Monday, November 16, 2015

My Broken Heart

Just for today... I'm going to hand it all over to God.
Just for today... He can carry all of my sorrows, fears, and hopes for the future.
Just for today... I'm going to live in this moment.  Right here.  Now.
Just for today... I'm going to open the doors to Grace, and surrender as it swallows me up.
Just for today... I'm going to trust that light will overcome darkness,  
                        That Godliness will overcome idleness,
                        That joy will overcome sorrow.                                                                         
Just for today... I'm going to believe that it will all work out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


They don’t want to go there
They only want to play
The game that is sucking the life from my soul.
Beauty, thinness, dark skin, colored hair
Makeup on eyebrows and artificial lashes
A chest that is perky- not too big, not too small
Clothes that are meant to reveal just enough
Pretty faces, sassy comments, and an enticing smile-
Everything’s perfect when the game is on

I don’t want to go there
I don’t want to play
The game that is fruitless and will never end
I am tired, I am done
I’ve given it all… and they’ve won

Now I see more, beyond the rules of this game
I see beauty, I see courage
I see light, joy, and love
Understanding, I see glory
I see mercy, I see grace

Resurrecting my soul from the darkest abyss,
I am open and vulnerable
I hold nothing back
Now I will live with all of my heart,
Exploring the darkness, discovering the light
Connecting with others… deeply… wholly
Reveals that we’re all in the fight of our lives

I want to go there
I want to live!
Wholly!  Completely!
I’ll give it all that I’ve got
Gloriously beautiful just as I am
For the very first time
I see me.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Prayer of an addict

Only you know.
Only you know the fight I am in.
Only you know
the intensity with which I feel emotion
the depth of my conversion
the pains of mental illness  
the daily battles that I fight
the difficulty of motherhood
the passion that burns inside of me
my desire to be understood
my desire to understand 
the natural man within me
the love that fills my heart to bursting  
the fears that haunt me
the terror of placing my heart upon your altar 
my willingness to give anything for my children's happiness
my selfish and stony heart
my insatiable need to make a deep, lasting impact on the world
my tears of inadequacy
the sweetness of the fruit I have tasted
the mists of darkness all around me
my extreme exhaustion
my willingness to endure 
the canyons I have crawled through
the mountains I have climbed
my white-knuckled moments of sheer desperation
the painful stretching of my soul
my inexpressible love for my Savior   
my crucible of doubt
the decision that I made
the innumerable hours spent on my knees
the wisdom I have learned
how beautiful I will become
the purpose behind it all.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Joy to the World!

           It seems with every Christmas comes a new lesson learned, and this December was no exception.  Although it will take some time to put this year's message into words, today I am reflecting on last year's critical lesson:

           Last December I began the month by doing the usual things that always bring me joy- Simplifying gift giving, scheduling in service projects, making gifts for the homeless, etc.  However,  no matter how hard I tried, I could not fill my heart with the Christmas spirit.  Because I desired it so badly, I made a conscious and deliberate effort.  I surrounded myself with opportunities to serve others, spent my time wrapping gifts, writing letters to loved ones, baking our favorite holiday foods, and filling our home with wonderful music.  Each time, I could sense just a bit, a tiny moment of the spirit of Christ, but it seemed so fleeting.  It seemed to leave me just as quickly as it came.  In addition, every gift I needed to come up with felt like a burden to me, so I was extremely frustrated.  What in the world was holding me back?

           Then one night I spent some much needed alone time with my journal. I surprised even myself as I described each of the heavy burdens I was carrying.

Because of the path of entrepreneurship that Darin and I have chosen to walk, we are constantly experiencing financial highs and lows.  Last year, the lows became almost too much to bear, the financial hardships adding a blanket of stress that covered every area of my life.  The persistent insecurity affected my ability to cope with everyday stress.  It affected who I was as a mother, wife, friend, daughter and sister.

I was carrying deep rooted sorrow and uncertainty regarding the health of one of my children, and a great longing to receive answers from a trusted professional.  I could feel the implications of our decisions regarding his care- how those decisions could affect his future in a very significant way.

I was feeling the weight of the responsibility of schooling my children at home.  The responsibility of providing an environment for my children to learn, serve, and become everything that God wants them to become had become overwhelming.

At the same time I was fighting a serious mental and emotional battle to overcome addiction through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and to rely on Him to convert my weaknesses into strengths.

I was also full of uncertainty about how to love some toxic people in my life.  Once again, I wondered what role I was supposed to play in their lives, and still unsure about how to cope with the painful interactions that frequently occured.

As I opened my heart to my journal, it began to make sense to me why I felt so heavy that December, and why it was so difficult to find room in my heart for others.  That night I gave myself permission to just focus on me and work through these significant burdens.  I decided that it was ok if this Christmas felt very different, because it was very different.  I reflected on my study of the Atonement earlier that year and knew that I needed to once again drink deeply of all that Jesus Christ had to offer me. 

Two days later my stomach was in knots as I prepared for my very first public performance on the violin.  It was something I agreed to doing because I knew it would challenge me, but I was second guessing my decision.  What if I froze up and forgot the notes?  What if my hand became so unsettled that the bow shook for the entire song?  I prayed for comfort all morning.  In an attempt to calm my nerves, I decided to play Christmas songs for the entire hour before church began.  Darin accompanied me on the piano, and the spirit quickly filled our home.  Then I opened to “Joy to the World”.  As I began to play, the music I was creating became a prayer unto God and the words suddenly pierced my heart with great force…
Joy to the World, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room,
And Saints and angels sing!

Rejoice!  Rejoice when Jesus reigns,
And Saints their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more will sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He’ll come and make the blessings flow
Far as the curse was found.

Rejoice!  Rejoice in the most high,
While Israel spreads abroad
Like stars that glitter in the sky,
And ever worship God!

     We finished playing- my body covered in goose bumps, and my face wet with tears...  

            How could I have forgotten?  How could I have ever thought that this was a Christmas of lesser joy? That instant I saw things much differently, for I now understood the truth.  If anything, this should be a Christmas of more intense joy than ever before--
                                     For Jesus Christ was born!

 The very fact that He was born made it possible for me to let it all go!  My Savior, the only man who can literally remove all of my burdens from me, was born on this day!  Regardless of the nature of my current struggles, because HE came, it would all be ok.  The message came with such intensity because for the first time in my life, I was the musician.  I was the one praising the Lord through my violin!  As never before in my life, I truly felt like shouting
                          “Joy to the World!”

The words of our prophet, President Monson repeated over and over in my mind that day: 
“Because He came to earth, we have a perfect example to follow. As we strive to become more like Him, we will have joy and happiness in our lives and peace each day of the year. It is His example which, if followed, stirs within us more kindness and love, more respect and concern for others.
            Because He came, there is meaning to our mortal existence.
Because He came, we know how to reach out to those in trouble or distress, wherever they may be.
Because He came, death has lost its sting, the grave its victory. We will live again because He came.
Because He came and paid for our sins, we have the opportunity to gain eternal life.”

To that, I could then add some of my own:
Because He came, I could trust in His divine plan for our family. I could trust that if all seemed lost financially, and even if we lost our house and all our worldly possessions, it would all be for our good.
Because He came, I could trust that He knows and loves each one of my children more than I could comprehend.  He would give them the best experiences for them.
Because He came, I could believe in my ability to homeschool my children.  I could trust that He would provide the answers, the people and the resources that we needed as soon as we became ready to receive them.
Because He came, I did not have to be perfect.  As I continued to fight off the natural man, occasionally I would allow pride to enter my heart.  He would forgive me and make me whole every time.
Because He came, I could love the unlovable people in my life.  Even when it appeared that there was no justice in doing so, I could continue to love unconditionally because HE came.
Because He came, I could gather all my fear, anxiety, and worry, and choose to lay it at His feet.
Because He came, I could live each day in peace and serenity. 
This is His Birth!Truly Christmas is a time to rejoice as never before. 

With steady hands, I packed up my violin and drove to church in peace.  For hundreds of people, I played a simple novice melody- but my whole heart was in it.  With only three days until Christmas, the Atonement of Christ had finally become the object of my celebration, and the Christmas spirit enveloped my heart- just as I had longed for the whole month of December.
And this time it did not leave.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My gift

I am the luckiest woman in the world.
I have the unusual hobby of being a doula and birth assistant in people's homes.  This means that I have the privilege of sharing in families most intimate spaces.

This morning I arrived before dawn.  Quietly sitting in the dimly-lit living room, I hear the sweet whimper of a two-year-old baby girl.  Her dad enters her room, but she cries that she just wants mommy.  "Mommy is busy.  Mommy is having a baby today!"  Immediately her crying stops.  As they commune in the dark, she soaks it all in.  "You are going to be a big sister!  Isn't that so exciting?!"  Still silent, I am sure she understands.
A few minutes later, I see the ruffled hair of a four-year-old boy emerge from the hall.  He smiles, introduces me to his toy truck and informs me that he gets to spend the day with "Mimi". 
Breakfast is eaten, bags are packed and the children are on their way with grandma.

For the next few hours, I get to be a silent observer as this amazing woman labors through the task that God has given her.  She works through every contraction with grace...
and I revel in the beauty. 
I watch as her exhausted husband also works with every contraction.  Pushing... squeezing... holding... loving.  For more than 12 hours this husband and wife will continue the arduous work of bringing their new daughter into this world.  Many of the moments they will pass through will shape who they are forever.  Truly, these are the moments that make up a beautiful life.

In our own homes, it is often difficult to recognize the moments that make up the story of our beautiful life.  We do not take the time to sit back and simply savor the sweetness that continually surrounds us.
We worry.  We complicate.  We stay too busy.

But from this point of view, everything looks different.  Here in the sacred space of another family, time slows down and I can really soak it in.  I can see these moments in family life for what they truly are... They are beautiful.  They are priceless.  And they are eternally important.

To all the women who have trusted me to share this holy space with you--  Thank You.
You teach me more than you know.  You amaze me, you inspire me, and you humble me.  Being in your presence makes me a better mother, a more grateful wife and friend, and a more devoted daughter of God.  Thank you for gifting that to me over and over again. 
I am the luckiest woman in the world.

Monday, July 28, 2014

What is it all for? (our musical journey)

This is an essay that I wrote last year.  It is long I know, but worth the time if you have ever experienced your own questions about the way we educate our children in the language of music.  It is also a testament to answered prayers.  Enjoy :)

          In the nine years since I became a mother, I have often pondered the purpose of music in our mortal experience. In observing each of my children, it was apparent within the first few weeks of life that each newborn understood the language of music. Music calms and soothes them. Music enlivens and liberates them. Children and adults of all ages naturally connect with music, and express themselves through it.  We are all excited, liberated, and calmed by it.

As a preschooler, Holden was especially drawn to musical notes, and began composing original melodies at three years old. When he was four years old he begged me to teach him how to play the piano. We began the beginner books together, and he LOVED it! As his abilities grew and his love for the instrument blossomed, and I began feeling pressure to find him a "real" teacher.

After a highly recommended referral, we hired a young college student who was studying music at the university to come to our house once a week to teach Holden. It was a new expense to our budget, but we viewed it as the gift we needed to give him. The teacher agreed with us that Holden was a young prodigy and began challenging and shaping her new student. As she regularly corrected bad habits and encouraged perfection, I was surprised to see that our little blossom began to wilt.

He no longer wanted to practice, he didn’t touch the piano every day as he once had, and he stopped creating new melodies and discovering new songs in his world. He said that he liked piano lessons, but I wondered. I felt confused about what I was supposed to do with my son who was so gifted--
He seemed to have lost the love. I wasn’t finding any answers other than the prompting to stop the lessons completely. I didn’t understand why that would be the right thing, but we obeyed.

About this time, his older brother Gary was showing increased interest in the piano. This time we hired the neighborhood teacher. She was wonderful because she really loved Gary and loved teaching him. About a year into his lessons, he was doing well and progressing through his books, yet his attitude towards the piano and practicing was worrisome to me. Practicing the piano was a chore, and one that caused a lot of tears. He watched the clock like a hawk, counting down until his assigned practice time was over.  He was only practicing to check it off his list so he could move on to things he enjoyed doing more. He did not feel any ownership in his own musical education. Again I was confused about what to do about this situation that wasn’t quite right. Until we could receive an answer, we didn’t need to waste more time and money, so we stopped the lessons.

For the next six months I had my eyes and ears open to anyone and everyone’s opinion on music and music lessons. I was absolutely hungry for answers. I began asking everyone that I knew about their thoughts. What age should we begin teaching music? What is the best way to teach children? Is practicing the instrument a requirement? I asked nearly all my friends and acquaintances, "Did YOU take lessons?" followed by "do you play NOW?" and "does making music bring you joy?" "What about your siblings?" I wanted to know each person’s journey and their current feelings about music and their instruments. I asked families about their requirements of their children. Were lessons mandatory? Is practicing required? Most importantly, do your children associate music with misery, or joy? I was intrigued and fascinated by the advice I received. Though the opinions were slightly varied, I sensed one underlying message in nearly everyone I talked to:

"Playing this instrument is a requirement in our home. You don’t get to choose what, when or how long you play. I pay for the lessons, and you are grateful. You practice 30 minutes every day before you may move onto more enjoyable pursuits.
No complaining."

Nearly every adult I talked to said yes, they did take lessons, and no, they didn’t really like or know how to play now.
I was perplexed. Was I the ONLY one that thought there just might be a fault in our system??
An education mentor of mine suggested I look into the Suzuki Method of Talent Education. I had heard enough talk of Suzuki to know that people were fiercely in favor or fiercely opposed to this method. In order to form my own opinion, I read "Nurtured by Love", written by Shinichi Suzuki. The book had a refreshing new flavor. I agreed with his belief that music is simply a new language that can be easily acquired and loved if we are surrounded with it as we are our mother tongue. His beliefs on how to effectively educate or how to ineffectively educate were congruent with the results I had found in my "experiment" with our current culture of music education.

Although I believed in Suzuki’s philosophies and goals for the future of our children, I still didn’t feel I had an answer. Was moving strictly to the Suzuki Method right for our family? It seemed that the Suzuki people believe their way is the only way, and that the traditional teachers believe their way is the only way. Couldn’t there be a coming together of the best of both philosophies?

Darin and I continued our frequent discussions regarding our own beliefs. We found that we had to step beyond our cultural expectations and examine our own thoughts about music. I often asked myself, "What is the ultimate objective we are trying to achieve with music lessons?" Is it that our children can play in church? Is it that our children fit in with the other neighbor kids who are taking lessons? Is it that they become smarter individuals? Is it that they understand how to read music for further opportunities in life?

"What is music really for?"

My mind traveled back to our family Christmas party last year. A musical number was performed by a cousin and her husband who had recently become parents. The notes they sang were not in tune, their voices obviously untrained, yet I was deeply moved by their music. Tears came to my eyes as I thought what a lucky boy theirs was to be raised in the language of music. To be born to parents who know that music is a way for us to communicate spirit to spirit, in a way that words cannot. How very lucky he was to have a mom and a dad who really truly FEEL the joy of music. Who sing regardless of professional training, because it brings them deep JOY. Their message permeated my soul...

Yes, music is for joy.

As the months passed, more answers came. If music is for joy, then we needed to make it that way in our home. Darin and I became much more conscious about showing the joy of music in our lives. We began looking for opportunities to take the children to concerts and talking about exciting opportunities to feel others’ passion for music. We instituted Sunday night "Family Show" where everyone is invited to perform anything they would like, and guests are invited to participate impromptu. I asked others to share their talents and their joy of music with us. I played music more consciously. I prioritized singing to the children every night before bed. I spoke more frequently of Darin’s goal of becoming a musician full-time, and became more supportive of his hours of practicing. I stopped wishing that I played the violin and actually started playing. I created more opportunities for our children to sing for people and thus bring others joy. These decisions resulted in many sweet moments together.

Then one day Holden came to me with tears in his eyes, "Mom, I have been asking you for a LONG time if I could please start piano lessons again." Ugh. A feeling of dread came over me as I remembered about the lesson debate again. "Oh yeah… ...lessons." We had been having such a great time inspiring a love of music, and now the inspiring had worked! But that meant that now I had to think about lessons again. It meant I had to figure out what "method" and teacher would be best for us.

It quickly became a matter of prayer. Intuitively, I knew that music was to become an important part of our family’s story. In the past six months, I had seen it unite our family. Shortly after we began "music morning" (one day a week when Darin stays home in the morning just to play music with us), we set a goal to travel the country performing together. Another goal was set for the "Paul Brothers Quartet" to raise enough money to go to Disneyland! In our home, we were really feeling the joy of music again, and because of our previous experiences, I dreaded having to begin "lessons" again.

Every day I prayed for guidance. This dilemma that some would view as relatively insignificant was everything to me. I knew that the teacher we found for our children would seriously impact the way our children felt about the piano, and music in general. We knew our children had the potential to become great musicians, but we also believed more importantly that they must find joy in their journey. We needed someone who thought like us.

I contacted several Suzuki teachers, and got referrals for three more traditional teachers. I began interviewing with specific questions to discuss.
We discussed the importance of the children taking ownership. I asked how the teacher really gets to know each child and if they might ask the children to set their own goals. I asked about approaches to the very different learning styles of my boys, and I asked what the teacher would do about a child that wants to play in their own way rather than the ‘correct’ way. I asked if they play for the children, or do anything else to inspire greatness.  I wondered whether or not the teacher could give us more ideas for immersing our family in music.

We met many flavors of piano teachers. To one teacher I described my journey and investment in making the right choice for our family. I told her our belief that if the children are not experiencing joy in the journey, that we are missing the point.

This woman, much older, highly educated and far more musically accomplished than me, chuckled and promptly corrected me. She said that it would not necessarily bring joy, but rather it would be a lot of hard work that would pay off in the end.

I thought to myself, "the end of WHAT?" The end of their lessons? The end of their childhood? The end of their love of music???
I left that day feeling like I was the crazy one. Who was I to say what music was, or was not. I myself struggled through piano lessons and can hardly play through a hymn or two. That struggle doesn’t bring me joy. I dream of performing the violin but so far I can barely remember which strings are which. Maybe I just simply don’t know.

I’d have to sit with that for a while.

At the beginning of November, I needed to replace a violin string and decided to take the whole family to Day Murray Music hoping to do some inspiring while we were there. Holden had been showing increased interest in the cello so I asked if we could possibly see their children’s cellos. We felt honored to have a private tour upstairs where Adam Day helped Holden sit with the cello and really feel it. Because of our commitment to inspire a love of music, we took Holden to Adam’s cello recital that evening.

I received a referral for another piano teacher earlier that day, but figured I’d ask our new friend Adam if he also knew of anyone who teaches piano. He seemed to be educated in Suzuki vs. traditional lessons and I was interested in his opinion. Surprisingly, he said his wife was the best teacher he knows. I got her contact info, thanked him, and we left.

That night my head was racing, and I woke up the next morning thinking about this new referral. The familiar nudging of the spirit didn’t leave me that entire day… or the next day... I really needed to look into this one.

In the past, I had dreaded going to most of the other teacher meetings, but this time I was totally intrigued as to why the spirit was directing me to this family. Also, from our few correspondences, I could tell she was different. At the end of one of her emails I followed a link to her blog, figuring it might help me to know her better. When I had time to focus, I followed all the links that she said were directly correlated to her philosophies about music.
Her first entry intrigued me…she didn’t claim to be a teacher, but a mentor. This meant that she understood that it is the student’s job to educate themselves, not the teacher’s. Next, she began to describe the very same journey that our family has recently taken, using the parenting pyramid that we love so much. She described the struggle we experienced with our previous lessons and illustrated a superior approach to teaching... Setting the example, understanding the students, keeping them thirsty for more knowledge, slowing down to smell the flowers, and soaking up the sweet moments as they come.

Tears ran down my cheeks as I read her entry titled "What is it all for?"
It was the very question I had asked myself so many times over the last year.

Could it possibly be true? I could hardly believe that I had found a teacher who viewed the purpose and education of music in the same light as we do. Furthermore, unlike myself, she has the experience to back it up. She has a degree in piano performance, years of study in highly competitive arenas, extensive accompanying and chamber experience, and formal piano pedagogical studies in three different methods. Most importantly, she believes in the human spirit. Like us, she believes that given the right fertile environment and opportunities for growth, children will learn. Without force.

As for now, I am not highly educated in the language of music, but I believe in my intuitive voice. My inner guide tells me that music has a higher purpose in our lives. When expressed sincerely, music has the power to open portals of communication with the divine. It has the power to bring souls to Christ, and is a gift from God for us to experience deep joy. My intuition was right- because of these higher purposes, we must be extremely careful about how we teach our children the language of music.

So, we’ll study the great musicians, we’ll schedule plenty of time for free play and musical expression. We will simplify, not complicate the learning process. We’ll preserve our environment where music thrives. We will fertilize the soil and protect our growing seeds in this fragile stage.  We’ll invite, encourage and inspire. And with a mentor to provide the answers that Darin and I do not know, I believe that our children will also believe in the higher purposes of music. As I work hard to earn my place in that great conversation that is taking place, I believe my children will choose to do the same…

        …and in the end, there will be joy in the journey.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Strength and my Song

I never could have predicted how I would feel at the end of this marathon training.

My heart is full of gratitude as I attempt to savor these last two days.  I am surprised at how much it feels like coming to the end of pregnancy.
When it really comes down to the end, you start to realize what a privilege it has been.
You reminisce about all the extremely difficult times, and also the overwhelmingly joyful ones.  It is a surreal feeling as you know in a matter of days it will all be over.  All those months of hard work and all those years of dreaming-- will be crowning in achievement, and then over in a few short days.
There is a tinge of sadness, almost like parting from an old friend.  One who walked with you as you became someone new.
You wonder what adventures life holds for you after the labor is through.
There is a sense of humility and longing for peace as you know that the last piece of the process is the most difficult yet.  You have never run that far-- and as much as you hope that all will go as planned, truly you have no idea.

However, you have learned to roll with the punches.
You know through this experience that God will give you the best thing for you-- every time. Through the setbacks, heartaches and great pain you know there is a greater plan.  And so you choose to trust and let go of fear.
You are in awe at all that you have learned.  The over-arching lesson has been this:
As much as you would like to think that you are supported and upheld by other people- in the end it is really only God and you.
Just as in labor, you so badly want your loved ones to help you through the unrest.  And, just as in labor, in the end you must pass through it alone.  Calling upon God for strength, and no one else.  Other people- all other people- have their own lives they are living.  Drawing your strength from people is not dependable. For they are human too, and cannot be all that you need.  But God however, God is dependable.  He is constant- the only true constant you will ever know.  To your loneliest places and back, he has walked it all with you.  Because of that, you love him more deeply than you ever have before.  He has truly become your strength and your song.

This morning I will run a simple two miles.  I'm leaving my phone home this time.
No music or books to distract me-- I want to be present through every step.
With God by my side, I want to savor these last two miles.

Hoping it will be a long 17 minutes... I have a whole lot of singing to do.