Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011

Its hard to believe its been a year. The year began with a bang--just a few days after our holiday guests went home and as I was putting away the Christmas decorations and cleaning up after the tree, Doug came home late in the morning, angry tears fresh on his cheeks, and told me he didn't have a job. Part of me wanted to freak out, but mostly I felt relieved. I had been half-expecting it for months, and mentally preparing myself for that possibility on a daily basis for weeks. I didn't know what would happen, where to go from that moment, but at least one type of uncertainty was over, and the nature of the uncertainty changed.

That was 361 days ago.

We took a trip to Cal Poly to see what it would take to get Doug's master degree completely, officially finished. It looked to be just in time, and as we pursued that avenue, things kept falling into place just right. While we were over at the coast, we stopped in to visit Doug's dad. The kids had only met him once before, as had I, so we sat and visited with him for several hours and started to get acquainted. Several necessary trips to Cal Poly throughout the quarter gave Doug the opportunity to spend some time with his father, something he hadn't done in a long time.

In the spring we welcomed our little St Patrick's Day baby. I put off the induction in order to make it a little easier for my mom to come for the birth and so that Keira (or Ciara, if you prefer the proper Gaelic) could be a St. Patty's baby, and that almost didn't work. The hospital called 15 minutes before I was about to leave and told me they were slammed and I'd have to wait. I didn't make it to the hospital until lunch time, and the induction seemed to be going as slow as the rest did, and I was pretty sure I would have a March 18th baby. But, at the last minute (or hour, as the case was here), things started to move along quickly and she made it with 50 minutes to spare.

Just before Easter, Doug's grandmother (Katy's mother) passed away. It was not a surprise, as she'd been sick for some time and in that sense it was a relief. Though she has been missed, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to spend some more time with Doug's sisters and their husbands, and listen to them all tell wonderfully funny stories about their grandma's spunky personality.

The kids finished their school year in Lindsay, just as Doug was getting near the end of his time line for school, and it became apparent that he was not going to finish his project by the end of the quarter. Thanks to an understanding and very, very encouraging professor, the project was finished, but most of our summer was eaten up by it.

In the mean time, I was hunting for jobs for Doug, and he applied for quite a few. Nothing. No interviews. No call backs. Fewer and fewer options. School started for the kids, and we started trying to identify what our options were--it was obvious they were getting fewer and fewer. By the fall, we knew something had to give. Our savings dwindling rapidly, no offers forthcoming, we made the decision to move.

Its good to be home.

We spent the month of October cleaning and painting the house, packing and arranging and prioritizing, and then, the first week of November, with all that we could fit into two Dodge Caravans and a Honda Accord, we drove to Montana.

Its nice to be here a couple of months and realize that I wasn't romanticizing Montana and the freedom of the lifestyle--it really is that wonderful. Its nice to realize that I wasn't romanticizing my family because of the distance--I really do like them that much. Lindsay was so good to me, and my in-laws have been such a wonderful blessing, that I didn't realize until I came home just how much I was still living outside my comfort zone the past 7 years. When we left Hawaii, Doug went back to California, but I went to a whole other completely new and unfamiliar place, to a family I barely knew. I feel so much more at ease in so many ways than I have in a long, long time. I've spent a third of my life now somewhere besides here, but its always been home in my heart. Its good to have it again, if only for a little while.

That being said, I do miss my in-laws and my friends. I'm so glad to be with my sisters again, and yet a part of me feels like I'm a few sisters short. Emotionally and socially, my sisters function a lot more like I do than my in-laws do, and that familiarity is comforting, but I also missed the way being so close to my in-laws made me live outside my comfort zone so much--I'm a better person for it, and I'm grateful to have people in my life who push me to be better, who help me to understand and love people so different from myself, and love me even when I fall short.

I've learned a lot this year, and often in uncomfortable ways, but I can't say that I'm unhappy to have learned the lessons. I wish that I hadn't been so terribly disappointed. I wish the disappointment was a surprise. I wish that my friends, some of the people I love, admire and respect the most, hadn't been hurt. But even if we're bruised and tattered a bit, I think we're all standing a little taller for it, and I can't think of better people to have standing at my side. Three years ago when we considered making this move, we very much felt the answer was "Not yet" rather than "No". I now understand some of the reasons we needed to be in Lindsay the last three years, especially this one. Every rough tumble is so completely worth it, feeling so tremendously loved by people that good and decent and likable.

So here we are, a year later, totally broke and still jobless. Still hopeful. We may have a long term plan, if only we can figure out how to live in the short term. We're seriously considering putting Doug back in school one last time, for a Master's Degree in architecture. It would be a long and expensive process. But five years of expense and times (and 20 years of student loan payments) seem a small price to pay in the long run if it means doing what you love, what you're passionate about, for 30 year after that. Am I nuts? I think with time and practice added to his natural abilities and his drive, he could be one hell of an architect. But even if he's only ever average, at least he'll love what he does. He'll be happy. That's what I want for my kids: a daddy who comes home happy because he feels like he's doing something worthwhile and he's enjoying it.

So here's hoping that the lessons of 2012 will be a little less painfully learned than those of 2011. It has not been lost on me this year how many wonderful, amazing blessings we've received. I hope to see things come together for friends and relatives who are in similar circumstances to us. They deserve good things.

We're OK. We have each other, we have our marvelous children, we have amazing families, and we have the very, very best of friends. I thank the Lord for that--in the people he has placed in our lives, he has blessed us more than we deserve.

Happy new year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sunshine

2011 has been a challenging year. But one of the best things about it, hands down, has been welcoming and getting to know our little Keira Bell. In an otherwise sometimes bleak and cloudy year, she has been a ray of soft light. She is mostly mellow, usually happy, and has just enough Irish in her to keep things interesting. She started smiling on purpose at 3 weeks, and hasn't stopped. She's a little sunbeam, a window into eternal blessings at a time when they could've been easy to lose sight of. I'm so very, very grateful that she came to us this year. I've already learned a lot from her.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Perfect

I've been thinking a lot about perfection lately. . .mostly about how far away it is, or seems. In the scriptures the Lord says, "Be ye therefore perfect. . ." Most days that seems like an overwhelming commandment.

I remembered recently that when I was a teenager, my dad told me that another translation of the Hebrew word from whence that term "perfect" comes is "whole" or "complete". As I pondered Christmas this year, that thought kept coming back to me over and over again: whole. I think we've had a lot of feelings of inadequacy, incompleteness at our house this year, trying to figure out how to patch all the holes.

The promise of Christmas is a promise of perfection, of wholeness. The first Christmas was anything but "perfect" as most new mothers would define it--giving birth in a barn, days from home, with little support. The first Christmas was painful, bloody and exhausting. But from that discomfort came a perfect, new little life. The bookend to that life was filled with anguish, blood and exhaustion. But from that blood and anguish came a path to perfection for the rest of us, as incomplete as we now are.

What does a promise of wholeness mean to you? As I talked this evening with my 83-year-old diabetic grandmother who has leukemia and congestive heart failure, I pondered what the promise of wholeness means to her. I thought of a very dear, far away friend, facing the huge daily challenges of raising a profoundly autistic daughter, and pondered what the promise of wholeness must mean to her. I thought of other loved ones who suffer from difficult, and sometimes debilitating, chemical or structural imbalances and pondered what the promise of perfection means to them.

The imperfections in body, mind and spirit are not so obvious with everyone. Some people are good enough at hiding the thin patches that few besides the Savior even know that they're there. But he does know. He knows the fatigue of the supermom who is more tired than she dare tell anyone. He knows the hidden sorrow of the parent who watches their child drift through life, directionless and unfulfilled. He knows the loneliness of the widowed grandparent who isn't sure whether they want to stay or go.

He knows you. He loves you. He can patch the holes. That was the promise given to the world that first Christmas: a Savior who will love you no matter what, who knows you through and through and will bring you comfort and joy, even or especially when you don't know where to find it yourself. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He'll fill in the holes as we work our way through this life--helping us to carry the burdens we cannot carry ourselves, giving us that encompassing, eternal comfort that does not exist apart from him--and someday, through the power of the Atonement, making us completely whole and perfect in ourselves, so that through Him we can gain all that He hath and be His joint heirs in our Father's kingdom.

We have a Father who loves us, who offered His one perfect son as a ransom for our sins and transgressions that we might be made whole and return to Him. How could we refuse such a gift? All he asks in return is a broken heart and contrite spirit--a humble willingness to forsake our sins and follow him. A small price to pay for eternal joy.

His law is love and His gospel is peace. In knowing that, sleep in heavenly peace. Much love and a very merry Christmas.

Becky

Thursday, December 22, 2011

White Christmas

Keilana's favorite Christmas movie is White Christmas. She wakes up at about 6-6:30 every morning, regardless of when she went to bed, and school doesn't start until 8:20 (and we only have to leave about five minutes before that, because we live about a quarter mile from the school) so she watches it almost every morning.

We had a big snow storm about a week after we got here. Then it warmed up and has been snow-less and fall or spring-like for a month. It was starting to look like we would have a greenish brown Christmas. Then in the middle of the night Tuesday night, it started to snow. And kept snowing, for most of the day yesterday. There's several inches of beautiful and, as Dylan put it, "sparkly snow". This morning on the way to the car, he exclaimed, "There's snow everywhere! We'll have a white Christmas after all!!" I'm glad that their first Christmas in Montana is a snowy one.

In the mean time, we are settling in well. Still looking for a job. Sort of trying not to panic on that front, but everything else is going well. Starting to formulate a long-term plan if we can figure out how to get through the short-term. And I will start blogging again soon--its been a busy couple of weeks. We're having a homemade Christmas this year, so I've made three stick horses, two skirts, two purses, three superhero capes, a bow tie, a neck tie, four poinsettia hair pins, three pairs of soft-soled baby shoes/slippers and that's eaten up pretty much all of my time that isn't occupied by baby-wrangling and toddler-chasing.

In case I don't see you again, merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas talk

So. . .moving into a small ward generally means that you're not off the hook for long. Doug and I spoke in Sacrament this past Sunday. Following is more or less the text of my talk.


When we were asked to speak last week, no topics were provided for us. I was tempted to recycle the talk I gave in our last ward just before we moved, but then as we were watching the Christmas devotional last Sunday, something President Uchtdorf said got my mind going, and I decided to follow those thoughts.

He spoke of the gifts that the wise man brought to the Christ child, and the gifts we offer to the Lord. He then spoke of the unfathomable gifts that the Savior offers us and said that this may be the most lopsided gift-giving in the entire universe.

As he spoke, I thought of the little drummer boy. Aside from O Holy Night, my favorite Christmas song has long been “The Little Drummer Boy”—perhaps because I tend to be prone to feelings of inadequacy or smallness, the story of a poor boy with nothing but a drum has always resonated with me. Here he is, brought before not just a king, but the King, told to bring his “finest gifts”, and he feels he has nothing to give that is fit for such a recipient. Yet he steps up and plays his best for the Christ child. And the baby smiles at him. What a marvelous thought. The Savior, who assisted in our creation and knows us intimately, is well aware of what gifts we have and which we don’t. He knows what we are capable of, and he knows better than anyone what we lack. All he asks is that we humbly and willingly offer whatever gifts we have, so long as we offer them with our whole heart.

As we celebrate the Savior’s birth and the marvelous gift of his life, what are the best gifts that we can offer in return for all that he has done for us? As I pondered that, I thought of a remark that was made by one of my loved ones recently. When asked who or what she would be and why if she could’ve been present at the Nativity, she answered that she would like to have been the star—to be a clear, guiding light, so that people could look up and know where they’re going, and that its somewhere good—to know that if they just followed this beautiful light, they would find joy.

I greatly admired the faith and wisdom inherent in that thought. As individuals who have covenanted to take upon us the name of Christ, to do as he would do, this is exactly the gift we should be offering our Savior: to share our testimonies and live as examples to shine his light for those who, wandering in the darkness, are seeking him. We ought to be beacons, shining the light of hope and truth to those who have not yet found him.

All too often, we hesitate to be that light for others. Sometimes that hesitation comes from fear or vanity: we’re afraid that we will be thought simple or foolish or a whole host of other unpleasant things, so refuse to open our mouths or make any bold moves--we hide our candle under a bushel, as it were. Often, that hesitation comes from a different kind of pride: because we know that we are imperfect vessels, we allow the adversary or our own doubts to convince us that we are wholly unworthy ones. We convince ourselves that we can’t possibly have any gifts worthy of the King of Kings and Lord or Lords, because we are poor souls with nothing but a little drum. But the fact is that, though the church has grown by leaps and bounds, less than one half of one percent of the individuals currently living on the earth are members of the church. There is far too much work to be done for us to indulge in self-pity.

At this time of year, as my kids start watching Christmas movies, I always notice how many of them are about belief, about growing cynical with age and losing one’s child-like faith. So many movies set during Christmas are about people wanting to believe in something good—to believe that there is such a thing as purity and selfless love. These movies often carry a theme of homesickness at Christmas, even when you’re home. Too many people are rather blamelessly unaware of the source of purity and selfless love and the resulting joy—they lack the knowledge that much of Christmastime homesickness is a longing for a home we can’t remember, but some part of us knows is there and wants to return to. They don’t understand that that the “spirit of Christmas”, the spirit that inspires them to serve, to give, to be more patient and kind and compassionate, is the spirit of Christ.

In times such as these, that knowledge is so important, because without that understanding, the difficulty of the circumstances that so many people are in causes them to lose their grip on that joy. They don’t entirely understand the source of it, so they aren’t sure how to find it when life gets difficult or messy. There are so many distractions, so many different voices in the world driving people in so many different directions. We ought to speak up more often and more confidently, be a little kinder, a little more thoughtful, a little more patient and giving so that through our testimonies and examples they might find that source of pure joy. We must tend to our testimonies through scripture study and prayer and service so that flame of faith will shine clearly to those who are still wandering in the darkness.

Most of the world is still familiar the story of a little baby lying in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn. But too many people know too little about his life and why it mattered. President Hinckley once said, “There would be no Christmas if there had been no Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.” That’s what Isaiah meant when he said, “Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given. . .” That’s why we celebrate. That’s why we give presents and make cookies and decorate trees. Because the Father gave his son, and the son gave his life.

Many times I’ve pondered the fact that one of the last acts of service the Savior gave, before the ultimate act of service of the Atonement, was to wash his apostles feet. This has always struck me as one of the most humble acts of his singularly humble life. He made lame men walk and blind men see. He healed lepers and raised the dead. These were all incredible acts of service. But what of this act of washing feet? It was not miraculous. There was no glory in this service. It was a dirty, probably most unpleasant job, and the only result was clean feet. But I’m sure hearts were cleansed, as well, as he, the greatest being who ever lived, kneeled at a basin and scrubbed the filthy feet of the men to whom he was teacher and master. If we serve with humble hearts, out of love for Him and those we serve, the Lord will sustain us. It may take a long time to see any results, but He will help us scrape away the dirt and mud and stains to cleanse that which has been dirtied by the world.

That was the Savior’s parting lesson to His apostles: if you would lead people, if you would teach them, if you want them to ever “get it”, you must serve them, humbly and selflessly. As Christmas approaches, we should stop and ask ourselves, “Have I been the friend that I ought to be? Have I given way to anger where prayerful compassion ought to hold sway? Have I given up where something more could be done?” When we are tempted to hide our candle under a bushel, we ought to remember how the Lord served us.

A few years ago, in a powerful address entitled, “And None Were With Him”, Elder Holland said, “I speak of those final moments. . .that concluding descent into paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries out in ultimate loneliness, ‘My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?’

“But Jesus held on. He pressed on. The goodness in Him allowed faith to triumph even in a state of complete anguish. The trust He lived by told Him in spite of His feelings that divine compassion is never absent, that God is always faithful, that he never flees nor fails us. When the uttermost farthing had then been paid, when Christ’s determination to be faithful was as obvious as it was utterly invincible, finally and mercifully, it was ‘finished’. Against all odds and with none to help or uphold Him, Jesus of Nazareth, the living Son of the living God, restored physical life where death had held sway and brought joyful, spiritual redemption out of sin, hellish darkness and despair. With faith in a God He knew was there, He could say in triumph, ‘Father into thy hands I commend my spirit. . .May we stand by Jesus Christ ‘at all times and in all things and in all places that [we] may be in, even unto death’, for surely that is how He stood by us when it was unto death and when He had to stand entirely and utterly alone.”

No one, not even the most righteous and talented and blessed among us, will ever come close to repaying even a fraction of the gift we were all given. But if we can stand confidently and humbly and, like the little drummer boy, “play our best for him”, I do think he smiles at us—that he is pleased with our sincere service. “Unto us a son is given.” Without that, every other gift would be meaningless. With it, every faithful effort is sanctified. In the shadow of the ultimate gift, every other gift seems so small. But by faithful exercise of our agency, we very slowly work towards exaltation, and a chance to bless other lives with knowledge of gifts of eternal value. We each have to start somewhere, even if we’re too poor and inexperienced to offer anything but a pleasant beat on our little drum. He makes up the difference in whatever we lack.

That’s the gift we celebrate this time of year: a Savior, a Redeemer, who does for us that which we cannot do for ourselves, however valiantly we may try. Someone who steps in and pays the price to cleanse us of our sins, make us whole and carry our burdens that would sometimes be too heavy to bear alone. We all know individuals and families who are struggling and tired, and we may not be able to carry those burdens for them, but as our gift to them and to the Lord, we can try to be a guiding light to point them to he who says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. . .in the world, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Truly those are glad tidings of great joy. The angel who announced the Savior’s birth declared, “Peace on earth, good will to men.” We must remember that peace on earth is found person by person, one by one. My Christmas prayer is that as we find peace in the Savior’s love and Atoning sacrifice, we will share that love with those who have not yet known it, that our Father might welcome all his children home.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Countdown

So the other day, a friend was blogging about preparing for Christmas and the ways we keep the right focus and spirit as we do that, and I mentioned that usually (with varying degrees of success in consistency) we read a Christ or Christmas-focused scripture each night in December, and have some kind of activity together (which may or may not have anything to do with the scripture). So I told her I'd blog my scripture list. Its in no particular order, and the scriptures that have particular activities attached to them are noted. I thought that since today is the first of December, I best get it up.

1. 1 Nephi 11:8, 25 (Nephi's description of the Tree of Life) *Put up tree

2. Isaiah 1:18 (tho your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow) *Cut out paper snowflakes

3. John 10:11, 14-16/Luke 2:7 (I am the good shepherd/shepherds tending their fields) *Put candy canes on the tree

4. John 8:12 (I am the light of the world) *Go on light drive

5. Matt 2:11 (Wise men bring gifts)--Letters to Santa/Angel tree gifts

6. John 1:3 (All things made by him) *Pinecone reindeer or other similar craft

7. Micah 5:2 (Savior will come out of Bethlehem) *Watch Nativity Story as a family

8. Joshua 24:15 (as for me and my house, we will serve the lord) *Make gingerbread/graham cracker houses

9. Nephi 2:25 (Men are that they might have joy) *Town tree lighting/hayride

10. John 13:34 (Love one another) *Ward Christmas party

11. D&C 110:3 (Description of Lord's appearance--hair like driven snow) *Q tip snowflake ornaments

12. 2 John 1:6 (If you love me, walk after my commandments) *Footprint reindeer

13. Moses 1:39 (my work and my glory to bring to pass eternal life of man) *Make wreath together

14. Isaiah 9:6 (His name shall be called. . .) *Name subway art (Jesus Christ, Immanuel, Savior, Wonderful, Counselor, etc--let kids write/become familiar with titles)

15. Mosiah 3:8

16. Ps 27:1 (Lord is my light and salvation)

17. Job 19:25 (I know that my redeemer liveth)

18. Isaiah 53:3-5 (he hath borne our sorrows and carried our griefs)

19. 2 John 4:8, 16 (God is love)

20. Helaman 14:2-5

21. John 14:15 (If ye love me, keep my commandments)

22. Ephesians 3:14-15

23. John 16: 27-28, 33 (Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world)

24. Luke 2--read Christmas story and sing "Silent Night"

Feel free to use this with your family if you like, arranging it in whatever way works best for your schedule and the ages of your children. For my non-Mormon friends, you'll have to find a few replacements for Book of Mormon scriptures (or, better yet, just add the BOM to your family scriptures!! :) ).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankfuls

Its hard to know where to even begin with everything I'm grateful for. The list is toooooo long to go over here, so just so you know, what I'm most thankful for every day is

Him,
and his animated eyebrows,
off beat world view
strange pockets of knowledge that catch me off guard
simple pleasures
and his current passion for snow pants
and camo boots;

Her,
and her disarming smile
and the frequency with which she flashes it,
and her Umphrey dimples
and Umphrey ears
and good-natured sociality;

Her,
and her enthusiasm for being alive
her helpfulness with her younger siblings
her love of cold air
and her careful attention to
and understanding of
the things that really matter;

Her,
and her constant desire for affection,
her surety that she can ballet dance,
her confidence
and those beautiful blue eyes
that let me look right into her little soul,
'cause she just puts it all out there;

and Hubby,
of whom I have no recent photos,
for the way he pushes me to be better
in a way I'd never push myself
for the way he makes the kids giggle and squeal
when he plays with them
for his desire to raise his family the right way
and his refusal to accept anything less.

I'm so glad that they're all mine,
and that I'm theirs.
And I'm glad that we're all home.

Parting shot


A couple of weeks before we left, the Ashcrafts invited us over to have dinner, watch the Fresno/Boise game and just hang out. It was wonderful to be able to spend some time like that with them one more time. I love this shot--Clint reading to the little girls. Kylie, who was so terribly, painfully shy as a baby and young toddler, was always comfortable in this house, with these people. She let Emily hold her. This was the first place, other than at home, that she dared wander from my side; when she was about 10 months old, still crying incessantly when left anywhere without me and clinging constantly to my side any time we left the house, she happily toddled off to play with other kids or sit with Clint and Emily. Maybe the Ashcrafts are magic--it sometimes felt that way. Humble, kind and so very much fun, they are some of my favorite people, too.

I realized after we left that I have no pictures of myself with the Tree girls, and very few pictures of them at all. Angie Meik and Emily Ashcraft are sisters, my closest friends in California these last few years, and I felt like their adopted little sister. They loved me so well, and I love that their husbands were Doug's closest friends, and we were all so at ease in each other's company. I miss them already. I miss that their youngest girls were Kylie's best friends. I miss Morgan's quiet insight in Sunday School. I miss Cotter's enthusiasm and help with the younger kids. You don't find friends like these very often.

The Joseph Smith quote has come back to me quite often lately:

“How good and glorious it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just, and true, and whose hearts fail not; and whose knees are confirmed and do not falter… I hope I shall see [my friends] again, that I may toil for them, and administer to their comfort also. They shall not want a friend while I live; my heart shall love those, and my hands shall toil for those, who love and toil for me, and shall ever be found faithful to my friends."

If only I could get them and Montana all rolled together. . .

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Missing auntie manda already

Last night, we went over to Amanda and Tim's to get both vehicles all lubed/brake-jobbed up before we take off on our crazy long drive, and took all the kids so that they could play together one last time.

Just before we left, Amanda asked Kylie if she could have a kiss. Kylie kissed her, and then let out a heavy sigh, and in a melancholy tone (while wearing her famous pouty face) she said, "I'm moving to Montana." Auntie Amanda comforted her by saying, "I know, sweetie, but I think next spring we're gonna come visit you." Immediately her face brightened up and she asked excitedly, "In Montana?!"

She has no idea what bounty awaits her in the form or aunts and uncles and cousins, but she's gonna miss her best friend "auntie Manda" anyway. I'm grateful my children are so well loved.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Saying goodbye

Our plans have changed about four times in the last week or so, but we're finally set. Mom and Michael will be here sometime Saturday, and the kids and I will take off for Utah with them Sunday morning, arriving in Mission sometime Monday evening.

Today, one of my friends hosted a playdate so that we could spend some time with our wonderful mommy friends. I couldn't think too much about leaving this wonderful group of women or I'd just get sick, so I tried to focus on the fact that I'll be near my sisters again. As I gave hugs and said goodbye, I could tell I would be missed as much as I would miss them--it was a wonderfully miserable feeling. Every time the car turned as it was leaving the driveway, all the kids in it would yell "Bye Kylie!!" again. Finally, she said, "Mommy, they keep saying bye to me!" I told her, "I know, Kylie, that's because we're going to Montana and they're staying in California and we won't see them again for a long time. We're not sure when we'll see them again." Suddenly, her eyes got very big, and in a pathetically sad little voice she said, "But we will miss them!" I responded that we certainly would, and she burst into tears. "But Mommy we will miss them!!" Apparently, what moving meant hadn't sunk in for our littlest one til yesterday. It was a pretty sad moment.

But it all made me feel so grateful once again for having been in this particular place at this particular point in time. Sometimes the Lord helps something special to happen--and even if you know that's the case, the "something special" isn't always what you think it is. For a time, however brief, he brought all these families together, and in many respects we felt like a big family. We relied heavily on each other, and were intertwined the way enmeshed families are, sometimes seeing each other 6 or 7 days a week. We learned to see and cherish one another's strengths and be patient with each other's weaknesses. I think we all learned a little better how and why to see those around us as brothers and sisters, fellow children of a divine Father. We welcomed new family members together--both babies and converts--and helped each other to teach and nurture them while struggling with our own shortcomings. We've learned more Christlike love through the way we have loved and been loved by each other. What lesson could be more important than that?

The Lord gathers his people and he scatters his people. Both are difficult for different reasons, both have their blessings, as well, and I don't pretend to understand all his reasons for doing either. I'm simply grateful to have been a small part of this gathering, to better understand the line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". This Thanksgiving as I enjoy dinner with my whole, big, wonderful family, I will also think of my many wonderful friends in California, and truly be filled up with gratitude for the abundance with which the Lord has blessed me.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

For the record. . .

I've been having trouble not focusing on all the things I'll miss about California, like:

Disneyland
Monterey (and the fact that I never got to take the kids to the aquarium)
Sacramento (the train museum, Old Town, etc)
the smell of fresh oranges
the giant trees
the beach
In N Out
See's Candies
dual immersion schooling (such mixed feelings there)
all the orchards--almonds, olives, oranges, lemons, pomegranates, walnuts, pistachios, etc.
that first smell and sight of ocean driving over 41 or 168


that I decided to help myself make this adjustment, I have to remember all the things I definitely will NOT miss, like:

black widow
cockroaches
the dairy smell
fall that barely arrives at all, and usually not until November
the blasted heat
the winter fog
over-intrusive bureaucracy everywhere
pathetically failing school
sales tax
personal state income tax
ridiculously expensive vehicle registration fees
listening to people peel out of Fast Strip all hours of the day and night
politics (granted, this may be a short-term relief, since small towns can be like this anywhere, but I'm grateful for the break)


There are a lot of other things that could go on these lists, but its a start.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My sisters are amazing

They really are some of the most generous, thoughtful people I've ever known. When I was a little girl, I looked up to them a lot. I'm glad to say that, in so many ways, I was right. :). Hopefully someday I will be able to repay everything they've done for me, and for my family. It's hard to leave here, but it's a lot easier when I know that these are the kind of people I'm going home to.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Be Still

We were asked to speak this last Sunday, as what the Bishop referred to, somewhat hilariously, as a "parting shot". Following is the text of my talk.


When Brother Cregor asked us to speak, he extended the wonderful blessing and burden of choosing our own topics. We’ve been preparing to move, and I’ve had such conflicting emotions about this decision, and have had so much to get done and been reflecting so often on our time here in Lindsay, its been difficult to get my mind to slow down enough to focus on anything.

We moved here 5 ½ years ago, when Keilana was not quite 2 and Dylan was only 6 weeks old, and nearly all of the time that has passed for us here has been tremendously intense, in every possible way: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. There’s been a lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of fun and a lot of hard stuff, but just A LOT. So often I have found myself thinking, “When is this going to slow down? What am I supposed to be learning here?” Having my mind race and my spirit agitated so that I can’t focus has been a common challenge for me during the time that we lived here, as we faced many, usually unexpected, challenges.

As I thought about that, two experiences I had with different nephews came to mind. Many years ago, my brother and his very young wife were living in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he was stationed with the army. Both of them were living away from their families for the first time, when they welcomed their oldest son, Jeriah Daij, into the world. He was small, only 5.5 pounds, but healthy and beautiful. A day later, as they were checking out of the hospital to head home, their tiny baby began to seize violently in his mother’s arms. After rushing the baby across town to a private hospital where he could receive specialized care, his frightened young parents were told that he had spinal meningitis and that a baby as young as he was had almost no internal defenses developed to help fight the infection. It was highly unlikely that he would live, but if he did, he would probably be deaf, paralyzed, and mentally challenged, among a whole host of other maladies. This past summer, that baby turned 11. He is smart and healthy and strong—in fact, a few weeks before his 11th birthday, he completed a grueling hike, with his dad, uncle and older cousins, that has been known to sometimes get the better of grown men. There is nothing today to indicate that he was ever sick.

As most of you know, we faced a tragedy in our family a few years ago. Seared into my memory is a warm, sunny Friday afternoon where in five minutes time the whole world seemed to turn sideways as my sister-in-law told me over the phone that Conner, her beautiful, sweet young toddler, has toppled into a small backyard pool and drowned and was in the hospital. Eleven hours after I received her phone call, I received a second one from my mother-in-law at the hospital telling me that Conner had slipped away.

I reflected on these incidents and thought, “I could spend my whole life asking, ‘Why?’ Why is Jeriah a happy, healthy 11-year-old, but we had to say good bye to Conner?” Both boys were given Priesthood blessings, were prayed for by large, loving families. I could spend my whole life asking, “What lesson are we supposed to learn here? What could we have done differently?”

Many individuals and families do torture themselves with such questions: “We had FHE, we said our prayers, we were diligent in our callings, so why have our children gone astray? I have been a good and faithful friend, who has tried hard to be kind and patient, why has my trust been broken? I have been a devoted and caring spouse, why has our family fallen apart? I have been a hard worker, diligent and wise in trying to provide adequately for my family, so why can’t I find work? And so often, the question that follows these is “What am I supposed to be learning?” In many respects, this is a very valid question to ask, but often we ask it as we look for that little treasure of knowledge that will magically release us from this or that trial, because now we’ve learned what we needed to learn and we can move on. While we should always be actively seeking to know what the Lord would have us learn, that simply isn’t how life works.

I’ve come to understand that often the lesson we need to learn is to simply be still and know that He is God—that he is over all, and he has his reasons. This doesn’t mean that we sit around and wait for the Lord to run our lives. Always there is much to be done, and we can and ought to be anxiously engaged, as the Lord has instructed. But our souls should be still. As a wonderful hymn says, “Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side/With patience bear your cross of grief or pain/ Leave to thy God to order and provide/In every change, he faithful will remain/Be still my soul/ Thy best, thy heavenly friend/ Thru thorny ways/leads to a joyful end”. Thru all the trials and troubles and busyness of life, we must learn to discipline our souls to be still, to be at peace, “In every change, he faithful will remain”. Everything in life is temporary. Mortal life itself is temporary, and often wildly unpredictable. He only is constant and unchanging. He never leaves us alone, and ultimately he is over all—we must learn to trust more completely and more readily in that, and so be at peace.

When the apostles were tossed about by the waves of the sea, they were afraid they would drown as the Lord slept. They went to their Master and asked, “Carest thou not that we perish?” The Lord was more mindful of their circumstances than they had realized, as he spoke those quiet, powerful words, “Peace, be still”—perhaps as much a loving rebuke to his apostles as to the powerful sea. Why should they fear when the Lord was with them? Yet, too often we do the same thing, finding ourselves rocked by the storms of life, we forget that we have the Lord as our companion, and don’t think to ask for his help until we turn to him in a panic and practically shout, “Why are you letting my drown?” We forget that if we exercise faith in him, he can calm any storm. He is always aware of the challenges we face and is ready to help us, if only we remember that he’s there and have the humility to seek him.

Yet we must also strive to have the kind of faith displayed by Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego as they faced King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. They declared that they were not afraid because they knew that the Lord had the power to deliver them from the flames, “but if not”—if they perished in the furnace--they would remain faithful to the Lord. We too must trust in the Lord, that he has the power to deliver us from any fire, but that if he doesn’t, he has a wise purpose for letting us struggle, and we ultimately will come off conquerors through him that loved us. So much in life is beyond our control. It is not, however, beyond his control.

“In the world ye shall have tribulation,” he said, “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Our sorrows, our pains and our troubles are temporary. Through the Atonement, he will make everything right in the end. Sometimes we get relief and see a little more of the big picture in this life, but sometimes we don’t. We have to remember that that’s OK, because we know that even the end of this life is not the end. The Atonement is infinite and eternal. The Plan of Salvation shows to us a Father above who is more patient, more merciful, and more loving than most people would ever dare to guess. He wants us to succeed. He wants us to become like Him. Its just that getting there is an awful lot of hard work, and in the mean time we can’t control the agency of others, and the Lord will certainly not usurp the agency of his other children for our convenience. We must trust in the Lord, and trust in the covenants we have made with him. He will honor all that he has promised us if we will but strive to be faithful to him.

Instead of asking “why?” we should more often ask, “what?” “What blessings has the Lord given me to help me weather this storm?” In my case, it has been true over and over again the last few years that one of the most valuable blessings the Lord has provided for me is marvelous friends. CS Lewis once wrote, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” I believe that God knew the challenges we would face, and knew we would need help and so he armed us with faithful, loving friends. The Lord instructs us to “Let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.” I am humbled by the extent to which so many in this ward have shone the light of Christ into my life.

Christ-like friends not only help us weather life’s storms, they help us to do so cheerfully and to be a better person for it. The Prophet Joseph Smith, who walked a very stormy path, often spoke of how he valued the love and support of his friends. He once wrote, ” “How good and glorious it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just, and true, and whose hearts fail not; and whose knees are confirmed and do not falter, while they wait upon the Lord. . .They shall not want a friend while I live; my heart shall love those, and my hands shall toil for those, who love and toil for me, and shall ever be found faithful to my friends.”

I am so sad to leave, because I won’t have the opportunity to begin to repay so much of the Christ-like charity that has been extended to me and to my family. When we came here, I never imagined that it would be so hard to leave. Though five years is a small measure of time, the things that we have learned during our years here have had a huge influence on my eternal perspective and I am certain we have made more than a few friends who will have had an eternal impact on us.

The Lord commands us to be perfect. When I was a teenager, my father once told me that an alternate translation of the Hebrew word for “perfect” is “complete” or “whole”. I thought about that as I remembered my first night in Lindsay 5 ½ years ago. We stopped at Save Mart on the way home to grab something to eat because we were living in a tiny rental house out in the country and didn’t have a refrigerator yet and all our stuff was still in boxes and I didn’t know anyone and the whole place was new to me and I was sitting in the car in the rain listening to my baby cry and I thought, “What am I doing here? I don’t want to be here!” I was a tumult of emotions inside—at that moment, I lacked so very much, I was so terribly incomplete. But as I put my faith in the Lord, I quickly found that over and over again, usually through the actions of caring friends, I heard the Lord quietly whisper, “Peace, be still.” The Lord helped me move a little closer to being whole by providing friends who are strong where I am weak.

As so many in the world run to and fro in search of peace, blown about by every wind of doctrine and frantically trying to find some even ground on which stand, we can be still, be boldly immovable in the surety that the Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior, brother and friend, and never flees nor fails us. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord said, “Therefore, fear not little flock; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. . .Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” The Lord is on our side, then why should we fear?

Monday, October 24, 2011

On the other hand

My almost-three-year-old has been annoying for entirely different reasons. This morning I dozed off while nursing the baby (we had a late night last night) and when I woke up, I found her "making cocoa" with baby formula and the Magic Bullet. I'd probably be more annoyed about the expensive baby formula, except that my baby tends to go on hunger strikes when I'm not around, so we don't use much of it anyway.

This evening, I found Kylie in my bedroom with a spatula, whisk, salad tongs and a wooden spoon, huddled next to a giant smear of toothpaste (oh yeah, and the toothpaste tube) "making soup".

She's been cooking a lot lately, and its getting steadily more messy and destructive. Good thing its almost November: she can put her enthusiasm to good use helping her Yaya make some Thanksgiving pies. (Well, I mean, I could make some, too, but moving back in with my mom means I don't have to cook anymore, right? Right? Hhahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Ha. Just kidding).

No really, just kidding.

I'm going to have my husband kill me some trout and deer, and then I'll make some dry meat and fashion us some killer mountain-wear out of the skins. The trout skins, of course. We'll throw out all those useless deer hides.

Priorities

All day long
I've been muttering under my breath
about how I don't have time
for my baby to decide
that she's not going to nap today,
or cry any time I'm not holding her
or sometimes even if I am.
I was really quite irritated about it.
So when she started throwing up,
I started feeling like a real schmuck.

Monologuin'

So I was standing in the bathroom with Kylie while she did her thing, and the following monologue ensued, while a longish zip tie served as her prop.

"Mommy, my daddy died."

I shook my head with a confused look on my face.

"No, Mom, I'm pretending my dad died.
But he's going to come back to life.
[She holds the zip tie up, fashioned into a rough oval shape.]
I'm going to bring him back to life with this.
But Dylan is my dad.
Yeah, Dylan is the dad
and Keilana is the mom
and I am the son.
I am the good son.
But I am not a boy.
I am Michelle.
I am going to be a turtle.
But I'm not a turtle,
I'm just Michelle,
I'm the daughter.
Keira, you are the boy, you are going to be the son
you can't be a turtle,
you are too big to be a turtle.
Mom, I'm going to walk to my house,
yeah, I'm going to walk to the house because I'm the son.
Ok, Mommy, lets go walk to your house."

Up she jumped and scampered off in her pigeon-toed, drunken sailor run.

She really doesn't need anyone to have a conversation with, she just sort of talks and talks and talks regardless of whether or not anyone actually responds.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Busy

We're making good progress, but packing a whole house is a lot of work. The kids are being pretty good, but they've been mostly locked up inside with orders to "Don't touch that!" "Get out of that room!", etc. I didn't realize that perhaps we'd been a bit too occupied with all these decidedly non-fun tasks until yesterday afternoon. I had busted up an old piece of junk dresser into small pieces to haul to the dumpster, and we let each of the kids carry a small chunk out as we carried the bulk of it, and as we were walking back to the house, Dylan happily exclaimed, "We went together as a family!"

You know life's gotten a bit funky when walking trash to the dumpster together is the extent of your family activities.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Starting Over

We're headed to Montana in about two weeks. I don't know where we'll end up in the long run, but I'm almost positive it won't be California.

I have such terribly conflicting emotions about all this. Obviously, I'm excited. I love western Montana and I'm grateful that we'll be able to be close to all of my family, at least for a time. I'll get to let my kid regularly go wild outside, and we'll go sledding and cut our own Christmas tree and have Sunday dinners with the family. Hopefully this summer we'll go hiking and go to powwow and Good Ol' Days. I am bursting with excitement over that.

And I'm tremendously sad. The other night, just after we put the kids to bed, we heard a strange noise, so Doug walked into their room and asked Keilana what it was. She got very quiet and was sort of turned away from him, so he said, "Keilana, I'm talking to you, so talk to me. What was that?" She turned to face him and said, in a sad, shaky little voice, "I'm excited to go to Montana and see Yaya and my cousins, I'm just going to miss my friends." Doug assured it that it was OK to be sad, because we were really going to miss our friends, too. On Sunday, I kept thinking there must be some way to take our ward with us. The kids are all having a bit of a hard time, as the house gets emptier and moving day gets closer. Their whole lives are about to change completely.

So are mine and Doug's. I'll have to figure out how to fit our family into the already established routines and relationships of the extended family. It will probably affect the dynamics of my kids' relationships with each other, as they are so used to spending so much time with just each other, just the three of them. We have to develop whole new routines and habits. We'll be so very, very far away from Mimi and Papa. We'll probably miss them most of all. The four of us have grown quite close over the course of the last five years, and even with all the wonderful family we'll have up in Montana, it will certainly feel like there's a hole in our hearts at having them so far away. I wish that our families lived a little closer so that my kids (and I) could spend a lot of time with both sets of grandparents.

If I think about it too long, I just get sick. So instead, I'm trying to focus on all the work I have to get done (anyone who wants to help is more than welcome to come pack and paint), and on all the good stuff: best friends who are cousins, a white Christmas, that whole hazy line between backyard and wilderness thing, spending a lot of time with my mom, soaking up time with my grandma.

In the mean time, I'm trying not to think too much about how much I'll miss the Meiks, Ashcrafts, Hunters and Cregors, or how much we'll miss our family here, or about not being able to take a weekend trip to Monterey or Disneyland or Sacramento. Having a lot of people in your life to love is wonderful, but it also makes some decisions a lot harder,