Monday, December 15, 2014

Decorating the Tree

We finally got our tree decorated tonight.  The tree is not a groomed, symmetrical, farmed fir.  None of the ornaments match or coordinate in really anyway, and are thrown on somewhat haphazardly wherever the kids happen to be able to reach.  I couldn't love it more.

Decorating the tree is always one of my favorite parts of getting ready for Christmas.  This simple activity is consistently one of the best reminders of how much love surrounds us.

This year, the tree itself was a gift.  A man in our ward--who has consistently been wonderfully kind to our family since we moved into the ward a little more than two years ago--found out we were still without a tree.  On Sunday, he asked how high our ceilings were, and then showed up on our porch that afternoon with this beautiful 10 foot pine.  He and his wife had gone out after church in the snow (about 3 feet deep where they went) and cut a tree for us.

The ornaments are a mish-mash of thoughtfulness and affection.  There are the little snowmen ornaments and the temple ones from Mimi and Papa.  There's the pewter one from Papa Clark, and the star fish one from auntie Manda.  There are the shell ones we bought at The Shell Shop in Morro Bay when Dylan was a baby.  The black bear ornaments we bought while visiting Cabela's with auntie Jen and uncle Paul. There are the handprint and photo ornaments of various types that the kids have made over the years with me or in preschool and elementary school. There are so many which have been handmade by auntie Christa over the years for all the kids.  The tree skirt wrapped around the base was a wedding gift--made by Grandma Clark, who has now left us.
For me, it really doesn't really feel like Christmas until there's a tree up, the living room warm with the soft glow of the lights.





Our tree is decorated with love, in every sense.  The tree itself is meant as a symbol of hope, of love triumphing over death, separation, and sadness.  And the ornaments we hang on it every year are simple little reminders of how much love surrounds our family.  Because I married a boy from a town more than 1,000 miles away from the place I call home, every Christmas since we got married has been spent far away from one family or the other (or both).  The decorations are evidence that we are in the hearts of people we love but can't always be with, and I have always been grateful for the homesickness I tend to feel at Christmas time--I have always known that it exists only because there are so very many people in my life who are worth missing.
After I put my camera away and started writing, I noticed that one of our elves found a comfortable spot on the window pane behind the tree.  She's an elf that came to us from my Grandma Umphrey. Grandma said she thought the elf was a little younger than my dad.  We lost Grandma just a few months ago, and seeing little Hope (as the kids named her) perched there amongst the evergreen boughs and sparkling lights is a sweet reminder that even the separations that seem so far, so permanent are--thanks to the glorious, powerful love we celebrate this time of year--merely temporary.  I am increasingly grateful for that every year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Its Only Been a Month

The last couple years have been hard on my blog.  Its not likely to get a whole lot better the next 18 months.  But then, ah, licensing exam, and a little bit more control over my life again.  Not as much as I'd like in some ways, more than I had hoped in others.

I never meant to be a working mom.  But we started hitting a point where I didn't see any way around it.  And while I love learning and have really been enjoying all the cool stuff I get to do, some part of me (at times tiny, at times all too big) has struggled to be grateful for the opportunities rather than resentful of the need.  I loved being a stay-at-home mom.  There were moments where I didn't like it, but there were never moments where I wanted to be anything else.   It meant making financial sacrifices, of course, but all the flexibility it gave my family (and, yes, me--I have had to learn to be better at saying "no" or at least "not right now") was an advantage that was worth all the trade offs to me.

But then I started school, and suddenly other people had all kinds of control over my schedule and demands on my time that had nothing (directly) to do with my family, and we were still poor but now lacked the flexibility.  I have known all along that that is a temporary circumstance, but it was hard for me to have neither the time I wanted, nor the financial comfort of a second income.  I know, boo hoo.  A lot of couples work a lot more hours and live on less. I know that.  But its been a hard adjustment for me.

The hardest part, in reality, was the shack we've been living in.  Our landlords have been great, but this house is 100 years old and no one has put any significant time or money into it for three decades or so, and it shows.  The layout is awkward, making it feel even smaller than it is, there is no storage and not enough outlets in any room, the kitchen is small and is also the laundry room, the plumbing is only semi-reliable and the heat has had its quirks and down time, too.  The floors aren't even (no, really), the wall paper is pealing or ripped in several places, the floors and carpets are a mess, there is really nothing that could reasonably be called a "yard" (even after hours and hours of work the first two falls and spring we were here, its little more than a 10' x 15' dandelion/rose patch).  To top it all off, it sits in a mostly commercial area, on one of the two main one-way arterial streets in town, directly across the street from a car dealership, and bookended on our side by two bars.  I complained about it too much.  I felt trapped and suffocated by it too often.  I let it have way more control over my mood than I ever should have.  I only ever intended to live here a year, but with the rental market here being almost nonexistent and not wanting (or really being able) to buy a house before I finished school, I had simply resigned myself to starting and probably finishing our third year here.

When I had, after a long battle with myself, finally made peace with being here another 18 months or so, finally felt like I could focus on the copious ways the Lord has blessed us in our time here and be satisfied with it, Doug came home with a key.

An acquaintance was moving on fairly short notice, and had been unable to sell her house quickly.  She knew we had struggled to find housing for our family, Doug had made a favorable impression on her, and she was partial to kids and families, so when she needed a tenant, she came and sought him out.  She didn't require a deposit or last month's rent, just someone trustworthy and reliable who would take good care of the house.  She was only asking enough rent to cover the taxes and save up a bit for some upgrades she'd like to do on the house.  Its a beautiful old craftsman house, on a nice street, a short walk from Doug's office and the kids' schools and several friends' homes.  There is a small vegetable garden, a small garage and car port, a full width corner lot (fairly rare in our old-school industrial town where too many houses tended to be packed on too-small lots).  There's a true master bedroom, a kitchen I won't mind cooking in with the kids, a laundry room, a "kid's living room" upstairs between the kids' bedrooms.  Our dining table and chairs will not constantly be running into our living room couch.

I was exhausted the day Doug came home with the key, or I probably would've started jumping.  That afternoon, he'd come home with the bill for yet more car work.  We'd had a lot of that done the last couple of months, a lot of unplanned expense and after he told me the latest amount, neither one of us had any idea how we were going to do Christmas.  We have never done really big or expensive Christmases--the most presents the each kid has ever gotten in any one year from us AND Santa totaled 6, and those usually weren't extravagant gifts--but we really couldn't see how we were going to do anything.  The kids know that that's the case, and happily say they're fine with it because they get to go to California and do all kinds of fun stuff in May, but there's a difference between a kid saying they're OK with it on a random Tuesday in November, and actually being OK with it early Christmas morning when there aren't packages to unwrap.  So as I sulked over our meager Christmas and our always-too-many bills, feeling a bit overwhelmed and bogged down, this giant burst of light broke through my cloud.  And the kids seemed nearly as excited as we are.  They hate that there isn't much space outside for them here, and that they basically are living on top of each other because of the lack/arrangement of inside space.  I think they feel almost as crunched as we do.  When we took them through the new house last Saturday night, they were so excited that they were driving their Dad nuts.  Maybe a nice house and the anticipation of the Fresno Zoo and the Monterey Bay aquarium and all those fun Clark cousins they love so much really will be enough Christmas for them this year.

I know that, my ever-growing amazon wishlist notwithstanding, its definitely enough Christmas for me this year.  I have a full day of clinical tomorrow, for which I haven't completed my drug cards, and a comprehensive exam for pharmacology on Friday that I should probably be studying for, but I just had to take a moment tonight to record how grateful I am for our blessings.  I haven't been as good at seeing them this last year as I should, but the Lord has continued to poor them down anyway. Its been 2 years of living in this shack, and three years since I've been to California and seen most of my friends there, but this year I get a reprieve on both fronts, and I am feeling tremendously blessed for it.  Gifts under the tree or not, that ought to make for quite a wonderful Christmas.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tender Mercies

I've been feeling bogged down.  A lot.  For a long time.  I catch little glimmers of my old self in good moments, then it disappears in the slogging of our long days.  There are a lot of things in our life that I'm not terribly thrilled about, that I feel like I've been patient about for a long time and just don't want to be patient about anymore.  But patience is required for the only realistic paths over those hurdles.  But some days I fall prey to feeling like not only am I not making headway, but am actually going backwards.  I really hate how much I've allowed circumstances to dictate how I feel, and, even worse, how I treat my husband and kids.

The last couple of weeks, its culminated in resenting how "ugly" the town we live in is, and a terrible, aching homesicknesses for my grandmothers and for my days as a stay-at-home mom.   Life has always had its challenges, but the fact that I was able to be at home full time with my kids balanced out a lot of things for me.  Sending them all off to public school, friends' houses and Head Start so that I can get in to school and labs has been hard for me.

So yesterday morning, I went for a quick jog before school, and a song that always reminds me of my grandma came up on my iPod, and I looked up.  This is what it looked like in front of me:


This is not unusual.  It looks like this here most of the time.  Sure, town looks like an old man with some hard miles on him, but its in a beautiful place.  Clear air, big blue skies, puffy white clouds, conifer trees, a creek or two.  Its gorgeous.

I was cleaning up the back yard, and, buried in the mess of volunteer roses, dandelions and overgrown grass and raspberry bushes that passes for a yard, and in late October over a mile high, I found a little patch of violets.  I hadn't seen any before in the two years we've lived in this rental, but there they were.  When I was little, there were violets all over my Grandma's yard, and Michael and I would pick them by the tiny handfuls for Grandma, and she would indulge us by filling old, cleaned out butter tubs with a little water and we'd stick the violets in them. 

The same day, I got some change at the store, and ended up with a handful of centennial and state quarters--which my other grandma collected.

Normally I get home lateish on Thursday afternoons, but was able to switch my lab time this week so that I was home by lunch today.  On days when I get home early, I try to go spend some time in Keira's Head Start classroom.  The kids were on the playground when I got there, and she immediately ran over and into my arms and said, "I want to go home with you."  When I explained that I was there to spend some time helping in her classroom, she said, "No, I just want to go home with you."  Her teachers said she hadn't been herself all day: she hadn't been singing with them, hadn't been dancing and had generally been quiet.  She said she didn't feel sick and she wasn't warm.  For reference, this is fairly typical Keira:

She's independent and confident, you can almost always see those dimples, she's always laughing and singing and pretending.  She's almost always happy, and you almost always know it.

I signed her out and took her to the car, and she had already perked up by the time I strapped her in.  I reminded her that I didn't have school tomorrow (the first week day I haven't been gone in a couple of months) and she lit up.  By the time we got home, she was back to her old self.  She's snuggled up to me, singing along to a favorite movie.

About six more weeks and I'm done with school for a month.  I think that first day after my last final, the kids are all sleeping in, no one is going to school, and we're all going to spend the day watching Christmas movies and making crafts.  Just because we can.

Life is good, and I know that in my head.  I need to take care to feel it in my heart more often.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Missing

"By watching, I know that the stars are not going to last.  I have seen some of the best ones melt and run down the sky.  Since one can melt, they can all melt; since they can all melt, they can all melt the same night.  That sorrow will come--I know it. I mean to sit up every night and look at them as long as I can keep awake; and I will impress those sparkling fields on my memory, so that by and by when they are taken away I can by my fancy restore those lovely myriads to the black sky and make them sparkle again, and double them by the blur of my tears."
                                                              ~Mark Twain

It is a terribly difficult thing, to watch the brightest stars melt.  It is a terrible thing to feel like, no matter how much time one has to soak up their presence, it is somehow never enough.

It is a tremendous thing to know that endings are not our destiny, and that the stars will all be restored to us.  That is an eternal reassurance for which I am ever grateful.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Gifts

A few weeks ago, I was thinking how to best convince my children to love e.e. cummings and Shakespeare, because I love them so much and I'm quite certain my children will encounter neither at school.  And in the midst of my plotting (clearly, it would be best to start Keilana off with "little you-i"--after that, I'm sure she'd be hooked), it occurred to me that no one introduced me to them, at least directly.

I grew up with parents who are teachers, learners, readers.  Our living room had 3-4 sets of overstuffed bookshelves, and the room we all referred to simply as "the office" (a long room at the end of the house that was the full width of my parents' good-sized home) had bookshelves made from plywood boards and bricks that ran the full length of the room, floor to ceiling, and were completely full of books of nearly every kind imaginable--and that's before we got to the books in bedrooms and in piles on the end tables and counters of our living spaces.

The personal library my parents had accumulated in their many years of reading and teaching was my best teacher.  I was free to wander through the shelves at my own speed and indulge whatever title or cover or description sounded interesting.  It wasn't merely the quantity of books available, but the quality and diversity that was truly amazing.  My father had been (and is again) a high school English teacher, and so we were awash in classics:  in high school, I read a good portion of Shakespeare's plays, several Jane Austen novels, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Republic, quite a lot of Dickens, and a tiny bit of Chaucer.  Not because they were assigned, but because they were there and sounded interesting.  There was a seemingly limitless supply of poets (I tended toward Whitman, cummings, and Wordworth).  I read histories by Stephen Ambrose and Wallace Stegnar, I read biographies of Lincoln and Jefferson and Adams, I worked my way through the Federalist Papers, I read about the Civil War and the modern South.  I discovered a love for science I didn't know I had by reading books about trees and flowers, human biology, and ecology that somehow found their way into the collection.  I read fiction of all kinds--historical, sci-fic, chick lit, fantasy.  I discovered Tolkien, and Lewis, and a great love for the kind of fiction that actually taught me things rather than just entertained me.  I read Ender's Game for the first time after picking it off the shelf in the office, and discovered my favorite living writer, and one of my favorite fiction series ever, books that changed and sharpened my own beliefs.

You get the idea.  I have tried to be good at getting the kids to the library often to make up for the fact that we don't have a lot of space in our current house for books.  We have two relatively small bookshelves of adult books, and a small bookshelf full of kids books.  We have boxes and boxes of books in storage, even after getting rid of many through multiple moves, and I hope that in the next few years we are able to get situated to where we can have them out for our teenagers to peruse at random.  We have books on the Kindle and audio books on our mobile devices, but that isn't quite the same as having shelves of actual books to let your fingers wander through.

I grew up in a small town in rural Montana.  That has many advantages, but it has disadvantages, as well.  It was easy for my parents to instill in us a love of nature and outdoor activities, taking us camping and hiking and berry picking, while teaching us the names of flowers we picked and animals we passed or saw evidence of.  It was easy for them to teach us the value of family, with grandparents  being part of our daily lives, as well as some aunts and uncles and cousins.  It has long impressed me how remarkably good my parents were at overcoming the disadvantages of that environment.  We went to historical museums, art museums, aquariums and zoos, national parks and cities that were within driving distance.  When they took me to Washington, D.C. as a 12-year-old, it was revelatory.  Despite their large family and relatively small budget, I had the opportunity to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square and the National Symphony Orchestra at the National Cathedral. I got to canoe down portions of the upper Missouri, explore the Seattle Science Center, and take in Renoirs at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  I saw a Sondheim musical at the Kennedy Center, and learned how to sew and raise pigs for 4-H.  They gave us everything they could, and then filled in all the spaces in between with piles and piles of books.  While I'm sure they could see many of my strengths and weaknesses just as I am capable of seeing those of my own children, they never pushed me in any particular direction, nor failed to nudge me forward.  I'm trying to find that balance, to give that gift of limitless options and knowledge to my kids.

They never told me that I could learn or do anything--they just put the tools in reach and expected me to use them, built my confidence and helped me patiently through my struggles, and somewhere along the way I became consciously aware of how much wonder and beauty and good there was in the world.  I sometimes feel like I'm not as good at providing those tools for my kids, but I hope that we can continue to show them how big and full the world is, and how delightful it is to explore, whether in a canoe, a theater seat, or curled up in bed with a book.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

First Days

We're all back to school.  We've been struggling to get into a routine.  Part of that is that my schedule has been different every single week so far, so its hard for the kids to get into a groove.  This week we should get closer to that.  I'm in Butte 'til 5pm two days a week, but thankfully "our Katies" have been awesome.  The older kids go to the Laws after school, and the younger ones go to the Postmas, and mama feels much better not sending anyone off to daycare or Boys and Girls Club.  We're all really lucky to have found such kind and generous friends.

The older three started school right after Labor Day, and they were all pretty excited. 

Keilana is in 5th grade this year:
Its crazy how grown up she is.
Independent, enthusiastic, smiley.
She is more horse-obsessed than ever,
and is doing 4H this year,
including a horse project
with riding lessons that started the second week of school.
She's pretty excited about being
in the accelerated math and reading class.
She's either bouncing off the walls
or has her nose buried in a book,
usually fantasy.
She seems intent on striking some precarious balance
with her head in the clouds
and her feet firmly on the ground.
She wore her boots and "riding shirt"
to the first day of school,
and was irritated that she'd left her hat at a friend's house.
Her greatest desire in life
is to be a real cowgirl.
With a touch of veterinarian medicine on the side.

Dylan is a 3rd grader this year:
School is just sort of what happens
around all the other things he's doing.
He's always studying his bird guide book
or memorizing Eye Witness books
about animals
or watching Pokemon
(or enacting fantasy Pokemon battles).
When he isn't reading about wild animals,
he's neck-deep in Legos and K'nex.
He told me he wants to join 4H,
so he can do a robotics project.
Though they can be difficult for others to decipher,
he has systems and orders and rules
by which he mentally organizes his world.
Hopefully, someday his schoolwork
will be a part of that order.
We're working on it.
But he's learning a lot all of the time.


Kylie is in kindergarten this year:
 She is sweet and sensitive,
and assertive and sassy at the same time.
She loves animals and babies
and My Little Pony.
She is obsessed with the idea
that she's a real princess,
and Yaya and I are real queens,
and Daddy and Papa are real kings.
She tells everyone she can.
And she's always delighted
when I tell another little girl
that she's a real princess, too.
She love to help people feel special,
and hugs are often her weapon of choice.
She gives incredible hugs.
She's love frilly dresses
and big bows in her hair
and doesn't let any one,
or any thing,
get in her way.


Keira, well, she's headed off to Head Start:
She's only 3 1/2.
But she's used to keeping pace
with her brother and sisters.
They tell me she's half-tiger.
She smiles all the time,
this huge, cheesy, squinty-eyed smile,
but she also growls and head butts us a lot,
so there may be something to that tiger thing.
She's confident.
Ridiculously confident.
She dances and jams like a rock star,
wrestles like she's on WWE.
She alternates between stomping and prancing,
and her imagination knows no bounds.
The afternoons when she's home alone,
she'll set up her Littlest Pet Shop toys,
or her barn and farm animals,
and enact whole story lines,
all by herself.
Its fun to listen to her explore
the limitless world in her own marvelous
little mind.
She's quite certain that the world is her oyster.
And so it is.


This transition has been hard for me.  Every time I feel like school is taking too much of our time, too much of our money, asking too much of our support system, I get a quiet, reassuring prompting that its what we're supposed to be doing right now.  But I struggle with how much time it demands.  I don't mind doing the work--a great deal of it is quite enjoyable to me--but over the course of our family life, we have made sacrifices, happily gone without many of the luxuries and amenities that a lot of people around us enjoy so that we could have the ultimate luxury of one parent at home full-time.  I'm struggling to let go of that ideal we've been able to hold on to for the last decade, despite the ups and downs.  I hate that the last two years my baby is "home", she's actually in Head Start part of most days and I'm out of town 30 hours a week.  Thankfully, our kids are young enough that the extra-curricular activities are still minimal, so if I plan my studying and homework well, we can soak up our time together in the evenings and on weekends, and Keira and I can steal a little time here and there some days, and I'm very grateful for that. I'm grateful that I don't have to have a job while going to school, so that that doesn't compete for time with my husband and kids.  All the decisions we've made since having kids have been based around accomplishing the things we need to for work and church, while still maximizing our time together as a family.  I think we've had some help figuring that out in the phase we're in right now and I'm grateful for that. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Better than date night. . .

Last night, we did the back-to-school father's blessings.  The kids actually started last week, but after two really full, really draining weeks for which we weren't entirely prepared, we just weren't quite ready.  But this week was Fast Sunday, and we'd had some time to get on routine and catch up, so before bed we gathered our littles in the front room, said a family prayer, and then, starting with the oldest, Daddy gave each unique, wonderful little person we've been blessed with a blessing one at a time, telling them what the Lord wanted them to know for the upcoming year.

I never love my husband more than in moments like this:  moments where his tenderness for his children is evident, where his devotion to passing onto them all the good things with which he's been blessed really shines through.  Their blessings are theirs to keep and treasure and remember, and so I don't share the details with the world.  But there was much talk of reading, loving to read, learning through reading; bravery, courage, determination; and, as always, many reminders of love, and of how well both their earthly father and their Heavenly Father know them, and are paying attention to what they want, what they need, the wonderful strengths they've been blessed with, and the challenges that are their opportunity to work through.

Lastly, Doug laid his hands on my head and gave me a blessing.  I have often felt a bit like I was running on empty lately.  I perpetually feel like I'm playing catch-up, both emotionally and in a practical to-do list kind of way.  My blessing hit on every reassurance I needed, quelled every insecurity about the number of balls I'm trying to keep in the air right now, and put my mind thoroughly at ease over other challenges we know full well are on the very near horizon.  We haven't been on a date in nearly 4 months, and all at once that didn't seem like such a problem.

This year is going to be full of several new adventures, and some new challenges. But I'm grateful to have a companion and children who make me feel confident that we can meet those challenges, rise to the occasion, and keep smiling through it all.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Grandma

Surrounded by a few of her great-granddaughters, all decked out in red lipstick.

I'm all out of grandparents.  My paternal grandmother passed away a couple of weeks ago.  I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to be near home for the last few years of her life, and I'm tremendously grateful that my parents chose a life that enabled their kids to build strong relationships with our grandparents.  I can never thank them enough for providing opportunities for closeness with my grandmothers.

Grandma was feisty, which was probably evident in the bright red lipstick and auburnish curls before you ever heard hear speak.  And then she spoke.  She talked too fast, enunciated poorly, exclaimed frequently, and made snap judgments unapologetically.  She could have a quick temper.  About 2/3 of her wardrobe was bright red.  All of that was simply part of her passionate nature.  She loved to dance, she played the violin beautifully, and spent a good chunk of her life elbow-deep in fabric and batting, creating quilt after quilt for kids and grandkids.  With Grandma, you always knew where she stood and where you stood with her.  She always called it like she saw it and you never had to wonder what she was thinking.

My childhood memories of Grandma are all happy ones: delivering Meals on Wheels, running her Saturday errands with her hair in curlers so she'd look nice for church on Sunday, working the concession stand at the movie theater, playing Chinese checkers or making popsicle stick towers on her living room floor while she watched Matlock or Highway to Heaven, giggling at the way she'd pop her dentures in and out a bit during conversations, employing the treadmill in her spare bedroom as an amusement ride of sorts: Michael and I would turn it on and then sit or stand and ride off the end of it, hitting the floor or occasionally the wall, and Grandma would laugh and we'd do it again.  Mostly, that's what I remember:  we were very free to be kids with Grandma.  I never remember hearing a "don't do that" or "don't play with that"--it seemed like just about anything was fair game, and nearly any activity acceptable, and she seemed to have as much fun watching us be rambunctious as we had in being rambunctious.  A lifetime of near-poverty (and perhaps just innate personality) had made her something of a squirrel, always collecting supplies, not often getting rid of things, but she never seemed particularly attached to the stuff--it was there in case it might be needed, but it was just stuff.  She never seemed to worry much about anything be broken or worn out.  As long as we were having a good time, she seemed to be happy.

When I was about 16, I'd been bugging her to teach me how to make all of the treats for which she was well-known, so she told me to come on up and we'd make them all.  I drove to Ronan and spent all day with her, making fudge, popcorn balls, and angel food cake with 7-minute frosting and red sprinkles.  Our conversation ranged all over the place--as it did for the rest of her life--and we laughed a lot.  Much of the conversation was, always, centered around her kids and other grandkids.  She'd say something like, "He's so stubborn, has such a temper," about one, and I'd laugh and respond, "I wonder where he gets that from, Grandma!" And she'd laugh knowingly and say, "Well, I just can't imagine!"  She'd update me on cousins I was in contact with far too infrequently, and talk with excitement about any soon-to-arrive grandkids or great grandkids. When I came home with my haul after a full day of cooking and talking, mom laughed and said, "Is it any wonder she's your diabetic grandma?"  Grandma thrived on many of lives simplest, most delightful pleasures, whether that was a popcorn ball, a blackened marshmallow (the experience really isn't complete unless there is marshmallow all over your hands and face), or rocking a baby.

Grandma loved to rock babies, feed babies, snuggle babies.  Of all the things that Grandma passed on to me, I think my favorites are my dimples, and a feeling that life is good when you're holding a baby.  I often watched her visibly relax and delight with each of my own babies in her arms, and was delighted by the joy of knowing that she loved my children, and that they were cradled gently in arms that once lovingly rocked me.  Grandma's whole life happily and contentedly revolved around kids--her kids, her grandkids, her great-grandkids.  The most joy I ever heard from her came in talking about how great her kids are, and the most worry and concern I ever heard from her was in expressing concern that one of them didn't seem happy.  She wanted them to be happy.

She had various jobs over the years--the movie theater, in-home daycare, etc--but never really had a career.  She was mostly poor most of her life.  She had no significant worldly accomplishments.  And she didn't care about any of it.  At the end of the day, the only things that mattered to her were whether her kids were happy, and if she was fulfilling her calling.

I have never, to this day (and I've now known a few stake presidents, temple presidents and such), known anyone who took their calling--every calling--as seriously as Grandma.  Whether it was Primary secretary, ward librarian, ward chorister, or anything else, it was her job, and she was going to prepare, show up and do it right.

My cousin Annie, Grandma's first grandchild, shared a brief story at her funeral that so perfectly captured who Grandma was.  Annie had come up to visit, and Sunday morning she found Grandma on the floor of her bedroom.  She asked her what she was doing there, and Grandma responded that she had fallen.  And then, with typical Grandma-style feistiness, said, "Well, help me up so I can get going!"  She had so many health problems the last few years, even struggling to get out of bed without falling, but she was ready to get up off that floor and get to Church.  It was important.  And Grandma didn't neglect the truly important things--she gave them every priority.  She had weaknesses and took some falls, but she picked herself up and kept going every time, because she knew where she should be, she was unwaveringly certain of the direction she should be heading, and come what may she was going to keep heading that way.

My grandparents divorced when I was a young toddler, so I have no memories of them as a married couple.  I had heard a few stories over the years that had made me believe that they made each other crazy (though, notably, throughout most of my childhood, they were both usually at our family gatherings, and that never seemed to be an issue).  My grandma had chosen to marry a man who wasn't a member of the Church she so dearly loved, and he had challenges that she struggled with.  Their respective challenges and weaknesses and frustrations seem to have led to a marriage that was often difficult.  Despite all the stories I had heard, I didn't understand entirely what had happened until my Grandma shared a story with me when I was a young women, just after she served as my escort when I received my Endowment.  She expressed joy and pride in my decision, and gratitude that I'd found a good man to be there with me.  She didn't receive her own Endowment until she was middle-aged, and she had been feeling prompted for some time before she took that step that it was time to go to the temple.  So, even though Grandpa didn't seem any closer to accepting the Gospel, she went to the temple, and felt overwhelmingly that she was where she was supposed to be, doing what the Lord wanted her to do, but in that moment she realized that "all the steps I took to get closer to the Lord took me a few steps farther from Lamar, and he didn't want to come with me".  She told me that 20 years after that experience, and how much that realization broke her heart was still evident.

Grandma is simple in many ways--she speaks unequivocally in black and white.  Sometimes I think that because of that, she wasn't given enough credit for how thoughtful she was in much of what she did.  I can't comment on the rightness or wrongness of her decisions relating to her marriage, but I do know that everything she told me spoke of her great desire--despite her admitted stubbornness and reactiveness--to be obedient to what she believed to be true, and to set an example of obedience to her children.  Sometimes that required sacrifices and even heartbreak--but she trusted the Lord.  Throughout my years in California, as our new, young family faced many diverse challenges and leapt hurdles and went through growing pains, she called me often to check in and was a wonderful source of encouragement, always reminding me that I was trying hard to be a good mom and to raise my kids with good things, and I had a good husband who was teaching them and supporting us, so the Lord would take notice and take care of us.  She reminded me frequently that there was never going to be a better time in my life than right then, snuggling babies, watching toddlers explore and growing with my family.  She expressed gratitude all the time for finally having a companion that she trusted to be at her side and support her.  She clearly was so happy to finally have some of her children sealed to her, and to feel more confident than ever that she would get to be with them and hug them again.

Grandma's life was successful.  She made mistakes, she had imperfections, but as her mortal life was drawing to a close, she was so peaceful.  She had no regrets, no feelings that she had neglected anything important.  Because she hadn't.  She had focused with nearly all her energy for nearly all her  life on the only things that ever actually mattered.  Its impossible to overstate how much her firm determination influenced and shaped my own testimony, especially in my young adult years.  I will be eternally grateful to her, the woman who made it feel like it was OK that sometimes I talk too fast or giggle too much.  My enthusiasm for the things I enjoy, which sometimes can seem a bit over the top to some people, Grandma just embraced with her own enthusiasm.  Besides, when we get excited, you can see the dimples more.  How can you not love a good set of dimples?

She rocked me as a baby, she encouraged my creativity and playfulness as a child, she helped me hone my math skills working concessions stands at the movie theater as a tween, she escorted me through the temple as a young woman, and bore her testimony to me often as an adult and talked and laughed me through some of my most pull-my-hair-out type days as a young mom.  Its hard to ask for a better grandma than that.

I miss her already.  But I've never been more confident that I'll see her again.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Insomnia

I was lying in bed completely exhausted and wide awake--again--and thought it might help me get to sleep if I got up and wrote for a while and tried to empty my head a little bit.

I've been meaning to write a lot more this summer--and have probably started about 2 dozen blog posts--but every time I start to write, most of it is so vague that I end up thinking its useless, or its vague and I still feel like its far too personal and informative to put out there in the universe.  Its my way:  when things are stressful or difficult, I retreat into my shell.  I have joked about being a hermit, but I do keep getting worse.  I know I need to stop retreating, but in the back of my head I think I know that since school will be starting soon and I have class five days a week and will have to be more interactive (five days a week.  FIVE.), some part of me is justifying soaking up the solitude. Or at least the only-my-kids-and-husband-ever-talk-to-me partial solitude.  I have always been of the nature that I need to be mentally prepared to socialize, or I forget to hold up my end of the conversation, or just do so awkwardly, but half the time lately I feel like I'm doing that even when I should theoretically be prepared.  Not writing here wouldn't be so bad, but I haven't been journaling either.  I haven't been recording my kids the way I should, either in pictures or writing.  It may be the lost year in our family story.  Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic, but I tend to think we won't forget it.

Its been a rocky few years, and I think part of my problem is simply fatigue.  Things are actually going really well for our little family is so many ways.  We have found productive ways to address things that have been hanging over our heads for years, and I told Doug recently that I was the most personally optimistic I've ever been about us as a couple, as individuals, and about our family.  Which is wonderful, because it came after two of probably the most difficult years we've ever had.  But I am so sad and angry and frustrated about other things, beyond my control, that I'm struggling to be as happy as I probably should be about our blessings of late.  I have always had trouble separating my own emotions and circumstances from those of the the individuals I care about the most.  At my best, that makes me very empathetic and compassionate.  At my worst, it makes me a total basket case.  I seem to be vacillating between the two the last year.

And so I go to bed, and my mind starts racing and it won't shut up.  I'm sure nervousness about going back to school has increased it the last week or so, but its been happening for a while.

Truth be told, I've struggled with bouts of insomnia since I was a teenager.  My mind would start ping-ponging right about the time I wanted to go to sleep and would not stop.  I regularly fell asleep in class, and, on more than one occasion, a particularly kind and understanding teacher that I was an aid for actually turned out the lights and shut the door when I fell asleep in his classroom (during a prep period with no students) so that no one would disturb me.  It got better in college, and after I had my first baby (I was so utterly exhausted that I can and would fall asleep any time the chance arose).  For about a year after Conner died, every few weeks I'd have another bout of sleeplessness where my mind would run through horrible possibilities, or latch on to any and every reason it could think of to stress out.  Getting pregnant with and having Kylie Bear brought a lot of peace, and it got better for a while, until the unemployment stress.

I realized something recently, though.  When I was a teenager, the only real fool proof cure was going to Grandma's house.  The whole time I was growing up, I never lived more than half a mile from my Grandma (as the crow flies), and so from the time I was very little and all the way up through high school, I regularly spent the night at her house.  And I never had any trouble sleeping there.  No matter what was going on, when I went to Grandma's, I could feel peaceful and relaxed and drift off to sleep with ease.  A lot of it was a very conscious feeling of being emotionally safe there, with so many of my happiest childhood memories being wrapped up in that place, so little there to annoy or frustrate or sadden me. What I realized just a few months ago was that my mom's house now has the same effect on me.  I crawl into a warm soft bed in her basement and can sleep right through the night and even the sun coming up.  My anxiety about all the things beyond my control that tends to shout at me when my house finally gets quiet, remains subdued when I'm at "home".

My mom's house is sort of a family hub: a more or less constant buzz of activity, of coming and going, of aunts and uncles and cousins, flowing in and out in various combinations and group sizes.  Sunday afternoon dinners can easily be bigger than some families' holiday gatherings.  Its hard for others to tell which kids belong to whom, because for the most part all of the kids are as well loved and cared for by their aunts and uncles as they are by their parents, and are nearly as likely to arrive with a mish-mash of cousins as they are to pull up with their brothers and sisters.  And my mom calmly and patiently smiles through it all.  I remember there the same thing I used to know at Grandma's: there's a lot of love around me, and ultimately it matters a lot more than all the other things I worry about.  There are real troubles and real challenges, but there's enough love here to tend the wounds and carry each other when needed, and those relationships and that love will last.  All these beautiful kids--my kids, my nieces and nephews--they know that they are loved, that there are people who are paying attention, who care who they are and what they do and will love them no matter what.

I have heard people say that they believe we choose our families before we come to this earth.  I don't know if that's true, but I'm tremendously grateful to have been born into a family that makes it an easy thought to believe.

I think I'll sleep on that.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Family Reunion

We had a family reunion this weekend,
for my mom's siblings' families.
My grandpa would've been 100 this year.
Grandma's 98th birthday passed last week.
Nearly all of my mom's siblings are great-grandparents.
So the 100 people we had here
were really just a tiny fraction of my grandparents' descendants.
My mom was the baby of 7,
so most of my first cousins are closer to her age
than to mine.
It was fun to spend a little time this weekend
getting to know them better
as an adult.
I'm lucky to be related to a lot of really cool people.

This is my favorite shot of the weekend:
This is my mom's oldest brother, Leonard (76 years old)
and her youngest uncle, Harold (92 years old).
They've spent a lot of years working together.
Their faces float through a fair amount
of my childhood memories.
They both look so much like my grandma,
especially when they smile or laugh.
Watching them both laugh so hard they could hardly catch their breath,
while my oldest brother told a tall tale
(that happened to involve this particular uncle)
made my heart dance.

I love knowing where I come from,
and seeing little pieces of the people we love,
in all these other people who love them.
I love my family.
And I should.
I got a good one.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dylan's Baptism

February isn't a great time for get togethers and traveling, so we decided to wait for summer to get Dylan baptized.

He was baptized by Doug, in St. Ignatius, MT, on July 5th.

The meeting was conducted by his Grandpa, Chuck Winter.
Aunt Christina West played the music, and great-Grandma Elda Joy was the chorister.
Papa Umpy gave the talk on baptism.
Papa Umpy and Papa Chuck were the witnesses.
His dad performed the confirmation,
with Michael L. Umphrey, Michael K. Umphrey, Charles Winter, Paul West
and Bishop Alan Mikkelsen standing in.
I gave the talk on the Holy Ghost.
Grandmas Valerie Umphrey and Katy Winter
gave the opening and closing prayers.
A few family members didn't make it,
either due to illness or distance,
but we remembered them, too,
and were grateful all over again
on Dylan's special day
that he has such a large and amazing support system around him. 
There was an amazing Spirit present,
and I think Dylan will remember it.

He is known and loved
by some pretty remarkable people,
and most of all by a Heavenly Father who cherishes him.
In the confirmation blessing,
he was reminded that Heavenly Father knows his challenges
and his strength,
and if he pays attention to the Spirit,
the wonderful new gift of constant companionship,
he'll help him navigate life.
Which can be a pretty tricky thing to do.


These little monkeys are my favorite things in the whole wide world.
It was good to be reminded of that.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Weary Mother's Prayer

The last few months have been challenging for me. I have struggled to be the mother my kids deserve.  But you know what's sort of amazing about kids?  They love me anyway.  They still would rather be next to me than anywhere else in the world most of the time.

I pray that they'll remember the nights we sat and read our scriptures and said a prayer together and had lots of hugs before bed, and let the memories of the nights I sent them to bed abruptly, without any of that, fade away.

I pray that they'll remember making Christmas fudge and personal Valentines, and the favorite dinners on the days I had a little more time, and not cling to the too many nights lately that I've relied on grilled cheese sandwiches and frozen burritos to fill everyones' tummies.

Let them remember the handmade Halloween costumes that took hours to sew, not the week after week of "Sorry, I'll patch them next week" when they pulled out a favorite pair of jeans in the morning, only to realize they still had a big hole in the knee.

Let them remember the quiet moments at the table working through a challenging homework problem together, or the moments that I sat down and read them a favorite book, more clearly than they remember the moments I snapped at them to just get it done already, I'm so tired.

May they take more from the days we do chores together with patience and success than from the days that we impatiently snap and criticize over what's not done, or how its been done.

May they always believe me when I wrap my arms around them and tell them I love them, even though we all know there are times when I am less than great at showing it.

May I keep myself mindful of the fact that Mother Guilt makes me view my own failures and insufficiencies as being both more severe and more frequent than they really are, and that when I kneel down to pray,  the Lord reassures me that I'm doing better than I think I am.  Discouragement and unnecessary self-criticism are the enemies of productivity and cheerfulness.

Remember that the scars you bare from giving your children mortal life mirror the scars the Savior bares from bringing them immortal life.  He is always with you to assist you in the powerful work you do as a mother to these developing souls.  When you spend the night restless with worry or fear over your kids, remember that the Savior spent a anguished night alone, while all those who loved him slept,  pleading with our Father to take the pain away, if possible.  But the greatest works in the universe--those that bring the greatest joys--come with the exercise of agency, and so cannot be completed without pain.  But remember that his pain can swallow yours up, his fatigue was overcome so that he might succor you in yours, and you are loved more than you can imagine.  You are never alone in this tremendous work, and you are doing better than you think.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Fortunate

My mom has been saying for some time
that she will be "old"
when these babies turn 30:
We will hit that milestone
later this week.
I have a hard time seeing my mom as old.
I wish I were going to be hanging out with these two
on Wednesday.
At any rate,
I was just thinking today what good fortune it is
that these are the first two people I knew in this world.
30 years after arriving here
They're still two of my favorite people
and definitely two of the people
that have loved me most
and best.
Whenever I hear the line
"We all come into this world alone"
I smile
and think to myself,
"I didn't"
I'm tremendously grateful for that.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Papa and Grandma are up for a visit. . .

Doug's dad and step-mom got here this afternoon.
It didn't take the little girls very long
to make themselves comfortable.
They're both big believers in the virtues of cuddling.
Papa was happy to oblige them.

We decided to head just over the hill to Phillipsburg,
where there is a giant candy store
called The Sweet Palace.
It is well named.
The kids each got a bag.
There are 1100 different kinds of candy in the store
(counting all the different flavors
of made-on-location
taffy, fudge and caramels).
I told them each to pick 10. 


Whoever coined the phrase
"Happy as a kid in a candy store"
probably had something like this in mind.

The kids helped Papa and Dad pick out some "grown up" candy.
Truffles.  The good stuff.
I got an orange cream and a lemon cream.
I haven't eaten the orange yet.
The lemon was practically perfect.
The little chunk of rocky road was pretty awesome, too.

Its been quite a good day,
and it sounds like we're off to Great Falls in the morning,
for a visit to the Lewis and Clark interpretive center,
and maybe CM Russell gallery
and Giant Springs.
Lots of visiting.
More tomorrow.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Shifting Focus

I'm at the laundromat (again) engaged in a study of human behavior, and why wars break out when resources are scarce.  Not really. Well, sort of.  Our washer has been on the fritz for about 6 weeks, and I am not terribly mechanically inclined (which wouldn't be a big deal except that I can't find an owner's manual, either in our house or online, and since I am not terribly mechanically inclined, I need diagrams and drawings for such thing), and Doug hasn't fixed it yet, so I'm trying to get the laundry done before another busy weekend.  But to do all the laundry for six people (and it hasn't even been a full week yet) I need five washing machines, minimum.  Another woman got here at the same time as me and promptly filled up four of them.  Two are broken.  That leaves me with three.  Which means that in order to get all my laundry done tonight, I'm going to have to stay here twice as long as I planned.  And even though logically I know better, some part of me was convinced that she must be a horrible, horrible human being and I wanted to throw all her wet laundry on the floor and take her washers for myself.  Not really.  Well, sort of.  Just a teeny, tiny part of me.  It might've gotten bigger when I realized two of her loads were on a pre-soak.

I'm tired.  A couple of the kids had check ups and shots this morning at 8, and then story/craft time at the library at 10:30, then home for lunch and chores, and then a couple of hours at the pool, where of course I got sunburned.  It was only 65* and partly cloudy, so I forgot to put sunscreen on everyone.  Rookie mistake, Becky.  You know better.  Then home to make dinner and do a few more chores, then off the the laundromat, which I find terribly annoying.  And, well, to be frank, its just been a long damn year.  The longness and the damnedness of it has sort of all settled on me this week:  I've found myself lethargic and demotivated.  And when I'm lethargic and demotivated, it tends to make me angry.  I don't do well with low-productivity, at least as I define it.  Today brought more fun news.  I'm tired.

So I realized, just about the time the washing-maching-stealing-lady left--LEFT--while her clothes were washing and I had a golden opportunity to throw her wet clothes on the folding table and claim the washers for Clarkdom, that maybe my focus is a little off.

Today, there has been much to be grateful for.  After a week of cold rain, the big blue skies full of impossibly white cumulus clouds--the sky I missed so much during our years in California--was back to its full glory, and the house was warm again. We met the pediatrician at the office we go to for the first time this morning (we usually see the NP), and he was a great fit for Dylan.  My kids are ridiculously healthy, and have delightfully boring personal and family health histories.  They all handle shots like CIA agents who've been trained to withstand Chinese interrogations.  The library in our little town puts together a wonderful summer reading program for the kids.  Despite the fact that some of them are paid very little and the rest of them aren't paid at all, they seem to genuinely love reading to and interacting with the kids and planning the activities.  We got to spend a couple of hours playing in a heated pool, with the older kids going down slides and off the diving board, and the little girls hanging out with me, jumping and trying to swim.  Everybody laughed a lot.

And then when I got here, as I was making my way toward the steps and the door with three loads of laundry in my arms, an older man standing outside the bar next door put down his cigarette and jogged over to open the door for me. With a great big smile.  He didn't have to do that.  A lot of people wouldn't have even noticed.  Or maybe a lot of them would.  I think that sometimes we don't give our fellow human beings enough credit.  I really think most people try to be good and decent.  I think people would probably smile more if I looked them in the eye more.

Its been really quite a wonderful day.  I wish I had noticed sooner. I've had a lot of really wonderful days, and parts of days, and moments this year.  I need to be better at writing them down.

Because gratitude gives me peace and makes me happy.  Gratitude and service are the only successful antidotes I've ever found to frustration, impatience, or--God forbid--self pity.

I'm sitting next to a wall of picture windows.  The sun is shining, the sky is a perfect baby blue, and I'm alone, all quiet save for the hum of washing machines.  That's not such a bad way to spend an evening, after all.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dad

My sister took this photo of our dad last year, but if I dug around long enough, I'm sure I could find dozens of other versions of it from over the years, including several I've taken.  This is the image that always comes to mind when I think of my dad:  lying on his side in the grass, notebook and/or camera near by, and children playing somewhere close, just out of frame.  Though I didn't consciously realize it while growing up, he did a wonderful job teaching me to see, and, by noticing what was around me, to think about those things which were important but not immediately visible.  He taught me to love quiet and observation, and to love making conscious sense of those things around me which were good and beautiful, why they mattered, and to record them.  Those are some of the skills I now cherish most in my life.

I always think of my dad as a quiet man.  Once, when we were teenagers, an adult acquaintance asked my twin brother and I if our dad ever talked, and we both immediately laughed in response.  We had often heard Dad talk at tremendous length about all kinds of interesting things.  But he only speaks if he has something to say.  He seems to approach words the same way that my grandmother saw food:  it was good to eat well each day, and to feast occasionally; but it was sinful to waste and throw away that which could be used to nourish and sustain.

Dad has always had a somewhat subversive sense of humor.  He believes in a higher order, in rules governed by Goodness, but has never hesitated to oppose the pettiness of bureaucrats and political administrators.  He taught me that it was OK to laugh at authority when that authority was, in fact, ridiculous.  As a little girl who was naturally inclined to please and tended to fear upsetting the adults in my life, that is perhaps one of the most important lessons he imparted to me in my childhood.  A few months ago, I thought of him when my little Kylie had a nightmare.  She came to me with tears and explained that we were with Strawberry Shortcake and everyone had to follow the evil Pie Man's mean orders.  I asked, "We did?" and her little face got firm and brave through her tears and she said, "Well, everyone else did, but we didn't.  We didn't follow his mean orders."  And I thought to myself, "Ok, we're passing on the right lessons.  Papa would be proud."

I always knew I could count on Dad with the big stuff.  When I ran a car off an icy road in December, I called him and not only was he not upset, he showed up in his truck, with a smile on his face, and pulled me out of the ditch and then followed me home to make sure I made it back alright.  When I applied to several very expensive universities my senior year of high school, he enthusiastically encouraged me to attend any one of them that I wanted, assuring me that we'd figure out how to make the financial end work if that's what I wanted to do.  But he's been good at a lot of the little stuff, too.  Often, I've mentioned a book I was interested in, or some tool I needed for the house, and a few days later an amazon package would arrive.  When we lived with my parents, sometimes one of my kids would wander into his office late at night, and he'd share his snacks and let them talk with him.  I think every one of my kids has planted flowers with him at some point, and learned some of the names of his thousands of beautiful flowers, and some of the birds that hang around all those flowers and trees.

My kids are too little yet to understand how much work goes in to making Papa's yard so beautiful, but I'm not.  As I watch my kids and my nieces and nephews run around the gardens and climb the trees, pick flowers in the spring and apples in the fall, and create day after day of happy memories in the little Eden he has created around and for them, I'm grateful to have a father who loves his family, who has shown us all that, no matter how beautiful the place you've found in this world is, you can do much to improve on its beauty.  I'm grateful for all the he has done to make the lone and dreary world much less lone and far less dreary for his tribe.  Its much easier to create beauty as an adult if you are taught to recognize it as a child.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

10

That's right, we've hit double digits, people!  
This wonderful little girl is 10 today:



Keilana is giggles and jumping,
novel-reading and card-making.
She's a bit of a scrub at heart,
preferring sweats to real pants,
unbrushed hair to fixed hair,
and doesn't mind a bit of dirt so much.
But that's mostly because she loves adventure,
and outside play,
and one must be comfortable for such pursuits,
after all.
She's full of spontaneity and wanderlust,
and when Daddy asks,
"Who wants to go for a drive?"
Keilana is always IN.
She loves the water and is a bit of a fish,
usually having to be dragged out when its time to go.
She loves to be outside,
whether in sunshine or snow.
She came into the world anxious
to see and experience all of it,
seemingly concerned she might miss out on something.
She's a treasure collector,
with little stashes of stuff-and-things
in the drawers of her desk,
the corners of her bed,
the shelves of her clothing,
the cubbies in her locker.
She's tender-hearted, sensitive,
but resilient.
She has a great desire to do good
and isn't afraid to speak up about what's important to her.
She is the oldest child in the family,
and she takes the responsibility seriously,
looking out for her baby sisters,
and helping them with tasks their littler hands struggle with.
She's outgoing and friendly,
with a tremendous love for people
and a desire to please.
She's always scribbling in notebooks
and laughing way too loud.
We wouldn't have her any other way.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Rights and Responsibilities



The anniversary of the restoration of the Priesthood to the earth just passed, and I've been thinking a lot about Priesthood authority. Thanks to the Ordain Women organization, female Priesthood ordination is a big issue (or at least seems like one due to the volume of the discussion).

I understand the frustration. I do not agree with or approve of what Ordain Women is doing.  The brethren have repeatedly made it clear that there are certain channels we use to raise and address issues we have within the Gospel and the Church, and I understand why those channels exist and I fully support them.  Having questions is one thing--openly defying the publicly stated requests the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles is quite another.  The moment you start calling yourself an "agitator" and acting like one, you have lost me.  Once you start staging public protests (media in tow) you aren't trying to understand, you're trying to win.  I cannot support that.  Furthermore, I believe quite strongly that the First Presidency and the Twelve are extraordinarily "tuned in" to what is happening in the world and within the Church, and that they are soft-hearted and responsive, and take inquiries, challenges and sincere desires for further light and knowledge quite seriously.  If I see someone writing (or implying) that they are a bunch of clueless old men who just don't "get it" or "aren't listening", my ability to take the individual seriously immediately starts to dwindle, because quite frankly I just think she's flat wrong.

That being said, I don't think its fair to dismiss any woman (or for that matter, man) who has questions about  women and Priesthood administration, or women and the temple, or any other such doctrine, as lacking faith, being disobedient or an apostate.  While I don't personally know any one who would identify herself as a "feminist Mormon", I have spent a quite a lot of time reading blog posts and discussions by those who identify themselves as such, and many of them are thoughtful, intelligent and seem like decent and mostly faithful sisters.  (Sure, there are some that definitely come off as angry or hurt and looking for someone to blame, or intellectually arrogant and consequently short on faith, but by no means are all the sisters who participate in such forums like that).  Some of the questions they ask are things I have myself noticed and/or wondered about.  Personally, I don't believe that many of the questions are in and of themselves necessarily destructive or out in left field.  But I think, especially in the world of the internet, where you have no idea who is reading what you say, or what the state of their testimonies or understanding might be, one must be very careful not to project personal frustrations or offer pure conjecture as answers to such questions.

Even though I have had some similar questions, or made some similar observations, it has never occurred to me that such things should challenge my faith in my Savior, in the validity and authority of his Church, the revelation and wisdom of the current leaders of that Church or the order the Lord has appointed for his Kingdom on Earth.  Whatever questions I may have or things I may not know, here is what I do know:  I have Heavenly Parents who love me, a tremendously merciful and kind Savior who gave all for my redemption, and the Church is led by inspired, righteous Priesthood leaders who are instructed in and  obedient to the will of the Lord.  There are things we do not yet know, or fully understand.  I'm OK with that.  One of my favorite things about our faith is that there are no Mysteries of God that are ultimately Unknowable.  I believe that Heavenly Father "will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God", and I trust his wisdom, and the obedience and prudence of those he has chosen to lead his children, in the timing of those marvelous revelations.  Usually, the Lord offers revelation as an answer to diligent searching and sincere asking, but we have records of various instances when prophets have failed to ask for those things that were needful, or even tried to ignore revelation they didn't personally find pleasing, and the Lord has had pretty direct and intense ways of bringing it to their attention.   Why would he not do so if the prophet today were failing to address that which was needful, particularly if his other children were diligently seeking and asking?

It seems deeply woven into our mortal nature to look beyond the mark. When I hear women declaring that they should have the Priesthood, there's always a small part of me that thinks, "Have you done your Visiting Teaching this month?  How consistent is your Family Home Evening?  Are you magnifying your current calling?"  In our present division of labor, responsibility and authority, the Lord asks plenty of each of us.  Maybe some of these sisters are nearly perfect in those things, but the truth is that nearly all of us could improve within the stewardships, responsibilities and obligations that the Lord has already blessed us with.  I have not been asked to bear the responsibility of performing ordinances, or with specific administrative or ministerial duties.  But I can fully participate in any ordinance of which I am living worthy, and I have many other duties and responsibilities.  My energy would be better spent striving to perfect the responsibilities I already have than demanding that someone give me different ones.  If I am living worthily, I can call on the power of the Lord for whatever I might need--never have I had reason to doubt that.  If I can call to my assistance ministering angels, not being able to reach my husband or home teacher at a moment's notice doesn't feel like a deal breaker.

But the crux of the issue, as far as those who demand the Priesthood as their "right" is this:  we define the Priesthood as the power and authority of God.  No one has a right to it.  If you demand that you be given the power of God, declare that you have a right to it, you immediately show yourself to be unworthy to wield it.  The Priesthood is not about earthly arrangements of power, and it is not about self-fulfillment.  Its about the salvation of man through the great power of Heaven.  The Lord determines how that authority is delegated, and I am grateful to live in a dispensation where the Lord has given that authority and power to his children more abundantly than ever before.  There are still some gaps on the map to fill in, but we are rapidly approaching the point where any child of God living on the earth can access the ordinances and blessings of that power if they desire it.  What a marvelous time to be alive.  I think there may be sufficient reason to think that how the Priesthood is wielded in the eternities may be slightly different than how it is done here on the earth, but the bottom line is that this is the order the Lord has declared, and I trust that his reasons are good, his purposes can be fulfilled, and that all of his children can access the the power and authority of God unto salvation.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kinder Ready

Yesterday was the Head Start transition day for the kids heading to Kindergarten this fall.
Kylie will be in Mrs. Seymour's class--we're glad for it.
The biggest, nerve-wracking, "what do I do?" issue for most Kindergarteners is lunch.
So, we rode the bus to school, and then they fed them lunch,
and taught them the whole process.
You know, just like in prison.
I jest (sort of).
Kylie, being Kylie, ate all her broccoli, grapes and Jello,
and left her burrito untouched.
Love this girl.


 Because she seems so little to me, 
I sometimes forget that she's one of the bigger/older preschoolers.
She was pretty confident,
and just had a lot easier time reaching everything
than a lot of the other kids.
After lunch, she went to her teacher's classroom,
with the other Head Start kids that will be in her class.
They read a book,
and colored a picture,
and then lined up for recess.
At this point, the teacher had them put a giant,
pretend marshmallow in their mouth
to keep them quiet in the halls.
Kylie thought that was awesome.
And she was really good.


The Dwyer playground is a whole different world
than the Head Start playground.
SO HUGE. 
It was super exciting for all the kids to play out there.


After recess we loaded up on the bus
and headed back to preschool.
After work time, I left to pick up Keira and Dylan
(and take Keilana to a church activity),
and then I took the other two back to Head Start with me
to enjoy their last recess of the day with them.
The sun was shining, most of the kids were in shorts,
and everybody was pretty happy about it.




We're pretty happy that sunshine is here fairly consistently,
at long last.
And Kylie is learning to wink.