"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
July 08, 2015
by Marian Stoddard

I was sitting at the computer, working on something, when I heard a repeated, low noise.  It was almost felt as a deep vibration as much as it was heard as a sound. 

It felt like it was coming from beneath the floor, from the basement.  My work desk is on top of the laundry area, but I wasn’t doing any wash; so it couldn’t be the spin cycle going out of balance, and there was nothing downstairs besides laundry and storage.

The sound repeated, not perfectly regular, maybe half a dozen times. Then it stopped again.

“Honey, what’s that noise?” I called towards the living room.  Since the kitchen sits in between, trying to have such a conversation is problematic.  I swear we had better hearing in the old house. 

I know he’s lost some hearing, but I never felt deaf until we moved here.  Higher ceilings, different angles between the rooms and the placement of their doors, not to mention street noise, has made it difficult here, so I raised my voice louder and asked again.

“What noise?” he asked. 

“There it is a third time, a deep, big sound that repeats and stops.  I think it’s coming from your direction.  Didn‘t you hear it?”  By this time I’m walking into the front room.

He didn’t hear any noise.  I couldn’t hear it in the living room either, which surprised me, but because I was listening for it I could sense a low, indistinct rumble.   He now caught it, only because I was calling it to his attention and he stopped what he was doing and listened.  It was subtle — until I opened the front door and stepped out onto the stoop.

One block up the side street and then kitty-corner across the intersection, workers were breaking up concrete, drilling to set posts for the perimeter of a new medical clinic. The noise was loud and definite, stepping outside.  It was the work of jackhammers, after all. 

The living room was the closest point to the source of the noise, at least in logical distance, yet that’s not where it could be heard. Our walls were a barrier. The vibrations were coming through the ground and the emptier downstairs and I could hear it much more, from below, in the back room.  It was weird.

At least I was able to solve the mystery, and nothing dreadful was happening that I needed to worry about.  That stage of construction only lasted a couple of days, and then other noises from the building process didn’t carry as much.  Eventually it was all done.

I remember when my younger son, who was about eleven, was going up into the attic to find something from his sister’s room, and heard voices upstairs, adult male voices, and he freaked out.  (We weren’t home.)  He bolted across the street for a neighbor, who kept him there and called the police to come check it out.

A police officer came and walked through the empty house (I was mortified to learn) and gave the all clear.  What had my son heard? 

They were putting a new roof on a house on the next block behind us, and the workmen’s voices carried across the busy street, over the house behind us with its shorter roof height, and into our open window on the attic level at the rear, where he thought he heard strangers inside our home. 

We didn’t hear the traffic on that street, but the noise higher off the ground came through.  Sound waves rebound and distort in funny ways sometimes.

Emotional waves do funny things too.  One of the most important mother education lessons I ever had in Relief Society was about how to identify reasons behind problem behaviors.

If a child is misbehaving in the same way under the same circumstance, he or she is pushing the boundaries linked to a specific issue. But if behaviors are intense and sudden, and erupt without clear logical connection to the issue at hand, seeming to come without rhyme or reason, it means that some need of theirs is not being met. 

Being only children, they don’t know how to express that, or maybe even how to define it.

They don’t tell us that part of the parenthood job description is super-sleuth.  Maybe a child just needs more attention.  Negative attention beats lack of attention in their book.  We can figure out how to offer more positive attention, cuddle time with a story, a favorite game to play together, just some undistracted listening attention, that’s usually not too hard to understand.

Maybe they’re frightened about something, and acting out — or withdrawing.  Maybe they’re over-wound and need quiet time, or tired, or hungry.  My mother used to say that if the kids are squabbling, look at the clock.  She said sometimes the best answer to clamors of grief and complaint, one child versus another, is, “I’m hungry too; let’s go have lunch.”

Those are fairly simple things to figure out and address.  What about the ones that aren’t so obvious?  Because it isn’t just kids who act out because of unmet needs; grownups do it too.  It’s human nature.  It’s a terrible truth to discover, that being an adult doesn’t mean that you have all the magic answers to life.

Learning from a class or lesson somewhere that a lot of anger is really fear was an epiphany for me.  I could look at myself and ask, when I was losing my grip, what are you afraid of?  When I was pulling in, starting a downwards spiral in my head, what’s behind this? What are you actually reacting to?  Because it usually wasn’t the present moment.

Often the biggest issue was defining what the button was that had been pushed.  Oh, yes, there are things that push our buttons.

Your kids are fighting — again — and you’re afraid that you must be a bad parent, and they’ll never learn how to be kind to each other.  No, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a parent, it means that you need to keep working on enforcing the rules and helping them understand the principles behind the rules, because their internalization of principles is the most important part. 

That’s what will last, but it doesn’t come instantly.

Maybe you go into a tailspin, internally, because of an offhand comment by someone who didn’t mean anything by it; objectively you might concede that they didn’t, but you’re still affected. If you can recognize that it brought up something from the past, nothing more, but it’s not actually related to anything present and doesn’t matter, then you can let it go and come back to yourself.

I think some of the wisdom that comes with age is learning what things matter, and what things don’t.  The small stuff doesn’t loom so large any more.  A big part of getting there is learning how to separate what you need to work on and what is just pushing on old buttons that deserve to be disconnected. 

Part of divine tutelage is being led by the Spirit to distinguish what does matter.  We do all have things to work on and areas where we need to improve.  We’re often given callings, after all, that feel beyond us when they come. 

The old joke is that once you actually know how to serve in a calling, that’s when you get released.  Eternal progression means continuing growth, which equals both service and struggles.  But there is joy, and light, along the way.

But the buttons Satan pushes are trying to make us feel that we’re failures, that we’re unworthy, that if others knew our particular imperfections they would shun us, or that we don’t deserve love, help, joy, or anything good.

Our Heavenly Father knows us more completely than anyone else ever can.  He knows our gifts, our difficulties, and he knows our hearts.  He knows amazing things that we can’t remember about ourselves, but He will draw them out.  His love is perfect and eternal, and individual.  It’s amazing.

Put your hand in His, and don’t let anything displace His care.  His is the voice that speaks truth.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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