Monday, October 30, 2017

Trials Are Miracles

There are times when life seem to be going along pretty good and things feel, well... maybe not easy, but at least somewhat manageable and happy.  Then there are the times when life is definitely hard, and just getting through each day is a major accomplishment.  I have been blessed enough to have had some of both experiences in my life.  We probably all  know people who always seem to have it easy (which of course is a perception and probably not reality) and people who seem to have every possible thing go wrong for them all of the time.  Most of us land somewhere in the middle where we experience some of both. 

I have noticed there are two ways people generally respond to these hardships.  Either they become humble and learn from their trials and become stronger, OR their hearts become hardened and they become bitter and cynical.  I have noticed that those who become humble and learn from their trials seem happier and grow stronger because of what they have been through.

Last week my 18-year-old daughter Madelynn gave a talk at her church.  She talked about how when we are humble in our difficulty our trials become miracles because they change our hearts.  I had never thought of it like that, but as I reflected back on my life I could think of times this had been true for me.

The summer of 2004 was one of those times.  That summer death seemed to permeate a 3-month period.  First my cousin took her life.  Three weeks later my mother-in-law died somewhat unexpectedly.  The morning after her funeral I received news that my uncle had died the night before.  I felt completely shaken up, yet within the next couple of weeks two children of people we were friends with went missing and were either found dead, or were never found at all.  Five deaths in three months was enough to rock anyone's world.  That three-month period changed my heart to help me be grateful for every moment with those I loved, and to treat each day as if it was our last together.  Trials are miracles because they change our hearts.

A couple of weeks ago I learned that a beautiful and always-smiling young married woman in my neighborhood has lost 16 pregnancies, yes, 16, and still has no baby.  How is she still smiling?  I haven't had a conversation with her about it, but I can see that she has not become bitter and cynical.  She shows love and caring to all around her.

Have you seen the movie "Love, Kennedy"? It is about a young teenage girl with a rare disease who faces a grim prognosis but brings light to all she comes in contact with.  Very inspiring.

Then there is Madelynn, the one who got me thinking about all of this in the first place.  If you have been following my blog, then you already know that my daughter faces joint pain and ever-decreasing mobility on a daily basis.  Some days she can hardly walk, yet surprisingly she is cheerful and optimistic. 

In her talk in church she told us that for years she was in a dark place (she was).  This trial has brought her closer to God, given her inner peace and joy, and she says she would not trade her pain for her healthy body and her dark-feeling life.  In her talk she pointed out that through her trial her body has not been healed, but her soul has.  She taught that when we let our trials change us, humble us, and when we are willing to learn from our difficulties, then those trials become miracles, miracles that change our hearts.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Kindness For a Kindness

My daughter Madelynn is 18 years old.  As you may know, since January of this year her mobility has steadily decreased, and her joint pain has steadily increased.  This last week the rheumatologist we have been seeing for months told us that she does not have any form of arthritis.....back to the drawing board.

Madelynn is a student at Utah Valley University.  Because of her decreasing mobility she now walks with a cane, and her movements are slow and deliberate.  One of the things that keeps her going is how kind others are to her.  She used to hate being served by others.  She likes to be independent, and to have others do things for her used to make her feel uncomfortable.  Then a very wise friend pointed out that it was a selfish way to feel, and that she was robbing others of the chance to help.  This wise friend encouraged her to accept the gifts being extended to her.  This shifted her perspective, and now she has developed a heightened awareness and gratitude for the many small acts of service that others do; things like opening her door, helping her up or down stairs, total strangers offering to carry her backpack for her.  People will walk with her at her pace and have a conversation.  She told me the other day about a mom who was sitting in the parking lot waiting for her son to come out of class.  She watched Madelynn slowly walking down the sidewalk and going down the stairs.  This wonderful mother got out of her car to ask Madelynn if she could help her.  She and her son helped my daughter down the stairs, then gave her a ride to her car, opened her car doors for her and got her safely inside before leaving.  These simple yet enormous acts of kindness help my daughter to feel loved and cared about.

Even so, it is difficult to always be served and never to serve, so recently she decided that she was going to match a kindness for a kindness every day, both in quality and intensity.  Though she cannot physically do things for other people, she realized that there is much she can do.  For example, the greeter at Walmart sees her come in on a regular basis.  He has befriended her, encouraged her and had some meaningful conversations with her.  In return for this thoughtful gesture, Madelynn has vowed to treat other people with as much kindness as she has been treated.  She has challenged herself to keep track of the nice things done to her every day and repay them in her own way before she goes to bed each night.  Many of her kindnesses come in the form of quality conversations with others.  She has taken the time to smile sincerely, give encouraging words, befriend and help those much younger than her, and teach and inspire those around her.  Kindness for a kindness has brought her greater happiness and helped her focus on making other people's day better rather than thinking about herself.

I have found myself learning from this child and striving to reach her level of awareness and giving.

Mahatma Gandi once said, "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind."  

I wonder what a kindness for a kindness ends up making?   

I would like to invite all of us to be more aware of kindnesses being done in our behalf.  What if we were to match that kindness in our own ways each day before going to bed?  Even better, let us be the first to extend kindness.

Not only do you have the power to make the world a little better, but you will feel greater happiness and satisfaction in your own life as well.

Monday, October 9, 2017

21 Days to Happiness

A few weeks ago my daughters and I decided to try an experiment together.  For 21 days six of us agreed that we would all do something kind each day for another human being that we would not normally do.  We wanted to see if "stepping up" our level of kindness to others around us would change us in any way, and if so, how?  We agreed that it didn't need to be anything big, but to be aware and look for opportunities to make someone else's day better.  We also decided that this was a "no guilt" experiment.  If we missed a day, or several days, any amount of stepping it up was an improvement over what we had done previous to the experiment, and therefore a success.  No guilt.  And thus we began.  We had a group text where we reported at the end of the day what we had done.  This helped keep us motivated and accountable.  At the end of the 21 days we met at a local favorite restaurant (Kneaders) for breakfast (french toast, of course!) and to report the results of our experiment.  Here is what we discovered:

We realized how much we already do for others.  Finding some way to serve or do something nice for someone else that we normally would not do was somewhat of a challenge at times.  We realized that we already do a lot that we hadn't even been giving ourselves credit for.  We found that we had things we could have "counted" as service, or a nice thing for someone else, but we had to ask ourselves would we normally have done that anyway?  If we would have, we did not count it.

We noticed that we felt more positive, understanding and loving feelings towards those around us.  The author Richard Paul Evans one said, "You love that whom you serve".  It's true.  The bible teaches this over and over.  Our experiment softened our hearts toward other people, and helped us to love them.

We found that getting outside ourselves and our own problems actually made each day richer and happier.  Scientists would say that these acts of kindness increase our serotonin levels, or hormones in the brain called "happy hormones".  It made life more fun and more fulfilling.

We became more aware of the nice things other people do for us.  One of my daughters said she became much more aware when someone would hold a door open for her or do any other small kind gesture that she might have noticed in the past, but would not have received with as much appreciation as she now felt as she recognized these small gifts from strangers.  Greater awareness and appreciation of other peoples acts of kindness was an unexpected bonus!

"Stepping it up" proved more challenging on some days than others.  Some of my daughters expressed that on especially busy days it was hard to make time to think about someone else.  We all got creative in our desire to serve more than what we normally would have.  Here are some of the ways we found to brighten other people's days:

Spending time with a child when normally that time would have been spent cleaning.
Paying for the drink of the person behind you in the drive-thru.
Bringing someone a treat at work.
Buying a candy bar while going through the grocery line, then giving it to the cashier or person behind you.
Buying a candy bar and then praying who to give it to, then looking for that right person as you go through your day.
Saying "yes" to a child when normally you would have said "no" because you didn't want to do something.
Giving the gift of time to help someone else with their homework when you have your own to do.
Holding the door open for others.
Praying in the morning to know what to say to people you meet that will brighten their day.
Praying for an opportunity to help someone that day, and then paying attention and following through when ideas come.
Being friendly and cheerful to everyone you meet.
Going out of your way to help a coworker.
Doing extra things for family members that you would normally let them do themselves.
Being a nicer-than-usual driver and letting people into your lane.
Letting someone go in front of you in line at the store.
Letting someone else have their way on something and being happy about it.

Did this 21-day experiment change us?  YES!   We all agreed that it made us more aware of what we do in our day.  It helped us be more appreciative of others.  This experiment helped us feel more love for other people, and stepped up our level of kindness to others in a way that we hope to maintain.  As a group, we agreed that it also gave us a good feeling, and helped us to feel happier.

Want to try this experiment? It's so fun! It also worked really well to do it in a group.  The group text kept us accountable, motivated and inspired by each other.    I invite you to put together your own group and please let me know how it goes, or comment below if you want to do this experiment with me.  I would love an opportunity to do it again!