The Mountain Remains Still

 photo image_zps787b62e9.jpgIt is 8:15 PM, my husband is out of town, three glasses of carnations are drinking colored water on the windowsill – part of a science fair project that needed observation and photographing fifteen minutes ago. I’m in the middle of bathing two rowdy boys who just chewed up my favorite taper candle, and my girls are swinging a laundry hamper in circles at such a speed I am positive the hamper will rocket out of their hands and into the wall, leaving a heckuva high-velocity dent.

“Please put the hamper away and get into your pajamas,” I say.

There is no response. No intimation that the hamper is going to stop spinning and land in the closet where it belongs.

“Please put the hamper down and get into your pajamas and come upstairs.”

I’m using my firm voice now. That one that says I mean it.

Foolishly thinking they will listen to me, I head upstairs to comb third daughter’s wet hair. A few seconds later I hear a horrid thud. The perpetrator comes upstairs and asks me not to get mad when she informs me the hamper did indeed fly into the wall. She’s not sure how… it just did.

The dent is bigger than I imagined.

I am angry. I am ready to scream. So I do. Scream. And suddenly this insane woman erupts out of my innerds and I am howling like the wind. The kids scatter. I slam the hamper into its proper place and retreat to the kitchen to cool off.

How is it I can rage like that?

I’ve been reading Quiet by Susan Cain (fascinating by the way) and I am mystified by the revelation that I am in part an introvert who needs quiet, solace, alone time to read, write, recharge. And yet, I have five beautiful, energetic, climb-the-wall crazy creatures under my auspices, who suck everything out of me by day’s end and the only recharge I get is nocturnal. But let’s talk straight. My kids are my greatest joy, my most important purpose, each one an indisputable miracle. They aren’t the problem. The real issue is that I can’t find that centeredness within – that zen-like place of coolness that reins in emotion and keeps me caring more about them than I do the wall.

So I wrote this Japanese proverb on a heart-shaped paper and taped it to a kitchen cupboard.

“The wind howls but the mountain remains still.”

I put it there because somehow, I’ve got to learn how to “remain still” when the wind is howling around me, when the chaos reigns so supremely I am prone to join the madness. I’m not doing a very good job of it. Lately, each test of patience, of stillness, of self-mastery has left me feeling like a slop of spineless agitation.

I apologized to my girls, told them how imperfect I am. That I am learning too, and making mistakes along the way, that I was sorry I behaved like a crazy mamma.

I’m not looking for parenting advice. I’m not looking for sympathy. Or criticism (which I know is justified). I’m just venting, as honestly as I can, the hardness of this season in my life – this time when I crave quiet and stillness, but find so little. I know I have high expectations for myself – ones that are unrealistic. But I don’t want to regress. We are meant to progress, right? That is the plan. Even if it is sluggishly slow.

The only answer I’ve come up with is prayer.

Earnest, kneeling in morning prayer for patience does help. I’ve seen the pattern. I know it. And praying at night to ask forgiveness of my mistakes, of those less-than stellar parenting performances, gives me comfort, as well as the courage to wake up to a new, untarnished day and try again.

That is where I am this morning. Bent before the Lord, picking up the pieces, begging for light and healing, starting over. While I am not the mountain, I am grateful for One who is.

“When my foot slippeth, thy mercy, O Lord, held me up. For the Lord is a great God. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. [He] forgiveth all iniquities, healeth all diseases, redeemeth life from destruction. [He] is gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Psalms 94:18, 95:3-4, 103:3-4, 8).

How do you access stillness during stressful times? What about prolonged seasons of stress – how do you cope spiritually? What does it mean to you to remain still?

About Catherine A.

(Blog Team) is a mother of five small children including two sets of twins. She and her husband spent nearly eight years in Northern Virginia, but now call Utah home. She reviews books for Meridian Magazine, writes for Power of Moms, dabbles in poetry and works on the prose editorial staff for Segullah. She blogs about her wild and precious life @ www.wildnprecious.com.

32 thoughts on “The Mountain Remains Still

  1. Prayer, priesthood blessings (see this article for inspiration http://segullah.org/daily-special/ask-receive/), and journalling. The journal helps me remember: I write down about the hard times I go through, the priesthood blessings I receive, the tender mercies I see, the prayers answered; I also see, reading back through more evidence of God’s hand in my life and more answered prayers that weren’t so clear at the moment but come in sharper focus in hindsight.

    I pray for charity and patience daily, as well.

  2. Thanks for this. I love your description of finding (or not finding) centeredness and the haiku you wrote. Maybe a visual reminder would help me to keep focus. Like you, very specific prayer helps me and I also find that when I attend the temple more, I seem to have greater patience.

  3. A walk! A walk! A babysitter and a long, solitary walk just looking at trees and opening my mind.

    And a review, as often as required, of the first couple of chapters of David Burns’ “Feeling Good”.

  4. Oh, bless you. Thank you for articulating your thoughts so beautifully and allowing my heart, which is currently being ravaged by the wind and storms of mortality, to find a moment of solace.

    I have been in bed 24 hours a day for the past 17 days and much of the time for the past eleven months and find myself giving into rage far too often. I prayed yesterday morning for one thing and one thing only…not for me to get better, not for God to solve the problems, but for Him to help me spread the love of my heart AND His heart into the souls of my children.

    It helped.

    But it is hard.

  5. Cath, this is so beautiful. You have such a good heart. If you could only fully realize how busy and overwhelming this season of your life is…seriously! I watched one toddler for 2 1/2 days earlier this month, and I was amazed by the busyness and the continual activity. It took me days to recover from it. And, yes, I’m still raising four boys, but they’re older now, and their needs are not so continuous and ever-present. I, like you, am an introvert (and loved that book Quiet), and I do think parenting when you’re an introvert can be particularly challenging!

    Have you ever heard of a book called “Weakness is not Sin” by Wendy Ulrich (an LDS therapist)? I just finished it, and the words were such a balm for my heart as I have wrestled with my mortal vulnerabilities and limits so much lately. God gives us weaknesses. He really does, It’s part of His plan. (Ether 12:27) His grace is sufficient. It doesn’t mean that we will carry everything out flawlessly, but it does mean that He knows what we can offer Him at any given season of our lives, and He accepts our efforts and makes them enough. Maybe as you continue to seek Him (as you clearly keep doing), He won’t take away those times when you lose your temper. But, He can help you get back on your feet and try again and again. Then, as the years pass, you will be surprised how much easier it gets as you get more pockets of stillness in your life. Love to you. Your kids are so lucky to have a mom who loves them and apologizes to them when she has a bad moment (we all have them…that’s part of the deal…I promise:).

  6. you described me. i am glad that i at least recognize my mistakes after the fact and can apologize and ask forgiveness of my children. my parents never did that, so i’m at least a small step ahead. and i let the kids hear me pray for more patience and a gentler spirit with them.

    constant and unrelenting prayer is the only thing that’s ever helped me. i assume a regular run around the block would, too, but i haven’t been able to find the time.

  7. I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself, personally. I think kids need to know when they have pushed things too far, and there are times when it is ok to let them know that you are upset at what they have done. I know this doesn’t answer the questions you put at the end of the post, but I have 5 kids too (no twins though) and I know how tough it can be when they don’t listen and someone (or something) gets hurt.

  8. Strollerblader – I’ve been feeling I ought to ask for a priesthood blessing for months now. Thank you reminding us it is okay to ask as frequently as we feel we need it. Emily’s post was excellent. And I do agree with you, that in hindsight, we better see our progression and god’s purposes. Thank you.

    Jennifer B – I think you are right. Frequenting the Lord’s house fills us with power and strength. I believe in those covenants and promises and I am determined this year to attend more often. Thank you for sharing here.

    MB – oh to have the luxury of a walk! alone! a breath of fresh air! I just read the intro to Burns’ book on Amazon. I’m putting it on the library list. Thanks for the recommendation. and for sharing what helps you. xo

    Tracy – Oh what a challenge. My heart goes out to you. I had a stint of bed rest with my first baby but no other little ones to care for. I can only begin to imagine your frustration! What a beautiful prayer you offered: “for Him to help me spread the love of my heart AND His heart into the souls of my children.” I will pray that for you as well. Thanks for commenting. Sending love.

    Anne Marie – you’ve read this rant before. I seem to bump up against the same failures again and again. Thanks for your understanding heart. I just had a visit with my mom and we decided my idealism is problematic. :) If I were more of a realist I could roll with the punches better, chalk it up as a less than perfect day and move on. But I tend to beat myself up over mistakes. It would probably be healthy to change this perspective. She likened each day to “school,” Each day I show up and there is a new test to take, a new situation to meet. If I don’t get it perfect, that’s actually what is expected. And through the process, hopefully I will learn enough to do better next time. Wendy’s book is a great recommendation. I haven’t given much thought to the idea that God gives us weakness. I know it. But I haven’t contemplated his purposes in it. Thanks for all your kind and true words. Sure love you.

    makakona – I think your “small step ahead” is definitely worth celebrating. Especially if you weren’t the recipient of such mending. And I love that you pray aloud with your children for gentleness and patience. Would that a run around the block were as easy to do as it is to say, huh? Thank you.

    Kathryn and Marian – Thank YOU.

    Laurie – Your point is valid. I know I am hard on myself. I am beginning to recognize a pattern of doing well for a stretch, (not really noting all the times I do hold it together), then going through a significant amount of mental harangue when I lose it. I would do well to be gentler with myself and simply move forward with confidence that I will do better next time. Thank you for relating, and offering a voice of understanding.

  9. It’s as if you were writing about me. I absolutely am right there with you.

    Chaos and commotion cripple me and turn me into a lunatic. But, they also are just part of the territory in a house with three lively boys, who are my greatest joy. Trying to adapt to that has been one of my life’s greatest challenges.

    You’re right about prayer, it is my number one crutch. I figure it’s best to go straight to the top for help when I’m feeling like this. The other thing that helps me is just what we are all doing here: commiserating.

  10. Oh, Cath, I’ve been there, done that. And I agree with Anne Marie: it gets easier. Other things get tricky, but my temper is not tested in the same way anymore. And boy, was it tested when my monkeys were small, and I didn’t have two sets of twins.

    I love your thoughts and I will be coming back to that sweet proverb. Thanks for being vulnerable and allowing us to learn from your challenges and blessings.

    For me: Prayer helps. Really studying the scriptures helps (but is hard with little ones, I know.) Temple attendance (even if doing a brief session of initiatories) is uber-helpful (but again, I didn’t do this often when the kids were little.) Running helps, but you do that. When I was at my worst, I pictured being in the ocean with waves coming at me. The little waves I could bob over, but when a big wave came, I dove under it and let it crash over me. Not fighting it was key: instead I could accept the heaviness of my responsibilities and let myself struggle. Those big crashing waves led to many nights of tomato soup and grilled cheese for dinner (ok, or cold cereal.) And also escaping into a novel and turning on the TV was sometimes OK.

    Love to you.

  11. now your kids won’t be freaked out when they see other normal adults loose it. Just part of life. ;) A good little reminder you are human and might not always keep it together. As my kids have gotten older they recognize my pre meltdown behavior and suggest I take a time out ;)

    The one thing that comforts me is this

    The Atonement

    I can apologize and try again. I can forgive…..myself. I know my kids can be healed and comforted through the atonement from any and all of the mistakes I make. It’s all going to be ok.
    Love your writing. Thanks for the honesty. Love you and hope to see you soon!

  12. I will be pondering the ideas in this post for a while. I really needed it today. Long day at work including getting yelled at by someone, only to be greeted at home by a whiny toddler and a big brother who kept pestering his little sister but couldn’t go to another room because he has a broken foot and has to lie on the couch. And then I had to go to the bathroom and got to spend the whole time in there listening to thumping and screaming from the other room. Being a parent is hard!

    I love this idea of learning how to stand still in the wind. I keep waiting for the wind to stop and it’s never going to. I think for me even that insight is powerful–I can’t always control what is around me but I can control how I react to it. This is a lesson I keep trying to learn over and over again. Thanks for a great post and to everyone for their great comments.

  13. And it is so good that you apologized to your children for losing it. It isn’t going to be possible to live your whole life without occasionally yelling at people (children) but it is important to model what one does after the temper is lost.

    I love the idea, too, of recognizing that the wind can’t be stopped, but I can keep working on my mountain skills.

  14. Sorry I can share no pithy or helpful advice; only my gratitude for your having articulated this struggle so eloquently. It helps to know I’m not alone. Loved the Japanese proverb, loved the scriptures. Thank you.

  15. Oh, I identified with everything in here – your conclusions are beautiful. Thank you!

    Stillness is hard. I try to repeat to myself that I am [should be] the eye in my boy’s storm, and that so much of the atmosphere at home is mine to make. But too often I end up contributing to the storm instead of being the rest from it :-)

    I am big on apologising. And I am a huge believer in sitting in a room by myself (a locked bathroom, often) and breathing with my eyes closed. It only takes a minute and it’s amazing how much better it makes me feel.

    The other thing I try to remember is that, for my son at his age (eighteen months), every day is a new day, and he will wake up having totally forgiven me. So I don’t need to dwell on it either; just try again.

  16. Saw this calming thought on a friend’s fb wall this morning. I think it’s for you today:

    Grandma tells her daughter/busy mom to imagine her children grown, wearing white, in the temple.

    Thanks for the post. <3

  17. I do my own share of yelling and huffing, Cath!

    Your use of mountains, and seeking for patience and spiritual strength reminds me of my favourite personal hero in scriptures – Caleb, in the Old Testament. He was one of two people who reported that the Promised Land was beautiful, and flowing with milk and honey, but the other ten scouts reported it was a land of giants and difficulty. Caleb was promised the land he saw… and he waited 45 years to receive it. In Joshua 14:12 he states “Now therefore give me this mountain [which the Lord promised me]”

    When times in my life get difficult, I remind myself that I asked for this “mountain”. The mountain varies – quite often it’s my kids and parenting, sometimes it’s where I am in life, sometimes it’s what I’m trying to do. But I know I asked for it, and God has promised me it will all work out. Caleb is also my inspiration in terms of waiting – as in “I’ll give it 45 years – it should be better then!”

    As for prolongued periods of stress and how to cope spiritually.. that’s hard. I try and let some of the balls I’m juggling ‘drop’, and make sure I do SOMETHING each day to feed myself spiritually (like listen to a conference/BYU talk, or watch a Mormon Message, or reread my Patriachial blessing) and emotionally (like wash my face gently, or slather my hands in moisturiser, or listen to a song which makes my pulse soar calmly on the notes). Mostly I remind myself I’m in it for distance, not speed, and the mountain God has promised me isn’t going anywhere – I’m actually getting closer.

  18. Thank you. I wish I had read this when my children were small. As a mother of teenagers I am still looking for my peace, only now we have different behaviour issues. I must also admit to retreating to my room a lot with a book to hide in.

  19. Sometimes I resorted to drugs when no relief from stress is in sight. My kids are all raised now, but I was not very good in stressful situations. I yelled at my kids and had meltdowns, which, of course I regret. Life is kind of crazy. Sometimes all you can do is put the kids to bed and know that tomorrow is another day. Thank you for beautifully expressing motherhood :).

  20. Although this sort of thing is always easier to see in hindsight, perhaps if you had taken control by taking away the laundry hamper (when you realized the situation might be dangerous), you would have not lost control of yourself later. Furthermore although saying you are sorry is a good thing, you could also have pointed out that if the girls had listened to you, there would have been no reason to get angry. After a situation like this calms down, you can have a teaching moment. Again, I realize that this is easier said then done.

  21. Maybe you need to look at the mountain a little differently. While it remains firm and steadfast at its foundation. Yet it is constantly being shaped and molded by the winds and elements it’s exposed to.
    Like the mountain which is ever changing, so are we. And hopefully all the changes made at the surface strengthen our foundations.
    Hehe, I just try to keep my mountain from becoming an erupting volcano. But hey, even an erupting volcano can lead to a new beauty and growth. :-)

  22. Just want you to know that I have vivid memories of absolutely losing it; screaming at my children at the highest decibel I could muster. It wasn’t frequent but it happened. Guess what? They don’t remember. Go figure.

  23. Catherine–this is beautiful! I think I’m at the same stage you are–and I need that quiet too. (Love Quiet, by the way–it’s my book group pick for next month!)

  24. This was me today. It always happens when my husband is gone it seems. Sometimes I am shocked when the rage and anger just explode out of me – like, “Really, that was in me?” I rarely, rarely, rarely got angry in my life before kids (age 27). I think I’m not even capable until the feelings suddenly saturate me – to yell, scream, lose it. And then I feel guilty. It’s something I pray for, strategize for, yearn for, to be calm and still in the midst of the storm. Will I ever get there?

  25. All – Wish I’d had time to come back to this thread sooner. All your comments have been most soothing to my mother heart. Thank you.

    JM – “commiserating” – you pegged it. There is comfort in that indeed! Truly, everyone’s comments have lightened my burden, helped me move forward with real tools. And this line? “Chaos and commotion cripple me and turn me into a lunatic.” I laughed. Because I relate!

    Kerri – you are such a wise soul. I am always lifted by your words. It’s good to remember it will get easier. Your wave imagery is wonderful. I am going to think of it often… Dive under the wave. Don’t fight it! Thank you for that, and for finding some redemption in my vulnerability and mistakes. Sending you lots of love.

    Kristen – yes, the Atonement. We are so dependent. And we ought to be so grateful. I always appreciate your pragmatism, and sense of humor. xo

    Jessie – poor big brother with a broken foot! Now that will try your patience! I think most of us are with you, constantly relearning that we can only control ourselves, not our circumstances or others. Wishing you steadiness and a peaceful heart. You’re doing such a good job with all that is on your plate.

    JkFrome – good point. If our parenting is always perfect, how can our children learn the pattern of repentance, apologizing, making things right? Thanks for your thought.

    Katie – And your comment helps me to not feel alone :).

    Rach – Yes, we learn so much from the charity and mercy of our children, don’t we? Mine have humbled me many times. Thanks for your sweet words.

    Kellie – what wonderful thoughts. I hadn’t considered Caleb before. Thank you for pointing out his value and the lessons you’ve learned from him. Yes, I wanted this “mountain” more than anything. And you’re so right, God will help. Always. It has been hard to carve out a spiritual refuel each day, but I’m working on it. It’s so important. Excellent ideas. Thank you for understanding. xoxo

    Kay and annegb – I so appreciated your honesty and understanding, especially now that you are farther down the motherhood road. Bless you.

    JP – ah, hindsight. Always 20/20. :)

    Katie – fascinating insight about the face of the mountain always changing. I liked it a lot. And the erupting volcano? Love. It made me smile.

    Michelle L – you’re such a great cheerleader. I love you.

    cellomom5 – oh, that’s encouraging. Funny, my Mom says she lost too, but guess what? I don’t remember! :)

    Rosalyn – Wonderful book, isn’t it?

    Liz – you dear girl. If anyone has reason to feel stress, to not keep it together, it would be you. How you’ve so gracefully managed everything is a wonder to me. We need to keep encouraging each other. Yes, I think we can get there. xo

  26. Wonderful essay. Thanks for writing.

    My oldest child is thirty. Youngest is twenty-four. We all made it. And I imagine you will too. I agree with Michelle L. – You’re doing great. Seriously. Look at what you just wrote!

    The mountain speaks to our children. I believe that part of us is a personal inner portion of The Mountain of the Lord. I felt it in the insanity of my child-rearing years. It is the place from whence this post came. All is well.

  27. Melody is my mother. I am the thirty-year-old she mentioned.

    I have a 2 year old and a 4 year old. Most of the time I feel like we are simple surviving, and things don’t do as planned more than the other way around.

    I LOVE mommy time-outs. I lock myself in my room until I can get centered. I do this knowing that there is a good possibility the home will be in complete ruin in the 30 second-2 minutes when I emmerge.

    Sometimes if I know I’m going to loose it, and I can’t handle the possibility of coming out of my room to a disaster, then I throw a massive tantrum in front of my kids BEFORE I get the the monster mama stage. I throw myself on the ground, I scream, I cry, I yell exactly what I’m feeling, “I miss daddy! I’m so tired. I just want to sleep. I’m feeling upset you’re not listening to me. I’m doing my best, and I still feel sad.” whatever it is. I don’t do this often, but when I do, the kids get quiet REAL fast, and I’m not taking my anger out on them or something they’ve done, just simply expressing what is really going on inside me. Then I ask for their help. I ask if we can start over. I ask if we can work together. I’ve released the pent up emotion/anger/fatigue/etc, and they know where I’m coming from. It’s win, win.

    It’s okay for parents to show emotion, even if it’s BIG emotion. Not in a scary, hurtful way, but in a I’m-human-too-even-if-I’m-the-mommy way.

  28. Thank you so much for everyone’s honesty. Your thoughts were mine all through today. And after an argument with my 10-year-old over his unfinished science project, snapping at my 8-year-old for daring to ask me a question right after I hit the side of the garage door with my car mirror, shattering it, and accidentally bonking my two-year-old’s head with my knee (trying to have some fun time!) my 5-year-old sang a sweet song at FHE about how she loves everyone in our family…”but not when moms being mean!” She held out the words “being” and “mean” for about 17 counts, much like Will Ferrell in Elf. I laughed so hard I cried.

    I, too, have read Quiet, and wondered what a quiet, artistic, moderately disorganized person like myself is doing trying to raise 4 kids. I try my best, which some days is nothing more than smiling through tears or driving to Panda Express at 7:45 because everyone is starving and I haven’t started dinner or letting my visiting teachers come and sit on my boogery couch next to my pile of unfolded whites. I’m glad to know I’m not alone and that others find solace in prayer and the temple and scriptures, music, books and friendship.

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