Category: Extended Family

5 Lessons On Service I Learned From My Mother

Service SquareI’m not going to lie when I tell you that I have my mother on a pedestal. We have been through a lot together, both good and bad, and she is literally the best friend I’ve ever had. I know not everyone can say that about their mother and I feel overly blessed that I can. 

She has taught me more than any other single person in my life and I know it hasn’t been easy. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t always an angel. When people tell me about their difficult children, I feel like giving them my mom’s number. She needs to write the book on raising a strong-willed child.

Apart from channeling her strong-willed child’s determination into mostly positive outlets, she also taught me about service. My mother has never been across seas to do humanitarian work, she’s never opened her own non-profit or raised millions of dollars for a good cause. However, she has lived a life of consistent and selfless service to countless people and along the way, instilled that desire to serve in me. 

Here are 5 lessons she has taught me, without hardly saying a word.

1. It doesn’t matter your circumstances, you can always serve

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My mother has been single most of my life. She sometimes had to work 2 or 3 jobs to keep us fed and clothed and yet she was always serving in one way or another. She taught me from a very young age the importance of helping other people, no matter your own circumstances. 

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own problems and lack of finances. Whenever I feel a desire to serve but the logic in my brain tells me I don’t have enough money or time to spare, I try to think of my mom and her shining example of not having enough and doing it anyway. 

Since exiting her child-rearing years and becoming a little more financially stable, she has become even more generous. I often hear her say how she wishes she could help more, do more. Her personal goals have a lot to do with helping other people. Service is an attitude and she wears it every day. 

2. Anonymous service is the best kind

One Christmas, when we were still in elementary school, my mom told my brother and me about a little boy who probably wasn’t going to get much for Christmas that year. I don’t remember the specifics of the story or his situation but I do remember he lived up the street from us.

I remember the excitement we felt as my brother and I carried a big box full of food and presents and a bike to their front door. It was Christmas Eve and it was dark and cold but we were bursting with emotion as we left the box and the bike, rang the doorbell, and ran through the slippery ice and snow to hide. 

The amazement on the boy’s face was absolutely priceless and I remember we both cried when we saw how excited he was and how excited we were that we could help in such a small way.

All kinds of service are great but anonymous service is the most exciting because you get to keep a special secret. My mom provided many of these kinds of opportunities for us and still to this day, nothing gives me quite a rush like doing an anonymous service.

3. Giving service makes you appreciate receiving it more

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My mom was always on the lookout for a family to help, especially at Christmastime. However, because of some tough times we had experienced as a family, and the fact that my mom was struggling so much to make it raising her kids alone, we were sometimes the benefactors of others’ service. 

I will never forget the Christmas that we had during our short-lived move to Salt Lake City. We came from a small town to the big city in hopes to start over. I was in the second grade that year and by the end, I had been in 5 different classes. We moved a lot during those months.

My mom wasn’t used to all the extra expenses of living in the city and between daycare, high housing costs, and gas money to get from place to place, our finances were stretched to the absolute limit with no leeway at all.

One night, only a few days before Christmas, my mom snuck in my room of our small basement apartment. She woke me up and said, “You have to get up and come see what somebody brought us!” We ran into the kitchen and she showed me a beautiful basket full of gorgeous fruit. Then she pulled out an envelope, opened it, and immediately tears rolled down her face. She said it was money. Christmas money. 

By that time, I was old enough to understand our situation. Christmas would have been very sad for us that year had it not been for some generous people who, hardly knowing us, had been moved upon by God to help. It wasn’t just the fact that Santa could come that year, it was the fact that we were not alone and that God was aware of our circumstances. 

Because I had experience with helping people, I was so much more aware and sincerely grateful for the help we received. The experience has stuck with me my entire life. Other similar experiences have only fueled my fire to help even more.

4. Service isn’t only about Christmastime

Although many of the specific stories I am sharing had to do with Christmastime, that isn’t the only time my mother has served. She is the first one to raise her hand for almost any kind of volunteer opportunity.

If you come to her house in the evening, you will probably catch my mother crocheting. She rarely sits down but when she does, she is crocheting. Sometimes she makes dish rags and puts them in wedding gifts. She has been known to make gorgeous table cloths and baby blessing dresses. But she is famous for her baby blankets.

If you know my mom and have had a baby, you have most likely received one of her gorgeous baby blankets. She gives them to people she hardly knows. 

She gives wedding presents to people she hardly knows. She’s always giving gifts. No matter where she goes, she’s bringing back gifts for everybody. My mother is truly the best gift-giver I’ve ever known.

She pays for people’s groceries at the store and their meals in restaurants. She gives to every fundraiser or good cause that comes her way. She puts her name on almost every sign-up sheet that comes around at church to offer meals or other support to people going through a difficult time.

My mother inspires me, everyday, to look harder for ways to help people and to make them feel loved and important. This is her super power. 

5. Service is the best anecdote for getting through tough times

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We knew the first Christmas we brought my brother home from the hospital was going to be difficult. His girls were still only 9 and 11 years old and Christmas would never be the same for them. 

My mother was still adamant that we were going to help another family for Christmas. We picked some angels off the angel tree and went about buying small gifts, clothes and shoes to fit these kids. 

Christmas morning brought a hilarious surprise when the people who delivered the angel tree presents came to our house to deliver gifts! Apparently someone had put my nieces and nephew on the angel tree. My sister said, “I’m afraid I picked my own son off the tree!” 

Nothing could bring my brother completely back to us, like he was before, but turning our attention outward and looking to help other people made Christmas that year all the sweeter. 

I know there are many women out there like my mom who sacrifice every day to help other people. I don’t know if my mom was aware of the impact she was making in my life when she performed these acts of service. I don’t know if she was even thinking of me with the intention of teaching a lesson. My suspicion is that she did it without thinking of the example she was providing for her kids. She did it because it felt right and she knew how much she appreciated help when she needed it.

These lessons on service also apply to my role as a mother. When I look back and see all the sacrifices she made for us, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Motherhood is one big life of service. I learned from the best because she not only served us, she taught us how to serve others.

The Lord teaches that, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” What a beautiful thing to think about when it comes to a mother’s service. Happy Mother’s Day!

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What did your mother teach you about service? How are you teaching your own children?

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5 Things I Learned from Cutting Ties With a Toxic Family Member

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I believe that the family is the most divine institution on the face of this Earth. It is through the trials that we endure with, and sometimes because of, our family members that we become more refined and more like the people our Father in Heaven intended us to be. Clearly, family means the world to me.

This is why I recently had to make one of the most painful decisions of my life when I decided to completely cut ties with a certain family member. It isn’t something I take lightly and it isn’t something that happened over night. 

On the contrary, it was something that built up from the time I was very small and didn’t actually come to a climax until I had my own children and realized that I was responsible for more than myself now. I had to pick a side, essentially. Was I going to continue to work toward making amends and trying to help this person, or was I going to protect my children? It sounds like an easy decision but letting go of a family member, no matter how toxic, is a very difficult process. 

I have learned a few things throughout this process. I am nowhere near an expert in this field and if anything, I’m probably the poster-child for what NOT to do when it comes to toxic family members. All of the mistakes I made throughout my life in respect to my relationship with this person have accumulated into a reservoir of thoughts and hopefully warnings for people who may be struggling with something similar. 

1. Recognize manipulation for what it is

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I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I think most of us do. It’s easy to make excuses for someone if you love them. However, it’s important to know the warning signs of manipulation and not to excuse people for using these tactics to get what they want. 

Some common warning signs of a Master Manipulator include:

  1. They offer help with the intention of “holding it over your head.” They continually remind you of all they have done for you. This tactic is to guilt-trip you into complying and giving them what they want.
  2. They make you feel guilty for things they have done. Master manipulators are good at transferring blame and always being the victim.
  3. They’re only sorry when they believe it will get them what they want. If it doesn’t, their state of remorse quickly morphs into a fit of anger. 
  4. They completely lack accountability. It is never really their fault and they will find whatever way they can to convince you of that. Lying is second-nature to them to the point that they often genuinely convince themselves of their own false story. 
  5. Conversations often turn to their problems, amplifying their role as the victim at all times. They are always worse off than other people.
  6. If you find yourself apologizing to and/or for this person more often that you do for anyone else, you are most likely being manipulated. 
  7. If you go against your better judgement to help this person when you don’t feel good about it, you are most likely being manipulated. 

 2. Remember that your responsibility lies with your own family now

Growing up, I always felt responsible for this person. I felt like I was their only chance. The only one who would listen, help, or encourage them. I was sure I could convince this person to get help. Now I can see how I was manipulated into feeling that way. 

The truth is, if you are anyone’s last chance at a loving relationship, there’s a reason for that and it’s not your fault or your responsibility. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help.

I finally realized that if I were to allow this person to be in our lives continually, I was putting my own children at risk for being manipulated just as I had been my entire life. Not only that, but I wasn’t emotionally able to handle the relationship which wasn’t allowing me to be the mother I wanted to be.

Before I had children, I vowed I would never allow this person to be part of their lives because I knew how much damage they had created in mine. However, manipulation can be very powerful and most of the time we don’t even know it is happening. 

My loyalty lies with my husband and my children now. I had to step back, with the help of my husband, to see how long I had allowed myself to be controlled by this person without even knowing it. Together, we made the decision that we were not going to allow our children to grow up the same way. 

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3. It’s much easier to prevent a relationship than to end it

Looking back, my biggest regret is allowing my children to become attached to this person. It is extremely difficult to explain to a child why someone they love might make really bad choices. How do you explain the dangers of manipulation? The emotional trauma that comes from being around unpredictable and volatile people?

I have to remember that no relationship is better than a bad one. Even if that relationship seems fine now, I know the inevitable damage that continually follows in the wake of this toxic person. My kids have plenty of good people in their lives, family members who love and adore them and would never put their own happiness or desires ahead of my children’s. 

4. You can forgive and still learn from the past

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My mother and I discuss this topic all of the time. How do you forgive someone who has caused so much heartache and pain in your life? She has much more warrant to hate this person than even I do. But we are taught to forgive and forget. Seventy times seven times. How do you do that and still prevent yourself from continually being hurt?

I believe more than anything, that this is a matter between you and God. I can’t tell you the cumulative hours I have spent throughout my life, on my knees with uncontrollable tears trying to forgive and forget what this person has done and continues to do. True mortal forgiveness rarely helps the perpetrator. I believe the healing magic of forgiveness is for the victim. 

I finally believe myself to be at a point where I don’t hate this person anymore. I feel more of a pity and sadness for them than anything. I can’t imagine waking up in the life this person has created and possibly finding a reason to get out of bed. It is sad, but it isn’t my fault or my responsibility. I put forth the effort I could to help this person and now have turned my energy and focus on raising my kids, not helping a grown adult find their way in life.

So I believe I can forgive without having to allow myself, or anyone else in my family, to be hurt anymore. It has been a matter of prayer and I feel good about the decision I have made. In fact, for the first time in my life, I have felt relief when it comes to my relationship with this person. We are probably both better people when we are apart. I could attend this person’s funeral someday with sincere sadness and grief even if I won’t allow him to be in my or my family’s presence. 

5. Seek legal and/or professional help when necessary

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If the toxic family member in your life has broken the law or tried to harm you or your family, it is vital that you seek out the proper authority to take care of the situation. I had to get over my embarrassment and guilt that I felt about this person’s behavior and go to my local authorities for help.

The other person may find a way to jump through hoops and avoid consequences. Even if you believe that will happen, do your part to get it documented. The more documentation you have of the potential harm this person can cause, the more protection you will receive. Save messages, voicemails, letters, and any other kinds of evidence. File police reports when necessary and if you need to get a restraining or protection order, find out what it will take.

You may also want to consider getting therapy to find out how you can break free from the years of manipulation of this person. 

Remember that you are not required by any law, both earthly or Heavenly, to allow people in your life who hurt you, even if that person is a family member. If a person is toxic to you, you have the choice to remove yourself from their circle of influence. It is easier said than done but it is vital that you recognize a damaging relationship when you see one and to protect your children from harm both physically and emotionally.

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Have you tried to cut ties with a toxic person? How did you do it?

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Finding Contentment Through the Trials

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I grew up with an older brother that was probably comparable to many other brothers. John is 10 years older than I am.   With such a huge gap between us, he was more than mildly letdown that I turned out to be a girl. When I got a little older he would tease me until my blood would boil. “Does the baby need a baba? Does she need her diaper changed?” That incredibly annoying baby-talk tone still rings in my ears. I can’t lie and say it was all him; I was an incredibly difficult child.

Lacie & John

My brother and I didn’t become very close until I was an adult. I was always impressed at what an exceptional father he was; despite the fact he never had a great role model. He never needed a break from his two little girls. Never. I don’t know many fathers that would stay up all night with a sick baby without ever muttering a complaint. For as tough as he was on me, he was a sucker for those little angels.

John was the only one in my family who supported me when I decided to move across the country and get married. We had a heartfelt conversation and although he was protective, he still gave me his blessing, which meant the world to me.

Only months after that memorable conversation, I called him just to chat. He sounded different. I could tell something was wrong. He said he wasn’t feeling well and had thrown his back out. We had a short conversation and that was the last time I spoke to him before the bomb dropped.

After weeks of confusion and uncertainty, doctors finally discovered that John was suffering from a mysterious staph infection and his heart, among other organs, was quickly failing. They were scheduled to perform emergency heart surgery that night to replace one of his valves.

Nobody knew how serious the situation was but I knew I had to get home. My husband and I were driving when I called my mom the next morning to see how the surgery had gone and to tell her we were about halfway there. She was hysterical as she told me, between sobs and half-screams, that the doctor had just told her that John had suffered a major stroke and things looked “grim.” I had to pull over and my husband tried to hold me to keep me from convulsing. Every dark emotion that I had felt in my life suddenly flooded my body and I couldn’t do anything but scream and cry. Why didn’t I just fly home? Why didn’t I call him and talk to him before his surgery? What was I thinking living halfway across the country? How was my mom going to go on if John didn’t make it? He had never even met my husband yet! What about his little girls?

 John & Girls Fishing

Seeing my brother in a coma is an image that I wish could be erased from my memory. He was yellow, almost translucent, and swollen, with his head tilted back in order to accommodate the tube they had to insert in his throat. He looked lifeless. I had an overwhelming realization that I was never going to see my brother again. That he was never going to meet my husband and that his girls were not going to have a father to watch them grow up.

They say God works in mysterious ways. He allows us to endure a trial and then He blesses us with miracles and tender mercies. It would take an entire book to tell about all the miracles and blessings we received as a family. Suffice it to say that God brought my brother back to us.

Although he suffered considerable damage to his brain and has lost most of his physical capacity, the ability to walk, eat, or talk, he is still my brother, with all of his mental capacities intact. I take care of him everyday. I cherish the fact that we didn’t lose him that day when I thought for sure we had. He has even made miraculous improvements and recently found his voice and is able to communicate, albeit limitedly, through speech.

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My family has always been my most treasured possession. We have always been tight-knit and are even more so now that we have banded together to take care of John and his girls. My husband and I left a growing business in Texas. My sister sold her home for next-to-nothing. My mother left her home and transferred jobs. My younger brother is attending a university extension in our small community. All of these sacrifices were necessary in order for us to come together and make sure my brother has quality, 24-hour care at home, with his girls.

At times, it’s been extremely difficult physically, emotionally, and financially. We have gone through all of us living under the same roof, pooling our resources and helping each other graduate from college. We’ve been through pregnancies and births, changes in John’s care, and changes in jobs. Since then, I have become the primary caretaker for my brother during the day. I feel more connected and closer to him than ever before in my life.

Although it sure isn’t easy and even John and I argue sometimes, I wouldn’t trade my family for the world. I often have people tell me how unfair life is and how tragic my brother’s situation is. Sometimes I agree and other times I can’t help but think maybe this is the price I have to pay in order to be blessed with such an amazing and loving family. Maybe these kinds of things are what make families great. It breaks my heart that it has come at such a high cost for my brother, but this tragedy has brought us all together again.

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Time is measured in our family on a different timeline now. It’s now “Before John got Sick” and “After John got Sick.” His experience has changed us forever.

We think twice now before complaining about things such as our weight, the taste of food, or how much we hate to exercise. We try to remember how blessed we are to have the ability to eat, exercise, or even walk. Contentment comes in these small gratitudes.

Finding contentment in life has nothing to do with material possessions, a striking physique, or the most prestigious honors man can receive. Contentment comes from true sacrifice, heartfelt gratitude, and genuine love for other people. Nothing has illustrated this better in my life than my brother’s experience.

I don’t try to explain why this happened or blame God for such a horrific trial for John and his girls. I don’t allow myself to replay it all very often or think about what might happen in the future. For now, I am content to hear my brother’s struggled but clear “I love you” and be exceedingly grateful that he is here and that I know he loves me just as I love him.

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7 Tips to Being a Great Gift-Giver

 

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I’m not gonna lie, I’ve received some weird gifts in my life and wondered, “What were they thinking?” Avoid being that person who gifts the weirdest things that really have no meaning and instead be the other type of person that always gives the most thoughtful gifts.

1. Put some thought into it

This means you need to start ahead of time. Don’t be that person that runs to the nearest Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve, praying there’s something left to give everyone on your list. Start waaaayyyyy ahead of time and force yourself to pay attention. People, even the ones who appear to have everything, are constantly leaving unconscious hints about what they would love to receive as a gift. They may not come out and say, “For Christmas I would like _________” but they are saying it, just in a different way. Listen for cues like, “I wish _________” or “wouldn’t it be nice _________” or “someday _________”. These are great hints for people who are hard to buy for.

box2. Think outside the box

With the cues given above, the person may not be talking about an actual item that you might be able to purchase them as a gift. For example, my mom has pretty much everything. I mean, within reasonable limits, if she wants something she normally just gets it for herself. So it’s sometimes difficult to buy for her. However, when I listen to her and pay attention, she is always talking about making things that she doesn’t have time for, or fixing things that she can’t do herself. I have found that some of the best Christmas gifts I have given her have been acts of service by fixing something or refinishing something she already has. It can be tricky and you may not be able to make it a surprise (which is ALWAYS more fun if you can swing it). However, it’s a great way, and often less expensive way, to give to someone you really care about.

3. Don’t give something just because it’s what you would like to receive

You know that person who always gives you, and everybody else, jewelry? Or makeup? Or workout gear? Or home décor? Or horse-themed stuff? Who’s to say everybody likes the same things you like? It’s an easy way out because it takes a lot less thought. You know you like it, so she’ll like it too right? Unless you’re sure you two are that much alike, dig a little deeper.

4. Price doesn’t always equal value

You don’t have to spend a ton of money to give great gifts. Remember the old adage, “It’s the thought that counts”? It really is. In the end, nobody cares how much you spent on a gift if it is meaningful to that person.

 5. You can’t go wrong with  attaching memories to gifts

photo albumThe best gift, to date I think, that I’ve ever given my dad was putting our home movies on DVD for him. He had all of his photos and memorabilia burn up in a fire a few years ago and it was devastating to him. I figured out how to convert our VHS home movies to DVD on my own computer and he was touched to receive those as his Christmas gift. He still talks about it today. Anytime you can gift memories, people love that! Just make it meaningful and personal and you can’t go wrong. This is especially great for people who seem to have everything.

6. Sometimes less is more

Sometimes you want to go a little overboard but nobody likes to feel bad because they received something huge from the person they gave a keychain to. Remember that size and cost don’t necessarily matter. Meaning is what matters. Do I sound like a broken record here?

7. Last thing, make it appropriate and intentional

Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale and later decide who you might be able to give it to. No joke, my sister received an underwater scuba diving bag one year. She lives in Utah, has never been nor had she ever planned on going scuba diving. WHAT?! Who knows where that came from, probably the sale cart at some random department store. The point is, unless you’re planning on giving her a  ticket to a Caribbean cruise to go along with that bag, don’t do it.

Obviously, as I’ve repeated myself several times, it really is the thought that counts. Not just that you thought about that person and gave them something, but the fact that you put a lot of thought into what you gave that person. Gifts are a great way to show your love and strengthen your relationships. Don’t let a bad gift put a damper on a perfectly great Christmas. It’s not too late to return some things if you think you need to 🙂

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