Then there was light

In the beginning there was darkness.

That’s always how the stories begin.

It starts right there at the bedside of your father as he takes his last breath. It starts at the wheel of your car, eyes blinded with tears, wondering how you’re going to tell your wife that you lost your job. It starts when you missed the electric payment for the second time in a row and the lights click off. It starts right there.

We’ve all been under the misconception that the darkness is where it all ends. That the light dims, the sun sinks behind the earth, the chill comes, and it’s over. It certainly feels over at times, doesn’t it?

But in the beginning there was darkness—even for God.

And how often we forget.

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Just a few years ago after my Dad passed away, I told myself the darkness would never be blacker. And in many ways I agree it’s never gotten so dark again. But like every life, I’ve seen my share of the night. 2016 brought a slew of shade and I still find myself reeling over the crippling effects of it. From a divorce to terrible financial burdens to watching people I love suffer to taking hits to my self-worth and having moments of complete agony on my knees as I wonder how to even rebuild my life or keep steady when the storms pummel away at me and rock my foundation and my faith, I have screamed into the night—I have felt the darkness I felt at my Dad’s bedside all over again in a different way that took new forms. I have searched for stars to find only clouds at times. I have wondered where my friends are, where my path is, and why my eyes can’t adjust. I have begged for daybreak, just like you have.

And yet.

I think there is something to be learned within the darkness.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that before this beautiful earth was created, before the Heavens were dotted with stars and before the mountains formed from the seas and before our hearts even started to beat—the creator of all began in utter darkness, surrounded by nothingness. A God who is all knowing, all loving, a supreme being with all knowledge and wisdom and foresight—still began with the absence of light. “Let there be light!” we quote, remembering that the sun rose and it all began. We remember that part.

But actually, the beginning went more like this: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

That’s really how it all began.

And that’s how you’re going to begin too.

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Right where you’re at, grappling for a foothold, tears like rain. This is your beginning.

I think we too often forget where we’ve come from and what we’ve had to endure in our lives to get to where we’re at. We don’t owe ourselves enough credit to remind ourselves that we’ve always survived and that we’ve chosen time and time again to keep going anyway. To keep loving anyway. To get out of bed anyway. To keep believing and to keep moving forward anyway, even when we have no idea whatsoever where we’re going or what we might bump into. You’re still here simply because you have a trait of the creator in you that believes you can still make something out of nothing. And you always do.

The other day during a rough time where I felt like literally all of my prayers were falling on deaf ears—I stumbled across a quote that simply stated, “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast the light travels, it finds the darkness has always gotten there first, and is waiting for it.”

And so, I find you here in the darkness, friend. Wherever you are tonight. This is why I write, as my heart is a little heavy myself and I think there’s something to be said for recognizing that we’re all fellow travelers who are in it together.

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I find you in your mound of bills and in your mountain of heartache. I find you crying in your closet and smiling in a crowded room with a pounding and aching heart. I find you lost after turning away from a faith you loved so long and I find you rejected from a love you thought was certain. I find you with your grim medical prognosis and I find you without a friend. I find you, right where you’re at and I join you in the darkness that we all find ourselves in from time to time, even when we’re certain that we’re absolutely alone. I find you there tonight and I hope you know that because God stood alone in utter darkness, we never will have to. We’re in it together, making our way and guessing our steps and waiting for the sun.

I’m a lover of light. As a photographer, as a woman in love with beauty and life, as a future mother and as a significant other and daughter and sister and friend—light has brought me so very much to be thankful for and I see it all as art. Light is what I most love about this world of ours. But I know why.

I know it’s only because I’m well acquainted with the dark.

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When the right choice is the painful one: My lesson through divorce

I hesitate writing this blog post.

I stare at a bright screen while sitting here in a shadowy hotel room overlooking the Snake River. I wanted to talk about this a while ago, but fear set in. A crippling fear actually that told me I’d lose most of my blog readers just as I’ve lost some friends already and even some family. And I might lose some, I realize that. But tonight, after the hardest day of my life, all I want to do is write. Regardless of perception.

About a month ago my husband and I filed for divorce.

I won’t go into the reasons, but the decision wasn’t made lightly. It wasn’t made overnight. And it came with many tears, hurtful words, and cries on bended knees. It came after wrestlings with God, anger at the world, and heart-to-heart conversations with nothingness long after the world went to sleep.

Needless to say, the decision was a right one.

And yet…

Yet I still feel the pain.

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I lay here with reddened eyes that burn like fire, a stomach that twists and churns, and eyes that keep wandering to the river that my husband and I used to walk with our dog. Today I came back into town to get the rest of my things piled into a U-Haul before I make the trek back to my home state of Washington. The sadness I felt as I pulled away from the driveway for the last time was excruciating. There was my husband of four years who I deeply care for, left with an empty house, some nails on the wall where pictures once hung, and eyes full of tears. I felt awful. Yet I pushed the gas on the U-Haul and rounded the corner, reminding myself of my conviction and the answer I had received and he had received shortly after.

 

I have lost people through this process who disagree with divorce and who have boldly told me that Satan has his grip on me and this choice would never be of God. I’ve lost people I’ve loved with my husband mutually for four years who have decided that I must have lost my mind when this decision was made. I have lost a lovely house. Friends. Two bunnies we had to sell today. A community. A darling neighborhood with sweet neighbors. A marriage.  In-laws. My upcoming chance at motherhood through adoption. Respect of some of those around me who stand on the outside looking in.

Yet even now, through burning eyes, I want to speak to you of what I have gained.

I know one of you need it–that there’s a reason behind why I write tonight.

Sometimes, I have decided, to truly follow the plan of happiness, you have to trek through the valley of sadness.

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You have to sometimes make a decision that breaks your heart into a million pieces. You have to sometimes lose everything to rebuild something. You have to sometimes face the world completely alone with their jeers and their snide comments and their turned backs and decide to keep walking anyway. You have to sometimes smile through the tears. You have to sometimes completely and fully trust your inner compass, even while standing in the dark and fighting the urge to flee. You have to sometimes tell your complacency to take a hike, and go forth fearlessly anyway.

The greatest pain comes right before the greatest joy.

But it can be hard to remember that.

After leaving Idaho several weeks ago, I met with my bishop at my church to get some advice and to let him in on how I was feeling. He asked hard questions and dissected what was going on and finally gave me a knowing look. He asked me if I know about the atonement.

Of course I do, I responded.

And that’s when he proceeded to tell me that too often we see Christ’s atonement as a remedy for the sinner and the lost and the ones who choose wrong. What we fail to remember though, is that Christ also felt the pains of those who follow spiritual promptings and choose to do what is right, even at the cost of persecution and great pain.

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His sacrifice, he reminded me, covers the heartache that comes when choosing the right path also means choosing the rocky and thorny one–sometimes totally and utterly alone.

He knew, better than anyone else in the history of mankind as he carried out His father’s will, that the most difficult path often leads to the most beautiful destination. His choice was a difficult one, but He trusted that what was up ahead would be far greater than standing still.

It requires courage. And bravery. And honesty.

It calls out for identifying your self-worth and your purpose and your reason for coming to earth. It demands that you remember who you are in the grand scheme of things and that you can trust Heavenly Father’s plan, even when you can’t see too far ahead.

I know for a fact I can’t see too far right now. I feel incredibly blind.

Right now all I can see is the computer screen. And the river in the moonlight. And the flash of a lone TV against the wall. And that’s about it. Not even going to lie.

But I do trust a few things. I trust that the sun will rise. That Heavenly Father has my back. That I’ll keep breathing in and out and my feet will hit the floor when I wake.

And I trust that because I listened to the still-small voice, even amidst the sorrow, tomorrow will be better. And so will the day after that.

And joy will come.

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I hope that you, wherever you are or whatever you are going through, will take hold of your compass and follow its arrow and trust Him while in the dark.

You don’t have to run or take short cuts or even smile through it all.

You just have to keep moving.

And remember that the man who walked the path first walks it again right now–with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your chariots of fire

I am SO lucky.

Actually, I should use the word blessed because that’s the only way to explain it, isn’t it?

You see, I have a HUGE family.

I wasn’t born into it. My side of the family is relatively small–I’m one of three girls (my older sister never lived with us) and our extended family reunions can fit comfortably in a house if everyone is present. My dad has died, so coming home for week-long stays now includes my immediate family of two. But I love them so much and we’ve never lacked. We’ve always been close.

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But then I moved out and went to college and accrued a whole plethora of friends who have become family. So close, in fact, that my kids will call them aunts and uncles.

And then I got married and BAM. Just like that, I accrued 14 other sisters and brothers (including spouses) and 21 other nieces and nephews besides the two I already had. I got another set of parents, and more cousins and uncles and aunts.. When we first got married my husband and I actually made a game out of memorizing everyone’s names because it was like memorizing the names of an auditorium of people at a football game.

But it wasn’t hard to memorize each of them because they worked their way into my heart really fast.

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This last weekend I learned a little bit more about how blessed I am–and how blessed you are too. Let me tell you why.

We went to Utah for the baptism of my little nephew Colton. His mama, my husband’s sister, passed away three years ago from cancer. It shook our family to the core to lose her, but we all made a pact that we’d stay close to the kids and to her husband and his new wife now. Not all of us could make it to the baptism/reunion weekend but lots of us did, and I’m so glad we were there. During the confirmation blessing Colton’s daddy made it clear that Natalie, his mama in Heaven, was so proud. And we all felt it at that moment. She was very near. So it was only fitting that after we had our playtime and went out for ice cream after, we would visit Natalie’s resting place together.

I write about this time with the utmost reverence because it isn’t something that should be flashed around. I wondered if I should even include it at all. But I feel that I should. Natalie is buried in a family plot and since her youngest, Ella, wasn’t even two years old when Natalie died, she had lots of questions. As the family walked back to their cars and left them behind I captured a shot of my sweet and incredibly strong brother-in-law explaining with the utmost simplicity the resurrection.

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“Someday, when it’s our time to go home to be with Heavenly Father we will see Mommy again,” he said sweetly. “We will give her a big hug.”

“I can’t believe she’s in the ground,” Ella said.

And that’s when my brother-in-law explained that she isn’t in the ground. But in fact, she’s with us as a beautiful spirit.

As I write this I remember the feelings that came over me in that family burial plot watching a daddy and his daughter over a mother’s grave. I remember feeling like the cemetery was suddenly packed, standing at attention–saluting a small girl who has to face a life of strong faith and courage.

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Those stones in our graveyards are reminders in the emerald grass of the chariots of fire that run to our rescue daily. They remind me that whether you have a small family or a large family on earth, it doesn’t compare to the crowd that loves you in Heaven.

For all that I’ve lost, I remind myself now, I have gained so much in Heaven. My uncle, my cousin, my dad, my sister-in-law, my grandma, my grandpa, friends…all the others I’ve lost along the way–they guard and protect and serve me daily. They whisper in my ear and hug me from behind and lift my chin to the sun when I feel despair. They stand at attention during my time of sorrow and celebrate when I feel joy.

Yes. Angels are real. It’s called family.

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One of the little boys I teach in primary at church said a sweet prayer the other day that comes to mind now.

“Thank you that Heaven loves us!” he exclaimed last Sunday. I’ve never heard that kind of phrase before, but what a little spiritual giant he is to exclaim what my heart sings over now. Thank you that Heaven loves me! Thank you that I have family and friends and ancestors who cheer for me and root for me and have passed down their talents and love and faiths just for me! Thank you that throughout the course of history we are one long chain that pulls and tugs through time, reminding each other and comforting each other and loving each other back to the kingdom.

Elder Holland said it best I think. I included this quote in a past blog of mine but why not share it again? It’s just THAT good.

“In the gospel of Jesus Christ you have help from both sides of the veil, and you must never forget that. When disappointment and discouragement strike–and they will–you remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed to come to our protection. They will always be there, these armies of heaven, in defense of Abraham’s seed.”

You are the seed of Abraham. You are a link in a never-ending chain of God’s children. You matter enough to have angels, ancestors you never met, and those you have loved and lost, form rings of fire around you. You matter enough to have Heaven work to keep you uplifted, safe, and in the light, even against the dark evil that you can’t see.

It blows my mind and comforts my heart all at the same time.

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Our feet that pass by these gravestones now will someday be joined in Heaven–someday WE will be the ones to help our loved ones from the other side of the veil.

The eternal plan for eternal happiness. The eternal pattern.

My face streamed with tears as I watched Ella learn about where her mama is right now. My face streamed with tears when I had to learn that same lesson with my dad.

But I can’t help but turn my face to the sunshine and thank God for the angels that hold us up. I can’t help but thank God that despite death, despite pain, and despite the blindness to the spiritual realm, I have a HUGE family.

And we have chariots of fire on each side running at reckless speed.

Just for me. Just for you.

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I’ll go where you want me to go

I can’t believe it’s been two and a half years already since I sat on a curb–barefoot in the rain, mind you–asking God a very important *URGENT* question.

Why am I here?!

And no, I wasn’t asking him one of those philosophical “Why am I here and where am I going?” questions. I was simply just one of those frowny kids with my arms crossed, sitting on a curb outside my parents’ duplex in a small town that borders Seattle, sitting not quite far enough down the street so that I could still see the light in the little bedroom that was now mine and my husband’s only real estate.

Yeah. It sucked.

Four months after getting married, we were in a tough spot. I was graduated with no great job offers being sent my way and our rent was about to be due. Matt was a janitor on campus in between his credits and that was enough to maybe buy us cereal–that we would eventually ration out, no doubt. We couldn’t stay. Every morning and every night it was the same prayer. Please send me a job. Please provide for us. I was sending out resumes left and right, desperate to stay in a town we grew to love. Please, God. I won’t ask for anything EVER again. (That never works, by the way).

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But no job came. Instead, a prompting. It was a prompting I shooed away for a solid week before Matt called me one day after his class and said confidently, “We need to move to Seattle.”

And I knew right away he was right because I had been feeling that–very intensely–for a good week. But everything in my body and soul said no. I had no job lined up there, cost of living is ridiculous, all my childhood friends are moved away from there anyway, and Matt was about to be accepted into the Nursing program and wasn’t even close to being done with school. It seemed like an all-around terrible idea.

But two weeks, one U-Haul, and one 14-hour trip (with a bunny cage on my lap) later, we were moving into a room in my parent’s place. Jobless, school-less, penniless.

Why did you ask me to come here?!

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I will never forget asking that out loud, face to the sky. Please, show me soon why I’m here. I’ll go where you want me to go, I remember saying, but I have no idea why it was here.

I never got a clear answer.

But just a few months later I was given a job that taught me so much. And then another one that was even better after that. Matt was accepted into nursing school. I got to be a primary teacher and then a counselor. I met some amazing people who will be friends for life. I learned about who I am when I have nothing. I started my blog. I picked up a camera again for the first time since college and started my photography business. We learned about what it feels like to be on food stamps and the hard work it takes to pay some pretty expensive bills. Six months after moving in my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. Six months after that he was gone. And we were here for all of it.

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It seems pretty clear in retrospect.

That’s how it tends to be in life. Heavenly Father will whisper to our hearts to go somewhere, to do something, to SAY something–and most of the time we stand like statues in the dark, hesitant to take that first step because…what if we fall? His timeline seems long and jagged and his reasons seem crazy most of the time. His will is often deemed unfair and his directions unnerving. And yet faith will allow us to say, “I’ll go”. And we’ll get to a point where we look back and notice that there is never one clear answer from the sky. Rather there is an accumulation of lessons, blessings, mercies, graces, and safety nets along the way.

Just a couple months ago Matt and I both felt like it was time to move out of state again. And this time–go figure–I’m still terrified. But Heavenly Father has this way of surprising us–of giving us a “hey I get it !” moment at the end of it all where we’re so grateful that we just shut up and listened.

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Sometimes going where He asks is scarier than moving states. Sometimes it’s leaving a relationship or leaving a job. Sometimes it’s deciding to serve a mission or deciding not to. Sometimes it’s starting a family. Or a new career path. Or tithing after a hard paycheck and tight budget. But it’s always about moving our feet even when every instinct and every fiber of our being yells, “But why?!”

Because just like the truth that’s echoed in a simple–yet beautiful hymn– He will call me (and you) with that still small voice to places where we do not know. It’ll be dark. And we might never get an answer.

But I hope to always answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine:

I’ll go where you want me to go.
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‘Second chances and forever love’: The winner for the Temple Memory give-away

The give-away that should have ended a couple of weeks ago extended a little while longer simply because I didn’t want the e-mails to stop coming. As I sifted through each and every temple memory sent from people all over the world, I felt the spirit so strongly re-testifying to me the power of the temple and the truthfulness of it all.

I cried through some of them, got chills through most of them, and smiled with all of them simply because the message was the same with every single experience: God lives. And He loves us uniquely and individually.

Because I don’t want to keep such inspirational stories to myself I will be posting several of them for the next couple of weeks, and I hope they’ll touch your heart just as much as they’ve touched mine.

But today I wanted to post the winner for this give-away. It was sent to me from Trent Rogers from California. His story teaches about the journey of finding love again and the healing power of love from our Father in Heaven. Congrats, Trent!

Greetings Kayla,

What a great idea! Your idea to give back to your readers and to let us share some of our own life experiences is wonderful.
Some time ago a friend of mine forwarded a copy of your blog to me to read. It contained some unusual and helpful insight into a problem I was facing at the time. I bet you never thought that your words would resonate with a middle aged man who was divorced and suddenly an empty nester all at the same time. Loneliness and pain felt from losing a relationship or loved one are certainly feelings felt at any age I have found. Your words and the spirit behind them belie a much older soul it seems to me. I am sure you have been a creative and also helpful spirit for a long long time, perhaps even before this life.

Anyway, I wanted to share….

Flashback a few years when I was a man married to a woman I loved but who “loved me but was NOT ‘in love’ with me.
I had wanted to be sealed in the Lord’s Temple for many years but there was always a hesitation or excuse from her. Eventually she left to find another love and I thought perhaps my time was passed for finding that Forever Love. Some time later I had come to California on business and was sitting alone in my hotel room with nothing to do one evening. I got online to look at some LDS dating website that I was not even a member of and I happened upon a profile. I expected it to be a woman from Utah, as this was my own laptop but interestingly it was pulling up people in Southern California. I sent a short message to the woman asking if she wanted to communicate back and get to know one another. Next thing you know I find out she lives in San Diego, two hours south. We both took a leap and jumped….

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The first lunch we met and that simple date lasted for many hours as we exchanged stories…
I went home to Utah and we began a long distance love affair. I returned to California often after that.
On our third date we drove up to Orange County and went to the Newport Beach Temple. What a beautiful and serene ocean-themed place it is. Surely that would be our favorite temple. Several weeks later we attended the San Diego Temple along the I-5 freeway in La Jolla with it’s Disneyland-like spires and amazing glow washing off the evening fog that is so common near the coast. I felt such peace and contentment being in the temple with my new best friend. That temple would surely be our favorite date night temple going forward….

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Well now we fast forward 2 years later. I long ago sold my home in Utah and packed up all my stuff, kissed my grown up kids and friends goodbye and me and my puppy dog took off for California. I am happily married now and me and my wonderful eternal companion have been sealed forever in the latest of our Favorite temples :“The Draper Utah Temple”.

God lives and loves us. It’s the whole reason for Temples.

 

Valentine’s Give-Away! *Enter now!*

Every year I have at least one give-away for my Lemmony readers and friends! But I have to admit that this one takes the cake and I’m SUPER excited about it.

Several months back I was asked to write about my favorite or most cherished temple experience (that I felt comfortable sharing) and include which temple meant the most to me. I’m honored to have been chosen to write for this book compiled and photographed by the amazing Scott Jarvie. It’s now a published work that is showcasing the temples that scatter the United States, giving readers a glimpse inside these beautiful walls through diverse stories, experiences, and testimonies.

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Because I love this book so much and Scott’s photographs are nothing short of stunning, I want to give a free copy ($60 value) to one of YOU as well as showcase YOUR favorite temple memory here on my blog. What better day to give away this book then Valentine’s Day, where we celebrate love and all those cozy feelings? 😉

All you have to do is submit your favorite temple memory to me in essay form, poem, song, *you name it*–and I’ll choose my very favorite, feature it on my blog, and send you your signed copy of “American Temples” by Scott Jarvie.

Submit your temple memory now to kayla.lemmon@ymail.com by February 12th.

I look forward to hearing from you and reading through all of the amazing testimonies.

The temple has changed my life. And I want to hear how it’s changed yours too.

Compliments will NOT hurt your child: My response to a new parenting trend

I never say something after reading one article about a topic– or even two. I usually don’t even touch it if it seems to be a minority opinion that carries little weight. But this article right here was the article that broke the camel’s back and opened the flood gates to my blog. Big surprise there 😉

I’ve already counted about ten writers who have written on the subject of praise and compliments toward children and everything I’ve read has the same opinion. Compliments, they say, can hold a child back. Saying “You’re so smart with math!” can make a child put less effort into that subject. Saying “Wow you look pretty!” can make a child feel that all they’re worth is what they look like.

Yes, you’ve probably guessed it. About right now I’m rolling my eyes.

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And that’s because this new trendy parenting technique is bogus.

No, I’m not a mom yet and many people would probably tell me I don’t have any room to talk or to give pointers. That’s a fair statement, I suppose, but seeing as how I was once a child and I lead a group of children at church and I did my fair share of child rearing with my little sister growing up and my classroom-size of nieces and nephews I have a teeny bit of room to share my thoughts. So here we go.

Don’t follow the trend. Compliment your child for GOODNESS sake. It won’t kill them. It won’t make them toss aside their interests. It won’t make them turn to a life of drugs or sex. It will only let them know they are appreciated and loved and NOTICED. And that has never been unhealthy. It will never be a bad thing to point out a talent, to compliment a new pretty Easter dress, or to spend the car ride home after soccer practice letting your boy know that his kicks are getting so darn good. It has never hurt and frankly never will.

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My favorite part of my growing up was my parents’ ability to always share what they loved about us. My dad would mention how good my reading was and in turn I devoured every book and wanted to be a BETTER reader for him. My mom would tell me how pretty I was and I decided that yes, I was. And so when middle school came and someone said otherwise I didn’t believe it. My grandma, I remember, would sit with me as I wrote stories in my notepad, and she told me I was her favorite writer. And I’ve never stopped writing. I also never let anyone deter me.

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The compliments, some of these articles state, should simply be tailored. Instead of my parents telling me what a great writer I am the writers claim that they should have made a comment about how much effort I put into my writing instead and what a great ambition that is. That’s ridiculous, to put it mildly.

Your kid will never die from kind words. No one ever will.

Compliments in excess, I’ve seen, can harm a child. I’ll admit to that. We should never build children made of egos, entitlement, or pride that makes them peer down their noses at other children. But our words should be crafted to urge them on in their passions and to help mold and shape the self-esteem and confidence that they’ll carry for the rest of their lives.

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Well, there have been studies, Kayla, you might say. It’s right there in black and white that children shrink away from talents and responsibility or feel self-conscious when you compliment or praise them.

And it’s true I’m no psychologist. But what I DO know is that when I tell my neice Rachel that her fiery red hair is the prettiest color I’ve ever seen she tends to glow. When I tell my primary kids that they are amazing listeners, they tend to listen more intently.

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Kids are impressionable, vulnerable spirits that need to be molded and formed in one way or another. The world will try to form them, at some point, when you aren’t looking. The world tell your child she’s fat. The world will tell your boy he runs like a girl or is too skinny to have girls like him. The world will tell our kids that they’re dumb or slow or not as good as the others. They will hear enough from the world.

They need to hear from us first.

And that needs to sound beautiful.