federal mandate they can not be used for alcohol, tobacco, pet food, etc.  However, what many have deemed as “non-essential” food items such as ice cream, soda, etc. are not excluded by the federal mandate and can not be excluded by the state.

However, the amount of money put in by the State is not mandated on the Federal level.

Hold your horses, before you flip your lid and think I’m suggesting that the State stop funding EBT.  That is not what I’m suggesting.  However, as it has come down to teacher pay or people being able to afford ice cream with state funds, I’m going to ask them to sacrifice the ice cream before I ask the teachers to sacrifice their pay.

You could also consider that if my family were still living on my teacher income alone, now as a family of 4, we would qualify for these benefits.  So if you pay teachers higher than the poverty line for a family of 4 then you might have fewer people in the system anyway.  And if education improves hopefully we will have less in the system as well.

Cuts within education

Extra-Curricular Programs

Doug Ducey has suggested a giant decrease to arts funding as part of his solution.  Honest question here, and hopefully someone can help answer this: Why do they always jump to cutting the arts, and not sports, or at least balanced between arts and sports?  Follow up question, where does the money made from sporting event ticket sales go?  What budget does it fund?  Would ticket sales, or “suggested donations” to concerts do anything to help the situation?

I realize I’m super biased here, being all arts and no sports, but I will fight you on why the arts are an important part of a well rounded education, and that sports are no MORE important than the arts.  So if we are going to look at cutting back on extra-curricular programs could we take it off both ends, but mostly could this be the last resort instead of the first.

Top down approach

Can we take a serious look at the district level and determine if there is anything there that could be cut or combined?  As an extreme example- Tempe has 3 school districts (two elementary and one for the high schools), it is not a very large city and they were actually having to consider closing some schools while I was living there.  That’s 3 superintendents that are being paid about 5 times the amount I was being paid before I quit.  If they reduced to one district and therefor one superintendent that would open up $300,000 to the budget.  You could give 30 teachers a $10,000 pay increase right there.

But it’s not just the superintendents at the district level, on one of my more frustrating days as a teacher I stopped by the district office after work (on my way to my second job) to drop something off to one of the many district level supervisors.  First of all the person I needed to talk to wasn’t in her office because they were having an office party (paid for out of the district budget) and as I walked past the secretary to leave a note in the supervisor’s office I noticed that the secretary was playing Candy Crush on the computer.  I just about freaked out.  Here I had spent the day literally being beaten on by my students, had been using my own money to buy supplies for my classroom, and had a to-do list a mile long and the district level employees were having a party and someone was getting paid to play Candy Crush.  I. Just. Can’t. Even.

Combining

In addition to looking at the district level to find places to cut, I think a serious look could be taken at combining some smaller schools.  I’m not talking rural schools that are small and far between.  Again I’m going to pick on Tempe.  Tempe High and McClintock High, are only about 2 miles apart.  In their prime they were probably larger, but while we were living close to them they were both going down hill pretty fast on numbers and with low numbers their programs (mostly art, but also sports) were starting to suffer.  I’m sure there are probably other areas facing similar issues.  Why not shut one of them down, keep the academic subjects teacher to student ratio similar at one school, but now you have the opportunity for 1 thriving arts and sports program instead of 2 dying programs that can’t really be justified.  You also could have fewer administrators.

Downside, I just eliminated a few jobs.  That’s an issue that is going to have to be considered- it sucks, but it’s a discussion that needs to happen.

In conclusion

There’s only so much State Funding Pie and if you want a larger piece then other pieces have to get smaller or you have to make a bigger pie.  Every option to do that will hurt someone somwhere somehow.  It’s going to have to come down to open minds and compromise.  If every side keeps digging in their heels then we will continue getting nowhere.

I am sure there are so many ideas that I have missed and concerns that I have not adequately addressed.  So, here’s what I want from you.  Please comment with your top 3 ways to find the money, and your top 3 absolute no-ways.

For example:

My top 3 ways to improve the budget:

  1. Top down
  2. Combine
  3. Cut back on other non-essentials from state funded programs

My 3 no-ways

  1. Cut the arts
  2. Cut back on roads or safety budgets
  3. Status quo

 

Please keep all comments civil, fighting will not solve this, discussing will.  If you disagree with someone you could say, “I respect that you feel that way, but have you considered……”  “I see your point, but based on _______ I think there is a better way.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ-Centered Easter Countdown

You may have seen my Thanksgiving and Christmas Circle activity posts in the past.  I meant to get one together for Valentine’s Day, but then my grandma died in mid January, and while it was very peaceful, funeral arrangements and travel made life a little crazy for a few weeks so unfortunately we didn’t get around to much for Valentine’s Day.  In case you haven’t seen the other holiday activities posts, a little background- this idea came out of a prompting that I needed to be more deliberate in my parenting and in teaching my children the true meaning of Christmas and Easter, and to bring purpose to each holiday we celebrate.  With little to know effort on my part my kids will learn about the Easter Bunny and get an unhealthy amount of candy, but to teach them about Christ’s death and resurrection will take deliberate effort on my part.

I do 24 activities because then I can re-use the same muffin tins as my “advent” calendar for each holiday, with Easter coming pretty early this year, that means that we are starting on March 9th.  Also my kids are 18 months and 3 so this is very targeted to toddler/preschool, but would be easily adapted for older kids.  I’ve also provided links when I have used someone else’s idea and those links have tons of activities that work for older kids.

I took several ideas from the Friend magazine, but decided not to go in the exact order they did just because some activities worked better with our family schedule on different days, and I did not include the coloring activity because it’s a little more coloring than my kids could handle.  But, if you’re kids are more in the 5 and up range it would be a perfect and simple activity already put together for you.

For the most part I do these activities during the day and they are super short, however, if an activity is listed as being part of Family Home Evening that means it will be a little more extended and with the whole family.

Here’s the activity list:

  1.  Friend activity #3-Jesus said, “I thirst.” Jesus felt pain and was terribly thirsty. He understands whenever you feel sick or tired or hurt. Jesus wants us to help others who are ill or tired. What can you do to help someone in your family who isn’t feeling well or is very tired?
    Make a card for a friend who has been sick
  2. Washing feet- we will do this with my foot spa, but last year we just did it in the tub, We show a picture of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles and then we wash each other’s feet.
  3. Make Resurrection Rolls
  4. Family Home Evening- Friend Jr. Life of Jesus Christ Sequencing activity.  I will put each picture in an egg and make it an egg hunt and then sequence and talk about each part of Christ’s life.
  5. Friend activity #5– Jesus said, “Behold thy mother!”  Before he died, Jesus asked one of His disciples to take care of Mary, His mother. What can you do to show love for a family member today?
    Do a craft for a family member.
  6. Easter Movie Night, we will probably watch To This End Was I Born, and one of the VeggieTales Easter shows.
  7. Friend activity #4– Jesus said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  When Jesus felt alone, He prayed and told Heavenly Father about His sad feelings. You can pray too! Try talking to Heavenly Father today like you would to a best friend.
    Review how to say prayers.
  8. Jesus is the Light of the world.  Use trick candles on cupcakes, as the kids blow them out and they re-light explain that even though they tried to put out Jesus light, his light did not go away.  (Got this from The Joy Journey, scroll down, it’s one of the last activities, this is also a great resource for ideas!)
  9. Jesus loves our Family- Cousin Easter Egg hunt at grandparents’ house
  10. Jesus started the sacrament- take the sacrament at church
  11. Jesus is the Lamb of God- make a lamb craft with cotton balls.
  12. Easter Sequencing Activity– this one focuses just on Christ’s death and Resurrection- the other one I’m using covers His whole life.
  13. Family Home Evening- Friend Activity #6– “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” This is what Jesus told another man who was about to die. Because of Jesus, death is not the end! We will all go to the spirit world and then be resurrected someday. Who has died that you look forward to seeing again?
    Do the Resurrection glove activity (put your hand inside a glove and explain that your spirit is like your hand and your body is like the glove, take the glove off and explain that when you die your body stays on the earth but your spirit goes to Paradise and waits until the Resurrection when they will come back together.)  We’ve done this before and it helped my son a lot with understanding my Grandma’s passing.
  14. Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on a donkey- go to a petting zoo with a donkey
  15. Resurrection Eggs for toddlers (if you have older kids and just search Resurrection eggs there’s a lot of resources that are more age appropriate, I was just so excited to find this one that is so simple for my littles)
  16. Jesus prayed in a garden and after his Resurrection he visited Mary in a garden- visit the Botanical Garden
  17. Palm Sunday- make hand print Palm fronds out of construction paper
  18. He is Risen cut and paste
  19. Make an “Easter Garden” in a pot with some little plants, a rock for the tomb, etc.  Mine will be much simpler than the one in the link, but it gives a good idea for reference.
  20. Family Home Evening- Friend Activity #7–  “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Jesus forgave those who hurt Him. We should forgive other people too. Is there someone you can forgive?
    We’re going to focus on forgiving between siblings.  They’ve reached that age where they are seriously bugging each other on a regular basis.
  21. Friend Activity #2– Jesus said, “It is finished.” Even though what Jesus was doing was really hard and hurt a lot, He didn’t give up. He kept on doing the right thing because He loves us and He loves Heavenly Father. Sometimes we might feel like giving up, but we can choose to keep trying. What’s something hard that you have done lately?
  22. Attend the Easter Pageant at the Mesa Temple.  Non-Arizonans might be able to find a local church that does a Passion play.
  23. Jesus continued His church by calling a Prophet.  Read about President Nelson in the Friend and watch General Conference.
  24. Easter Day- Friend Activity #1–  Jesus said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus knew that He would see His Heavenly Father again after He died. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can also live with our Heavenly Parents someday! What’s something you can do today to follow Jesus?

As far as Easter baskets go, again if you search there are so many good ideas for Christ-centered baskets, from actual Christ-centered items to adorable printables with scripture related sayings to go with candies and toys.  I like to keep it really simple, and know that we’ll get candy and little toys from other sources, so we will probably get an Easter related book and an Easter related movie and call it good.

Happy Easter everyone!  I hope this helps you brainstorm some good ideas for your family as your prepare to celebrate this beautiful holiday.

Gun Violence: A Multi-Faceted/ Bipartisan Approach

I’m not sure why this particular school shooting has lead me to deeper contemplation than others, maybe it’s that a piece of my heart stayed in Florida after serving an LDS mission there, maybe it’s that I have a 3rd degree connection to the shooting (the daughter of a friend of a friend was shot and miraculously survived), maybe it’s that my own son is getting closer and closer to school age, maybe it’s that now I blog and I felt the need to share my voice.  It’s probably a combination of all of the above.

I didn’t want to just post reactively, because that just tends to get people more entrenched in their own way of thinking so I set out and did a decent amount of research.  Now by no means am I touting myself as an expert in this.  I did not research EVERY major shooting in recent years.  I do not know or understand all gun laws.  I have a very basic knowledge about guns in general.  But, I do know more about all of these things now than I did a few weeks ago.

My biggest suggestion to everyone is to go into this with an open mind and do some unbiased research of your own.  My research challenged a lot of ideas I had, it strengthened some of my opinions, and ultimately left me with a lot more questions.  That’s probably the definition of good research.

I hope people from all sides will read this, consider the ideas, do some more research, and ultimately work towards solutions rather than the stalemate we have put ourselves into.

Why are we so outraged by mass shootings?

When a mass shooting occurs it suddenly becomes a news and social media sensation.  It’s as if the instant it occurs it becomes a trending story, memes about gun control/ gun rights are immediately shared, online arguments ensue, someone asks if we can all just get along, and probably someone shares some statistic about why there are bigger issues we should be outraged by.

So, here’s some statistics we should keep in mind.  Mass shootings account for only about 1% of gun related deaths, and yet they get the bulk of the media coverage.  In 2013 gun deaths accounted for 1.3% of all deaths in the United States.  So mass shootings account for about 1% of 1% of deaths annually in the United States.  Also, more than half of those gun related deaths were suicide rather than homicide.

According to the CDC’s stats from 2015, of the 2,712,630 deaths that year in the United States, 23% were caused by heart disease.  That’s almost a quarter of deaths each year.  But I rarely see an outrage over this.  Next is cancer at 22%.  Now I do feel like there is a general fear of cancer among Americans.  In case you didn’t already add those two numbers together, cancer and heart disease make up for 45% or almost half of the deaths in America each year.  Put down the cheeseburger and the unorganic food and back up slowly.

There’s a pretty significant drop off percentage wise down to 3rd place at 6% which goes to chronic lower respiratory disease, which is typically caused by smoking or even second hand smoke.  Cigarettes should have us in the corner peeing our pants.

4th place goes to accidents (predominately car accidents) at 5%.  Driving is something most Americans do EVERY DAY.  Typically without a second thought to the fact that it is the 4th most dangerous thing you can do.  I don’t have the specific stats on how many of those were caused by drunk driver’s or other accidents involving alcohol, but they are included in this stat.  But more than cars and alcohol, Americans report themselves as being afraid of snakes, sharks… and shootings.

For the record, homicide does not make the top 10 list, but suicide does, in 10th place following strokes, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, and kidney disease.

Ok, so maybe this isn’t a fair way to look at our outrage meter because those stats do take in all age groups, so a lot of those people were really old so maybe it was their time and as I pointed out in my post about the death of my grandmother, those deaths aren’t necessarily an outrage.

So let’s break those stats down a little more.

Among white males suicide jumps up to 8th place or 2.6%, homicide is still not on the top 10.  Among black males homicide is the 5th leading cause of death at almost 5%, which was only 50 fewer individuals than the number killed by strokes, and about 2,700 less than were killed in car accidents (6.5%).  Suicide did not make the top 10 list for black males.  Among Latino males, suicide and homicide both make the top 10 list at 2.6% and 2.4% respectively.

Neither suicide nor homicide made the top 10 lists for any of the groups of women.

So statistically speaking, women have little reason to be afraid.  White men don’t need to be afraid of other people, only of taking their own life.  Hispanic males should be a bit more scared.  And black males ought to fear homicide at the same levels I suggested we all be afraid of driving.

Again, these stats are including all ages, and still for almost all of these group, heart disease was the number one killer, if not heart disease then cancer.  So what if we look at age groups, where people are significantly less likely to die in general.  What if we just look at untimely deaths.

For all groups ages 1-44 accidents are the leading cause of death.  About 30% of deaths for each group, except for the 15-24 year olds which jumps up to 41%.  Among 5-14 year old suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death with 7% of deaths, homicide ranks 5th with 5%.  Among 15-24 year olds (our high school and college age group) suicide ranks 2nd with 18% of deaths, homicide is a close 3rd with 15%.  Among 25-44 year old suicide and homicide drop down to 4th and 5th place with 11% committing suicide and 6% by homicide.

Now of course not all homicides or suicides are committed using a gun, but guns did account for 67% of homicides and over 50% of suicides.  According to the Academic Journal of Epidemiology, of those who have attempted, 90% who use a gun are successful.  More attempt using other means such as cutting or drug overdose, but only 3% of those cases are successful. And among attempted homicides, according to data from the Western Surgical Association, gun shot wounds (at least to the heart) have an 84% chance of death whereas stabbing victims have a 30% chance of death.

So what we can deduce is that, while other means are of course used, guns are the most lethal.  This also applicable when comparing statistics with other countries.  According to the American Journal of Medicine, the US has a homicide rate 7 times higher than the average for other populous developed countries with a gun related death rate 25 times higher.  Which means that other countries must have a higher percentage of deaths by other means.  It’s not that other countries don’t have issues with violence, they just have less issues with gun violence which results in fewer deaths in general because they are more likely to survive the violence if it was not committed using a gun.  I did not find a statistic for overall violent attempts between countries, which I think would be an important statistic to find and consider in the debate for solutions.

Now to get this back into perspective, I gave the stats for how many deaths are accounted for by homicide and suicide, but that still doesn’t tell you how likely people are to die by these means without knowing the deaths out of total population.  Here’s where some math gets a little tricky because the census stats I found did not break down into the same age groups as the cause of death stats and the census stats are from a few years earlier than the cause of death stats.  These specific stats are another thing I think need to be looked at in greater detail and accuracy, but for the sake of perspective, here’s what I could piece together.  As of 2010 there were 166,786,747 individuals aged 5-44 years old.  The chance of dying of any cause in this age range sits at about 1%.  In 2016, 20,189 people in this age range committed suicide or .01% of the population.  Homicides accounted for 12,789 deaths in this age range, or .007% of the population.

If we look at just the high school and college range, those most likely to commit suicide or fall victim to a school shooting, the stats remain at .01% for suicide, but comes up to .01% for homicide.  Remember the stat from earlier that mass shootings only account for 1% of these gun related deaths.

I give these stats not to suggest that this is not a problem, or that we ought not to be outraged but to put in perspective that the chances of being killed are very small.

So then why are we SO outraged by mass shootings when they are statistically a small problem in general, and still considerably smaller than other problems related to gun violence.

I’m about to make some uncomfortable assertions, so hang on.  I’m not saying that this is how EVERYONE feels, or by any means that they are morally correct reasons, and by and large these come from my own observations not from any sort of research.

The Media

An NRA spokeswoman said, “Cable news loves school shootings.”  Think about it, when a disaster of this nature occurs, it plays continuously and everyone tunes in (at least everyone with cable).  Every day shootings, well, they happen every day so they don’t spike ratings so they don’t often report them.  But with a mass shooting their ratings spike, and the more they spike, the more they cover it.  The more they cover it, the more outraged we get.  We begin to fight on social media about it.  We can’t seem to let it go.  And, while I’m not into conspiracy theories, here’s one that’s fairly verifiable.  Russian Twitter accounts posted loaded and inflaming comments both for and against gun control immediately after the shooting.  So when you hop on and immediately social media is full of arguing and memes claiming that the other side is irrational and how dare they say that.  They DIDN’T SAY IT!  A Russian account said it to try and divide us, and we fell for it.

Privilege, Choice, and Prevention

There are some indicators that put people at higher risk of falling victim to gun violence.  These include having a prior criminal record or living in a poor urban.  Let’s combine those indicators with the other statistics and look at my risk factors which are probably similar to most of my readers.  I was born white and female, since that gives me an advantage when it comes to gun violence, that would be considered privilege in this situation.  Coming from a middle class background is also a privilege.  The financial and educational choices that my husband I have made in conjunction with this privilege have allowed us to purchase a home in a reasonably middle class neighborhood.  Not having a criminal record is based on the choices that we have made not to commit crimes, but there is certainly an amount of privilege based on our upbringing to have helped with those choices.  Considering all of these factors, my family is avoiding and preventing almost all of the risk of being shot.

So when I hear about someone being shot in a gang fight, or even if they were shot as an innocent bystander but in a neighborhood very different than mine I don’t really relate to it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not upset by it, or that by any means I think it is ok.  But I move on with my day rather quickly because I’m so removed that I can’t really put myself in their shoes.

But with mass shootings, particularly school shootings, I CAN relate.  I’ve been a student, I’m a parent soon to send kids to school.  And there is nothing about my privilege or my choices that can prevent being a victim of a mass shooting.  They don’t care about race, neighborhood, or background.  I can’t even say don’t be a bully because they don’t just target the bullies.  They shoot at EVERYONE.  And in a place where we ought to feel safe.  And while the statistic is still so low, how can know which school (or concert or club) will be next.  It’s scary because what if it had been my school growing up, what if it had been my college classes, and most frightening of all, what if it is the school where my children go.

That is what causes the outrage.

What do we do about it?

Here’s where we all start fighting and we get really ugly.  I’ve seen people from both sides say that they would be willing to have a rational conversation if only the other side would be willing.  For one, that’s immature, be the example and the bigger person.  For two, most people are willing to have a rational conversation, remember how the most offensive comments that appeared to be entirely irrational came from Russian accounts.  They are trying to divide us, because when we are divided we are weak and nothing can be fixed.  Only when we take a deep breath, calm down, and have honest and rational conversations on this, and any topic for that matter, will we be able to get anywhere.

So let’s start by stopping.  Stop posting things that put the “other side” on the defensive.  Stop assuming other people’s intentions or intellectual ability.  Stop jumping to conclusions that suggestions are impossible.

There will be some very difficult questions that will come up.  Rather than shutting down because of a difficult question, let’s be willing to find answers and solutions.

Here are some of my suggestions, and they are by no means perfect, I recognize that a lot of questions would need to be answered and determined, but I think they could at least help the situation.

Reform Gun Laws

I am by no means in favor of getting rid of the second amendment, or collecting everybody’s guns.  And while there are people that do hold this view, they are few and far between.  According to a poll done in 2004, 31% of Democrats own a gun.  So my Republican friends who like to share things about Democrats wanting to take away their guns, please stop, because it’s not true.

Let’s take a look at that second amendment, shall we:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The opportunity to hunt is not specifically protected, nor is the opportunity for self protection, although we should not take that to mean that they are not allowable.  The opportunity to be a part of a WELL REGULATED militia is what is specifically protected.  The intent is that if there is a credible threat to the security and freedom of the State that it will be able to militartize it’s people in a well regulated fashion.

While I’m not suggesting that we adopt the same rigorous requirements for gun ownership that the military does for it’s recruits, if a group of people is going to defend my state I would prefer they were of sound mind and without criminal history as part of being a well regulated militia lest they turn on the State or it’s people.

Currently there are some regulations about minimum ages to purchase and those that have been convicted of violent crimes or institutionalized for mental health concerns.  Here’s a few items I feel could be reformed while maintaining the balance of being well regulated and the rights of the people.

Raising the age limit

I am in favor of raising the minimum age for the purchase of all firearms to 21.  We have agreed to 21 as the legal age to purchase alcohol due to the risks involved, it makes sense to me then to raise that limit on weapons as well.  Would this completely solve the problem, no definitely not.  A lot of the shooters I researched were over 21.  But, while our laws about alcohol have not prevented all underage drinking, or all drunk driving accidents, our laws are not complicit with giving alcohol to people who are too young to make such serious decisions.  Likewise raising the age for purchase of weapons gives the message that this is a serious decision in which we are entrusting “the people.”

Restricting access to those with mental illness, violent tendencies, or criminal behavior

In every case that I researched, all of the shooters had known mental health concerns.  At what point should a mental illness preclude a person from owning a gun?  This is one of those really difficult questions that needs to be addressed.  It’s going to be difficult to research and determine, but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned.  A quick search for statistics on anxiety and depression gave numbers all over the place from 18% of adults experiencing anxiety and depression, but 13% being treated, up to another group reporting that 40% of adults have anxiety or depression.  Whatever the number is, there are a lot of people who experience at least mild anxiety and depression symptoms, do we ban all of them from owning a weapon.  Probably not.  But I do feel that it needs to be expanded to more than just those who are institutionalized.  And maybe not forever, it could be a temporary suspension, say 5 years, and then with doctor’s approval could be reinstated.

As for violent tendencies and criminal behavior, Nikolas Cruz had a history of killing animals, this is known to be a gateway to worse violence later in life.  Additionally, according to information retrieved via the Freedom of Information Act, the local Sheriff’s department had received at least 39 calls in regard to Cruz over the last decade.  Certainly that should have been enough to have him on the “no go” list for buying guns.  Maybe some of his infractions would have gotten him in the NICS database if they had been reported correctly.  I know warnings are given and sometimes officers don’t want to jump to giving someone a criminal record in hopes of rehabilitating them, but if that was the case, they did not do him or anyone else any favors.  So this might be more procedural reform than legal reform, but this type of behavior needs to be taken seriously, reported correctly, and should prevent the purchase of a gun.  Maybe a juvenile record shouldn’t prevent someone from ever owning in the future, but there could be a time frame with no other incidents before the right is restored.

I also suggest that school personnel (including Universities) ought to be able to report mental health and violent behavior concerns directly to the NICS database.  Similar to being mandated reporters for Child Protective Services.  The school knew that he had attempted suicide, and he had been expelled for fighting.  In my mind these are 2 definite reasons to restrict someone from buying a gun.  Similarly, in the incident at Virginia Tech, the University counseling department was aware of concerns that ought to have been reported.

But what if someone reports falsified information?  This type of thing happens with CPS reports, there is precedence for consequences to those who falsify reports maliciously.  Also there could be the opportunity for appeal, and as I’ve mentioned in many cases the restriction might be limited rather than permanent as long as there are no further concerns in a given time period.

But they’ll just get their weapons somewhere else.  Maybe.  But the fact of the matter is that, with the exception of Columbine and Sandy Hook, the rest of the shooters I researched obtained their guns legally.  The Columbine shooters obtained their guns through an illegal private purchase, which brings up another legal issue to be considered.   In the case of Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook), his mother obtained the guns legally and then left them lying around her house, so while he didn’t technically obtain them legally, he had very easy access.  I used to use this argument, that they would just buy them somewhere else, but now that I realize that in most cases they obtain them legally I feel differently.  While that is still a concern, and changes to these laws are by no means a full solution, I am disturbed that our laws have been complicit in these individuals obtaining guns.  While they may just go to the black market, at least we will know that we did not facilitate their actions.

Consider that if someone really wanted to rob your house they could find a way to do it, despite locks, alarms, etc.  There’s a whole genre of films dedicated to people finding ways to break through top security.  So while someone could just break a window and rob me blind, I still lock my front door, because I am not going to make it easy for them.

Schools

I think there needs to be more done logistically to protect schools.  Yes it will be expensive- but I’m sure at least some parents would be more than happy to donate money to help defray those costs, as opposed to buying wrapping paper or candy bars to help with I don’t even know what those fundraisers were used for.

What that is going to look like for each district and each school is a little too individualized to address, maybe it’s metal detectors, maybe it’s limiting access except through the office, maybe it’s more resource officers, maybe it’s a combination.

But Sandy Hook did lock doors and limit access and Adam Lanza just shot through the glass.  Yes, that’s something to take into account, and again why it will need to be determined on the local level of what will be practical.  This also is not a full solution, none of these suggestions are, but hopefully in combination, through a multi-faceted approach, we can prevent more incidents or at least slow down a shooter.

How about arming teachers.  This is one that I go back and forth on.  As a former teacher, I did not sign on for being willing to die defending my school.  I have the utmost respect for the teachers who have put themselves between a gunman and their students, but is it fair to ask me to choose between protecting my students and going home to my own children.  I know police officers do that every day, but they are trained and they knew the risks when they picked the job.

On the flip side, I was a classroom teacher when the shooting at Sandy Hook occurred.  When I learned of the event, then went back to my classroom and looked at my entire wall of windows, the thought occurred to me that if someone chose to come to our school with a gun, I would be entirely powerless to do anything.  If I took my students with severe disabilities into my office and locked the door, there was still a window that could be shot out and then we would be huddled all together with nowhere to go.  We could try to run, but how would I get 11 students who were at this school due to severe behavioral concerns to suddenly decide to just follow my directions and run with my staff and I.  I realized that most likely we would all be dead before the police had an opportunity to arrive.  In that moment I felt a desire to be able to defend myself, or at least have someone present who could do SOMETHING to defend us.  We did not have a resource officer- but a lot of good that did at Stoneman Douglas.

I don’t know if arming teachers is the right choice, but if we are going to consider that avenue it needs to be voluntary but well regulated, and maybe it shouldn’t be guns, maybe tasers lest we turn innocent students into accidental victims.

Overall schools need more resources to stop letting students fall through the cracks.  We need more school counselors and psychologists to do handle mental health and behavioral concerns so teachers can focus on their job- teaching.  If a teacher notices an issue they should have proper reporting channels, but the actual reporting and follow up on the issue should go through counseling or social work departments.  While these positions exist, they are overworked and underpaid just like everyone else in the education field which does not give them a lot of opportunity to follow up on concerns.

But all of those suggestions are really expensive!  Yep.  So we’re going to have to sacrifice the money somewhere else in the budget and/or tax something- maybe guns.  This is going to require a significant amount of bipartisan cooperation and compromise, but that’s something that needs to happen not just about this issue but everything, especially education budgeting.  So instead of quibbling about it being hard, let’s sit down and figure it out.

Home and Community

This is where I think the biggest changes need to occur.  And this is not something that can be legislated.  Seeing how I just spent time discussing legislative and logistical suggestions, obviously I am in support of those, but they are band aids, and while band aids have an important role in the healing and protecting process, they do not get at the root cause of the issue, they will just hopefully do some prevention and protection once someone has hit the point of wanting to take lives.  Ultimately this needs to come down to taking a deep and honest looks inside ourselves, our homes, and our society to determine what is causing people to become shooters.

Gun ownership by household has actually been on the decline in recent years.  According to the General Social Survey in 1970s roughly half of households in America owned a gun, in 2015 it had fallen to 32%.  Individual gun ownership went from 31% in 1985 to 22% in 2014.  While there are other surveys that show some different numbers, none of them have shown an increase in household or individual gun ownership.  While the overall number of guns owned has increased, this would suggest that those who do own, own multiple, but the numbers of those who choose to own is dropping.

According to private research done by scholars from Harvard and North Eastern University from 1982 to 2011 mass public shootings happened at a rate of once every 200 days.  From 2011 to present, that rate has dropped to once every 64 days.  The rate has more than tripled.

If mass public shootings are increasing, but overall ownership is decreasing, gun ownership is not the root cause of this issue.

So what has changed that might be causing more and more people to become so violent?

Just in my lifetime (I was born in the late 80s for reference), I have seen some major changes in our society and overall culture.  I might throw in a “back in my day” so be warned.

Life plugged in

Video games have existed fairly mainstream for most of my life but they were pretty new so today’s 30 year olds were the first group to really be raised on video games.  We started out with really crummy graphics and games like Mario where we jumped on creatures’ heads to destroy them.  There were probably games with blood and guns, but they would have looked really cheesy.  You also couldn’t play ALL day because your system would certainly overheat, so we still spent a decent amount of time playing outside as siblings and with neighbors.  It didn’t take too long to get better and better graphics and more and more games with guns and blood, and less overheating allowing for longer and longer playing sessions.  I remember when my older brother was in Jr. High my mom started to be concerned about which video games to let him play because some of them apparently started to have sexually explicit material.

About this same time, the internet went and got itself invented and mainstreamed.  This opened up a whole new world for gaming.  Graphics were still not amazing, especially if you ever wanted it to load, but now you could play with friends without leaving your house or having them over.  This also opened up a lot of doors for the pornography industry.  Porn at your fingertips without the awkwardness of going to the store to buy it, you just had to be patient enough to let it load.

Somewhere along the line the internet got faster, the graphics got better, and more and more of our daily tasks moved online.  We can work over the internet, we can shop, we can keep up with our friends, and all this without ever having to leave home.

Then we took it a step further and put all of that on our phones as well, which don’t even remotely resemble what a phone looked like back in my day.  Now I can be constantly entertained, shop, access whatever content I feel like accessing, and tell myself that I am socializing from my couch, room, or toilet and unless someone specifically comes and looks over my shoulder, they will have no idea what I’m doing, and I can do it for hours on end.

There are so many amazing things that have come from access to technology, but it can also become a terrible trap.  Marriages and lives have been destroyed over excessive gaming and pornography.  Concerns are being raised over a correlation between high rates of social media use and depression.  Other researchers find a correlation between violent video games and emotional desensitization.  In general we are becoming less connected to each other because we are so consumed by technology.

My concern is that with how virtual our society has become, we are losing touch with the value of human life.  In a virtual world we can manipulate things and people with the click of a button, if we mess up, it can be fixed.  If we die we can just wait a minute and come back to try it again.

But it isn’t life, or death, or people, or even things.  They’re just images and code.  I fear that with so little being done in reality we are losing touch with it.  When you look at it that way, it’s not JUST the extremely violent or sexually explicit content, it’s when anything virtual begins to consume our life and take up more of our time, energy, and priorities than reality.

Most of the shooters I researched did engage in excessive gaming, and most spouted racist and misogynistic rhetoric.  It makes sense to me that if, in conjunction with mental illness, you repeatedly engage in extreme violence virtually you could begin to picture yourself completing the act in reality.  It makes sense to me that if you are always the hero in the game, that you could be the hero in your own mind no matter the situation.  It makes sense that if repeatedly with the click of a button you can make women give you sexual gratification, that you would have little or no respect for women in reality and feel that women owe you.  It makes sense to me, that if most of your interactions are with images with no real value, that you might forget the value of human life.  It makes sense to me that if you can just restart the game after you die and all of the other characters also come back, that you might begin to lost touch with the finality of death.

I realize what I just said was very controversial and a lot of people will disagree strongly.  A lot of people play violent video games and do not turn into murderers.  A lot of people view pornography and do not become rapists or embrace misogynistic values.

But consider this.  While video games may not be causing violent tendencies, they certainly are not teaching our children how to value life, how to interact respectfully with others, or how to love, they are at best neutral.  Pornography is certainly not teaching our children about consent, it’s not teaching them that sexual intimacy is about love, respect, and admiration.  While some may claim it is harmless, it certainly is not teaching them how to show respect to women.  You can argue whether or not social media is what it causing depression and higher suicide rates, or if children with depression are just more likely to use social media, but excessive social media use certainly isn’t helping them.

Parents- we need to PARENT.  I’m not suggesting that we raise our kids under a rock and never let them online.  What I’m suggesting is that we need to be more present and more involved.  We should set boundaries on screen time and the type of media we allow them to access with a family media plan.  We should be monitoring what our children are accessing so we can help them process what they are seeing, and guide them if/when they access material that they shouldn’t be accessing.  We should do activities with them.  We need to teach them both by word and example how to value life, how to love, and how to show respect.  This can be done through regular family nights in which you discuss an applicable topic and then just spend time together doing fun activities to build a bond.  We need to turn off the TV, set down our phones, and interact.  If we don’t take that active role, other influences will fill it that may not be teaching them the things we want them to learn and emulate.

We need to be willing to get them help when we notice a problem beyond our capabilities to handle.  Having a child with depression doesn’t mean you did something wrong, or that they are weak.  But if we as parents are too weak to be willing to get them help, then we will have done something wrong by them, and potentially by other people.

I was shocked when reading about the shooters at Columbine to find out that they were building bombs, buying and practicing shooting guns, and their parents were completely unaware.  Maybe this is naive of me because I have not raised teenagers, and as far as teenagers go I was a pretty innocent kid.  But, I doubt they were having family dinner together.  I doubt their parents were checking in on their internet use.  That’s not called snooping, it’s called parenting and should be part of a media plan.  I doubt their dads were taking them fishing so they could have a chance to bond and talk about life.  It’s never too late to start, but it’s definitely easier if you start earlier, and will help fewer kids fall through the cracks of parental negligence.

Multi-faceted

None of my suggestions are a full solution in and of themselves.  We can’t regulate how parents are raising their kids, and in the unfortunate case of Jacob Cruz, he had lost his parents.

Stricter gun laws may prevent or slow down some would be shooters, but if determined enough, they will find a way to gain access to a gun.

Making schools more difficult to target is expensive, controversial, not very practical in the University setting, and does not address other .

But, if we combine the power of these multi-faceted approaches, hopefully we can make a difference and save lives.

 

Suggestions and Concerns

I am very open to other suggestions or your concerns about my suggestions, I just ask that before you respond you take a deep breath and think instead of just react.  Please respond civilly.  Here’s some ways to do that, “I respect your thoughts about_____, my concern is that______”  “While I understand where you are coming from, have you considered that_______.”  “What are your thoughts on _______.”  “I disagree and fear that ________ could lead to _________.”

 

 

 

 

Come, Sweet Death

When I was about 5, shortly after my grandfather passed away, my Grandma had been going through and organizing old boxes (a favorite a past time of hers).  She pulled her wedding cake topper and gave it to me saying, “I probably won’t be around for your wedding so I want you to have this now.”  Well, she did make it to my wedding just shy of her 90th birthday, and proceeded to last another 6 years beyond that.

IMG_20180201_174120

On January 21, 2018, just two months shy of her 96th birthday, my Grandmother peacefully passed from this world.  In the days following, as is expected, people have offered their condolences, saying things like, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or remarking on the sadness of it.

Of course I appreciate everyone’s condolences and well wishes, but to be honest, and I hope this doesn’t make me sound uncaring or cold, I have not felt sadness or loss over her death.  I have felt only peace and joy at her passing.

Background

As I mentioned, my grandma was almost 96.  Her husband, my grandfather, passed away almost 25 years ago.  At that time she was living one street over from her older sister who was also a widow.  They were companions then and my grandma cared for her sister up until she passed about 16 years ago.  Living in St. George, which was basically a glorified retirement community, she still got together with “the girls” on a regular basis and busied herself with family history work.  But as the years went on, more friends passed, and she spent much of her time alone, she began to be plagued with paranoia, anxiety, and other health concerns.  About 10 years ago we thought we were going to lose her, but she bounced back and chose to move into semi-assisted living back in St. George as she had several friends living in the same community.  She “de”-aged after moving there, surrounded by people again.  Which was a huge testament to me of the need for human connection.  I was living in Provo and would visit roughly once a semester.  She would take me to the cafeteria to show me off to her friends and bring me to play cards with “the girls.”

On one of the card playing adventures the ladies began discussing other ladies in the community.  After making a comment about someone my grandma said, in a very plain and matter of fact tone, “She used to play cards at that table, [pointed to the next table over] but she died.”  Then a few minutes later the following conversation took place:

Friend: “Did you hear about Doris?”

Grandma: “Yes, her daughter came to help her move.”

Friend: “Well, she was going to move, but then she died.”

Grandma: “Oh, that’s nice.”

I was baffled and had no idea how to react.  These ladies were talking about people in their community dying as casually and almost as celebratory as my friends and I would discuss people getting married.  It began to occur to me that it was just the next step to them, just like my friends getting married or graduating.  They were happy for them.

Loss

Grandma lived in that community for about 6 years.  She continued to drive herself and her friends around past the age of 90 and took care of all of her own finances.  She walked slowly but without assistance.  While she ate most of her meals in the dining room with the other residents, she could still fix herself a simple meal as needed.  She kept her apartment impeccably clean and organized.

And then one day, about 4 years ago, she lost it all.

It’s unclear as to the exact order of events.  They aren’t sure if she suffered a minor stroke which caused a fall, or if she fell and hit her head causing a small stroke.  But however it happened at 92 she started her decline.  We moved her to Arizona, first to a care facility near my parents house, then into the mother-in-law suite attached to my parents’ house, where my mom’s mom was already living, and then finally a year ago, her care became too involved and she was moved into another care center where she died.

Perhaps the reason I have not felt sorrow or loss in her death is because I started the grieving process 4 years ago as I watched her body and her mind fail her.  She suffered a few falls, one that broke her hip, because she couldn’t remember that she couldn’t walk on her own.  She began to struggle with terrible panic attacks.  She lost the ability to keep any sort of conversation.  She could hardly follow a television program.  It got to the point where she wasn’t really living, she was mostly just existing.  She wasn’t really Grandma anymore, we lost her a long time ago.

There were sweet moments as well.  She began to have conversations with lost loved ones, or would ask about them.  My dad had been contacted by some distant cousins to help do the temple work for their Uncle’s second wife, Therle.  I had never heard anyone in the family mention her before this experience, and my dad had not said anything to Grandma about the plans.  But one day, a week or so before my dad was going to meet his cousins at the temple, out of nowhere Grandma asked, “And how’s Therle doing?”

The time she lived here in Arizona allowed her to spend time with her great-grandkids.  She would perk up a lot when they were around.

But the overarching question she constantly asked over those 4 years was, “When can I go home?”  And in all of hearts we started to ask the same question, when could she go home?

Sweet Death

The sadness I have felt in this experience has not been in her death, but for how long she lingered.  I don’t feel the need to seek understanding for why the Lord took her as so many do in situations of untimely deaths, the understanding I have been looking for is why she was made to linger so long.  It’s painful to wonder how much loneliness, pain, mental anguish, boredom, and complete lack of independence someone can endure, only to watch it get worse and worse, and feel so powerless to do anything meaningful about it.

The decision was finally made to discontinue some of the medications that were keeping her alive and just make her comfortable.  When my parents let me know that the decision had been made and hospice estimated it would only be a few more weeks, I felt very much at peace.  We made arrangements to get the family together to visit her and for my husband to assist my dad to give her a final Priesthood blessing.

Typically when we talk about Priesthood blessings, they are intended to seek healing.  This one was very different.  My dad, seeking prompting by the Spirit, blessed her that she would see her loved ones soon, and that she would not be afraid but would feel peace.  He blessed her to die.

She was asleep the whole time we were there, and was struggling to breathe.  As we sat there with her the words to this song came to my mind, and became almost like a prayer for her:

Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest!                                                                                    Come lead me to peace                                                                                                            because I am weary of the world,                                                                                                    O come! I wait for you,                                                                                                                  come soon and lead me,                                                                                                                  close my eyes.                                                                                                                                Come, blessed rest!

That idea of death being sweet and blessed was very real.  She was weary of the world in so many ways.  Her body was weary.  Her heart was weary as most everyone she had associated with in this life went before here.  Come soon.  I didn’t want to watch her suffer any more, I wanted it to come soon.  And it did.

We had figured it would still take a few days for her medications to leave her system.  However, the very next day my dad received a call from hospice telling him they believed it was going to happen that day and that he should probably come.  My mom sent me a text message shortly after I got home from church relaying the news but said that it might be several hours.  I wavered for a minute on whether or not I should head over then or wait, but since it was Sunday and my husband was home to take care of the kids, I decided I should just go ahead and go.

Shortly after getting on the road for my 40 minute trip across town, my mom sent another message that said it would be soon.  I was full of nervous energy wanting to be there, but also a little bit afraid to be there as she passed.  I can’t really explain it, but the idea of being with someone as they pass has always sounded odd to me, but I hoped that this might help me work through some of those anxieties.  When I was about halfway there I had this sudden peace come over me, and had the thought that she was gone.  I immediately second guessed myself and the nervousness came back only to followed by peace again and a voice that said, “You’re not going to make it in time.”  About three minutes later my mom sent another message that she was gone.

As I pulled up to her care center, knowing she had already passed, but wanting to see her, I got this distinct impression, I could almost see it, that she was with my grandpa, and they were so happy, almost giddy.  It was beautiful.  Her death was sweet.

Final Acts of Service

About a year ago, knowing that his mother’s death was more imminent than not, my dad began designing a casket.  I think my dad’s love language is building things.  Some might call this gift giving or acts of service, but it’s not just any gift or any act of service, it’s designing and building very customized items.  The design for her casket was based on her old Singer sewing machine that had been her mother’s.  It is now over 100 years old and has been a prized possession.  About a week before her passing, he showed her pictures of the almost completed casket, she was able to whisper that it was beautiful.  Below is the sewing machine to the left (sorry I should have gotten a better picture of the front), and the completed casket to the right.

 

 

It was not quite complete before her passing.  I began helping to stain it before we went to see her the last time then continued that evening and after she passed.  My 3 year old had taken quite an interest into what Grampses (that’s what he calls my dad) was doing in the garage.  We explained to him that it was a casket, that Great-Grandma Ramsey’s body would go in the casket when she died, but that her spirit would go to Heaven.  We got him set up inside with some blocks so we could work in the garage, but he came running up to me with the blocks and excitedly exclaimed, “Let’s build a casket!!”  He proceeded to build a casket out of blocks then showed it to me and explained, “This one’s for her spirit.”  It sounds a little creepy out of context, and I made sure to warn his preschool teacher the following week that he might build a casket out of blocks.  But it was so sweet and innocent and I hope that he can keep that perspective of service for the dying.  One of the hard parts of watching someone go, is not being sure what to do about it.  Should you sit there and just watch?  I don’t know, and the answer is probably different for everyone, but it felt right to be honoring her by helping my dad finish his final tribute to her.

Additionally I had the beautiful and sacred experience to assist in preparing her body for burial.  It is customary for endowed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be buried in their temple clothing.  When possible, this is traditionally done by other endowed family members of the same gender.  For those who are unfamiliar with the temple, there is a beautiful and short video that briefly explains this clothing and it’s importance.  In the temple we receive instruction and make covenants in endowment rooms, which includes putting on this special clothing, also referred to as the robes of the Holy Priesthood.  Temple worship service culminates by entering the Celestial Room which “[symbolizes] heaven, where we may live forever with our family in the presence of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.” (See reference and more information here.)

Honestly, when I first got the news that they were just making her comfortable and realized that this service of dressing her would fall to my mom and me, I felt anxious.  As I mentioned before the thought of being with someone when they died was a bit frightening to me.  The thought of touching a dead body, was very disturbing.  I can’t really explain exactly why, but it made me queasy.  I asked around for advice from others who had done this for their own relatives and received a lot of wonderful responses.  One of the responses that helped me work through my concerns was a reminder of the women who prepared Christ’s body for burial.  That was a beautiful way to think of it, so I carried that with me, and while it was still difficult at first to touch her, I was able to do it.  I felt the need to take extra care to make sure everything was straight and tied beautifully.  My mom and I chuckled a little together as my grandma had been incredibly neat and tidy, maybe to the point of being a bit obsessive compulsive about it.

I reflected on that desire to be neat after we finished and left her in the funeral home.  I thought about my first time going to the temple.  I was living in Provo at the time, my parents in Arizona, which made St. George (her home) a good meeting spot.  At that time she was having a difficult time sitting anywhere besides her own chair at home for long periods of time which would make attending the temple difficult.  I spoke to her and let her know what the plan was, that I would love it if she could be there, but would understand if her physical limitations would not allow it.  Her response was that she would, “take an extra pill if needed.”  I don’t know what those pills were, but apparently they worked, and she was able to come.  I remember her fussing over me a little to make sure everything was straight and neat.  As I was reflecting on this, the beautiful thought came to me, that she had helped me to be prepared to enter the Celestial Room of the temple nearly 10 years ago, but now I had symbolically prepared her to enter the presence of the Lord in the Celestial Kingdom.

To picture her finally fulfilling her desire of going home, to her eternal home, reinforced in my heart and soul that her death was sweet.