Thursday, May 30, 2013

My conversion story

Encouraged by MMM’s 2nd Annual Hug a Convert Day, I am sharing my own conversion story.

I was the first of my family attend any event at our area’s LDS church. I was in third grade and a new kid up the block who happened to be in my class at school invited me to the Primary Halloween party. The only stipulation (you know what’s coming): no masks.

I showed up on at my friend’s house the Thursday afternoon of the party and waited on the back porch while his mother put the finishing touches on his awesome pirate costume (complete with a beard drawn on with eyebrow pencil and a bandana). As I waited, I reflected on my own stupid store-bought troll costume (without a mask). He was very cool. I was a dork. So I did what many self-respecting third graders do: I ran home, deciding not to go to the party.

To my good fortune, my friend was not stopped in his effort to invite me and within a month or two, I was attending Primary every Thursday afternoon with him and his brothers and sisters. Soon one of his sisters invited my older sister to go along, too. By February of the next year, our whole family was invited to their home for a Family Home Evening.

My mother, good southern girl that she was, knew she had to return the favor of an invitation to our home, but she elected only to invite my friend’s parents, not the entire family (including nine kids); they ate in the dining room (something we only did on holidays). And at the end of the meal, my friend’s parents invited my parents to hear the missionary discussions.

(This was not my parents’ first introduction to missionaries. On a couple of other occasions we had missionaries at our doorstep who did not, for whatever reason, return when invited to do so. We lived far from the church and assumed that’s why, so in retrospect, we were glad to have our friends move in up the street to introduce us to the church.)

I remember sitting on the living room floor listening to the missionaries – usually our two young elders, but once in a while they brought a stake missionary with them. I have bit and pieces of memories of flannel board displays from the various lessons (there were six in those days). I remember my baptismal interview, sitting in my bedroom with the district leader and answering and asking questions.

Only later did I realize that the baptism of a complete family of six was pretty special. My parents were well loved in our little branch, and both received callings right away. My sister and I continued to attend Primary and my other sister and brother attended MIA and early morning seminary. (Church was about a half-hour drive away and we made that trip every day at least once, often twice!) One of my father’s first assignments was making a food chest for the scout troop and I enjoyed watching him build it in our garage. My mother taught the three-year olds in Junior Sunday School and we’d help her cut out her pictures for her flannel board stories on Saturday night as we watched TV.

My friend’s father was our home teacher and he came like clockwork. We had those things President Hinckley taught years later we should have: friends, responsibilities and nurturing in the good word of God.

Less than a year after our baptism, we had special permission from Elder Benson of the Twelve to travel to the Salt Lake Temple and be sealed as a family. (Our anniversary would be in September, but an August trip allowed us to make the 1,800 mile trip each way before school started.)

I have memories of scenes in the temple – in the children’s waiting area, in the hallway en route to the sealing room, and in the sealing room itself. I remember kneeling there with my parents.

Participating as the missionaries taught our family, feeling the spirit the night of our baptism and confirmation, and feeling what I did in the temple as we were sealed provided a significant foundation for my personal conversion. Even as I passed through periods of apathy in my teenage years, I could not let go of what I had experienced, and a youth conference experience just before my senior year in high school reawakened and reestablished spiritual connections that had grown dim. By my freshman year at BYU, I was firmly on a path of growing testimony as I received my patriarchal blessing and prepared to serve a mission.

I have sought to relive my conversion experience by inviting others as my third-grade classmate invited me. Sadly, I haven’t been able to replicate the experience of my youth. But I am forever grateful for my friend who did not stop inviting me and for his parents who also invited us and for my own parents who were open to that invitation.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wow, it's here early!

See that button over there to the right?  It looks just like this:

If you click on it, you'll go to the blog of my awesome blogging pal Middle-aged Mormon Man where he's celebrating the Second International Hug a Convert Day with terrific conversion stories.

Go there.  Go today.  Go tomorrow.  Go all week, because he promises to be sharing these inpiring stories all week.

(To go there, click the button over there to the right.  You can click the one above all you want, but because I'm lame, I don't know how to link it to his blog.  Click the one up there on the right.)

I will participate in this week of sharing on Thursday by sharing my own conversion story here at A Latter-day Voice.  (Yep, I'm a convert.  Feel free to hug me, virtually.)

Before I let you go there and soak in the conversion story goodness, let me echo some themes of MMM's whole point.  Being a convert to the church is not easy.  It is wonderful, awesome, cool, yes.  But it's also hard.

I love these verses of scripture from Matthew because they do such a terrific job of pointing out the challenge a new convert to the church faces:

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it‍ empty, swept, and garnished.

Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state‍ of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
When a new convert feels the influence of the Holy Ghost, prepares himself and is baptized, he is clean, swept and garnished.  When, shortly after baptism, old temptations return, they often come not alone, but with reinforcements. 

So hug those converts.  And hold them close to you.  They are precious.

And thanks, MMM.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Good things come in threes

No, this is not a follow up on my Three Good Things post from last week, but I suppose in a way it could be.
Last Sunday we had three departing missionaries speak in our ward – two young men and one young woman. The first of the three entered the MTC this week, and the next two go out over the next two weeks. And let me say this: they are awesome.

These are young people who are well prepared and have thought carefully about their missionary service. You could hear it in their talks and you could see it in their lives prior to their calls.

I can remember in years past sitting through some awful “farewell” talks that seemed to be little more than a thin travelogue through a young missionary’s life leading up to his call. My mission president taught us that anytime we get up to speak as missionaries – particularly in our home wards – we should teach the gospel clearly and boldly. These three new missionaries met that test well.

Of course they were aided by a bishopric who gave them counsel on subject matter, but I was impressed how each of these new missionaries handled the assignment. Each talk was quite different from the others. Our sister missionary spoke first and she spoke of her struggle to get an answer about whether and when to serve. She spoke about a missionary experience she’d had in the Denver airport on her way home, talking, as it happened, to a lapsed member of the church. Her talk was particularly comforting to my lovely wife and me because it could have been one of our sons she described: a young man who no longer identified as LDS, but respected his parents’ love for him and for the church.

Our second missionary speaker based his talk on Elder Hales’ talk about being better Christians from a couple of conferences ago. The calm and quiet conviction he demonstrated mirrored Elder Hales’ own calm declarations of truth in his original address. (I have a soft spot in my heart for Elder Hales as he happens to be one of very few general authorities I’ve met personally, and that talk in particular is one that I really enjoyed.) This young elder will depart directly for England and enter the MTC in Preston.

Our final missionary is one I’ve known since he was little; I was his bishop when he was baptized. I told him later I remembered his dad telling me those many years ago that this young man was always ready to do the right thing, and I’ve observed that to be true about him as well. He’s going to a very small mission spread across the islands of the Caribbean. And he’ll be terrific. (Just like his older brother who is also on a mission now.)

They all will, if they remember who called them and why they are there. There is something exciting about the surge in missionaries. We had a new 18-year old missionary in our home for dinner on Sunday (well, it was his birthday and he was turning 19), and he was excited to be where he was (on his mission, that is, not just in our house).

It’s a good time, demographically, for our ward. With these three new missionaries, we have nine missionaries serving. We’ve had other periods where the demographics were not in our favor and we had just one or two. We’ve had our share of young men who chose not to serve (some of my sons among them, which is why our dear sister’s story of the young man she met in Denver was helpful to us). But I’m grateful for these three, and for the blessings their service will bring to those whom they serve.

Monday, May 20, 2013

In Defense of "The Orange Shirt"

I’m still an avid reader of The Friend, even though my youngest graduated Primary last year, and when I read this month’s issue, the story “The Orange Shirt”  caught my attention. I am aware that there are plenty in the blogosphere who object to stories that teach dress standards to children, and I imagined there would be a bit of a dustup over this one, as well.

I was right. Last week, BCC chimed in with its response: Children Can’t Dress Immodestly.

I hope to respond to a couple of thoughts in the BCC post and general concerns of those who oppose teaching modesty to Primary children, and a few observations about what I think the latest Friend story does quite well.

It its first paragraph, the BCC post claims that children cannot dress immodestly for the same reason seven year olds cannot sin. I’m intrigued by that notion. On the one hand, I agree that the natural innocence of small children does shield them from sin, and yet we still teach them not to lie, not to steal, to be kind to one another. In other words, the absence of ability to sin – or at least accountability for sin – does not keep us from teaching them the commandments and proper behavior. Indeed even small children can lie; they can steal; they can treat one another without kindness.

Similarly, the natural innocence of children also shields them from being immodest. I agree with that idea. When my oldest was nearly two, he regularly stripped down to nothing and ran out into the front yard. He knew nothing about modesty or immodesty. I just knew he preferred to wear no clothes. (Now in his thirties he’s more socially acceptable – he wears clothes but goes without shoes as often as he can.) Nevertheless, his mother and I taught him to wear clothes because in our society, wearing clothes – even for little children – is important.

One of the real concerns of those who oppose teaching modesty to Primary children is that the way we teach modesty tends to sexualize those whom we are teaching. And the sexualization of Primary children is wrong. The suggestion is that if we teach young women that they must dress modestly to avoid stirring up sexual fantasies in young men, then we are sexualizing the young women in the process. I agree with that line of reasoning, and for that very reason, I did not teach my daughters to dress modestly to avoid tempting young men. And I taught my sons that they are the keepers of their thoughts, not the young women around them.

It does seem the church has taken some significant steps in the direction of teaching modesty in dress at earlier and earlier ages. Especially noted are the changing of pictures in the gospel art kit to put sleeves on sleeveless dresses in the last few years.

Another concern among the don’t-teach-modesty adherents is that the teaching of a particular dress code leads us to judge those who don’t adhere to the dress code. While I share the valid concern that as Mormons we are way to judgmental of one another and of those who are not of our faith, I don’t quite understand the notion that we should not teach standards to our children for fear of judging one another.

Can’t we do both – teach the standards, and teach how to love one another? Isn’t that what the Savior modeled for us? When He forgave the adulteress, He was clear: He loved her enough to prevent her being stoned, but He also expected her to forsake her sin. Don’t we have a similar problem if we teach the Word of Wisdom? I think many children from good LDS families are surprised to learn when they become adults that not everyone who drinks alcohol is a raging drunk. But that does not change the truth that our modern prophets have taught that we should abstain from alcohol. There is a natural process for those who learn standards also to learn over time that those who have different standards may still be fine upstanding people who happen to have different standards.

In the BCC post, Mathew puts the Friend’s tagline “based on a true story” in quotation marks. I don’t know if that’s because he’s quoting the Friend, or because he wonders if it really is based on a true story. Some of the commenters seemed to question that the article is based on a true story. In fact, in this case, it is based on a true story. I know because I chatted with the author of the article, and she described to me the actual incident from her own life. Very similar to what happened in the story.

Before I say any more about the story itself, I have this thought about why this issue is important to the church. I attended a regional leadership meeting years ago when I served as bishop. Members of the general auxiliary presidencies where there, including the Primary, and we were taught that there was concern even then – over a decade ago – that what we once might have taught in Young Womens or in Aaronic Priesthood quorums we now needed to teach at an earlier age because of the earlier grip of society on our children.

As a father, I’ve seen the same thing. Television shows aimed at “tweens” are far more provocative now than I remember their being when my older children were younger. And physical maturation of children seems to come earlier than it did. So it is no surprise to me that there is an effort to teach certain age-appropriate lessons at an earlier age.

Have we got it completely right? Maybe not. But it does not mean we should not look for the best way to teach the best things.

Which brings me to “The Orange Shirt.”

There are a couple of things I thought were awesome in the story. First, Stacey is in a position to make her own choice. Our children need opportunities to make choices in order to learn to make choices. So it’s good for parents to read about children who are in that position. Second, Stacey is required to choose. She has the opinion of the cool older sister Lexie, and she has the positive peer pressure of her friend Amanda.

The issue with the shirt itself is almost secondary to me, but I note that it is not just that it’s a sleeveless shirt, but one with spaghetti straps and is too short. It was not modest. We don’t know who taught Stacey about modesty. We don’t know if it was a Primary teacher or her mother (or her friend Amanda’s mother). But Stacey had an impression about why she wanted to dress a certain way, and she knew that the short spaghetti-strapped shirt was not it. I say hooray for Stacey!

The BCC article poo-poos the idea that a ten-year old girl might receive confirmation from the Holy Ghost about a clothing choice. (And it erroneously asserts that the article teaches that a child’s access to the Holy Ghost is based on clothing choices.) But my experience listening to plenty of conference talks is that when we choose well, the Holy Ghost will confirm our choices. I think for a ten year old girl, making her own choice about clothing, and choosing to eschew something that doesn’t match what she’s been taught, the confirmation of the Holy Ghost would be a wonderful and merciful thing.

Finally, Stacey realizes that Amanda’s big sister Lexie doesn’t find her uncool because she didn’t choose the orange shirt. Stacey acknowledges that she wanted to try the orange shirt, but is in the end pleased that she didn’t. This is a lesson we’d like our children to learn over and over again in life as they are tempted to step off the path. Maybe a clothing choice is minor compared to other choices our children will ultimately make, but each step which allows the spirit to confirm a correct choice is chance for our children to feel the spirit, to learn what that feels like, and to grow a testimony. Those are all good things.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Three Good Things

I’m dealing with a rather long period of depression. I wrote about it at Real Intent a while ago.

I believed at the time that part of my depression was physically induced: I was suffering from significant anemia and had been for months. A recent blood test reveals that for now my anemia is under control (good news), but I’m still feeling the effects of the depression (not such good news).

At the urging of my wife, my sister and others who are close to me, I’ve been seeing a therapist for a while, and those visits are illuminating. I’ve had one conversation with my doctor about possible medication, and while he is willing, he agrees with me that it’s prudent to pursue therapy first, especially since my depression is not keeping me from going to work and going about my life.

I’m not new to the concept of depression. I have members of my own family who have battled significant and persistent depression with a combination of therapy and medication and to differing degrees of success.  And I have had periods of persistent depression before, though none have lasted as long as this one.  It’s a tough road since one of the features of the condition is that it inhibits seeking help. While a person with a toothache won’t like going to the dentist, eventually the pain of the toothache is greater than the pain of resolving it, and the person heads to the dentist for relief. A person with depression, on the other hand, may feel like a blanket is over his head, and no matter what he tries, he can’t get that blanket off. As long as the blanket is in place, it’s hard to do anything, let alone get help in removing the blanket. Often it requires someone else’s observing, “Hey, you have a blanket on top of you!” for the person to realize that it is even there. In its most extreme and dangerous incantations, depression can lead a person to extremely unhealthy behavior in an effort to self-medicate or end the suffering.

I was chatting about all of this with a management coach I know. The coach is a PhD psychologist who works as a consultant helping executives to improve their communication and leadership styles. He also conducts a variety of workshops on his farm in Vermont. As we talked, he mentioned he was preparing to conduct a well-being workshop in the coming weekend, so he had lots of references at the top of mind.

We talked about the research that has shown that although medication can be helpful in severe cases of depression, its benefit is much less apparent in mild cases (I believe mine is a mild case). He agreed it was good I’m seeing a therapist and that I’ve been talking with my doctor. He recommended I try one more thing: the Three Good Things exercise.

The exercise grows out of the positive psychology movement, championed by Martin Seligman and others. (An overview of that movement, though somewhat dated, is available here.)

The exercise: at the end of each day, list three good things that happened and why they happened.

The research suggests that this simple exercise makes a difference. These charts are from the cited article. The first shows improvement in happiness over time (compared with a placebo exercise of reflecting on early life experiences), and the second shows a sustained reduction in depressive symptoms over time.

As my friend told me about the exercise, I immediate knew it would help, because we’ve used it (unwittingly) before. When our family moved overseas a number of years ago, our two youngest children were really struggling with the adjustment. After listening to a litany of complaints every day for weeks, my wife finally asked each of the children at night just as they were going to bed to list a few good things that happened that day. We wrote them down in a little notebook just before the kids said their prayers. Within a few weeks, their attitudes about living in our new home had changed; they naturally offered up good and bad things from their school days, and life was much more normal.

Of course, the gospel reinforces this process as well, as we are regularly reminded to be grateful for the tender mercies in our lives, to recognize the hand of the Lord in what we do, to ponder how merciful God has been, to count our blessings.

So, I’m counting. At least three a day. In a few weeks I’ll let you know how it’s going.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Listen to the still small voice! Listen. Listen.

In 12-step programs there are often promises associated with working the steps.  Families Anonymous is a group that helps those who have addicted loved ones. While the better-known Al-Anon is for those whose loved ones are alcoholics, Families Anonymous is for anyone who has a loved one with any chemical addiction.

And true to the tradition, there are promises in Families Anonymous. The promises are the result in the lives of many people who work the steps. One of them is this:

We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
I was thinking about this promise recently. In a lesson someone mentioned this verse from the Doctrine & Covenants:
For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say.
The revelation to Joseph is an echo of this counsel from the Lord to the ancient apostles: 

But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.
None of these admonitions is a suggestion that we should not prepare for difficult circumstances. They are, instead, admonitions that if we prepare, the Lord will provide us with what we need when we need it.

The scriptural references are for those called to do difficult things: to preach the gospel, sometimes in adverse circumstances. And the Lord promises that when His servants are on His errand, He will bless them with the right words to say.

Perhaps you’ve seen that in action: a sacrament meeting speaker who delivers a talk that seems out of his or her natural ability, a missionary who teaches with a particular strength of testimony beyond his years, a Relief Society president who knows what comfort to offer a young sister when she needs it the most.

The Families Anonymous promise, though not scriptural, suggests the same blessing is available in our personal lives. As we work the 12 steps (which are really a path to applying the atonement in our lives), we become more in tune with spiritual things. (Most workers of 12-step programs will refer to them as spiritual journeys.) And it makes sense as we open our hearts to the spirit, we will be more receptive. And the spirit will help us to know instinctively how to do things we could not do before.

As a parent, I relish inviting the spirit to help me learn how to be better. The work I have as parent – to teach the gospel to the most important audience I will ever face – is daunting to me, and I have regularly felt myself unequal to the task. But I am buoyed by the Lord’s promise to help me. And I have seen that help at work in my own home. I have had flashes of inspiration, of instinctively knowing what to say (or how to say it), of having words given to me in the very moment that I need them.

Not that I always listen. But I’m getting better at that. I’m open to the possibility that I don’t have all the answers (that lesson took surprisingly long on my parenting journey). And I recognize that I need to be quiet enough to hear the still small voice. When I can stop and ask, “What wouldst Thou have me do?” I can feel the promptings that will help me.

It’s good to know I’m not alone as a parent. Good for me, and good for my kids.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mothers Day Missionary Calls

We are looking forward to our call from our full time missionary daughter this weekend for Mother's Day.  I'm assuming my wife will allow the rest of us to participate in the call (though it occurs to me I haven't asked her; I suppose I should.)

I don't remember calling home for Mother's Day from my mission in the late 1970's.  Of course I was in Germany, so a call home was not cheap, and my parents were not in the US for Mother's Day (they were living in Africa where my dad was on a work assignment), but I don't even remember there being a discussion of whether it could happen or not. 

My brother, who served his mission 7 years before me, sent my mother roses on Mother's Day.  He had called our local florist in our home town to order the flowers rather than using FTD.

Still, we're thrilled to have a chance to hear our missionary daughter's voice (and to see her, too -- I guess we'll be Skyping for half of the hour we're allotted for the call).

We assume she'll be as prepared as the elders at this link.

Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 6, 2013

My Mother's Day Talk

As a young grad student years ago, I was assigned as the concluding speaker on Mother’s Day. We lived at the time in the ward where I was baptized as a child, and on many Sundays in that ward I felt like I was 16 instead of 26. My life experience wasn’t all that significant: I’d served a mission, married, graduated from BYU with a couple of kids and was in grad school and (I think, if I remember the year right) we were expecting our third son at the time. I was just young enough to have no idea how little I knew about things.

But there were several things I knew:
1. I had loved my own mother. I was her youngest child and she and I were great friends and had been as long as I could remember. Because of my father’s work, he was gone a lot and in those times, Mom was both mother and father, yet when he came home, she somehow allowed him to fill his role. (Looking back, I realize that she was probably so exhausted, she was thrilled to have him come home and fill his role.) My mom was faithful and active in church; she had served in many Relief Society callings, including twice as president. 
2. I loved my wife, including in her chosen role as a mother. From the time we married, my wife wanted to be a mom. She was the oldest in a large family and felt strongly that she also wanted to be a mother more than anything else. She completed her degree at BYU (after changing her major to a high-hour major in her senior year), but had no real desire to work outside the home. That said, during grad school, she did work to help support our family beyond what my work at the university provided. As our third son was on the way, we decided it would be more economical to borrow money rather than have her work just to pay for child care, and she was happy to be home.

3. I recognized that I, and my children, benefited from contributions of far more women than just our mothers. In my case, I thought of Primary teachers and Sunday School teachers – a few in particular that had been remarkable influences on me. In my children’s case I thought of my sister, then in her early 30’s and unmarried. She lived near us and was frankly instrumental in keeping our starving student family from starving during those years. But more importantly she also provided my little boys with love and attention.
As I thought about Mother’s Day, it made sense to me to honor all of those influences. As I prepared my talk, I read about Ardeth Kapp, who was then serving as the General Young Women’s President. Sister Kapp had no children of her own. I read where she had reported that she and her husband had prayed for children and even considered adoption but felt that they should not pursue that. Her biography in the Ensign records:

Although the Kapps never had the family of their own they longed for, they can say they have had children. Youth of all ages have flocked to their home. A drawer in the kitchen contains a constant supply of cookies. “And now,” Sister Kapp smiles, “after a quarter of a million prayers for children, I have responsibility for a quarter of a million young women. I never expected such results.”
Sister Kapp’s experience was meaningful to me as I considered my own sister, also unmarried at the time. I determined that my Mother’s Day address should also honor sisters who were not mothers themselves.

As I said above, I was young enough to have no idea the choppy seas I was entering. So I wrote a talk and I spoke from my heart. I praised my own mother, my lovely wife, and other women who helped to mother me and my children. I quoted Sister Kapp as I talked about the influence that women can have in the lives of children.

As it happens, the talk was well received. One sister thanked me for the first Mother’s Day talk in years that didn’t make her feel guilty. (It was hard for me to imagine how she could have felt guilty; she was the mom of a good friend of mine and by all observations was terrific. Since then, however, I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much for even good moms to feel guilty.)

I am grateful to honor moms. I miss my own mother who has been gone more than a decade now. I honor my lovely wife who is an awesome mom, even on days she doesn’t feel like she is. And I honor others who have mothered me and my children through the years.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

On Playing God

I did a workshop at our stake’s women’s conference, and I blogged about it at Real Intent (you can read that blog here).

The presentation was based on the 12-steps of the church’s Addiction Recovery Program which are, in turn, based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which are, in turn, a straightforward way of applying the atonement to our lives.

The first three steps are all about our relationship with ourselves, God and other people. And they’re especially important for people who aren’t necessarily addicted.

One of the cornerstone doctrines of the gospel is agency – the ability that we have to act for ourselves, to make our own choices and enjoy (or suffer) the consequences of those choices. “God will force no man to heaven,” or so the hymn says.

In the first three steps of a 12-step program, once acknowledges his own powerlessness over his addiction (and, in the case of a program like AlAnon or Families Anonymous for co-dependents, over other people), the power of God to restore us, and the willingness to turn ourselves and our lives over to God.

For people who grow up reciting the first few Articles of Faith, this should be boilerplate stuff.  We believe in God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost; we believe we’ll be punished for our own sins and not Adam’s transgression; and we believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. We are taught from our earliest years that we get to choose, that we are agents unto ourselves, and that the fact that we are here on earth is already proof of our having chosen well at least once.

And yet, most of us who grow to adulthood try to limit the agency of others at one time or another. After acceptable rules of persuasion fail, we try to force our friends or our enemies to do things our way as kids. As parents, we learn by trial and error how much we can force our children to behave. As spouses we learn, often through sad experience, that D&C 121 is right – we really can’t compel others to behave in a certain way.

I’ve heard some say that trying to control outcomes for others is trying to play God. But even God does not control the outcome. He offers a choice and we make a choice. Our choice determines the outcome. Of course God facilitates the choice, and the path back to Him if we choose poorly. After all He loves us and His grace extends to each of us if we choose to accept it.

As a parent, the hardest lessons I’ve learned have been the understanding that I must let go. Now a loving parent doesn’t hold a child out a third story window and then let go. Instead, the parent does all he can to teach, guide, direct, protect, make safe, and then he lets go. And even when a parent lets go, he doesn’t leave his child alone. Good parents establish rules and boundaries with real consequences so that children learn early that with choice comes accountability. And consistent and fair consequences often do a better job of teaching than any lecture Mom or Dad could give.

Now six of my seven children have approached that point at which they begin to separate from us. All kids do it (or should), usually in the mid-to-late teenage years. Some of the separations have been easier than others. Some of our kids have separated but maintained the standards and patterns they learned at home. Others couldn’t run for the exit fast enough. A few have separated in fits and starts – wanting to be independent, but not really wanting to be independent.

Our job as parents – impossible as it seems – is to prepare them to leave, not to prepare them to stay. I learned some time ago that I cannot judge my success as a parent by the choices my children make. But I have learned there are things I can do to help them learn to separate themselves from me. I can help them see consequences. I can help them think a little longer term than the end of the hour or day or week. I can engage them in conversation and invite them to formulate and express their opinions (even half-baked ones). I can help them identify their strengths and help them to reinforce those. (Chances are they know their weaknesses better than I do; I am learning I don’t need to point those out, but I can still help them to learn how to work through them if they want to.)

Basically, I do need to play God. He put us here with teachers, trainers, parents, prophets, friends and family to help us to learn to live separately from Him (so we can return to Him). Similarly, I need to help my children to arm themselves to live separately from me.

What do you think? What has worked for you in helping your children to be independent?