Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Little Miracle

Sometimes, it's the little things that make all the difference. Like hearing this heartbeat for the first time and seeing this face:

I love and adore this baby. S/he wasn't planned and our future has been changed significantly, but I'm genuinely excited for another baby.

It will be such a strange time! A brand new baby, our oldest graduating from high school...

When I was in my early 20's, I always said, "If I have them all before I'm 30, they'll all be gone before I'm 50!" I truly thought that's how it would go down. I was so naive. Because here I am, 39 years old, having my eighth child, and all I can think is how incredibly grateful I am to be so wrong about it.

Life is hard (see previous post) and twists and turns and leads us on crazy journeys we didn't think we needed. It can be frustrating, overwhelming, exhausting, and downright rude! But it's also beautiful and wonderful and full of amazing amazingness. Not everything is fixed and many of the hard things continue to be hard, but today, I'm grateful for this tiny miracle and the reminder that life is worth it.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Downs

My previous post was very optimistic and I still believe in every single word I wrote. But since then, we've experienced a lot of the downs instead of the ups.

We had four (three serious) medical emergencies with our kids:
*6 year old's heel got caught in the spokes of a bike and was on crutches for three weeks
*3 year old was hit in the head by an errant discus at a track meet, slicing her ear and requiring an ambulance ride and 10 stitches
*13 year old broke his big toe (sprained, maybe?)
*17 year old ended up in the hospital with ruptured ovarian cysts (or just one cyst. Not really sure.)

Everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong. $1100 van bill. Miscommunication about insurance causing me to miss OB appointments. Maternity clothes I ordered have been lost in shipping. House repairs. Pregnancy brain settling in. Cats bringing in ticks. Bounce house business not as busy as we hoped. Multiple slivers in 3 year old's feet from the back deck. No energy = no motivation = trashy house (because like my kids are gonna clean it without being told to and who has the energy for all that whining and complaining?)

It's not the end of the world. Life goes on. Literally. And I still have faith and I still believe in miracles.

I have a beautiful family and a wonderful husband and an amazing home and tons of good friends.

But it's been hard and I've cried a lot.

Monday, April 30, 2018

God Takes Us Through

Life has been more than a little interesting over the past few months. 

It's been busy, that's for sure! Currently my jobs include:

*Be a mom and run a household
*Teach approximately 24 piano students
*Play for the Presbyterians every Sunday morning
*Play the piano in the band that accompanies the community theater's performance of Evita (just two shows left!)
*Accompany random things
*Help run the Primary at church
*Accompany the ward choir
*Run the website for MAMTA (music teachers assoc.)

And somewhere in there I am able to fit in time to read, finish ballet class, date my husband, do all the church things (actually, I'm pretty sure I'm praying 24/7!), and hang out with friends. What I'm NOT finding time to do is potty train the 3 year old. Blerg...

And amidst all of this, we've been met with some ENORMOUS changes in our lives.

Pretty big, dear reader.

The first happened the end of February. Brandon's employment ended with the company he has been working with the past couple of years (long story, but his position was dissolved). Feeling strongly we should stay in Kansas, we ended up starting a new business (bounce house rentals!) and he was hired to teach more classes at K-State. He is also doing consulting and speaking at conferences.

And then, as if life hadn't already dealt us a little bit of uncertainty, this happened:

Yep! We'll be having another baby in December.

I tell you what, friends, these past few months have been wrought with a lot of emotions. Exhaustion has been one of my closest companions, and there have been some days where the only way I've gotten through is to cry through it (usually privately, sometimes not-so-privately).

But, on the other hand, I've been amazed at my optimism and faith! I have genuinely admired my husband's fortitude and perseverance (he works so hard). I've had experiences that have greatly strengthened my resolve that God knows us, hears us, and loves us.

It has also reiterated to me (again and again and again) that life is a journey.

Many years ago, a wonderful woman I admired once told me she could never have six kids like me. I told her that she could do anything God asked her to do! I told her this because first, it's true, and second, I didn't want her to think that I was somehow more capable or more righteous or more whatever just because I had x amount of kids. I think we all sell ourselves short when we decide what we can and cannot do without asking God to get involved, first.

Over the past 10 years, I've been on a journey that has brought me to this place. My experiences have shaped me very deliberately and this is why I am here and can do these hard things before me. God has brought me to these things, and He has taken me through them all. He will always take me through what He asks me to do, if I let Him.

Gospel study + intensive therapy + medication + self-education + increased faith + focusing on my marriage + safe circle of friends + the Atonement of Jesus Christ = The ability to face the challenges ahead of me. And not just face them, but be grateful for them! Conquer them! Endure them! Embrace them.

There's no way I could have faced both the job loss and a pregnancy 3-4 years ago with anything but massive despair and cynicism, let alone facing it with the kind of schedule our family has at the moment. And I don't want to take the credit for this, because even though I've worked hard, I could never have done it on my own. I'm not supposed to be doing it on my own, anyway! I've only been able to do it with Christ. And my family. And friends (such good friends). And probably herbal tea and some Jane Austen.

I don't know what this next year will bring for us. I don't know if these challenges will turn out to be our greatest blessings (I'm pretty sure they will), but I do know it'll be okay because God takes us through the impossible things He asks us to go through. Even when our faith wavers, even when we feel like giving up, even when it seems impossible --I guarantee He will see us through to wherever it is we need to be. We just need to let Him.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

I Heart Valentine's Day! And Love!

I love Valentine's Day.

And I've written about it, a lot! 

Here are some posts that share romantic photos and quotes:

Here is a poem I wrote for Brandon last year on Valentine's Day:


It is an easy thing to overlook true love.
Our eyes are searching for events and objects
Found in movies,
And journals bursting with dreams.

We glance above the hazy reality.
Our hearts do not notice the consistent presence
Of loyalty,
And dishes again scrubbed clean.

 ~Cheryl S.S. Feb 14, 2017

And lastly, here's a romantic song for you to read/listen to (I sang this to Brandon at our wedding luncheon. He actually accompanied me while I sang it!). I have never found an amazing recording of this song; it's hard to find anything. But this one is pretty good because his voice is so nice, and it doesn't feel pretentious...

"In a Simple Way I Love You" from I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road

In a simple way I love you
That’s all that I can do
I’ll make music while you sing your song
I understand what you’re going through

In a simple way I love you
When you’re reaching out to me
I will be there when you need a friend
I’ll help you be what you want to be

I hear your voice sing out
Just let it go
I’ll give you room to breathe
And room to grow

In a simple way I love you
I’m here to see you through
I’ll make music while you sing your song
While you do what you have to do

I’ll be beside you rain or shine
Love has many faces
And one of them is mine

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Doing Hard Things or I Signed Up for Ballet

PART 1 (written four days ago)

I've signed up to take a ballet class.

Honestly, I'm not sure what I was thinking, because it was kind of one of those things where I waited until the last second, hemmed and hawed, and then plugged my nose and jumped in with both feet. I mean, ballet?


I do not have what one would call a ballerina type body. I'm not slim, nor lithe. I don't even really dance. The ballroom dancing I did (20 years ago) didn't really prepare me for this scenario.

And let's be real --large women like me don't dance ballet. We just don't. We don't because first, we aren't as flexible because there are jiggly parts in the way. Second, we aren't fans of the attire. Well, we're fans of the attire, just not on our own bodies. Third, it's really hard on our ankles! Ballet is about the feet, and when you have a large body to carry on your feet, you can't really be jumping around like the ballerinas do, at least not without some injuries. Fourth, large women aren't ballerinas because just by the act of dancing ballet makes one (I would imagine) slimmer (which, now you can see why I'm interested in doing this...).

I realize this makes me sound prejudiced against large women. Which would be silly, seeing as I'm a large woman... but I'm just speaking the truth. Me + leotard + ballet = possible endless humiliations.

And that's exactly why I signed up.

I listed all the reasons why I shouldn't or couldn't sign up for a beginner adult ballet class. I kept saying, "this is why not, Cheryl, this is why not!" Then my brain said to me, very pointedly, "why not you? Huh? Why not you?"

Yeah! Why not me? Why can't I? Who says I can't?!

I don't want my fears to stop me from doing cool things! I've been working really hard on getting healthy (in every possible way) over the past 4 years. If I want to take ballet, which will greatly add to my physical health and help with my overall exercise routines and weight loss, then gosh darn it, people, I'm gonna take ballet!

So, I am. And it starts on Tuesday. I even have a babysitter for baby girl!

And I'm terrified.

I will finish this blog post AFTER the first class and tell you how it went. Will my fears of being judged be realized? Will I be humiliated? Will I cry? Will I puke? Will I trip? Will they secretly laugh and titter, the adult women taking the class with me who are all probably super amazing dancers with dancers' bodies? We will find out!

Stay tuned.... for like, two lines...


PART 2 (written today)

Well, I did it! I went to my ballet class.

Before I get to that, did you know that people need to learn to create affordable somewhat-high-waist spanx yoga pants for women who are in transition between flabby and muscle-ly? (The key word being "affordable"). I ordered a pair of what seemed to be a good pair of tight yoga pants that would keep all my jiggly parts contained and it was a sham! A farce! Granted, I didn't look too far. But they didn't work. Luckily I had some yoga pants and I just dealt with it (and then I learned quickly I want something tighter and not as long...).

And now this is how it went:

Just fine. 

I mean, it's kind of anticlimactic, this experience of mine, because I was so nervous and worried about things that just never happened.

I had butterflies as I drove to the dance studio. I prayed for strength to just get out of the car and go inside. I went in and... it was fine! I signed in, met the wonderful people running the place, talked with another mom (who wasn't as slim as I imagined they would all be) who had also never danced ballet, before. I bought ballet slippers, saw my neighbor walk in (how cool is that?!), and the class was awesome.

It's a small class and we're a variety of experience and size and not one of us felt perfectly comfortable to be there. The instructor is wonderful and I learned that ballet people have got to be solid muscle! (HOLY COW!) It was so difficult to do even some of the simplest forms she taught us. It looks so easy when you're watching it, but then doing it...

After working through all of those French-termed exercises (and jumps! That was hilarious...), we did Pilates. My glutes will burn forever and ever, amen.

Before I had time to question my choice of clothing, it was over and we all laughed and chatted and drove away and... it was fine!

Sure, I'm the biggest girl in the class. No, I'm not very good at posture and balance... yet. But nobody made me feel like I was crazy for going and nobody said anything but kind things. I'm genuinely looking forward to going back!

Do hard things, friends. And don't talk yourself out of conquering your fears. If you want to learn something --learn it! If you want to try something --try it! We can't let what others think determine what we will do with our lives. All that matters is how you feel and think about something. Even if you end up being the worst at whatever it is you try, at least you tried, and at least you're doing it. And, honestly, it won't be any worse than never trying.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Last 19 Years

In one week, Brandon and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary.

It feels strange. #1 is already half way through her junior year, has taken the ACT, and is talking about college. Our baby is almost 3 years old, and all the other kids keep growing up (how rude!).

I remember being the young married wife, the young mom... I remember starting adulthood, and I remember how optimistic and absolutely clueless I was. Oh, I thought I knew everything. I figured, "hey, look at me! I went to college. I have a degree and I read a lot. I read all the books! I know everything there is to know. I am so prepared!" Older and wiser mothers would look at me with a strange expression on their faces, and I figured it was because they were blown away by my amazing knowledge and awesomeness.

Well, now that I'm older and a little bit wiser (with so much more learning and wisdom to still gain), I find that I'm looking at those young, confident mothers with the same look. And it's absolutely not because I'm blown away by their awesomeness (although many are awesome!).

It's the look that says, "I was you, once. And although you're doing better than you think you are, you're going to experience things that will stretch you further than you thought you could go. You're going to change your opinions about things --maybe even a lot of things. You're going to go through tough situations that you thought you could prevent. You're going to find out what matters most. And then you'll discover that you really didn't know very much at all. But it's okay, because you'll also find out that you're strong and loved, and you'll gain wisdom."

I've been pondering these past 19 years (20, really), and thinking about all that has happened. The wisdom I've gained through experience has been humbling and beautiful all at once. The truth is, I'm still going through experiences (even now) that are pushing me completely out of my comfort zone and teaching me that I really don't know much at all.

And now! Since I like lists and family history, stories and memories, I want to write a summary of our married life, thus far...


I met Brandon May 20, 1998. We worked together on campus at BYU, and although my first impression wasn't the greatest, it didn't take me long to find him quite attractive (like, 24 hours). Our first date was June 10, he kissed me June 20, and proposed October 20.

We were married in the Idaho Falls LDS Temple on January 16, 1999.

January 16, 1999
In our 19 years together, we have moved 10 times (Provo apartment to Aspen Grove Family Camp, back to apartment, back to AGFC (we worked there two summers in a row), back to apartment, to the condo, bought a house, moved to Concord, CA, moved back to Provo, moved to PA, moved to KS).

Aspen Grove Family Camp, Summer 2000
Less than a week before graduating from BYU (we both graduated in April 2001), I gave birth to our first child.

April 21, 2001

In the next few years, we bought our first house and then welcomed 3 more children to our home -- a daughter and two sons.

February 11, 2003

August 9, 2004

August 2004

February 8, 2007

We then moved from Provo and lived in Concord, CA for approximately 13 months.

May 2007
It was an incredible, life-changing experience in so many ways! I lost 40 pounds that year (Brandon lost 50).

We learned, through prayer, that we were supposed to have more kids and we made the decision for Brandon to get his Executive MBA. The young couples/families that we spent our time with were amazing, and even though it's been more than 10 years, we still consider many to be our friends.

July 2008
When we moved back to Utah, Brandon started at Wharton (San Francisco campus --oh, the irony! That we left the Bay Area just before he would be going to school in the Bay Area...). While he was in school, we had our fifth child (third boy!).

July 28, 2009

We also got to spend our 10th wedding anniversary in England (mostly London) while Brandon was working with a client. Wharton was definitely a highlight, too. The people we met were incredible, and we went to China (Brandon also spent time in Israel)!

Buckingham Palace, January 2009 
The Great Wall of China, September 2010
Brandon received a top-notch education and although it was financially difficult, we don't regret it. I was so proud of him! For those two years he juggled a full time job traveling internationally, two church callings, and traveling to San Francisco every other weekend to attend classes (UPenn's Wharton school has a west coast campus). He was amazing.

Graduation in Philadelphia, May 2011
My first (and sadly, only) home birth occurred in 2012. Four boys in a row! Wha?!

March 2, 2012

Moving to PA was one of the best things we ever did, hands down. Although we were only there for 2 1/2 years, it will forever be cemented in my memory as a place of great personal healing. Our idyllic village of Thornton, Pennsylvania was the backdrop of miracles -- I finally sought and received mental health help. We finally (after 18 months of praying/trying) conceived our seventh (and incidentally, last) child. A girl! What a miracle! Our children thrived there. We made life-long friends and I still miss the trees. Brandon faced a lot of challenges, too, and he came through them with incredible maturity.

February 23, 2015

And now, here we are in Kansas. We love living here! Our kids are doing well, the ward is like family, and the community is amazing. I'm finally getting myself physically healthy, again (now that I'm mentally/emotionally doing well, the physical health is coming a lot easier), and although we still struggle with normal mortality-induced trials (some a lot more difficult than others), we are happy. 



Christmas Eve 2017
I left out the vast majority --I didn't mention our vacations, nor that time we camped across the country for basically 6 weeks. I left out our pets, the sickness, the fighting, deaths of loved ones, the adventures, the dangers, and all of our spiritual progressions. I don't think it's possible to record every detail of a life, even if you journal religiously. There's simply too much happening. All we can hope for are glimpses of what adds up to a deep, complicated, and beautiful life. And when I look at our life over the last 19 years, I think that's exactly what it is: deep, complicated, and beautiful.

I'm grateful for Brandon and for my marriage. Aside from mothering, I don't think anything else has taught me so much! I'm blessed to have a strong, dedicated, brilliant, handsome, hard-working, and loving husband. I love him! And I love our life.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

I Have Bad Days (and I'm a Mom!) or Yes, I Chose This. So?

A friend recently told of how some less-than-supportive family were upset that she had bad days. See, this friend has chosen, along with her husband, to have a large family. Compared to the rest of her family, this is strange, and so they don't quite understand it. They said that because she chose to have a large family, all of her chaos, stress, and bad days are completely her own fault. If she didn't want to have so much stress, than she shouldn't have had so many kids. In their minds, she brought it on herself. Their conclusion was that she didn't deserve their support, and she certainly didn't have permission to be upset about her life in any way, shape, or form.

Okay, so I can kind of understand what they are saying. True, being a mother means choosing a kind of busy stress that isn't easily controlled. Choosing to mother many means a lot of chaos. But does this mean mothers of many are never allowed a bad day? And even more --does this mean we are never allowed to express the difficult aspects of it?

Are we really supposed to only share the good parts?

I find this ironic because we are so quick to condemn "fake people." What are fake people, anyway, but those who paint their lives as something not whole, not complete? I like to see things in a positive way --I really like optimism --but at the same time, I like honesty. Truth is more powerful than lies, and if a mother isn't allowed to be honest about the hard, frustrating, grueling, exhausting, nitty-gritty parts of motherhood, then I'm not sure anyone would see the truth of what makes motherhood so incredibly amazing.

Another mutual friend made a wonderful point. She said that no matter what job a person chooses, there will be parts that people don't like. In fact, there will be hard parts and sometimes very unpleasant parts. She said this:
Brain surgeons have to file long, detailed medical reports and decide if cases are operable and sometimes lose patients during surgery. When they talk about such things in less than glowing terms we don't say, "Shut up. You brought this on yourself. You CHOSE to be a brain surgeon, you idiot. What were you thinking? Why didn't you choose something easier?" The same is true of every job. Including motherhood.
I mean, think about any other job out there. Dentist, lawyer, soldier, masseuse, teacher, musician, actor, writer, CEO, banker, etc. etc. etc.  Why is it that motherhood is put into the "you chose this, you idiot!" bucket, while other jobs are not? Everyone is going to have a bad day, and when it happens, that doesn't mean they shouldn't have chosen their career or family size. It just means they are human.

We all have bad days every once in a while. We should be allowed to admit it.

And, by the way, dear reader, it's those bad days that make the good ones so awesome. Without the comparison of bad, it's really hard to appreciate the good. All of the chaos and exhaustion create an environment where joy can be found. Learning to find happiness when we are teetering on that last thread is kind of amazing. It's definitely refined me and made me a better person!

So, perhaps it would behoove us to check our "you chose this" comments at our throats before they come out of our mouths. Instead, we could find ways to lift and help one another. Maybe we could take the time to learn something about the situation and make an attempt to understand a life decision we haven't experienced.  At the very least, just nod and move on! I mean, pity is okay, but charity is better. Let's not justify enmity because of our discomfort; let's look for ways we can lend help and have empathy.

P.S. This can apply to many, many things and spoiler: charity (the pure love of Christ) is pretty much always the answer. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Keeping This Musician Humble

I've had some interesting experiences these last few weeks, and I'm left seeing how humility, courage, and hard work can bring about really great experiences. But even more, the people who encourage and cheer me on make it worth every sacrifice, humiliation, and mistake. Well, almost every mistake... (insert winky face, here).

Let me try to extract the details from my very muddled brain.

Back in August, my piano studio filled up pretty quickly. Right now I have 18 students (16 consistent), and I have really enjoyed teaching again. Also in August, I started a term as the Manhattan Area Music Teachers Association (MAMTA) secretary. (Basically, this means I take the minutes at our monthly meetings and make sure everyone has access to them.) I'm in charge of the Honors Recital in June, and I've been very involved in all of our events (District Auditions, State Auditions, Ensemble Concert, Duet Competition, Members Recital, Piano Fair, Music Progressions, etc.). I love this! I really like the teachers I am able to associate with, and it's great that my students can prepare for some really great events.

Well, a few weeks ago, one of my colleagues (also a dear friend in my ward) asked if I would take over the Piano 1 class at K-State for the next term (it's a non-major beginning piano course that includes students and community members). Long story short, I said I would, and so I have a piano class twice a week on campus! I just started teaching last week (my friend came to help me get started) and next week I'm on my own.

It's only a little bit scary.

Then, last week, my husband and I went to our community theater's production of Mary Poppins because one of my piano students (and her awesome father) were performing in it. It was great! They have a really good theater, here. Live orchestra, great dancing, and fantastic singing and acting. Turns out, several friends were involved in the production, including both of the pianists in the orchestra!

On Tuesday of this past week, one of those pianists asked if I would substitute for her in the orchestra for tonight (Saturday). I said, "yes," not really knowing what I was in for!

Oh, dear reader, it was so much fun, but it was so very, very difficult! I missed so many cues and parts --I got lost a lot. I was able to do some of it well, and I did a great job with finding the last note on most pieces! Ha! But wow, it was very humbling. I didn't have much time to practice, and as a pianist, I'm honestly not used to so many measures of rest! When I accompany a choir or soloist, I don't have measures of rest, and if I do, I can see exactly what the singers are singing, so I never get lost. But wow --I sure got lost, tonight!

So, that was the humility (humiliating?) portion of my thoughts, tonight. I'm not as confident, skilled, or as great as I want to be. Honestly, not really even close!

But I do practice, and I work hard.

I've worked hard to build my studio and take the opportunities to use my music as it comes (like the class, like the orchestra), and I am practicing a lot more. There's so much more I need to work on, but I'm doing more than I have in a very long time.

Also, I feel like I have more courage. I don't feel like I am nearly as good as the other teachers in MAMTA, but I realize that I'm not horrible, either. It's hard for me to put myself out there and claim that I can do some of the things that they do! They have degrees I do not have and experiences that I do not share (yet!).

And this brings me to the biggest revelation of the past few weeks: Manhattan, KS has a monopoly on some of the kindest people I have ever met. My MAMTA colleagues treat me like an equal and they just believe I'm a great pianist. They don't care if I'm better or worse than they are --we're all equals. Even the K-State professors! They are generous and kind with all of us. There is no elitism (that I can feel) among us.

My friend who asked me to take her class --she has absolutely all the confidence in the world that I can teach it! Not only that, but she and I do an exchange with our children (I teach some of hers and she teaches some of mine), and knowing that she trusts me to teach her kids the piano... gosh, that kind of trust is very telling, you know?

The orchestra at the play tonight --I felt the same encouragement and kindness from all of them, too! They cheered me on, helped me find the right measures, helped me find my cues, and the director was so kind to me. They could have all been disappointed in my performance (and they could have been --I know I was!), but they told me that I did just fine. They knew I was coming in cold without orchestra rehearsals! They offered me food, they offered me beer (LOL), and they were all just so very, very kind. The other pianist --who happens to be a MAMTA colleague --took 2 hours out of her day, today, to go over as much of the score with me as possible, and just made me feel so good about myself, too.

And the thing is, I know I didn't do as well as I could have, but I didn't feel anyone was patronizing me, either. They were simply kind!

Then there's my handsome husband. Dear reader, he is my biggest cheerleader! When he found out I was asked to teach the class, he was so thrilled! When he saw me put on our shared calendar (on my phone --he can see what I put on it and vice versa immediately via notification) that I was going to accompany Mary Poppins, he texted me right away to congratulate me (like, seriously, super excited) before I had a chance to tell him about it! Tonight, during intermission, when I texted to tell him how badly I was doing, he told me that he was positive I didn't do as badly as I thought I did.

And that's why I think I can keep doing this. This = make music my career, again. Keep improving. Continue preparing for more schooling. I have support around me and people that believe in me, and this feels like such a gift, because there are so many times when I feel like I can't believe in myself.

Do you remember the scripture found in Ether 12:27? It says:
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
I honestly believe that my humility (and various humiliations) as a musician helps me become a better musician. Each mistake teaches me something, but even more, I think every moment of frustratingly humiliating reflection means I will be kinder to others in the same situation.

I'm starting to realize that most of our experiences are meant to be taken and used to help other people. But that's going to have to wait for another blog post!

How have humiliating experiences made you stronger? How does having your own support system make hard things easier for you? Have you ever had to have courage in the face of something that inevitably keeps you consistently humble? 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Well, If I Had Known...

I read an article recently about a mother who was shamed over social media. The summary is that she was photographed, without her knowledge, in an airport, while her baby rested on a blanket on the floor, and she (the mother) was looking at her phone. What people didn't realize is that she had been in the airport for 20 hours during a Delta computer shut-down, and was letting her baby stretch while she texted family members. Honestly, I don't care what she was doing --she could have been reading or playing games --she didn't do anything wrong. But assumptions were made. Once the real story got out, the people shaming her were put in their place, but it got me thinking about something...

And maybe I've written about this before (I honestly can't remember), but I can imagine people, after hearing the truth behind the photo, falling all over themselves, apologizing, and saying, "well, gosh, if I had known that was what was going on, then I never would have said such awful things about her, judged her parenting without knowing her, or passed it on to every one I know so they could also be appalled by her awfulness..."

How often is this the case?

We see something, hear something, and with the information we have, we take what we are seeing and hearing at face value. Because that is logic, is it not? Without further explanation, we assume what we can see before us. This just makes sense.

But human interaction and even human reality is so much different. We really can't assume much of anything! Even expectations can fall flat if we're not careful, because so much of what we see and hear could be in direct opposition to the truth of the situation. This is why it is so important to stop and make sure that the source is accurate, we know all sides of the story, and we throw in a great big dose of compassion. Maybe two doses.

This morning, I was talking with some mothers at our ward (church) playgroup. We were discussing "secret shoppers" and "secret critics" in restaurants. One of them said she had been a "victim" of a secret diner when she was working in a restaurant as a server. She had a very large table to take care of, as well as a small table. Unbeknownst to her, the small table included the secret critic, and they ended up complaining about her because she had spent so much time with the large table. Given that the large table would naturally take up her time, it made sense. But to the secret diner, they just thought she was neglectful.

I said, "Now wait a minute. Nobody can judge somebody based on one experience, though! Even servers have bad days. We all have bad days. If I was judged by my ability to be a mother on just one of my worst days, they would steal my house and take all the kids! Because you can't judge an overall situation with just one look."

We need to know the whole story. And we need to give each other the benefit of the doubt and a little bit of a break, eh? We all have bad days. We all have bad moments.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have been guilty of snap-judgments. And even if I don't say anything rude to anyone, complain, or stress out about it, I'm still harboring negative feelings. This can truly affect opinion of someone, and that negative energy can taint a relationship. The way we think about others influences how we treat them. We can't love people if we are harboring negative resentment towards a very small piece of a very complex story --indeed, a complex person. All of our lives are intertwined with many experiences that shape who we are and how we act, and this means we are not one-dimensional. And because we are not one-dimensional, we can't see each other in this way.

It gets funny, though, when we backpedal quickly after learning the truth about something or someone. "Well, if I had known, I wouldn't have said that."
"Well, if I had known, I wouldn't have reacted so badly."
"Well, you should have told me, and then I wouldn't have to be apologizing right now."
"Well, if I had known, then I wouldn't have had the opportunity to blame you for my own reaction."

Seriously, it's kind of funny. Because saying, "well, if I had known" just means we aren't willing to take responsibility for our feelings and reactions, and we're embarrassed, humiliated, and sometimes horrified to be wrong. It also tries to water-down the needed apology, in an effort to explain why we lacked basic charity.

Now, don't get me wrong here! I know, from very personal, painful experience that saying "well, if I had known" is sometimes used along with a very painfully humble apology for words or actions I sincerely regret. I know it's not always used in a defensive way. Trust me, dear reader --I know this. I'm sure we've all muttered these words as we try to explain to ourselves (not just others) why we acted the way we did...

Here are some examples from my own life:

*My sister once refused to come help me with something without giving me a reason. I was desperate for help at the time and so hurt that she wouldn't come. I later found out she was very sick, early pregnant, but being the very private person she is, she didn't want to tell me, yet.

*A friend of mine was really late picking me up for something important, and I got frustrated. When she arrived, I found out she was having car trouble.

*One time, I had been gone all day and when I got back, the house was a disaster. It seemed that nothing had been cleaned, and my husband had been in charge. I was tired and frustrated! I was really upset and made assumptions. Then, I noticed (before I found my husband, thank goodness) that the yard had been worked on for hours and hours. It looked great! He had spent a long time getting the yard nice and getting the kids to finish their chores. Only the kitchen was left --but that was the part I had seen upon entering the house.

I've got a long way to go to stop making negative assumptions about people and situations before knowing the whole story. Maybe you struggle with this, too? Here are some ideas that might help us all:

*Assume that the driver going too slow or too fast has a really good reason for doing so (wedding cake in the back? Needing to get to the hospital?).
*Wait patiently for answers to come before making harmful decisions (I'll wait for a phone call... I'll wait for the person to explain...).
*Ask questions for clarification --don't try to read minds. ("What did you mean when you said 'this'?")
* Remember that we all have bad days. We're allowed to! If you see something happening that seems out of character or perhaps the situation just doesn't feel quite right, follow those promptings and see what you can do to help that person.

Let's change, "Well, if I had known" to "I'm here to help!" And, dear reader, the truth is that we really don't need to know the entire story to offer love. We don't need to know everything of a situation to choose patience. We really don't. We can choose love, even when it doesn't make sense. I honestly believe that is one of the reasons we exist --to learn to choose love, even when it's the hardest choice in the world to make.