Sunday, September 27, 2009


The last week or two I have been feeling overwhelmed by life, by burdens, by callings, and by responsibilities. I worked smarter, got more sleep, ate right, exercised, etc., and still nothing changed. This overwhelming feeling of drowning in problems began to affect my attitude towards life. I felt that I would never find peace from the struggle and opposition of day-to-day stresses. I looked around and all I could see were problems---from the government down to my family and myself.

As I drove home from work one day last week, I was in tears. My students in my last class that day had been awful, I was feeling like a failure as a teacher, and I couldn't get anyone on my cell phone to talk to. (I usually call my husband and my mom on my commute home from work every day to check in and catch up on things.)

It suddenly occurred to me that while I was panicking to talk to someone in my family, I hadn't called the Lord. I had been depending on my own strength for several weeks and while I had been praying at every meal and at our nightly family prayers, I had not sat down and prayed to the Lord like I used to for a while.

I sat in my car at a light and poured my heart out to Him. I didn’t care who saw me or what they thought. Through that prayer I felt inspired to love my students and look for the good in them. Things that were looming in my mind as huge problems suddenly became distant specks. The world took on a new look; even the commercial part of Charleston Avenue I was driving on looked brighter and cleaner.

I realized that the adversary had been “helping” me see the worst in everything and everyone. I was beginning to change into a person I wasn’t happy with and decided then and there that I would fight it, no matter what.

Tonight I was catching up on my Ensign reading and wouldn’t you know it? The August 2009 issue has an excellent article about prayer, by Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi, on page 34. If I had read this magazine in August, as I was prompted to, it might have helped my outlook then. That was right about the time I went back to school for the year. If you haven’t read it, try it.
Maybe it will help you. Have a great week!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Our lesson in Relief Society today was on friends. I was surprised to see this lesson in the manual and couldn’t help but wonder why it was there. (Thanks to the Prophet and the committee who plan the lesson books!) Because our focus is on Joseph Smith this year, the lesson revolved around him and the friendships he had. Joseph’s friends were amazing. They loved him and stood by him when the “fair weather” friends did not.

That got me thinking. What is a friend? Am I a good friend? Do I really listen? Am I there for my friends? Am I willing to open up to others or am I comfortable living in my own little bubble? Am I too busy with “life” for my friends? How can I be a better friend?

A few years back I lost the friendships of two life-long friends within two years. I made the choice to end one friendship and the other was that friend’s choice. I was devastated. We all lost out. Life went on though. I made new friends through my relationship with Steve, we were moved into a new ward, and I became reacquainted with lost friends on Facebook.

Until recently life as a newlywed, student, teacher, and mom left me little time for friends. Now that I have been married for almost 2 years and am no longer taking classes I have more time. Why does that extra time seem to go to my husband and boys the most? I don’t regret that it does, but I worry that I my friends and I are missing out. Women need friends. I miss my friends. I miss meeting for lunches and laughing over silly things our kids do. I miss catching up on high school gossip or crying together over our trials.

The R.S. manual also says, “True friends ease one another’s sorrows and remain faithful even in times of adversity.” I look at my parents and the friends they’ve had throughout their lives. Some friends were there for my parents when life was good, but when things turned bad, they disappeared. I’ve never forgotten that, not to begrudge those people, but as a reminder to not act that way myself.

My grandmother is another example. She now finds herself at 85 alone and sick. Grandpa died over 10 years ago. Her only son, who has had many struggles because of his poor choices, stopped talking to her soon after Grandpa died. My grandma is not active in the church and so relies on her daughter (my mom) and our family to help her. She doesn’t have any close friends. I can’t help but wonder how much richer her life would be with friends.

The gospel is one key in making friends. As sisters in the gospel we are blessed with Visiting Teachers. I can’t count how many of my Visiting Teachers have become my friends. We are also given opportunities to gather as friends in book clubs, cooking clubs, gardening clubs, and activities. If you don’t have friends at church, I’m sorry, it’s your fault. If you don’t attend a church, there are still activities you can participate in and make friends. One of my non-LDS friends meets with a woman’s group about once a month for the weekend. They talk, eat, exercise, and discuss life. Every time she returns from one of these weekends, I look forward to hearing about it.

I remember years ago complaining to one of my Visiting Teachers in a new ward I was in how I didn’t know anyone and no one was reaching out to me. She looked at me, with all of the wisdom a twenty-something could, and asked me if I had gone to any of the Relief Society activities in the ward. I swallowed my pride and told her no. She told me that I needed to extend myself first. She was right. I extended myself and made wonderful friends in that ward.

Another point the manual states is, “Friendship unites the human family, dispelling hatred and misunderstanding.” One way to bring peace into the world is to have friendships, and to love one another. If we look at those around us as our brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s easier to have patience and love for them. Having friends of various backgrounds makes the world a smaller place. I might not agree with the viewpoints of my Democrat or non-LDS friends, but I still love them. Imagine how peaceful the world would be if we could have friendship for one another, no matter what our race, religion, or background.

Before I step off of my friendship soapbox, I want to leave you with a quote one of my dear friends gave me years ago. “A friend is someone who sticks with you through thick and thin.” I haven’t always been that friend. For that I am sorrowful. I am grateful for my friends though. They have loved me, helped me, and kept me afloat during the thick times and the thin times. They are examples for me of what kind of friend I can be.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Writing Experiment Part 1

Fall is here. You can’t feel it in Vegas yet, but it’s in the air somewhere close by. With fall comes the new school year. School, with all of its changes, challenges, and new experiences, is something I’ve been looking forward to.

One change is a new group of students. The challenge is to get them excited about school and learning. A new experience for me is teaching English to 7th graders. In previous years I’ve taught 7th grade reading, which consists of, well, reading. There is some writing involved, but we mainly read and have class discussions. English, with its grammar and essay writing, is a whole new ball game for me, but a good one I think.

This year my goal is to motivate my 100 or so English students to write, become better at it, and to enjoy it. I think it’s fun to write, but when I ask my students to write, most of them look at me in horror.

Last week I did my song and dance about the exciting topic planned for their pre-test essay. (Write about a funny thing that happened to you or to someone you know at school.) Most of them tell me something funny every day. Why they can’t write about one funny thing is beyond me. To be fair, a few kids caught the enthusiasm, but I wasn’t happy with just a few. I began looking for inspiration.

My department chair, Ms. Isabel Gomez, mentioned a journaling activity she used last year with her 7th graders that worked exceedingly well to inspire them to write. She read 1-2 diary entries a week from “The Freedom Writers Diary – How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them,” by Erin Gruwell and her students at Wilson High School. (You may remember the movie, “Freedom Writers,” based on Gruwell and her experiences as a teacher.)

I asked my students to bring in a spiral notebook that will be their diary (or journal for the boys who think diaries are for girls.) I pumped them up about the book (140+ diary entries from Gruwell’s students who are from all races and have many interesting experiences to share) and I talked about Erin Gruwell and what she did as a teacher. (Only a few of the students had seen the movie.)

After a week of pumping them up about “The Freedom Writers Diary,” I made myself comfortable at the front of the classroom on my thrift store stool, opened the book, and prayed silently that this experiment would work.

I read Gruwell’s diary entry first. My students’ eyes betrayed their distrust of this lady named Gruwell, with her white skin, wealthy upbringing, and her comments about Long Beach, CA. (Her picture is on the cover of the book and all of them wanted to see what she looked like.) I told them to reserve their judgment until I was finished with her entry.

Her diary account deals with an incident of racism on her first day in the classroom. Gruwell was really upset by the sketch of a student being passed around class. She told her students that it was pictures and attitudes like theirs that started the Holocaust. There was one little problem. None of her students knew what the Holocaust was. (FYI: Her entry was from 1994 and her students were in high school. Most of my middle school students in 2009 do not know what the Holocaust was either.) By the time I was done with her entry and explaining what the Holocaust was, most looked interested; a few still appeared skeptical though.

I read Diary Entry 1 next. It was by a student in Gruwell’s class who doesn’t think Gruwell will last a month at her new job as an English teacher. Her writing is honest and sometimes brutal. Language and racial distrust are involved in this entry, things my students know something about. They were spellbound. Each class asked me to read another entry. I declined, reminding them that our time in class was short and that they still needed to write their first entry in their diaries. Hoping for the best, I set the timer for 7 minutes. I wasn’t disappointed.

Most students were done by the timer’s ring. Some continued to write, hunched over their diaries like hungry prisoners guarding food. Others were nonchalant. They weren’t interested or pretended not to be. One student named L--- showed me his entry. It was obvious by what he wrote that he wanted a reaction from me. (He wrote that my class was stupid, the book was boring, and that he hated writing.) I shrugged my shoulders, smiled at him (a genuine smile, not a fake one) and told him that he was welcome to his opinion. After all, that was his journal, not mine. His small brown eyes looked disappointed. Little did he know, I took his actions as a challenge. It’s only September and I’m not finished with the writing experiment. I’ve learned so much with just one day of reading. Imagine what a school year of it will do to motivate my students’ writing.

More to come as the year unfolds . . .