[Given by Becky Juchau at the Back-to-School Fireside for Parents, August 2016.]
It was the summer of 1984 and I was 16 years old. My sister was the Girls Camp Director at Camp William Penn, a camp in the Pocono mountains for underprivileged children from Philadelphia. One of her counselors needed to leave abruptly before the last 2-week session of camp and I was asked to fill in. A few days after my arrival, our 9- and 10-year-old group went on an overnighter which consisted of walking about a half a mile around the lake, heading into the woods, and camping in tents for the night instead of in the regular cabins. When we had almost arrived at our camp site, the head counselor of my unit asked me to return to the main camp for the forgotten left-handed smoke shifter.
Now, I’ve never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed and, remember, I was 16 and the new kid. So I dutifully headed back to camp to retrieve the left-handed smoke shifter from the nurse who’d reportedly had it last. Surprisingly, she didn’t have the left-handed smoke shifter, so she sent me to the Activities Director who sent me to my sister (Benedict Arnold) who sent me to the Head Cook, who finally took pity on me and told me that there was no such thing as a left-handed smoke shifter.
Well, I went to my cabin, laid down on my bunk, and pouted for a while; then returned to the camp site and took my revenge. But that is a story for another day….
So I ask you: What are the left-handed smoke shifters of our day? What are the views the world presents to us as fact and truth, which simply are not?
- “Wealth = happiness.”
- “If you’re busy, you must be important.”
- “You CAN have it all.”
- “You’re an unsuccessful parent if your children can’t read, multiply single-digit numbers, and play the hymns on the piano before they go to kindergarten.”
Tonight I’d like to address one left-handed smoke shifter that I feel we sometimes struggle with as parents in Highland, Utah. It’s the lie that our children need to be good at everything or the best at something; that our main job is to keep them busy, whatever the cost; and that being at home is somehow second best. (So I guess that’s actually three lies!) I think buying into these lies stems from the harmful practice of comparison and the sin of pride—both of which I’m sad to say, I know about first hand!
I know that all families are different. All children are different. Only you can know (with the help of the Holy Ghost) the best way to avoid the worldly lies that you might struggle with. But may I suggest six things we did in the Juchau home to combat those dreaded left-handed smoke shifters. And if you’re tempted to leave feeling depressed or inadequate; please don’t. These are just ideas that you’ll hopefully consider.
Before I begin, let’s be clear. We were not and are not the perfect parents. Here are some painful examples:
How about the time when our daughter Sarah stepped in a hole while playing night games and came home with a swollen toe and a big cut on the bottom of her foot. We looked at it, pronounced her fine, told her to “walk it off” and sent her to Girls State in Cedar City the next day. When she came home a few days later and we finally took her to the doctor (because her foot was oozing, bruised, and still swollen) we found that she had a broken toe and an infection in the cut.
Or the time our daughter Anne left on her mission and Chris and I both sent our emails to her old email account so she didn’t receive an email from either of her parents her first week.
Or the literally hundreds of times I’ve called one of our kids by the wrong name (mostly I got them mixed up with each other, but sometimes I called them Otis, who is the dog).
Or the times we disciplined out of anger.
Or the times I was impatient when one of our normally quiet kids felt like talking—usually around 11:00 at night.
Here’s a note our daughter wrote to us when she was in first grade (she was very precocious).
[“Derar family, I Do Not Want To Give you enethin Agen Bekols No Won Is Paeien Atenchen To Me. From: Emily”]
I don’t know what’s more pathetic: the content of this note or that I think it’s kind of funny.
Here’s another note (from Anne; with each letter glued onto the page separately, serial killer style).
[“DEAR DAD I’M SORRY I HIT Adam IN THE STUMICK! Anne”]
Anne must have spent an hour painstakingly placing all of these stickers. She probably had plenty of time after she was sent to her room for her misbehavior. (Please don’t tell President Scoresby that we sent our kids to their rooms!)
We aren’t the perfect parents. We don’t have perfect children. We didn’t do the following six things perfectly. But we tried to do them (then tried again when we failed) and I think they were all important.
#1: “Quiet time”
Every day before our kids went to school, and also in the summers when they were school age, our family spent one hour a day having quiet time. This was time to nap (for young children) or to quietly play by themselves or to read. Through this practice, our kids learned how to amuse themselves, they learned to be creative, and they learned to recognize that they could be quiet for a little part of each day. It wasn’t a punishment because we started it way before they knew normal people didn’t do it and we were consistent.
The world today has so little peace. Children need to learn how to be reflective and how to be by themselves (and not have to be entertained by electronics!). I found that we even got along better after an hour apart each day. And maybe children have a greater capacity for reverence at church when they spend some regular time being quiet at home.
I recognize that most of us are past the stage of very young children and an official “quiet time” isn’t an option, but I hope you’ll recognize the need for older children to have time to be quiet, too. At the Mt Timpanogos baptistry they encourage all patrons to spend a few moments in the quiet chapel even if the font is empty when they arrive. The temple presidency believes that our youth need time to sit quietly, read the scriptures, and think. I agree.
Psalm 34: 14 says: “…seek peace, and pursue it.”
#2: Family Home Evening
Prophets have been counseling us to have Family Home Evening since 1951—that’s longer than most of us have been alive! It’s hard, I get it! If it was easy, we’d all be perfect at it and we’re not.
My husband is an organized fellow. This is how he handled family home evening assignments for many years.
Every Sunday night this spreadsheet would appear magically on the refrigerator. We would look at our assignments for the following evening and prepare to varying degrees. Sometime after Chris became a bishop, the spreadsheets stopped appearing on the fridge. As time became more limited, our family home evenings became a lot more casual. Now, many years later, with just Adam at home, our family home evenings consist of prayer, a calendar review, a short gospel discussion, and scripture reading. Sometimes we go to a movie or we go bowling. Sometimes we go out for a treat.
Family home evening, no matter how messy or imperfect, teaches our families that we try to follow the prophet. It teaches our families that we have a desire to share testimony and gospel principles with them—that we don’t just rely on the church to instruct us. It shows a commitment to Heavenly Father and His plan.
#3: Read with your children
Some of my most tender moments with my children have happened with a book open in front of us—whether it was snuggling with a toddler at bedtime or reading aloud all day the very first day a new Harry Potter book came out. We read to our children every day and our children read to us every day [when they were young]. Our kids received books as birthday and Christmas gifts.
Jim Trelease wrote The Read-Aloud Handbook which was the text used in my Teaching Reading class at BYU almost 30 years ago. He has since printed six additional editions which include lists of great, current read-aloud books. If you want to know why you should read with your kids, read his book. If you want the short answer, Mr. Trelease writes:
“Students who read the most, read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don’t read much, cannot get better at it.” (readaloud.org)
To those of you who can’t fit your children on your lap anymore, may I suggest setting an example for your older children of reading often and reading varied material. They will learn that you value learning and knowledge and education, all without one parental lecture!
Please read the scriptures together as a family. When you do, you send the message that Heavenly Father and His word are a priority in your family.
#4: Eat dinner together
Those of you who know me well know that around 3:00 every afternoon I am shocked and dismayed to remember that I’m expected to feed people in a few hours. I frankly find it annoying that my family wants to eat every single night and that there should probably be some vegetables involved. Making dinner is not my strength. But I know family dinner time is important. Elder Oaks knows it’s important, too. That’s why he encouraged it in his talk, “Good, Better, Best.”
Researchers have found it to be important, also. Dr Anne Fischel, a family therapist and professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School wrote in 2015,
“For school-age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports, or doing art. Other researchers reported a consistent association between family dinner frequency and teen academic performance.”
She also wrote:
“In most industrialized countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments, or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other…. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them….” (Washington Post; January 12, 2015)
It doesn’t matter what you make for dinner or how well you make it. It does matter that you are spending time together talking and laughing and listening; that children are learning how to help with food preparation and clean-up. Which leads me to # 5.
#5: Work together
Elder L. Tom Perry said:
“Teaching children the joy of honest labor is one of the greatest of all gifts you can bestow upon them.” (The Joy of Honest Labor; Oct 1986)
Every family handles work at home differently. Some parents ask their kids to make their beds and have a tidy room before they leave for school every day. Some parents have chore charts. Some parents pay their kids to do jobs and that’s how their kids earn spending money. I’m not sure that there is a right or wrong way to teach your children to work but I do think children should learn to work. They should have responsibilities that contribute to an organized and (at least, relatively) tidy house and yard.
The fundamental reason we’ve had a garden the past sixteen years is to give our kids a job in the summer—we certainly never had any intention of harvesting or actually eating what we grew!
There is nothing better than waking up on an early summer morning and looking out of your back window to see your child squatting over the vegetables, weeding before it gets too hot. Now, to be honest, that only happened a few times over the past sixteen years, but it did happen!
Teaching kids to work is difficult. It takes a lot of consistency and a lot of effort. I’m not suggesting our kids be our slaves and that we make their lives a drudgery, but I am suggesting that unless you were born a Kardashian, you need to learn to work. You need to learn to start and finish something, even if it’s not fun. You need to learn to clean up after yourself. You need to learn to contribute to a household.
Sometimes we think we can do a job better and more quickly than our kids so we just do it ourselves. I have been and still am guilty of this. Make sure you work with your children so you can show them how to get things done.
Sometimes we are quick to hire people to do work in our homes and yards that our children can and should learn to do. We think, “Our kids are too busy.” Or, “We can have more fun as a family if certain chores are hired out.” Or, “We have more money than time.” This is, of course, an individual family matter, as every family’s circumstances differ, but Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
“Work is always a spiritual necessity even if, for some, work is not an economic necessity.” (Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel; April 1998)
#6: Carefully consider out of home activities
Sometimes we believe the left-handed smoke shifter that says, “If my kids aren’t really busy with lots of worthwhile activities, they’re sure to become overweight, unhealthy, unambitious, couch potatoes who play video games all day and eventually turn to a life of crime!” This kind of frantic and false thinking can come from many sources, all of which lead back to Satan. When deciding which activities are best for your children, ask yourself:
How will this activity benefit my child? Will it benefit our family?
Why do I want my child to participate in this activity?
Is it something I wish I’d gotten to do as a kid, but didn’t?
Am I trying to keep up with what my neighbors are doing?
If I’m completely honest, is my pride dictating this choice?
Will this extra activity cause stress in our home?
Are we already too busy for one more thing?
And maybe the most important questions: Who do I want my child to be and will this activity help him or her become that?
Picking and choosing activities would be a worthwhile discussion in a family council. Be deliberate and careful in your choices and plan well so you have the time and energy to be a family!
Please understand that I’m not against every sports team and music lesson and dance class. The Juchau children were involved in all of those (and more) worthwhile activities. Our kids need lots of opportunities to learn and grow outside of the home. I hope, though, that we can be excellent at “intentional parenting” as Elder Nelson has encouraged, and not just let our kids’ activities run our family lives.
Elder Oaks said:
“The amount of children-and-parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons, team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be overscheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth.” (Good, Better, Best; Oct 2007)
And President Uchtdorf said:
“Strength comes not from frantic activity, but from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light.… It comes from paying attention to the divine things that matter most.” (Of Things That Matter Most; Oct 2010)
What divine things matter most to your family? How can you pay attention to them?
I’ve never been a big fan of the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, but a few years ago my daughter and I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and I discovered something that made me appreciate him much more. In that beautiful museum, there is a room filled with Van Gogh’s art depicting houses and rooms and people at home. Apparently, he had a bit of a fascination with every day, ordinary home life. He liked to use the Dutch word, “menessesten,” translated into English as “people-nest.” He loved to think of, and paint, families cozy and safe in their homes the way birds find comfort and shelter in their nests. I, too, love that image. Home should be a place where our children find safety and refuge.
I like to think of our homes filled with reading and gospel learning. I like to think of them filled with fun family dinners and a little quiet time. I like to think of our children learning how to work at home. I like to think of us being “intentional parents” and helping our children choose wisely the activities that take us away from home and each other.
Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson said:
“All of us—women, men, youth, and children, single or married—can work at being homemakers. We should make our homes places of order, refuge, holiness, and safety. Our homes should be places where the Spirit of the Lord is felt in rich abundance and where the scriptures and the gospel are studied, taught, and lived. What a difference it would make in the world if all people would see themselves as makers of righteous homes. Let us defend the home as a place which is second only to the temple in holiness.” (Defenders of the Family Proclamation; April 2015)
I pray that this school year and always, we will find ways to make our homes holy. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference, April 2016.]
To begin my talk, let me ask you a personal question: Are you rich? I don’t mean in a spiritual sense and this is not a trick question. I’m not talking about being rich in spiritual blessings or rich in the gospel. I’m asking if you are financially “rich” in the usual sense of how people use that word.
In 2013, median household income in the world was a little under $10,000. Median means that half were above the number and half were below the number. If your household income in 2013 was above $10,000, you had higher income than most people in the world.
In 2014, median household income in the U.S. was $52,000 and in the state of Utah it was $56,000.
How much household income do you have to have to be in the top 1% in the world? The number may surprise you. It’s just $34,000.
If your household income is $60,000, you are in the top 5th of the top 1% in the world. Your income is higher than 99.8% of the people on earth.
If your household income is $100,000, you are in the top 10% of the top 1% in the world. Your income is higher than 99.9% of the people on earth.
With some, but few, exceptions, households in the Highland Utah South Stake are, by every reasonable comparative, rich. I think it is important that we accept that fact and that our children understand just how true it is. They may not need to know your exact income, but they need a proper perspective (not a “Highland vs. Alpine” perspective) on where their family sits on the worldwide scale of relative wealth. We should not make the mistake of denying our “rich-ness” simply because we know some people—or know of some people—who have more than we do. About 99% of the world is prepared to be thoroughly disgusted by you and me if we do.
The Savior had a number of things to say to and about rich people. We should not make the mistake of assuming that He is speaking about someone else. We should receive his comments about income and wealth with marked sobriety.
In Luke 16, we read the story of a rich man and a poor man:
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
What is the Savior saying here about rich people? What reason is given for the rich man being in hell? Is there a difference between that rich man and me? I might make up one but the story doesn’t provide one. What is the Lord saying about your and my responsibility toward the poor?
In Luke 12, the Savior speaks about a rich man through a parable, but introduces it with this warning:
15 …Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
Then the parable goes like this:
16 …The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
We might hear that parable and excuse or comfort ourselves because of how it ends, thinking that we are, in fact, rich toward God. Hopefully that is true! But we must also ask ourselves what we are doing with our earthly treasures.
We probably all know the story of the widow’s mite. The Savior is in the temple courtyard…
1 And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.
2 And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
3 And he said, …this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:
4 For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury [“penury” means “destitution”] hath cast in all the living that she had.
When I pay my fast offerings and other donations, I think often of the phrase “all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God.” That describes my situation and I know it. I am left to think seriously about whether I give enough.
What do we do with our earthly riches? Are we really “rich toward God”? Will the Savior one day be able to say to you and me:
35 …I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me:
Lastly, we cannot forget the Savior’s conversation with the Rich Young Man:
18 …a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? [We need to remember when reading this story that that is the question it begins with!]
19 And Jesus said unto him…
20 Thou knowest the commandments…
21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
22 [Then the Savior says to him], Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
All those passages are from the New Testament, but modern-day scripture is consistent with the New Testament. The Book of Mormon reminds us over and over again to care for the poor and warns us against materialism. As one very brief example, Alma asks in Alma, Chapter 5: “Will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, in withholding your substance from them?”
The Doctrine and Covenants gives as the primary reason for “few” being “chosen” (even though many are called) that “their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.”
The Doctrine and Covenants also teaches that “the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.”
In the Highland South Stake, nearly 90% of members pay a full tithe. We are a devoted and faithful people in many respects.
I want to challenge your thinking today regarding our responsibility to care for the poor. I want to do so because I worry that we too easily overlook this exceptionally fundamental teaching of Christianity. And then there is this quote from Brigham Young. He said:
“The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.”
What is sobering about those remarks is how consistent they are with the teachings of the Savior who also spoke of rich people going to hell. And how prophetic they are with regard to you and me having become “the richest people on this earth.”
The Savior warned that “it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” We should not try to explain away His point too quickly as not meaning just exactly what He said.
So what to do? Let us be men and women of action. Here are three suggestions:
First, let us be certain that God, His kingdom, and His purposes are the most important things in our lives. You’ll have to be introspective and willing to challenge yourself on this. With regard to materiality, we should ask ourselves whether we are tearing down barns to build greater barns. This would make a great topic for a family council.
Second, let us give of our means, meaning primarily our money, to the poor. It would appear that in our stake, we give, on average, less than 1% of our income to Fast Offerings. That doesn’t account for the financial support we provide to the poor or to humanitarian efforts through things other than Fast Offerings, but it’s an interesting point of reference. What is the right amount to give? Only you may decide that. My life experience teaches me that the more I give, the more I receive.
Third and last, let us teach our children to support the poor. Many youth in the stake have jobs. Many youth and children receive allowances. We are very diligent about teaching them to pay their tithing. Teaching them to pay “of their abundance” to help the poor is perhaps something we could do more of. Statistically speaking, it is very rare for a child or youth to pay fast offerings. That should probably give us pause.
Brothers and Sisters, I believe that where much is given, much is required. I also believe in the law of the harvest. We reap what we sow. We are judged as we judge. God forgives as we forgive. He blesses as we bless. He is generous with us as we are generous. “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.”
My Patriarchal Blessing admonishes me to bless others with the “abundance” with which I am blessed. May I and each of us do so I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
After giving this talk, I received some requests for copies of my talk, “the one about how we’re all rich.” I also heard references to our being rich. I heard little or nothing about our need to help the poor. It left me worried that the primary message of my talk was not effectively delivered. The main message is not that we’re rich, but that we should be doing more to help the poor. The fact that we are rich is simply intended to support that main point. I shall try to communicate better next time!]