Sunday, November 28, 2021

Grandma's Secret Sock Jar

 Yesterday was my Grandma Lois's birthday! She passed away 11 years ago, shortly after she turned 100, but I still think of her very often, especially every Nov 27th. Although I didn't get to grow up around her, I did get to make some incredible memories when I moved near her during my college years. During that special time living near my Grandma, I learned a lot about a woman and mother who loved her family deeply, who loved her Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ, and who tried her best in everything she did. She was creative and unique, cheerful and energetic, and one of the most fun people to be around! I learned a lot of life lessons from my Grandma during that time which I will never forget. Even my husband, whom I was dating when I introduced him to my Grandma, formed a special bond with her. He learned to love her quirkiness, and her funny sense of humor and looked forward to our visits with her at the senior center.

There are many moments in my life when I feel my Grandmas's personality come out in something I am saying or doing. I'll suddenly stop whatever I'm doing and say to myself, "This a Grandma Lois moment!" It always makes me smile! I feel close to my Grandma when I feel that I'm emulating her personality or characteristics. Today I had a moment when I really felt the Lois Stokes' genes pulsing through my veins! I was asked to teach in a Primary Sunday school class, which is something my Grandma loved to do. She taught Sunday school for our church for many, many years. She even wrote a book about how to be a good Primary Sunday school teacher! So today as I was teaching these little 6 years olds I brought a fun game that I used to play at my Grandma's house, which I call Grandma's Secret Sock Jar

She used to have a large jar in her house that was covered in black paper so you couldn't see what was inside. Then she cut the bottom of a tube sock and stuck the top of the sock over the top of the jar so you couldn't see what was at the bottom, either. The fun part was sticking your hand and arm down the sock and picking out a prize at the bottom! Sometimes she would have us play a guessing/feeling game where she stuck random objects in the secret jar and we had to guess what they were. This was one of my favorite things to do when I was a child visiting Grandma's house! 

So I channeled my inner Grandma and brought Grandma's secret sock jar and played a guessing/feeling game with the Sunday school kids. They had to guess what different items there were from nature like a walnut, a seashell, a pinecone, a wasp nest, fools gold, a leaf, and an orange. As I was walking around having the children stick their hands in the jar to guess, while also reminding them how much their Heavenly Father loved them and that He made all these beautiful things in nature just for them, I had to stop and say to myself,"This is a Grandma Lois moment!"

My Grandma had the best ideas and I've used so many of them in my callings with children. Thank you, Grandma!!

I miss my Grandma Lois a lot and I think of her often. One of the last times I saw her she bore her testimony to me of her love for Jesus Christ. She said that after she died if I ever wanted to hear her testimony again to just read the words to the LDS hymn, I Know that my Redeemer Lives. Now I can't read or sing that hymn without crying. I can hear my Grandma's voice in those words and I know she is living happily above with our Savior and Redeemer. Her testimony gives me strength during hard times and helps me feel loved. I look forward to when we can be together again-- singing, dancing, laughing, telling stories, sharing our testimonies, and having those special moments together that only the best of Grandmas can provide!

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

My Conversion Story

 I've shared this story in small conversations with several people, but I just recently shared it again with my entire church congregation, so I thought I would share it here, too. 😀 This is a story that is deeply meaningful to me in my conversion as a faithful Christian and devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is a story that confirms my faith in God over and over again!

I believe that with everyone’s life stories or backgrounds there are stories of divine intervention, of answers to prayers, of miracles, and of strengthened testimonies of God’s marvelous hand in our lives. I could probably sit down with each and every one of you and listen as you tell me the amazing circumstances or tender mercies that brought you to be where you are right now. Including, of course, the beautiful struggles and hardships that have given you clarity and growth on your journey. And with every single story I strongly believe we are brought right back to our Saviour Jesus Christ, where His power, His influence, and His radiating light first began to touch our lives. 

I grew up in Hawaii and was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was officially baptized when I was 8 years old. As a child I loved going to church and looked forward every week to learning and growing in the gospel. I loved the Young Women's program and still believe that attending my Young Women's classes and activities is what planted small seeds of faith inside me to help me build my testimony later on. As a young girl and youth I was always mindful of my Heavenly Father and truly desired to make good choices in my life, not only for my own well being, but to receive the many blessings he had in store for me. 

However, when I was 15 years old my parents divorced and our family quickly drifted away from the church. It was a really hard and confusing time for me as everything I knew and believed about my family quickly changed in an instant. It seemed that my family was falling apart as my siblings and I were each trying to navigate through a stressful situation and a rapidly changing home environment. Things like family prayer, attending the Sacrament, and gospel conversations were replaced by the critical demand to survive in these newly defined living conditions.

A huge part of me wanted to keep going to church-- to keep attending my Young Women's meetings and to take the weekly sacrament, but I no longer had the family support to do so on my own.  The overwhelming pain and confusion of being thrown into this new life arrangement allowed me to become further susceptible to the outside influences of the world and the negative peer pressures that would slowly lead me away from my Heavenly Father. 

It wasn’t until 7 years later that I found myself in a situation where I desperately needed my life to change yet I didn’t know how or where to begin. I had moved across the Pacific ocean to San Diego, CA to live with some friends from high school who moved there right after high school graduation. I was 21 years old and found myself completely on my own. I didn't feel especially close with my family at this point--in fact I often felt that nobody cared about me anymore. I hadn’t been to church or thought about God in years. In fact, I wasn't even sure there was a God at all!

I was living a day to day life I never imagined for myself. Not only was I making poor choices with extremely negative emotional, physical, and spiritual consequences, but I often felt lost, alone, confused and hopeless as I was trying each day to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life.

It wasn’t until one Saturday night when I felt completely drained of hope, that I felt a strange prompting out of nowhere to kneel down and pray for help. I quickly nudged it away, thinking, "I don’t pray! I’m not even religious! In fact, I’m not even sure there is a God.” But the prompting came again into my mind to kneel beside my bed and pray. My roommates were out for the evening so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try. 

I knelt by my bedside and said the most pleading and tear-filled prayer, asking God (if he even remembered me) to please offer me some help and guidance in my life. I told Him that I needed some direction and I didn't know where to turn. I also told Him I wasn't happy and I didn't know what happiness was supposed to look like anymore. I felt like my heart would break as I kneeled next to my bed, begging for relief from someone I wasn't even sure existed.

After my prayer I rolled over into bed and I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning I got up and again felt a strange prompting to go to church. Of course my first thought was,”I don’t go to church. I’m not even religious. I don’t belong in a church!” Again  a feeling deep in my heart told me that it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Next thing I knew I had called a taxi and had him drop me off at the closest Mormon church. I didn’t know what time the meeting started but just figured I’d figure it out when I got there.  However, as soon as the driver dropped me off at the front entrance, I felt very uncomfortable walking up the stairs. I felt even more uncomfortable walking in the front doors. I could hear music coming from the chapel room but I immediately felt nervous and uncomfortable about going in there alone. I was starting to give up on this whole idea and so decided it would be best if I just used the restroom and then headed home. I entered the restroom and silently stood in front of the mirror staring at my reflection. What was I doing here? I asked myself. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong anywhere.

 I was starting to cry again when suddenly I heard the toilet flush behind me. The stall door opened and I froze still. There standing in front of me was a girl I knew from Hawaii. Her name was Pouneh and she was one of the only members of my church I’d known towards the end of high school. The last I saw of her she had gone away on a mission somewhere far away. This, of course, was long before social media, so basically if two people  moved away they dropped off the face of the earth! But there she was--my old friend--standing right in front of me smiling the biggest, most welcoming smile.

I recall her exclaining, ”Sally, I’ve been looking for you for years!”  She quickly pulled me in for a long embrace. I cried. She cried. We stood there crying like that for a long time and I knew in that moment that this was the answer to the prayer. I knew in that moment that God had sent this friend to help me, to guide me, and to be an instrument in His hands in helping me change the entire direction of my life.

For the next few months she picked me up for church every Sunday. She introduced me to young adults my age who were making good life choices and moving forward in positive directions. She answered all my questions and was patient with me when I questioned things over and over again. She was a light and an example to me in a time when I truly needed it. But most of all she helped me recognize the power of Jesus Christ in my life as I slowly turned my life over to Him and allowed him to lead me down the path I was supposed to be on. 

As I continued to attend my church meetings, read the scriptures, practice living gospel principles, obey God's commandments, and surround myself with uplifting people, I witnessed the spirit work miracles in my life. I watched Him stretch me and refine me, I watched Him help me achieve peace and happiness I never thought possible, I watched Him lead me towards meeting my husband, getting sealed in the Temple, and starting a family. I watched Him guide me towards reaching my truest potential as a daughter of God. By bringing God and Jesus Christ back into my life, I gave myself permission to follow a path that I never could have planned on my own.

I just want to leave you with my testimony that I know that if we put our faith in Christ and allow Him to lead us and guide us, we will be exactly where we need to be.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Like an Iceberg

 My seven year old has been developing headaches, stomach aches, and the need to throw up nearly every time it's time to take him to school in the mornings. But otherwise, he is fine! It's been surprising to me, this aversion to school, because he has always been the most outgoing of my four children-- the one who is always eager to do social things and play with friends when my other kids are perfectly fine staying home with each other. These psychosomatic sick symptoms started last year and are, unfortunately, becoming a daily routine into his 2nd grade year. When I pick him up from school at the end of the day, however, he is happy and chatty and tells me all the fun and cool things he learned that day: "Mom, did you know that hermit crabs aren't really crabs and they borrow shells from other creatures!" or "Mom, today we made pumpkin art using glue and chalk! We have to do it at home today, too!" or "I really like my teacher, she's the best teacher I ever had." The list goes on and on. He is happy at his new school, too!

Pumpkin art by Mal!

The fact of the matter is he's a totally different child after school than before school. Here is a boy who loves to learn new things, and loves to interact with others, plus loves art and science and engineering, and the all the awesome things they do at his STEAM school, yet has the hardest time getting there in the morning! So hard! For him...and for me.

Towards the beginning of the school year I took him to our family doctor for a full check up. 100% healthy. Then I took him to the eye doctor to make sure it wasn't a vision problem. 100% healthy. He's adequately fed and hydrated and gets enough sleep, too! 100% healthy! Then I spoke to the school nurse and we came up with a plan that if he came down with "sick symptoms" he could take 1 purple tylenol, drink water, and wait 20 minutes before calling me to pick him up. This plan worked on several occassions as he felt better after taking the candy pill and then went back to class. Phew--problem averted. However, I am still having a rough time getting him out the door in the morning. (His symptoms magically went away the three weeks I was doing my student observations at his school. I think having me there was a nice morale boost), however we are back to square one.

This morning as it was time to start getting ready for school I could hear him also starting his usual complaints--I don't feel good, my head hurts, I feel like I need to throw up.... ,I was in the bathroom finishing up brushing my teeth and so started my usual responses--That's too bad. It sucks to feel sick. Maybe you'll feel better after breakfast...With absolutely no feeling or empathy in my voice I kept responding to his complaints as usual, gently prodding him up the stairs to the breakfast table. I was feeling frustrated inside and almost started blaming him again for these made up sicknesses as I have on other days when I felt frustrated, when I immediately felt the spirit tell me I need to get down on the floor with him and talk about anxiety.

Anxiety, I thought? Mal doesn't have anxiety! He's always been gregarious and outgoing and ready to jump right into things, not like my other boys who've dealt with/are still dealing with anxiety. But I went with the spirit, and this is what I told him: When your oldest brother was about your age he woke up every morning with a headache and a stomache ache. We didn't know what was wrong with him! We took him to the family doctor and we took him to the optometrist but he was completely healthy! He didn't go to school for many, many years because we felt that homeschooling was best for him, but he still woke up sick every day! I was very concerned about him when finally I realized that what he was feeling was worry. 
Often times when we are worried about things, our bodies will react with feeling sick. This is often called anxiety and it is perfectly normal, sometimes it can even help us! For instance when I'm having anxiety about getting my homework done, it motivates me to sit down and get it done! Then my anxiety is gone!
 Sometimes we can feel anxiety when we are excited about something! For instance when I was in high school I would get really bad stomach aches before I went to concerts. It was weird because I was so excited, yet I didn't feel good for the entire day until I was at the show! But sometimes we can feel anxiety when we're really worried about things and that can have a negative affect on our bodies, like maybe headaches, stomach aches, and nausea, just like your big brother used to feel.  I let hime soak that all in for a few minutes then asked,"
Do you ever worry about things? 

Yes, he said. There are lots of things I think about that I don't like. 
About school? I prodded. 
No. just stuff. he said.

Tears came to my eyes as I realized how evasive I've been towards addressing the real, underlying cause of his sicknesses. I think deep down I just wanted him to be okay and figured he would eventually be okay if we just got past this small, irritating hurdle. But the truth is, he needed me to stop and actually listen to him, to hear him, to see him, and to understand what's happening in his little 7 year old brain. I think I get so busy with addressing all the BIG kid issues with my three older boys that I want Mally to be the easy caboose. But no kids are easy--they all come with their own set of needs, even a 7 year old boy who is happy, gregarious, and full of spunk is going to need someone to help him through hard things.

I tried to prod him a little more about telling me what things he worries about, but he wouldn't say anymore. But now I jave a good jumping off point for continuing to help him feel better. Once I was able to understand what my oldest son was feeling it became much easier to address his needs and help him overcome the hard stuff.

As we were still sitting on the floor, with Mal cuddled on my lap, I told him that I worry about a lot of things, too. In fact, I used to worry so much about so many things that I, too, would make myself sick. 
But I don't have to worry as badly anymore. Now, whenever I start to feel overly worried I get down on my knees and ask my Savior Jesus Christ to help me. I will list off all the things I am worried about and ask him to please help me by taking these burdens from me--by sharing the load of my worries and alleviating the stress I feel. Almost immediately I feel his love and calm as I share with Him my most pressing needs. I know that with my Savior I can conquer any worry and overcome any doubts. I know that with my Savior I am not alone even when I feel so alone in my worries. He lifts my burdens and in return gives me love and security. 

Mal's issue with anxiety reminds me of when I first learned about the iceberg of behaviours diagram when I was working in wilderness therapy many years ago. His school sickness (or anger or sadness or acting out or whatever behaviour inserted) is only the very top of what we see. In this case all I could see was him acting sick everytime it was time to go to school. However, if we look at him as an iceberg, there is so much more underneath that we can't see, which are the causes of his behaviour. This is pretty much how all people are--like icebergs, hiding all the scary, ugly, hard things underneath the surface of what we're truly feeling. 

We stayed cuddling there for a moment until our crazy kitty, Juzo, came up and bit his face, luckily not hard! It made him laugh. 
Crazy Juzo

I'm hoping as we especially focus on our Mal to overcome his worries, we can also help him learn to share his worries with God. One thing I know for sure is that we don't have to go through this life alone. I've been in situations where I was completely alone and riddled with anxiety, yet I always had my Savior there to help me. I made it through and now I get to help my boys.

After I dropped of Mal at school I sat in the car for a second and opened up my Facebook. An old memory popped up from November 2, 2017, which I thought was perfectly fitting for my experience this morning. :

     I was having a rough day personally but then started thinking about each of my boys individually. They are so strong and confident and passionate about life. They truly are a bright light. They are such a strength to me and they teach me everyday how to be a better person and a better mother. I am grateful everyday for the direct access I have to God's power to help me raise these boys. I am often a weak person and really don't know what to do but I have the greatest help there ever was.

Reading this memory reminded me to keep praying for my boys and their needs everyday, however it also reminded me how important it is to keep journaling my thoughts. These memories, whether they be on facebook or instagram, remind me who I am and what my continuous goals are. I don't want to lose sight of that in the hustle and bustle of life.  I don't want to bury all my thoughts underneath the surface like an iceberg. I need to let my light shine like a fire (which is the opposite of iceberg if you google it.) 

So, the blogging is back!