Wednesday, January 13, 2016

All We Wanted for Christmas

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*Squint Squint* Is that sunlight outside on this January day? Oh blessed world. I've missed you. I feel like I've been in a cave the last two weeks.

The day after Christmas I came down with viral strep. My throat has never been so sore. For days I watched it stripe a new candy-cane look as it twisted red and white patches down my throat. Several of the kids got a milder version of the virus. Luckily, Doug, Ali, and Gordon stayed healthy. 

Then just as I was blowing my nose a little less and starting to feel human, I became fevered again. For four days. With sharp lung pain while bending or taking a deep breath. I had developed pleurisy, an inflammation of the lung lining. Man, we could not shake the sickies at our house this holiday break. Spencer had an awful ear infection that drained for three days. We had sore throats, runny noses, coughs.

When Gordon's friend asked him what he did over the break he said, "I told him we did nothing. Yep. Nothing." And sadly enough, it's kinda true.

There was an embarrassingly large amount of movie-watching, some playing in the snow, playing with toys, and a little bit of homework.

Weren't we a barrel of fun?

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But the kids did sleep under the tree two days before Christmas. 

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And we made it to see Star Wars! The Force Awakens!

Awesome, it was. Loved it, we did.

But the most exciting news of all... of the decade... and maybe the century for us... is this: 

We finally closed on this darling colonial home we've been hoping to buy!

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It's in our neighborhood. Which we love. 

I've been praying since we landed here seven years ago that if possible, we could buy a home in this place where we had come to love so many special people. But sometimes, God has a different plan. So we were trying to remain open. We still had our home in Virginia, which we were renting, because we bought just before the market tanked. Thankfully, we sold it this summer, without a loss. For a couple years now we've been ready to buy. Home after home would come on the market, but it didn't feel right. So we waited.

I never thought we'd survive renting for seven years. I thought five would do me in. But we did. And while it's been difficult at times, it's been a wonderful location and we've felt so grateful. 

We have been looking for something close, so we could be near my mother, and keep the kids at the same charter school. This was a blessing from heaven. Truly.

It belonged to our dear Maggie. She and her sisters grew up on this acreage, which was a dairy farm back in the day. Her father ran the dairy farm and all the children helped. Most of the sisters purchased lots on the farm when they married, and built their own homes. At one point, we had three of these Florence sisters in our ward. All three have passed away now. But they were marvelous women who left a beautiful legacy of hard work, wisdom, and kindness.

Maggie passed away early September, after we had signed a contract with her to purchase the home. She was so happy it was going to a family who would love it and take care of it.

We are thrilled to finally have a place we can call our own. So happy to honor Maggie's family and fill the home with new voices, laughter, music, and love.

(I'm sure they'll be plenty of raucous play, sibling fighting, and screeching in the yard too. I hope this quiet hollow of the woods can handle our energy.)

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The home is tucked into a beautiful grove of mature trees near a little creek. It is across the street from our piano teacher. And it has a glorious view of the mountain. 

It also needs a lot of work. We just finished painting the walls. New flooring goes in during the next couple weeks, along with new appliances.

The kids are out of their minds with anticipation. This has been a long time coming. And we cannot help but acknowledge God's hand in making it happen, in preparing a place for us that will be just right.

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One day I drove the kids past the new house and to our delight, noticed four deer in the backyard, two under tree canopy. It was so quiet, reverent even, that we rolled down the windows and just watched. In silence. So magical. When we drove away, I clapped my hands and cheered! "That's going to be our house guys!!" The kids just laughed. Eliza said she hadn't seen me that excited in a long time.

There is something about your own place. A space you can put yourself into it. Fix things on your own timeline. Make improvements. Hang art. Decorate. Plan. Sink roots.

This was the best Christmas present any of us could have asked for. It was all we wanted for Christmas.

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So we kept things pretty simple. New pajamas on Christmas Eve.

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Spencer had THE ultimate temper tantrum Christmas Eve. I think it was over his pajama pants not fitting. It was a doozy. One we won't soon forget. Note his splotchy face and red eyes. 

But he pulled it together for pictures and apologized to everyone.

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And despite all the threatenings, Santa did come.

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But he left a gentle note of warning. And expressed confidence in the kids, "I believe in you."

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Sami wanted this ginormous polar bear to snuggle with when she reads.

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Ali wanted a bean bag for a reading corner in their new room.

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Eliza wanted an iPod and a speaker. Santa even put her favorite songs on the iPod and made a few playlists for her.

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The boys wanted cap guns. Spencer wanted me to edit this photo so it was in black and white because he said it looked more "cowboy."

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Gordon loved his lion pen.

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We drew "Secret Pal" names and the kids secretly served each other during the month, then bought a special gift with their own money for their pal.

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Mom and Dad gave Ali this necklace. So she would remember, no matter what, we love her. More than the moon and all the stars in the sky.

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It was snowing lightly that morning as we opened presents. All the world felt quiet, and still, snowflakes dusting our little snowmen. It was a beautiful Christmas. So much for which we are grateful.




And in celebration, here's Spence "shaking it off" on Christmas morning. Who knew this kid had been breakdancing at school?! His buddy Jude would be proud. 

"Lightning on my feet"... as Miss Swift would say... that's the only way I can describe his moves!

And now I'm off to dig us out of the holiday clutter, purge closets, and start packing. Our list of Favorite Children's Books from 2015 up next.

xoxo

Friday, December 25, 2015

To You Christ is Born

It was my day to post at Segullah yesterday. While I was sure no one had time to read anything, I still posted a few words. Short thoughts from one of my favorite essays by Martin Luther. Because he so beautifully reminds us why we celebrate.

It is true. What the angel told the shepherds. That Jesus was born unto you. For you. And because of you.

Full text here. 

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The Shepherd to the Angel by Carl Bloch

It is a beautiful, snowy morning here in Salt Lake. The skies are aswirl in white, our gifts are unwrapped, all the kids are engaged in new toy exploration, and I just woke from a late morning nap on the couch. A nap. And it's not even noon!

Happy Christmas... to you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

All is Calm

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Two weekends ago we kicked off our holiday festivities with a trip to see the Village of Lights, created by The Wonderment. This non-profit group works to cultivate creativity and imagination among children. It also gives to a number of good causes including our local refugees. All proceeds this weekend went to help Salt Lake refugees.

It was pretty remarkable, this village of lights. They broke a world record by creating the largest Dickens' Christmas Village ever. Hundreds of tiny houses and lights.

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All with a story to tell, put to synchronized music and lighting. It was the story of a farmer during WWII who found a way to send a message of hope out into the dark night during black out evenings.

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His message of light? Melting the hillside snow as bombers flew over head?

Peace. On. Earth.

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It was a beautiful story and a magical place for our kids to explore.

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They served hot chocolate, which was actually very very hot (per Spencer's face).

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And all around were invitations to dream, imagine, wonder.

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Christmas feels like the perfect season for such magic and wonderment.

And the life-size snow globe they set up was a riot.

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I should have taken some photos from the outside looking in, but standing in the middle of the storm was too much fun.
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It got a little crazy in there. Look at Spencer's face. 

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Gordon loved making snow angels.

Unfortunately, Eliza wasn't able to join us. She and Doug drove around the block because she broke her leg the week prior and was still in a soft cast.

Yes, she broke her fibula falling down the stairs at our church. Just two days after beginning this year's ski program. (Not sure who is more bummed. Eliza or Doug. Since she is his skiing buddy.)

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She has been such a trooper. Not a complaint, really. I think the novelty of the crutches is wearing off (with 4 more weeks to go) but she is still all smiles and positivity. Much to learn from her.


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Katherine was appointed Eliza's bodyguard at school and has done an excellent job of clearing paths for Eliza, carrying her lunch tray, turning in Eliza's papers, and generally just being the dearest friend a girl could have.

Eliza is now in her hard cast. A Christmas green. Which she wanted the kids in her class to decorate with holly berries before they signed it. And she wanted her Grandma to be the first to sign it, since both she and my Mom are having trouble walking. Misery loves company, no?

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Today we wrapped up the first day of Christmas break, with all five kiddos bustling around the house, cutting papers, taping drawings to walls, and tromping in and out the garage door with snowy boots and soggy mittens.  

While all has not necessarily been calm, with typical Christmas busyness and a trip to the ER, it is how I felt a week ago, when I wanted to write this post, and I sat at our kitchen table watching snow gently drift out of the sky. 

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It was so quiet and peaceful, watching the entrance of the biggest snow storm we've had in a couple winters.

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The next morning we woke to 14 inches and a school delay.

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The boys stayed home from school and we thoroughly enjoyed the stacks of snow.

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Earlier in the month, a skiff of snow had them racing outside to help Dad shovel.

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Two sure signs of winter. Eager snow shovelers and pants that don't fit.

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Stockings are finally hung, halls are decked, and the tree is lit.

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Only three days until Christmas and I am still offering the occasional warning of coal in someone's stocking. There's been plenty of bickering and temper flares. But I am encouraged when I see Gordon making his brother's bed, Ali getting Eliza a drink of water because she can't carry anything as she crutches around the house, or Sami leaving a note on my pillow about how much she loves her Mommy.

Looking in from the outside, it might actually appear calm. But even when it isn't, if I remember who we are celebrating this month. That tiny babe who grew in wisdom and stature until he had power to still a tumultuous sea, calm human fear, and carry any burden. Then I am calm in my heart. 

I love this collection of voices, these children from around the world. And their words. Worth watching again if you've already seen it.



Rejoice greatly! A Savior is born!

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Secret Destinations

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"All journeys have secret destinations 
of which the traveler is unaware." 
- Martin Buber, German philosopher, 1878-1965

One year ago, early November, a nighttime snow dusted the mountains, hinting at winter but settling only in the high places. It was a gorgeous Autumn day. My children were in school and I was driving around town, praying.

Kara was at the hospital, delivering her twin babies. Her new twin babies. And I was petitioning the heavens for their safety. Every second it seemed, I was sending a new prayer upward. I could think of nothing else as I cruised the highway, glancing at my phone for news.

As I rounded the interstate toward home, Mount Olympus rose majestically out of the foothills and I was suddenly surprised by a feeling of God all around me. Everywhere. Holding the universe together. I felt complete peace and trust. That nothing would slip through his hands. That all was safe and secure.

A few minutes later I received a text. Christian and Audrey were born. 6.4 lbs each. Exactly equal and perfectly sound. Pink-cheeked and breathing. And Kara was doing well.

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No one, not even Kara, would have guessed three years ago that this would have been her path. That another set of twins would be part of her journey.

You remember her first set of twins - her precious boys, Caleb and IsaacLosing Isaac was an indescribable turning point for Kara and her family. And for those of us who love them. Isaac changed us. 

It has been three years since his passing. His photo is still taped to our refrigerator. I see it every day and think of him. His brief but impactful life. 

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Sometimes I see shadows of him in Caleb's eyes, wonder what it would be like if he were here. Then I consider where he is, his influence from that heavenly side, his role of caring for his family, and I have no doubt he is still present, still a part of things, still here. In the light and shadows of their busy house.


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I took these photos around Caleb's second birthday. I love the sparkle in Kara's eyes.

Last month Caleb turned three. And oh, what a life of joy he has already created. He is a resilient, busy, and brave explorer. My children adore him. When we drive carpool, they call out a chorus of goodbyes to Caleb as he stands in the doorway and we pick up his siblings for school.

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Such a blessed boy.

Soon after Isaac's passing I wanted to find a keepsake box to give to Kara. So she could have something in which to store Isaac's things. I wanted it to be a beautiful box. Just the right size. With Isaac's name on it. I wanted it to be made of wood, to be connected to the earth, hand-carved. 

My friend Darci arranged for her father to make the box. He builds furniture and happily crafted something just the right size. Then I started looking for someone who could carve Isaac's name onto the lid. 

I looked. And looked. But could not find anyone willing to try.

I called shops and names people had given me. Still, nothing. Woodcarving, I began to realize, had become a bit of a lost art.

Finally, our friend Jarrod, gave me the name of a man with a small woodworking shop on state street.

I called him and he said he could help. So the boys and I drove to his shop.

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Meet Gonzalo. From South America. One of the sweetest men I have ever met. And his wife? A little shorter and just as sweet. They welcomed us inside, offered the boys lollipops, then showed me Gonzalo's work. The next time we went back, I took my camera.

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This is his carpentry table. 

The wall behind it was covered in sketches, drawings, designs. Mantles, tables, and carvings tucked into every corner of the room. Each unique. Each done by hand. Each ornate and beautiful. 

I explained to him what I envisioned for Kara. The size of the lettering. Then I pulled out the small card with Isaac's picture on it, so he could see how to spell Isaac's name. In broken English, he said to me, pointing to the death date on the card, "This baby die?" I nodded. 

"Only days..." his voice trailed off. And he looked into my eyes, his wet with tears. His emotion startled me and all I could do was nod, a lump forming in my throat.

"I will help," he said. 

We agreed on a very reasonable price, he took my phone number, and asked if he could keep the card.

I said yes, and the boys and I waved goodbye.

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As we were leaving, I noticed this picture propped up on one of his shelves. I almost stopped walking.

The carpenter boy. Jesus. Learning this trade of woodworking from his father. 

Did Gonzalo believe in Jesus? Did his understanding of family and death coincide with ours?

It seemed finding him had been nothing short of a miracle.

A few weeks later we returned and I got to know Gonzalo better. He emigrated to Utah years ago with his family, after learning woodworking from his father. He knew what it meant to sacrifice, to work hard, to care about people.

Gonzalo did a beautiful job with the box. Each letter hand-carved, with his own latin flourish - two tiny gold stars - which reminded me of Caleb and Isaac.

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A few of us, Kara's friends, got together one year after Isaac's passing, to give her the box.

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It was a tender evening.

Job, in all his trial said, "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away." But do you recall at the end of his life, when he was old and full of days, that the Lord gave him twice as much as he had before? (Job 42:10).

Yes, sometimes the Lord takes away. But after that he gives. And gives. And gives. 

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These two perfect babes are evidence of that generosity.

I will never forget sitting across from Kara at dinner, just the two of us, several months after Isaac's passing. She told me she was going to try IVF one last time and I nearly fell off my chair.

They had a number of embryos still frozen and she couldn't stop thinking about them. The process would be difficult for her body. Caleb was still a baby, and she was still worn and weary from heartache. But she was being nudged forward. And even if it didn't work out, she said, she needed to try. She was completely wiling to accept the outcome, whatever it would be. To participate with God in the creation of life, which she reminded me, was an absolute privilege. A price worth paying.

She astounds me. Her humility, her faith, her love.

Imagine Kara and Dave's surprise at finding out they would have not just one baby, but two.

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And so a new chapter opened for Kara and her family.

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Kara and Dave became the parents of six. When at one point, they wondered if they would have any.

Along the way, our stories, mine and Kara's, have lined up. She understands my journey, has helped me see the beauty amid the hardness. And I have tried to understand hers. I do not know the landscape of loss through which she has traveled but I do know the exhaustion I hear in her voice some mornings. I know exactly what she's talking about when she can still hear babies crying in the silence. I smile when I see the twins plus Caleb packed into the middle row of her car. And I know exactly what it took for her to make it to the aquarium, all five in tow.

Kara and I can look into each other's eyes and know. Without speaking. And that is a tremendous gift.

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When I went to the hospital, Kara's sister, Annie, was there.

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And her mother, Nancy.

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These two darlings have changed so much in a year.

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From being cradled by their daddy...

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To sitting up and crawling around. 

They are pure happiness.

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Audrey with her ocean blues. And the way she looks up you with admiration and tenderness.

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Christian, with his chocolate browns. So sturdy and strong. He's still not sure he can trust me. But I've assured him, one of these days, we will be good pals.

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A couple weeks ago we went over to the Carlstons to bring gifts and celebrate. Sami spent her own money to buy Caleb a birthday present. She picked out the softest, fluffiest bunny she could find.

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He was so excited.

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We brought turkey cupcakes for the boys. Red velvet for the girls.

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And paperwhites to bloom this winter in memory of Isaac.

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This story. 

With its secret destinations. 

It has been pricking at my heart for a year now, demanding to be told. Because it is full of miracles, and promise. It denotes that life is not random. Yes, hard and horrible things happen. But that does not mean life isn't full of purpose and divinity. That God isn't about His work, even when things go wrong.

I tell this story because it is also your story. It is my story. It is the story of every sojourner out there.

I first heard that Martin Buber quote in a class Kara's mother was teaching. Buber was Jewish and rejected the label of theologian or philosopher. He cared only about relationships, particularly his relationship with God. When I considered what he taught, I was immediately comforted. I whispered the words to myself. All journeys have secret destinations... of which the traveler is unaware.

And I wondered. If we could see those destinations - if we could know there was a place for us being prepared, a gift being wrapped, a life (or two) being formed, a carpenter willing to help, a home in the making, a job, a move, a raise, a change. All thought out and molded just for us. For our progress and happiness. Would it change how we weathered the darkness? Would it change how we felt about God?

I wonder.

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Last week a package arrived in the mail. With no note. Simply addressed to me and my Mom. It was a Brian Kershisnik print, which I have loved from afar, titled, "She Will Find What is Lost." I stood there, fingers on my lips, in tears.

Such an unexpected kindness. So poignant. So achingly beautiful. I showed it to my Mom in the hospital and a sob escaped her mouth. She covered her face with her hands and cried. 

Thank you unknown friend. You sent comfort and love. You are beyond good.

I used to look at this painting and see myself. Now I see that dark-haired woman as my mother, being upheld, sustained, and empowered by angels. She is living with faith that she will find what is lost.

And shouldn't we all? Trust in such recovery? Such generosity? Such redemption?

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Before we left, I looked at Kara with her babies, Christian snuggled onto her lap, head burrowed into her chest, and I was filled with confidence in God. Nothing will ever replace Isaac. No loss we suffer is ever forgotten. But we can trust. That the journey has secret destinations of respite and redemption, of light greater than any darkness, of resolution, atonement, and joy.

And when we cannot see the destinations, it doesn't mean they are not there. They are around the corner. Maybe a ways off, but imminent. Like a snow-dusted mountain, slowly coming into view.


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