Saturday, November 30, 2013

What it Means to Be Fearless

It is Saturday evening and I am thinking about Thanksgiving. How wonderful it was to be with my family at my parents' home. Even though I ruined the rolls. (Yup, I did.) It was my second attempt and they didn't rise. I showed up with sad little circles of bread, the size of a silver dollar. Flat as matzah. 

No need to go into the mechanics of bread-making and why yeast and I miscommunicate. Or how hard I laughed when Doug made himself a teensy turkey sandwich with one of the rolls while the girls fed theirs to the birds by launching them onto the roof.

The point is this. No one cared. As I put my basket of over-baked dough knobs on the counter, I bit my lip so I wouldn't blubber and explode into tears. My sisters and Mom came right over, put their arms around me and said, "It doesn't matter. We've all done it. No one cares!"

And they really didn't. No one cared about my silly rolls. It wasn't what mattered. What mattered were the amazing people that sat around our table. My sisters and their husbands. Their children. My Dad at the head of the table, my Mom to his right. You see, we've learned from my Mom not to waste ourselves or our happiness on things that just don't matter. 

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Please pardon my retelling her story. I've shared it before. But she is writing a new chapter and I want to tell you about it.

Almost twenty years ago, while I was studying abroad in the Middle East, my Mom was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She was 48. A mother of six. We were so worried it would take her life. We prayed fiercely for a miracle, believed if Christ could heal in ancient days, he could do the same now. And after two surgeries and radiation, doctors felt they had removed the entire tumor. 

We were beyond grateful. We became first-hand witnesses to God's love and miracles. That experience confirmed what we had hoped was true. God was real and he answered prayers. 

Five years ago, the tumor returned. But closer to her motor control center. Additional surgery removed as much of the tumor as possible. After which, she did a year of chemotherapy. 

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I had just had the boys and, somehow, she felt well enough to stay at our home several nights a week, to help me bottle feed our tiny 5 pound babies, one of which was still on oxygen. This too was a miracle. 

For three years, her tumor, which is impossible now to remove, has done nothing but occupy space. She has felt strong, healthy, and happy. And every day, my prayers have expressed thanks to God. That he allowed her to stay.

Three months ago, while she and my Dad were driving across the country, she began to have sensory seizures. This concerned her, and my Dad. They spoke with her neurologist who encouraged them to finish the trip but schedule an MRI as soon as they were home.

Sure enough, imaging showed that the tumor was growing again.

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A month ago we met at my Mom's house to celebrate family birthdays. The leaves from their large maple had fallen so the dads raked them into a big pile for the kids to play in. And Mom? Well, she didn't want to miss out on the fun. So she jumped right in and sat down in the middle of the pile. 

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She was feeling well this particular weekend. But previous weeks had been rough.

After her last MRI, she started chemotherapy at an increased dosage. She was due to start her third round this coming Monday, but a drop in blood platelets will defer her chemo for a few more weeks. Which is a relief of sorts. Because she will be able to enjoy the holidays. 

Her first week of chemo I stopped by several times to see her but she was always asleep. She was exhausted, she had no appetite, and the medication made her feel awful.

It is hard to see your vibrant Mother not feeling well. Hard to keep the children away because her white blood cell count is low. Hard to watch her, knowing she is miserable, and there is nothing you can do about it.

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Which is why I am so glad I had my camera this day. A day when I caught her doing what she does best. Being present. Enjoying the moment. And loving the people around her.

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The kids were squealing and diving, while they tossed, kicked and sputtered leaves. 

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Everyone was laughing.

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Gordon left the tree and climbed right into Grandma's lap.

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Sometimes the flurry of leaves was so thick, you could barely see her.

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After dinner we made caramel apples. Every time I'm in her kitchen I notice the words above her sink. You can see them here.

"Fear Not; Believe Only." 

Words of the Savior to Jairus in Luke 8:50, before he raised Jairus' daughter from the dead.

This is how my Mom lives. 

Truly. She has no fear.

When I phoned her the day she was to meet with her neurologist to discuss findings from the MRI, I said, "Are you worried?" She simply said, "No." It wasn't worth pursuing or trying to dig it out of her. She wasn't worried. And I knew it.

It hasn't always been this way. But I've seen an unusual peace and confidence grow in her over the years. She has been living in a state of question for so long, she has learned the only way to survive is to trust. To trust that her life is in the hands of One who will absolutely do what is best for her and her family. That whatever suffering she has to endure will work for her good. That God will take all hard things and make them a blessing to her and those who love her.

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And there are so many of us who love her.

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My children love being in her home. They love working in the garden with her, planting beans, snipping roses, picking apples from her tree.

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They love coloring on her counter, pulling out her old Fisher-Price toys, and snuggling onto the couch with a book.

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Every moment we are with her, we are grateful.

My children pray "that she won't die; that her tumor will go away." That's how they process what's happening. That's all they know to say. Because I'm not sure we've gotten to where she is, when it comes to fearlessness. But she is leading us there, pointing the way, guiding our thoughts and perspectives into a place of submission and understanding. 

Twenty years ago I thought I understood faith. I thought because God had answered our prayers, faith was power. Power to move mountains, calm raging seas, destroy cancer. And it is. But I understand now, that faith is more. It is being willing to submit when the mountain stands still, when the seas overturn your boat or your world. It is accepting a cancer that isn't going to go away.

Marie Curie said, "Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood."

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I am also learning from my Mom, that in all our understanding and experience, there can still be joy.

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Mom, you are the bravest woman I know. 

I love you.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


I believe one of the most courageous attributes we can develop in this life is gratitude. Particularly when we let it rise out of darkness, loss, debilitation, heartache, or any other hardship.
It has always impressed me that Paul and Silas, while sitting in prison – stripped, beaten and chained – found it within themselves to pray and sing praises.
“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.” – Acts 16:25
So on this Thanksgiving day, I wanted to simply share a few verses of praise with you. As we collectively remember His gifts, His generosity, and the bit of good we can do, wherever we are.

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I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent there is singing around me.
Though I am dark there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy there is flight around me.
 - Wendell Berry, "Woods"

Thou that hast given so much to me 
give me one thing more, a grateful heart: 
not thankful when it pleaseth me, 
as if Thy blessings had spare days, 
but such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.
 - George Herbert

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
- William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"

Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.
- Desmond Tutu

You will find these same thoughts at Segullah today. You are welcome to discuss, sing your own praises there, share what's in your heart, if you'd like.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Other Side of the World

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It blows my mind that we can sit down on a plane and within 13 hrs transcend an entire ocean to find ourselves walking on the other side of the world.

That's exactly what we did two weeks ago. Boarded a plane bound for Auckland, New Zealand, to visit Doug's parents who are serving there as public affairs missionaries for the LDS church.

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Sunrise over the Pacific, one hour out of Auckland

Their assignment covers all the islands of the South Pacific. Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, French Polynesia, all of New Zealand and Australia, and even the remote island of Vanuatu. 

They have done a fair amount of traveling to these different islands, but when not island hopping they are in the office, on the phone, emailing, coordinating, meeting with local and area authorities, as they try to increase public awareness for the church and its services.

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Happy faces and big hugs when we arrived!

Jim and Renae were able to spend the first week with us, showing us around the north island. The second week we flew on our own to the south island. For two weeks we explored this drop-down country on the bottom of the globe. And THAT was beyond transcendent. It was other-worldly. I've never seen such spectacular landscape. Such color. Like the whole world was converted to HD! 

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Couldn't decide if we were in New Zealand or a Jane Austen novel

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Local marae where Jim and Renae have been welcomed as family

We saw penguins, seals, and dolphins. We hiked mountains, sailed fiords out to the ocean, rode a jet boat through a canyon, visited Hobbiton, gathered shells on beaches and coastal borders, and put over 1500 miles on our rental car as we rolled over the countryside, through paddocks and past thousands of sheep and dairy cows.

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Milford Sound

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Southland District

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Hobbiton. Movie set for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

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Tairoa Head, Otago Peninsula.

It was the trip of a lifetime. Stay tuned for more pics and posts about our experience. I want to take you there. 

New Zealand is a country that surprised us wholly. We weren't sure what to expect. We knew it would be beautiful. But Aotearoa outdid herself. She exceeded our expectations. Left us wishing we could stay. By some miracle, maybe we'll be able to return.

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Top of Queenstown Hill

Leaving the kids for such a long time was not easy. 

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This pic was taken two minutes before we left for the airport. Can you tell? That's my nervous smile.

But they surprised us too, and did remarkably well. We had the best of family and friends helping. Thank you - all of you - who made this trip possible. 

We are three days into reentry and back to the regular chaos now. Just in time for Thanksgiving.

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But seeing this again - Doug and his padawans in Jedi training - or the girls creating dozens of pages of dot art at the kitchen table - makes me happy. We missed them every day. 

I also came home to this darling bracelet, sent by my friend Kellie, who lives in Australia. Yes, for two glorious weeks we shared the same time zone. I don't own one thing with these words on it (besides my computer screen). So I will treasure this Kel. 

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This phrase lives in my subconscious. I see it, hear it without hearing it, think it all the time. One wild and precious life. It describes all of us. 

The gift of waking and breathing is truly precious. It is also numbered, fragile, and unpredictable.

So leaving our miniscule hub of predictability and self-importance was good. So good to see the mass of other lives out there. Each one important and known. Each face, city, hillside, lake, and boulder - all belong to God. They were fashioned by him. He understands them, cares about them. 

I loved having the borders of my own insularity knocked down, pressed wide. More about our adventure soon. 

But for now, I hope you are well and that your holiday preparations are bringing you joy.

Feeling blessed, blessed, blessed.

Friday, November 8, 2013


I stumbled across this charming book of paintings and poetry by Douglas Florian this week. Have you read it? 

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Maple seeds in fall turn brown

then they fall off and all fall down

like fallicopters to the ground.

Simple poetry with darling illustrations, and lines that visually trip down the page. And that word? Autumnblings. So clever. It describes too well the rolling, jumbled pace of recent weeks.  

Beautiful Autumn is tumbling by. I have a dozen posts spinning in my head. Posts I may never write. Posts about twin comparison, twins in school, twin mentality. Posts about wealth. God's abundance and ours. What we do with it. What we tend to hold back. A post about anger and how to get the mad out. A post about loss and living and a wooden box I had made for a friend. A post about my Mom.

So much to say. And never enough hours. 

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Last night was our book signing at The King's English book shop. It was a nice evening. Intimate and sweet. I looked out at all the faces I knew and felt so grateful for good neighbors, good friends, and a good family. Thank you to those of you who came, who called, or texted. Your words of support meant just as much to me as if you were sitting in one of those chairs.

I spoke briefly about my chapter on patience, and began with this anecdote:

This week we’ve had various workers in and out of the house trying to repair damage from a broken drain-pipe. My husband has been out of town since Monday, and I’m trying to get us ready to leave town on Saturday. So while texting a friend I said,

“My mantra for the week: Be the eye in the storm.” 

She texted back, “Ha! I can’t even aspire to that. I’m just trying not to BE the storm.”

And I thought, now that's the kind of bar I should set. Just don't BE the storm. Isn’t honesty refreshing?

Unfortunately, Wednesday night, I WAS the storm. With the house a monstrous wreck, no one wanting to do their homework, practice piano, have baths, or pick up their stuff, I became the storm. Which is never good. Because, haven't you noticed this trend? Anger tends to fuel anger? It sparks. It gives our children permission to ignite, and soon it spirals upward into a full-on eruption?

So to talk as if I know anything about patience, is to admit that I know a lot about impatience. I bump up against the patience challenge every day. 

As moms, we work at being patient, we fail, we regroup, and start again. And that is okay. It is okay because of things like grace, a fresh morning, and forgiving children.

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Autumnblings. I'm kind of in love with that word. As I bumble along, day in day out, cleaning up messes. My own. And theirs. 

Autumn break for us was slow and simple. Simple joy. Like building with cardboard boxes for an afternoon.

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Eliza's idea.

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It was quite the construction site.

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All they needed were a few butter knives (can you hear the sawing of cardboard?) and a roll of duct tape. 

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Next up? Grass sledding.

Also the kids' idea.

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Snowboard style.

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Or old-school. Look at that smile on David's face as Sami gives him a shove.

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The last day of Autumn break, we went to Cornbelly's with the Lehnardt and Linkous families. 

Hans and Xander were good sports to pal around with Spence and Gordy. My boys think these two are the real deal when it comes to super heros. And I can't disagree. They're pretty much Awesome.

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We rode the cow train.

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Cute Gabe. I will mourn the day he combs his hair.

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Traipsed through the corn maze. 

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"An ear of corn, Mom!" 

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And the boys grew corn tassel mustaches. This one looks surprisingly real on you, Xander. Yee-Haw!

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It was so nice to be with Michelle. We haven't been able to run together lately and time to talk always feels too short.

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Looking out at all that corn.

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After the maze, we raced rubber duckies, slid down the slides, bounced in all the bouncy houses, and shared pumpkin donuts.

It was a warm and happy day. 

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I love this life. Bursting, busy, full. And imperfect.

That night I was the storm? That night I couldn't hold it together? It was rough. Things still didn't feel right after I had tucked everyone into bed. Then I remembered: When I am most frustrated by a child’s behavior, that's my signal I need to draw closer to that child. Even if only for a few minutes. 

So I went down to Eliza's bedroom, cracked the door, and climbed into bed with her. I put my arms around her shoulders, and she put her arms around me. Hot tears slipped down my nose as I apologized. And in the dark, I pressed my face against hers and realized she was also crying. We said I’m sorry. And I love you. As the act of holding each other healed things. 

No matter what happens during the day, we can make it right. We can end it with love.

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