Monday, December 5, 2011

The Christmas Eve That Shook My Faith

As I begin this post, I realize some of you, after you discover this is yet another story about my angel McKenna, may just exit out of this blog because maybe you've heard enough about her short life here on earth.  Well, all I can say is that sometimes our lives are defined by experiences we have gone through, and we draw upon those fragile moments in time because that is where we drew closer to God, where we learned more in that trial than in any other time in our lives.  That is what happened to me, on the Eve of Christmas Eve, 14 years ago, on literally a cold, bitter night at St. Louis Children's Hospital at One Children's Place, St. Louis, Missouri.

I've written about McKenna's birth and her death, but have never really spoke about, or written about her months of life in between.  In my very first post in this blog I wrote briefly what transpired that cold December night, but not in great detail, at least not what I went through that night, and the days that followed.  I highlighted the big occasions we went through with her, but that particular night, was the moment I felt the most vulnerable in all my life, and stands to his day, to have been the worst day of my life; worse than her actual passing.  Let me share with you why.

We arrived at St. Louis Children's Hospital December 7th, 1997.  McKenna was only about 6 weeks old.  She flew in a plane that came from St. Louis, to pick her up, with one doctor and I believe 2 nurses, there may have only been one, my mind doesn't recall the details too accurately, since she was developing some "new" problems right before she needed to be transported.  But what I do remember is the nurse that came with the doctor.  I do not know her name, not sure if I ever knew her name, but to John and I, she was our angel.  There was something about her that comforted us.  She was kind, she felt honored to be there, to help McKenna on her dangerous flight of 3 hours.  This was a huge risk we were taking, transporting her on a plane, with a ventilator that does not do the job her other ventilator did in Ogden, and the one that she would then have again once in St. Louis.  Our Angel nurse promised us that she would take care of McKenna for us, for we could not accompany her in the plane; we had to fly separately.  It seemed as if the odds were against us, as there was a blizzard the night before we were all set to leave, and no one was sure of where the plane from St. Louis would be able to safely land.  The lengths our hospital went through for us, were amazing.  They were granted permission from Hill Air Force Base in Roy, UT to land there if necessary.  Wow, was all I could say, that people would be so kind and generous to help us out.  As it turned out, they were able to land in Salt Lake, and we flew out right after McKenna, following her there and meeting her in the NICU at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

When we found McKenna at the hospital, it was discovered that her lungs did not tolerate the flight, and she needed to be put on a heart/lung machine for survival.  Again, our Angel nurse was there, wanting to make sure we were okay. Her kindness never ceased.  She wasn't McKenna's nurse on duty, but she was there, for us.  That week of McKenna being on the heart/lung bypass was the scariest week of my life.  It was a life or death situation, and she pulled through.  We had conquered yet another bump in the road, and we were grateful she was given this chance to recover and await for her double lung transplant.

A few weeks went by since our arrival, McKenna was settled in her NICU room, friendships were being formed with nurses and other parents of babies waiting for their transplants, it was getting closer to Christmas.  There is something about the Christmas spirit that lingers in a NICU; something so special that is hard to describe.  One thing I can put into words though, is that the true meaning of Christmas is in full force in such a setting.  Stressing about shopping for presents, or attending all the parties, or even making sure you have all your decorations in place is never in the fore front of your thoughts.  For us, it was only about being with our little baby, realizing that at any moment, someone's loss could be our hope for a future with our daughter.  And realizing that the birth of our Savior is the real gift, which led to the ultimate gift, his death and resurrection, so that no matter what would end up happening, we would all live again, and have the opportunity to be with our families in the eternities.  But even that..... even that, was not what I was thinking about.  I was only thinking of how I wanted my baby to LIVE.

It was midnight, December 23rd, John and I asleep just 5 minutes away at the Ronald McDonald House, and the phone rang.  Never has the phone rang in the middle of the night and it was good news.  We knew right away, that something terrible had just happened.  I can't even remember who answered the phone, but the nurse telling us that our daughter  had just coded and we needed to get to the hospital right away.  We were there in lightening speed.  As we enter her little room, there are at least what seemed like a dozen nurses and doctors hovering over her, giving her CPR.  I lost it.  I was watching them all work on her saying, "We're doing every thing we can, she's just not coming back".  I remember falling to the floor with such grief, pleading to God that I am not ready to lose her. I simply was not ready.  A nurse helped me up.  I'm not sure if it was our Angel nurse or not, but she was there. I do remember that. She was there, again, trying to comfort me.  She was always there during the toughest moments.  She wasn't a nurse that worked on the NICU floor, she helped with transports,  but for some reason, she was always at our side.

We asked them how long they had been performing CPR and they replied, '30 minutes'.  John immediately called the Bishop from our church and asked him to come quickly to help give McKenna a blessing.  He was there, with a friend, in what seemed like minutes.  The doctors and nurses backed away, allowing our Bishop, his friend, and John, to help give McKenna a blessing from God that I had prayed might allow her to live a little longer on this earth.  I was not ready to say goodbye. I couldn't say goodbye.  It just didn't feel right for her to depart from this world yet.

By the time the blessing was done, and the doctors resumed CPR, McKenna came back to us.  My prayer had been answered.  I was over-joyed that Heavenly Father listened to my pleading and allowed me to be with my baby just a little while longer.  But had she died, would my prayer NOT have been answered?  Would it mean that He was NOT listening to me?  I felt, up to that point, that I was displaying enough faith to get me through this trial.  But it wasn't until the eve of Christmas Eve, that I discovered how fragile my faith really was.  "Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true."  (Book of Mormon.... Alma 32:21).  I did not have a perfect knowledge of what was going to happen, but I was hoping, pleading to God for something, for a miracle, because I did believe in miracles.  I knew they had not ceased, but would He impart one on my little baby, for us?  I didn't know, I wasn't sure.  I lacked in faith at that moment, the moment I fell to the ground in despair fearing I would lose my baby, that I had not been granted enough time to be her mother here in this life.  If she had died that night,  I can only imagine my grief to have been far worse than it was on the day she DID die, just a few short months later.

Heavenly Father had lessons yet for me to learn.  I know that He knew I was not ready to lose her.  Are we EVER ready to lose anyone?  We may not feel like we are, but God knows us better than we know ourselves.  McKenna's mission was not over, and neither was my learning, and growing and enduring.  Yet, if she had died that December night, I know I would have gotten through it, as hard as it would have been, as difficult as the days, weeks and months would have played out.  I don't know how, but I know I would have.  That's what faith is all about, isn't it? The not knowing, but the ability to push forward no matter what, because you know in the end it will have all been worth it.

My faith WAS shaken, to the very core.  But it needed to be.  I like to think of McKenna being an instrument in God's hand, to help me learn what I needed to learn through her trial here on earth.  Do I have perfect faith right now?  Absolutely not.  One of John's favorite lines for me is, "Where's your faith?"  I need the reminder.  It forces me to reach deep down, and pull it out when it needs to reach the surface. I need to allow it to touch me.  One thing I do know for sure, is that God does not allow us to go through anything He thinks we cannot handle, and sometimes that's all the vote of confidence I need to get through the tough times.  He's cheering me on, trying to pull me through.

Every year, when Christmas Eve rolls around, my thoughts are directed to that daunting night, when I thought I was going to lose my baby, all too soon for my liking.  I try to ponder, even to this day, why God felt we needed to go through that.  Did I allow myself to grasp everything He was trying to teach me?  Did I express enough faith from then on?  I think it's good to ask those questions, because it makes me think that I still have more to learn, more faith to acquire.

Faith is a process, one that isn't just "learned" in a day, by one experience.  It's something, I'm learning still, that makes us who we are, how we live, and how we show our love and desire to be more like thee, our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who is why we even have a Christmas Eve and a Christmas day.

P.S.    That Angel nurse that was always there?  Well, she was there after McKenna passed away, out of the blue, not where she normally worked.  I think God put her there for me.  And for that, I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Any Advice On Raising Teens?

I've written a few posts earlier this year about my oldest child turning 12, him entering his last year at elementary school, and just the fact that my little children, aren't so little anymore.  But is wasn't until this past week, that it really hit me.  My 12 year old is trying to become more independent, and I kind of don't like it.  

I'm realizing now that I need to wear different hats; not the just mother of preschool, elementary school age children hat, but now the hat of the mother of a pre-teen.  I am by no means the best parent out there, there are plenty other mothers scoring higher points than me... but I can honestly say I feel like the choices I've made in raising my children so far, I am comfortable with.  But now?  I'm not so sure.  I hope the way I'm raising this pre-teen of mine will prove  to be effective as he grows into a full blown teenager, and then a man.  (I should clarify right now, I am not excluding my husband in this at all, we try to make all decisions together, but for the purpose of this post, I am speaking for myself.)   

I want desperately to keep my children from encountering anything that will pollute their mind, such as pornography, which is EVERYWHERE!!!  It doesn't matter where you look..... the magazine stand, the phone, ipod, computer, movies, television, music.  Where ever you turn, it is there, lurking to find you, to get you addicted, to destroy families, relationships.  It is not something that was as evident when I was a teenager, as it is now.  That scares me.  Yet, I cannot keep my children immune from the world, and to technology. And it's not just what can be found on the internet, but also in a drugstore, or someone's pocket.  It's drugs and alcohol too.  I don't want my children near ANY OF THAT, for any reason, at any time, with anyone.  Oh, and then there's the sexual promiscuity that they don't need to be any part of too.  The list goes on and on, doesn't it?

I'm sure many of us would love to keep our kids in a bubble, so they won't be confronted with any of the above mentioned activities.  But we cannot live like that, nor would I want to.  There is much to be learned IN this world, but that doesn't mean we need to be OF it. At least the drug induced, sexualized part of it.

I heard a great quote the other day in church, while listening to a young man speak who had just returned from his 2 year voluntary mission for our church.  I can't remember who actually said this, but he had quoted it. (This is not word for word, but sums it up.) "When a choice is to be made, the time of preparation has passed."  I just LOVE that.  It is absolutely true. When that kid offers my son drugs, or a drink, I sure hope he will automatically say, "NO!" because he's been taught all these years to stay away from it.  I hope that if he ever happens upon a questionable site on the internet, that he will get off whatever it is he's looking at and never go back because he simply knows that ANY of that junk is NO GOOD.  I hope that when these temptations arise, that he will be able to withstand them.  And I hope that I have been a good enough parent to instill in him the desire to do what is right.  That's not asking for so much, is it?

Would it be easier to just ban all technology from my kids until they turn 18 and then say, "Well, you're on your own, hope you survive?"  That might be the right route for some, and that's for each parent to decide, but I can't do that.  So I guess my purpose in writing this post was to just get this off my chest, that we parents need all the support we can get while raising teenagers.  What have YOU done that you feel has worked for you and your family? Or, the other way around, I suppose too.

We all need each other.  It's a big, wide world out there, and our kids are going to be a part of it regardless what we do. I just hope I've armed them with the right standards and values to protect them from the many darts that will come their way.

Friday, November 18, 2011

An Attitude of Gratitude

There have been a few posts/comments made lately on Facebook about how we should just take one holiday at a time, about getting through Thanksgiving before we dwell on Christmas. That somehow Thanksgiving gets over shadowed when we start to do our Christmas shopping in early November, or if we listen to Christmas music around the time we put on costumes and  infect our bodies with candy galore. 

My blog post isn't going to be about defending my  joy of listening to Christmas music weeks before Thanksgiving, but rather, how if I fill my life daily with gratitude, then when the time comes for us to stuff ourselves silly with turkey, sweet potatoes and pies, we won't have to search far and wide to figure out what we're grateful for, we won't feel like this is the only time of year we really do think about the many blessings we have.

I do not believe most of think that way, but I AM trying to think about my blessings on a more consistent basis, and recognize them when they come, and not brush them under the rug. One of my very favorite talks given about Gratitude is by Thomas S Monson, titled The Divine Gift of Gratitude.  He is quoted saying... "We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings. Said the Greek philosopher Epictetus, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”  I can consider myself one of those such individuals who has, at times, focused on what I lacked, rather that what I had already been blessed with.  It is something I need to remind myself of often, that it takes a conscious effort, as he has stated in this talk....  "A grateful heart, then, comes through expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His blessings and to those around us for all that they bring into our lives. This requires conscious effort—at least until we have truly learned and cultivated an attitude of gratitude. Often we feel grateful and intend to express our thanks but forget to do so or just don’t get around to it. Someone has said that “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."

My very favorite statement in this talk is..... "My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven."  Doesn't that just make your heart swell?  Oh, to live my life in such a manner of daily gratitude as to be able to "touch heaven".  I have a long ways to go.

I think one of the reasons why I enjoy singing so much, is because for me, it is expressing a form of gratitude to my Savior for all he has given me, whether it be triumph or trial.  Words put into song, somehow, feel far more reaching to heaven than my measly words alone could express. 

For the second year in a row, I have posted  daily on Facebook things for which I am grateful, during the entire month of November.  Many of my FB friends have done this as well, and it has been so neat to see all the different things/people/circumstances for which people find themselves grateful for.  It has made me contemplate more on what I have, rather than what I lack.  Many of the posts have been great reminders to me, that 'Yeah, I'm grateful for that TOO.'

There have been times in my life where I've kept a gratitude journal. Sometimes I kept it for weeks, sometimes for months. I haven't been the best at being consistent at it. They say it takes 30 days to form a habit and keep at it. I need to work on that one again.  But I remember when I did do it, that I would write down each and every day, all that I had to be grateful for, for that day.  It really made me think about all the little things that may not be as obvious as the bigger things.  I really need to start doing that again, maybe I'll be closer to touching heaven.

I know that my blessings far out weigh whatever I might think I lack.  Some of the obvious, bigger things, for which I am grateful include my husband, children, home, my church/faith, my parents, siblings, the beauty of this earth that was created by a loving Heavenly Father, food, clothing, vehicles, modern day conveniences, and the list could go on and on. 

I am also grateful for every trial I have endured in my life, because I know that those trials were made to encourage my growth, and give me a deeper understanding of God's love for me.  I would not be who I am today, if I did not travel through the pain of losing loved ones, of dealing with struggles throughout my life, whatever they might me.

For me, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas, if we didn't have Thanksgiving, and vice versa.  I love this time of year. Our hearts become softer towards others around us, we are more inclined to reach out to those less fortunate, to those who are needing more love in their life. And for that, I am grateful for all that I have, all that God has blessed my life with, and my goal is to try to live as if "Thanksgiving" were a holiday, every day, that I might close the gap between my reaching arm and heaven.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Song Of My Heart

I could never just pick "one" song that touches my heart more than any other.  If ANYONE knows me, they know how much I love music, how much I love to sing.  I have so many "favorites" in so many different genres.  And oft times I'll hear myself saying, yet again... "This is my favorite song".  But why only have one? I have tons!  

(Excuse me while I take a blog break..... my nearly 4 year old Hailey has asked for a pedicure, and I must give in... don't want to miss out on these precious childhood years that are passing all too quickly.  Be back in a jiffy)

Okay, back.  Where was I?  Oh yes... my many favorite songs.  I'm not going to bore you with the particulars of what I like and don't like.  But I will say, if you were to ride in the car with me, you'll find my radio stations tuned in to country music.  Never listened to country  music until I went away to Ricks College, in Rexburg, Idaho.  Couldn't stop listening from then on.  If those stations start to bore me, I'll tune into one of two Christian radio stations in town.  Other than that, I love a variety of show tunes, and gospel/Christian music, and I can't get enough of Christmas music.

My children hear me singing daily, whether I embarrass them or not, I have no idea. I do try to contain myself when their friends are over.    But one thing I have done nightly ever since my first born entered into the world, was sing to my children at bedtime.  Believe it or not, my 12 & 10 year old boys, who share a room, still won't go to sleep unless I've sung to them. (I'll have to make sure they don't read this blog post, don't want to embarrass them, not that they read these anyway, but you never know.)  I love that my voice is the last voice they want to hear as they drift off into dream land.

I have been blessed in my life to be able to share my love of music on many different occasions; funerals, weddings, in various church congregations, church activities, and in choirs. And I can say first hand that the person that benefits most is myself.  Currently, in my church, I am the music leader for the children ages 3-11, and I get to help teach them many songs for nearly two hours each Sunday. I love this job.  For the most part, the children want to learn, they want to express their feelings of the gospel through music, and also just sing for the plain fun of it.  It is NEVER a dull moment with these kids each and every week.

I have the opportunity right now to be involved in two choirs, one for our church congregation, and the other as a seasonal choir, getting ready for Christmas and an upcoming concert.  I love  this time of year, when I can start singing these beloved songs about our Savior, in October!!!  Just last week, I had the opportunity to sing in another congregation, not my own, with a friend, then sing in our choir in our congregation, be with the children for two hours singing, went to choir practice after church, sang at a fireside, and then stayed for another choir practice. I had a headache when I came home, from the long day I had just endured, yet my heart was so full of appreciation for music in my life, and the feelings I get when I sing, or hear beautiful music.  Music can speak to the soul, like nothing else, I believe.

My husband likes to joke that he has a rich voice... that he's "well off".  I can attest to that.  I have often thought, and said to him, "Oh, if only you could carry a tune, then maybe we could sing a duet together.... how totally cool would that be?"  In fact, he likes to tell people that we met in choir at church..... as he figured that was a good place to meet girls, not that he could actually sing.  He was actually interested in another girl who had a gorgeous soprano voice, but then fell for me, an alto.  

I remember being in labor with McKenna.... it was nearing the end of October. One of my favorite Christmas CD's was  Winter Solstice, given to me by one of my sisters. It's all instrumental, just absolutely beautiful.  Anyway, we had brought that CD for me to listen to while in labor, and it has been the CD of choice for each 4 labors after that.  I can't have a baby without that CD. (Well, I'm not having babies anymore....)  Kind of like, I can't clean the house, and I mean a real clean, with all the kids, without blasting "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat".  And kind of like John not being able to do any house remodel without the company of Taylor Swift.  But that's ANOTHER story.  He SAYS he just like her songs.  Uh huh... yep, whatever hon.  Whenever I hear songs from the movie "Titanic" my thoughts are immediately turned to my baby girl McKenna..... that movie came out right after she was born.  Whenever I hear songs from the late 80's early 90's, my high school years come up to memory.  I wonder now how those songs got to be so popular, but I will say, THOSE songs, back then you could DANCE to.  I'm not a fan at all of what our teenagers have to listen to these days.  Songs, like smells, when heard after a long period of silence, bring up many emotions, some good, some not so good, but music truly can have a lasting effect on us all. 

I really have no idea why I'm blogging about this..... except for the fact that this time of year brings out more opportunity for listening to music, and for me to sing more.  I love it!  Some people can't STAND to listen to Christmas music even two weeks before Christmas, and some of us start it, well, let's just say it's not quite fall yet.  Good music, especially Christmas music, can bring out the best in each of us.  Listening to those precious songs about  Christ the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, a winter wonderland, a red nosed reindeer, a white Christmas, a Silent Night.  I guess my hope and prayer would be, that each of us take the time to listen to these beautiful songs, let them fill our hearts with peace, joy and happiness.

PS.... a big thank you to my mom, who filled our home with music through her own voice, and through the stereo, and choirs, etc, etc... which instilled a love of music for myself.

And on that note..... I'll end it there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I AM a Christian

Religion & Politics.  Two subjects a lot of people simply don't like to bring up, or join in any conversation about.  Why is that?  Is it because so many people differ on so many different levels?  Is it because we think we may, heaven forbid, offend someone?  I feel an obligation, this very moment in time, to speak about MY religion, because there has been, currently is, and always will be, some misconceptions about the religion to which I belong, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  More commonly known as, Mormons.  I was raised in this church, married a Mormon, and am raising my children in the same faith, and wouldn't have it any other way.  Let me make it clear too, that Mormon, is kind of like a nick name for our church, and we are not associated in any way, shape or form with the FLDS church, or any other church that practices Polygamy.  Our church DID practice that in the 1800's, but later banned it, and if anyone in our church does practice it, they are excommunicated.  Again, we have NOTHING to do with Polygamy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Not too long ago, a Baptist minister accused our church of being a cult, claiming we are not a Christian religion, yet our very name holds the name of Jesus Christ in the title.  He couldn't be further from the truth.  What is a cult anyway?  Webster's dictionary explains it in this manner:

1  formal religious veneration : worship
2  a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
4  a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>
a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad b : the object of such devotion c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion 

I'll leave it to the reader to determine whether or not the religion to which I belong is a cult.  But I have discovered the best way to find the answer to such questions, is simply this.  Ask a member OF our church!  Let me say this... we are not a cult.  Our church, yes, was founded by a man, named Joseph Smith, in the 1800's, and he restored The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints back on the earth.  The events that took place to bring about this restoration include a visit to him by our Heavenly Father AND His son, Jesus Christ, who then instructed him to translate ancient records to what is known as The Book of Mormon.  There are many who find the LDS church (abbreviated) to be a wonderful religion, all good and well, but cannot accept the "Joseph Smith" story.  That is for each and every one of us to determine for ourselves, upon reading The Book of Mormon, after thoughtful and sincere prayer.  The confirmation that all this has happened, that I believe and know to be true, has happened to me, as it has for 14 million others all around the world.  The Bible, in several different places, says there will be additional scripture, and The Book of Mormon is an account of the people in the Americas whom our Savior visited.... John 10:16  "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:  them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."

My intent is not to preach my religion, yet I feel a need to defend my faith, that we are, undoubtedly, a Christian religion.  If you enter any one of our church buildings scattered throughout the world, you will find artwork of Jesus Christ adorning the walls.  If you have even been inside one of our temples, during an open house right after it has been built, you will discover the same thing, pictures of the Savior everywhere.  

What does it mean, to be a Christian?  Does it mean we help our fellow man when they are in need?  If so, I am proud to be a member of a church that does exactly that.  You can name any natural disaster that has happened in the past, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is front and center flying in donations to help the poor and needy, and those in distress.  Those items include, but are not limited to: food, hygiene kits, clothing, school supplies, blankets for babies in the neo-natal units, water filter systems, vaccines for immunizations.  The list goes on and on.  You will often find hundreds of people of our faith donning yellow "Mormon Helping Hands" shirts giving of their time to help clean up after a hurricane, earthquake, whatever the need is, they are there.  Is that NOT a Christian thing to be doing?  

So yes, it does hurt me, when I hear of such preachers that say we are not a Christian religion, but rather a cult.  I would invite this minister, and anyone else who makes such claims, to just ask a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints what we are really about, instead of making assumptions.  I don't find my religion to be a threatening one, I find it to be one in which you can find happiness, joy and peace, all things that encompass someone, in my opinion, as a Christian because they devote much of their life in service to others.

We live in a time when we can have, at our fingertips, answers to just about any question we might have.  That is one reason why our church has multiple websites where you CAN find out about who we are.  Yes, there is plenty of wrong information out there on the internet about us, but you will find the right information first and foremost by speaking WITH a member of our church, or going to  

I am proud to say that I do belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  And along with that, I AM a Christian.

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Fall"ing in love with Fall

I sure do enjoy this time of year.  It seems as if each season brings on its own particular gratitude for the many things it produces. Yet, near the end of each season comes a sense of longing for the next and a feeling of, "I'm so ready for summer, now that the spring rain has lasted for months on end."  Each season has it's own beauty, but none compare to the magnificent colors of fall, or, autumn, as some people like to define this enchanting time of year.  These are just some of many things I love about fall.

1) The colorsRed, yellow, orange.... the beauty that glows from the trees that hold leaves is spectacular to me.  I have never seen them more vivid as I have in the canyons of Salt Lake City.  I hear they are most beautiful back east.  But seeing as the Pacific Northwest is where I reside, there is beauty here too, and I soak it all in when it comes, for the colors don't last long, and if you're not looking, you will miss it before the leaves take their flight to the ground.

2) The smells & taste.  I love to make Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies. Make them every year.  I'm no cook or baker, that is FOR SURE, but these are a specialty of mine, and there's just something about the pumpkin that I love combined with the chocolate chips... a very moist cookie that lasts for days.  The many spices that are brought from our cupboard, having been hidden behind all the others that take precedence after the holidays;  they are glorious scents when combined with cider and the like.  I almost prefer the smell to the taste, for just the smell can satisfy the comfort and warmth that is often needed more at this time of year from the chilly mornings that accompany the beautiful fog.

I don't have many traditions, but one I do enjoy takes place every April and October when our family has the opportunity to listen to our prophet and leaders speak to us.  I pull out the mixer, yeast, and oranges and whip up some yummy Orange Rolls. It's about the only thing I can make that tastes pretty darn good if I say so myself. Just last week I made them yet again.  Took a few hours to make, but only a few minutes for 8 people to digest.  To me, there is nothing quite like the taste of a warm fresh Orange Roll.  And I can't forget the many yummy smells of my Scentsy Candles.  Right now, Pumpkin Marshmallow is my favorite.  And who can forget the smell of a freshly carved pumpkin awaiting it's kill as children take knives to it and turn it into what was once food, to a scary face?

3)  The Sounds.  It is during this time I hear more vividly the crunch of fallen leaves that have taken to frost, the squish of fresh mud after an Oregon rainfall, usually demonstrated by one or all of my children, because it is much more fun to play in the pouring down rain. 

And speaking of rainfall, the sounds OF the rain as it either gently, or angrily meets the ground for which it was destined.

4)  The feelings.  For me, fall is a bit of a renewal as the season of Spring is to many of us.  It's the beginning of another school year. For me, it's a round of birthdays which brings another new year for my children, myself and my husband.  I treasure this time of year because I celebrate the birth of McKenna, who entered this life a very sick baby.  Her birthday brings a mixture of sadness and joy. Sadness that I am not able to raise her in this life, but joy that I will in the next.  

I also get to celebrate my wedding anniversary to my best friend, in October.  What a beautiful fall day it was as the clouds parted after days of pouring down rain, the sun shone and the ground was dry, just for us.

It's knowing that after Halloween (my LEAST favorite holiday), my thoughts are automatically directed to the next holiday.... Thanksgiving, which means a time to reflect on the many wonderful blessings I have in my life.  A time to feel gratitude for everything I have been blessed with, a time to, once again, try to make the upcoming holidays more meaningful for me and for my children.

It's feeling warmth by the fireplace as the temperatures start to drop. The feeling of being wrapped up in my fleece blanket, losing myself in a book for just a little while.  The feeling of cider or hot chocolate finding it's way to my stomach and warming me up in no time.  It's also a feeling of anticipation for another approaching holiday, the birth of our Savior.

Fall is a beautiful time of year. Although I long for sunny days, especially here in Oregon, I feel like our fall, winter and spring make me appreciate my summers all the more, and for that I am grateful.  Fall is the "runner up" to the "first place" of winter which brings about even more feelings of love, charity and beauty. But that's for another blog.  I am grateful for this time of year that God has blessed us with; with beautiful leaves, fresh rain, and wonderful scents and feelings to fill our lives with even more joy, something summer couldn't satisfy.  And that is why... I. Love. Fall.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Where are MY miracles?

I've been sick all week, and today is Sunday.  I stayed home from church today since I didn't have much of a singing voice (I teach the children in our church, songs) and am constantly blowing my nose; thus, I felt it proper to stay home and not share my germs with others.  I decided to watch this movie I had just bought, but had yet to see.  John wanted me to wait for him to come home, but by nature, I'm impatient.  I thought it was a good movie to watch as well, being as I was home and wanted some spiritual upliftment.  The movie was 17 Miracles, by T.C. Christensen.  And wow, did that box of tissues come in handy, but this time for my eyes, not my nose.

For those who are not familiar with this movie, or why it would be meaningful to those who belong to the church I attend, let me explain..... it COULD become meaningful to you too, regardless of what religion you belong to.  This movie dramatizes many events, or miracles, that happened while men, women & children from England, traveled across the United States to their "Zion", Salt Lake City, UT.  The trials and tribulations they went through, at a time of year, to some who thought it was not wise to cross the plains with winter approaching, had a profound effect on them personally, their posterity, and to us, who hold these pioneers dear to our heart for the sacrifices that were made for them to reach their "freedom" of religion and to live in peace, and be among those they felt a bond with.

As I watched this movie, and absorbed all the feelings that came with help of powerful music, touching scenes of loved one's dying on the plains, and faith being tested to a degree most of us cannot fathom, I was again, reminded of how very blessed I am.  Some might look at these miraculous events and think, "I don't believe it, couldn't happen, they're making this up, miracles don't exist today."  I would urge you to take a second and look around you, for if we cannot recognize the miracles that surround us each day, we are truly missing out.

What I took most from this movie is this.... "What precedes a miracle?  FAITH".  Each one of these members of handcart companies displayed faith in one form or another, a certain degree of faith; some had less faith, some pushed, literally, for more.  I look at the pioneers and it is obvious to me how their trials differ from ours today. Theirs (again, this is in my eyes only) seem to have been more physical, while ours, in this world we live in now, seem to be more of a moral nature.  Regardless of what our trial is, they all take faith to endure them.  

Some miracles in the movie involve receiving food from an unknown man, when there is none to be found, lives are spared when they, in  the face of many who witnessed, should have been lost.  In the movie, a mother buries her infant along the trail.  I have buried an infant. I KNOW the pain.  I KNOW the heartache.  Where is the miracle in that loss?  The miracle, for me, lies within myself.  A knowledge that I WILL be with my daughter again someday.  The knowledge that life does not end when our bodies die. And that life, simply put, DOES GO ON.

I thought of each of these events, all of which are true, and the people who lived them. What faith they HAD.  What examples they are TO ME.  One woman said, "It will all be worth it if my posterity keep the faith."  And faith she had.  Another woman asked, "Where is the Lord?".  You can look at this question several ways.  You might think she's murmuring, wondering how the Lord could allow such deprivation.  Or, how I like to think she presented the question, she is searching deep within herself to see evidence of the Lord's hand in such tribulation.  She knows it's there, but needs some gentle reminders, because she does not want to doubt God's presence in all things.  I don't think she was questioning God's love and awareness of her, but truly wanted to know how she could find the Lord's love through all this.  I would simply say.... the Lord is IN our trials.  

Trials are for our good, and while living through them we have to ask ourselves, instead of "Why me?"  we ought to be asking, "What is it Lord, you would have me learn from this?" And once we ask in that manner, He will shower us with answers and blessings. But we have to be willing to receive them, as painful as the answer may sometimes be. As we were losing our baby in her battle of lung disease, I learned a very important lesson.  I learned that it is God's will that should be ever present in my mind, not my will.  He knew my heart, He knew what I would have desired, but when we put Him first, enduring the trial becomes easier to handle, because I realized He knew there were things I could never learn otherwise had I not gone through that particular trial.  Upon coming home after McKenna's death, the Bishop from our church drove us home from the airport and asked us this question I will never forget.  He said,  "Would you do it again?"  And I immediately responded, "In a heartbeat."  And I meant it.  God gave me more understanding, more knowledge in those short 4 months with our baby, than I could have ever imagined possible without that trial.  I like to think those pioneers in this movie felt the same way.

Where are my miracles?  They may not seem as grand as raising the dead, or feeding thousands from 5 loaves and fishes, although John and I experienced our own sweet miracles with McKenna.  But when I stop the murmuring, allow myself to hear what God is telling me, and knows is best for me, that is when I recognize the many miracles that abound.  The beauty of this earth, which is right in front of us, is truly a miracle to behold.  Anytime I see a neo-natal intensive care unit, I am in awe of a child being born healthy and what a miracle THAT is, when there is so much that can go so wrong.  When I see hardened hearts soften, lives changed from a downward path to a path in the right direction, those are miracles to take note of as well. 

I am grateful I was able to watch this movie and once again be reminded of all that is miraculous in my life, in this world.  Past president of the church I go to, Gordon B. Hinckley said this.... "I hope you never get over being thankful to them (the pioneers).  Let us read again and again, and read to our children and our children's children, the account of those who suffered so much."  The people depicted in this movie are an inspiration to me.  If they could do what they did, then surely I can go through anything as well.

Friday, September 23, 2011

It's been a dozen years

Happy Birthday to my 12 year old son, Hunter.  What is awesome about a 12 year old?  Well, from his mother's eyes, let me tell you.

What is a 12 year old into:

*  Anything electronic.... the wii, DS, computer, (would LOVE to have an ipod touch, but mom and dad say NO.)

*  Bearded Dragons..... his birthday present this year.  

*  Scouts..... he's become quite the merit badge getter.

*  Basketball, basketball, and basketball.  Can hardly wait for the season to start

*  Trumpet.... well, maybe not so much, but that was the chosen instrument for 6th grade.  Better than drums if you ask me.

Hunter is enjoying his birthday this weekend with his dad and brother in Southern, CA.  I miss them tons right now, but know they are having a good time, memories being made.  I look back on these 12 years that have zipped by, in the the blink of an eye, and hope the next 12 will slow down a bit. Somehow, I don't think that will happen.

I write this blog for several purposes, one being, I want my family to know where I stand on certain issues, so they will know, without a doubt, what I believe in, what I know.  So for you Hunter, I want you to know.... you rock.  You are an awesome son.  (His younger brother and sisters rock no less... they will have their own blog entries dedicated to them when the time comes).  I'm so proud Hunter, of who you are becoming.  Love, mom!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

If time would Just STOP for a moment, I'd appreciate it

Long title, I know, but it's exactly how I feel.  The older we get, time seems to pass us by more quickly. And with that, the growing up of my children seems to pass by me at 75 miles an hour when I'm moving along at 55, or, some days it seems like I'm going 30.  Yet they never slow down, keeping up the pace with the rest of the world as I sit along the sidelines hoping I can keep up with them.  It's a losing battle, I've decided.  I might as well enjoy the ride while it lasts, right?  

Hunter turns 12 next Friday.  It's a monumental birthday in our family.  And I won't even be with him to celebrate it.  He will be in California with his dad and brother, attending their cousin's wedding, ON is birthday.  Poor guy.  I feel badly that he'll be spending his day watching a bride and groom eat their cake smothered in frosting which he detests, while he'll have to wait to come home to have his frostingless cake to enjoy.  (But, his dad was going, and on this special birthday, which is very important for the male in our church and family, I didn't want his dad to be away from him. So it's an all boys weekend at a girly wedding..... could be worse, right? Or maybe not).

But as I reminisce about his sister before him who died, his own growing up years to this point, and the 3 children that followed, I realize that time is just flying by at a pace I cannot keep up with.  I've got my married/family life in 3 stages, I've determined. The first 2 1/2 years were dedicated to buying the worst house in Utah, remodeling it, giving birth to our first child who later passed away, and then selling our home to move to Oregon.  The next 6 years were dedicated to building a brand new home, giving birth to 3 more children, then selling that house, the NEW AND FINISHED house.  These last 6 1/2 years have been devoted to buying the home I grew up in, gutting it and remodeling it..... still, and having one more child.  I'm done buying homes, and having children. (But unfortunately, not done remodeling). 

I don't want my memories to be filled with what paint color we chose, what kind of flooring to install, or how dinner tasted like dust from drywall.  I want my memories to be filled with my children and the lives they are living.  I suppose it's all about prioritizing MY time to make sure I am spending that time on and for my children. 

It's easy, being self employed, to get wrapped up in the business.  Or to have an assignment at church that, if we let it, takes a lot of time away from family.  And it's easy to stick your child in every activity known to man, so they are getting all wonderful experiences that school, sports and the arts have to offer.  But in the midst of work, church, school and extra curricular activities, where is family time fitting in?  Am I making enough valuable time with my children so they will have fond memories of their growing up years?  

Some would say quality time is better than quantity.  For me, and this is JUST ME speaking, it's the quantity of time that I want more of.  Do I have any grand ideas on how to do that? Not really.  Maybe just recognizing the fact that my children NEED more quantity time with their parents and siblings is a start.  One of my favorite quotes from a prominent church leader (can't remember the name, might be Thomas S. Monson) said, when we see our Heavenly Father and make an accounting of our time on earth, he doubts we will say that we wished we would have spent more time at the office, than with our family.  That is exactly how I feel.

So I really don't have any exciting things to tell you about how to fix the problem. Maybe some of you have some great ideas you'd like to share. I'm all ears.  But for now, I think I need to slow down a bit, make my children slow down, as much as they don't want to, and take every opportunity to be with them when I can, and enjoy the moment while it lasts.  'Cause Father Time ain't gonna slow down, that I am certain.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Grateful Monday ( which really was Sunday)

I'm a day late for my grateful Sunday post, but wanted to make sure I recorded, in conjunction with that special day, my gratitude for the many blessings which I enjoy.

Yesterday was 9/11.  We all know what that means. Just to say those two numbers, images automatically pop into my head of what that day represented 10 years ago. I can't believe it's been that long, yet the memories are so very fresh as if it were just yesterday.  So at this particular time when we pause to reflect on how our nation changed, how WE may have changed, I am reminded of all the things I feel an immense amount of gratitude for.
*  I am grateful first and foremost for a loving God, who, some may say, 'Where was He when this all happened' yet I feel, as I know many do, He had never been more present than at that time.

*  I am grateful for my family who surround me each day and remind me how fleeting time can be, and how, because of those events on that tragic day, make me more appreciative of them, for we never know when, in an instant, they may be taken from us.

*  I am grateful for this blessed country, The United States of America, that (for the present time) allows us to worship how, when and where we may, that comes together in times of need, who mourns with those who mourn, and when the need arises, people come and rebuild, whether that be in the construction of buildings, or lives.

*  I am grateful for modern technology which allows us to keep up to speed on what is happening around us.  I have loved watching the memorials, the documentaries of the many lives that were involved on that day.  Our country is full of wonderful people who care about each other and put others first, before themselves, and those shows aired all over the world, proved that to us all.

*  I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father (again) who can bring us peace through the most tragic of times in our lives. While we may not understand why some things happen, I know for a surety, that He is there to comfort us, and will not allow us to pass through any trial that He does not think we can handle. He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Just listening to the many people directly affected by 9/11 has proven, yet again to me, that life can go on, and be beautiful, despite the evil acts of others.

I could go on and on about the things for which I am grateful, but the above mentioned come to mind first and foremost.  The trials we endure can either 'make us' or 'break us'.  I hope that we all allow them to 'make us', because that will be what makes this country stronger and more bound together.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Hope They Remember

Three of my children start school tomorrow.... a 2nd, 4th & 6th grader.  I always have mixed emotions when the new school year comes around.  I miss the wonderful summer days, where we can be lazy, play in the park on the very few sunny days we have, maybe go on a vacation and explore the states, and stay up late watching movies. I love having more time with them during the day.  But when September rolls around, I get sad, because I will miss those days, but at the same time, I know they are ready for routine, as much as I am too.  I am very much a routine kind of gal. I like my schedule, and I like my kids to BE on a schedule. But most of all, as this new school year begins, I hope my kids remember a few things.

I hope they remember how much I love them, as they leave for the bus each day, and how I pray for them and their safety, for their ability to understand their studies, and that I pray they will be able to make friends and be an example to others.

I hope they remember the things their mom and dad have taught them about BEING a good friend, a good example to others, to treat all with kindness and to look out for that other student who may need a helping hand, or a kind word, or just a smile.

I hope they remember that although their teachers ARE their teachers, that we, their parents, are ultimately the one's they look to for guidance on social issues.  

I hope they remember to be respectful to their teacher and other students who may have a different opinion on the days' current trends and way of life. 

I hope they remember that gaining an education is so vital in today's world, that they need to apply themselves and dive into every subject they are encountered with.

I hope they remember to stand up for their beliefs, their standards, and that when they do, regardless of the outcome, they will have done "the right thing".

I hope they remember to take school seriously, as much as it can be fun to be with their friends.

I hope they will feel comfortable in their own skin, not desiring to be like some other kid because he or she looks like this or that.

I hope they will be able to keep their heads above water and hear our voices in the constant noise that surrounds them.

I hope they will be able to keep their balance in an ever shifting of values world.

I hope, for myself, that I have taught them all they need to know to go out into the world, and be an influence on others. I hope I have instilled in them a desire to do good, to be good.

I have had many a parent wonder why I don't home school in these times. I respect others' decisions to home school their children, but for me, right now, it isn't the route I want to go, or feel is right for MY children.  I have faith that my children can endure school, and that they will learn valuable lessons from their every day life there.  For me, I believe it is about arming them with the right tools, values and principles in which I KNOW will help keep them safe from the waves that come crashing down.  Lots of prayer helps too :-)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Grateful Sunday

I've decided to dedicate Sundays to "Grateful Sunday" for blog posts.  I most likely won't do it every week. I'm sure many of you don't want to be bothered by it as well.  But I love Sundays for a variety of reasons, and figured a productive use of my time would be to express my gratitude for the day's happenings.  So let's go.....

1) I am grateful I remembered to take the detour to church today, as a particular road/bridge is closed for a little while.  
2) I am grateful I made it through two hours of singing time with the children at church. I was exhausted, sweating and relieved it was done.
3)  I am grateful I attempted cooking my roast in a different fashion.... it is not done yet, but does look promising.  We shall see, the biggest critics have yet to taste.
4)  I am grateful my husband does genealogy... we may have found some long lost 2nd cousins today!!
5)  I am grateful the hurricane back east is subsiding... I know that doesn't make it any better for those that have been affected... my prayers are with them.
6)  I am grateful for the wonderful summer I have had thus far with my family.  I hate to see it end so soon.
7)  Last, but certainly not least..... I am grateful for the background noise I hear, for they are my sweet children playing with each other, passing the time.

So that's all for now..... perhaps I should have waited until bedtime to say I was grateful no one at the dinner table spit their roast out.  I guess that could still happen. Wish me luck.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I Am Pro Choice

Nope. This isn't a pro life/pro choice blog post. Sorry to disappoint those who clicked on my link hoping for  a good read and perhaps debate on this social/moral issue. I do enjoy talking politics, but not for now.  I've had a lot on my mind lately about choices, and how we are in control of them, the one's we make.  

I came across an awesome quote the other day via facebook...... "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have." - Unknown.   I liked it so much, I posted it and shared it too.  As much as I love this quote, I kind of disagree with it, to some degree.  And I've gone back and forth in my mind whether or not what I'm reasoning in my head is right, or at least, right to me.

After McKenna (my first born baby) died at nearly 4 months of age, I would often be told, "Oh you are sooo strong Shelley, I don't know how you could ever deal with that, I just couldn't do it."  My response to them almost always was, "I didn't HAVE a choice, I had to be strong."  I used to believe that, I really did. But the past couple of years, I've felt differently, and realized that we ALL have a choice in how we deal with life's problems.

A friend of mine told me, shortly after McKenna died, that her friend who had lost a child, ended up committing suicide because she could not handle the loss.  I have known parents who have lost more than one child, or who have or are raising child(ren) with disabilities, and doing it steadfastly, who just push along and continue to conquer the trials that come their way.  Sometimes, though, it's those "strong one's" that we often see who also, deep down, feel the weakest.  I can attest to that.  Just because someone "looks" strong, doesn't mean they aren't dealing with the same fears as everybody else.

I believe we do have a choice when bad things happen to us, how we will deal with them. I believe we can either look for the positive and reach deep within ourselves and pull out all the lessons we've learned over the years, put them to practice and test our strength.  Or, we can look at only the negative, give up, and not utilize that tiny particle of faith that we have. That we NEED.  Faith and strength go hand in hand in my book.  It takes faith to be strong, and we need strength to hold on to whatever amount of faith we have to get us through the tough times.

It doesn't take long to look around us and see sorrow around every corner. Whether it be a job loss, a financial burden of some sort, the loss of a friend or family member, the insecurity of what the future holds for us, a child who has strayed, or just the insecurities we have within ourselves, about ourselves. There is much turmoil in the world, that is for sure, but there is much good too.  And I think it is that realization that helps me to get through the tough times in my life that I've encountered.  For all the bad, there is so much more good.  Sometimes it takes a lot more digging to find it, but it's there.  And it is when I'm in the heart of a trial, that I have to sincerely ask myself, ask God, to give me strength to deal with what lies ahead.  I learned a long time ago to not ask God to take my trial away, but rather to help me understand what I must learn while enduring the trial. That is where strength comes from.  And you have to seek it.

If you ask me, strength  IS a choice.  We may never know how strong we are unless we put it to use.  Don't let it lie dormant.  So give it a try.... you may surprise yourself.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Write it down, for Heaven's sake!

My children are growing up too darn fast for me, right before my eyes.  I don't like it, never have.  This morning, at 4:45 a.m. John and I dropped our oldest son off to venture to Boy Scout camp.  He will be gone for 6 days.  As I sat in the van while John and Hunter gathered around the circle of boys at The Home Depot (where they all met before they left) I got a lump in my throat because of the reality of what hit me.  My son is growing up.  There's nothing I can do about it, and I had better get used to it.  Except that I don't want to get used to it. I keep telling my children to stop growing, but they simply won't listen to me.  They just laugh, and think I'm silly.

As we drove away from the parking lot, where I have left my boy in the hands of well trained leaders, I say a little prayer in my heart for Hunter that he will be okay, that he will pray when he needs help, that he'll be a good example, remember who he is, and to be respectful to his leaders.  I prayed that he will remember all that we've taught him these nearly 12 years, and to put those principles to action if/when the time arises.  This, I say to myself, is a defining moment for ME, to find out if what we've tried to teach him all these years, if he will apply them in HIS OWN LIFE.

Well, since I was already being an emotional sap about all this, I decided it was long over due for me to write in my children's journal.  I decided when Hunter was 3 years old, to start a journal, for all my children.  I had high ambitions when I started.  Had only two children at the time, John worked for someone else, which made life much easier back then, and we were in a new home.  I labeled in their journals that the book was Volume 1.  At the rate I'm going now, they will probably only have one volume.  I always say I need to be better about writing, but I let life get in the way, unfortunately.  I need to remember though, that I need to write their life down.  It's theraputic for me.

Today, I did something I hadn't done in quite a long time.  I re-read their journal, and boy, it was like rewinding their lives and living it all over again.  THAT is why I love keeping a journal for them.  Let me just share with you a few glimpses in the life of my son, Josh.  Both these excerpts come from the same journal entry of July 17, 2005.  I had just written not too long after his great grandpa had passed away.

"Josh:  Mama, I had a dream about grandpa.
Me:  You did?  What was it about?
Josh:  He's all better now.
Me:  That's right, he is.  Where is grandpa?
Josh:  In heaven.
Me:  Who's with him?
Josh:  Jesus.

"I can't tell you how wonderful it was to hear of your sweet, tender dream.  It made me cry.  Also, the other day, you proposed to me.  You asked me if I wanted to get married, and when I asked to who, you said, "Me!"  That gave me the biggest grin.  I asked you where we were going to get married, and you said in the temple, and that I would have flowers.  I asked you who was going to perform the ceremony and you said, "Pres. Bush."  I laughed it was so cute."

I had forgotten all about those exchanges between Josh and I, but how grateful I am that I was smart enough at the time to write it down. I know there have been many other instances where my children have said things that I should have documented, and I regret not doing it when the memory is still fresh. But I am so grateful to have these precious memories of Josh and I, and many more with all my children that I have written down.

I haven't decided yet when I will give my children their journals.  I've thought of giving it to them at significant birthdays, like 12, 15 and 18, we shall see.  And I've thought that I should probably make copies for me to have.  But for now, I treasure the time I do take, to reflect on the ever shrinking time I have with my children. 

I remember well the day when Hunter was a newborn, when I looked at him and thought to myself, "What will you be like Hunter, when you are 12, in the year 2011."  It seemed so far away at the time, and look where we are now?  Where has all the time gone?  I don't even want to think about 12 years from now.  I need to think about the present, and enjoy each and every minute I have with these beautiful souls that have been entrusted in my care.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jaycee Dugard & Elizabeth Smart..... Two Women To Look Up To

When I think of these two names, I think of stalwart women who, though they have encountered experiences we will never fully understand or comprehend, have proven that what happened to them won't shatter them. I stopped short of saying...'haven't defined them' but perhaps, in some way, maybe it has.

I do not remember hearing about the kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard June 10, 1991 in South Lake Tahoe, CA, although I'm sure I did at some point see it on TV.  But it wasn't until she was found August 25th, 2009 that I (re)learned about her story.  Just recently, she gave her first interview with Diane Sawyer about her horrific experience for those 18 years.  I was captivated watching the interview. 

I do remember more clearly the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, June 5. 2002, who was later found March 12, 2003.  I will never forget this picture of her that was plastered all over the television.

Just recently, Elizabeth testified in the case against her kidnappers, in which she described in detail her experiences while she was gone for 9 months in captivity.  I look at her now, as well as Jaycee, and am amazed at what I see.  And what is that? I see two women who have taken their experiences, and have not allowed themselves to be defeated by them. I see two beautiful women who are looking forward, not trapped in the past.

There is plenty in the news these days that cause many emotions on many different levels, whether it be political issues, natural disasters, the economic state of our country, but it is the stories of these women, that captivate my attention and give me hope to any of us that suffer for WHATEVER reason.  Why are we drawn to these headlines? Why do we care so much about what happened?  I don't care about hearing all the immoral details that transpired while these young girls were stolen from their family.  What I care about is how they are dealing with it now, what they are doing with their lives RIGHT NOW and the things we can learn from them.

I will never fully grasp, at the most minimal level, what Jaycee or Elizabeth endured.  Yes, there are thousands of children who are kidnapped on a daily basis, and what they go through is no less meaningful than these two women. But I have chosen to dedicate this post about them, because of what we DO know about them. Their strength through these devastating experiences has, simply, made me want to be better, do better, and more importantly put my life into perspective and try harder to not whine and complain about my own circumstances.  Because when I think about it, the things I have gone through or will go through, could never compare to what Jaycee & Elizabeth lived.

I look at Elizabeth Smart now and am impressed with her desire to help others.  She served a mission for the LDS church in France, she's a music major at BYU, and now will help ABC with missing persons cases with her perspective. There are many who have criticized her decision to do that, but frankly, I admire her willingness to help others she can relate with.

I love what Jaycee Dugard has said..."He's not going to own me. I will stare it down and I will not be afraid." ( speaking of her kidnapper, Philip Garrido)  I look forward to reading her memoir that has recently been published, 'A Stolen Life'.  I am sure she will have many insights that will be helpful to us all.

I think Elizabeth hit the nail on the head when she said this, speaking to her kidnapper Brian David Mitchell, "I also want you to know that I have a wonderful life now, that no matter what you do you will never affect me again ... You took away nine months of my life that can never be replaced. In this life or the next, you will be held responsible for your actions and I hope you're ready for that when the time comes."

I would venture to say we've all probably asked ourselves, "Would I have turned out okay if that ever happened to me? What would MY mental state be?"  I don't think we ever really know HOW we will react in situations like that, or any trial that may seem to put us over the edge before we encounter it.  But what I do know is this, that it IS possible to turn an ugly situation into one that can make us better people. Jaycee and Elizabeth are people WE can learn from.  I'm not saying these women don't have any lasting negative affects to them personally. I am sure they still deal with many issues surrounding their time in captivity.  We will never truly know what it is like for them. But what I see of them now, impresses me.  I admire them for their willingness to be open about their stories.

The way we react to trials in our life says much of who we are, and what we will become, meaning.... we can either learn from this, move forward and be determined to not allow a certain person or situation "own" us, or we can do the opposite.  I firmly believe it also takes the effort of our loved ones we surround ourselves with to help us, and most importantly God.  

Some might shoot back, "How would you know how to ever deal with anything like this, how can you be so sure YOU wouldn't be filled with rage and anger, what about those that are psychologically messed up from tragedies that have happened to them in their lives caused by others at no fault of their own."   Those are all good questions and reactions, I suppose.  Diane Sawyer asked Jaycee how she could go on, and if she was filled with anger.  She responded by saying that she was not, that if she was to continue to be that way, then he would have won.  She was not going to let him win, she was going to take control of her life.  And if you think about it, she was taken from her mother, her sister, for 18 YEARS!!  She was raped repeatedly, lived in a shack in the back yard, birthed two daughters by this creep, yet she refuses to allow herself to be filled with anger.  I don't know of many other people who have endured what she did.  And look at her now.  She was a smart enough 11 year old, to keep a journal of what was happening, what she was feeling, what her dreams were.  What an example, that's all I have to say, that's all I CAN say.  

So when I am upset because I live in a house that is a constant mess because of remodeling and my children are sleeping in other parts of the house, I really ought to be thinking to myself....'I have my children with me, they are living in a house, not a shack in the back yard.'  When I get frustrated with my children from time to time because the house may be a mess, or they may not be listening and obeying as I think they should, I really ought to be saying, very loudly, "My children are safe in my home, I have them here to love and to cherish and am watching them grow before my eyes, they are not stolen from me, held captive, being raped, tortured, and missing out on their childhood."  And when my children want me to sing to them every night before they go to sleep (because they insist I do it, and can't sleep UNLESS I do it) I ought to be grateful that my children are with me, in my home, safe in their beds, where I CAN sing to them every night, because it's my voice they want to hear before they drift off to sleep, not some psychotic kidnapper's voice brain washing them and abusing them.

Jaycee Dugard's mother described the last time she was with her daughters the day Jaycee was stolen from her. She said that every morning she would kiss her girls goodbye before she left for work, but for 3 Monday mornings in a row, she'd been late. She didn't want to be late again, so she didn't take the time to kiss them.  She regretted that ever since and told all of us, you and me, to just take the time to do the small things for our children.  And there was Jaycee, in the interview, comforting her mother, telling her it was okay, how could she have known.  

These are the kind of examples our world needs.  There is so much anger, so much crudeness, and plenty of unkind people.  These are women who don't take for granted what they have, they realize what they've lost, and are more determined than ever to make the best of their lives because they have so much to give.  It IS up to us how we react to the cards that are dealt. I firmly believe that God does not allow us to be in any situation that he feels we can't handle.  Is it excruciatingly hard at times?   You better believe it, but if Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart can get through THEIR trails in life, then so can I.  So perhaps, in some small way, this HAS defined who they are now, in the most positive way we could imagine.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

No "Mother of the Year Award" for Me!

I will probably go down as the meanest mom around, if you ask my kids. (At least right now anyway).  Has anyone ever had the problem I am having, with kids not putting their toys away after playing? Granted, our situation is a little unique right now... my girls, nearly 7 and 3 1/2 are living in their playroom right now, sleeping on couches, and using the laundry room to house their dressers as well as their "changing" room.  My. house. is. a. disaster.!  My boys are living in our enclosed deck, which is also used as a "catch all" room for remodeling and our freezer is in there too.  We are in the middle (have been for 4 years) of a remodel, hence, the kids have been demoted to other rooms in the house while their rooms are being gutted and put back together.  I feel sorry for them, it's not their fault they have been uprooted to other, not so enticing, square footage.

HOWEVER..... I have had the hardest time getting some of the brood to pick up after themselves.  Although the play room is a multi-purpose room right now, I understand that it will be messy from time to time.  But the constant mess has proven to be more than I can handle.  I have threatened over the years, that if they can't keep their rooms clean, then we can donate their things to the Deseret Industries where other children can have them and take care of them.  I've never followed through on my threats. Until today!  I'd pretty much had it, and decided, 'okay, you're not going to pick up after yourself, then these things are gone.' 

I've loaded two large garbage sacks of toys to take and donate. The problem is, these aren't toys that they ignore, or just play with every now and then.... these are toys that they play with ALL THE TIME, and thoroughly enjoy.  I also told them that there will be no more toys at birthdays or at Christmas, only books, art stuff, things like that, until I see improvement.  Will this help them understand that yes, I do expect them to help out and be responsible? I hope so. Am I mean for doing this? I imagine to some I will come across that way. I hate to take these things that we have purchased, but I'm kind of at my wits' end, not sure how else to teach them.  We shall see if this does in fact help. 

You'd think after having 5 children, I would have this down, and know what I should to help them.  Apparently not. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brain Surgery 1 year later

It's been one year since we found out the results from John's MRI that was performed July 2, 2010.  He'd been having headaches non stop, 24/7 for about 6 weeks prior, when his doctor felt that an MRI was necessary to see if there was something going on in that brain of his that we should be aware of.  I remember where I was, the day when John called me after his doctor told him what they found. He called me on the phone, I was home with 1/2 the kids, he had the other 1/2, at the 4th of July breakfast and flag raising put on by our church.

John:  Well, I got the results back from the MRI.

Me:  And???

John:  They found something.

Me: (My immediate response) Is it cancer?

John: No, but there's something there. I'll tell you when I get home.

Me:  Okay, bye.

My first thought?   Relief that it wasn't cancer. My second thought? What the heck is it, and does 'whatever it is' need to be removed?  I honestly can't remember the details of when he did come home and tell me what the doctor found from the MRI.  But the jist of it was this.... he has two cysts, one that's pretty large that needs to be removed, most likely.  The official name of the diagnosis is a Ventricular Tumor, or Arachnoid Cyst.  

Our first step in the process..... we take our DVD of the MRI to a neurologist, who does an examination on John, looks at his DVD, and tells us pretty much what we already knew. That step would have been nice to simply avoid, was a waste of time in my opinion.  The neurologist then directed us to a neurosurgeon who he felt would be 'the man' to take care of this.  We finally get the appt. with him, he looks at the DVD, but he's got a different reaction. Uh-oh..... I'm not liking this the more I listen to him and watch him.  

He proceeds to tell us what the neurologist couldn't.  The cyst itself isn't so much the problem, where as the location of the cyst IS the problem. It just so happens to be in the center of the brain, which is the most rare spot for a cyst to be.  He said that 95% of the time they will be on the surface of the brain, not IN THE CENTER. He proceeds to tell us that it needs to be removed, but removing it is the tricky part.  We are all for it, and figure, okay, it needs to be done, lets get it done. 

Me:  So is this like an outpatient surgery?
Dr:  (He looks at me like I've just asked the dumbest question on the planet). No... you'll be in the hospital at least 3 days.

He smiles at us and says....You haven't asked me how many of these I've done.

Us:  How many?

Dr:  None.

John and I both look at each other..... okay, not feeling so good about this now.  He proceeds to tell us that we need to think about this, if this is what we feel should happen, and that he himself is not convinced that this IS the cause of the headaches.  He orders a test be done by an opthalmologist, to make sure the optic nerve isn't involved.  Again, another appt. more weeks to wait.  Finally get that appt. out of the way, and fortunately, everything looks good, optically.

After some thought, both John and I are not comfortable with the first neurosurgeon, as good as he may be, to perform a surgery, in the center of the brain, where he's never been before.  We start to look for another doctor, another opinion.

It's nice to have friends that have connections. After an email exchange with a friend of mine, about this situation, she tells me that she will do some digging and find out where we should go.  This friend works at a law firm, and someone on the board of trustees told her for us to see either Dr. Delashaw, or another Dr. up at OHSU. We were told they were the best, they would help us. So that we did.

We got an appt. with Dr. Delashaw, who we were told was THE BEST neurosurgeon on the West Coast.  Just getting this appt. with him was a blessing, seeing how busy the man is, clinic is only on Friday's and he performs over 400 craniotomies per year.  It had been exactly a month since the MRI was performed, when we saw him.  Time's-a-wastin' in my book, so I was glad to finally see him, and hope for some answers, and that this man KNEW what he was doing.

The Dr. may not be the most personable, and he may go tanning, (nothing wrong with that, just when it's plain as day he's doing it) and seemed overly confident in himself (but hey, I want confidence if your going to mess with my husband's brain). He looked at the MRI DVD, came in to see us and spoke very clearly and blunt to us.

Dr:  You have a very large cyst (2 inches round) in the center of your brain, that is blocking the draining of the cerebral spinal fluid and you need to have it removed asap.  You also have another one in the back of your head on the surface of the brain, but we won't touch that one, it's so small and most likely not causing your headaches.

Us:  Okay, have you done this before?

Dr:  Yes.

Us:  So how's it done?

Dr:  I will cut part of your skull, take this tube down to where the cyst is, drain it, remove it, and allow it to drain for 24 hours.  

Us:  How long will this take?

Dr:  It's about a 4-5 hour surgery. You'll be in the hospital 3-5 days, recovery of about 6-8 weeks.

Us:  So what do we do?

Dr:  Get it scheduled.

Us:  Well, we're going to Hawaii in October, and we've got tickets and everything, can't change that, can we still go? (Come on now, I've got my priorities and I'm not gonna see this money go down the drain for the condo we rented!)

Dr.  You should be fine.

So, arrangements are made for surgery on August 30th.  My husband is going in for brain surgery.  Never thought I would say those words, ever.

During these two months of finding out the results of the MRI, and up to surgery, many thoughts entered my mind about the future.  The whole time, through all of this, John is telling me he's not worried one bit, his exact words.  He's probably the most optimistic person I know (except for when it comes to the direction of our country... but that's a blog post for another day) Was I worried? You better believe it. I have 4 children still to raise, we're self employed, in the midst of a remodel, my mom was 17 hours away in another country, and if something were to happen to John, he's got my house set up in home automation, and I haven't a CLUE how to fix anything that has to do with that. When the lights aren't working, HE'S THE ONLY ONE, literally, who knows how to troubleshoot and take care of it. In all seriousness though, part of me was scared, very scared. Very grateful that no, it was not cancer, that this was something that could be taken care of. But when you are given the news that this type of condition is very rare, and the location of it, well, it couldn't have been located in a worse spot. That is what scared me.  I don't care how talented you are with your hands in surgery, when it comes to the brain, if you don't have that, well, then, you don't have much.

Never once did I let my emotions get the best of me. I had to keep in control, mostly for my children.  We are very honest with our kids when it comes to things like that. They know all about their big sister, who died at 4 months of age.  This was just another trial that we need to be refined from, and what better lessons could they learn than by watching how their parents deal with it.  

I will never forget a friend of mine who came to visit me at my home a few days before the surgery. Before she left she was in tears, for me!  She told me that she just felt terrible about what was happening, and especially to someone like John.  That she felt we were so strong and wondering how we were keeping it together.  I smiled at her and said, "_____, I haven't even cried about this yet, so don't YOU cry."

Am I strong? I don't know if I would call it that. Sometimes I feel like the weakest person around.  Since losing my dad, then my first baby just two years later, I've had lots of time to dwell on the topic of strength.  I used to say to people, while dealing with McKenna's death, that I didn't have a choice, I had to be there for her, had to have faith that things would work out as they should.  But as the years have gone by, I understand more clearly now, that we all have a choice. We choose how we will react to trials. They can either tear us apart, or they can make us better people, and it's up to us how that all turns out. 

I also believe that none of us are immune to problems in life. No matter "how good" someone might think another person is, or how well you may live your life, trials come to us all.  Some have trials BECAUSE of choices they make, others have them because we have a loving Heavenly Father who knows there's something we need to learn from this. That is how I had to look at this trial we were now going through.  I remember telling another friend that I hadn't let myself think of the worst case scenario for the first month or so, until right up to surgery. I was getting scared.  John was as calm as could be, which is his temperament.  It's not mine.  Yet I never let my children see that.  I had to keep it together.  

The time for surgery came, and still, John was calm, ready to roll.  I remember clearly in the pre-op room, listening to the other patients who were behind closed curtains, but you could still hear every word.  I began to count my blessings as I listened to an elderly man go in for brain surgery for the 3rd time, to try to remove more cancerous tumor.  I wasn't dealing with cancer with my husband, and for that, I was immensely grateful.  I am grateful for trials in my life, that have reminded me of the many blessings I do have.  I also hoped that I could be as brave as that wife was to her husband with cancer if I were to ever face such a challenge.

 As I sat in the waiting area of the hospital, two good friends came to visit me, to occupy my time, bringing me my most favorite dessert, a wonderful giant lemon bar, and a yummy bagel sandwich.  What more could I ask?  Good food and good friendship.  They helped pass the time, for which I am grateful.  I know of many family and friends that prayed on his behalf and those that fasted for him.  His name was on the prayer roll at our temple nearby, as well as several others around the country.  I knew that not only was John in good "surgical" hands, but in the hands of the Lord as well, and that he WOULD hear the prayers of us all.  

I remember clearly how John looked before they rolled him away, and the stark difference after surgery when I was finally able to see him in the recovery room. The surgery was a success, they say.  The cyst was removed, but he was having a hard time coming off anesthesia.  He ended up being in the hospital the full 5 days, with fevers coming and going.  When you have been married to a very healthy man for nearly 14 years, who's never had major surgery before, you are not well prepared for the effects of surgery, especially after brain surgery.  He was in the ICU for 24 hours before he could get a regular room.  I had never seen him in such bad shape.  That morning he was John, the John (most of us who will read this) know, but after surgery, he was not well.  I was actually worried, after a few days, that he would never be the John I had married.  

I will never understand what he went through.  And it's hard for him to explain to me.  He says it's "like having a baby".  I used to get ticked when he'd use that remark in other conversation, but this time,  I understood what he was saying. You just simply do not understand what it is like unless you've gone through it yourself.  For days, he couldn't carry a conversation, he would stare blankly.  That got me worried. He did not want visitors, just wasn't up for it (and for someone as social as he, I knew he was not feeling well at all to turn people away).

We knew of someone who's husband died of brain cancer, and she and my other friend, who helped us get in touch with this doctor, both knew how recovery would be, but never told us. They didn't want to scare us.  Part of me is glad they never told us.  Yet from my perspective, it was an amazing thing watching him go through all this.  He was kind to his nurses, very soft spoken, and honest in how he was feeling. And it made me realize how truly grateful I was for him.  Not just as a husband, or father, but provider, and that if anything DID happen to him, that I would truly be missing out sharing the life of a truly good person.

I knew, that if John, after surgery, wasn't as political as he had been before surgery, that something very wrong had happened. Well, he was and is just as spunky politically as ever.  None of that changed.  Thank goodness.  He just wouldn't be the same John if it had.  But recovery was tough, tougher than he thought. He thought he could return to work a week later, but he understood that was going to be longer than he wanted.  However, he went back to work after 3 weeks, instead of waiting 8.  He is not one to sit around, and goes stir crazy if he has to.

You never know how the cards will be dealt. It's while the cards are being shuffled that we are being prepared for times such as these.  As a year has nearly passed since surgery, I reflect more on my many blessings.

*  The simple blessing of life
*  The blessing of talented surgeons
*  Friends who help comfort, feed you and your family, listen to your fears, and share in your burden
*  Family who will drop anything to help you, whether it be staying with my children so I could be at the hospital, or fasting for John's surgery and recovery
*  Medical advances...... entering the center of the brain? Who would have though that just a hundred years ago that was improbable.
*  Most of all, the blessing OF trials, because it is IN the trial where we learn the most about ourselves, and our willingness to submit to God.

Have things improved for John since surgery, health-wise?  He still gets occasional headaches, but not like before, he's had his 6 month MRI checkup.... everything looked good, and he'll tell you that he just doesn't have the strength that he used too.  But he's here, with our family, providing for us.  I couldn't ask for anything more.  And knowing him, I know that after he reads this, he'll try to get me to delete this post and say that I shouldn't write about him.

I can't believe it's already been a year, and because of that, it makes me appreciate even more, the time I do have with my family, 'cause I know, from experience, they can be taken from you before you feel it's time.  But it's in those moments that we seek deep into our soul, submit our will to God, and know that our lives ARE in his hands.  I'm just so grateful that his will was for our family to have their dad/husband, stick around.