Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Dad's Preparation

This post very much relates to yesterday's post, though I won't get into particulars. What I will say is that I think the most important lesson my dad taught me was how to prepare.

When I was in my twenties, I read articles about what to look for in relationships, romantic and friendly. I learned about red flags and personality traits that spelled disaster. One common sentiment went something like this: "Lying. I absolutely will not tolerate liars." Or "honesty is the most important quality in any relationship." I disagreed. I believed arrogance was the most egregious trait anyone could have and often insidiously dangerous.

I still mostly think that, but as I've learned to understand and appreciate nuance in my adulthood, I now believe that a lack––and even a disdain for––preparation goes hand-in-hand with arrogance. I'll share two anecdotes from my dad's life and one from mine to illustrate this:

  • Although many young men in The Church of Latter-day Saints serve a two-year mission, my dad did not. He instead opted for the Marine Corps. Naturally athletic, he excelled in basic training, and he loved the predictability and comfort of routine. However, as men his age came home from their missions, speaking foreign languages and well-versed in scripture, my dad felt inadequate. He later admitted to me that he regretted not serving a mission, but he also did something that I think few men would do to make up for it: He studied. He read The Book of Mormon from cover to cover nine times. He did the same with the Doctrine and Covenants three times; the Pearl of Great Price two times; the New Testament two times; and the Old Testament one time. I've seen his large set of scriptures, and he used up every inch of blank space––the cover pages, the publisher's blank pages, and the title pages. In these spaces, he taped various copies of things: a small copy of sections of the Church Handbook of Instructions; the words to the civil marriage ceremony; excerpts from Church educational manuals; poems; and patriarchal blessings. He also wrote proverbs, quotes, and definitions that meant something to him, and they were nuggets of wisdom from Catholic saints, Supreme Court Justices, psychologists, poets, writers, presidents, and religious leaders. He highlighted many verses in Proverbs and made significant notes in Isaiah, Revelation, and Matthew. He wrote marginal notes about geography, exact times, sizes of ancient tools, and definitions of archaic words. He also wrote notes at the beginning of most Old Testament books that explained who authored the book, who the author's contemporaries were, and what the name of the book meant.

    You get the picture. My point is, though, that he knew how important learning was. He knew how important curiosity and education was. And he didn't say much unless he knew at least a bit about the topic at hand. Mostly he listened.

  • He probably hated it, but as a psychologist and university professor, my dad was often asked to give speeches at public events, such as graduations, professional conferences, and even trial courts. As a religious leader, too, he was required to give speeches to large congregations of churchgoers. His speeches were phenomenal. He knew his material so well that he could lengthen or shorten his speech as necessary, depending on the amount of time he needed to fill. One Saturday, I unintentionally overheard my dad practicing a speech in front of a bathroom mirror. He practiced it over and over and over again. I never said anything to my dad about it, but the next day, a woman at church walked over to me and said, "Your dad is so good at speaking! He just has a natural gift!" Perhaps he did, but I remember thinking, "He also prepares a lot!"

  • Not many years after graduating from college, I was talking about the university experience to an acquaintance of mine. I can't remember anything from the conversation except that we happened to be talking about studying, and I mentioned that I practically lived at my college library. He said casually, "I pride myself on the fact that I never once went to my college library." I know he meant to sound cool, but I remember walking away from that conversation being completely flabbergasted.

    I don't have many conversations about college anymore, but there does seem to be an epidemic in recent years of people priding themselves in not picking up a book, reading about current events, or consulting with reliable sources and experts. And people who have no business weighing in on a topic seem to be the loudest and the rudest.
Even if you don't subscribe to Mormon philosophy, I think there's something from one of our books of scripture that applies to everyone in the world. It's found in the Doctrine and Covenants, chapter 9, verses 7–8. Oliver Cowdery, one of Joseph Smith's contemporaries, wants to translate ancient scripture but it turns out that he can't. The Lord tells him, "[...] You have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind [...]." The lesson here is that preparation is key to . . . well, to anything, really. In this context, preparation is key to translating ancient scripture through revelation, but I do think God's idea of preparation is broader. I think it extends to almost every facet of life: formal schooling, parenting, business success, physical success, and who knows what else.

When I was young, I somehow thought that arrogance was simply a personality trait, like being introverted or extraverted. Then I figured it was a consequence of ingratitude and a lack of humility. Now, looking back at my life and my dad's example, I think arrogance is the result of not preparing. When we prepare, whether it's by reading, listening, exercising, or repeating a task over and over and over again, we learn how to be grateful and humble and deferential. And as a bonus, we end up increasing our knowledge and abilities.

Thing I'm thankful for: my dad teaching me how to fold socks

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Something to Say

For the last several months, I've wanted to write, but I don't quite know what to say. I have glimmers of ideas, but I just can't seem to get the words out. I used to publish a post once a week or so, and now, I think I'm at about 4 posts per year.

Why? I'm not really sure, but there are two things that have been especially difficult during the past year: 1) my dad's death, and 2) being a step mom. I can't seem to shake this sadness from myself. I have moments of lightness, but I'll see something that reminds me of my dad and grief flickers through my body. I'll see a mother surrounded by her biological children and wonder what that must feel like.

Life is so hard. It's beautiful and wonderful and bright and sparkling, and it's melancholy and sorrowful and dark and dull. I don't know how to express all of it at the same time, so I'll leave some recent musings here:

  • I wish I could go to Dairy Queen with my dad and get him a raspberry Blizzard with chunks of Heath and Butterfinger.
  • When I was a child, I didn't understand how much my dad worked for my family; it must be hard for fathers to be absent during the day.
  • Fathers deserve as much respect as mothers do, and they deserve to have healthy relationships with their kids.
  • I'm a good parent.
  • Sometimes people say and do cluelessly hurtful things.
  • Sometimes people are really mean to people they don't even know.
  • Starting a food business is exciting and overwhelming and invigorating and scary.
  • Making friends is one of life's greatest joys.

That's all for now. I'll try to write more soon.

Thing I'm thankful for: chocolate milk

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Older and Wiser?

I didn't post about it then, but in October, I turned 40. I started writing this blog in my twenties––23, in fact. I look back at the posts from that time, and they were so funny and clever. I remember being smart at that age. Really smart. I think I can say that now because I'm saying it about a past version of myself––a version I no longer think I am.

I feel less intelligent now, less clever. Less able to articulate what I'm thinking and feeling. I can't figure out why, though. Aren't we supposed to get wiser as we get older? Sure, one could argue that knowledge and intelligence and wisdom are all slightly different things, and just because I'm less intelligent doesn't mean I'm not wise . . . Or one could argue that with more knowledge and understanding, one eventually comes to the realization that there's so much left to learn . . . Whatever the case, I feel . . . Less smart. I feel less certain about so many things.  I guess it could be a good and bad thing. I see the world as less black-and-white now, which can be good but also bad. I also find myself saying, "I don't know" more and more, which can be bad but also good . . .

Blech. I dunno what I'm saying . . . (See? Less articulate!) Although I am glad I'm still trying to figure things out. I'm also glad that I'm still writing on this here blog. Probably not a lot of you have stuck with me throughout the years, but if you have, thanks. :)

Here are some posts I'm particularly proud of:

Thing I'm thankful for: our sweet cat Coco, who likes to watch me type.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Are We Not All Mothers?

I didn't realize until today how long it had been since my last blog post, and all I can say is . . . It's been a rough 6 months. 2020 seems to be the year that everyone hates, but for me, it's 2021. My father died in August, I struggled to breathe with COVID in September, and my colon didn't work right for the latter half of the year. There are a myriad of other things, but those were––and are––the big hardships. Perhaps the hardest thing of all, though, was the thing that happened this week. It feels daunting to write about, but I feel compelled to, for my own catharsis and for a reckoning of sorts. In order to fully convey my feelings, I have to tell you about my niece Lily.

It was July 2nd, 2001. I was 19 years old and studying for a Biology II Lab test. My family had just gotten the news that my sister Summer was in labor with her first baby––the Brent and Cathy Snow Family's first next-generation bundle of joy. We were all so excited. Blake drove Lexia and me to the hospital, and we waited. And waited. We waited with our in-laws and talked and laughed until the wee hours of July 3rd. At some point (the time is hazy), Lily was born. She was a teeny, tiny thing with a long cone head. We all looked at her strangely and crossed our fingers that the cone would round out soon. Otherwise, she was as perfect as all babies are.

I laughed along as Lily had her first laugh. I watched as she took her first steps. I listened to her utter her first words and sentences. I helped my mom care for her during the day while my sister worked as a teacher. I rocked her to sleep. I taught her how to bake a cake. I decorated sugar cookies with her. We read together and played together. We freeze-danced and played hide-and-seek.

When I moved out of my parents' house and into my first apartment, Lily and her younger sister Macy would visit and we'd watch the Care Bears or Lady and the Tramp. I bought special cups that I only used when they came over. When I made the difficult decision to move away from everything I knew and attend graduate school in Texas, Lily was 10. I cried as I hugged her and Macy goodbye and drove to Austin to start a new life. I was sad to leave those little girlies––they were the closest things to my own children I had.

To my delightful surprise, Lily moved into mine and Daryl's basement this past Spring. She worked two jobs, but we found time to have long talks, try out new bakeries, and eat lunch together now and then. We explored some new places together and bought her first Christmas tree together. I taught her how to play with cats (She comes from a dog-loving family.), and we shared funny TikTok videos with each other. My stepchildren came to view her as sort of an older sister, and she often ate dinner or Universal Yums with us.

As is hopefully apparent, I love Lily. I love her with all my heart, might, and mind. I love her as though she were my own child. So when I took her to the hospital early Wednesday morning, I worried the way a parent would worry. When the ER doctor came into the room to tell us she had new onset Type 1 diabetes, my heart sank. When the angioplasty doctors wheeled her away to put a picc line into her arm, I went to the bathroom and cried harder than I have since my dad died. I was afraid I'd never see her again. I was scared her little, dehydrated body couldn't accept another poke, prod, and catheter. I didn't give birth to her, but I sobbed the way any parent would sob if they saw their child being wheeled away.

I did see her again. And I sat with her for hours while the nurses tried to get her rehydrated and back to normal. She's still not quite there yet––the ketoacidosis is severe, and to add insult to injury, she has pancreatitis as well. She is slowly improving, though, and most importantly, she's still with us. She'll have a tough transition in the coming weeks and months while she learns how to calculate the amount of insulin she needs to give herself each day, and she'll likely struggle with feelings of sadness or anger or frustration. But she's here, and I'm lucky that she was brave enough to wake me in the middle of the night to tell me she wasn't feeling right.

Something I'll never, ever forget about this week is the thought I had while I was sobbing in the hospital bathroom, and that is this: I am a mother. I am a mother, and I am a good one. I may not have given birth to anyone, but I have loved as a parent loves. I have mourned as a parent mourns. God knows I am worthy of being called a parent. The closeness I have with each of my nieces and nephews afforded me the opportunity to be a parent before I even became a step-parent, and I count that opportunity as a beautiful gift from a loving Heavenly Father.

Why am I saying this? Because I have often been told, "You don't understand a mother's love until you become a mother." "You'll learn when you have your own child someday." "That's not what moms do; this is what moms do." It's insulting, and it's untrue. I recently read a speech by Sheri Dew called Are We Not All Mothers? In it, she says, "Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve 'the mother of all living'—and they did so before she ever bore a child." That leads me to believe that motherhood is more than bearing children. At the very least, it should prompt Christians to ask, "What is motherhood?" To me, motherhood––or rather, parenthood––is love and tender care of someone in your stewardship. It can be experienced by anyone who cares for a child, whether that child is a niece or nephew, adopted daughter or son, or a foster child. It can be experienced by a godparent or just a regular person. It knows no bounds.

My hope is that you remember this definition of parenthood when you approach someone who has no biological children. Remember this definition as you think about your own children and how you treat them.

Thing I'm thankful for: medical instrumentation

Sunday, June 27, 2021

These United States

It's always seemed to me that the hip thing in travel is to travel abroad -- to go to places that none of your friends have been to and have a dalliance with someone who speaks another language and who is incredible-looking. And tan.

When I was young, though, my dad said something about how big and amazing the United States is. He told me there was so much of our own country to see and that most Americans will never see it all. I'm sure his perspective had something to do with the fact that he was scared of flying over the ocean, but also, I think my dad sort of . . . resented the fact that most people don't explore their own backyards, so to speak. "Resented" may be too strong a word, and maybe it was more like sadness. I think he was proud of America. Having been born on the heels of World War II and served in the Marine Corp in his twenties, he fits the bill of a proud American. But . . . He also has the personality of a man who understands that the most important travel is in the mind. Perhaps he knew he wasn't destined to do anything grand, and he knew that most people in this world aren't either. He knew that he could learn what he needed to learn through reading and being well-informed and that if he had the chance, he could at least explore his own country in small doses. As a result, he traveled to all 50 states over the course of his lifetime, and I think he loves the rolling plains of Oklahoma as much as he loves the mountains of Idaho. He loves that this country has a little bit of everything: beaches, forests, flatlands, desert, mountains, and valleys; small towns with mom-and-pop shops and big cities with sidewalks for miles. He definitely instilled a love of American geography in me, and I'm happy to say that at almost 40, I've visited about 75% of the states. (That's 11 more states than the last time I checked! See Adventurous.)

To be sure, I think international travel is great; I just like that my dad liked America and wanted to see all of it. I want to see all of it, too. It's a beautiful country.

Thing I'm thankful for: my papa bear

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Look-Alikes, Pt. 2

While I was at the dentist this afternoon, one of the hygienists said, "Weren't you my patient last week? You look just like Gwyneth Paltrow!"

Honestly, it was a nice compliment to get, since it's been a while. I mean, I've gained some weight this year (Thanks, COVID.), I don't have a nice golden tan anymore, and I haven't dyed my hair bright blonde since graduate school. AND I almost always wear my hair in a ponytail and/or bun.

Still, it was kinda cool to get that comparison. I'm still not sure what it is about us that is similar, but I'll take it! (Though she and I are rather different in our approaches to health, fitness, and alternative medicine, I don't mind looking like her.)

Thing I'm thankful for: a cool new husband by my side!

Every Human Emotion

I'm nearly five years late, but in this case, late really is better than never. That is, I just started reading -- listening to, rather -- Born A Crime, the autobiography of Trevor Noah. I'm only into it by a couple of chapters, but it's one of the best nonfiction books I've read/listened to in . . . well, maybe my life. Noah had me crying and laughing at the same time. It's truly gut-wrenching content, but he adds just enough humor to let his words sit with you a while in wonder.

If you only read one chapter of one book this year, let it be the first chapter of this book. It's called "Run," and it'll make you feel every human emotion.

That is all.

Thing I'm thankful for: comedians, who, incidentally, my dad once said were some of the most intelligent people on the planet. I quite agree.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Rachel Hollis: A Case Study in Un-intentionality

I know, I know -- you're probably thinking, "Who are you and what have you done with Sara?" In other words, WHY am I writing about an "influencer?" Well, I'll tell you why: 1) She has caused a small kerfuffle online, and I read about it in The NY Times (Girl, Wash Your Timeline), and 2) Her brand (her personality?) have been directly at odds with mine recently.

So. What's all the fuss about? Well, in short, Rachel Hollis posted a photo on Instagram in 2015 that went viral. Since then, she has created Hollis Co., a lifestyle brand that sells products (e.g., journals, jewelry, water bottles, etc.), organizes inspirational conferences, and cheers women on by saying things like, "Girl, you got this." She has also written three best-selling books all about intentionality and confidence and believing in oneself. Her audience is largely white, middle class, Christian women, and they are devoted to her. After a series of missteps last year, however, and one big misstep about a month ago, several thousands are un-following her. They've started to question the person they've been following since 2018.

Well, here's what I think: They're right to question. I listened to her most recent podcast on the topic, and I've gotta say . . . It smacks of arrogance, and quite frankly, it's filled with thoughtlessness and carelessness. Essentially, she said some derogatory things online, and while trying to "own [her] mistakes" in this podcast, she instead shifted the blame:

  • "I wish that I hadn't had to go through something like this. I wish I hadn't had to hurt people [. . .]"
  • "I'm appreciative of what God and the universe put in front of me to learn."
  • "When this thing happened to me [. . .]"
Uh, what??? "Things" did not "happen" to her, nor did she "[have] to hurt people." The kicker for me, though, is when she hands everything over to "God and the universe." I'm so tired of people refusing accountability for their choices by handing everything over to "God" or "The Universe," and this is particularly egregious when that person is Rachel Hollis, who uses phrases such as "Be intentional," "Own your mistakes," and "Manifest your destiny."

Someone I know recently texted, "I wasn't ever intending on doing [this thing], but I guess the universe had other plans." My first response was to roll my eyes, but my second response has . . . been building over the last year and a half or so. Talking about God or The Universe in such a way is seductive -- what better way is there to ignore accountability? To avoid guilt? To get a pass for bad behavior?

Rachel Hollis's approach to an apology is a slap in the face to true intentional living; it's also an insidious message that says, "Here, let me teach you how to live an authentic life without actually taking accountability for my actions."

Thing I'm thankful for: my parents. My honest, loving parents who taught me what a deliberate life looks like.