Monday, April 2, 2012

Children: Adults in Training

Remember when you were a kid? The world seemed to so big and fascinating with endless possibilities. Oh boy, you couldn't wait 'til you would be a grown-up and get out there!

But did you know how to be a grown-up? Heck, do we know how to be grown-ups now? Being grown-up means responsibility, decisions, stress, deadlines, heartburn, bills, and the list goes on. Now that we're here, do we ever look back and say, "What was the rush?"

However tragic is might be, the memorable words of J.M. Barrie ring loud and true: "All children grow up."As parents, it is our profound and sacred responsibility to help them develop into responsible, contributing adults. The hard part is finding out what that means and how in the world to do it.

Again, I would like to suggest certain principles which - if understood and applied - will help us in that ever-intimidating task of parenthood.

Principle 1: Let the kids decide.
In the premortal existence we fought for the divine and eternal gift of agency, or the ability to choose and act for ourselves. One of the primary reasons for our life here on earth is to learn how to use that gift in such a way that would enable us to be like our Heavenly Father someday. Our own children have that same gift and are beginning to learn how to use it.

We often hear the term "exercise our agency." Let's focus on the word exercise. This implies that it needs to be strengthened and developed over time, the same way that we develop our other muscles. They need to be pushed, pulled, and stretched to their breaking limits in order to grow and build stronger. What good would it do an athlete who is trying to build muscle if his spotter takes all of the weight? Sure, he might be able to log in that he benched hundreds of pounds, but did he really?

Likewise, as parents we will only hinder our children if we make all of our children's decisions for them. Can we really expect to strip them of their agency throughout their growing up life, perhaps under the false idea that we're just showing them the way, and then expect them to be able to make healthy, rational decisions once they leave home?

Granted, as parents we shouldn't just leave are child to fend for himself. We still need to help him make correct decisions. Dr. Lawrence Steinberg suggests five ways that do just that.

  1. Pick the right battles. Don't sweat the small stuff. Don't get engaged in trivial things. "When your child's choice really doesn't matter, err on the side of granting autonomy." Unless it's offensive, harmful or inappropriate, let him wear his hair how he wants, listen to music while she studies, and choose his own clothes.
  2. Preapprove your child's choices. As a parent you can set limits on what your child can and can't choose. Do so to choices that you are already okay with. For example, "If you want to limit your child's television viewing to one show per day, tell her which shows she is allowed to watch and ask her to choose among them, rather than picking the show herself."
  3. Praise your child's decisions. "You want your child to feel confident in her abilities to make good decisions. After she's made a choice, tell her that she's made a good one )assuming that what she chose was an alternative that was preapproved by you.) Saying [so] will make her feel good and help build her self-assurance," thus enabling her to continue on making her own decisions. 
  4. Help your child think through decisions rather than always make them for him. Don't take all the weight from the dumbbell, but don't let the weight crush him. Help him to see and understand the various consequences of all possible decisions and then let him decide. What may be obvious to you might not be for him.
  5. Let her learn from her mistakes. Naturally, as parents we don't want to see our children upset or disappointed, but part of life is living with the consequences of our mistakes. Let the child learn from experience. 
Now a word of caution: There will be times when we will have to step in and pull rank, but only in certain circumstances. The three main times when we do need to do that is when a) The effects are too dangerous (e.g. running out into the middle of the street) b) Another person's safety is at risk, (i.e. drunk driving) and c) when the consequences are too far-off for the child to see clearly now (such as sexual promiscuity or substance abuse.)

The Lord created two types of things: those to act and those to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14.) We are creatures to act. 

Principle 2: Setting Boundaries
"The most important thing that children need from their parents is love, but a close second is structure. One of the main ways you create structure in your child's life is by having expectations for proper behavior as well as constraints on how much freedom your child is granted. It doesn't matter how old your child is. All children need rules and limits." (Steinberg, pg. 87)  People need limits. We need boundaries. That's why governments exist. In the words of Bill Cosby, "I brought you into this world. I have a job. I buy you clothing. If I just let you run out, you'd be a wild woman chasing cars, biting tires." 

The natural man is "carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature." (Alma 42:10) Part of living life is to learn how to overcome and govern that fallen side of us. The Prophet Joseph Smith summed it up quite nicely on how to do this:

I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.

As I was talking about these things with my mom, she pointed out something that I find very intriguing and accurate: 

Children long for boundaries. They don’t know that, but that’s why permissive parenting is so hard on kids. They don’t know boundaries. They don’t know rules. So when they’re trying to find them when they aren’t there it just creates more havoc in their lives. So as a parent, as an instructor, as a teacher, it’s much easier to start of with small, firm boundaries and to loosen it up as you go than it is to create those later on, because that’s a very, very nonproductive type to do it in reverse.

This philosophy reminds me of a book that I read in middle school, The Out-siders, by S.E. Hilton, the character of Bob Sheldon is described as a youth from a high socioeconomic class who was killed in a street scuffle. Later on, his friend Randy explained his situation at home: 

They spoiled him rotten. I mean, most parents would be proud of a kid like that – good-lookin’ and smart and everything, but they gave in to him all the time. He kept trying to make someone say “No” and they never did. They never did. That was what he wanted. For somebody to tell him “No.” To have somebody lay down the law, set the limits, give him something solid to stand on. That’s what we all want, really. (Hilton, 1967, p. 116)

Heavenly Father knows the importance of boundaries. He gives us commandments so that we can become like him. They are not to restrict us, but to make us free. 

Principle 4: Let kids be kids.
Some things just can't be forced. As Steinberg said,

Part of respecting your child as a person involves allowing your child to act his age. This requires enjoying the stage of development your child is going through right now and resisting the temptation to help push him into the next one. Let his development unfold without trying to direct it all the time. (pg. 189)

Even the Lord teaches us "line upon line, precept upon precept." (D&C 98:12) It's been said that he doesn't expect us to be mighty oaks before we are saplings. 

Kids are going to be messy, noisy, and possibly quite the handful at times. Enjoy it while it lasts. Perhaps the most oft-quoted ditty that I hear my family with children of their own is "They just grow up so fast." 

Let them be kids. Have fun with them. It might even bring out that inner child in you long forgotten.

Principle 4: Kids are people, too.
Respect is something that each of us seek, both from others and from ourselves. Little children are still people - they just haven't been around as long. To have respect for someone doesn't mean that you will always agree with her, but rather it means that you accept her right to her own opinion and honor it. Back to Steinberg:

Respect is not measured in whether people agree with each other - it's measured in how they behave toward each other when they disagree. (pg. 180)

This doesn't mean that we should treat our children as our equals in status or abilities - but as individuals who deserved to be heard, to have their emotions validated (even if their behavior says otherwise.) 

Give him the same courtesies you would give anyone else. Speak to him politely. Respect his opinion. Pay attention when he is speaking to you. Treat him kindly. Try to please him when you can. Don't worry - you can do all of these things and still maintain your authority as the parent. You've known your child his entire life. The very least you can do is treat him as respectfully as you would treat someone you are meeting for the first time. (Steinberg, pg. 182)

Talk with your kids. Get to know them. They are priceless and precious

Think of how the Savior views little children. 

Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:14)

Therefore, whose repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive. (3 Nephi 9:22)

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19, emphasis added)

As my own mother put it so poetically,

We are not dictators as parents. We are only caretakers. You are not our children. You are on loan to us. You are Heavenly Father's children. We are his caretakers. We are His stewards. My philosophy was to parent you as Heavenly Father would parent you.

Sources Cited: 

-Steinberg, Dr. Lawrence, The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 2004
- Hilton, S.E., The Outsiders, Viking Press, New York, NY, 1967

Our most treasured possessions

Have you ever lashed out at a guest when he left her umbrella at your house, accusing her of being lazy and inconsiderate? Have you ever smacked a loved one for saying something rude? Have you ever blatantly told a friend to ignore another friend just because he's "seeking attention?"

Have you ever done this with your child?

Children are an heritage of the Lord.
(Psalms 127:3)

Of course we would never react so overtly when other grown, mature people. But why would we do this with those who are coming into maturity, who are still learning, and who are trying to become like their role models (who, ideally, would be their own parents)? It just doesn't make sense.

If it's common knowledge that you should not strike another person, shouldn't hitting someone completely defenseless be even more appalling?

In all things, we need to strive to be like the Savior Jesus Christ. "He is the way, the truth, and the life." He gave us the perfect example of how to treat others, especially children.

May I suggest three tried and true principles that may help us avoid such a paradoxical calamity? These principles not only apply to parents for their children, but in any interpersonal relationship.

Principle 1: "Charity Never Faileth."(1 Corinthians 15:8)
Have you ever felt that you receive just too much love? I'm not talking about that girl back when you were little who would constantly pester you with paper hearts and smooches. I'm talking about unconditional acceptance of who you are and genuine concern for your well-being. 

The need to be needed is so important to us as people, right along with food and safety. We want to be accepted. We want to be understood. Is this not the same - if not more so - for children? Our love for them should not be given as a reward nor taken away as a punishment. This turns it into a tool for manipulation. Love should never be described like this. It's not a weapon for chastisement, nor a carrot to be dangled in front of a child for good behavior.

Don't we want to loved unconditionally? Shouldn't we love our children the same? Love is not a currency to buy good behavior, nor a tool of retribution to punish bad behavior by withdrawing it.  When we deny our child love when she misbehaves ("Just ignore her," or "I won't talk to you when to act this way," or "Go to your room.") or only give it when they do good, we are communicating to them that our love for them is dependent on how they act, thus giving us the reward of their cooperation. But what's the cost?

The danger in this approach is that only their behavior will change. Behavior is just another word for application. Therefore, focussing on what a child is doing completely negates what they are thinking or how they are feeling. More on this in just a bit.

Love needs to be freely given. Don't worry about spoiling your children with it. Said Dr. Lawrence Steinberg:

I can think of plenty of children who have suffered because their parents were too busy, too selfish, or too preoccupied to attend tho their needs. But I've never met a child who was worse off because his parents loved him too much. It is simply not possible to spoil a child with love. (Steinberg, The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, pg. 27)

Withholding your love to "toughen up" your kids or to get them used to the "cold, hard world" will only hinder them, teaching them that giving and receiving approval and developing strong interpersonal  relationships are not to be desired and are somehow bad. Some parents believe that by showing too much affection they will handicap their child's emotional development, when in reality just the opposite is true. Again, Dr. Steinberg:

When children feel genuinely loved, they develop such a strong sense of security that they are almost less needy. A famous study of whether parents should respond to their baby's cries during the middle of the night made this point very nicely. Contrary to those who believe that comforting a baby who cries out will only reward the baby's behavior and lead to more crying, the researchers found that the opposite is true. Babies who are comforted when they cry out during the night tend to cry less, not more, over time. The reason is simple enough: babies cry out when they wake during the night because they are scared and disoriented. Being comforted makes them feel more secure and this enables them to sleep better. (pg. 29)

In this case, you cannot have too much of a good thing.

Principle 2: Get to the bottom of things.

Let's say that you are a pretty even-tempered person. Not a whole lot gets to you and that is your general reputation: easy-going and pleasant. This morning, however, you sleep through your alarm on the morning that you were supposed to give that big presentation to your supervisors and now have to rush to make it in time, only to find that you're out of soap in the shower. There's a big accident on the road you take to work, setting you even further behind schedule, and frankly those maniacs blaring their subwoofers at max volume in the sedan behind you making your whole car vibrate aren't helping the situation. When you get to work you have to drive around the parking lot several times before you can find a spot to park. You rush to the conference room, walking in late, out of breath, and frustrated. When you finally finish your presentation you walk of the room with your head hanging, feeling like you did a pretty lousy job. Your inbox for your job looks just as unrelenting as ever, and as you try to plow your  way through it you do your best to ignore those two hooligans in the cubicle next to you who just can't seem to stop arguing. Your computer is acting up again, making work so much more annoying and, wouldn't you know it, your printer runs out of ink. One thing leads to another the whole day long - just one of those classic rotten days. When you finally get home, tired, beaten, frustrated and discouraged, you are greeted by your spouse asking you how your day went. Without even really meaning to you reply with a curt, sarcastic remark. All of the sudden, your spouse - that one person who should understand you and love you like no one else - goes off on you! You only hear criticisms about how you can't be pleasant and how you should try to be more cheerful. Then - can you believe it - you are sent away! Your presence is suddenly unbearable to your loved one.

How would you feel in this moment? After all you've been through your beloved judged you based on a single moment of how you acted, taking absolutely nothing into account of why you were acting that way.

Children will often behave in ways that seem to us to be out of line, unacceptable, or maybe just plain annoying. They'll hit, scream, and throw tantrums. They'll talk back and cry uncontrollably. But why do they do this?

Have you ever asked? Have you ever tried to discern what's going on?

All people, whether their two or ninety-two, want and long to be understood.

Children are at a natural disadvantage when it comes to regulating their emotions mainly because they haven't come to understand or label them yet. That comes with time and practice, and as parents we can and must help them to do so.

If you toddler daughter is throwing a tantrum it is probably because she is sad or afraid, which is often manifest (even in grown adults) in anger. Find out why she's upset. Get to the root of the problem. Focussing on the behavior will only affect the surface, leaving the deep, underlying emotions untouched and unvalidated. Author Alfie Kohn explains,

Unconditional parenting assumes that behaviors are just the outward expression of feelings and thoughts, needs and intention. In a nutshell, it's the child who engages in a behavior, not just the behavior itself, that matters. They act this way rather than that way for many different reasons, some of which may be hard to tease apart. But we can't just ignore those reasons and respond only to the effects (that is, the behaviors.) If, for example, it turned out that Abigail was really being defiant because she's worried about the implications of our paying so much attention to her baby brother, then we're going to have to deal with that, not merely try to stamp out the way she's expressing her fear. (Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, pg. 15)

The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance [behaviors], but the Lord looketh on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

Principle 3: "Can't Buy Me Love."
As stated earlier, our love for our children (and other loved ones) should not be a tool for manipulation, given or withdrawn as if it's a reward for good behavior. This is manifest in two different ways:

  1. Love withdrawal. Ignoring a child when she's trying to get your attention, sending your son to his room when he talks back, or even saying outright, "I don't want to be around you when you act that way," sends the very clear message: "Go away." The child's presence becomes undesirable, and she recognizes that very well.
  2. Rewarding good behavior. This might seem a little strange. We naturally want to reinforce good behavior, but throwing your kid a bone every time he does something nice is counter-productive. When we shower our kids with praises and goodies - whether they be physical or emotional - for doing what we ask, we start to put conditions on our love.
Rewards and love withdrawal communicate quite effectively, "I love you when you do what I want." It might get temporary compliance from your child, but completely undermines a strong, healthy relationship with him. I'm not saying that a child will need a time out every once in a while to recollect herself and take a breather or that we shouldn't thank a child when he helps set the table and plays with his little sister. The thing is to focus on why we react that way, emphasizing what they're becoming, not what they're doing. 

Which is more effective: telling a child "Good job!" when he helped to wash the dishes or thanking him for helping to make mommy or daddy's job easier? Focussing on what your child is becoming rather that what she is doing will help her develop strong moral character and intrinsic motivation. Said Kohn:

Intrinsic motivation basically means you like what you're doing for its own sake, whereas extrinsic motivation means you do something as a means to an end - in order to get a reward or avoid a punishment. It's the difference between reading a book because you want to find out what happens in the next chapter and reading because you've been promised a sticker or a pizza for doing so. (pg. 33)

Trying to be like Jesus.

A teacher of mine, Diane Soelberg, once taught me a profound truth. She observed, "Have you ever noticed that parents will often tell their children to go to their room or go to time out when they misbehave, in essence saying, "Go away?" But when we misbehave, the Savior says to us, "Come unto me." 

In all things we need to try to be like Jesus. 

And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see [the emblems of my love for you.] (3 Nephi 18:25)

Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. (Mark 10:14)

Let us remember the old Roman story about Cornelia, who confronted by other women asking her, presumably mockingly, about her worn down clothing and lack of fine things of apparel, brought her two children close to her and responded, "These are my jewels."

Let us remember how merciful and patient our Heavenly Father has been with us.

Let us treat our own children the same.

Sources Cited:

-Steinberg, Dr. Lawrence, The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, Simon and SchusterNew York, NY, 2004
-Kohn, Alfie, Unconditional Parenting, Atria Books, New York, NY, 2005

Friday, March 30, 2012

"Oh Say, What is Truth?"

Have you ever heard the term "Truth is relevant" or "Truth is what you make of it?" Personally, I've always been somewhat puzzled at this concept. 

The dictionary on my computer define true as "in accordance with fact or reality." Aren't all these things - truth, fact, and reality - constant and solid by nature? 

Granted, how we interpret these realities is open to interpretation. Allow me to quote from my first post:

By very definition, truth is not relative. A so-called "relative truth" is merely a personal observation. Take for example the familiar picture of the old/young woman. While opinions of what is seen may vary, truth - or facts - still remain: there are certain dark markings arranged in specific ways in relation to each other. (Credit for this is due to Stephen R. Covey in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.) But how we view those facts, or truths, is where the fun starts.
We are all unique individuals, and therefore will have differing views of what we see, hear, and so forth. It is only natural for us to pass on what we learn, even if we're not even that sure about it, thus information, or misinformation, spreads like wildfire.

So, let's break it down. There are three main categories here that govern our living that may also be difficult to distinguish. They are Doctrines/Principles, Policies/Procedures, and Applications/Culture.

Doctrines and Principles are unchanging, and are synonymous with truth. As stated in Doctrine and Covenants 93:24, "And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come." Constant and independent, truth in its actual definition, is not up for debate. This doctrine is the the building material for how things work. In gospel terms it can also be called "the law." This foundation cannot be altered, no matter what we do. It's been said, "One cannot break the law: One can only break himself against the law."

Though these doctrines never change, times do. People change. Circumstances change.  Besides the doctrines themselves, the only other thing that is inevitable in life is change. Because of this we sometimes see doctrines carried out in various ways. Let's take the Word of Wisdom as an example. The policy for our day is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants section 89 and outlines basic guidelines of what to take into our body and what not to. It shows us how the Lord would have us carry out the principle, which is that our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost and need to be taken care of.

One way we know that this set of guidelines is a policy and not a principle is to see if it has changed. Indeed it has. This same doctrine was taught in another way during the time of Moses, and was known as the Levitical Law. Once times and circumstances changed, it was necessary to alter it (Acts 10:9-15). And again in this dispensation we find it changed around for our own circumstances. And yet the doctrine itself has never changed. Now, just because these procedures are subject to change, it does not diminish their importance or validity at all. We still need to follow them.

Now, the way in which we apply these doctrines and policies is another matter entirely. Sticking with the Word of Wisdom example, how many times have we heard the argument over caffeine? Or different types of tea? There is a lot of disagreement on the subject. And disagreement itself is not a bad thing - in fact it can be a very good thing as long as we remember what these things are based on. 

Problems emerge when we start focussing on the applications and culture of things instead of the revealed procedures or, most important, the doctrines behind them. What good is it if the deacons are lined up correctly before returning the sacrament trays to the altar if we partake of it without reverence and adoration? What good is it if we're so worried about finishing an assignment but totally skip over the whole learning part? What good is it sending your child to time out for hitting when he's never understood the principles of patience, kindness, and self-control?

Any great athletic or musical or artistic coach will tell you that it's the fundamentals that will make the difference. As President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said,

"True doctrine, understood, changes attitude and behavior [applications]."

We're all trying to get back home. Parents are desperately trying to teach their children the ways of truth and light. We're mortal. We mess up. Our children are mortal. They mess up. How do we go about correcting ourselves or our children? Our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ have provided the perfect example. 

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from 
the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature." 
-President Ezra Taft Benson

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My most coveted title.

Disclaimer: This is a long one, but it's that important to me.

As primary children we sing, “I’m so glad when Daddy comes home.” Why would we be glad? What does Daddy have to offer? Isn’t he the butt of most family jokes as the buffoon who doesn’t know what’s going on, or who’s constantly being walked all over by the mother? Isn’t he more of an extra child who happens to bring home a paycheck, as commonly seen on TV sitcoms?
            The typical view of fatherhood today is degrading to the sacred title of “Father.” What should a real father be, and what should he do?
            First: Preside
            The First Presidency and Quorum of the twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints stated in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, that, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness.” To “preside” does not imply to rule or to dominate. It simply means that he is the one that makes sure that things regarding the family get done, whether this is family prayer and home evening, family councils, projects around the house, whatever. As the presider, he is the one to lead, meaning, to inspire, invigorate, and set the example. He does not tower over his wife, but she does not step on him either. They work together as a team. But when things need to be moved forward, Daddy needs to take the first step.
            Second: Provide
            In The Family proclamation, the presiding Brethren continue to say, “…Fathers…are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” They have the role of “bread winner” for the household. “Verily I say unto you, that every man who is obliged to provide for his own family, let him provide, and he shall in nowise lose his crown” (D&C 75:28). President Ezra Taft Benson, in his talk entitled “To Fathers in Israel,” (1987) suggests that this is primarily due to the responsibility of Mom to stay home to care for the children. He even declares that this is her right – to have a husband provide for her and the kids: “While she cares for and nourishes her children at home, her husband earns the living for the family, which makes this nourishing possible.”
            Third: Protect
            The world is a scary place. Crime, natural disasters, economic crises, immorality, the list goes on. For every single one of these topics, whether they be physical, mental, social, or spiritual, it is Dad’s responsibility to make sure that nothing harmful enters his family’s home (again, utilizing his role as the presider to make sure that the protection happens.) He keeps the house in good repair to protect his family from the possible storms of nature. He ensures that internet filters are in place, and that no book, magazine, CD or movie that could harm them passes through those doors. He is selective and cautious of whom his children spend time with (especially those who want to date his daughters.) He keeps himself healthy mentally active to be able to ward off any potential criminal or ill-comer – anyone who would negatively impact his home. That house needs to be as close to the Temple as possible, and he is the one to check the “recommends” of any who wish to enter.
            Fourth: Play
            Who wants a boring Dad? When I was an EFY counselor I conducted an activity designed to help the youth become more familiar with Heavenly Father by writing down the attributes of a perfect Dad. The first attribute I heard one night in particular was, “fun.” It struck home. How often do we recognize Dad’s responsibilities to spend sufficient time in the office or on the job site, to make sure the family is up and getting ready for church, and to ward off those weird potential boyfriends? But how often to do we forget that Dad is also the one to help the kids build that tree house, to dress up silly for his baby girl’s tea party, and to teach his boys how to throw and catch a baseball? He is to be a coach and a cheerleader. “Having Dad there makes all the difference.” (Benson, 1987)
            Fifth: Love
            Dad should be respected, but never feared. His strength is not for hurting. His passion and indignation should be directed toward those who would harm his family, not those who are in it. Yes, he will need to provide discipline at times, but not sentences. Children will mess up and Dad needs to be there to help restore order, keeping their well-being as his highest priority. When a child does wrong, his or her parent might say, “Go to your room,” or “Go to ‘time out.’” However, the Savior will open His arms to us when we make mistakes and say, “Come unto me.”
            Our Father in Heaven has set a perfect example for us who wish to be good fathers. He teaches, leads, inspires, uplifts, and loves us unconditionally. Sure, He might not like a lot of things we do, but that will never, ever stop Him from loving us with all that He is.

Let me get this straight....

If only everyone just understood exactly what you mean in everything you say, right? Life would just be so much easier. No more of this confusing, read-between-the-lines game we're constantly playing. We wouldn't have to ask "What did that really mean?" anymore. Just imagine..........

Of course, that's not going to happen anytime too soon. The trick is to learn how to understand and to be understood. This requires a good amount of humility - to be able to explain what we feel in the language of the person to whom we are speaking, as well as trying to understand them in their own language.

If I speak in a foreign language that you don't understand, no matter how clearly I dictate the words or how simple the grammar, you will not be able to understand. This is in no way your fault. If a Swede comes up to me and starts speaking in Swedish I haven't the slightest chance of understanding what he wants until another language is employed, whether body language or hand gestures or the likes. The same is true within a language. Remember that only 10% of all communication is made up of words. The rest is in voice inflections, body language, facial cues, and so forth. Even when two people are speaking the same language, they could be completely misunderstanding each other.

Stephen R. Covey teaches that the fifth habit of highly effective people (as taught in The Seven Habits for Highly Effective People) is "Seek first to understand, then to be understood. To truly communicate with people we need to be able to explain back to them what they are feeling, preferably better than they explained it first. Not only does this enable effective communication, but it also establishes stronger trust between the individuals. We all want to be understood, but it's a difficult task to accomplish.

I think that as long as we're more concerned with understanding before being understood, the entire communication game can be dramatically simplified. Maybe all this entails is recognizing that the other person speaks differently than ourselves, and in so doing we can try to speak more effectively.

The talk.....

Okay, everyone say it with me:

Sexual intimacy.

The most awkward part of this post is now over.

We live in a world where sex is demeaned, degraded, and sold at discount price. It has been displayed as something cheap and meaningless. It is being portrayed as something entirely selfish and crude. No commitment is required and certainly no thought for the other party involved need be considered.

How sickening! This most beautiful relationship between husband and wife is being torn to shreds and sold as fodder.

Dr. Bruce Satterfield of Brigham Young University - Idaho describes the process in which two people grow in intimacy (defined as emotional closeness, not sexuality, though we will see how the two relate.)

Some of you might be familiar with this structure of a marriage:
When God is involved in the marriage like this, we see a system that in ideal for growth within the couple and increased closeness - or intimacy. You cannot grow closer to your spouse without growing closer to God, and vice versa. You also cannot grow closer to God without growing closer to your spouse.

Now take a look at the chambers within the triangle. Let's imagine that there are four of them. Starting from the bottom we'll label them "Similar Standards," "Friends," "Intimate Friends," and "Celestial Romance."

Is it possible to build a truly stable relationship without a similarity of standards? I submit no. How can it be when the basics of how we live our lives are constantly butting in against each other? Overlook them as we might, the energy it takes to do so seriously jeopardizes the possibility of anything long-lasting.

Once these ground rules have been established we can move into friendship, or, as Dr. Satterfield refers to it, the "I like you" stage. Once again, this can be with anyone we chose. I like my friends. I like my family. I enjoy their company and desire to spend time with them.

From "I like you," we can move into a more intimate relationship with our friends, when we can really say, "I love you." Granted, as we move further up in the triangle we have less and less room for people. This is only natural. I love much less people than I like. This is reserved for only my family and closest of friends. It is that selfless care and concern for their well-being. It's that attachment with them that's so close that they might as well be family.

Once we reach the top we find ourselves in a very small area - the "Celestial Romance." If we have moved up the triangle with a person correctly, taking time to firmly establish ourselves in each area, we will be in a position to choose someone - just one - with whom we desire to share that very special place. Only when it is firmly rooted in this process can intimacy and sexuality combine into a pure and sacred relationship.

In his book Human Intimacy, Victor L. Brown teaches us that when accompanied by such a high level of true intimacy, sex can provide the catalyst that brings husband and wife to an ever higher level which was not possible beforehand. However, without it, it is the basest of all relationships, placing us no higher than the animals.

Sex, when in its proper place, is a beautiful and holy thing. It partially fulfills God's commandment to become one: "And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh" (Mark 10:8). However, it can be incredibly dangerous when not under the proper circumstances. "...Sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group." [Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968), pp. 35-36]

In no means does this mean it is bad. Horses are creatures who possess incredible power and are capable of a great amount of destruction if left unattended. It is just as unnecessary and unwise to destroy such creatures as it is to let them go wild. What we do instead is break them and bridle them, harnessing their strength and power in a way that allows them to be used in a much more effective and wholesome manner. Likewise, we are counseled to "bridle" our passions. Not destroy them nor let them roam free, but to harness and channel them into something of even greater strength and use. In fact, in the same passage in which are taught to bridle our passions, we are given the reason for it: "That you may be filled with love." (Alma 38:12)

How tragic is it that something so pure, beautiful and sacred has been trampled underfoot? Pornography in all of its ugly forms, prostitution, homosexuality, rape, trafficking, the list goes on. May we learn to respect and control these powerful emotions that we may truly be filled with love.

The only thing that is constant is change

Have you ever asked yourself, "How in the world did I get myself into this?"

From what I hear we very well could be asking ourselves that exact same thing once we "tie the knot." We might ask it again once we get pregnant, and then again once that baby comes.

The fact remains that change is always going to happen. The question is how we are going to deal with it. Change can be scary. It brings with it the unknown, which is one of the biggest fears of the human race. But without change, progress cannot happen. There is no comfort in the growth zone and there is no growth in the comfort zone.

Once we accept this inevitability, the transitions will be easier. Having a strong support group is always a good idea, especially when your main supporter is your spouse - the same person that you'll be going through all of this with.

Always remember that you are not the only one who has done this. Countless others have gone before you. Take heart that you, too, can do hard things.