"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
August 13, 2013
We Can do Hard Things
by Melissa Howell

“We can do hard things.”

I’ve seen this saying a lot as of late. If you visit any of the typical virtual social haunts, you might find this phrase residing on jewelry, wall art, printable/frame-able artwork, pillows, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, or anything else that that can be worded.

I really don’t care what medium houses the phrase; I simply like it. And I think it’s something that should be engrained in our children from a young age.

We can do this in two ways:

  1. By giving them opportunities to do hard things

  2. By allowing them to see us doing hard things

As part of my calling as assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs (longest calling title ever), I had the opportunity recently to facilitate an interview between a local newspaper reporter and our stake’s trek master, at a pioneer/pre-trek activity in preparation for the youth pioneer trek.

Every four years, youth and leaders in our stake travel to Wyoming and spend days pushing handcarts and retracing Mormon pioneer footsteps. Earlier this month, roughly 320 youth and leaders walked 25 miles in four days around the Willie Site/Sixth Crossing, Martin’s Cove and Rocky Ridge.

When the reporter asked the trek master why we give our youth this experience, one of the first things he responded with was, “so they can learn to do hard things.”

Bottom line, we do our children no favors by making things easy for them. They might not have to walk miles and miles to school, uphill and in a snowstorm, like our parents did. They might not have to flee their homes and travels hundreds of miles across the plains to reach a destination they were unfamiliar with.

Today they face different kinds of hardships and trials. And we can give them opportunities to stretch themselves, mentally and physically. We can give them age-appropriate chores. We can push them to reach academic goals that require a little extra oomph. We give instill in them “can-do” attitudes.

My kids and I participate in a local group of moms and young kids called Summer of Service (SOS), where we do weekly service projects throughout June and July around the community. This summer, we did everything from assemble hygiene kits for a local help center, to decorate hearts and “heart attack” some community members who needed a little extra love, to pick up trash at a park, to singing patriotic songs to residents of a senior care center.

These are all terrific opportunities for the kids, but it’s the activities that require us to really dig in — sometimes literally — that really make an impact on the kiddos.

One such activity gave us the opportunity to help out at a horse farm in the community, shoveling large amount of manure and painting a large fence at one of the corrals. The day was scorching, and the work was intense, especially for young children.

But as generally accompanies a completed task that required some extra effort, it was a tremendous lesson for the children to push themselves and see the visible results of their hard work.

I asked my 7-year-old daughter what she thought of that activity, and she replied, “It felt good. We worked really hard. It took awhile but we got the job done.”*

* the content of this interview was completely unrehearsed and unscripted

Well, there’s my moral of the story in a nutshell. Once again children prove smarter than adults. And it’s not to say there weren’t episodes of some murmuring during the work, but water breaks and positive encouragement went a long way.

My husband and I took on a job this summer that also was fraught with murmuring, water breaks, intense heat and positive encouragement: we painted the house. When it was determined that it needed to be painted, motivated by cost savings, we agreed to do it ourselves. Two coats. The whole house. Entirely by brush. It took nine days, and that was with my brother’s help for two days and our friend’s help for two days.

Not only did this require a heavy deal of effort, but it also required my husband and me to face some real fears: his of heights, and mine of yellow jackets and various stinging winged insects (coupled with discomfort with heights). Both fears practically paralyze us.

Although our friend had removed most of the visible yellow jacket nests prior to painting, we encountered smaller ones throughout the painting. I kept a can of wasp spray close by and used it on a number of occasions (the stinkin’ things are rampant where we live).

At one point as I climbed up near an eave I came face to face with a single yellow jacket in a small nest. Visibly shaking, I descended, grabbed the spray, re-ascended and blasted that beast into oblivion. It might seem minor to you. But to me, it was not.

On my husband’s first ladder ascent attempt, he went about halfway up, came back down and muttered, “I can’t do this.”

And you know what? At first he couldn’t. But as things went along, he could. One of my favorite moments came one evening as I was taking a break to get the kids ready for bed; my husband was painting the side of the house fairly high up, and his face happened to be perfectly framed in our bathroom window.

“Look, kids!” I said. “Come say goodnight to dad through the window. But come slowly. And quietly. And whisper goodnight through the window, and also tell dad how proud you are of him. Look how high he is on the ladder!”

The children are completely aware of their dad’s height phobias (for the love, they’ve ridden a chairlift and a gondola with him and have seen him go all ashen and the like), and so I reiterated the reminder to move slowly and talk softly.

Otherwise, I feared his subdued face might disappear completely from the window in a split second and we’d find his crumpled body spread on the grass below.

Painting a house was hard work. Really hard work. But what an accomplishment to be able to say we painted a house! To quote my daughter, “It felt good. We worked really hard. It took awhile but we got the job done.”

I want my children to know they will face difficult things throughout their lives, in a number of ways. I also want them to know that they can overcome them and grow in countless ways by so doing, by applying themselves and working hard.

And don’t you think for one second that I won’t use the parable of me taking on the yellow jackets or their dad climbing that ladder as fodder for as long as they live.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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