Saturday, December 31, 2011


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

That was 361 days ago.

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

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

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

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

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

Its good to be home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy new year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


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

Saturday, December 24, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 22, 2011

White Christmas

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Countdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15. Mosiah 3:8

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

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

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

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

20. Helaman 14:2-5

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

22. Ephesians 3:14-15

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

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

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