Monday, January 12, 2015

It Really is Great to be Eight

Last night we had another successful Great to Be Eight fireside.
In our church, a child can choose to be baptized at the age of eight.
We do not do infant baptisms, we wait until the child is old enough to really understand right from wrong and to be old enough to make choices and changes.
As they childs grows, the relationship they have with God will change and evolve.
Age 8 is the beginning of making real life choices.
Each January, we have an evening for the kids to help them and their parents to know what they can do to prepare for baptism, and how the process will go.

It was not without it's usual, last- minute issues, but I think that it went really well.
All of the kids from our ward attended, the speakers did a great job.
 (Thanks Tyra, Jake and Matt.)
I got this brilliant idea to make fancy sugar cookies with some of the cookie cutters I picked up in Salt Lake last fall.
Brilliant baking ideas only work if you can dedicate the full day before to baking and decorating.
I found myself juggling a hundred things that seemed to go wrong at the last minute, so I was up at 2am on Saturday, decorating sugar cookies. 
Some of them looked like they were decorated at 2 am.
The cupcakes certainly suffered, as I made the decision in the middle of my bleary-eyed frosting session, to just use the remaining royal icing for the cupcakes.
It was like putting a hubcap on the cupcakes.
Everything tasted a bit like cardboard.
They were cute.

When you are seven years old- cute makes up for cookies that taste like plaster and the kids all acted like they had the fanciest cookies ever given to a child. 
I loved hearing how excited they all were to be baptized, and to listen to the questions they asked.
I don't remember much about my own baptism, just some of the more internal things that were catalyst to my choosing my own path in life.
I remember being very upset that I had to wait until February because I grew up in a home with a lot of conflict, and special events seemed to breed even more.  I remember he bought me a carnation to say he was sorry that I had to wait an extra month and it was the first time anyone had given me a flower, just for me.
After  was baptized, our foreign exchange student began to tease me, and I jokingly punched him in the arm. I was 8 years old, he was 18- we were just teasing each other. My mother saw it a different way and the rest of the ride home I got to hear how I had already 'ruined it'  and how I just loved to sin and be unclean.
I remember thinking that was one of the stupidest things I had ever heard, but I had to go along with it. Her story about how I was 'drawn to sin' has been told for years, leaving out the part that I was only  8 years old, and I was playing- not some story of my starting down a life of horror and disgrace.

I remember, as my parent talked about how 'stained' I was, feeling a sense of ownership and freedom regarding my relationship with God.  My covenants were with God and it was one of the first times that saw the goals of my parents as not necessarily the goals that God had for my life. I knew I had to choose who to follow, God or my parents, and that I could not always follow both.  They would not lead to the same place. 
I can look back and see that those feelings I had at age 8, came from a Father who knew me and loved me. He knew I would have to look at the connections between my parents on Earth and my parents in Heaven often in my life and I can see now it was a blessing that in that season, I clearly understood that those are separate relationships. You can love and follow God and not follow your parents. You can follow and love your parents and not be following God. 
There is a lot of room for something in- between as well.  
 I have family who strongly believe that in order to be good, you must follow our parents and see them as equals to, or at least the gatekeepers to God. I  knew at age 8 that they were not the same thing and I would often have to choose. Those that could choose both, that's awesome and I'm glad that it isn't so hard for them. 

When our kids were baptized, we made the decision to keep them focused on the ordinance, on the fact that this was about the child and God- nobody else. 
The activities and parties people throw are lovely, but the baptism is a sacred event.
The Holy Ghost is a still small voice, we wanted our children to be able to feel that, and that doesn't really fit in with some of the current practices of having a huge party/reception after the baptism and programs that include amazing musical numbers and speakers that entertain and wow the large crowd at a baptism. 
The point sometimes gets lost.

Baptism is a promise. 
A promise between you and God. 
You make promises to Him, and he makes promises to you. 
These promises are the first true exchange you have with God. This is the first covenant you choose to make with God. 
Be aware of what is going on.

We wanted our children to be able to hear those promises, to participate in the sacred, personal experience that was before them.  
With most of our kids, we were able to have it be about the ordinance, not the show/party. 
We had to fight to not let it be a circus with one child, thankfully we had a good Bishop who also felt strongly that the ordinance should be the focus, not who gave the prayers and special musical numbers or a scrapbook- worthy reception in the gym. 

While parties are fun, I hope that as parents we think about what we hope our child gets out of that day. If the highlight of the day is a cake and chasing their cousins, screaming around the gym while the adults all ooh and ahh over the food- it might be a good idea to rethink that. 
Our amazing and wonderful children deserve the better part. 
The better part comes from turning to the Savior, choosing to not make sure everything is beautiful and impressive-to have our children learn to sit at His feet, and connect with Him. We can sit with them, and teach them the joy of hearing that Still Small Voice, of feeling that subtle, but real difference when you know the Holy Ghost is with you, helping you and guiding you.
I implore you to choose the better part. 

There will be many family parties your child attends, many your child is the focus of. Consider unifying your family by helping to teach your child the quiet, powerful change that will come over them when they make and keep these sacred covenants with God and the Savior.
 Keep the lines of communication as clear as possible for them, so that they can experience something far more amazing than any party- they will hear the voice of The Shepherd and they will hear him call their name. 
Their name- just them.
 Help them to quietly recognize it and to know, it is a message of unconditional love.
 The Master calls, and He calls for  them by name.
I am not ragging on anyone who has chosen to celebrate baptisms a different way, I hope that is not how this reads. 
 If it does- I am sorry. I support each parent in doing what they feel is best for their family.  There is no one right or wrong way to do any of this- we're all just doing the best we can. 
I love you and love your child and support whatever you do on this special day. If you want to have the baptism at an amusement park- hey, I love ya- do your thing and I'll be there in whatever way I can be- save me some cotton candy, Yo.
I am just trying to share my feelings and my understanding and hope that as you plan and prepare for this amazing time, that the focus can stay on the ordinance, that you won't get too stressed out or wrapped up in the other things. They are all fun and fine, but don't risk losing the best thing about baptism, for something that is nice, but should not be outshine the experience that your child has, as he or she makes that promise to follow the Savior and to listen to His words. 

You decide what is best for your family. If a huge party is best- then that' what you should do- just try your best to take some time with your excited and wiggly eight year old, and help them to find a calm moment, to feel the difference, to think about what they are choosing. It's their first big choice and they will make millions of other choices- let them know choosing is good.

And please, please don't point out the first 'sin' you notice them doing. 
They are children and they will learn to navigate right and wrong based on how they feel as they understand how the Holy Ghost works in their lives and hearts.  
They made the choice to be baptized, they will make more good choices if you let them develop that personal relationship with God. 
Your job is to teach them to recognize His voice, and to show them that they are worthy of complete and unconditional love- always. 
I'm excited for our little ones, I see so many wonderful parents who are teaching these kids so much about love, about making choices and about who they really are. What a blessing to be included in the lives of not only my own children that I love beyond measure, but in the lives of the children in our little corner of New Jersey.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lost and Found in Family History

Today was a good day in my Family History adventures.

I love Family History.
I have always been drawn to it, I've always wanted to hear the stories and see the faces of those who reside on different branches of the family tree, but I never really knew where to begin or what it meant to 'work on' Family History.
I've taken the Family History Sunday School class at least 4 times and still- I wasn't sure what to actually DO.
My mother in law changed that for me.
She patiently sat with me and logged on to and asked me to give her the name of the ancestor that was as far back as I could remember.
I quickly told her that all of those ancestors had already been 'taken care of,' and much further down the line so that couldn't possibly be a good use of time. I could only remember back as far as my grandparents on one side and great grandparents on the other. 
Worthless information.
She smiled and asked their names and typed them in. 
Up popped a family tree that went back a very long way.
"See, I told you, it's all been done!"
She smiled again, nodded and said "Tell me what you know about your grandma's mom."
I knew nothing. 
Absolutely nothing.
Family Search gave me a name, dates and where she was born, married and died. 
It gave me the names of her children. 
It gave me the name of her husband and I told Mom Olson "Ah, that was her husband, he was a bad guy. He left her and her kids because she joined the church- that's what I was told."
She would ask me the next logical question as I opened up the file with Bad Great Grandpa's name in it. Where did he live? What work did he do? Did he ever move? Why did he move? When did he leave the place of his birth? Did his parents die in the place he was born?
Did he have brothers and sisters? Did he remarry? Did he have more children with another wife?

As I looked to answer some of the basic questions, I saw that Bad Grandpa had actually married my Great Grandmother in the Salt Lake Temple- before they had any kids. He later married a second wife, after his divorce, in the temple as well. 
This was not a man who left his wife because she joined the church.
he was, in fact, born in the covenant and was third,generation Latter day Saint. His father had come to Utah after having been a life long member of the church. That meant his family (my family) were some of the very first people to join the church in England. 
He was an active member all of his life and his second wife was a direct ancestor of one of my dearest friends from high school, Julie Arave-Olsen.

(Mother Arave/Blackburn really loved that hairstyle.)

Julie had always- ALWAYS felt oddly familiar, like a cousin to me, I never payed much attention to it, but I noticed that I felt a different connection with her than I did any friend I'd ever had. I could not explain it, but Julie had always felt like ...kin.

That was it-- the old Spirit of Elijah had me.

I didn't learn all of these things that day Mom Olson and I sat at her computer, but I did learn what to do next- to lay out the 'tree' and look at each of the branches. To see if people had spouses, children, siblings and parents- to try and give each person on my tree- a complete tree of their own. Those branches don't ever end or stop sprouting outward on each level.  Children have children who have children who have cousins who have cousins who have spouses who have siblings and cousins....yu can go as far down those side branches as you have the time for. 
When you make a complete 'tree' so to speak for a person- you have the outline of a story.
You gather all of the details about that person that you can inorder to tell a more vivid story.
As you learn the stories and find the history- those people become so very real to you.
They become your family and you see where you fit in and where they fit- in that enormous family tree you are a part of.

I found that, in both my mother's and my father's family there were a lot of divorces and remarriages. In my mother's family, the exes seemed to vanish from the history. Marriages ended and all proof of an ex- typically the father- was scrubbed clean fro the records. Stories that were passed down were typically fatherless stories and names were changed in order to create even more distance between the woman who was angry, but who passed on the history and the man who did her wrong. The fathers were cut out of the lives of the children and over time, forgotten or given a short but nasty label and it was clear that all he ever did was cause hurt.
Maybe that was true, maybe the women just held onto anger like a treasure, as the living family members do now. If they forgive the bad men from the generation before, it might mean those who hurt the living generation are worthy of forgiveness and they have to find a way to forgive that still honors necessary boundaries. 
I don't know- I have my own issues and crap to work out there. 
I just know that my mother's side is awfully absent of fathers- and the fathers did not die. 
My father's side is an almost mirror image when it comes to family history. Yes, they all had multiple divorces, but as I look at the records, I see the numbers of children grow, as the men adopted or cared for the children of their later wives, as well as the children that had with their first wives. I see step children added with as much love and acceptance as biological children, I see them given a place in line right along side the bloodline. I see the fathers who had families that were huge because they were stepfathers who treated all of the kids as his own. I see an effort made to keep track of the mothers who left, and records of mothers who didn't leave, but remarried- and how their families grew as well. 
But they have a lot more divorces, and it's interesting that there are family names that get passed down, but rarely from father to son. Usually you find a nephew named for an uncle. That gets pretty confusing sometimes because some of the ages aren't that far apart with the uncles and nephews, and some of the records were incorrectly  merged to make them the same person.

I see these giant broken and blended families and I have to just smile and shake my head. These are certainly my people. 
Which path do I choose? 
What will my history tell? 

I'm still figuring that out, and while I do I try to make sure that the stories that are being passed on about my ancestors are true stories. I don't know the reasons and the circumstances for the bad things that happened, but I know that some of the stories are made up and I have proof of such. I don't need to contact family and correct anyone, I just need to make sure my records only tell the stories I know to be true based on the first person accounts and the facts I find. I need to make sure that if anyone comes to me for information, if I put it out there- that I can back up those facts and that I have proof that some of the tired old stories are made up. Not everyone wants to hear that, so I keep it to myself, willing to share if anyone wants to know. I have no doubt my own name has been hacked from a  few family tree branches as well, and that's just how things always have been dealt with, I don't expect more from those who never realized it was the wrong way to handle family issues and estrangements. 
I will write the names, all of the names- of even the jackasses. I will add the stories that have facts to go with them and try to make sure my own feelings aren't clouding the facts.

So why was today a good Family History day for me?
I got a book I have been wanting for years. 
I came across it shorty after I started doing Family History, but it was not in print and the only three copies I could find were 1. At the Family History Library in Salt Lake, 2. at the New York Public Library (for reference only, not to check out) and 3. for sale from a private seller for $350.00.

I always meant to go to Salt Lake and look through the book, but I also figured I had plenty of time to do that until one day we found ourselves in New Jersey, far away from everything Utah.
I planned to go look up the book in NYC, but I knew that was going to be a huge pain in the rear and that library intimidates the heck out of me. I have also been putting it off.
When we went to Utah in November. we stayed right next door to the family history library and I had one goal-- to see that book.
I went with Mom Olson and we looked it up and found that it was online!
It had been digitized years ago (why hadn't I seen that?) and I could access it online..
I spent my time at the Family History Library doing other research and as soon as I got home, I logged on to read that book.
But, it was not to be.
The book was available digitally, but you had to be at an LDS family History Library to access it, as it was still under copyright. 
I was so annoyed. 
I was so annoyed that I decided I was actually going to get ff my butt and got to NYC and get ahold of that darn book.
Thankfully, Matt's cousin Kalynn told me I should be able to access it at out Stake Family History Center. 
I was at the Stake Center today, doing Primary stuff and I remembered that i wanted to check.
I logged on and...there it stinkin' book!
I finished up the Primary work I was doing and sat down in the Family History Center to devour the book. While I was there, someone joined me and asked what I was doing. She suggested I just print the book and replace the paper I was going to use, it wasn't that big of a book and I could get a lot more done at home that if I had to view it at the church building every time. 

She didn't have to suggest it twice and now-- moved to the top of my winter reading, I now have a complete copy of the Stribling book I have been trying to read for about 4 years.
I'm nerd-level excited about this and even if it doesn't give me any new information- it's information I have access to- accurate information about my kin. 
I believe though, that there will be new information and that some undiscovered limbs and branches- or at least leaves are going to be found on the family tree. I feel that is true. 

It's been a good year for me in my Family History Quest. I found the parents of the baby I had felt connected to- the right parents. I found I was related to my friend, I learned so much history about my ancestors that came here from England, including the fact that on one of my ancestors return trips from his church mission in England, he arrived with the first ancestor to be a member of the church of our current Stake President. 

I no longer feel like I'm just another link in a chain of unhappy people, I can see that I'm part of a family that did great things- they had incredible lives and they lived and loved and hurt and hurt others in return- just as we all do, but I can keep the good things that have always been in my family and I can help let go of the bad things that the generations before just couldn't shake, that they never wanted to keep being passed on. 

( Charles France and Evie Frances- from my father's side)
Thanks Aunt Sheila for pointing out that I had my Evie's mixed up :)

It heals me. I cannot explain exactly how, but Family History heals me.
Maybe it's because the dead can't hurt me. Dead family cannot tell you that you're stupid or that they are cutting you out of the family or that you're a not a 'real' family member. The dead don't squabble over imaginary birthrights and favorite children. 
We living don't seem to be able to move past some of those things sometimes.
When I do family history work, I feel as thought I am not only doing something important, but I feel as though what I am doing is wanted. The ancestors want to be remembered. They want to be a part of my story and my life. 
Doing Family History work does that for me. I know who I am and that I am loved by family that I will never meet on this Earth, but they know me and see me as one of their own.

(The Rouse Women- a family line through my father's side that I have only scratched the surface on)

(My Grandma Clarissa- who I was named after. She is still alive, but has dementia.)

                                                  (That's my cute dad, on the far right)

If you want to start working on family history and don't know where to begin, I encourage you to keep trying. Reach out to others and start asking questions.
Do as Mom Olson had me do and think back to the oldest name you remember and ask what you remember about that person- ask who they loved and were close to, what was going on in the town they lived in- start to build their trees and tell their story.
Thank you, Mom O for teaching me how to work on Family History, for teaching me how to ask the questions that lead to amazing discoveries and a new knowledge of my own life and story. A story that begins so long ago that nobody remembers, but when I hear it, my soul does. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Christmas Toys

The Holidays seemed to end as swiftly as they began.
I feel like the calendar was always a week ahead of me all December.

I finally got a chance to open my new serger.

I've wanted one forever, but I simply didn't sew enough to justify buying one.
That changed after getting my embroidery machine last year. 
 I was ready to take the plunge and Matt got me this beauty for my birthday:

 I took it out of the box and looked at it. 
Two needles?
The thread goes where?
Where does the bobbin go?
I watched a bunch of You Tube videos and checked out some tutorials that were posted online and decided to just dive in.
It took me a half an hour to successfully thread it, but an hour later, I had made these:

They are just simple burp cloths, but I did them on my serger. 

 They have a terry cloth back, I was making similar burp cloths earlier this year and they looked so cute with the edges raw....until you washed them.
I ran one of these through the wash before giving the rest away as a gift and they seemed to do just fine. 
Yay for learning new things.