Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Evening in Excellence and the question of balance

November came in with a bang.  It started out with a week that I thanked my lucky stars when it was over.

Like, really, I was almost giddy when Sunday night came to a close, and I got to lay in bed and snuggle close to Dave and exclaim how happy I was that it was all OVER.

I know that sounds all dramatic, especially since most of the happenings were really GOOD things.  But it felt like my heart was on continual racing speed, which meant I was impatient with the kids and Dave and also myself.  Yes, there were good things happening...except one that was pretty heart-breaking.  And another one that made me a little stressed out (I had to give the keynote speech at a women's conference which, although it makes me nervous, rejuvenates me in the end because I learn so much...more on that later).

Maybe my anxiety about that one heart-wrenching thing I won't go into detail about infiltrated into the planning and execution of the rest of the things going on and that was what had me on edge. But sometimes it's ok to just be glad that even the great things in life are morphing into a golden-stranded memory in your "vault" right?

All that mumbo jumbo may sound like I'm talking in code, and maybe I am just a little, because even though I'm kind of an open book, some things are not the best to share on a blog.  I'll just say that sometimes the realization of what's coming up in the future when you're dealing with an unknown future with a special needs child can be physically painful.

But let's shift and look on the bright side right here, right now, because one of the first things that hit that week was Evening in Excellence for Young Women.

And it was pretty beautiful and drenched in goodness.

In the title of this post (which I know, it's taken me forever to get to), I mentioned "the question of balance" because I was thinking about it a lot leading up to the big day.  Sometimes in this church of ours it's easy to start from a simple plan and somehow that simplicity morphs into this:

That, my friends, is not so simple.

Because think of the manpower to transport all those chairs and tables to that home and invite all those people and string all those lights (which were being put up for a wedding that weekend, not just for this just FYI, we aren't that fancy:) and find all those tablecloths, and assign all those talks, bring drinks and desserts, and also make the best video (my friend Ashley has got talent I tell you!)  Not to mention the hard work the girls put into making their posters.

No, that was not so simple.

My group of leaders was in charge, and from all our best intentions for "low-key" those pictures up there are how we ended up.  The counselor in charge found this idea on Pinterest: http://www.peekaboophotos.com/evening-in-excellence-personal-progress/ and we used it for our base.

When you divide up all the tasks it makes things so much easier but somehow we women still make it a little complicated, right?  What's our deal?  My only job was to take the pictures of the girls (and help set up) but even a simple thing like that takes some time when you have nearly fifty girls to track down (luckily I did most at church, but we have a whole slew of new families in our ward so it took some legwork to get a portion of those).

I have to admit it was the best job, though, because check out these glowing faces.



I could go on and on with more and more of those beautiful faces, but suffice it to say that honestly, these girls just glow with beauty from the inside and I'm so grateful I get to work with them!

This year the boys volunteered to help.  

Since the girls support them on their scouts and other projects, the Young Men organization decided they wanted to be involved and support the girls too.

They went around with their leaders the night before gathering all the tables and chairs that we needed.

I love this picture even though it's blurry because these cute boys were lined up greeting the girls, handing out programs.
(the idea was for them to escort the girls to their seats which didn't happen, but hey, the greeting thing was pretty sweet.)

This is how it looked when they walked in:
(after much decorating from the leaders, and much work on all those great posters the girls made showing which part of Personal Progress they have been working on.)


 Everyone walked around checking out all the posters displayed...


 ...then we settled in for the program.
And do you know what?

The spirit was there loud and clear.

I sat in the midst of those sparkling lights and shining faces and I gotta admit I felt a little guilty for begrudging (just a little bit) the fanciness of it all.

Because not only did the beauty in the air there touch me, it for sure touched the girls.
And that's what matters.

Because I believe those feelings that come at times like this help them (and us leaders too) gain faith, and belief and the roots of a testimony become stronger.  Which brings a closer relationship with Christ.

And if we have a strong relationship with our Savior, things in life just seem to make sense...the bad and the good all wrapped up together.
Sure, that spirit can be brought in with simplicity as well as with fanciness, on a street corner or at the grocery store just as powerfully as in a church or a temple.

I don't know what the balance is between simplicity and over-the top-ness...perhaps I never will.  

But I do know that it was the spirit was there quite mightily that night in my friend's glittering back yard reflecting the glow of all those beautiful faces I love so much.

24 comments:

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  2. I'm always looking to strike the balance as much as possible. I served a few years ago as RS President and was so lucky to have as my first counselor an amazing woman who had just returned home from Peru with her husband as mission president. She was instrumental in teaching me that in other places in the world they don't care about Pinterest and all the fluff. We ran things very simply, but well planned and executed. I loved it as I had six kids at home at the time and wanted to focus on them and more on ministering. But there were women who loved that stuff and I made sure to include them any time we had a big event. At this point in my life I'm all about keeping things simple. I don't have the energy I used to when my kids were little. I feel our leaders have given us permission to keep things simple which is great for women like me.

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    1. I love this. And you reminded me of one thing I came to the conclusion of after this evening that I didn't mention: we are all in different stages and coming from different backgrounds and experiences and I LOVE that we can learn from each other. I love what you learned from that woman freshly returned from Peru, especially in that stage of life with six little kids when simplicity was key.

      I love that I have learned important lessons like that in life, both from those who keep it simple and also those who love to add a little more flair. There are so many wonderfully creative people in the world who can whip things up quite magically, and it becomes such a gift to so many others. My sister-in-law is like that. Her brain works in such a way that she can hold a baby on her hip, show some love to a clingy toddler, and whip up the most amazing table decorations all simultaneously. Her creations are not simple, but they bring her, and those she generously shares them with, a lot of joy.

      I think what can be pretty amazing is how much we learn from others when we're paired together trying to make things like an Evening in Excellence work. We have some pretty talented women in our Young Women program and I love that although I get overwhelmed with details sometimes, these women don't. They know how to pull off "magical" and love doing it. In contrast, my friend was in charge of this same event in her neighboring ward a couple weeks earlier and it was uber simple. But it had the same effect bringing in the spirit. I think it's pretty cool that every ward leadership does it so differently, yet each can be beautiful in it's own way.

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    2. Shawni this is so beautifully said and so very true! I just want to give you a cyber hug and tell you how much I adore you and your blog! This is one of your many gifts- "to make the world more beautiful" through your blog (love that quote from one of our favorite children's books "Miss Rumphius". You touch so many lives in your own unique inspired way. I love how each of us are different. This reminds me of my own Evening in Excellence I was in charge of as a little young woman. Definetely not fancy but I tried and put a ton of effort into it :) I still remember 15 years later the spirit I felt and particular lessons learned that night! I just have to say as I'm about to doze off and say goodnight to a messy house - your heart is so beautiful thank you for being you!

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    3. Shawni this is so beautifully said and so very true! I just want to give you a cyber hug and tell you how much I adore you and your blog! This is one of your many gifts- "to make the world more beautiful" through your blog (love that quote from one of our favorite children's books "Miss Rumphius". You touch so many lives in your own unique inspired way. I love how each of us are different. This reminds me of my own Evening in Excellence I was in charge of as a little young woman. Definetely not fancy but I tried and put a ton of effort into it :) I still remember 15 years later the spirit I felt and particular lessons learned that night! I just have to say as I'm about to doze off and say goodnight to a messy house - your heart is so beautiful thank you for being you!

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    4. Thank you Mindy! That means so much to me, sending a cyber hug right back :)

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  4. Shawni,

    It looks like you had a beautiful activity.

    We just wrapped up our Evening in Excellence as well. Although I only live a 30-40 minute drive from you in Central Phoenix, our group of Young Women look very different than yours.

    One half of our girls join us from our partnering Spanish branch while the other half of the group consists of beautiful Polynesian girls, Pakistani refugees, and girls displaced from their nuclear families and either living with relatives or in the foster care system. It is a diverse group.

    I love where I live and who I serve with. One big reason why is that the humility of those around me helps me cut through the fluff of church culture and programs down to the core simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    An activity as extravagant as yours would have just been inappropriate in my setting.

    It seems as though you are looking for reasons to justify simplifying and getting back to basics in your church service.
    Here. I just gave you a permission slip.

    Consider the following:

    The purpose of the YW program is first to bring the girls to Christ. You don't need sparkling lights or an elaborate video presentation to do that. Our YW and leaders all felt the spirit deeply in our humbly decorated primary room when a sweet girl in our group (in foster care) got up holding nothing but her scriptures and journal and shared with us what she had learned about her Divine Nature. With absent parents she testified that she knew that she has a Father in Heaven who loves her. No fancy posters needed there.

    Secondly, YW is a leadership training program for the girls. Of course, you all did a beautiful job on the reception that you put on and your girls undoubtedly learned some great tips and tricks about party planning.

    But perhaps setting the bar so high on non-essentials has undesirable consequences. As you well know, even the bare minimum service in this calling takes significant time away from your family. As a young mom with 4 kids (ages 4, 6, 8, 10) it would be a huge strain for me to serve if I lived by you and was expected to put on such a reception for our YW. Your own daughters and Young Women will be serving in church callings and on missions in a handful of years. What overwhelming expectations might they be developing for themselves? What strain might they unnecessarily put on their own families?
    Hopefully those girls will have a chance to live outside of densely LDS populated Utah, Gilbert, Mesa at least once in their lives so that they can filter through the excess for themselves.

    Stick to your guns when your planning meetings get out of control. In the end we all want to provide beautiful lessons and activities for our girls but it is also healthy to step back and remember (and teach our girls!) that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can stand on its own two feet. No fanciness or twinkling lights required.

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    1. Great thoughts. It is so interesting that while the gospel is the same everywhere in the whole wide world (I have felt the same spirit in a little crumbling building in India as I have in the beautiful church building/temple in New York City at Lincoln Square), the church culture varies so much even from town to town.

      I sure hope it didn't come across that I didn't appreciate all the work that went into our evening in excellence night. That was definitely not my intention. I just think it's interesting to ponder the balance of it all. Not only in church, but in life in general. I hope it came across that although I'm a pretty simple person, I really appreciated those creative people I work with especially that night because they had a vision, made assignments that were not overwhelming to the rest of us (and I LOVED that I wasn't in charge...is that bad?:), and it all came together quite beautifully.

      So interesting how we all live in very different corners of the world, even when we're practically neighbors, but that we can learn from each other and bloom where we're planted and appreciate all the good that comes in each instance. I just wish there was a way to mix up our wards and have these girls learn from each other some how! Maybe I'll have to come visit...your ward sounds wonderful!:) I think you're so right that the purpose of this whole Young Women program is to help the girls develop relationships with Christ. So many different ways to do that! I have confidence that these girls in both our wards will serve in church callings in the future wherever they may be and be able to draw strength from what they have learned at church from the women who lead and love them right now.

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    2. I love this post and this reply. You're so gracious and thoughtful. Thank you.

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    4. Wow Mega! That was beautifully and thoughtfully said!!! Well done. It sounds like you are doing truly wonderful work in Central PHX! Like Shawni, I'm not sure I understand why your church segregates so much. Seems like the girls in Gilbert could learn a lot my knowing your girls and participating in their events and vice a versa? Do you leaders have the power to make that happen?

      I think the reality is that moms in Gilbert who planned this even have time for all this fluff and find it fun. It's not so much about the girls or what the girls need or event want. A big part of this church calling seems to be about filling a need, or creative outlet, of the moms. Like Shawni mentions about her SIL; the mom gets a big benefit from doing something she enjoys and is good at.

      Just think what these woman could do if they turned this energy into something like getting the vote out, or fighting for great public schools for ALL children, or supporting families with special needs.

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    5. Hi Jenny! The church creates "wards" according to where you live, and because each area comes with varying demographics, needs in different wards vary as well. I agree, it would be really cool to figure out ways to mix it up sometimes! But the bottom line is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the same everywhere. It is the "Good News" that God loves us and we are His. I love when people join to do their best with the talents they bring to the table. Just because someone is creative in decorating and finds joy in that doesn't mean they would be great at getting people to vote or fighting for things needed in the schools. I think we ALL need to work on those things regardless of our talents.

      Everyone has different ways to bring light into the world, and I hope we can all appreciate every person who strives to reach out and serve others in any way they choose, even if it's different from how we might do it. Whether it is helping to create a beautiful event to help girls feel the spirit or volunteering at a homeless shelter, we are serving our brothers and sisters in the gospel, and spreading goodness and kindness. And I believe that love is what life is all about.

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  5. It looked beautiful and its a once a year event that I know the girls will remember...as long as you don't kill yourself in the process.
    I can't wait to hear about the conference you spoke at. My good friend marci was the lady in charge. I told her you would be amazing. She told me you were out standing and that she could have listened to you all night !

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    1. Oh I love that you know Marci, she is amazing! She and the other leaders did such an excellent job pulling off that evening. That was another one I was in awe of because it was so beautifully orchestrated! I know so much work went into every detail from communicating with the presenters to the dinner that was served with beautiful centerpieces. Those women may have felt a little frazzled by the end of the evening after all their work, but I know that they probably went home with such full hearts because their service affected so many women in such a wonderful way! I sure left completely rejuvenated and I was so very grateful!

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  6. I have a special needs child. It is a roller coaster of emotions on a daily basis. "The future" is so hard when some days it seems we can barely get through a day- I just want to say "I feel ya". Stay strong! You are a great Mom.

    As for the YW in excellence...you are the leader- your program to do with whatever you choose. It's beautiful, and I am sure the girls loved it!

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  7. Hi Shawni, I'm the step-mother of a girl with special needs and I feel your struggle. This school year has been exceptionally challenging already; we're almost 3 months into Grade 6 and in some ways my girl is really slipping backwards. It has been incredibly difficult for her mum, her dad and I, even though we have excellent supports through her school. I'm sure you've heard this all before, but don't be afraid to reach out for help for yourself and Dave. All too often, we caregivers give so much of ourselves to everyone else in our lives (our families, friends, religious communities, work) and there is little left for us to care for ourselves. Practice good self-care, take time for yourself, and with just Dave.

    And please don't feel like you need to share everything here; you seemed apologetic about that. You are a very open book, and you seem to be very philosophical about the judgey comments that people feel the need to post, but we as your readers are not entitled to every detail of what is happening in your family's life. Share as you see fit.

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  8. On the other side of things, we live in a ward where the youth programs do not get much attention. For example, our YWs president has decided just to skip YW in Excellence this year. Most of our activities are "planning nights" or "game nights" where the youth and the leaders show up without having done any preparation or work. As much as your YW in Excellence evening could seem over the top, I couldn't help getting teary when I thought of how loved my daughters would have felt being a part of that program versus what they are experiencing now, which is a lack of love and attention. I just wanted to point out that we shouldn't be critical of those who are consecrating their lives and their time to others, even if what they choose to do seems extravagant. I am trying not to be critical of the youth leaders in our ward, though it seems like they are doing little to help build up our kids. I want to be understanding and assume they are doing the best they can, but it is sometimes hard.

    I think the Lord knows our hearts and consecrates our efforts when we have the youth in mind and are reaching out to help them feel loved. I wished very much as I looked at this post that my daughters could have even a fraction of such a special night where their amazing qualities and efforts could be celebrated. Thanks for sharing!!!

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  9. I enjoy all of this - i enjoy making things as besutiful as i possibly can with the talents i have been given. Because i enjoy it i thrive and feel like i have done well and my best efforts. Others this is not their area and they enjoy other pursuits and have other talents. I think its nice to do the best with what you have and make the girls feel special. There is no expectation on leaders and therefore no expectation on the girls its just whatever leader that has currently been called and the talents they bring at that time for that season of young women coming through. Its ok to be low key and its ok to do something else as well. Obviously this is because we are doing our best. Most of the time each event is so well thought of and with many prayers over and over said that the inspiration for such ideas is what is needed for this time and these girls, other situations don't promt such ideas and inspiration to come because it was not what was required for whatever reason.

    I like the reminder the work is to give all our time and all our talents to the building up of the kingdom in whichever way you feel that means to you. Building up teenage girls in such an ugly harsh world today is defenitely ok in an extravagent pretty dedicated way like what was done here. Everyones views are different but encouragement for having done your best is most appropriate.

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  10. I enjoy all of this - i enjoy making things as besutiful as i possibly can with the talents i have been given. Because i enjoy it i thrive and feel like i have done well and my best efforts. Others this is not their area and they enjoy other pursuits and have other talents. I think its nice to do the best with what you have and make the girls feel special. There is no expectation on leaders and therefore no expectation on the girls its just whatever leader that has currently been called and the talents they bring at that time for that season of young women coming through. Its ok to be low key and its ok to do something else as well. Obviously this is because we are doing our best. Most of the time each event is so well thought of and with many prayers over and over said that the inspiration for such ideas is what is needed for this time and these girls, other situations don't promt such ideas and inspiration to come because it was not what was required for whatever reason.

    I like the reminder the work is to give all our time and all our talents to the building up of the kingdom in whichever way you feel that means to you. Building up teenage girls in such an ugly harsh world today is defenitely ok in an extravagent pretty dedicated way like what was done here. Everyones views are different but encouragement for having done your best is most appropriate.

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  11. WOW! I just have to say this is amazing! Great post and interesting insights and additions in the comments that followed. Loved your follow-ups! It's such a tightrope walk to figure out how to get your balance!

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  12. I so admire the way you carry yourself & the respect you show to your readers, Shawni! I believe that there is a time & a place for both types of activities (the "fancy" and the "super simple")...obviously based on the time & talents available to each ward. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. It is beautiful! ❤️

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