Monday, December 7, 2015


We've got the tree up. Nearly all of our ornaments are tied to extended family. The kids reminisced about making some at their auntie's house, and the memory came back to me, more complete than their simple recollections.  They made the ornaments at my big sister's house the first year we were in Montana, while shopping for presents online, which my sisters paid for so that my kids could participate in the cousin present exchange despite the fact that we were dead broke.  And they did all this while Doug and I were on a date that both of my sisters had paid for and insisted that we go on.  All of this came when we were at one of the most stressed, depressed points in our entire adult lives.  That was far from the end of their generosity as we muddled through and then began the process of getting back on our feet.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Perspective Shift

I've had a bad attitude lately.  Doug said something last week about me whining a lot, and "whining hasn't generally been a problem for you in the past".

I was diagnosed with epilepsy this summer.  Which, in and of itself, hasn't felt like a huge deal.  It seems to be pretty manageable, so other than being on house arrest all summer while time passed to prove that I could safely drive on my new medication, sans seizures, it hasn't felt like a big imposition.

But then school started.  The side effects from my medication suddenly felt like a much bigger deal.  I struggle with attention--it take nearly all of my energy to focus on a lecture, or reading a textbook (or even having a conversation).  My brain wants to hop somewhere else nearly every 2 1/2 minutes.  I am frequently tired.  Even going to bed at 10pm, I have to drag myself up at 6am, and still have trouble with nodding off during class.  My short term memory has decreased, so my brain is constantly insisting that I've forgotten something, but won't tell me what it is.  The list goes on, but most of it fits in these rough categories.  It makes doing my school work successfully much more challenging, right during the semester with the heaviest course load of my entire program.  I have let the frustration get to me far too often.  I began to resent my medication quite a lot.  It became the necessary evil preventing the trap door at my feet from being opened under me at some random, unpredictable moment.  But it didn't actually seal the trap door, and so these side effects hung around me, without actually removing all the anxiety stemming from that uncertainty.

And then a few mornings ago, I got a much needed attitude adjustment from my scriptures.  I was reading about the troubled father who comes to the Savior begging him to heal the man's son--or do anything to help him.  He relates wearily that his son falls into the fire, he falls into the water, and they are constantly worried about his safety.  The Lord tells him that all things are possible if he believes.  He responds quickly, "Lord, I believe".  Most modern scholars interpret this passage to mean that the boy of whom they speak had frequent seizures.  The Lord rewarded this family's faith by reaching out to the child, who was whole from that moment on.

And it dawned on me that sometimes healing comes in stages, and that is a miracle, too.  In a different time and place, I would likely be utterly unable to conduct a normal life.  But all I have to do is swallow a little pill twice a day, and my life goes on more or less uninterrupted, just as it has always been.  Instead of being grateful for that incredible, miraculous blessing, I was resentful of a few mild side effects.  The Lord didn't remove this hurdle entirely, but I am generally safe;  the father in that story got his healing miracle, but he was asking for help, for anything the Savior could do to bring their family a bit of rest, a portion of peace--how gloriously grateful would they have been for a simple medicine to remove the symptoms?

But the Savior offered complete healing.  And I trust that he will give me that as well--eventually.  In the mean time, I will strive to be more grateful for the portion of peace and healing that I can enjoy now.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Names and Connections

When I was pregnant with Keira, an individual who grew up an only child expressed to me bewilderment in trying to imagine life in a big family.  I responded that the best thing my parents ever did for me was have all of my brothers and sisters, as they have been my best friends and the most amazing support system.

But that didn't start with my generation.  My mom is one of 7, my dad one of 8.  And a lot of those people have been a regular part of my life since I was a baby or little girl.  They are a network of love and support--not there every day, but readily available when I need them, and a connection to some of the best parts of my life.

Now that my grandmas are gone, I appreciate them even more.  We are for each other a living connection to some of the people who loved us most and best.

When I was little, nearly everyone in my life called me "Boo"--it was far more my identity than was "Becky" or "Rebecca".  When my mom (who had had multiple 9+ pound babies) first held my little 7 1/2 pound self, she apparently made some "little boo boo" remark, and it stuck.  I was Boo, to family and friends, many of my teachers at church, my older sisters' friends, etc.  Almost no one calls me that anymore, and no one really has for a decade and a half.  Except one uncle.  And every time he does, I smile.  No matter the specific context, the very use of the name is full of tenderness;  its a reminder that this person has known me since I was a small child, watched me grow and change, and still loves me just as much as that quiet, timid little girl who hardly felt safe in the world if she wasn't holding someone's hand.  It ties me not just to him, but to the rest of the family who used to call me that, and to the person I was when I was called by that endearment.

Today I was reminded that another uncle still calls me "Becky Sue";  and in that same moment I was suddenly keenly aware that, now that Grandma is gone, he is the only person in the world that does.  She was his baby, and he tended to call her grandkids by whatever name she addressed them.  Something that I noticed about Grandma was that she rarely called her kids and grandkids by nicknames, even when everyone else did.  Ken was always Kenneth.   Laura was always Laura Susan.  Christa was always Christabel, Gwen was always Gwendolyn (to be fair, it does almost seem a crime to shorten such beautiful names).  Except Jim.  She named him James, and always called him Jim.  And she never called me Rebecca--I can't recall a single time.  But I was never Boo to her, either.  I was always Becky Sue.  She was the only person in my life who ever really used my middle name.  Except Jim.  Jim was Jim, and I was Becky Sue, and now Grandma is gone, and Jim is the only person in the world who calls me Becky Sue.

I have had many nicknames over the years, but none will ever tie me to my memories and the people I love most, none will ever evoke the same kind of tenderness, that "Boo" and "Becky Sue" do.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


This Saturday would've been my paternal grandma's 87th birthday.  She passed away just over a year ago, and I've missed her every day.  I knew I would.  My maternal grandma passed away almost 11 years ago, and I'd become accustomed to missing.

What has caught me off guard is how much more acutely I miss one now that I've lost the other.  They are both on my mind constantly.  Tiny things--smells, objects, colors, places--remind me of them throughout the day.  The mall at school has large brick planters running the length of its center, filled with blooming petunias.  Every time I walk past them and the smell hits my nose, I am sitting on Grandma Lettie's sidewalk soaking up the sunshine in one of the few sunny spots in her well-shaded yard.  I see a handful of marbles on the floor in the playroom, and suddenly I'm sitting on the floor of Grandma Elda's living room, playing Chinese checkers with Michael and listening to Highway to Heaven on the TV.  Its constant, all day long.

I miss them both--and all the parts of my life that are so wrapped up in them--with an ache that is somehow both fierce and dull, persistent.  It is a constant reminder of how grateful I am to have people in my life who are worth missing every moment of the day.  A reminder of how grateful I am that separations are temporary.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Believing the Good

I am not generally someone who needs a lot of external validation.  Like everyone, I have my insecurities and a great many flaws, but I try to see my strengths and be humble about my failings and move forward with confidence that the Lord will make up the difference.

But once in a while, I get into a terribly sour mood. . .about myself.  This last week was one of those times.  The medication I require to prevent my brain from betraying me has made it feel as though my brain has betrayed me.  One of the side effects (which are very few and minimal--I am grateful for that) is that I have decreased verbal dexterity.  I often find myself at a loss for a particular word;  not a nuanced, specific word from the large vocabulary in my mind, but rather, something along the lines of trying to give the kids very simple directions for chores and suddenly can't find the word "bed" or "plate" or some such.  Or I am trying to get out a simple sentence, and the right words come out but in the wrong order, so I have to repeat myself three times before it all comes out correctly and makes sense.  When I'm being logical, I know it isn't severe and probably isn't even noticeable to anyone but me, but I end up occasionally thinking to myself, "As if I weren't spastic and socially awkward enough, let's throw this in to the mix."

Several times on Friday afternoon, people complimented my handwriting:  its so beautiful, its so neat and even, its so small.  I had noticed my writing more myself in the previous few days, but in a different light.  I had been thinking how sloppy my notes were, because I have to write so quickly during class to record everything I need, and had been fighting the urge to rewrite them to make them neater (I really, really don't have time to be rewriting notes).  And in looking at them and getting that urge, I know in the moment how insane it is--how very neat and even they are on almost anyone else's scale.  Those around me look at it admiringly, and when I see it,  small and even and neat, it reminds me of things I struggle with about myself:  the anal-retentive, perfectionist streak that is always lurking just below the surface threatening to give me an ulcer (I had spent the morning internally pouting because I had earned a 91 on my exam, which was an A-, not a full A);  the tinyness, the result of a tremendous desire to hide that I have to constantly fight in order to enjoy my life (I was just thinking that six days in a row interacting with people every week was about five too many).

And as my friends complimented me, I had a moment where the better part of my nature managed to shove all that aside and sincerely accept the compliment.  Its such a petty thing, which is exactly why in that moment it made me realize that in being so hard on myself, I was being completely dismissive of the good that these individuals--classmates and friends--saw in me.  I was a little embarrassed how flippantly I was dismissing the value they saw, even if in something that is ultimately trivial.

And in the midst of all that, I thought of my grandma.  She had terribly sloppy handwriting.  I used to assume that that was because she had arthritic hands that had spent too many years swelling after a full day of working with cattle or horses.  But then last year I was able to spend a lot of time immersed in old family treasures, including the letters that my grandparents had been exchanging when they were about my age.  It turned out that Grandma had always had terrible handwriting.  And every page of that writing delighted my heart.  Even seeing her writing on things like old receipt books or phone notepads gives me joy, because in those wide, scrawled letters I see years of birthday cards, letters that came to me when I was far from home, checks I kept insisting she not write for lawn mowing.  Because I loved her, my Grandma's handwriting was never anything but a treasure to me.

She had actual flaws.  But I didn't care.  I loved her so much, and she loved me so much, that the flaws never mattered much to me and I readily saw all the tremendous amount of good there was in her.

When someone who loves you compliments you, believe it.  If you strive to see the good in others and mirror it back to them, they will see the good in you, too, perhaps in moments when you may have temporarily forgotten it yourself.  That's how we help each other get better as human beings: we reflect the good we see in each other, and strive to be worthy of the love of the good people who bear our burdens with us.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Its easy for parents to feel like, in order to spend quality time with their kids, they've got to be forever planning "meaningful" activities, educational trips, and Pinterest crafts.

My older sister posted on Facebook this morning about turning down an extension on the fire call she was out on (she's a wildland firefighter), because no one in her house cared if they got new carpets or cabinets, but they did care if she was there to take them to their first day of school, read their new books, and ask them about their day.  She remembered that after reading a remark from President Uchtdorf that "in family life, love is really spelled t-i-m-e."

It sparked a memory.  Not a specific memory, really, but a bundle of "boring" memories.  I remember many evenings spent sitting in my parents' living room as a high schooler, my mom on one couch and me on the other.  She graded papers and I worked on calculus homework while we watched TV, laughing together and occasionally chatting.  My sister moved back in that year to be close to the school where she was doing her student teaching, and she joined us.  I don't remember any particular conversations or any specific evenings.  I just remember we were all there, doing our respective chores in each other's presence, enjoying the same shows and conversing when we felt inclined.  I was always aware that I wasn't alone, that there were people around me that cared about where I was and who enjoyed my company.  That was all it took.

I've quoted Pete Doctor before, but its one of my favorites.  In "Up", little Russell is talking about his dad and some of the things they did together, and sums up happy family life in one brief sentence: "Sometimes its the boring stuff I remember most".  I remember the trips we took together (my parents  were really great about getting us out and about despite raising a large family on a tight budget), and I remember some of the more "interesting" activities we did.  But they don't stick out.  What made me feel loved, what shaped me as a person, were hundreds of little, simple things:  playing with construction paper and paper cutters and watching Nick at Nite on the school TV while mom did classroom chores; sitting around a backyard fire cooking hotdogs and s'mores;  countless family dinners chatting and laughing around the table; swimming at the dam after chores were done; evening walks along the canal bank; having root beer floats in the summer and hot cocoa in the winter while we chatted and laughed.  None of that took a lot of money or logistics, but it did require time, and my parents did everything they could to meet the demands of paying the bills while still maximizing the time they were home with us--both of them.  Its probably why I still feel happiest when sitting around the table with mugs full of hot cocoa or walking through the woods:  though I didn't consciously realize it at the time, that's where I felt loved, where I came to value family and friendship.  My parents didn't tell me to prioritize family, they showed me how.  I am striving to balance the demands on our time so that I can do the same for my kiddos.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pride, Trust, and Relationships

I remember sitting outside the Pier Cafe in Cayucos a little over 10 years ago, on a beautiful sunny, breezy central coast afternoon.  Doug and I sat on the metal street benches, our infant in a stroller, enjoying ice cream cones and conversation with a couple of close friends.  I said something, prompted by recent events, that has stuck in my mind since: "I can understand not wanting to admit that you're wrong--I'm one of the most stubborn people I know.  I can understand having a hard time admitting you screwed up or that you've got some big flaws.  But I can't understand all of that being more important to me than having a relationship with my child.  I can't imagine hanging onto my pride so tightly that I just let my relationship with my kid die rather than admit that I was wrong."

I was 20.  I was naive about just how common it was for people to let important relationships die (or blow them up) for the sake of their pride.  The natural man is a terrible beast, somewhere in each of us.  All too often, we feed him with our insecurities, our angers, our injuries, and arrogance.

Often the offense for which people sacrifice a relationship seems terribly petty on the surface, and, in truth, it is.  But insecurity is like a mental Rube Goldberg device:  if I made a poor choice about this situation, then that probably means I was wrong about this other thing, and if that's the case then I must've been more at fault in this failed relationship or huge life choice, and if I admit that to myself it will crush me, so I can't possibly have been wrong about this petty thing that the person in front of me right now is upset about.  This, I believe, is why so often when confronted about a mistake, an insecure person will go on the offensive, rather than simply apologize without equivocation.  They will start assigning blame outside themselves, twist and misrepresent the words, behaviors and intentions of others, so that they can avoid taking responsibility for this one--small, easily forgivable--mistake.  And thus can a small mistake destroy what could otherwise be a good relationship.  And each time we let insecurity drive us to enlarge the circle of damage surrounding a mistake, we become more and more insecure, feeding a destructive cycle that reduces the circle of support around us.  Even people who love us deeply may begin to withdraw from us in the sad knowledge that they cannot trust us, no matter how sincerely they may desire it.  If we cannot be honest with ourselves, we certainly cannot be honest with those around us.

Insecurity is sometimes thought of as the opposite of pride, but it is in fact one of its many forms.  Ultimately, insecurity is a testimony problem.  We make the opinions of others (actually, worse yet, what we believe the opinions of others might be) more important than what the Lord thinks of us.  We, for whatever variety of reasons, don't trust that the Lord truly can and will forgive these particular failures, sins, or flaws.  Even if not consciously, we fail to trust that, through the power of the Atonement, we will be able to overcome them and leave them behind, and so we refuse to even acknowledge that they exist.  We call others judgmental and dishonest when they try to address how these failings have adversely affected our relationships with them.  We distort their actions and character to others, in order to try to convince third parties that the narrative we've created for ourselves is true--hoping that if we convince them we will convince ourselves.  But because it isn't true, we keep having to tell our tale to more and more people, never satisfied because what we are seeking can't satisfy.   We trust more in our own judgment than in the words of those who love us, and, much more importantly, more than in the Savior's love.  We cling harder to the hastily constructed, inaccurate veneer of who we think we are than we do to the relationships we claim are most important to us.  We cling stubbornly to our self-deceptions and half-truths, because repentance is painful and, sometimes, embarrassing.

But on the other side of that difficulty is the undimmed love of our Savior.  Its always there, bright and vibrant, but we all turn from it, to varying degrees and at various times, through our own stubbornness, resentment, and pride.  Often, because we believe in the Lord and his Gospel and we have committed no grievous sins, we convince ourselves that there is nothing to "fix"--at least nothing serious.  But until we can say, sincerely and humbly, that our confidence doth wax strong in the presence of God, there is always work to do.  The Lord has told us the necessary requirements for that personal confidence: long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, unfeigned love, kindness, pure knowledge, and an increased love toward others.  In other words, the traits and fruits of genuine humility.  We have to let go of what we think we are in order to be instructed by the Lord (and those he may put in our path to be teachers for us) who we are and who, through him, we may become.  Some of the things he'll show us will hurt.  Some of the things those mortal, and terribly flawed, teachers will show us will hurt our pride, anger us, or prick our hearts.  But if we trust in the love of the Savior with true humility, we will embrace the lessons.  We will offer sincere, unqualified apologies to those we've injured, and sincere, humble repentance before the Lord.

When we do that, we can be surprised at how quickly the Lord forgives, and how efficiently he can work to turn our hearts a bit more into a heart like his.  And, though it can be very difficult to believe, I think we can sometimes be surprised at how readily those who love us can forgive mistakes large and small--how patient they are willing to be with us, as we in return exercise patience with them.  In our insecurities, we tend to underestimate the love that our family and friends have for us--we don't give them enough credit for how much they want us to be a joyful presence in their lives.  Especially if they love the Savior, too.  Those who are actively, humbly seeking his forgiveness for themselves don't readily withhold forgiveness from others.

Friday, August 14, 2015


Sometime around age 6 or 7, my oldest decided that she loved horses.  She zeroed in on horse books, horse movies, horse toys.  When we moved to Montana, she got to spend a little time with friends who had horses, and she looked for every opportunity she could to spend more time with 4-legged, 1100 pound friends.

Three years ago, Keilana started third grade in Anaconda.  For the second time in less than a year, she was the new girl in class, and this time she didn't even have a few cousins around to soften the blow--she didn't know a soul at her new school, and neither did I.  True to form, she shed a few nervous tears on the way in, and, after I found her classroom with her, she cleared up her sniffles, put a smile on her face and said, "I'm OK," and left me with a smile.

She happened to meet a girl in her class who was also new to town, and they quickly discovered several common interests.  They got to be fast friends at school, and then, sometime in late fall, Keilana asked if she could spend the night at Leah's house.  I hadn't actually met any of her friends or their parents, and wasn't anxious to let my 8-year-old spend the night at anyone's house.  I talked to Leah's mom and got a good vibe and, somewhat trepidatiously, agreed to let my little girl go to the home of these people I'd never met.  I called her late that evening to check in, and she seemed her normal, almost-over-the-top happy-as-a-clam self, so I let go some of those nerves and went to sleep.  We still picked her up somewhat early the next day, and after our 5-minute-pick-up-on-our-way-out-of-town turned into a nearly hour long conversation with Leah's parents, I was pretty sure we'd made some great new friends.  Rick and Heather invited the family over several times during the fall and winter, and I was grateful all over again for Keilana's brave, outgoing nature.  Our little girls quickly became friends with Leah's younger sister, and Doug and I consider Rick and Heather some of our closest friends and favorite people here in Anaconda.  Keilana spends so much time over there that Rick has been known to introduce her to people as their "weekend daughter".

All along the way, they have happily indulged Keilana's love for horses along with all kinds of other fun activities and interests.  Last summer, we watched a few of Leah's activities for 4H at the tri-county fair, and Keilana decided with Doug and I that 4H would be a good investment of time for her, and we agreed to get started in the fall.  Heather offered to do some riding lessons with her to get her going on horse.

This week, Keilana beamed with delight at the fair:
She earned a blue ribbon for Showmanship, and a purple for Western Horsemanship.  It was one of the first times she's earned an award for something that required long term investment and hard work for more than a week or two, and it definitely felt good.  She's been a great student, but the truth is, Rick and Heather earned these ribbons, too.  They provided the training, the tack, and the horses.  Keilana was an attentive and hard-working student.  All we did was buy her a riding helmet and get her out there (and it seems like Heather or Rick picked her up half the time, too).  If you don't know much about horsemanship, suffice it to say that it is not an inexpensive hobby.  And this is far from the only generosity they've shown our family.  In the three years we've known them, they have consistently been kind, generous, fun and loyal friends.

The fact is, we have made a few friends here in Anaconda that are not only a delight to know, but that our life, as we're doing it, would be completely impossible without.  Next year by this time, I'll be fully licensed, and though I'll technically have another 2 semesters of school, 90% will be online.  At that point, I hope to be better at both paying back and paying forward at least a bit of the tremendous goodness that we've had in our lives the last few years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pioneer Heritage

I have been very blessed in that, when I was sent to this world, it was to a family where there is a lot of love, strong intergenerational relationships, and a lot of people worth remembering and honoring when they’re gone.  I’ve been known to say that most of the flaws I have and mistakes I’ve made I own myself, but many of the good things that I am and have done, I owe to the people who have loved me,  and set an example for and laid a foundation for me.

Three of my four grandparents were members of the church, with family histories that go right back to the beginning.  All three of them have grandparents or great-grandparents who crossed the plains.  Some of those forbears joined the church in the early 1830s in upstate New York, others marched with the Mormon Battalion.  Some crossed oceans to heed the call to build Zion, others hid in the bushes at Haun’s Mill and prayed for the safety of the children huddled around them.  As I’m sure is true for many of you, my family history is woven inseparably with the history of the Church in this dispensation.

So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you briefly about a just a couple of those ancestors whose stories have always resonated with me.  The first is Isaac Washington Pierce.  He and his wife, Phebe Baldwin, joined the church in St. Lawrence county, New York when they were about 23 years old.  Just a few months later, they left the majority of their extended family behind and, with their three young sons in tow, moved to Kirtland to join the body of the Saints.  After only a few years there, they commenced a move by wagon from Kirtland to Far West, Missouri, just a week after Phebe gave birth to a little girl, Ruth, who would not survive their 3-month journey. After only a few months in Far West, they were compelled by violence and persecution to leave for Illinois.  During the arduous trip, Phebe was pregnant with their last son, Isaac Washington Pierce, Jr--my mom’s great-great grandfather--who was born shortly after they arrived in Jacksonville.  When little Isaac was 2, his parents began the move to Nauvoo, as the Saints in outlying areas had been asked to gather closer to in order to help build the temple.  Isaac Sr, sick with tuberculosis, did not survive the trip to Nauvoo, leaving Phebe alone to care for their children alone.  In all, she spent five years in Nauvoo, where she remarried, had several more children, and where her children spent time playing in the Prophet’s home and being bounced on his knee. That is where, ultimately, they mourned the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. During those years, Phebe lost three more children to mob violence, illness, and adverse weather.  In the spring of 1852, after years of saving and planning, the family began their trek to Salt Lake City,  and Isaac Jr was baptized along the way in the Platte River. They arrived in Salt Lake City in October of that year.  Isaac, now about 13, began to help support his family, as well as give of his time and means to assist in the building of the Salt Lake Temple.  He learned and grew to adulthood under the nurturing of many good women and prominent Priesthood leaders in the Salt Lake Valley.

In 1862, when Isaac Jr was about 23, he was among the young men sent out to rescue the Murdock Pioneer Company, which had encountered early, heavy storms.  Among that company was a young woman named Elna Carlson.  Elna had joined the church in her native Sweden, along with her mother, brothers, sisters, and husband.  Her step-father had forbidden the family to join or attend meetings, so they did so in secret. Her brother also had to keep his membership a secret in order to keep his job.  Her family made plans to leave the country and immigrate to Utah without her step-father’s knowledge.  They saved and planned diligently so that they could sail to America, but when they reached the US, Elna’s husband lost heart and chose to stay behind as the rest of the family made their plans to move west.  Pregnant with her first child, Elna must’ve been heart-broken as she set off across the American wilderness, but she faithfully pressed on with the rest of her family.  She was a petite woman with fair skin, dark hair and bright blue eyes, who learned English rapidly, and was known for cheering others along the way by singing upbeat songs in her beautiful soprano voice.  She walked all the way across the American plains large with child, and gave birth to her first son shortly before entering the Salt Lake Valley.  She named him John Murdock, after the company’s captain.  A friendship had developed between Elna and the handsome young Isaac, and they were married shortly after she arrived in Salt Lake, and Isaac adopted her oldest son and had him sealed to them.  They built homes and ranches together, Elna somtimes spending years at a time running them on her own while Isaac served missions.  She was known throughout the area for being a hard worker,  a witty conversationalist and a gracious host.  Traveling General Authorities often made the Pierce family’s home their headquarters, as the family was called to settle in southern Utah, and then in Mexico.  She aided her husband in running a lumber yard, a farm and ranch, all while raising children--including my great grandpa--and helping to feed workers and friends and visiting authorities.  In her waning years, she was often cared for by my mom’s grandmother, her daughter-in-law, with whom she had a warm friendship.

I could tell dozens more of these stories just from my own family, and I love them, because while they are “mine”, they are yours as well.  These stories are really rather typical examples of the sacrifices and faithfulness of those who went before us in laying the foundation of this work, and giving all of us--whether we are their direct descendants by blood, or simply their heirs in faith--a base on which to build.

Some of them were like Isaac: belonging to a family that had already been on the American continent for two centuries, himself a descendant of William Bradford and other Plymouth settlers, he and his family followed the Prophet from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois, burying children along the way, and ultimately losing his own life.  Others were like Elna: leaving their home country for a place that was utterly unfamiliar in both culture and language, and forging a new way--often over the opposition of members of their own family--successfully making their way to Salt Lake City, only to continue to push into the wilderness, building new settlements and raising their families to live the Gospel and follow the Spirit.  All of them shared one peculiar trait that we see in many faithful Saints today: unyielding trust in their Father in Heaven.  As Brother William Walker said in a recent General Conference, “Although they were uncertain of the future, they were certain of their faith.”

Elder Ballard counseled, “We much be sure that the legacy of faith received from the pioneers who came before us is never lost.  Let their heroic lives touch our hearts. . .so the fire of true testimony and unwavering love for the Lord and his church will blaze brightly within each one of us as it did in our faithful pioneers.” That’s the legacy that they’ve left to those of us who follow them.  The buildings and cities and programs that they built would be incredible in their own right, under any circumstance, but ultimately what is important is the driving force behind all that they did and created: their faith.  A pioneer is one goes before to find and make the way for others.  Though the particulars of our hardships and trials may be very different, they showed all of us how to forge ahead with faith when trials and temptations seem to block the way.  That is the heritage we must honor--so much more than canning skills, physical feats, or making rugs out of old clothes--the heritage of obedience to the Lord and his prophets, of choosing to follow the Spirit when we are asked to do hard things, rather than rationalizing away the hard choices.

During the miserable winter of 1846-47 in Winter Quarters, where the Saints were beset by disease and extreme weather in hastily constructed shelters, the Lord told President Brigham Young, “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.”

That requirement and that promise apply just as much to those of us bearing the slings and arrows of the modern culture as it did to those shivering pioneers during that long ago winter.  We are not called to build Zion by leaving our homes and making an arduous trek in unfamiliar country, we are called to stand for righteousness and defend truth in all places that we may be in.  We cannot allow truth to be pushed out of the world by contention and persecution.  The map has been filled in, there is no wilderness left to flee to, and so the Lord expects us, in this  late hour, to defend the Gospel and build Zion where we stand.  In a recent address, Elder Holland explained, “For more than 4,000 years of covenantal history, this has been the pattern: Flee and seek; run and settle; escape Babylon; build Zion’s protective walls. Until now.  Until tonight. Until this our day. . . the Church of God will never flee again.  It will never again leave Ur, in order to leave Haran, in order to leave Canaan, in order to leave Jerusalem, in order to leave England, in order to leave Kirtland, in order to leave Nauvoo. . .as Brigham Young said for us all, ‘We have been kicked out of the frying pan into the fire, out of the fire onto the middle of the floor, and here we are, and here we will stay.’”  The time for casual discipleship is over.  The world is getting noisier. Gird up your loins.  Fresh courage take.  Our God will never us forsake. We need to commit our whole selves to the Lord and his Gospel and the building up of his kingdom.  

That being said, we will all have times when we stumble, when trials overwhelm us or our faith has faltered.  But just as the Saints did not leave their fellow pioneers whose supplies had dwindled or who encountered unexpected storms to perish out on the plains, the Lord offers rescue to all those who sincerely seek it.  As Elder Holland said, “To every one of you who worry that you are stranded somewhere on the wintry plains of life and have wrecked your handcart in the process, we call out Jehovah’s unrelenting refrain, ‘My hand is stretched out still’.”

This is the Lord’s work.  I believe with all my heart that this church is the Lord’s kingdom on earth, and that those brave pioneers who left such a mighty legacy of faith did so because the Spirit confirmed to them the same thing it has confirmed to me: Jesus Christ lives, and is leading his people.  Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and through him the fulness of the Gospel has been restored.  The Book of Mormon is the word of God.  Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s prophet on the Earth today, and he is leading the worldwide church with an eye single to the glory of God.  I believe that through the power of the Priesthood and obedience to sacred covenants, we can be with our families forever, bound generation to generation, and so I trust that someday I will see these pioneer ancestors and be able to thank them for the ways they shaped my life and faith.

Friday, June 12, 2015


I spent a lot of time digging today.  The front yard of the house needs extensive rehabilitation after a large tree was removed last year.  Half of the front yard was covered almost completely in thistles, dandelions, and clover.

You can't just pull up dandelions and thistles; their roots are deep and tough. You've got to dig them out, and dirty feet, sweaty brow, and tired back should be expected.  Clover is sort of a 50/50 deal.  Sometimes it comes up pretty easily, but sometimes you've got to dig.  It also blends in relatively well. Its short and green, and it can be easy to convince yourself that it isn't really a problem.  But if you ignore it too long--because, you tell yourself, it isn't actually a big deal--it will take over, and soon dominated by clover.

Then there are daisies.  There's some debate out there over whether they're weeds or flowers.  If it helps you to know where I stand on the issue, daisies were one of the primary flowers at my wedding.  But it isn't lost on me that my grandpa the rancher paid my mom for every daisy plant she got rid of.  I think, in the right context and quantity, daisies can be a delight and add a bit of beauty. You have to make sure you keep them in check, however, or they'll use up all your resources and choke out the things that provide genuine sustenance.

As I dug up weeds today and accidentally damaged a few small patches of grass in the process, I had a thought I've had many times in life, starting when I was a small child helping with our family's vegetable garden: it hardly seems fair that its so easy to rip up the good stuff, and so hard to remove the greedy weeds.  But I think its a fair lesson in reality.  The good traits and qualities, all the things we want to have and be, take cultivation and care.  They're easily choked out, especially at first.  It takes cultivation, care, and commitment to have the good stuff grow, and to keep the counterproductive and destructive things at bay.  When the weeds flourish, its a sign of neglect or misdirection.  And if we get lazy, stop being vigilant in pursuing good soil and weeding regularly, those good things can be overwhelmed and pushed out surprisingly quickly.  That may be a hard reality, but the natural man is what he is, and kicking against the pricks gets you nothing but sore toes.

Some flaws and missteps are like those thistles:  sticking out like a sore thumb, clearly prickly, obvious to us and everybody else that they're a problem.  We usually start there, digging deeply to try to get rid of the most painful problems first.  Most people manage to be patient and kind with us in this stage, because, at some point or another, each of us has found out what it feels like to have our hands torn up trying to dig out those thistles.  Its slow, its tiring, and it can make a terrible mess.  Seeing us struggle with those things inspires compassion in most decent people.

A lot of our personal weaknesses are like the dandelions.  For a little while, while everything is bright and sunny yellow, we may be able to convince ourselves that they aren't actually problems.  Maybe they really are flowers and not weeds.  But if we fail to address them quickly, soon the seeds of their destructiveness are flying everywhere, taking over our lives, and all too often drifting into our neighbors yards and starting to choke out their lawn, too.  At this point, often times our neighbors struggle to be patient with us.  Any fool could've seen the problem was there, they think.  Its not like it was hiding, and now I've got to clean up this mess that I didn't do anything to create.  Still, others do manage to be patient with us.  Everybody has their down times, they think--its not like I've never had dandelions.  I've been taking care of my lawn, so I'll just spread a little Weed N Feed and everything will be fine, no big deal.  We don't get to pick the reactions of others.  Maybe the second one is the more Christlike one.  We can say the first person should know better and that its their moral obligation to be patient with us--and that may, in fact be true. The irony in us saying that is that, obviously, then we should know that its our moral obligation to be patient with their impatience, especially if we've caused them a headache in the first place.

We often expect demand kindness, patience and non-judgmental behavior from others, then criticize them for failing to live up to our expectations, and fail to see the irony.

Which leads me to the clover.  Clover isn't obvious and painful like thistles, or glaring and fast-moving like dandelions.  Its roots aren't as deep as either;  rather, its roots are wide.  Its similar in color to healthy grass, and its easy to not notice it at first--our neighbors may not notice it all.  Our lives are often full of shallow, creeping behaviors that don't do us a lot of explicit harm--that, in fact, may be known only to us and those closest to us--but that prevent us from living as fully and as deeply as we otherwise could.  We often even like these behaviors--we may have convinced ourselves that they're an integral part of who we are.  But deep down, some part of us knows we keep them only because they're easier, or because our vanity is wounded by the idea that we may need to give up these "little" things that we don't think are hurting us or anyone.  Slowly, but quite surely, they can creep along, taking over more and more of who we should be.  Sooner or later, if we're to be the people the Lord would have us be, we're going to have to pull them out and let them go.  But they blend in enough that we can go years, or even decades, convincing ourselves that they aren't really weeds at all.

And then there are the daisies.  They can be beautiful.  Often they are things that, not only don't seem to be a problem, but that others compliment us on.  We all like to be noticed and appreciated.  But if our self-worth gets wrapped up in things that are ultimately ephemeral, we can easily end up allowing our lives to be overrun with things of little value while things of true substance wither away from a lack of resources and cultivation.

It is an affliction of human nature to get lost in other people's weeds. It isn't our job to clean them up, so we aren't overwhelmed by them, and pointing them out helps to distract us from the hard work of digging up the noxious weeds in our own gardens.  So if you find yourself neck-deep in someone else's weeds telling them where to dig, its probably time to turn and tend to your own dandelions and clover.  And if someone who isn't supposed to be there is pointing out your weeds, don't retort in kind;  get to work.  Because no matter how uncomfortable the message or how inappropriate the messenger, if its true you should address it.  You will gain more than you can imagine by having the humility to accept and act upon truth even when it comes in the most annoying or uncomfortable way possible.  Even if he's being a bonehead and has no business commenting, if he's right, listen and get to work.  If you're lucky, responding with humility and kindness may even shock him into silence and get him weeding his own garden.  A humble example is always exponentially more powerful than an angry/annoyed rant.

And yes, I see the irony.

Monday, June 8, 2015


We went on an adventure last month.  Its been a long time (about 3 1/2 years long) since we went that many thousands of miles for that long, but thankfully the kids are all still the fabulous travelers they were way back when.  We just went as far as aunt Jen's house the first day, and man alive were my kids excited to see their cousins!  Thanks to relative proximity (and the fact that these cousins stayed with us when they'd come visit California), my kids feel really connected to hers and feel right at home at her house.  We were only there one night, but there were many games of various varieties and lots of laughing and giggling.  I'm glad they're only 6 hours away--we need to make that trip more often.  We kept Jen and Paul up too late talking, and hopefully we can be better about talking to them regularly so they don't have to put up with us so long. ;)  It made me remember how much I loved it when they would come stay at our house.

The next day we did the big push from Pleasant Grove to Visalia via Las Vegas/I-15.  Its a remarkably boring drive, but thankfully Cove Fort is along the way and makes a nice pit stop.  The kids enjoyed exploring the Fort and outbuildings.  Keira especially liked the view from on top:

 The current director there was an Elder Clark (no relation), and he and Doug actually had a really interesting family history and personal history/career arc conversation.  I think we'll remember him.  Also, in one of the rooms there was a heavy hide coat that looked just like the one of Grandpa Pierce's that has been the subject of much horse vs. cow debate in our family, so I asked if he knew what it was.  Turns out, it was a horse that had died in the dead of winter, when his coat was much longer and thicker than usual.  Probably no one cares other than me, but it was fun to figure it out.

We pushed on to Visalia and auntie Manda's house.  She had turned her family room into a huge kid bunkhouse.  That was the last time I had to interact much with my kids the whole time we were at our house.  They were so excited to see her and all her kids that they were pretty much done with me and Doug.  Amanda stayed up talking with us till 3am, which was an excellent reminder of why we both miss her so much.  She's a great sister.  She proved that the next day by giving everyone much needed haircuts!
 Keilana and I both desperately needed clothes, so she took us shopping, too, and we found Keilana some adorable dresses to wear for the summer.

It was hard to get any of the kids out of the pool and spa.  It really wasn't even hot while we were there, but they swam every second they could.

 Saturday was the main reason we came to California: Grandpa Barnes' 90th birthday party.  It was good fun, but busy.  Lots of people, so we didn't actually spend a ton of time visiting with Grandpa.  We had a gift Doug had put together for him that hadn't actually arrived on Saturday, so we carved out a good chunk of the day on Monday to spend with him, just our little family.  He got a big kick out of the photo book Doug made, and we discovered where one of the kids' favorite talents came from:

 One of the things I've always loved best about Doug's grandparents is their wonderful sense of humor.  Hopefully this photo will, in years to come, help the kids remember how much Grandpa loved having them around.  We spent most of the afternoon doing what we've always done at Grandpa's house:  listening to fun stories, looking at photos, reminiscing about family.  Grandpa is a great story teller.
My picture seems to have vanished, but Saturday evening after the party, we were able to meet the Meiks in Hanford for a little (or a lot) Superior Dairy ice cream and catching up.  They will always be some of my favorite people, and a part of my heart will always be set aside for them as "best friends".  I did a lot of my growing up in the years that they were friends and examples to me.  It was wonderful to spend all evening catching up and reminiscing.   And, I mean, I'll take just about any excuse to eat Superior Dairy ice cream, so there's that.

On Sunday, we spent the day celebrating Christa's 30th birthday with family and a few friends.
 There is no more appropriate way to celebrate Christina than with a pool party :).  And while most of her own kids aren't fishes, I'm afraid, a lot of her nieces and nephews are, and were happy to celebrate  with her.  Since it was only in the 70s, I felt no particular need to get in the pool myself.  Watching most of the 20 or so cousins enjoy each other's company really made me wish there were some way we could live close to my family and Doug's.  I spent the day talking with Brad, Jennifer, Christina, Rachel, Chuck and Katy, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude all over again.  I know a lot of people who don't have one good, solid family to rely on, and I have two.  I don't know why I've been so fortunate, but I am very, very thankful.

Monday evening, after visiting with Grandpa and making a quick stop at Katy's to see all the upgrades they've done on the house, we started to head over to Lindsay.  Driving down Prosperity toward the mountains, pulling up to the Lindsay stoplight on 137, that's when I started to feel at home.  Doug grew up in Tulare, spent several years living in Visalia, but those places were never "mine".  The east side of the valley, along the mountains and foothills, is where I spent my time.  Not just in Lindsay, but driving and exploring in the foothills and mountains.  It was a little strange to drive past our old house, go by McDermont, the park, the pool.  The older kids barely remember any of it.  The younger ones don't at all.  But so much of who I am a mother, all my own memories as a young mother, are formed around these places.  But they aren't mine any more, and it was both a relief and a sadness that settled on me at that realization.

And then we pulled up to the Ashcraft's house, and I felt at home all over again.  It felt good to see those smiling faces, the Ashcrafts and the Cregors, welcoming us to this place where we had always felt so loved.  Birthday parties, Family Home Evenings, baby showers--it felt like a second home in many ways.  The kids were bigger, and there were a few more of them, but otherwise it felt very much the same.

 I know the kids couldn't possibly remember too much, but they picked up as if they'd never left.  Because those were the kinds of friends we had in Lindsay, and it was delightful to be reminded that they are just as wonderful as we remember.

Tuesday we said our goodbyes to Amanda and the VanderArk cousins, and headed to Mimi and Papa's house to visit for a couple of hours before starting back.  We drove to Papa Clark's house that evening, and the next day he took us all to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Keira had been soooooo excited to see the sea otters (and to be quite honest, it was awesome to see her light up and squeal with glee when we went to see them first), but she decided the aquarium had some other cool stuff, too.

 We also lucked out that Uncle Tim had to be in Hollister for work, so Amanda and the kids rode up with him and went to the aquarium all day with us, and then auntie Manda and Papa Clark took all the kiddos to the beach while Doug and I got to explore on our own.  We both tend to believe that the central California coast, from just north of Monterey to just south of Pismo, is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Thursday we headed up to Sacramento, one of our favorite vacation haunts when we lived in California.  Old Town is full of fun shops.  And a lot of candy stores, which Dylan was pretty jazzed about.
 (Photo credit: Keilana)

 One of our very favorite things about Sacramento is the railroad museum.  The older kids did remember this a bit, but it was all new to the younger ones, and Kylie especially really got into it.
We'll definitely be doing this again the next time we go to California, and hopefully adding Sutter's Fort and the Crocker Art Gallery.  We also didn't have time to make it up to the big trees or Moro Rock, or any of the thousand other places we love so much in the Sierras, but hopefully it won't be nearly 4 years before we make it back again.

Thursday night, we headed over the hill to Reno, where my uncle Kenny took us in for the night (side note: which he did cheerfully despite the fact that we got stuck behind a major wreck on the pass and didn't make it to his house til a little after 11).  He chatted with us into the wee hours of the morning, and told my kids a bed time story that came from Umpy (his dad, my Grandpa Umphrey).  It was one I'd never heard, though I'd heard my grandpa tell a lot of stories--he was a fabulous story teller.  I love those connections that keep the people we love alive in little ways.  The last time I'd seen him was when my grandma passed away last year, so it was nice to be together again in happier circumstances.

We marathoned it home from Reno on Friday, and were home just over 24 hours before heading to Yaya's house for Memorial Day. . . . .

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Late Night Rambling

Its late and I should be asleep, but I can't shut my brain down.  That's happened a lot the last couple of years, though usually its been worry about family members or friends that has kept my mind racing.  I've never done well with watching people I love carry burdens that I feel powerless to change, and relatively ineffective at helping to bear, and a lot of people I love have been carrying a lot of heavy burdens the last few years, with no easy resolution in sight.

Tonight, however, the reason I've been unable to quiet my mind is overwhelming gratitude.  For dinner, I ate reheated leftovers from a delicious meal that a friend brought over for my family a couple of days ago.  I only met her about a year and a half ago, but she has become one of my closest, most trusted friends in that time.

I had a seizure Thursday morning and ended up in the ER.  Doug messaged her to let her know, in hopes that she might inform the professor I was supposed to meet with that afternoon.  She notified the nursing department of my situation and then walked over to the hospital to check on me.  Without anyone asking a thing, she offered to bring dinner (not a small task when you're dealing with a family of 6).  I continued to have small, partial seizures throughout the day, and so her presence was like a ray of sunshine when she showed up with a fresh cooked meal for my hungry, somewhat nervous kids.

While I was in the hospital, a few other friends took care of little Keira Belle.  Kaytee has watched Keira on a nearly daily basis the entire time I've been in school, and I couldn't do my life right now without her.  Her generosity has been the energy on which my family has run, to a large extent.  She has a great sense of humor and is a lifeline as a mom-in-arms who just totally gets whatever it is I may be dealing with with the kids on any given day.  Kaytee was supposed to be working that morning (in fact, I was supposed to be watching her kids), and so Tessie, a lovely woman from the ward who lives just up the street, and who, along with her teenage daughters, is pretty much adored (deservedly so) by my kids, took Keira to work with her while we got things sorted out.

Until further notice, I am prohibited from driving, and you wouldn't believe the number of people who have volunteered--entirely sincerely--to be my personal chauffeur.  When you live in rural Montana and can't drive (and its raining), there isn't a whole lot you can do.  But reflecting is always an option.  I've spent a lot of time the last few days reflecting on the last few months, the last year, and I'm having a hard time processing how blessed I have been.

We just returned from a trip to California, where my sister-in-law/best friend was an amazing host: staying up talking with us till all hours of the night, giving fabulous haircuts to me and all my girls, making us fabulous dinners, sending us on dates.  It'd been 2 years since we'd been able to be in the same place, but we talk on the phone regularly and  I don't know what I'd do without her.  I am not someone who puts friendship to the test a lot, but due to circumstances not entirely within my control, her loyalty has been put to the test and she has come through with flying colors time and time again.  I've seldom been more certain of anyone's love for me.  And I adore her--few people make me laugh as much and put me as ease so readily as her.  It was wonderful to be with all my in-laws again; so many people don't even get one solid, reliable family in life, and I got two.  Doug's brother and sisters (and brothers-in-law) are truly wonderful people that I'm privileged to be connected to, and it was fun to have so many reminders of that last week.

Another dear friend sent me several messages over the last few days, checking in on me, reminding me that she loved me.  She gives me courage; I have seldom seen anyone else carry such heavy burdens with such tremendous grace and strength of character.  I don't imagine that's how she sees herself, but I can't not see her that way.  To be loved by such a person is no credit to me; she is simply a person of outstanding love, in both quantity and quality.

Visiting with her reminded me of the goodness of another friend--one I failed to visit while in California--who, through her charitable heart and clear-eyed perception, has been an incredibly Christlike servant of my family and several of the people I love most.  On top of that, she sent us a generous, entirely unexpected Christmas gift.  She was our Santa Clause this year.

My family.  I can never say enough words of gratitude about the incredible family to which I was sent.  Moms simply don't get a lot better than my mom: patient, generous (especially with her time), calm and easy-going, she manages to make most things in my life easier without ever actually interjecting herself into my life.  My sisters, who are always enriching my life with their talents and time, who do so much for me and my kids.  My brothers, who have had a lot of uphill climbing the last year or two and have still managed to be attentive and affectionate to me and my kids.  My littles think they have the coolest uncles on the planet, and they aren't far off.

The extended family is pretty high on that list, too.  I got to talk to two of my favorite uncles last week.  One invited us into his home, stayed up talking with us till 3 in the morning, and then got up and made us bacon and hash browns and eggs before he headed to work.  He makes me smile so much.  The other has been one of my favorite people for literally as long as I can remember.  I love that he is so unashamedly who he is--I love seeing how much fun his kids have with him, and that its easy to observe his love for his kids and nieces and nephews in action.  He helps me feel close to my grandma, and I'll never be able to thank him enough--none of us will--for how generously he cared for her in her waning years.   I love to be able to smile with him, and he smiles readily for me.  I love him for that.

And Doug.  Last week, I noticed him taking my hand more, putting an arm around me more.  Maybe its just that I'm finally to a point in life where I'm not constantly holding a kid, or holding multiple kids' hands everywhere we go.  Maybe it was just him feeling relaxed and attentive, having been able to take a real break for the first time in probably 2 years.  Maybe some part of him sensed that some part of me was wearing a bit thin after 4 very long years.  Whatever the reason, the last couple of weeks its been easy to remember why I fell in love with him.  He's a good father, and I love to watch him teach the kids--something he does at once both very consciously and very naturally.  I love hearing him read novels to them, or explain scriptures to them, or throw out some fun facts about California rail history.  He makes me laugh.  He gives me confidence, because I know that he never says anything he doesn't believe to be true.

There are so many more, so much more that I'm grateful for, but I think I've put down enough now to be able to sleep, and my four greatest blessings will be waking me up in about six hours, so its probably time I lay me down to sleep so that I can see them as blessings when they come marching down the stairs ;)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Every Day Treasures: Why Being Mom is Enough

These items go with me everywhere I go, every day.  My keys, which have two keychains on them: a Monopoly car, and a Westover Ranch centennial medallion, both scrounged from the giant "key chain ball" that was every grandkid's favorite toy at Grandma Umphrey's house.  My wallet, which belonged to my Grandma Lettie.  I don't know where or when she got it, and don't ever remember her using it during my life, but it was hers and that's enough for me.  Grandma Elda's most recent temple recommend.  Grandma Lettie's driver's license.

The truth is, these two women would be with me everywhere I go, every day, without these little tokens.  But it is nice to have something to hold that helps me remember their love and devotion.

Few influences in my life loom larger than my grandmothers.  One was the embodiment of my childhood, the other was my most trusted friend during my years of young motherhood.  They both taught me how to have joy, how to love my family, and showed me over and over and over again that I was always loved.  I often hear thoughts in my mind throughout the day and then realize the voice I heard them in belongs not to me, but to one of my grandmothers.  I sometimes catch myself in the middle of an action, reaction, or way of doing things and realize that it is an approach I "caught" from one of them.  If added up, the amount of time I spent in their presence or on the phone with them would amount to years of my life. Who I am has a lot to do with who they were to me.  I will never be able to thank them enough.

It would probably be safe to say that the only person who has influenced me more than them is my own mother.  I don't have any trinkets in my purse that came from her, but she's with me everywhere I go every day, too.  I think Mom would agree that I was a pretty easy kid, and a pretty difficult one.  I mostly wanted good things.  I mostly desired to be kind--I wanted to be loved, and just as badly I wanted people to know that I loved them.  But I also have an insanely stubborn, sensitive streak.  Somehow, in some Mom-magical way, she managed to work around that so that I never felt pushed enough to want to push back, but also didn't coddle me.  She truly nurtured me:  she helped to build on that independence by making me absolutely secure in her love, patience and affection for me.  She taught, but she didn't dictate: I was given reasonable boundaries, but encouraged to make my own decisions and accept the consequences of them.  As good decisions were made, trust and independence were expanded.

As independent-minded as I tend to be, who I am has been shaped tremendously by the women who devoted their lives to nurturing me.  How I move through the world, how I conduct myself, how I parent my own kids, are all affected--from the biggest decisions, down to the tiny daily habits--by the women who mothered me.

That would be incredible enough.  But I am far from the only individual who feels that way about these women.  They have had that influence on many other children and grandchildren.  When it comes to the types of accomplishments that the world tends to honor and remember, it would easy to think of my grandmothers as lost to history.  But they aren't.  There are hundreds of people who move through life with the name of one of these wonderful women etched on their hearts, with their little, every day actions and habits influenced by these moms and grandmas.

I think about my grandmas sometimes when I see my mom surrounded by her 20+ grandkids.  They all spend so much time with her, and in her home.  They love and are loved by her, and she is, on a daily basis, helping to shape who they are just by being who she is.

I can't think of a better--more meaningful, joyful, or significant--way to spend my life than being a mom. And I am grateful today and every day to have been surrounded all of my life by women who showed me that.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Twelve years ago, I had a seizure.  While my brain rebooted itself and I regained consciousness, I couldn't articulate anything, and I was somehow completely aware that if you had asked me what my name was, I couldn't have told you.

The only thoughts to clearly come up in my mind were an image of my soon-to-be husband Doug, and an image of my twin brother, Michael.  I couldn't have explained at that moment who they were, but the image of their faces in my mind somehow made a disorienting and frightening situation OK.

There's been a lot of stress the last few years, in our lives, in the lives of people we care about.  Relationships have changed, relationships have ended, jobs have ended, lives have been rearranged.  But I still find the presences of both these men inherently reassuring.  I've had moments where I've wanted to string one or the other up by his toes, but I've never, never doubted that they love me,  and that I can count on them. 

My first day of clinical for my nursing program, my very first patient died.  His family wasn't there, which made me a little sad, but it was merely an accident of timing, not the story of his life.  An instructor made the comment that we all come into the world alone.  In my head I thought, "I didn't".  No one else may die the same day as me.  But my twinhood and my marriage have made me believe that no one comes to or leaves this world alone.

And a sort of rough Friday last week told me that I'm right to count on those two.   I'm glad that, in a life overflowing with good and generous people, the Lord gave me both of them.  They're good men, good fathers, good friends and I'm grateful to be loved by them both.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Good Cheer

The text--more or less--of yesterday's Sacrament Meeting talk.

Thursday afternoon, I took a break from studying long enough to read some news before starting dinner. That was a mistake.  I just kept thinking, “the whole world is exploding!”  Its a mess out there, brothers and sisters.  So I switched gears, and I opened up Instagram on my phone, and a dear friend had just posted a photo of her daughter, who was one of my girls when I served in YW, who is out serving a mission right now.  And as I thought about Sister Robinson out there preaching the Gospel, bringing people to Christ, I felt better.  Nothing will give you hope for the future quite like working with the youth of the Church.  Suddenly, I remembered one of the last lessons I did with those girls before I was released.  I don’t actually remember what the lesson was about, but I asked one of the girls to read John 16:33 (be of good cheer, I have overcome the world), and two of the other girls started to giggle.  I said, “What’s so funny?” One of them said, “You manage to work this into almost every lesson, no matter what its about.”  I figured there are worse things to be known for.

I am a big believer in putting a smile on your face and, through trust in the Lord and his grace, finding something in every situation to rejoice about.  Our lives can be very difficult, and the world is an atrocious mess, but the Lord is there to lift and cheer us.  Elder Marvin J. Ashton once said, “With God’s help, good cheer permits us to rise above the depressing or difficult circumstances. . .It is sunshine when clouds block out the light.”

I have spent time over the years thinking about the circumstances in which the Lord offered that commandment and comfort.  In Matthew, we read about an experience in the Savior’s ministry where he visited a man afflicted with a palsy.  He whispered gently “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”  When others doubted his authority to extend that forgiveness, he then healed the man physically, commanding him--a man who was bed bound and probably had been for some time--to arise and walk.  In this story we find one of the most tremendous reasons for each of us to be of good cheer, and that is that, whatever our circumstances, through the power of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, we can be healed and whole, both physically and spiritually.  As long as we sincerely repent, we can be freed from the bondage of any sin or mistake.  Sometimes, like with the people of Alma, the natural consequences of our sins may occur after we have repented, and in such circumstances it can be easy to feel discouraged or forgotten.  We sometimes need to be reminded that the Lord cannot usurp the agency of his children, but he will not leave us in bondage forever and, just as he did with the people of Alma, he will bear those burdens with us, lightening the load and strengthening our backs, so that we might know he is beside us and we might submit “cheerfully and with all patience”.  Relief will come, and the Lord will forgive and uplift as we strive to move forward.                 

After Jesus fed the five thousand, he sent his disciples to cross the sea on a boat as he went away alone to pray.  While his disciples sailed, a wind arose and began to toss their ship about in the waves.  When they initially saw the Savior out on the water, they were afraid, not knowing who or what it was.  He reassured them, “Be of good cheer; It is I; be not afraid.”  By walking across the water to reach them in the midst of the storm, the Savior teaches us that no element or circumstance can separate us from his love and protection.  We are often tossed about by storms not of our making and that we can’t control, but he is there in the midst of the storms to keep our boat upright and to bring joy that would otherwise be swallowed up by fear.  I think its also important that we remember that Peter then stepped out of the boat, with faith in the Savior, and--in the middle of the sea, in the middle of a storm and, as mortal as he was--was able to take a few steps on top of that water himself.  We have the ability, through unwavering faith in our Savior and his power, to conquer any element that besieges us, to walk confidently through any storm that threatens us.  That reassurance of coming off conquerors through him that loved us can give us the courage to follow the commandment to be of good cheer, even while the storms rage.

And that brings me to Paul, who I have always imagined as the epitome of a happy warrior.  When reading his writings, its apparent he was quite serious-minded, but also of a happy heart. I think GK Chesterton probably had Paul in mind when he wrote, “Jesus promised his disciples three things: that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”  Paul was all three.  He was a bold missionary, traveling far and wide, fearlessly and unapologetically proclaiming the Gospel to all would listen.  Those who sat in positions of power in many of the places that he taught didn’t appreciate that, including--perhaps especially--those corrupt men who held positions of authority in Jerusalem.  At one point, Paul was scourged--whipped--and thrown into prison for refusing to recant his testimony of the living, resurrected Savior.  As he sat in his cell, the scriptures tell us that “the Lord stood by him”--I choose to believe this is meant quite literally--”saying, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”  The Lord reassures Paul--as each of us--that as we bear witness of him, no matter the circumstances or consequences, he stands beside us and will protect us as tend to the work he has asked us to do.  As we stand as witnesses for him, he stands as an advocate for us with the Father, and is our most true and constant friend.  Following this experience, the Lord expanded and magnified the opportunities Paul had to teach and testify, further increasing his influence and reward.  No good work in his name goes unnoticed and unrewarded.

Which brings me to the last individuals I’d like to speak about: Noah and Moroni.  Now, in speaking of good cheer, that might sound a bit counterintuitive.  Few individuals in the history of the world have lived through as much depressing, tragic time as these two men.  

Noah was a man of devout faith.  Ordained to the Priesthood at the young age of 10 by his grandfather Methuselah, Noah watched as the world around him disintegrated into abject wickedness.  The Lord commanded Noah to declare the Gospel and preach repentance, and he did so faithfully--for decades.  In return he was reviled and persecuted.  When I was younger, I used to think that that would be infuriating.  As an adult, I have come to realize that it must’ve been terribly sad.  Indeed, in Moses, we read that Noah’s “heart was pained” for his people.  He faithfully built the ark and prepared his family as the Lord had commanded, but how difficult and disappointing it must’ve been to watch the cities of the people he had tried so hard to save flooded and gone.

But thanks to modern revelation, we know that there is another chapter to Noah’s story.  The prophet Joseph Smith taught that the angel Gabriel was actually that same Noah.  Gabriel had the divine privilege of announcing to Mary that “thou shalt conceive and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. . .and of his kingdom there shall be no end. . .For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”  The prophet who had had to witness the temporal destruction of all the people of his dispensation was able to bring to the world the glorious news that now was the time for the coming of Him who would bring about their eternal salvation--the baby whose life would become the ultimate evidence that no soul need be lost unto God, that no spirit need be beyond redemption.   I can hardly think of a more cheerful assignment in the history of the world.

Except perhaps Moroni.  Moroni watched the destruction of his people, as well.  In one of the last letters that Mormon wrote to his son, he described the depravity and evil of the people, with rape and murder and other unspeakable atrocities being committed in huge numbers among them.  And then he said, “May not the things I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down. . .but may Christ life thee up. . .and the hope of his glory and eternal life rest in your mind forever.”  Moroni lived out the rest of his life likely alone, reviled by his people because of their wickedness, but diligently adding to and protecting the record of his people and the Lord’s Gospel.

Atop each of our temples, a likeness of the angel Moroni blows his trump, announcing the good news.  When the Gospel was restored, it was Moroni who had the honor of announcing that the Lord had come again to the earth.  We place the angel Moroni atop our temples to trumpet to the world that the Resurrected Lord is leading his people, that redemption is still possible and that, because of the work he has done, none of us ever needs to be alone.  The Lord is with us, he is with our families and those families can be eternal.  

The evil in the world is growing, but the light is growing, too. And it will never be dimmed again--it will only grow brighter and brighter.  Each year, more temples are built in diverse places around the world, bringing more families together in powerful, eternal units that repel the strength of the adversary.  Tens of thousands of missionaries are working around the world, following in the footsteps of Paul by leaving the comfort and familiarity of home to preach the word of salvation, teaching people about Jesus Christ.  It is easy to look at circumstances around us and feel overwhelmed, discouraged or frightened.  The Lord told the adversary that he would have the power to bruise the heel of the children of Adam and Eve.  He is anxious to convince us that that power is more than it is, and he is cunning.  But we must never forget that the Lord also said that we would have the power to crush the adversary’s head.  That power is our Savior, Jesus Christ, who will forgive us of our sins, heal us of our infirmities, bear our burdens with us, shelter us during storms, and empower us in our testimonies and bless us with the good cheer that comes from that confident faith in him.

Elder Holland recently said, “There is one commandment that we may unwittingly violate almost more than any other commandment the Savior gave, and that is the commandment 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 tribulations, 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.”