Sunday, April 12, 2015

Course Correction

"We need to do something with our lives."
Jon said this to me last week while we were browsing the Museum of Idaho. Basically what it comes down to is that we have spent the last 9 years of our marriage, and 11 years since we've known each other dreaming, talking about plans, coming up with ideas, and always saying SOMEDAY . . .

but that is no more.

In follow-up to our attempts at pursuing a Christmas Tree Farm

(more on that later), we started examining what we were really passionate about. In coming to school at BYU-Idaho I have learned a lot about myself. During Fall semester I was able to attend the Power 2 Become conference, and it made me critically aware of my goals and what I was passionate about.

 At first I thought, "Well I'm really not 'passionate' about anything. That's sort of why I came here to school; to figure out what I'm doing." But then it hit me very clearly and has not gone away since: and that is FAMILY.

The only thing in this world that I've ever come back to again and again that I never get tired of working on, or for, is FAMILY.

I should clarify that this does not always mean I LIKE my family (HAHA!) or that I never get frustrated or tired with them--I think that is 100% normal--but what it really means is that I've felt a distinct push toward family projects, goals, and life for a very long time.

In my patriarchal blessing there is specific mention of Family History work. It is the reason that I hoped to minor in Family History Research at BYU-I. Even right before coming out to school we had visited my Grandma Jean Bailey (who passed away just two weeks later)

and while visiting her and talking about stories of her and my dad's life, I told Jon that I wished I really could devote the time and spend all day writing their stories and help organize these memories for future generations. Jon said, "Why don't you major in Family History work?" -- and since BYU-I doesn't really have a genealogy major other than a certificate, we decided taking the classes for a minor might be better for me.

As a precursor to that idea, I have also always wanted to be a mom. I'm sure that many young women feel this way, but it sincerely has never felt to me like I would be fulfilled in life unless I was able to be the best mom and wife possible. I guess if I had a lifelong dream of anything, it would be that.

So taking a step back and examining my progress:
how am I achieving that goal?

Well, first, we got married and had kids, so that's a step in the right direction!

But secondly, I have always worked. I worked full time while pregnant with Kate, I worked full time the first year and a half of her life and while pregnant with Edwin, and then when Edwin was born I knew that I was going to go to school full time, so I only worked one day a week and the rest of the time was Etsy, caring for a newborn, and packing for our move to Idaho.

Thirdly, I've been going to school in Idaho.

I mean, you try to get any reading done while wrestling with this adorable face:

While I definitely feel like it was the right move for our family, and the spirit here has been incredible, and we have met amazing people, and I have learned a ton of things, and school is something I'm good at . . . I don't like who I am in school.

Maybe I should back up even more.

Here's a summary of the last 8 years:
-We moved to CA from Utah and Jon transferred from BYU to Sac State (We hated Utah, missed our families, and wanted to just make our lives more awesome. It was a great decision and probably saved our marriage. True story.)

-I worked for 4 years at a corporate housing company. This was my desk:

I was good at my job. And hated my life.

(We also had a guinea pig)

-At the same time we lived in an AMAZING ward and met lifelong friends. We got a dog, worked on a roadshow with the youth, went to youth conference, I served in YW and Primary. It was some of the greatest growing and learning of my entire life. LOVE Fair Oaks 5th!

 Also, we got a Margo:

-During this time Jon graduated with his Bachelor's degree and then his Master's.

(nevermind the lady photo-bombing)

All of our school time was full of changes and decisions. Jon changed his major many times before deciding on English and writing, because it was what he was PASSIONATE about and never got tired of doing. That is a much better way to spend life than just settling for a job that pays well but stresses you out and makes you wonder why you even bother waking up every day.
-On that note, with Jon's last year of Master's work coming up, we decided to have a baby (if you couldn't tell from the picture above). So I quit my stressful corporate job (even though I had just been promoted into a new position, and had flown across country for training in Washington DC. I loved my coworkers, but that job was eating my soul, and I tend to be a chronic work-a-holic, so I knew that I could not balance baby/family and working that much.)
-We decided to move in with Jon's parents while Jon graduated so that we wouldn't have to renew our lease. I figured within 6 months he would have a teaching job or be working as an editor somewhere and we would buy a house. Perfect.
-I quit my job without another option.
-Through a friend I was able to work at Beverly's. It was going to be my "fun job" while we had kids.
-I spent 3 years at Beverly's and we spent 2 years living with Jon's parents because Jon was never able to find something full time.

We were always torn between wanting to take care of our family and be independent, and also not wanting to sell our souls for crappy jobs. Jon wanted to be able to use his degree that he worked so hard for, and so he was picky about jobs to an extent. I supported him and hoped that he could support us so that I could spend time with the kids. Because that wasn't happening though, I kept working and waiting, and working and waiting...
-Finally Jon was told the campus he was teaching part time at would be closing. His job had an expiration date.
-I wasn't having great luck finding a new job because I was pregnant with Edwin, and I felt like this was all a lot of nonsense. I was tired of waiting around for something to happen and felt like we needed to try something new and different. So I applied for school at BYU-Idaho. Why not??
-I was accepted to school and Jon and I decided that we would see how the spring went while I had baby #2, and if nothing better came up for Jon, then we would move and try our luck in Idaho.
-The week after Kate's second birthday in August we moved and started completely over.

New jobs, new friends, new ward, new state, new school, new grocery stores, new everything.

Although it's been challenging, it has also been so immediately clear that we were supposed to be here. It was awesome and strange all at the same time. My professors were amazing. I learned more about our family and myself in just a few months than I ever expected.

So here's where it all came together:
At the same time that I loved school, I was stressed. As happens with me, I can't do anything below 1,000%. If my name is on it, I have to feel entirely good about it. I am OVERLY thorough and detailed to the point of annoyance. It makes me painstakingly slow at times, and I have to double and triple check everything. I demand perfection of myself. In EVERYTHING I do. As you can see, this is a problem when you're trying to go to school full time, be a mom full time, be a wife full time, cook meals every night, keep the house clean, have a fun social life with friends, and (oh yeah) get some sewing done and maybe sell a few things on etsy. (BAHAHAHA. HAHA. HAHA. Yeah right.)

I gave up on a lot. I stopped cleaning the house.

I didn't sew at all for 6 months. I pushed the kids aside to entertain themselves and fill coloring books because I just had to get assignments done.

Jon basically got no attention from me. Everything stopped except school.

But the kid's lives kept moving. Edwin was growing and Kate was learning and she needed a lot more stimulation for her toddler brain. I never felt good about sitting her in front of movies all day, and I couldn't really even if I wanted to because we don't own a TV. Basically I saw all these mommy things that I wanted to do, but I felt like there were other things I needed to get done first...

So there were two main problems:

1) On the outside it looks like I'm doing great. Jon seriously makes me look good.

I owe all of my school success to him. We would also never get out the door on time anywhere if it weren't for him. I could have never done school remotely well without him. I got straight A's last semester, because he did everything (bathing kids, going to work, taking care of the apartment) and I stayed up until 1am most nights doing homework. So on the inside I was a mess and cried a lot.

2) I was still putting off what was REALLY important. I guess it was coming down to "good, better, and best". I like school and I think it is important. I like working and taking care of my family and helping us earn money, and I think that is important. I like being a wife and a mother and doing awesome things for my family, and I think that is important. I like developing my talents, working on my music and sewing, and I think that is important. I like taking photos with Jon and we've always had fun with photography just being an artistic outlet, and I think having a hobby together is important.

But in the background we were (and ARE) still missing the point.
Behind everything that we're doing outwardly, we spend nights talking about our plans for the future, how SOMEDAY we'll have a house, and SOMEDAY we'll plant a garden, and SOMEDAY I'll be able to stay home with the kids, and we read books on how to achieve our dreams, and we talk about ideas that we want to try and things that we want to learn . . .

Yet here we are (almost at anniversary #10) and we're basically in the same position now as we were when we got married: poor, going to college, living in a Mormon-ville town, surrounded by a lot of people who seem to have a lot of direction and are getting jobs left and right and moving away while we are stuck with our ideas and a whole lot of spinning our wheels in the mud.

Let me just say that I KNOW not everyone knows what they're doing with their lives.
I KNOW that people still are figuring out what they want to be when they grow up when they are in their 40's or 50's (or even 60's!)
I KNOW that it's not like we will ever really have life figured out.
I KNOW that we have done good things. We are constantly getting a little closer, and a little closer, to our ideal lives. We sew, we cook, we camp, we have an adorable dog, we made two fantastic human babies, and we serve at church. We go to the temple regularly, and we enjoy the Earth. It's good stuff.

But there are big chunks missing.

Jon and I are not wallowers. When I see a problem, I like to fix it. I might not be very fast at it, but I don't like to let things just SIT. I'm all about a plan. I like to have an idea of where we are going and how we are going to get there. I always feel like, if you see a direction that you'd like your life to take, then you need to be moving with every effort to reach that goal, otherwise where is your conviction? If you truly believe in something, then why would you not live it?

I have spent years talking about my belief in FAMILY.

ermagersh it's so windy here... also Kate's face is fantastic.

I believe that it is what I am here for: to raise children and dedicate as much of myself as possible to being a successful human trainer, and helping cultivate little lives to be the best possible humans that the Alston family of Jon and Steph can offer, so that they will be informed, responsible, happy, and contributing members of society and to the world (and heck, the whole UNIVERSE.) I want our family to be HAPPY, and GREAT, and I want to build a house with my husband (and maybe even a treehouse!) and spend our lives around the people that we love the MOST. I don't want to settle for an "idea" or spend years trying to maybe make new friends, or sort of like a job that keeps me out of the home just because I feel an obligation.

What we need more of is desire and passion for the good and eternal.

The Lord has set us up for major earthly success. Although I always have felt that our goals and life pursuits are somewhat heading in the right direction, I've honestly just been tinkering around. We try things here--we have ideas there--we sort of do this--we move on to that.

I have never felt like a wishy-washy person, but in the recent year of trying to move with confidence in the direction that we truly want to see our lives going, it has made for some little messes. We've started in some directions, and then changed our minds. We've had a couple of ideas, and then taken a step back. And I think that's OK! But I want to be sure about our plans.

There is nothing worse than getting stuck and staying on a path by happenstance because you feel like that's just what you're "supposed" to do.

I have a quote hanging on the inside of our front door:

I believe this; and Jon and I together want our lives to follow this pattern.
There are only a few things that truly and really matter:
that we honor our covenants with God.
that we respect our marriage and family.
that we follow God's commandments and honor Jesus Christ.
that whatever we do is with an eternal perspective, and is what makes us fulfilled and happy, and not for temporal gain and praise of men.
that we achieve the dreams that are most important in our lives, and cut out the distractions that we'll look back on when we're 70 and realize weren't really that big a deal.

Can we recognize those things now and live life with minimal regret and time wasted? I believe we can.

Every year we get a little closer and our lives get a little better:
I quit a mind-numbingly wasteful job in exchange for less stress and more time with my family.
We had kids and enjoy the experience of raising children--at least 50% of the time ;)
When we have ideas we try them out. If they don't work, we own it and correct our steps.
We want to make clothes, we sew them.

We want to eat cake, we bake it.

We want to learn how to do something new, and we go for it! Life is all about growing and changing and becoming better.

We have divine and eternal potential. As dually spiritual and physical beings we have incredible opportunities to experience the world and find what our Heavenly Father wants for us, because our reach is limitless!

That all being said, let's go back to the museum . . .

Jon said to me that we needed to do something. Make changes. So we identified the 3 things that are most important to us.

Then we went to the temple and prayed about it.

The temple is such a reverent and glorious place to pray, study, and feel quiet inspiration from the Lord. It's not like I've ever seen angels there, or hear a voice directly telling me to do something extremely specific. But I do feel clarity. Nothing in the temple is rushed. There are no distractions. It is clean, and beautiful, and free of worldly pressures. It is truly the Lord's House, and every inch is dedicated to His purposes. Being there really feels like a bit of Heaven on Earth.

While we were there in the celestial room I felt distinctly that, "learning is eternal. You will have your whole life and eternity to learn, to grow, and to expand your knowledge. But your children only grow up once."

I've always waited to be a stay-at-home mom. And I've always felt like eventually I'd get there: "When Jon gets a full time job that is solid. When he's in his career field. When I'm done with school." (which in a huge part was because I felt like I really needed to provide for our family and that wasn't going to happen while I worked at a craft store.)

But if there is anything that I have learned here, it is that I CAN DO HARD THINGS. I never thought that stopping everything except taking care of my family would be a "hard thing", but it is the HARDEST. There have always been other good things that I have let sort of get in the way. I told Jon that it must be because this work is the most important. There are awesome things waiting to happen here, or else it wouldn't be so hard to commit and stop being distracted. Satan has a way of pulling us sneakily away from all the things that are really the most worth doing. It is an enticement to procrastinate and a competition for our time and claim for our affections.

President Ezra Taft Benson taught that we manifest our love for the Lord by our willingness to do the Lord’s will. He said: “I wish that every Latter-day Saint could say and mean it with all his heart: ‘I’ll go where you want me to go. I’ll say what you want me to say. I’ll be what you want me to be’ [LDS Hymns, no. 270]. If we could all do that, we would be assured of the maximum of happiness here and exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God hereafter.

And that most important thing in my life is FAMILY. It trumps everything else.

And if I truly believe that, then I need to put that faith into action and stop trying to figure out the "logical and world-prescribed" way of making that happen, and instead try the spiritual, leap-of-faith way of making that happen.

I have never truly 100% given my family my all--and nothing else. I'm being completely honest with myself here. There has ALWAYS been something else vying for my attention or taking up my time; school, jobs, photography, obligations to other people, businesses, a sense of duty... you name it.

Even this last semester when I was off track from classes I was busy with TA work. It was great! I loved it. What a cool experience to assist a professor.

I learned so much. But it was still a few hours of the day when I was telling Kate that I couldn't read to her because I had my own work to do, or I couldn't color with her because I needed to finish my projects. And then I'd get frustrated when she would highlight on my papers (because she just wants to help) or it's like during the semester when she would put stickers in my textbooks:

 I would get frazzled when the time came to interrupt my momentum of working for making dinner (you can't really skip a meal time with a toddler and one-year-old and hope they're ok with a microwaved Hot Pocket instead.)

Kids take time. Family needs time. They deserve ALL my time, and not just the sideways glances as I'm tuned into the computer and hoping that the watercolors stay on the page and not all over the table and floor. (Don't worry, most of this blog was typed while the entire family was napping.)

So we are making real, distinct, immediate, and direct changes. Every step is aligning our will with Heavenly Father's will, and working to be what Heavenly Father wants us to be, both as individuals and as a family.

The first big change was deferring this semester. I was all registered and set to start classes on April 20th for Spring semester, but I am putting them off. I keep my enrollment and standing at BYU-I and will pick up where I left off in Fall. It gives us a few more months to keep the momentum we've started with our family goals and the Etsy stores (which all would have come to a screeching halt if I started classes in a week.) And it also will give us a few months to actually try functioning in the way that we always said we wanted to: Jon working and writing as I stay home with the kids and run our household and teach our children in the most effective and positive way possible. No more distractions. No more ulterior priorities. We're cutting out what is unnecessary and focusing with more precision on the most important aspects of life: our FAMILY.

This is just step 1 of the major goals we identified. We feel really great about it as we were both kind of dreading me going back to school. I think this semester would have been better than the last. I have a more realistic idea now of what attempting 14 credits is like with two children under 3 at home. But is feeling the obligation of the fact that I was already registered a good enough reason to keep going when I know that there are sacrifices being made at home? Would it be good enough to stay at school because I feel like I have financial aid coming, and scholarships that are counting on me, and people that are watching what I do? Honestly, I don't think that those ideas are convincing enough to put off our individual family needs. We can find jobs other ways. We can earn money other ways. We can take time with school and I can take classes part time. I can take classes online. In fact, I don't HAVE to go to school at all. It was a good opportunity for our family at the time and we took it. I have no regrets about moving to Idaho at all.

When we get to the Summer, we'll re-evaluate. If this semester off goes well and we see our eternal direction flourishing and our family taking positive strides toward the best outcomes, then we will continue that way and keep moving on with our big life goals. And if we see that there is a healthy way to balance school, work, and family, then I will re-register and we'll keep moving from there.

Life is about exploring options. It is about learning, and growing, and all the while figuring out what matters most and how Heavenly Father wants you to spend your time, and who he wants you to spend your time with. It's worth changing your mind sometimes.

In the end Jon and I agreed that the praise of God on our labors is more important than any praise or expectation of men. Are WE happy with what we see in ourselves and the eternal direction of our family? In whatever way we see our lives going and possibly deviating from the path we want to be on, or dream of ending up on, it is worth the course correction to make that happen.

Our FAMILY is worth it.

To be continued . . .

1 comment:

Bay said...

You're amazing Stephanie! I've been thinking about all of these things too. Life is so crazy busy and we are always trying to figure out some way we can SIMPLIFY!! We haven't figured it out yet, but it looks like you guys have been thinking along the same wavelength! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!