RELATIONSHIP LESSON FROM HORSES
I love horses. I mostly grew up in the city and my ranch raised father decided I was missing out on the education in hard work he had received as a child. So he sent me to work on my grandfather's ranch with my uncle David the summer I turned 12 years old, and I continued to do that every summer until I was 18. I was horseback 16 hours a day. At age 11, I learned to get up at 5:00 in the morning, catch and saddle my horse, and be working by the time the sun came up. By the time I was 13, I could cut and corral cattle as well as my uncle.
During those summers I would usually have two horses, and I would alternate them every other day so they would have a day off between work days. During that period of time, I got to know about five horses really well. Each one had its own personality and style. My least preferred mount was a tall and beautiful sorrel named Lad. He was beautiful, and a great cow pony. But he was mentally ill. When I would call the horses in, all the other horses obediently came in, knowing they would be fed grain. I always had to go out and catch Lad in the pasture. When I saddled him he would blow up his belly so the cinch would not be tight. A mile or so down the road I would always have to get off and tighten the cinch. Before I discovered that trick of his, I had the saddle just slide off to the side and fell off a couple of times. Whenever I went to get on him, he had his ears pinned back like he was angry and stepped around nervously like he wanted to buck.
Lad did buck with me a number of times. Typically, if I held something out to the side of me, he thought it was a ghost or something dangerous to him and would start bucking. The first time it was a water jug I was handing back to my dad. I didn't last three jumps before I was bucked off. I can describe the other incidents, but you get the general idea. Typically, I never got to ride Boots or Smokey when my brother or cousins were around, because I was the more experienced rider and knew Lad better -- and he was by far less gentle than the other two. Sometimes I hated him.
The biggest problem I had any time a horse started bucking was that I would freeze with fear and spend all my energy trying to get the horse back under control. I always try to keep control and stop them from bucking in the first place. But once they start bucking, I have to control myself before I can control the horse. If you talk to great rodeo cowboys, they can tell you that they simply accept that the horse is bucking and, in fact the harder he bucks the higher they are likely to score if they can stay aboard. They focus on themselves and the things they can control (body position and movement). They focus on reacting to the rhythm of the horse and getting into that rhythm with him. They aren't fighting the horse. They are working with him. You know what? Once the horse knows he can't beat you, he realizes that bucking is futile and he stops wasting his energy bucking.
Much like Lad, most of us in this group have experienced traumatic events or relationships in the past. We are likely to overreact as a result of that. Much like the 12-year-old me, we are tempted to try to control our partners to prevent chaos from erupting and destroying our lives.
Like a bucking horse, when a trial appears in my life, it usually feels like chaos unleashed. I instinctively try to seize control of it. However, if I relax and focus on the things I can control, I generally see that there is a rhythm to it. It is not chaos. If I accept that the horse is bucking and get in sync with the rhythm of it, I can ride it out. If I fight it too hard, I am likely to get bucked off.
Relationships are like that too. If my partner feels fear (which most do at some point in a relationship) and pulls away from me, I might be inclined to react with fear and try to seize control by arguing vociferously for why she is making a huge mistake. So what is she going to do? She's going to buck harder. (I have learned this from experience.) What if I accept that this is where she is and try to get in rhythm with it? We are more likely to ride it out. We are likely to build trust and both of us will gradually realize that no bucking is necessary.
Life and relationships can be like riding a high spirited horse. You can't take them for granted and they can surprise you in all kinds of ways. But remember, when it feels like chaos is breaking out, it probably isn't. There's actually a rhythm to it. If you can get in sync with that and work with it, life goes better and relationships go better.
Remember our new mid-single friends we met at church a few months ago? We recently attended their wedding and it was such a joyous occasion!
He was widowed and she was divorced, both were single parents. Thankfully, her kids signed her up on a dating site (not something she would have done herself), which is how they met.
We absolutely love witnessing the blending of two previously separate lives! It's wonderful when a new and loving companionship blesses the lives of good people and their families.
After their ceremony, we did the photo booth and got to sit and eat with the bride & groom and make more new friends with their fun guests. We felt grateful to be there celebrating with them. Congratulations RJ and Debra!
ON THOUGHTS AND ADVERSITY
In 1 Nephi 17:1, Nephi described the adversity he and his family went through as they traveled in the wilderness after their exodus: "And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness."
Yet his prevailing thoughts were overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. Immediately following these words, Nephi exclaims:
"And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings. And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness."
(1Nephi 17:2-3.) It is amazing that Nephi was so positive under these conditions, while Laman and Lemuel murmured in dissatisfaction and misery. This scriptural passage fits the promise given by President Monson that, "The Lord shapes the back to bear the burden placed upon it." As a single parent, you may have felt the miracle of receiving unnatural strength to bear the burdens of parenthood alone. You may have been given miracles that allow you to feed your children better than you thought you could while being both mother and father in some ways. Your ”wilderness" is no less real than the one Lehi's family wandered in.
The truth is, most of you mid-singles are survivors. You have figured out how to survive trials and trauma. Your bigger problem, in many cases, is figuring out how to thrive and be happy. And make no mistake, they are entirely different skill sets.
Your brain is wired for survival. It stays on alert for danger. It does not distinguish between physical and emotional peril. In fact, it desperately wants acceptance and belonging. In primitive times, being rejected by your tribe would probably mean starvation and vulnerability to predators and the elements. Your brain knows this and intuitively responds with fear when you are rejected by someone you may have offered love (or to possibly create love). This survival instinct is very powerful, and it has a tendency to override our happiness. It often keeps us survivors stuck in anxiety. Happiness depends, in no small degree, on being able to switch off that survival instinct in situations that do not truly require it. If you are like me, you may have found that all of your prior success in life was based on fear. I think I got through law school and motivated myself to study by fearing failure. That is one example. There are thousands. If you try to find a deeper and more healthy source of motivation, it can feel like giving up your security blanket. You may cling to your anxiety and pain even harder for awhile.
Nephi demonstrated this skill when he focused on the blessings of the Lord, and showed faith in Him to take care of his family in the wilderness. The result was that he could relax into his situation, celebrate the blessings of the Lord, and create inner peace that his older brothers could not. Nephi demonstrates this positive quality again in the same chapter, stating, "notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit.” (1Nephi 17:6.) He "exceedingly rejoiced" notwithstanding great afflictions.
We often hear people say things like, " I am not a pessimist. I am a realist." They will then go on to paint a very gloomy picture of life or their circumstances -- not even realizing that most of it is interpretation rather than fact, and it's just a story they are telling themselves.
What kind of stories do mid-singles tell themselves?
"There are no good men out there."
"Women are all drama queens and crazy."
"Dating is hard and it's not worth the struggle."
"No one finds me attractive."
"I am past my prime and not beautiful / handsome anymore."
"Men are only after one thing."
"All women want is a guy with money."
"Being a single parent is hard because you're totally on your own."
"I have no time to take care of myself, because my whole life is about other people."
We could go on, but this is enough to illustrate the point. Are these Nephi kinds of words, or Laman and Lemuel kinds of words? Do these beliefs lead to happiness or to misery?
Let's try on some different beliefs:
"God has a loving plan for me, and everything I've suffered is taking me to a better place."
"My losses have prepared me for a better love."
"I have many friends in my life, and there are plenty of other people who are willing to be my friends and lend mutual love and support."
"There are many good single men in the church."
"There is an abundance of amazing women in the church."
"Most people want to love and be loved, aside from material things."
"Sex is a beautiful and holy part of married life, and I eagerly await the arrival of this gift."
"I owe it to myself and my children to take good care of myself, and to show love and compassion to myself as a child of God."
Which of these thoughts is more elevating? Which is more calculated to lead to happiness and peace? Do you feel more peace when you believe that you are on your own in a cruel world, or when you believe that a loving God has a plan for you, and you are surrounded by friends who love and support you? You might even ask yourself which of these sets of beliefs is more in harmony with how the gospel sees us as children of God with the potential to become like Him. Nephi understood that gratitude for God's blessings, and seeing them as abundant, created more joy and light.
As mid-singles, many of you have learned to survive. You have already won that medal. You have learned to survive by feeling anxious and fearful, and trying to solve everything that is wrong. Now, move into the light and learn better how to be happy and thrive by shifting your thoughts from fear and lack to abundance, joy, and love.
I remember a talk given in a singles ward about "spreading it to the edges." It referred to sandwiches, or toast such as this that I made for my son this morning, as a metaphor for spreading goodness to the edges of our lives, to make our life experience as delicious as possible.
Since then, I have learned about the law of attraction and how what we put our focus on we get more of. If we will intentionally focus on and spread the good, our world becomes better.
We celebrated our anniversary this past weekend by treating ourselves to LIVE theater for the first time since Covid shut it down. Desert Star's first show opening back up was "Harry Poppins," a fun spoof on Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, and even Star Wars. Cathy knew their amazing pianist (Tracy) from back in her pageant days and we were lucky enough to get tickets. It turns out Jeff also knew one of the cast members and talented costume designer (Lee) from back in grade school. We were able to chat with each of them after the show; it was good to catch up with old friends!
There was a fun surprise for both of us at the end of the play when they called us out by name as a couple celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary. They had us stand up and dance in front of everyone while Tracy played a lovely rendition of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."
At the end of our dance and unexpected moment in the spotlight, Jeff twirled Cathy around and while the audience clapped, we kissed with our masks on!
HaPpY 3rd AnNiVerSaRy JeFf & CaThY!!! For our anniversary this year, we are sharing a new labor of love with our growing Love In Later Years community. This new podcast "LILY Pod" has 8 episodes to start. We will continue adding fresh new content each week.
Here's a link to our website to find out what LILY Pod is all about and where you can find access to it on your favorite podcast platform (including Spotify, Apple, Google, and iHeartRadio). Enjoy!!!
Three years ago today, Cathy
and I were married! Despite all of the fear and trauma that comes from broken marriages in the past, we chose each other and promised to be together forever. Getting married is a tremendous act of faith in God and in another person.
I can say, without hesitation, that I am grateful she said "yes" and I would do it again. I chose someone with whom I could build an intentional marriage at mid-life, and that's a beautiful thing. I want the same joy for every one of you that is willing to try again!
I love you Cathy! Thanks for saying YES!
A FEW THOUGHTS ON STEP-PARENTING AND SINGLE PARENTING
We just celebrated Mother's Day and I know it is a bittersweet holiday for many in our community. For some of my mid single friends, the years when they could become mothers by bearing children have already passed them by. For others, they face the task of parenting alone. Still others face the task of parenting someone else's children, for whom another "mother" will always have that singular honor. Some have more than one of these factors going on. For some men in this community, the experience with their own mothers or former wives has not lived up to the hype that is so often associated with the holiday.
Owning and managing our own emotions and expectations about Mother's Day is important. Regardless of her failings, your mother gave you something important. Obviously, she gave you life. Additionally, there are other things to learn. Tony Robbins has often said that he appreciates his abusive mother and that he would not have become the man he is without having her to contend with, and without the desperation of the circumstances he grew up with. We can look with envy at the mothers some other people had and wish it could have been the same in our own lives. But consider that God knew what He was doing when he assigned you to the mother he did. If you did not have the warmth and love you craved, learn from that and create it for yourself, your children, your grandchildren, or your nieces and nephews.
Deseret Book President Sheri Dew has not yet married and never had children of her own. She is 67 years old and beyond the years when becoming a mother is a realistic possibility in this life. She has become a favorite aunt to her nieces and nephews, having them for overnight slumber parties and taking them on trips with her. While I'm sure it has been a painful thing to go through life without a companion and missing out on becoming a mother, she has had a major role in the lives of her nieces and nephews.
For those who find themselves single parenting, whether through death or divorce, remember that joy remains available. It's not only about the bills. It's also about the memories. My grown sons remember our many road trips to cheap vacation destinations like national parks. They remember video parties, making tacos on Friday night, and bedtime. For many single moms, I know it is similar. Even if resources are tight, you can find ways to create a sense of family. Rituals, traditions, and moments working together can help.
For step parents, it is important to relax into the role. I am aware of some stepparent situations in very traditional families where Dad brings home a new wife and effectively says, "This is your new mother and you will call her 'mom'." Not a wise move. The kids need time to adjust. Once in awhile my step-kids slip and call me "dad" and it always makes me smile. But I know they have a dad and I choose to honor that.
At first, most of the discipline should be done by the natural parent, allowing the stepparent to behave more like a friend at first. (There are always exceptions where a step-parent needs to step in, such as when the natural parent isn't present or if the misbehavior is directed at the parent. I step in to correct if my step kids are speaking rudely to their mother.)
I take each of my step-sons on a one-on-one "outing" every few months where I buy him dinner or do an activity he wants to do. (One of them really likes the Lego store.) It is also a chance to talk with them about some of the deeper things. It isn't an interview. I want it to be a lot more informal than that. You don't get the real information in an interview. But when I am out one-on-one with one of the kids, they naturally open up to me a lot more than they would in the family setting or if I pulled one of them aside to talk in their room. I used to do outings with my biological children when they were growing up too. They look forward to it and I think it helps to create a separate bond with each of them. I think step kids need to know that you care about them individually and not just their parent. Step parents run into trouble when they try to make a marriage with the parent and sort of ignore the kids.
If you don't have kids of your own but you marry someone with kids, it may be tempting to be over eager about your chance to be a parent. I know I have a meaningful role in the lives of my step kids. But I wasn't there until they were ages 7 and 11. So I've had to earn it. My youngest stepchild had a hard time at first because he felt replaced by me in the life of his mother. I know there were times when he kind of resented me. Patience and persistence pays off. He has definitely come around and he loves me now. But you need to expect those adjustments to take time and be patient with it. Trying to force a relationship generally has the opposite effect to the one you intend. If you are a step-mom who's only chance to be a mother is with your step kids, a little patience will pay big dividends.
When you have two sets of kids that were partially raised in different households with different rules and customs, it takes a while to integrate those systems and it is complicated. Both parents will tend to prefer the way they did things before. Kids will have certain expectations based on past history. It takes a certain amount of flexibility on the part of everyone involved to make it work. I don't think it is inherently bad for kids. Eventually, they are going to marry and merge their life with someone who grew up in a different system. If they learn to adjust and be flexible as children, that will be good for them even if it makes them a little uncomfortable. And chances are good it will make them a lot uncomfortable. Your own kids will expect you to side with them in disputes with their step brothers or sisters, and you may be naturally inclined to do just that. Being even handed may tug at your heartstrings a little bit. Trying to understand and navigate these complicated emotions will be a growing experience for all of you.
In a larger sense, every family has its issues. Sometimes the idea that things got really complicated because we have a blended family is just a story we are telling ourselves. All families are complicated and have their issues. A blended family requires us to be more intentional about how we do things. It requires us to be flexible and communicate more clearly with our spouses, children, and stepchildren. It requires an intentional effort to create family rituals and customs that provide an identity to our family as a cohesive unit where everyone feels included. But it is worth it!
Remember, however you became a mother, the real important principles are the same. Whether you are a mother, stepmother, or favorite auntie, the underlying principle is love. Love takes time but it is the thing in life that gives meaning to all the rest.
HaPpY StaR WaRs DaY!!! May the force of God's love and the spirit of personnel revelation bless your life today and throughout the year. And HaPpY CiNcO MaYo!!! We enjoy celebrating obscure holidays and this week, we celebrated two-in-one! For Star Wars Day, we watched Return of the Jedi and for Cinco de Mayo, we ate Jeff's mouth-watering carne asada tacos and Emily's amazing guacamole. Watching a Star Wars classic while eating homemade Mexican food is a great combination!
17th century English poet Robert Herrick penned these immortal words about a very mortal subject:
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
(Robert Herrick,To the Virgins to Make Much of Time.) One of the great advantages of middle-age is that you are old enough to know but young enough to do. The great disadvantage of middle-age is being painfully aware of how fleeting it is. Childhood felt like one eternal summer. Youth passed more quickly but still seemed to go on for a good long while. Middle age snuck up on me. I don't believe there was one day when I woke up and just realized, "Okay, I am no longer a young man. I am now middle-aged."
So what rosebuds will you gather while you still have time? What kind of memories will you make with your children if you have them? What contribution will you make to the world?
Will you follow Herrick's advice, "Then be not coy, but use your time, And while ye may, go marry"? (I think a lot of us are pretty "coy" when the subject of marriage arises. Nothing makes a middle aged single feel more vulnerable.) When Cathy and I were married I was 50 years old -- which is three years younger than I am now. I don't lament that I didn't meet her when I was a newly returned missionary. (She was only 9 anyway.) I am glad that we have an eternity because we started a little late. With an eternal perspective, starting at 50 isn't much different from 21.
On the other hand, however old you are today, you are younger than you will ever be again. It is ok if you went through some trauma and don't feel ready to get married yet -- as long as you know what you want long-term, and don't become complacent about it.
We started Love in Later Years in part to encourage you to live the second half of your life with more enthusiasm than the first half. We want you to rediscover the belief that marriage and family life can be joyful and rewarding. So take that trip to Disneyland with your kids, take those art classes you always wanted to take when it never seemed practical, get that college degree, start that business, and pluck up the courage to ask that beautiful or handsome friend to have dinner with you.
We often talk about the trials that inevitably come in every human life. But life is to be lived, not merely endured. So gather your rosebuds and live it well.