Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Appreciating Differences

Last week, I had a wonderful time at a big homeschooling event, where I learned much about homeschooling my children. Even more than that, I had several epiphanies about myself and Heavenly Father's plans for me and my children.

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest "A-ha moments" happened to me as my husband was driving us home. I was telling him about how I had a special moment with some of my friends to just talk and soak in what we had learned. One of my friends gave me a compliment, and I had a hard time accepting it. I started telling her how I admired another of our friends, with her poise and elegance. And then I also told her that I wished I were more like HER, because she's so organized and on-task.

As I was sharing this experience with my husband, he chided me for not appreciating the gifts that God has given me. I was a little "put out," at first, but then I started thinking about one of my personal heroes, and the reasons I had always looked up to her.

Dolley Madison
I have read and studied the life of First Lady, Dolley Madison, quite a bit, and through my study of her I have felt a real sense of camaraderie and friendship. She was not as staunch and strong as Abigail Adams, nor as decorous and serious as Martha Washington, but she had valuable gifts to contribute, too.

For instance, Dolley acted in the role of First Lady to TWO presidents! Thomas Jefferson, a widower, asked Mrs. Madison to fulfill the duties of First Lady while her husband, James, served as Secretary of State. And then, when James became President himself, she continued to serve in that capacity.

It was a difficult time in the fledgling United States, and Dolly hosted many state dinners with guests from around the globe. She was well-known for her abilities to put anyone from anywhere at ease with her friendly, welcoming manner. She smoothed many difficult social situations because of her love and kindness to people of every country.

She also saw the need to beautify and decorate the White House. She went to great effort to make the White House a place where anyone could feel comfortable and welcome.

Many people who write about Dolley tend to emphasize her bravery in waiting at the White House for her husband, even though British troops were marching toward Washington. And I have read many times about her delaying her escape so she could save the picture of George Washington before the White House was burned to the ground. Of course I admire her for those exciting acts she performed, but it's her talents in being a hostess and wife that inspire me the very most.

So, back to me, conversing with my husband in our van on the way home. I don't know why I thought about Dolley in that moment, but I was reminded about how many people feel her talents and contributions to our country were merely superficial. But my friend had told me that I have similar talents to my hero, and just as I value and appreciate Dolley's gifts, I should value and appreciate my own, as well. I shed tears, thinking about Dolley, and about me, my friend, and all the many women I love and admire.

As women, we each have strengths and weaknesses. Do we acknowledge and accept our God-given talents and abilities, or do we only see the gifts of the women around us? We should NOT de-value our own contributions to the world and within our circle of influences and homes! We should be able to say "Thank you," when given a compliment. And just because other women are amazing, does not mean that we aren't, too! Whether we are Abigails, Marthas, or Dolleys, we have much to offer our families and the world at large.

Thanks for the reminder, Toni, Russell... and Mrs. Madison.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Work, Gratitude, and Stewardship

Recently I read a post from one of my favorite bloggers at Being a Mother Who Knows called "Lost Arts." It rang true for me, and I want to share some of my thoughts on "Lost Arts" here, because those are the ideas that fueled the creation of this blog. (The quotes by President Joseph F. Smith below are all from the "Lost Arts" post I linked to. Thanks, Deanna!)

How many of you, my readers, have grandmothers, great-grandmothers, or aunts and other ancestors who possess loads of homemaking skills that you lack entirely? I know I do!

When I was growing up, my mother did teach me several things-- sewing being the biggest one. She is an expert seamstress, and wanted me to grow up with that skill. But I know MANY women who have never been taught sewing skills who now want to try their hand at sewing for their families, and don't know where to start or who to turn to, in order to learn.

Yet, because of  my public school classes, music lessons, and lots of outside activities, I never did learn how to cook well (other than baking cookies!), plan a menu, or how to effectively organize laundry and other homemaking tasks before I left my parents' home. There simply wasn't time in the day! I do remember asking my mother if she felt I should take Home Economics classes, instead of the other electives I was busy with (choir, drama, and art), but she told me that they wouldn't teach me beyond what I already knew. Looking back, I don't know whether that's true or not, but I do suspect she thought I knew more about homemaking than I actually did at the time.

Can anyone out there relate? I always wanted to be a wife, mother, and homemaker, but I was not prepared to run a household when the time came. It was quite astonishing to realize how many hours I had spent being schooled in things I would rarely use in my life, yet I had neglected to learn the most basic skills every adult needs for survival.
"And here, also, a word to parents who have daughters. Are you fitting them for the practical duties of mother and wife, that they may in due time go out and make homes what they should be? Or are you training your daughter to play the lady by making them accomplished in flourishes, and expert in ostentatious embellishments?....We should not fail to insist that they shall to do the practical things, and they do not despise the common labors of life. Any other course toward them is an injustice to the boys and girls, as well as to ourselves and the community in general." ~Joseph F. Smith
In this day and age, we have quite a different perspective of "education" than our fore fathers had. In the past, a person was "educated" in basic LIFE skills first, and in academics second. And then, of course, the academics they studied included things like classic literature, Newtonian Math, Euclidean geometry, spelling, Logic, handwriting, Shakespeare, and memorization. Subjects like "Social Studies" or "Health" were not part of the curriculum. What surprises many modern people, is that our ancestors had greater practical knowledge, AS WELL AS greater academic knowledge than we possess today.

I believe the key to all this gained knowledge lies in one simple word: WORK.

When life was tied inextricably to seasons, wasting time was not an option. Crops had to be planted, cared for, harvested, and then either sold or preserved. Households ran on the timing of the work outside, and hard-working husbands and children had to be fed enough to continue the work still unfinished. The woman who took hours to prepare food for everyone to eat did not waste time wondering whether or not she felt "fulfilled." She was just grateful to have food to eat, a warm home, clothes to wear, and people to care about.

Children were needed and welcomed as contributing members of their families. The work they did was important. And as they worked, they learned the skills their parents were both modeling and teaching them. School years worked around plantings, weather, and harvests-- not the other way around. In fact, school terms were shorter, and the students learned more difficult subjects in a shorter amount of months and years than today's children. (THAT'S a post for another day...)

Don't get me wrong-- we are sooo blessed to live in a time of such ease and prosperity! The most advanced technology in history exists in the homes of most Americans, and opportunities for self-improvement and learning are all around us. But if we're so prosperous, and have so much more leisure time than our ancestors, then why aren't we better able to care for our homes and families? Do we really know more than those that came before? Or could convenience and ease actually be handicapping us?
"I would like to say to this congregation, and to the world, that if I possessed millions of dollars I would not be satisfied or content in my mind unless my boys knew how to do something that would bring them in a living, how to handle a pitchfork, or to run a mowing machine or reaper, or how to plow the ground and sow the seed; nor would I be satisfied if my daughters did not know how to keep a house. I would be ashamed of my children if they did know something of these things... If we would devote more money and time, more energy and attention to teaching our children manual labor in our schools than we do, it would be a better thing for the rising generation." ~Joseph F. Smith
What are we teaching our children? Do they know how to clean up after themselves and their families? Do they know how to cook meals, plan menus, and purchase food? Are they able to care for their clothes by keeping them clean, washing them when dirty, and mending them when damaged?

Your response might have something to do with how these skills are not really needed any more. With widely-available cheap food, inexpensive clothing, and time-saving appliances and cleaning products, extra work is unnecessary.

But, is work really UNnecessary?

I propose the idea that work is not just a good thing for us, but that it is VITAL to our very existence. When we perform needed, helpful work, we feel better about ourselves. We know that what we are contributing is important to ourselves and others. And it's not just an emotional sensation. When we physically work, our health improves. Our outlook on life improves. In fact, the brain literally releases endorphins into our systems that give us an over-all feeling of well-being. And when we work together as a family, we grow closer to one another in our relationships.

When we work for the things we have, we appreciate them more. We show our gratitude by taking care of our homes, clothes, and possessions.

To take this even further, when we perform honest, real labor, we are showing God that we are grateful for our blessings. We begin to recognize that we are merely caretakers of our blessings, and that everything good comes from our Heavenly Father. We come to understand what "stewardship" means, and we try harder to care for the gifts we are given.

Another blessing our ancestors enjoyed, was that they KNEW that their lives depended upon God. Weather can be unpredictable, seasons can be irregular, and circumstances are not always reliable. They knew they NEEDED God and His help to make it through the trials of their lives because they did not have convenience, government programs, corporate jobs, or technology to rely on. They were reminded daily that their best efforts were not always enough. They knew they needed help from above.
"I believe the morals of the people will improve as skill in workmanship and productive labors is acquired. Parents, too, will find it easier to govern and control their children, if these are trained in usual manual labor…" ~Joseph F. Smith
In the end, when we teach our children to work, we are also bringing them closer to God. And we need that closeness, as well. Are we leading the way?

I can see I have room for improvement. I need to better lead my children in Work, Gratitude, and Stewardship through my example. What would happen across the world if we all made more of an effort to give our children these gifts? How much better would we connect to older generations if we asked for their help in learning and then teaching the "Lost Arts" of the past?
"That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness... teachers of good things;
That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.
In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works..." Titus 2: 2-7

If WE want the knowledge of generations before us, we need to ASK our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors and older women in our church congregations to teach us. We must recognize that we have much to learn, and then seek out the books, resources, and people who can help us. The potential for joyful contribution and collaborative work makes me smile.

That reminds me: I need to ask my Grandma what the secret is to making her light and buttery rolls. I'm sure she'd love to tell me.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...