Sunday, December 29, 2013

Closing the door. . .

Its been a long couple of weeks, and by this morning I was not in a very good mood.  Actually, I was a downright grump this morning.

But yesterday, on a bit of a whim, we did some rearranging.  At the top of the stairs in this house is a large common area of sorts--bigger than most bedrooms, smaller than most living rooms--that, since we moved in, has served as our "bedroom", because we were pretty sure that it was the only place our big king-sized bed would fit.  There were two bedrooms off to one side, and one "bedroom" (which was awkwardly designed, had pipes and hook ups all over, and was attached to the main bathroom, so it serves as our laundry room/communal closet) off to the other side, and so there were constantly kids in or moving through our "bedroom".  So, we dismantled one set of bunk beds and moved the girls into the big open space (giving everyone much more room to play upstairs), and moved our bed into their bedroom.  There's not much room around the bed in any direction, but it fits.  And we can close the door.

So this afternoon after church, we did.  We closed the door, and talked for nearly 4 hours with (almost) no interruption.  The kids played happily on the other side of the door, or downstairs, but we actually could shut the door and have some time to ourselves.

I think I may have found the key to feeling sane in this house.  I just wish we'd done it sooner.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


It seems like I was anxious for Christmas so much earlier than usual this year, and then somehow never got to it.  I'm usually pretty good about limiting our external commitments so that we have plenty of time to enjoy the Christmas season together at home--small crafts, little activities, treat-making days.  We didn't have a lot of that this year.  Almost none.  We were reasonably consistent with our regular, nightly scripture-reading, but even that was a little more anemic than usual.

I just let other things build up on me, and let it demotivate me too much.  The house we live in is admittedly frustrating to me, and I allow it to be more frustrating than it should.  And we have a few petty irritations that seem to keep popping up every time we think we've dealt with them and put them behind us--such is life. But for whatever reason, it all affected my mood far too much.  And I knew it, which made me irritated at myself.

By the time we got home this afternoon, Doug and I were both exhausted, and it showed.  We both sounded agitated, and I knew it, and it really was just fatigue--car troubles aside, we've had a great week.  The kids were all exhausted, and it showed--crying, whining, fighting.  Just a long, long week for everyone.  When I was on about the very last fiber of my very last nerve, Keilana and Kylie (who were supposed to be in bed) had something of a meltdown (in my fatigue, I hadn't gone upstairs to sing them a song, which I do nearly every night when I put them to bed).  So, after talking to them, firmly but calmly, about what was out of line with the behavior, Doug and I each cuddled one of them while we sang them one verse of "Away in a Manger".  I needed that moment.

We are too impatient too often.  Voices get raised or anger comes out too often.  But there was absolutely nothing unusual about that moment at all.  For all our slip-ups and impatient moments, those quiet, calm, I-still-love-you-I-always-love-you moments are just as, if not more, common in our house.  I needed to remember that.

I needed a moment at the end of this busy Christmas season to remember, while holding one of my babies, that little baby who came to save us--to save me.  I needed to remember for a moment before Christmas ended that my babies are what make my life so wonderful, and that it was that small baby so long ago that made those blessings eternal.

I needed that moment, holding one of my precious babies while singing about the birth of that most precious of all babies, to remember that the petty problems are petty and they're not my problem.  Things I've tried to let go before, I can let go again.  Because of that little baby boy, and who he was and what he became, all that is required of me is to forgive others, forgive myself, and move on.  The Lord bears the rest of that burden--I don't have to fix it.  I just have to move forward with as much kindness and patience as I can, and leave the rest to him.  Every opportunity I have to remember that makes it relatively easy to let go.  I know the Lord loves me, I know that he knows I am trying, and that he will forgive me when I fall short.  As long as I am willing to forgive others, he will happily extend mercy to me.

Fatigue is not forever, and in mercy, forgiveness, and love, we can indeed sleep in Heavenly peace, finding ourselves renewed, and ready to face with cheerfulness and gratitude whatever challenges may come our way.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Keeping Tradition

There's been a Christmas Eve party at my parents' house nearly every year for four decades now.  I missed quite a few while living in Hawaii and California, but the party went on.  It morphed over the years from my grandparents, some aunts and uncles and cousins, to now just my brothers and sisters and their families, with the occasional in-law visitors or extended family (just the kids, spouses and grandkids, plus one great-grandma, makes dinner nearly 40 people).  There weren't a lot of absolute traditions--some years, there would be a nativity, in recent years a Chinese auction-type gift exchange has been had amongst the adults--but it was a given that there would be turkey, large quantities of sugar in various forms, and Christmas Eve packages containing new PJs.

We were headed this way for that party when our trip came to an abrupt halt.  Mom suggested that maybe we could move the cousin get-together to another day.  My sister I think put it best when she said that even if we did the party another day, she'd still head to my parents' on Christmas Eve, even if it was just her and the kids eating pizza with mom and dad, because she was pretty sure that if she told her kids that they weren't going to Yaya and Papa's on Christmas Eve, they'd think she cancelled Christmas.

I completely know what she means.  Thankfully, my big sister came and picked us up today, and my parents offered to take us home sometime later.  So, despite the car trouble this week, the tradition will continue as it has.  I'm glad for that.  We'll spend Christmas Eve with the extended family, exchange presents with cousins, eat too much, open pajamas, probably laugh a lot, and then, when everyone else heads home, I will spend Christmas Eve night and Christmas morning in my parents house for the first time since I was 18.  That seems like a pretty good way to spent Christmas this year.

I'm up way too late, but the presents are all wrapped, we've got everything we need, and Santa knows where to find us. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013


So, we got the van mostly packed Friday night after the ward Christmas party.  We got up Saturday morning, packed the last few things, and hit the road just before 9:30.  Before 10am, this is where we were:

Didn't even make it to Deer Lodge.  We hit a patch of ice, started to skid sideways, and then started to spin.  We spun in a complete circle twice, then slammed into the side rail, which threw us the other direction. I think.  It was all so adrenaline-soaked that my memory is already getting really hazy.

The kids were all screaming like crazy and were pretty rattled (spinning in circles on the interstate at 70 mph is pretty scary), but as we were spinning I was actually pretty calm, and just kept thinking, "Please no one hit us.  If no one hits us, we'll be fine), and as the impact with the side started, I just thought, "Please stop." As in, don't flip or roll.  Fortunately, no one did hit us and we didn't flip or roll.  The kids were completely terrified for a few minutes, and a couple of them did bonk heads or arms on seats or things, but everyone was buckled and even Ginger, just sitting in between the kids, was just fine.  Thank goodness.  

Later in the day, I had to run to the store, and at first Keira said, "No! Mommy, don't go in the car! It will get ice!"  When I explained that most of the roads in town were pretty dry, I'd be going slow and it was perfectly safe, she seemed satisfied and wanted to come with me.  But every 30 seconds she would scold, "Don't go fast like Daddy!" (When we came to a stop, he kept saying, "I shouldn't have been going so fast" and that apparently stuck with her).  Anytime I got above 15mph, she started to whimper.  Kylie was having a hard time with it, too, and the rest of the day if she thought/talked about it, she'd get teary-eyed again.  We didn't seem to have any nightmares last night, and everybody seems to be fine today.

Initially, I was just tremendously grateful that it wasn't worse and that everyone was OK.  Growing up here, I've seen my share of wrecks that started out similarly, but ended much, much worse.  Being raised by two EMTs has, if nothing else, made me a generally cautious driver, especially when the roads are wet, icy or snowy.  I'm a great big wimp about all three.  We said a prayer for safety before leaving home, and the Lord delivered.  We're fine.  And I am well-aware just how fortunate we are.

I'm trying really hard to focus on that. Because now that the adrenaline and the overwhelming relief have worn off, the true costs are starting to hit me.  When we first go married, we were college students--poor, and in fact accumulating a fair amount of student loan debt.  Doug got the job in Lindsay, and we moved there.  In the first year, we bought a new house, several major appliances, took in another family for a while, had an unexpected week-long stay in the hospital away from home, had several out-of-state weddings to attend, and then over the course of the next few years, had a couple more babies and several more unexpected expenses.  When we had finally gotten to a point where we felt like we had started to get ahead of the financial challenges those circumstances had created, Doug got laid off.  And, though there were odd jobs and consulting gigs here and there, there was no steady work, no job, for nearly 16 months.  We were finally feeling like we were sort of back on top of things after a year and a half of steady employment, our credit rating inching back up, pretty much all debt but student loans gone, and bam! car wreck.  Figures.  At the very least, it will cost us a little over $300 now and then whatever our insurance decides to bump up to for our monthly rate (with no tickets or wrecks on either of our records, we've had pretty great insurance).  At most, it will total out our van, and we will get the somewhere near the trade-in value of our van, a pittance when you're talking buying-a-famiy-vehicle money.  We haven't had a car payment in over 3 years.  I'm not really anxious to add one now.

To be honest, I think as much as anything else, I'm just annoyed at the fact that its seriously messing up our holiday travel plans.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Finally getting to Christmas

It would be impossible to overstate
how much these two delight me.
Playful, sweet, just enough sass
to keep things fun.
I had my last final (my final final?)
early this morning.
Kylie had her last day of school
(this was on the way to her "concert"--
3,4, and 5-year-olds
dressed up and singing Christmas songs.
I picked the older two up early
to get some treat supplies
and make yummies with me
while watching Christmas movies.
We don't have a lot of treat plates 
to deliver this year,
but we're gonna enjoy a baking-and-movie afternoon,
and then we're gonna have more concerts
and make deliveries tomorrow.
Maybe look for Christmas lights
on the way home.

Then present wrapping, 
still more sewing
(here's hoping I finish everything on time)
and then head to grandma's
for Christmas Eve with the cousins.
Its starting to feel a little magical.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kylie is FIVE!!

Kylie Bear turns 5 today.
She's a lucky little girl,
she started out life
surrounded by lots of love

Meeting big brother and sister for the first time,
she was calm and quiet and happy.
She entered the world,
as all babies do,
still firmly attached to her momma.
Doug likes to joke
that the umbilical cord wasn't really cut
until she was about 6 months old.
In the delivery room,
after about an hour of being held by me,
her dad,
and her yaya,
they finally took her to get cleaned up,
weighed and measured,
and she started to cry a bit.
If I started to talk,
she'd stop crying.
If I stopped, 
she'd start crying again.
For the first 6 months,
it was rarely OK with her if anyone else held her.
Though she'd sometimes make exceptions
for special people
I decided early on that she's a good judge of character,
when it became apparent that,
though she'd cry at most people,
she was perfectly happy to be held by Yaya,
great-Grandma Elda,
and her aunties Christina and Jennifer.

It almost weirded me out 
how well she was focusing her eyes in the delivery room,
it was clear she was really looking at me,
and it soon became apparent that she was the staring contest queen.
 She is observant and attentive,
she studies people,
and notices a lot of things kids her age miss.
Her sensitivity goes both ways--
she's tender-hearted,
and so she is attentive to the needs and feelings
of others.

We discovered this early on,
that she loves to share and to love.
She was hanging out in the Snugli
(where she spent about 90% of her time),
silently sucking her little purple pacifier,
when Daddy stopped to talk to her.
He popped the pacifier out for a second,
and she seemed confused.
So he popped it back in.
She stared up at him,
silently suckling.
So he popped it out again, and put it in his mouth.
She looked at him.
Her eyes got big.
Then they welled up.
Then her famous, pouty bottom lip popped out,
and she let out the saddest,
most pathetic little cry ever.
Daddy felt bad, so he picked her up to comfort her.
Once she was sure he didn't mean to hurt her,
she took the pacifier out of her mouth,

 and put it in his.
Just sort of saying, 
"I get the joke now, Daddy.
I'll share."
That little moment with our 4-month-old
is such an accurate snapshot
of the person we now know her to be.
She's affectionate, kind, and generous,
clever and quick,
and just loves to love and be loved
by the people in her life.

 For all her attachment early on,
she is in many ways such an independent girl.
She is agile and coordinated,
smart and curious, 
and loves having the freedom to explore the world
on her own terms,
and as long as she knows we're not too far away,
and that we'll be waiting for her,
she's confident in venturing out.

She's always been so expressive,
so playful and silly.

Her creative nature is apparent
whenever she sits down with a pile of blocks,
or some scissors and paper,
her wonderful comprehension of the world around
apparent in the things she says,
and the questions she asks.
And her generosity and kindness is always apparent,
in the ways she plays and shares and helps
with virtually everyone around here.
She can be easily hurt,
but she forgives
and bucks up
just as easily.
She's not a dweller.
She's a smiler,
a sharer,
a hugger,
a builder,
an artist,
a sister,
a friend,
and a doll.

We love our beautiful blue-eyed girl 
a whole awful lot.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


The following conversation just took place in our van:

Dylan (pouting): I wish I could roll down the window.

Me: I know its not nearly as cold as last week, but it isn't exactly warm either.

Dylan: Its not that cold, Mom.

Me: Dylan, its still only 20 degrees outside.

Dylan (quite condescendingly): Its twenty-ONE degrees, Mom.

All last week, and most of the before that, our daily "highs" were still sub-zero.  One day, it never got warmer than -12, and the days it got up to 0 seemed positively balmy.  It has apparently messed with my son's ability to determine what windows-down-weather is.

Faith and Validation

Since I was a very small child (so small that I can't remember a time I didn't "know" it), far too small to articulate the idea, much less the reasons behind it, I have intuitively understood something: people love happy people, and people love people who love them.  If there was one thing I was certain of as a child, it was that I wanted to be loved.  I instinctively tried to receive that love by showing only happiness to others, and by finding ways to show others that I loved them.

By the time I reached my teenage years, I consciously understood and could articulate this very simple idea that had intuitively been a part of my nature for virtually all of my life.  What's more, by then I was old enough to realize that while loving people could be a source of great pain and frustration, I was also experienced enough to know that there was no greater remedy for that heart ache or frustration or just a grumpy mood than to find ways to serve the people around me.  I always knew that, no matter how down or anxious or frustrated I felt, if I could just find a way to make someone else feel better, I would feel better.  (This is a large part of why the idea f nursing--even with all its bureaucratic nonsense and technical demands--appeals to me.  The one thing that has consistently made me happy in life has been finding ways to help other people feel better).

Without fail (and with the benefit of hindsight), the times in my life that have been the most miserable have been the times that I have been the most focused on myself.  When I have worried what others thought of me, I behaved in a self-conscious manner that made it hard to love me.  When I forgot about me and just focused on showing people the good things I saw and felt about them, I loved them more, they loved me more, and I was so much happier.  The bottom line is that validation is hardest to get when we are actively seeking it, and easiest to obtain when we no longer need it.

Too often, we behave or speak to people in a manner that (implicitly or explicitly) demands, "Understand me, love me, validate me."  The behaviors that tend to accompany such an attitude (conscious or not) generally make one harder to love, and so focused is on one oneself that, ironically, we fail to see just how much of our misery we are causing ourselves, or at least exacerbating.  If we forget ourselves, and seek ways to better understand those we love (or should love), if we stop trying to make everything about showing them who we are and getting them to accept that person, and instead focus on trying to show them that we know who they are and we love them, the love and validation that we desire will come naturally.  Those who feel loved and appreciated by us will easily love and appreciate us--people love people who love them.  Just as importantly, the happiness that comes to us as we make that effort will make us easier to love.  As long as we are trying to "fix" people (even if all we are trying to "fix" is how they see or treat us), all we will see (or, at the very least, what we will most prominently see) are their failures and flaws (as we define them).  When you stop trying to fix someone, and instead start making an effort to love them unconditionally, warts and all, and to feel and express appreciation for the good things that they do and are, we will find that the good stuff gets easier to see, we love it more, and the unconditional love gets easier to feel and act on.  In fact, we often come to see that things we thought were warts aren't warts at all, but simply a different way of seeing or doing things, and we are the ones who lacked understanding.

There is a very natural tendency to hold others hostage to our self-esteem.  Of course, spouses should be kind to each other, children should treat parents with respect, parents should treat children with respect, etc, but ultimately, and please hear this, your parents are not responsible for your self-esteem.  Your children are not responsible for your self-esteem.  Even your spouse, as precious and important as that relationship is, is not responsible for your self-esteem.  Ultimately, your feelings of self-worth are between you and the Lord.  In my experience, times when we struggle with our self-worth the most are times when we are either not in good standing with the Lord, or we are struggling with our faith in his love, in the reality that he is enough.

If you are struggling with faith, please, please hang in there, keeping praying and seeking the Lord--he's never as far away as we sometimes think he is in our faltering moments, and that flood of love and warmth may come much sooner than you expect.  Please trust that he is there, that he loves you, and that he believes in your infinite worth.  You are precious to him.

If you don't have much relationship with the Savior at any given moment because you're afraid that if you ask what you can do to change, he'll actually answer you, you have no right to project that guilt or failure or fear of failure onto others, or to treat them poorly because you don't feel happy.  They may indeed have a moral obligation to be kind to you, but your esteem is not theirs to build, and if you don't have the relationship you should with the Lord, nothing they do will solve the problem anyway.

If you want to be happy--truly, thoroughly content and at peace--you must seek your primary validation from the Savior, and you have to be willing to humbly say, "Lord, I trust you love me, even with my flaws, but I know I must do better--what would Thou have me do?" and then have the faith and courage to hear the answer and sincerely act on it.  If you can't be content with the Savior's love and validation, no one else's will ever be enough.  Once his is enough, you'll never need anyone else's.

And in that moment, when you feel that reassuring peace that Lord loves you, and that you are enough for him, when you stop needing anyone else's validation or reassurance, you will find that you are a better spouse, a better parent, a better missionary and a better friend.  When you really, truly feel the love of the Lord for you in your heart, you will radiate that love out to others, and they will love you.  Naturally.  Build your faith, and the Lord will build you up.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Letting Go. . .or not

Last night, I was driving home from school, when the song my brother wrote for my grandma just after she passed came on.  I may have gotten a little blubbery.  The 9th anniversary of her death just went by.

I was living in San Luis Obispo when Grandma died.  She'd been in and out of the hospital frequently for weeks (and, less frequently, for months before that).  The last time I'd seen her--about three months previous--it was already apparent that her body was beginning to give up.  I was in very frequent contact with my mom, usually talking to her about twice a week, to keep tabs on Grandma's condition. I got the feeling that Mom was having a hard time telling me just how bad it was, so finally one night, I just asked point-blank if I needed to come home.  Mom said she thought that was best, and when I asked when, she replied, "Tomorrow."

It took a little longer than that, but about 36 hours after that phone call, I walked into my Grandma's hospital room back in Montana.  She was beyond being able to talk or interact much, but when she heard my name, she raised her head a little and her face brightened.  She said my name and when I reached for her hand, she squeezed mine in return.  She knew I'd come home to see her--that was what I needed to know.  I spent a lot of time in her hospital room for the next 3 days, and then (how could it seem sudden, when she was 88 years old and had been in the hospital for weeks?) she was gone.

The timing of her death in my life was hard for me to accept.  I was 20, I had just had my first baby a few months earlier, was trying to put my husband through grad school, and the thought of it all was sometimes a bit overwhelming and intimidating.  Sometimes I felt like I was a child just pretending to be an adult.  And as I watched my Grandma slip away from this world, it sometimes felt like God was saying, "Yep, you're an adult.  I'm gonna prove it by taking your childhood away."  So much of my childhood, so much of who I was, was wrapped up in my Grandma, that it did feel like I was not only losing her, but losing a huge chunk of my life--of my self.

Losing her made me more grateful than ever to believe in the Gospel, in the plan of salvation, in eternal families.  A few nights after she died, she visited me in my dreams.  She sat down and had a conversation with me, and answered some questions that had plagued me, gave me some assurances I needed, and then told me she needed to get back to work.  I've no doubt that she really was there with me, speaking to me.  It reassured me that separation was only temporary, that in truth I had lost nothing, and I have felt her often since then.  It has made every other separation since that time easier to bear.

I've thought about that a lot the last couple of years:  several of my friends (friends my age) have lost one of their parents over the last couple of years, and my heart breaks for them.  I cringe a little inside every time I hear my mom refer to herself as old, or talk about retirement, or someone I know ends up in the hospital due to age-related illness and I realize that they're only a few years older than her.  I'm not even ready for my mom to be old, and they've had to let go of their parents.  The thought of saying good-bye--even temporarily--to either of my parents is an overwhelming one to me.  One friend who lost her mom was one of my best friends the entire time we were growing up, I spent hours and days in their home, and I find myself thinking about her and her mom nearly as often as I think of my mom.  It gives me a slighter better appreciation of what my mom must've gone through, losing her dad at 18.  It all just makes me heartsick to think about too long.

But then I remember how often I feel Grandma Lettie's presence, and I remind myself that the separation is merely temporary, and probably not as severe as it sometimes feels to us on this side of the veil.  I'm sure that Gaye is watching Max grow up and helping him along, I'm sure she's over Hayley's shoulder more often than anyone would guess.  I'm sure Cynthia's dad is still there, watching over his large and good family, comforting them, protecting them.  I'm sure Fei's mom is still there, guiding her, smiling over her daughter's achievements.

Letting go is much less difficult when we have reason to trust that it is not forever. I am continually thankful for that.

Monday, November 18, 2013


The other night, the youngest two were watching some Netflix while the older two and I finished cleaning up.  When their show ended, Kylie asked if they could watch Tinkerbell.  I said no, and was about to say that they could watch it if they cleaned up first, but she immediately started to pout, so I just told her to turn the TV off and informed her she was done with TV or movies for the night because of her attitude.

With angry, watery eyes and a big fat bottom lip, Kylie shouted, "I didn't want to watch it! I don't believe in fairies!! I especially don't believe in Tinkerbell!!!"

She was so mad at me, she killed Tinkerbell.  On PURPOSE.  We'll have to keep an eye on that one's temper.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


I never thought you were a fool
But darling, look at you.
You gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight
'Cause tears are going nowhere

You are such a fool
To worry like you do 
I know it's tough
And you can never get enough
Of what you don't really need now

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it
Oh love, look at you now
You've got yourself stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it
Oh lord look at you now
You've got yourself stuck in a moment 
And you cant get out of it

This song (which I somehow always forget about until I hear it again) popped up on my iPod while I was driving home from class the other day, and it struck so perfectly with a conversation that I'd had the day before with a dear friend, and I just thought, "Truth, Bono.  Nailed this one."

Sometimes, you're having problems because you're holding onto problems that aren't your problems any more, and doing so is creating more problems for you and others around you.  In other words, sometimes the only way to solve a problem is to buck up, grow up, take responsibility for yourself and then get over it. 

Seriously.  Let it go.  When you stop being angry and bitter about things that are beyond your control, you give yourself room to see the beauty and blessings all around you, and to realize just how much is in your control.   Sometimes, you think you're mad about problems others have created, when in fact, it is your anger and bitterness that are causing the problems, or at least hugely exacerbating them.  Stop being angry about what you didn't get, especially when you have all the things you really need, and a lot of beautiful blessings beside.  Only you can get you unstuck.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Kylie: Mommy, I had a nightmare.

Me: I'm sorry, baby. What was your nightmare?

Kylie: It was with Strawberry Shortcake and us. There was a bad guy called the Pie Man and he was mean and we had to follow his orders.

Me: We did?

Kylie: Well, everybody else did, but we didn't. We didn't follow his mean orders.

That's my little Kylie Bear--tender-hearted, bold soul.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sacrament Meeting Talk-Gratitude

I’d like to begin by asking a few questions:  Have you thanked anyone today? If so, did you feel genuine gratitude toward that person, or were you merely being reflexively polite?  If you haven’t thanked anyone today, is there something that you could’ve thanked someone for that you failed to notice in the moment?  Have you prayed today? What have you thanked your Heavenly Father for today.

There’s an old saying that it isn’t happy people who are thankful, but rather it is thankful people who are happy, and I sincerely believe that is true.  I believe gratitude is one of the first and most vital steps in a virtuous and happy life.  How do we become more grateful?  What should we be grateful for?

I think all of us could easily list a dozen or so things that we are thankful for.  Our lives are filled with blessings large and small, and though sometimes the smaller ones are easiest to miss, they can be just as important.  But today, I’d like to speak about some of the “biggest” things we should be grateful for.  To that end, I’ll be using some stories that aren’t the ones that usually come to mind when we think of gratitude, but please bear with me, I promise I have a point, and I will try to make it as clearly as possible.

In the New Testament, we read about a woman who had an issue of blood for 12 years, who pressed her way through a thronging crowd to touch the Savior’s robe, certain that this act would heal her.  Under Mosaic Law, a woman with an issue of blood was considered unclean, and had to undergo ritual cleansing in order to participate in routine life again, as would anyone she came in contact with during her confinement—they would also be considered unclean.  If she had had a husband, its likely he would have divorced her, as she would’ve been unable to care for him or any children without them also being considered unclean.  It was unlikely that she would’ve been allowed to attend any worship services, much less the temple, for all of those years.  She probably lived somewhat apart from the rest of society—an outcast in her pain.  Financially, she was completely broke from seeking treatments that did not work, and to top it all off she was essentially, and agonizingly slowly, bleeding to death.

So for this woman to reach out to touch the Savior was not just an act of faith, it was a very bold one.  When the Savior sensed power going out of him and turned to figure out who was responsible, she was afraid to come forward because she knew that many would see this act as her making this man unclean, for her own selfish purposes and there could be stiff consequences for that, especially for a man they believed to holy.  But the Lord did not rebuke her.  He turned to her and said, addressing her lovingly, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of they plague.”  And she was.  From that hour, she was whole. Her entire life would’ve changed.

The Lord did not put her away because of her weakness.  He recognized her bold faith in reaching out to him to be healed.  When others may spurn or criticize or lose patience with us because of our weaknesses, the Lord instead reaches out to heal and comfort us.  In the most recent General Conference, Elder Scott said, “When the Lord speaks of weakness, it is always with mercy.”   How often do we feel and express our gratitude to the Lord for that marvelous gift?    How often do we thank him for offering freely his power to heal us, especially when all other types of healing fail and we are utterly spent?  How often do we thank him for those simple words, “Go in peace. . .be whole” when he speaks them to our broken hearts?  Through the Atonement, all personal plagues—whatever form they may take in us as individuals—can be healed.  How often do we thank the Lord for his mercy and comfort in our weaknesses?  In Ether we read, “I give unto men weaknesses that they may be humble. . .my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me. . .have faith in me, then will I make weak things strong unto them.”  When was the last time you grumbled at your weaknesses?  When was the last time you thanked the Lord for the opportunity to lean on and better know his strength, in order to build your own?

Next, I’d like to talk about Jonah.  Jonah gets a bad rap—as well he should—for running away.  But let’s have some compassion for Jonah:  Nineveh was not an easy mission call.  The people were quite wicked, and he wasn’t optimistic about being successful there.  So Jonah directly disobeyed a commandment from the Lord and got on a ship going the opposite direction.  How often have we done that?  Ignored the Lord’s clear standards and commandments, and, for one reason or another, run the other way? When a terrible tempest arose and it looked like everyone on his ship was going to die, Jonah finally revealed himself.  His shipmates were quite frightened when Jonah explained to them what was going on.  He told them that God would probably be appeased and leave them be if they threw him overboard.    They didn’t seem to hesitate with carrying out that plan.  Instead of being lost to the sea, however, Jonah was swallowed by a whale.  Its easy, in retrospect and knowing how the story ends, to see that as an act of mercy.  But I submit that it may not have initially appeared that way to Jonah.  Instead of a quick and relatively painless death in the waves, it probably now seemed likely that he would instead suffer a slow, painful starvation inside a whale, where it must’ve been utterly dark and lonely.  Jonah described his ordeal by saying, “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped around my head.”

Jonah didn’t immediately recognize the mercy of having been stopped in his tracks. It merely seemed he’d been thrust into a dark, lonely punishment.  How often do we fail to recognize the Lord’s mercy when we have been rebellious, because we are still too prideful to recognize that when we were on the wrong road, a somewhat imposed “stupor of progress”, if you will, was an act of grace?  There are times when we feel that those around us have thrown us overboard because we made some bad decisions, and that we are being punished by dark loneliness. The Lord let Jonah sit inside that whale for a few days not just to save his life, but to save his soul.  Alone in the darkness, Jonah started to do something he probably hadn’t been doing nearly enough of:  he prayed.  And in praying, he found hope: “I am cast out of thy sight,” he said, “yet I will look again toward the holy temple. . .When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord.”  Jonah’s life was spared, his spirit was renewed, and he was able to fulfill his assignment.  Not only that, the Lord blessed him with a great deal of success in Nineveh—the city and its people made a remarkable change.  That is grace.  In mercy, we find that we don’t get what we justly deserve.  In the Lord’s grace, we find that not only do we not get the punishment we deserved, but in fact he gives us another chance to do it right, and then another, and another, and rewards us for those efforts.  How often do we thank him for that grace?  How often do we show gratitude for it by extending that same mercy and grace to those who trespass against us? Repentance is an act of humility, and it ought to also be a reverent expression of gratitude, for Lord’s tremendous grace for mistakes big and small.  We should be grateful when the Lord puts impediments in our way that make it harder to do the wrong thing, and we should be extraordinarily thankful for his mercy and grace we have persisted in doing the wrong thing anyway.  When we are in the darkness, when we are consumed by the pain of sin, when our souls “faint within us”, we ought to follow Jonah’s example and pray, “remember the Lord, look toward the holy temple” and express our gratitude for the Lord’s mercy.

Finally, I’d like to talk about the people of Alma.  There is no doubt that their circumstances were difficult:  they were slaves, horribly mistreated by those who held them in bondage.  They cried to the Lord in their afflictions, and he offered these simple but powerful words of peace:  “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort. . .I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.  And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, even that ye cannot feel them upon your backs. . .that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. . .the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”

It is not coincidental that one of the crowning characteristics of both faith and gratitude is cheerfulness.   The three are inseparable.  As we develop more faith in our Father in Heaven and in Jesus Christ, we are better able to see all the things that they do for us, and become more grateful.  And as we feel more gratitude, our ability to trust in a loving Father and a selfless, redeeming Christ increases. 

The Lord kept his promise to the people of Alma and delivered them from bondage, but that deliverance did not come right away.  In the mean time, they felt the strength of the Lord literally helping to carrying their burdens and make them lighter, so they were able to cheerfully carry on, trusting that one day the Lord would fulfill his promise and set them free.  They were grateful and happy, even in their trial.

That is the same promise that the Lord makes to each of us—if we will live obediently and patiently, someday the burdens will be lifted entirely, but in the mean time, he will help us to bear them so that they aren’t so heavy.  For that, we should be continually grateful.  As we exercise faith in God, we will more readily see His hand in our lives, and be more grateful for all that he does for us.  We will come to know him not as some distant figure, but as a loving, attentive Father who is deeply invested in our progress and happiness, and we will feel more gratitude for the many opportunities he provides for improvement and learning, and for the many blessings—large and small—that he showers down on us.  In turn, we will more consistently see those around us as brothers and sisters, and more readily recognize our common Father reflected in their countenances and actions, and we will be more grateful for them and all that they do and are.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “There is one commandment that we may unwittingly violate almost more than any other. . .and that is the commandment the Savior gave to be of good cheer.  We’re supposed to hope, we’re supposed to be believing, we’re supposed to know it’ll get better.  It will get better, it does get better. ‘These things,’ he said, ‘I have told you that ye might have peace.  In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.’  The victory has already been won. . .He is the light at the end of the tunnel.  I have great hope.”

I bear my testimony that as we come to believe in the Savior, in his Atonement, and the grace, mercy, and hope inherent therein, we will feel more grateful for every moment of our lives, for every tender act of love and little blessing along the way.  And because we are grateful, we will be happy.  The best way to show that gratitude is to model our lives after the Savior’s as best we can:  serving others and showing to them the most patience, mercy, cheerfulness and kindness we can possibly muster.  Elder Neal A Maxwell once said, “When, for a moment, we find ourselves not being stretched on a particular cross, we ought to be at the foot of someone else’s, full of empathy and proferring spiritual replenishment.  On the straight, narrow path which leads to our little Calvarys, one does not hear the serious traveler exclaiming, ‘Look, no hands!’”

Or as Elder Holland said in a recent General Conference, “Be kind, and be grateful God is kind.  It is a happy way to live.”


I let the house we're living in right now affect the way I feel way too much.  Its hard not to--the kids' bedrooms overlap with ours (with no doors between in some cases); we have very little furniture, but its hard to justify getting any more, since I don't know where we'd put it; the wall paper is ripped and dirty and full of holes (and some of it was very ugly to begin with), as is the carpet.  Its really hard to put anything away, since there aren't really any closets; the back yard is almost non-existent and a total mess (and that's after dozens of hours of work); it seems like something is breaking or leaking at least once a month, and everything looks worn down and junky the way things do when they are quite old and there's been no serious upkeep for a lot of years.

But the heater is going, so its nice and warm, and the kids are all playing happily (and quietly) on the floor while Christmas music plays and the stew in the crockpot fills the whole house with delicious smells.  Right now, it doesn't seem so bad.  Not bad at all, actually.

I'm not in any way organizationally, financially or physically ready for Christmas.  But I'm ready for Christmas season.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Belated Gratitude

Two years ago today, on a quiet, dark Sunday morning, the girls and I piled into our little Honda Accord with my mom, Dylan buckled into the front seat of my parents' Dodge Caravan with my twin brother, and with all the most vital possessions we could fit into those two vehicles, we headed to Montana.  Doug would follow us a couple of weeks later after finishing the very last of the donate/sell/stash-in-storage sorting of our remaining possessions and cleaning out our house, locking it and leaving for the last time.

By the time we left California, I was, admittedly, angry, hurt, frustrated and depressed.  It wasn't supposed to be this way.  Intellectually and spiritually I knew better, of course--that we had been where we were supposed to be, doing what we were supposed to be doing, but that was never a guarantee that things would go the way they "should"--but my emotions were having trouble getting on board with that knowledge.  It didn't help that, though not intending to run away, we had very few options left and didn't know what we were headed toward, so it felt a bit like running away.  It was hard for it not to look like we just fled when things got tough.  There were no job offers in Montana, no friends, no home.  As far as we could tell from online searching, there was little in the way of job prospects.  Doug was leaving the valley he grew up in for a place where he knew few people.  The kids were leaving all their friends, and many of Doug's family members that they adored.  They would have to start new schools, and say goodbye to the only home they'd known.  When we bought our house, Keilana wasn't quite 2 1/2 and Dylan wasn't even one yet.  Doug and I would miss our family terribly, too, as well as the most incredible group of friends and ward family that anyone could ask for.  All we knew about coming to Montana was that it was full of loving family, too, and that it was Montana--beautiful, relatively remote, perhaps offering a possibility of refuge for a time: a soft place to land after a lot of hard falls.  It took many more frustrating, depressing months before finally finding a job, but find one we did, only 2 hours away from the place we now called home, and in the state I have always loved above all others.  That was truly a tender mercy.

That's where I was for a long time: grateful, but disappointed.  Grateful, but frustrated.  Grateful, but tired.

I haven't had the privilege of going back to California or seeing those friends (and some of those family members) in the 2 years since that Sunday morning.  But Keilana and Doug have managed to make one trip back.  Thanks to that, I had a rather marvelous experience a few months ago.  Keilana was chatting with me while I prepared dinner.  Somehow, she got to talking about her trip to California with her dad, telling me that they had stopped to see our house.  "Remember the tomatoes that we planted?"

"They're still growing, they looked really healthy.  Daddy and I peaked through the gate and the window at the patio. It looked just like when we left.  And we went through the bushes to the side window so we could see the living room.  It looked the same, too.  We could see the island in the kitchen.  Remember all the cookies we used to make at the island?"  I realized at that point that I had nearly stopped chopping.  I did remember.  So clearly.  I remembered making batch after batch of sugar cookies with my toddlers and preschoolers.

I remembered watching Kylie take her first steps in the corner of that living room over by the TV, and Keira doing her first scooting in the same place.

I remember hours upon hours spent nursing my babies in the rocking chair that sat in front of that window.  I remember the delight with which my little ones planted their first tomato plants out on the patio, and the many hours we spent out there, running through the sprinkler, drawing chalk masterpieces and blowing bubbles with Clayton and Claire.

I could already feel myself getting emotional, and Keilana kept going, "Remember how we used to all play on your bed in your big room?"  I remember so many wrestling matches and so many hours of snuggling and cuddling in that room.

"Remember when we used to go to the Meiks for playdates with Abby, when we'd play in their big yard?"  I remembered a half a dozen she wasn't even present for, afternoons spent chatting with Angie and Emily while our little girls wandered about the house or the backyard, happily entertaining each other, our little three amigos--a blonde, a redhead and a brunette, all with the bluest of blue eyes.

"Remember when we used to go to the beach? And sometimes take Yaya when she came to visit?"

"And how we'd stay at Grandpa Barnes' beach house with Mimi?  Remember how Kylie would eat the sand?"  I remembered all of that, and little Keilana running down Cayucos Peir in her swimsuit and suddenly, looking down, exclaiming, "Hey! The ocean's under there!" and dropping right where she was, pressing her little face against the planks of the pier, bum in the air, to see the ocean beneath her.

I remember coaxing a cautious Dylan into the ocean waves, and pushing Kylie on the swings at the beach, and listening to them all giggle ferociously when we'd feed the sea lions.

"Remember how we used to go to McDermont every Friday and play in the bounce houses and the arcade, and then get slushies on the way home?  And how we used to go buy tamales at the street fair for dinner? And sometimes, if I was good, you'd get me Takis or a churro?"  McDermont, which I sometimes resented for dominating so much of our lives and then having the audacity to be across the street from our house, which I now miss so much.  My babies spent so many happy hours there.

At this point, I wasn't even trying to chop because the tears were clouding my vision, but she kept going.

"I remember when I got to stay at Sethy's house.  Sethy's mom is so much fun.  And Sister Ashcraft, she was the best Primary teacher. I miss having Family Home Evening with the Ashcrafts."

"I miss Jacelyn, too.  And Payton.  Payton's my best friend. Do you remember when she made cookies with us?"

I do, kiddo.  Until that moment, I don't think I had realized just how much Keilana remembered of our life there.  And all the many stresses and frustrations and losses that we dealt with weren't even on her radar.  Those were entirely happy years for her.  And suddenly, I was awash in gratitude.  Not gratitude tempered by stress, or frustration, or grief, or fatigue.  Just pure, joyful, soaring gratitude for the years we spent there.  They were joyful years.  They were the years I brought my babies home and watched them learn to crawl and talk and make cookies.  I was a good mother during those years: reading lots and lots of books, doing little crafts, making cookies and cakes and teaching them songs and teaching them to pray and taking them to the park and on walks--nearly every day--and making the very best of friends.  Those were wonderful, wonderful years.  For the first year and a half or more after we left, thinking about the house, and consequently the loss of the house, was a source of anxiety and frustration for me.  Keilana transformed it.  Without entirely meaning to, she reminded me of what a joyful little house it was, always bursting with laughter and play and extra kids.  The friends that came to visit us when we were in that house are some of the kindest, most generous, and fun people I have every known.  The hours we spent reading books and wrestling on the floor and doing Spanish homework are some of my very best memories.

And I remember double dates and birthday parties  and baby showers and conversations that went on too long into the night and cards and meals and gifts.  I remember trips to the temple and phone calls of encouragement at crucial moments.  I remember visiting teaching moments and Priesthood blessings that strengthened my faith in a Celestial world and a loving Father.  Not everything went the way we wanted it to.  We all made mistakes.  Lots of them.  But ultimately, the people we fell in love with during that joyful time in life were all souls who were committed to the truth that you will find your greatest joy in life in serving others, and that by serving, you might help others find joy as well.  In our own little way, we were trying to build Zion and, even if it didn't happen in the ways that we expected, I certainly think the Lord blessed us with much fruit of that righteous goal in spite of our flaws and missteps.

Those years taught me so well what it means to love with true Christlike love.  I was served so selflessly by those around me.  I was asked to step outside myself more--sometimes in a language not my own. I was asked to be patient when it would've been easy to be short. I was asked to forgive when it would've been easy to hold a grudge.  I was taught to let go when I wanted desperately to hold on. I was taught how to have compassion when judgment or condemnation would've been much easier.  I was taught to be grateful when it would've been easy to be angry. I was taught how to find more when I felt like I had nothing left to give, and then to give that part of myself happily.

The things we went through together--deaths, births, sealings, trials and triumphs--taught me about who I was, and who I want to be, and helped bring me a lot closer to bridging the gap between the two.  How could I possibly be anything but overwhelmingly, unfailingly grateful for that?

I think that's why certain memories remain so clear--so that the Spirit can use them to remind us who we are capable of being, and how joyful it is when we reach for that Divine potential.  As Thanksgiving approaches, I can think of no better way to show my gratitude to God than to stretch a little further, stand a little taller and be a little better.  He's already shown me how, and filled my life with many worthy examples.  The best way to show gratitude is to be and do good.    Because I have been given much, I too must give.