Faith

Lessons from the trail: the dog, the cats, and the leash.

IMG_20141107_104326I couldn’t help but sing aloud, “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again,” as I drove up the street towards my beloved Murdock Canal Trail. You see, about 10 months ago I found myself really struggling with my running regimen. I felt like my bladder was just going to drop right out of my body. Shortly before I started struggling I found out that I was expecting baby Max and shortly after giving up during that first (and last) gruesome mile and turning back around to limp my sad self home, I ended up in the E.R. I had a prolapsed uterus and my doctor forbade me from running. Even walking long distances would not allowed for the duration of my pregnancy.

As many of you know, my trail-time is one of my most favorite things. I love being out in nature. I love the sunshine. I love the rain. I even love the snow. As I watch closely for all the little details in the world around me, I simultaneously dump all my cares out of my overloaded brain. One by one they are left on the gravel as I trample them under my feet headed for a lighter future. My trail-time not only makes me feel great physically, but without it I start to fall apart a little mentally.

So, earlier this week, when I was finally able to get back on the trail I was beyond ecstatic. Even with taking Max along in the stroller I was finally able to get the therapeutic benefit that I have been missing tremendously. [If you don’t understand what I am talking about, I double-dog dare you to find a quiet trail near you and spend time walking on it every day – make sure you let me know how it changes you because I promise it will.]

Okay, okay, on with the story as part of my series “lessons from the trail”. I feel like Henry David Thoreau in Walden when I write these stories. Nature is a powerful philosopher. So, on Monday, there I was, back on the trail again. I was multi-tasking at its finest, pushing Max in the stroller, supervising the dog on and off of the leash, listening to my tunes, and observing the world around me.

Why do I put the dog on AND off the leash you ask? I’m so glad you did ask, that’s what my story is all about. You see, our dog, Olive, is naughty. I have her partially trained, but she refuses to be fully broken. She reminds me of….well….me. Olive will run after whatever catches her attention and completely ignore my incessant calls. She especially loves birds and cats…probably much like all the other dogs. Another thing about Olive is that she only gets along with about 50% of other dogs that we encounter. If she doesn’t like the other dogs, she will go after them until she has their full submission to her dominance.

This doesn’t work out so well when the other dogs have the same personality. So, given her disobedience (not to mention the leash laws) I should really never let her off the leash, but, you see, she, like me, loves to roam free in the mountains. So, when no one is around I let her run and explore as long as she doesn’t go too far off the trail. As soon as I spot someone off in the distance (and before Olive has a chance to attack their dogs) I hurry and put her back on the leash until the others are safely past us. I also put her on the leash when small children are approaching or if I notice anything else that will cause her to run off like a doggy lunatic.

And there it was…something that would make Olive crazy…about 100 feet ahead of us, a cat was sunning right in the middle of the path. I hurried and grabbed Olive (who does well to get on the leash if she doesn’t detect anything of extra interest – lucky for me, my eyes seem to be better than hers) and walked on. I held her at a close distance and we marched right on by that cat without incident. Olive noticed the cat but didn’t yank my arm off to go after her. She just barked a few times and focused ahead.

And there was my lesson for the day. If I place myself on the end of that leash, I think that sometimes I also pass the test, as did Olive. I think if I am aware of the big picture and know that just shortly up the path there may be something else of better interest to me I don’t get all crazy. If I behave I will be let off the leash to get a close-up of what is best for me, which is probably not what I think is best for me. Because of the leash I allow myself to be tethered to (which for me is my faith and beliefs) I am freed from so many unnecessary distractions. The key though is that I have to be willing to be leashed so that I don’t run off before I have a chance to think things through. I also have to trust my maker and know that He will unleash me when I am ready and/or safe. It was a profound observation for me as I resist being controlled in any manner.

Then, just as I finished processing all of the leash metaphors in my own life, I noticed another cat. I hurried and put Olive on the leash again, hoping for the same success to support my observation. This time, however, I was disappointed. I braced myself as Olive took off, as usual, only to be thwarted by the yank of her collar on the leash. I never understand why dogs don’t learn!

I’ll leave you walking along with me on the trail trying to make sense of the second cat encounter. You can surely come up with your own comparisons, as did I, but I will give you this: I was instantly filled with gratitude for my maker who always stands with the leash, waiting for me to heed his calls instead of taking off after who knows what. He has a grand journey prepared for me and no matter how many times I allow myself to be distracted with my own ridiculous notions, He never lets go. And someday, in the very distant future, I am sure that I will be strong enough to not need a leash, until then, though, I will gladly tether myself to it.

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Just the way you are, you matter to him.

uchtdorf

Here is some great spiritual enlightenment for your day.

The older I get the more I appreciate my kids’ imaginations.

A while back while I ran in to pay for gas after my card didn’t work at the pump, Bella captured Caroline lip-syncing. It’s so cute how Caroline always keeps up with her older sisters on pop culture. Days later as I came across this surprise video on my phone it brought tears to my eyes, partially because the words to the song were so fitting and partially because of the tenderness of one sister being able to see the value in the moment of her little sister just being little and care-free. Watching in after the fact was super overwhelming to this emotional proud mom. I also got a little chuckle about the fact that my kids can’t just sit in their seat-belts for 30 seconds unsupervised but always have to misbehave and jump around in the car.

As a busy mother of 5, I really love the one-on-one time I get with Caroline right after kindergarten gets out at noon. While Max naps, she tells me all about her day. Yesterday in P.E. they got to play with a parachute. She thought that was totally awesome and I smiled thinking back to a time when I was young and innocent and experienced the large parachute at school for the first time. I thought it was awesome too.

A few weeks back, while talking to Caroline about everything and nothing at all, she declared:

“Mom, when I grow up, I am going to create a green planet with rings around it.”

I immediately got out the watercolors and had her paint me a prototype.
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I hope she will get the privilege of making her own planets someday, (which is totally possible according to Mormon doctrine) but for now I am so glad that her whole big universe with infinite imagination can fit on my fridge. What a beautiful beautiful privilege it is to be a mom.

[Oh, and on a cool sidenote: I love it when science catches up with God’s truths about the galaxy. I believe God definitely has his children helping him out with planet creations. I know if it’s up to me someday I am totally putting Caroline in charge of all the green planets.]

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After post; check this out;
We Lived with God: http://youtu.be/JR8qIrJcJh4

This scientist says my thoughts way better than me.

Maximus is the greatest

Introducing our SON
Maximus LeGrand Gold
Born at 1:17 pm. 7 lb. 9 oz. 20″

aliec and max

At the ripe age of forty, I gave birth to my crowning jewel last Monday. After four wonderful beautiful daughters, God saw it fit to bless us with a son. I don’t deserve him. I don’t deserve any of them, yet, they are here and they are mine. Bear with me as I indulge myself a post to reflect on motherhood and what it means to me.

I believe I could just type “All I’ve got is tears,” and that may be my best explanation, but let me try and put those tears into words, no matter how pathetic it may turn out.

We struggled with naming Max. LeGrand got to pick the name and was really set on Nathaniel, but our 15-year-old, Abigail, hated the name. I liked it, especially since it is the name of one of LG’s really cool great great grandfathers, but I didn’t want it to be shortened to Nathan or Nate. And you know that they (meaning everyone) always shorten everything (coming from the mom of an Abigail who is Abbie, an Isabella who is Bella, and a Sophia who is NOT Sophie out of her sure determination in correcting everyone.) Sophia loves Greek and Roman tradition and so we went back to the drawing board (the internet) and looked up Latin names. When I read aloud Maximus, the name instantly sang to the whole family. As everyone gave their approvals individually it became official as we went around the room and each one-at-a-time declared a collective fondness for Maximus. It just clicked with all of us. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The meaning of the name was just a perfectly fit bonus:

The Greatest

Not only did “The Greatest” go good with the already chosen middle name of LeGrand, which means the “The Big”, but it was a ringing of what was in all of our hearts…we were all finally getting another man in our family and that was pretty much the greatest thing that could ever happen. And we have not been disappointed. He is the greatest. Honestly.

I don’t know what it is, but there is something special about this baby. I don’t know if it’s because I am so much older or if it’s because he’s a boy, or maybe it’s just that I am reflecting an obvious adoration from our whole family, but this kid is the greatest. I have never been so proud. I feel like a peacock strutting around with my feathers. He is total perfection…..and God granted me the privilege of creating him, growing him, and birthing him. How does God find me worthy for that? I don’t know, but He does. It’s completely astounding.Totally overwhelmed is how I feel at the honor of the privilege and responsibility.

Last night as we were going to bed, LG and I talked about each of our kids individually (as we often do) and submerged into the swamp of life as we reflected on emotional, physical, and spiritual needs that always seem greater than what we feel we have to give. If you think about it, it really is a miracle that parents show up every day, knowing they are going to fail no matter how hard they try….and that they do that day after day, year after year. The hardest part about kids growing up is not that they become sassy teenagers (that’s actually pretty entertaining): it’s that they become your reflection.

I’ve been made to stare at myself four times over with my girls: at times all of my glory shines through them…all of God’s glory shines through them. Often, though, all I can see is my many vulnerable raw flaws in them….ones that I don’t want to have, much less bestow upon my most beloved children. Yet, I’ve given it all to them: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Looking through my own trash is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. Knowing that I’ve embedded even the tiniest sliver of it into them is suffocating: like a deadly respiratory virus with no doctor. I know that I’ve screwed them up. I can’t deny it. No matter how hard I have tried to keep my trash to myself, it somehow got to them and tarnished them. Oh, how that fact hurts.

But, guess what? When I allow Him, God sorts through their trash -my trash- for me and He throws it all out and allows me to see only the shining jewel that I started with. The shining jewel that was His, that he loaned me, because He loves me and believes in me and wants to give me His joy. All five (it sounds so awesome to say FIVE) of my children are shining jewels. Walking miracles. Beloved son and daughters of God. It is God that gives me the greatest miracle – the miracle of the atonement – the miracle that sometimes shines brightest for me today in my kids: imagine it: only shining jewels to be found where for years I have involuntarily deposited my trash.

It’s just that when I look at Maximus (and oh how I could stare at him all day), there isn’t any trash to sort through just yet. The only deposit I have made so far is not trash but my greatest gift to offer: childbirth. God in his infinite wisdom and mercy knew exactly what He was doing when He called upon me to be that “older” mom. He wasn’t giving me a burden, He gifted me a rare jewel. Max is the greatest because it is he who has helped me see the jewel in all of them. Maximus is the perfect name because he came with the greatest message, “They are mine Alice. They are all mine. They are the rarest jewels, and yeah, you will dirty them up, but you are still good enough to be their mother. I will clean up your mistakes: all of them. You are my jewel and I have not a single flaw.” God is so good at reminders.

God loves broken things.

Photo Dec 30, 2 58 51 PM

So, I haven’t been blogging like I should.
Did I mention that I am 40 and pregnant?
And a broken vessel just trying to cope with life?

Trust me, coping is hard to do when you are pregnant with what could be your own grandchild. I like to tease that I have always been a do-it-yourself kind of gal so I took the matter of having grandchildren into my own hands.

Oh, the really great news that you have all read on facebook by now is that after having four wonderful beautiful daughters, we are finally having a boy!!  I still can’t believe it. As you remember from this post I referred to the then un-sonogram-ed kid as a he. From the experience I had in the temple I knew that he would be a boy, but I didn’t want to admit it publicly until I knew for sure. (I have another special story about this boy to tell you some day.It started with a dream about 9 years ago.)

God has a great way of taking broken people and making them whole. In my case, one really astonishing way He has made me feel whole is by sending me a son. I’ve always felt like something was wrong with me so that he wouldn’t trust me with a boy. Until I recently read something about the same gender parent having the greatest influence on their kids, and then I realized that it was actually LG who finally must have passed some kind of test. I’m glad LG fixed the broken part of himself that was keeping God from giving us a boy. (This is sarcasm for those of you who don’t know me and think I am the world’s worst wife. I’m really just glad that God finally decided that if we could screw up all these girls, why not throw a boy into the mix?)  I am really excited for this adventure. I can hardly wait to see my beloved husband hold the son that I have always wanted to give him in his arms. Watching him with his infant girls has always been special, but I am excited for a new kind of special.

This morning I got a really sweet message from a friend who told me he read my broken post weeks ago and was touched. On his way to work this morning he heard this song on the radio and wanted to share it with me. One of my favorite things of all time is having a friend reach out at random times and with special messages telling me that they thought of me. This share was especially beautiful. I cried. I loved it. I had to share it with you all along with the most intense feeling that I had with the lyrics, “Could it be that God loves broken things?” I know he does and I know if He were to search the whole earth over, I am one of those most special broken ones, just as you are.

I am thinking of certain people this morning:

  • The friend who is in her forties and has so many kids that I lost count (is it 8 or 9?) and is exhausted and terrified that there still may be one more.
  • The divorced dad who still can’t find a job after months of searching, but doesn’t quit.
  • The thrice divorced mom who is just trying to love her kids and herself.
  • The mom of a very special boy in and out of hospitals.
  • The mom who deals with chronic illness and a slew of medical bills and no acceptable answers.
  • The friend who is trying to learn to walk again after a very scary life-altering surgery.
  • The widower raising his son without his beloved by his side.
  • You who has two completely unacceptable grades because you once again procrastinated turning your homework in, even though you know better. But change is so hard!!
  • The dads out there who bust their tails and still never feel like they can provide enough.
  • The addict who just can’t lay off the sauce.
  • The lonely person who has everything that they could possibly want financially but nothing that they need.

So many more of you are suffering in ways I don’t have time to relay in this post.

I just want to tell you that I know you’re broken and with all my broken I still love you.

But more importantly, God knows your brokenness, and in all his perfection He loves you. And better than loving you, He will fix you! I should say He will fix us! Because I need the most fixing. God not only can make us whole, He will, in His own time, in His own way. From experience I know that His way will only make us suffer as long as is absolutely necessary for our own growth.

Mom, I’m here. Don’t forget me.

I sounded so crabby at the therapist’s office the other day while explaining my mixed emotions about being 40 and pregnant, “I’ve never been the kind of woman who was like, ‘Oh, please let me bear children. It’s my life dream to have a whole houseful of darlings. My only ambition is to be a mother.’ ” In fact, even though I’ve always assumed I would have a large family and was even quoted in my high-school yearbook that I planned to have a dozen kids, I have also been quite conflicted about it ever since I can remember. I love kids. I came from a large family that I also love. But, I have always also been full of dreams and ambitions that had nothing to do with family. In fact, I knew kids would just get in the way of a lot of what I wanted to do: graduate from college, serve in the Peace Corps, write a book or two, travel, and have a successful career in one thing or another.

I further explained to the therapist, “I’m a willing vessel, I’m just a broken one.” LeGrand and I both chuckled. Ain’t that the truth! He knows it even more intimately than I do. I am a very spiritual person and I try to live my life in communication with God. This is a good thing and a bad one. Because I listen to the voice of God, my life is always full of conflict. What He wants for me always seems to be in direct opposition of what I want for myself.

I remember when my hubby and I had been married for just a month. We went to the temple together and separated to do some work. I was 24, he was 22. We were both in college and working full-time. After we were done with our service in the temple, we walked out to the car hand in hand, both very quiet. Something was up. You could cut the dark sky in front of us with a pocketknife. My newer-than-new husband turned to me and said, “Alice, I felt it too, we are supposed to start our family now, and have joy in our posterity.” Nooooooooooo. I couldn’t keep the spiritual impressions I had felt in my own heart a secret like I had planned. This was crazy, but it was also undoubtedly what God wanted for us. I knew that this family business would rob me of all if not most of my own dreams. It took me six months to even become willing to go off birth control and then I was still resentful. And pregnant.

So, bring us up to the present day. We have four kids. I’ve had four miscarriages. I am forty and pregnant. Four seems to be an important number for me right now. This is my fourth and final blog. I know many people are reasonably questioning the child growing inside of me. Heck, they can’t question any more than I am. I am questioning. My husband is questioning. The only ones who are not questioning are our four children. They couldn’t be any more excited. Kids are really good at instinctively knowing what is most important…plus they don’t have to worry about paying the bills or losing three years of sleep.

I’d like to take this chance to explain and write down this little tale so that I will always remember it. There is one reason and one reason alone I am pregnant. The reason is that this child spoke to me from its pre-mortal realm. In August of 2012, my hubby and I found ourselves again at the temple. I had just suffered a pretty brutal miscarriage at 18 weeks. As we sat in the chapel, I turned to my husband and said, “LeGrand, I am not praying about this today, but I just want to be done having kids. I’m 38. I’m so tired, and I don’t think I can handle it emotionally anymore.” LG answered with his full support, “It’s up to you Alice. I don’t blame you. I don’t want you to have to go through that again either.” I wasn’t going to pray about it because I didn’t want any other answer from God besides my own.

mom im here

But something miraculous happened. Something I couldn’t deny. God sent a messenger to the temple that day. In the spirit form of a child. My child. The one I hadn’t yet given birth to.

It’s hard to explain the special place that are Mormon temples. They are very sacred. God is always there. They are a place where the veil between two worlds is very thin. In the temple I’ve felt the presence of many of my deceased loved ones who have gone on before me.  They have been there with me often, telling me that they are watching over me.

I never expected to be visited by someone who had yet to come to earth, but somebody had an important message that day. One that I really didn’t want to hear. In fact it was the last thing I wanted to hear.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked behind me to see no one there but to feel someone as assuredly as if they were standing there. There was no doubt someone was there. I then heard an audible voice, “Mom, I’m here. Please, don’t forget me.”

I instantly started bawling. How selfish I am! How easily distracted I become. I so willingly forget that this earth-life isn’t about gaining the adventures that I want to have, but is all about being willing to take on the ones that I already promised God (and others) that I would achieve. My most important calling in this life is to be a vessel, even if I’m the most broken one that there ever was. I answered with a pledge in my heart, “I won’t. I promise. I could never forget you.” It took me sixteen more months to get pregnant again. Every day I was haunted by the pleading of my child. I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant or stay pregnant. I convinced myself that it was just the miscarried kid talking to me. I would maybe get to meet him at a later day in heaven. I told God that if he wanted it to happen, forty was as high as I was willing to go. Miraculously, I got pregnant on the first cycle after my 40th birthday, almost as if God wanted me to know that he got the message. But also in typical God-fashion..in the 11th hour…after we’ve been tested to the limit.

I’ve vacillated between anxiousness, depression, and elation. I’m only four months in and I’ve already had to give up my running,  my plans to go back to school and work, and a portion of my sanity. A big chunk of money that was put aside for our new home will now be used for doctor bills and baby items. I worry every day that this child will have special needs, but one thing dismisses my many worries. There is one thing that I will always know: this child is special. More than anything, this child wanted a chance to be mortal. He knew that for that to happen I had to be his mama. He traveled from wherever he was all the way to the temple to remind me of my promise long ago to not forget. I smile at his bravery and his audacity because he chose the day that I least wanted to hear it to remind me.

And then I cringe at what is in store for him. He’s going to be stubborn. He’s going to be brave. He’s going to have his own ideas. He will also have a mother to remind him that more than anything he wanted to come to earth because that is what God wanted him to do. I will remind him as much as I will myself: We might as well keep on listening to God…no matter how much harder it seems to make our lives and how much it robs us of our own dreams and ambitions. Ultimately we both will have to answer for how we used our time on earth and every single one of our choices. God will never be concerned with how much we traveled or achieved, His main concern is for the immortality and eternal life of all of His children. For that to happen, He first has to get them to earth….even if the vessel is forty and all washed up. All we can hope for is our own willingness to say, “I am a vessel, God. I am broken but I am here and I am listening.”

* I say “he” because I have this secret wish that the lucky number five will be the son for which I’ve prayed for my husband, but we are 99.9% sure that “he” is really Vivienne. There is always that .01% though, I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks.

When I Leave the Room

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If you are an American, you’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard about Grammy-nominated gospel singer Natalie Grant walking out of the Grammys. The story is all over the place.

On her facebook the night of the Grammy’s she wrote:

We left the Grammy’s early. I’ve many thoughts about the show tonight, most of which are probably better left inside my head. But I’ll say this: I’ve never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I’ve never been more sure of the path I’ve chosen.

She got so many people slinging mud at her that she had to follow up with this:

I’ve tried to read all of the comments on my previous post but I can’t respond to them all. Most of you have always been so supportive and encouraging to me & I’m grateful. It does sadden me when people argue, judge and hurl insults at each other from both sides of the fence. I’m not going to engage in arguments, but just have a few things I’d like to say:
I NEVER said I left during any particular performance. I only said I left early.
I never pointed out any one particular performance, I only said I had many thoughts about the entire show, which were best left inside my head and that is where they will stay. So those who say I condemned one performance but then condoned others clearly did not read the post.
What I DID say is this: I am honored to be a part of the Christian music community. I’ve had many people throughout my career ask why I never tried to go in to mainstream music and last night was a beautiful reminder that I love singing about Jesus and FOR Jesus.
I’ve judged no one. I hate no one. And I believe that every person has been created in the image of God. I will never stand on a street corner and wave a sign, I won’t use my platform to engage in political arguments that will only divide and not unite. I will continue to pray that my life will be my message. I do have my own personal convictions that I live by, and I will continue to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord. (Philippians 2:12)
I was honored to be nominated for 2 Grammy awards last night. I’m so grateful that NARAS and The Grammys continue to recognize the contribution that gospel and Christian music make to the world. And I’m so thrilled for those who won in my categories. And I can say that with all sincerity.
My last thought:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus for it is the power of God who brings salvation to ALL who believe.”
Romans 1:16

~ Natalie

I had never even heard of Natalie Grant before this incident was reported, but I was deeply touched by this song of hers that a friend just shared with me. I thought maybe she had written it in response to the backfire, but after listening I was no longer even thinking about the Grammy’s.  Listen, and tell me what you are thinking about when she gets through.

When the song was over, I was thinking about my loved ones and what it is like to leave them, and how much I pray for their safety, protection, and happiness. I was also thinking about my Jesus and how holy and peaceful it feels to trust in Him and know without a doubt that one day I will look at Him in the eyes unashamed and tell Him that I did my best to live up to His name that I took upon me at baptism.

When I leave the room, I want people to know that I fully expect to meet my Jesus on the other side and that I will continue to trust Him to watch over whoever is left standing on the other side of the door. Whether they be Hollywood, gay, the Pope, the President of the United States, a cult member,  my child, my friend, an alcoholic, a murderer, my favorite librarian…whatever and whoever they are…I know Jesus is watching over them and will make all things right according to whether or not they will accept Him in his terms. I do not stand in judgement, but I do stand for Him to the best of my ability and I do hope that someday we can all stand with Him together on the other side of the door. But guess what? The only way to get there is to leave the room. I kind of hope more people will start taking that part of the plan a little bit more serious. This life isn’t about seeking our own carnal desires, it’s about proving ourselves to God that we will choose Him no matter what comes our way.

I applaud you Natalie Grant.

Can You Hear the Bells?

LG and I received a great Christmas present from his parents.
We were able to attend a Christmas concert last night
by one of our favorite gospel/bluegrass groups The Lower Lights.
I was touched by their retelling and performance of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the lyrics after suffering two terrible Christmas seasons. First his wife was engulfed in flames and died from her burns, leaving Henry permanently injured as well. Second, Henry’s son, without Henry’s blessing, went to fight in the Civil War where he also received significant injuries to never be the same.

As Henry strolled down the street in despair the words of this poem came to him after hearing the church bells ringing. “If you haven’t had to endure a holiday season full of despair, then it’s only a matter of time,” the performer said last night. Then he added some sentiment that communicated the great privilege it can be to experience a Christmas where we are broken, humble, hurt, and down-trodden because it’s in those times that we can really see God’s hand in our life. Thus the last verse:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men

As I listened again to this inspired Christmas hymn tears ran down my cheeks. I felt the power of one person’s faith. I got thinking of my brother’s family. My nephew passed away last May and my brother was just talking about how hard it is to celebrate the holidays without Braxton. I then thought of my friend Rosie who will be stuck in a hospital tending after Hyrum, her critically-ill special needs son, for Christmas as she was for Thanksgiving. I thought of Aimee who has had terrible health problems and is waiting for her entrance into the Mayo Clinic. I thought of several of my friends who struggle with a lifetime of hurt from the abuse they received as children. I thought of so many children out there dealing with the antics of their bitter divorced parents. Then I was flooded with the memories of many heartbroken wives who have lost their marriages because of their husband’s addiction. The friends who are valiantly trying to provide for their children in the midst of job loss and an unstable economy also came to mind.

There is so much suffering.  I thought, “How does God handle it all?”
The answer came, “I don’t handle it, you do.”

Wait, what? I can’t handle it! Then the answer came further,
“No, one person cannot handle it, but everyone can do something.”
And all those somethings mean everything.

I’ve heard the bells. I’ve heard them so many times. I can’t even begin to count. I’ve heard them for me. I’ve heard them for friends. I’ve heard them for family. I’ve heard them by being served and I’ve heard them by being the servant. I’ve heard them ringing for strangers. I’ve heard them in the drop of a few coins in the Salvation Army buckets. I’ve heard them in so so  many surprise packages on my very own porch. I’ve heard them in a Santa Claus across the country buying a trampoline for kids he has never met. They are ringing strong all over the world. Take a minute to really look for them….listen carefully. I promise they are there.

At this time of year you can even hear them in advertising.

The bells are so beautiful.
My wish for each of you this year is the gift to hear.

This one is dedicated to my hubby who loves his Sarah McLachlan.

I am NOT forgotten.

A little elf arrived at our doorstep this morning. Funny, I’ve often thought of elves as Santa’s helpers. Today I realized how very wrong I have been. Elves are God’s angels on earth. Let me explain.

elves

Sometimes it’s easy to wonder why God has forsaken us. I try not to dwell in that sentiment when I feel it but I admit that I feel it often. Feeling forsaken has become a way of life for me. I think anyone who tries to live a faithful life must struggle with feeling resentment from time to time. After all, this life is a test. If it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be a test.I personally always feel pretty guilty when I feel forgotten. I then try to remind myself that once Christ felt forsaken. If he can feel alone then it must be an o.k. frame of mind for me too. I am a huge advocate in teaching people to not be ashamed of their feelings. Feelings are what they are. For too many years I felt shame for my feelings and it got me nowhere but deeper into the dark and then I learned that I can’t control my feelings. I can only control what I do with my feelings.

So, I’m here to tell you that when a woman tries so very hard to live her life in a way that would be pleasing to God and keeps hitting the same brick wall over and over again she feels forgotten. In the past few weeks I’ve had to keep moving forward to keep myself from succumbing to the depression and discouragement associated with my brick wall. My forgotten place is not pretty.

What is my brick wall? I have many, but the one that gets to me more than any of the others is financial strain. I have never known a life without financial strain. I was born under a roof of financial strain. No matter how hard I work or how hard my hubby works we never seem to break free from financial strain. No matter how much we improve at frugality and income-earning it’s as if God doesn’t want us to ever have a better way of life. It’s hard.

LeGrand and I have discussed this a lot. We don’t understand it. We are good people. We are generous. We serve others. We share what we have. We are not selfish. We are not really worldly. We don’t try to keep up with the Jones-es. We don’t have a desire to impress other people with our worldly goods. We just don’t. We give 10% of our income to God’s purposes. We donate additional amounts in money, goods, and time to various other humanitarian efforts. We are honest in our dealings with our fellow-man. We don’t take advantage of other people. We don’t even like accepting gifts from others. All we want to do is provide our kids with their necessities and bless our fellow man, but so often we are left unable to do so because of our economic status.

I can’t complain because I’ve had it worse. Much much worse. I’ve had it so bad that even if I have nothing leftover but a little food in my pantry just being able to pay bills is a blessing I don’t take for granted. We pay our bills. We always have a little leftover and we never go hungry or without a home. However, moving into a basement apartment at 40-years-old with four impressionable children and a defeated husband still sucks. It’s hard. Everyone is left wondering why God gives to others so abundantly but only takes from us.

forget me not

And then a little elf knocked at my door. She said she had a gift from one of the other elves that she knows. She couldn’t tell me who.

This afternoon I opened the elves’ package to a large sum of money.  I could hardly believe my eyes. How do people always know exactly what we need? I mean EXACT down to the penny. I know how God knows, but how do elves know? How do people know? Oh yeah, because they are God’s angels and they are really good at listening and doing.

As I stood counting and recounting and crying and re-crying I remembered the drill. I’ve had this happen so many times in  my life yet I still shake my head in disbelief. How can this keep happening?

I then remembered that God allows me to struggle because He wants to manifest His power in my life. He allows other people to have more because He wants to manifest His power in their life too. He wants us to see how awesome it feels when we understand that we belong to each other . Life is most beautiful when we act accordingly. He also wants us to know the power and love that exists in caring for one another because his power and love is infinitesimally more.

I know these things. I’ve learned them repeatedly. Yet every time a miracle happens I am rendered speechless.

Along with the money, today’s elves gifted this quote along with a beautiful forget-me-not necklace that I don’t think I will ever remove from my neck. (LG said the necklace is for me and the money for him – which is true since he pays the bills.)

I am not forgotten. Ever. And neither are you. Thanks for the poignant and extremely timely reminder angel-elves. Oh, and thank you, too, my loving kind generous Father in Heaven. I’m sorry I always have to be reminded but thanks for your patience.

CYB – I Never Leave His Hands

My life is so beautiful. I don’t say that to brag or feel better than you but I say it because it is true. God has repeatedly opened my eyes to the beauty of Him, the beauty around me, and the beauty inside me. I bet your life is pretty amazing too whether you realize it or not. It is hard for me to believe that my gratitude can grow more and more every day because sometimes my days are hard, but by practicing gratitude even my bad days seems good.  Sometimes I am so filled with love and gratitude that I feel like I could burst, so I usually just bawl for a second or two to get it out.

count blessingsA friend brought over roast beef, protein shakes, and ovulation kits (which I may be giving back after further consideration.) She couldn’t use any of the three because she is pregnant. Being thought of was wonderful but sharing her joy in her pregnancy was the better part. The time she took to visit meant more than the consumables.

Logan and Jill went to Abigail’s soccer game and my heart was full to know that my daughter has support from an extended family too. They also took the girls for an adventure and they all seemed to have a blast. Visiting with Logan and Jill and our girls while we debated between Harry Potter vs. Percy Jackson was an extremely enjoyable evening that will remain with me forever.

LG and I got to go see Diana Krall as our belated 16th anniversary gift to ourselves. We bought the tickets early in the summer when our savings account was a lot more full. It was such a beautiful concert and an enjoyable evening together. LG had a $10 Red Robin gift-card leftover from his birthday too and so even though our budget barely had the stretching room for the drive to SLC, we were still able to go and enjoy a meal out as part of the evening.

diana krall

Even though it meant we had to eat more frugally I was finally able to pay down some doctor bills. This year we were put on a high deductible plan that means we pretty much have to pay for all of our medical expenses out of our pocket. It’s been a rough transition but we’ve survived. We may even end the year with every doctor bill paid in full.

The van’s engine light went off again and then came back on. It makes me smile when it is on or when it is off.

I have an opportunity to volunteer with The United Way in their Welcome Baby program. I will get to go and visit new moms and take them a little care package (donated by the community) and discuss important parts of mom and baby health. I’m really excited about this service opportunity. Mothering is a passion.

The neighbor Teresa brought over homemade salsa. It was way better then what I make.

We got to go to General Conference last week. I really love the perks of living in Utah. We also get to go to the temple on a monthly basis. Being so close to church headquarters is a huge blessing in our lives right now.

Abigail is getting straight A’s because she wants to and that makes me feel like we’ve done something really right. She wants to get a college scholarship and she is planning ahead.

LG thought he had a job offer in China but it ended up being a scam. It didn’t work out but it was sure fun for our family to have the excitement for a day. It was kind of a bummer coming down off of it, but I learned a really cool lesson: it’s about family. Our kids were ready to leave all their comforts and take an adventure. They didn’t even bat an eyelash. Abigail’s exact words, “It’s freaking China, mom. Who cares about my clothes, prom, or American boys. Let’s go!”

Jennifer brought over banana bread on a rough day. Sometimes the littlest gestures are a really big deal.

After caring for a friend with a bad back, she gave us a bucket of apples to say thanks. It was unexpected and unnecessary but pretty wonderful…especially since she packaged it up in the cutest ever red bucket.

Everyone is healthy. I take that for granted, but having so many friends pass through trials of sickness and hospitalizations this past month has made me so grateful for our health. I just got done reading Heaven is for Real and reading about Colton’s hospitalization brought back the three awful days of 2005 when 2-year-old Bella was in the hospital with a serious respiratory virus. I was so scared. Not only am I grateful for our health, I am grateful for all the healing we’ve had collectively over the years.

Reading the book also solidified a beautiful message from God about my last miscarriage. The pastor who wrote the book and his wife came to the same conclusion that I have about a miscarried baby. I had a pretty spiritual experience in the temple after mine occurred. A child came to me and told me not to forget him. I originally thought it meant I was supposed to have another baby or adopt some kids, but I am becoming at peace with the fact that maybe I will raise up that child in the millennium. That will be a blessing of no description so why mourn now?

LG gave me a priesthood blessing that said the Lord was pleased with the way I am raising my kids. Is there really anything better that I could ever hear?

A friend going through rough times chose to be grateful and told me I was her inspiration. It made me so happy not to be the inspiration but to see her able to have happiness during tough times.

After running 6 miles in 54 minutes the other days I bawled like a baby for my quarter mile warm down. God does strengthen, enable, and bless us when we seek him. I was so very grateful to Him for my physical strength.

Amy and Tyler had a baby. No really. Amy and Tyler had a baby!! After 15+ years of infertility and unsuccessful In-vitro and 2 cool adopted kids, my brother and sister in law were blessed with a little miracle biological baby girl.

amy and tyler

LG and I have never been better, but helping other ladies at church going through hard times has helped me remember how far we’ve come and how grateful I should be to have a husband who didn’t give up, who works hard for our family, and who loves me wholeheartedly.

I had a profound feeling of love contentment and joy walking with Caroline along the sidewalks of SLC while people lined the streets singing hymns. I felt the spirit of the Lord testifying to me that He is in charge of the whole earth.

I know he watches over me. Which brings me to a song….

Loving my Enemy – Literally

I’m a sucker for humanity. I love touchy-feely stories of love, hope, kindness, and self-sacrifice.

I love stuff like this, this, and this.

Contention makes me a little uncomfortable. I can handle it but it just sets my heart at unrest. Because I’m a Mormon I’ve experienced some pretty intense contention directed at me. I’ve been called a bigot for standing for traditional marriage. (I still self-talk myself through one really personal de-friend not because I am hurt but I am sad I may have really hurt someone else with my unwillingness to change my religious views.) I’ve survived an anonymous commenter on my old blog who for years always told me how stupid I was for my beliefs. (She/he is the reason I don’t have commenting open on this blog – I just don’t need anonymous stalkers who are cruel.) I’ve been teased by one of my very best friends about getting magical underwear after attending the temple for the first time. (I flipped her off – not my finest moment. I still love you friend, if you happen to be reading. Glad we can agree to disagree.)

A few years back when I attended the LDS Women’s General Meeting in SLC some anti-Mormons got sneaky and handed out their propaganda inside tissue packets. The attendees just thought someone was doing something really nice by handing out the tissues and were accepting them in droves. The meetings can get pretty emotional when you start feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost and tissues are always a welcome commodity. I am not afraid of a fight. Once I figured out what was going on, I gathered up all the tissues I could find and took them back to the lady on the corner with the wicker basket. I said calm yet firm, “I would never in a million years come and crash your church gathering and hand out crap against your church leaders.” I filled her basket back up with my stack of retrieved tissues and walked away. She was speechless. For the next two hour meeting I sat with a lump in my heart feeling like I should have been more kind. I let her offend me and I should have just showed her love and invited her inside to see what she was so threatened about.

This past Saturday we took our kids back to Salt Lake City for General Conference. Kids under eight years old aren’t allowed to attend and so LG took our older three girls into the Conference Center and I took Caroline across the street to listen wherever we could park ourselves. (We ended up in the basement of the Visitor’s Center in an almost empty theater with stadium seating – Rock on!) There are always a lot of protesters on the sidewalks and we passed one particularly vocal one. He was saying things like, “Your underwear is dirty. You are not saved. You are fools. You are deceived.” You know – the typical. I got a thought, “Go give him a hug.” I chuckled. No way! He was so loud and everyone couldn’t help but give him attention while passing by, there was no way I was going to put myself up for a lashing like that especially with Caroline in tow. I walked on. We watched the meeting and then passed him again while going to meet back up with LG. The thought came again, “Go give him a hug.”

As we sat and waited for LG at the end of the sidewalk I couldn’t shake the impression. Once he and the girls arrived I told LG, “I’ll be right back, there is something I have to do.” He questioned knowing I am never afraid to stick up for myself and probably a little afraid he might have to pick me up from jail, “Alice, what are you going to do? Are you going to get into trouble?” “No,  no”, I assured him. “Just give me a second, I will be right back.” I ran back to the protester with the beard, the Mormon temple clothes wrapped around his wrists and the sign that said, “You are going to hell.” Now a really large crowd had gathered. I chuckled a prayer up to God, “You’ve got a sense of humor, you know.” And then I prayed the hug-receiver wouldn’t hit me. I walked right up to him as an obvious person on the opposite end of his views. Amazingly he quieted. I looked him in the eye and said, “Can I give you a hug?” He looked dumbfounded. As he answered I closed the space to not get fully rejected. He said, “I don’t think my wife will appreciate that.” I said, “How about a half hug then?” I quickly wrapped my left arm around his back and squeezed his left shoulder as he watched suspiciously. I explained, “I try to always follow any promptings that I get and this morning my prompting was to give you a hug.” I’ll give him credit as a human. He wasn’t mean. He didn’t hit me. He didn’t yell at me. He smiled. I smiled back and then returned without incident to my waiting husband relieved that he wouldn’t have to bail me out. It felt good to love my enemy.

I hope God doesn’t ask me to do something crazy like that again, but I hope if he does, I’ll have the courage.

protesterI stole this photo off the internet. Oh internet police, please be kind. I needed a visual to match the story. My protester was right inside that gate on the left. Not shown in this photo…although that kind of looks like it could be him on the right sans his 5 other signs and temple clothes.

Funny side story. Abigail told her seminary teacher about this exchange on Monday and I guess he shared it with several of his classes. On her way home from school a lot of her friends asked her if I was the one who had hugged the protester. I guess I have a reputation as the crazy lady. I guess that is why I can still love my enemy….I can relate to them. I get their craziness and I get their passion. Even if we have polar opposite views, I mostly get that we share humanity and that is a beautiful beautiful thing.