Category Archives: Thoughts

Pre-Surgery

Maddie Girl

Photo credit: Jamie Smith Photography

March 30, 2014 – The weight of this surgery has been almost unbearable in the last week and a half. Some mornings I have struggled to just get out of bed. I’ve been caught up in fear and allowed it to darken my thoughts and cloud my faith. Facing the unknown can be terrible and painful.

But today was different. Today I received the greatest blessing imaginable. Today I felt the prayers of many, many faithful people completely lift my soul and carry me in a way I didn’t comprehend before. It was tangible. An overwhelming feeling of love flooded me as I knew my Heavenly Father heard their prayers and mine. He is mindful of me and my sweet, brave girl. He has a plan and I just need to trust it.

I still don’t know the outcome of the surgery, or what truly lies ahead, but I am calm. Surgery day will come and we will face it as a family knowing that we are not alone.

We are so grateful for your love and prayers.

The Time Has Come

Angel Maddie

Five years ago, a tiny baby girl was placed in our care only to have us rush her down shortly thereafter to the hospital for open heart surgery– her second. It was an absolutely crazy time and a whirlwind of emotions. We knew then that her condition would require us to one day face another such challenge.

The time has come. Maddie’s cardiology team feels that she is finally ready for the Fontan, or the last surgery to complete the rerouting of her circulatory process. Surgery date is April 3, 2014.

This is, as you can imagine, huge for our family, both for good and bad. Good in the sense that, if successful, she will finally reach oxygen saturation levels that are more normal. She’ll be able to run and play with more strength and energy. Bad, however, because the surgery is high risk. Her complexities make this procedure delicate. And even if all does go well, the recovery is long. Putting life on hold for up to 6 weeks is hard on a family, not to mention how hard it will be on a little five-year-old healing from the pain of open-heart surgery.

My friend Shannon gave this box to Maddie as soon as she learned what was to come.

Brave girl

Brave Girl. Without a doubt.

The options for Maddie’s conditions (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return, Dextrocardia, and Asplenia) are limited: have the surgery, despite the risk so that she has a chance of thriving, or don’t have the surgery and watch as her quality of life declines. We had to give her a fighting chance.

There are so many unknowns, so many dark directions our thoughts can go. Answers to prayer helped us decide that this was the best choice for her. Sometimes that knowledge is the only thing that keeps us going.

I have been unable to keep up regular blogging for the past year but I want to be able to keep family and friends informed about Maddie’s condition, and how we’re coping as a family, and all the blessings that we continue to see as we prepare for this event. Please check back frequently for updates.

Thank you for all of the well-wishes, prayers, and support that so many of you have already given us. We feel strengthened by your kindness.

We go forward in faith.

M.I.A.

Hi.

Are you still there? Have you given up on me and any hope of reading updates?

I would totally understand. Since my last post was written in June and the one before that in March, it’s safe to say that I’m behind the times. It seems a waste to check in with that kind of track record.

I think my days for pledging devotion to maintaining this journal in a timely manner are officially defunct. I cannot keep up.

Instead, I am putting my energy where it is most needed. Like with this kid…

warren plays football

And this one…

Maddie

And these two…

Jake and Joe

And this handsome guy…

Colin

Missing in action. That is the truth. Life hurries forward, whether I’m ready or not.

I hope that I’ll be able to return here soon to jot down the memories from our busy, beautiful spring and our happy, lazy, spend-every-moment-possible-outdoor summer. But, if not, know that me missing from this blog means that I am elbow deep and relishing in the action of our wonderful, hectic life.

14

Colin and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary.

The Magnum

This picture sums it up perfectly. The two of us, facing the world together with a smile. Or a smirk, as the case may be. (Our best attempt at Zoolander’s “Magnum.”)

I love this man. I love the life we share. It’s perfectly imperfect, full of mayhem and disappointments, dedication and love. And best of all, it’s full of laughter.

Happy anniversary, Colin. There’s no one I’d rather spend my days with than you.

 

Pam & Kevin

Colin’s mother got remarried Saturday. I never publicly stated on this blog that she and Colin’s dad had divorced, but they did. I was reluctant to tell the story because it’s not mine to tell.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t heartbroken at the breakup. In fact, it contributed to many dark days and a sadness for our family that still continues to linger.

But, as in all things, moving on is a necessity. The time had come.

This is how she looked on her wedding day this weekend and this look is what matters. May they always find joy like this in each other.

pams wedding day

Talks & Lessons: Making Time for Service, Serving to Make Time

This was written by Colin and given as a Sacrament Meeting talk on December 9, 2012. I (Jeannie) spoke this day, as well. You can find my talk here.

I’ve been told that there are three stages of adulthood defined by the availability of three resources: time, energy, and money. In the first stage, the young adult stage, we have plenty of time and energy, but no money. In the second stage, money becomes more abundant at the expense of our time. Energy is also relatively available still. As we advance to the third stage, we hope to have both money and time available, but our energy seems to have disappeared. As I feel like I fit best into stage 2, I would like to focus this talk on making time for service. But not only on making time for service, but the counter-intuitive notion of serving to make time.

So how do we make time for service?

[The Spiritual Pattern of Small and Simple Things]

For those of you who missed Elder Bednar’s talk at the 2011 women’s conference, let me tell you about the Spiritual Pattern of Small and Simple Things. Elder Bednar invited the women to consider a small phrase in Doctrine and Covenants 52:14. “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations.” The phrase to consider is “a pattern in all things.”

Patterns make our lives simpler and more efficient by providing a way to pass on learning from one person to another as well as a way to apply previous knowledge to new problems. Patterns allow us to concisely explain complicated subjects by referring to recognizable pieces of the whole. Patterns help us to master our craft and become experts in our field. Consider attempting to recreate a wedding dress by just looking at a picture. There may be a small handful of people in the world who could perform such a feat, but most of us, even the very experienced, would fail without a pattern. And I would argue that those that can do it, only manage because they have mastered the patterns required. The same thing could be said for just about any other craft or field you could name: woodworking, engineering, building a business, various forms of art, even athletics. A great defensive lineman recognizes the offensive patterns as a football play unfolds and avoids being deceived by the opposing team.

From Elder Bednar’s talk:

Vital spiritual patterns are evident in the life of the Savior, in the scriptures, and in the teachings of living prophets and apostles. These spiritual patterns are now –and always have been– important aids to discernment and sources of direction and protection for faithful Latter-day Saints. And as we just learned, spiritual patterns are essential in avoiding the deception that is so pervasive in our world today.

A powerful pattern the Lord uses to advance His work and to tutor Heavenly Father’s children upon the earth is the theme for this Women’s Conference—“by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).

In contrast to what we so often observe in the world, the Lord ministers “one by one” (3 Nephi 11:15). He enables us to learn “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30). And He accomplishes His work by bringing to pass great things through small and simple means.

I believe many, if not all, of the most satisfying and memorable accomplishments in our homes, in the Church, in our jobs and professions, and in our communities will be the product of this important spiritual pattern—of simple and small things. We should find great comfort in the fact that ordinary people who faithfully, diligently, and consistently do simple things that are right before God will bring forth extraordinary results.

You may recall the talk by Elder Ballard in the most recent conference. He talked about his father’s bees.

It is estimated that to produce just one pound of honey, the average hive of 20,000 to 60,000 bees must collectively visit millions of flowers and travel the equivalent of two times around the world. Over its short lifetime of just a few weeks to four months, a single honeybee’s contribution of honey to its hive is a mere one-twelfth of one teaspoon.

Though seemingly insignificant when compared to the total, each bee’s one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey is vital to the life of the hive. The bees depend on each other. Work that would be overwhelming for a few bees to do becomes lighter because all of the bees faithfully do their part.

The Savior taught that the first and great commandment is:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. …
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37, 39–40).
The Savior’s words are simple, yet their meaning is profound and deeply significant. We are to love God and to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves. Imagine what good we can do in the world if we all join together, united as followers of Christ, anxiously and busily responding to the needs of others and serving those around us—our families, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens.

This is where the pattern of small and simple things begins to have an effect in our community and in our home. There will be times when large acts of service are required. These are important and have their place in the world in times of great need. However, small, regular acts of service performed by many people over many days can have a more profound spiritual effect on us and on those around us.

Elder Ballard continues:

These simple, daily acts of service may not seem like much in and of themselves, but when considered collectively they become just like the one-twelfth teaspoon of honey contributed by a single bee to the hive. There is power in our love for God and for His children, and when that love is tangibly manifest in millions of acts of Christian kindness, it will sweeten and nourish the world with the life-sustaining nectar of faith, hope, and charity.

It should be that simple. We should be able to give a few minutes of service each day. But why does it feel like I can’t even squeeze 5 minutes out of my day for service. I feel that the demands and desires of my life make it impossible to find time for service. And I’m not alone. Gallup’s Annual Lifestyle Poll shows that about half of Americans feel they generally do not have enough time to do the things they want to do in a day. I can assume, from this poll, that about half the people in this room feel the same way. My guess is most of you are stage 2 adults. The results of the poll don’t tell us that we have less objective time than earlier generations. In fact, with all the advances in household technology and work efficiency, we should have more time. What the poll shows is that we don’t perceive ourselves as time affluent. In our subjective perception of time, we are time-poor, or even experiencing a time famine.

[Serving to Make Time]

The solution to the problem is to change our perception of time. To show how the brain manipulates time, I will share a quote attributed to Albert Einstein as a layman’s explanation of relativity: “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour.” Maybe you can relate directly to this quote, but if not we all have noticed times in our lives when time moves faster or slower depending on what we are doing or how we feel. So how do we manipulate our perception of time? A new psychological study suggests that if you feel time-poor, you should spend your time on others instead of yourself:

In the present experiments, we compared giving time to friends or strangers with wasting time, spending time on oneself, and even receiving “free” time. We found that giving time increases perceptions of having time—in both the present and the future—by increasing feelings of self-efficacy. This is welcome news in light of research showing the detrimental consequences of time pressure on happiness, stress levels, and prosocial behavior (deGraaf, 2003; Kasser & Sheldon, 2009). Although feeling starved for time generally leads individuals to prioritize spare hours for themselves, our results suggest that if people instead spent time on others, they might feel less time constrained and better able to complete their myriad tasks and responsibilities.

The authors ran a series of experiments to test people’s perception of time and found that people who spent time on others, either people they knew or even people they didn’t know, perceived that they had more time than people who spent it on themselves. And the conclusion of their study was very clear:

Our results demonstrate that the way time is spent can also affect time perception, and we identify a specific choice that individuals can make to lessen their experienced time pressure: Be effective by helping others. Decompressing in front of the television or getting a massage might be fun and relaxing, but activities like these are unlikely to increase feelings of self-efficacy. Indeed, people’s choice to spend additional leisure time on themselves may partly explain why the increase in leisure time in modern life has not increased people’s feelings of time affluence (Robinson & Godbey, 1999); our results indicate that spending time prosocially is more effective in relieving the pressure of time. When individuals feel time constrained, they should become more generous with their time—despite their inclination to be less so.

So if we can subjectively make time by spending time on others, how can we go about finding opportunities to provide service?

[Elder Ballard’s Challenge]

Elder Ballard issued the following challenge:

There is one simple daily practice that can make a difference for every member of the Church: … In your morning prayer each new day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of His precious children. Then go throughout the day with your heart full of faith and love, looking for someone to help. Stay focused, just like the honeybees focus on the flowers from which to gather nectar and pollen. If you do this, your spiritual sensitivities will be enlarged and you will discover opportunities to serve that you never before realized were possible.

If every person in this room is blessed with the opportunity to perform service for just 5 minutes a day, every day this week, I estimate that we will have performed 150 man-hours of service before our next sacrament meeting. Elder Ballard says to “stay focused.” Be like a honeybee focusing on the flowers.

[Helping in the Vineyard]

If your lifestyle doesn’t get you out of the house every day, there are many opportunities for service online through the church’s service website called “Helping in the Vineyard” which can be found at vineyard.lds.org. The church has tasked all of its departments with breaking projects into small bits and submitting them to the new website as available service projects.

You can spend as little as 5 minutes on an online service project. You can contribute music, videos, or photography. If you speak another language, you can translate documents. If you have software development skills, you can join the LDS Tech community and help develop the church’s databases and applications. Even if you are not skilled at any of these tasks, you can help by adding search words to images, indexing historical records, or doing other forms of research. You can even help students learn English through online conversation practice.

[Conclusion]

During the past few weeks, I took up Elder Ballard’s challenge to pray for service opportunities. The opportunities the Lord has blessed me with range from spending 2 seconds helping a stranger get her shopping cart unstuck to spending many hours configuring a new computer for a member of my extended family.

Heavenly Father will provide you with service opportunities if you ask for them, and if you keep focused, just like the honeybee. If we all stay focused on service, our small deeds will add up to great rewards for us and for those around us. In addition to the blessings to our community, we will feel the blessings of time-affluence. And even the stage-two adults will feel like they have extra time.

[References]

Ballard, 2012. Be Anxiously Engaged
Bednar, 2011. The Spiritual Pattern of Small and Simple Things
Mogilner, Chance, and Morton, 2011. Giving Time Gives You Time, Psychological Science, October 2012
Psyblog, 2012. A Counter-Intuitive Remedy to Feeling Short of Time

Talks & Lessons: Actively Seeking Out Opportunities to Serve

This was a talk about service I gave in Sacrament Meeting on December 9, 2012. Colin and I both spoke this day. You can find his talk here.

Brother Rigby caught me off guard when, mistaking his friendly handshake as nothing more than an act of fellowship while leaving the chapel, he asked if I’d be willing to speak in Sacrament Meeting. Seeing as we’re still new to the ward, I didn’t have the sense to avoid eye contact on his approach. However, I am glad that he asked because (and don’t most of us feel this way when we’re preparing a talk?) I really needed to ponder my feelings about the topic I was assigned.

Service. It’s such a broad subject, I didn’t know where to begin. Who to serve? How to serve? What does “service” mean? But I’ve decided to touch on three parts: 1) Moving beyond sympathy for others into action, 2) Committing to find opportunities to serve on a daily basis, and 3) Teaching our children to value serving others.

Busy. That is the single word I would use to describe my life. I am the mom of four children under the age of eight, which includes twin 2-year-old boys. There is no doubt that my life right now is one foot in the door of Chaos. Just the day-to-day living is jam-packed with diapers, and cleaning, and cooking, and laughing, and whining, and driving to school, and peanut butter hands… Sometimes, I consider it a miracle that everyone makes it through the day dressed and fed. It is no wonder that when I consider the three aspects of charity (giving of time, of talents, and of things), giving my time in service seems like the weak link in the chain.

But as I look around the congregation, I see that my station in life is not unique. Not in the least, actually! Most of you are currently in the same phase or have recently come out of it. So, holding on to that excuse as a means of diluting my service no longer seems legitimate.

Yes, it’s true that serving my family is my number one calling at this time. I feel comfortable maintaining that as my first and foremost responsibility. “There is a time and a season for all things” is one of my favorite phrases, but I realize that I must be careful to not use it as a blanket excuse not to actively seek out opportunities for service.

Confessions from the pulpit: I have not made serving others outside of my home a big enough responsibility. However, I have covenanted to do so. “Saints are uniquely committed to sacrifice. In partaking of the sacrament each week, we witness our commitment to serve the Lord and our fellowmen. In sacred temple ceremonies we covenant to sacrifice and consecrate our time and talents for the welfare of others.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” April 2009) Putting aside my family responsibilities, my church callings and assignments, there is more that I can do. It is not enough just to have the desire.

President Thomas S. Monson speaks to this very issue in a Conference talk entitled “What Have I Done for Someone Today?” He says, “I am confident it is the intention of each member of the Church to serve and to help those in need. At baptism we covenanted to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” How many times has your heart been touched as you have witnessed the need of another? How often have you intended to be the one to help? And yet how often has day-to-day living interfered and you’ve left it for others to help, feeling that “oh, surely someone will take care of that need.” (Thomas S. Monson, “What Have I Done for Someone Today?”, November 2009) I need to do more than just intend.

Luke 9:24 says, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Serve the Lord by serving others. Give him your life. I am falling short.

Turn sympathy into action.

I’d like to think of myself as a sympathetic and compassionate person, but I’ve struggled to channel that into something productive. And though by no means are we rich, it is always much easier for me to give some thing as opposed to some of my time. However, I know that we are instruments in the hands of God. He needs us to carry out his purposes and bless others. Either we can assist him or we can miss out on witnessing His work come to pass. How good does it feel when we carry out an act of service for someone else? Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate who receives the greater blessing: the one serving or the recipient of the service.

President Eyring’s talk, “Opportunities to Do Good,” explains how to act on the compassion we experience.

“Our Heavenly Father hears the prayers of His children across the earth pleading for food to eat, for clothes to cover their bodies, and for the dignity that would come from being able to provide for themselves. Those pleas have reached Him since He placed men and women on the earth.

“You learn of those needs where you live and from across the world. Your heart is often stirred with feelings of sympathy. When you meet someone struggling to find employment, you feel that desire to help. You feel it when you go into the home of a widow and see that she has no food. You feel it when you see photographs of crying children sitting in the ruins of their home destroyed by an earthquake or by fire.

“Because the Lord hears their cries and feels your deep compassion for them, He has from the beginning of time provided ways for His disciples to help. He has invited His children to consecrate their time, their means, and themselves to join with Him in serving others.” (Henry B. Erying, “Opportunities to do Good,” April 2011)

Allow the Lord to use those feelings to teach you how to help. President Eyring said, “[The] 1,500 or more Church member volunteers in Australia who came to help and to comfort [the flooding victims in Queensland] turned their feelings of sympathy into a decision to act on their covenants. I have seen the blessings that come to the person in need who receives help and to the person who seizes the opportunity to give it.” (Henry B. Erying, “Opportunities to do Good,” April 2011)

Find opportunities to serve on a daily basis.

The general Relief Society President, Linda K. Burton, gave a fantastic talk this last General Conference called “First Observe, Then Serve.” The title alone is wisdom enough. If we only look around, even in our own sphere of influence, we can see that there are ways that we can help others. She relayed an experience where a six-year-old Primary child made a difference. He said:

“When I was chosen to be a class helper, I could choose a friend to work with me. I picked [a boy in my class who bullied me] because he never gets chosen by others. I wanted to make him feel good.”

What did this child observe? He noticed that the class bully never got chosen. What did he do to serve? He simply chose him to be his friend as a class helper.” (Linda K. Burton, “First Observe, Then Serve,” October 2012)

Simple ways that only require us to pay attention to others. Often, they don’t require much time at all.

We can also pray for experiences to be shown to us. I’m sure many of us can think of a time when we’ve asked the Lord to open our hearts to opportunities to bless others only to have the Spirit guide us to make a phone call, or send a letter, or stop by someone’s house with a plate of cookies just when needed.

Above all, we need to be kind. Sister Burton said, “We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness. … We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.” (Linda K. Burton, “First Observe, Then Serve,” October 2012) Smile at others, even if they are strangers. Help someone feel valued. Include others that may not feel welcome. All of these are simple ways to lift burdens and show Christlike love.

Sometimes, I get ahead of myself and fixate on the great needs of the world. I’m sure you all could think of at least one organization or group or even individual which exudes charity and service. I’ve had the privilege of working with one such organization that was actually started by a member of the Santa Barbara Stake called Angels Foster Care of Santa Barbara. It is through her work that we have three of our precious children. Another amazing group I personally know feeds the homeless in Salt Lake City. It was started by my “second family,” the mother and two sisters of my best childhood friend. Soul Food USA takes food that they’ve lovingly prepared to a shelter every month, all of it started because they simply saw a need and acted upon it. I find myself wishing I could do something grand like that. And then the guilt creeps in. But I’ve reminded myself that I can help in other ways that are also important, just on a different scale. Sometimes we feel that we don’t have much to offer. Maybe we feel like our talents won’t be enough to bless others. President Eyring said this: “God knows our gifts. My challenge to you and to me is to pray to know the gifts we have been given, to know how to develop them, and to recognize the opportunities to serve others that God provides us.” (Henry B. Eyring, “Help Them Aim High,” October 2012)

In January of this year I had major surgery that required an 8 week recovery. I couldn’t lift anything over 20 pounds. You can imagine the damper that put on my daily life. My sweet husband saved up enough work leave that he could spend 4 weeks of my recovery at home taking care of the kids, but it was still a burden on the family. This experience required that I receive service from others, something I’ve always struggled accepting. Wonderful friends and Relief Society sisters took turns bringing meals and taking Warren to and from school for several weeks. Individually, they were small acts but combined made a huge difference. I was incredibly grateful for their compassion and service. Elder Oaks reminded us that Mother Teresa, one of the most outstanding examples of selfless service, once said: “We can do no great things,” [she] maintained, “only small things with great love.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” April 2009)

Involve our children in service.

Besides leading by example and providing opportunities for service, explain the principle of service and why we do it. Elder Oaks made it clear, “Our Savior teaches us to follow Him by making the sacrifices necessary to lose ourselves in unselfish service to others.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” April 2009)

Establish a standard for your children. I love this story that President Monson told.

“A few years ago I read an article written by Jack McConnell, MD. He grew up in the hills of southwest Virginia in the United States as one of seven children of a Methodist minister and a stay-at-home mother. Their circumstances were very humble. He recounted that during his childhood, every day as the family sat around the dinner table, his father would ask each one in turn, “And what did you do for someone today?” The children were determined to do a good turn every day so they could report to their father that they had helped someone. Dr. McConnell calls this exercise his father’s most valuable legacy, for that expectation and those words inspired him and his siblings to help others throughout their lives. As they grew and matured, their motivation for providing service changed to an inner desire to help others.” (Thomas S. Monson, “What Have I Done for Someone Today?”, November 2009)

This is a practice we implemented for a time (I’d like to get back into it, actually) and I can testify that it makes a noticeable difference in attitudes.

President Eyring gave an example of what he did with his children to help them understand the importance of being a servant of the Lord, though he stated that no wood carving would actually be necessary for us to follow his lead. He said,

“With my own children, I prayed for revelation to know how I could help each of them individually prepare for specific opportunities to serve God. And then I tried to help them visualize, hope, and work for this future. I carved a board for each son with a quotation from scripture that described his special gifts and an image that represented this gift. Beneath the picture and the legend, I carved the dates of each boy’s baptism and ordination into priesthood offices, with his height marked at the date of each milestone.

“When my daughters were young, I saw that we could help others feel the love of those beyond the veil, throughout the generations. I knew that love comes from service and inspires hope of life eternal.

“So we carved breadboards on which we placed a loaf of homemade bread and went together to deliver our offering to widows, widowers, and families. The legend I carved on each of those breadboards read, “J’aime et J’espere,” French for “I love and I hope.” The evidence of their unique spiritual gifts appeared not just on the boards I carved but more clearly as we distributed them to those who needed, in the midst of pain or loss, reassurance that the love of the Savior and His Atonement could produce a perfect brightness of hope. This is life eternal for my daughters and for each of us.” (Henry B. Eyring, “Help Them Aim High,” October 2012) Not only did he pray to know how to help his children grow as individuals, but he gave them tangible reminders and, more importantly, opportunities to actually serve others.

Many of us may remember the story that President Gordon B. Hinckley told of his days as a new missionary complaining to his family how he felt it was a waste of his time. Then we may also remember how his father wrote back to him in gentle rebuke telling him to forget himself and dive into service. Because of his father’s guidance, later, “Elder Hinckley would say, “He who lives only unto himself withers and dies, while he who forgets himself in the service of others grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” April 2009)

The Christmas Season makes it easy to find ways to uplift, cheer, and help others. It is my prayer that we will all commit to actively seek out opportunities to serve with glad hearts, no matter the time of the year or our station in life.

“As I have loved you, love one another,” the Savior commanded. Let us all be willing to do so in more abundance.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Pig House

The Pig House

We affectionately call our home, “The Pig House.” Not because it’s dirty or disgusting in any way, but because this little figurine, a ceramic pig, was perched on the windowsill of the living room where Maddie found it at our first viewing.

I think this object just about sums up the decor style of the previous owners.

Perhaps they left it behind, as part of the staging, to compliment the dusty rose-colored walls of the entire downstairs, or maybe they thought it might accent the dark green tile laid out from the front door to the kitchen. Maddie hoped to put it in her bedroom, the one with the cobalt blue and silver sponged walls.

Living/Dining RoomDSC_0047 DSC_0081

Yes, when we first walked in Colin and I had to seriously look past the “designer paint” and see the home’s “‘po”– the hidden potential anyone with vision (and cash) can see beyond the current ugly state.

The kids, however, were an easier sell. They could care less about the wall colors, or the awkward fireplace position, or the dark green powder room with (yet again!) silver sponging. They saw kids riding their bikes out in the street. They saw 5 other families from church all within walking distance. They saw two apple trees in the back yard with fruit ready to pick.

I didn’t walk in and fall in love with this house. But I knew I could eventually and that’s what mattered. After all the searching, all roads led to the “Pig House.” I’m happy to call it home.

It’s going to take some time and effort, some of which has already been put in, to get it where we want it. But I know that someday it will be just what I’ve always dreamed… right as we’re about to re-sell it, I’m sure.

Stick around for some “Before & After” pictures along the way!

Hiatus

It was unintentional, but I took quite a long break from posting on this blog. Nearly four months of our lives have passed without record. Everything from Father’s Day to my birthday to Jake and Joe’s 2nd birthday, make no mistake, we’ve been busy.

With the move to Seattle and the emotionally draining challenge of searching for a home to buy, I’ve had little time or energy to document these events. But I mean to amend that now.

My plan is to go back and postdate our experiences, bit by bit, so that these things aren’t lost. In the meantime, I’ll say that these past few months have been a lesson in walking by faith.

Knowing that we were guided here has made the transition possible but not necessarily easy. Besides missing our old lives and wondering how to fit into our new ones, we’ve had to figure out where exactly in this great city we were supposed to be for the next several years. And if you don’t know what location you want, and you’re searching within a 25 mile radius, it can certainly put a strain on the house-buying process. It has been a trial by fire for us, this real estate business. But that’s a story for a separate post.

Still, as I look back on the last quarter of the year, I can’t help but see how much we’ve been blessed. Yes, we’re still in transition, living in an apartment and surrounded by boxes in our bedroom. Sure, half of my kitchen is still packed away and we have no garage to save us from the rain or yard to escape to in the afternoon (not that the weather would permit it half the time anyway). Even with those challenges, we are happy. A great church community, beautiful parks and lakes, a phenomenal school and teacher for Warren, the ability to purchase a home of our own, all outweigh the stress of our current situation.

So, I officially declare this hiatus over. I’m back in the blogging game. Good or bad, hectic or calm, I hereby commit to keeping current with our lives. Even if our bedroom does look like this:

This too shall pass.

Talks & Lessons: How the Lord Has Guided Our Path

This was written by Colin and given as a Sacrament Meeting talk on July 28th, 2012. It not only serves as a detailed explanation of our reasons for moving to the Seattle area, but also as a condensed form of our family’s history.

Those of you who know [the bishopric member who assigned me to give this talk] well, know that he has the talent of being able to speak about any subject for a long time. Those of you who know me well, know that I prefer to say things precisely the very first time, with zero elaboration. It will not be shocking to you at all, then, to know that he thought he was doing me a favor by allowing me to choose any subject I wanted and speak for 20 minutes. To him, that may be a favor. To me, it adds an extra struggle, during which I attempt to decide which subject I want to pretend to be an expert in for twenty long minutes.

I’ll tell you what I did. I decided to talk about something I am an expert in, and something I thought would be appropriate, given the timing of this talk. I would like to share the story of my family and see if I can help you visualize how the Lord has guided our path. However, if it looks like I am not going to fill the time, I’ll invite my family up so Jake and Joey can sign “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock”, while we sing.

Jeannie and I have been married [to each other] twice. The first time we were married was before our first date. We even have grandchildren. It’s not as weird as it sounds, though, so let me explain. We were part of the Seattle Institute Chorale at the Seattle Institute of Religion, adjacent to the University of Washington, where we were both students. The Chorale was one of very few travelling groups associated with the church. It may have been the only one outside of the Wasatch front. As such, our choir director, Bro. Niles Salmond, took great care in ensuring that every member of the choir was included both socially and spiritually as part of the group. To do so, he would group us together into families. A mother and father were designated, and they had certain roles they had to fill, paying special attention to the unity of their children and family while preparing to go on tour, and while we were touring.

Jeannie was initially married to some other guy, but he soon got engaged for real, which disqualified him to be a tour husband and father. I was the late-comer and was chosen to fill the husband vacancy. We went on tour and we worked really well together. Our final night of tour was a Sunday fireside in Issaquah, WA, almost back to our starting point in Seattle. That night was a particularly spiritual experience for both of us. I can remember staying in my seat up on the stand after the performance, just soaking in the experience. Jeannie must have done the same thing, because we both ended up leaving the chapel together. We were almost the last ones out. When we were right in front of the exit, we paused to join the conversation our choir director was having with a member of the ward [church congregation] along with his young daughter. During the conversation, the young girl asked Jeannie and I if we were boyfriend and girlfriend. We looked at each other and smiled.

Interestingly, I wasn’t as thick at that moment as I have been at other times. I am usually pretty slow to pick up on these kinds of non-verbal cues. I believe the usual sluggish pace of a man’s brain during these kinds of interactions is probably due to some gene on the Y chromosome. Instead, in that fraction of a second, through Jeannie’s eyes, I saw serious thought going on. She was pondering what the girl had said and it seemed she wasn’t opposed to the idea. I wasn’t either. I attribute that superior-to-the-normal-male perception to the spirit.

If that wasn’t enough, my next action was truly inspired. And I mean the revelation kind of inspiration. We sat down together on the bus in the last empty row. As we sat there, quietly pondering our experiences over the previous two hours. I distinctly heard a voice tell me to hold her hand. And let me tell you, I didn’t inch my hand over slowly next to hers and wait for our fingers to brush together. Hoping she would be doing the same thing. [I see a few of you have done that before.] I immediately took her hand, and held it firmly. That has to be the fastest I have ever responded to a spiritual prompting. It was like when Laman and Lemuel were asked by their father to go back, once again, to Jerusalem with the purpose of inviting Ishmael, with all of his pretty daughters, to join them in the wilderness. They didn’t complain, they were probably on the camel even before Nephi heard the message. As I sat there, holding Jeannie’s hand and looking in her eyes, I knew that we would be married. But I didn’t tell her then. I was smart enough to wait at least a week. OK, it was 4 days, but who’s counting.

I was born a skeptic. We all know of some guy or girl who claimed to have revelation about their eternal companion. Only to have their supposed eternal companion get a very different message. Because I’m a skeptic, I worried about being that guy. But, again, my words and actions were guided. When I told Jeannie what I felt, it didn’t frighten her away. Even though we had barely been friends for a month. Even though we hadn’t even been on our first date. She felt the same peace and knowledge that I had felt. We were engaged 6 months later, and married before the next choir tour. We served as grandparents on tour for 3 more years before the next chapter of our life took us away.

I told you that story not only to introduce you to the beginnings of our family, but also to illustrate a point. The point is that some things are too important to leave to chance, and that is when our Heavenly Father steps in and guides us in the right direction. I still could have messed things up if I wanted to, or if I wasn’t spiritually prepared at the time. But, instead, I became a case study in how the Spirit uses the well-known pattern of commitment to move us forward. I was prepared spiritually. I had just spent four days in intense spiritual communion, and two hours at my peak spiritual operating capacity. I was also prepared mentally. The girl in the chapel had just planted an idea in my head. Hollywood would call this inception, psychologists would call it priming. The invitation came almost immediately: I was invited to hold Jeannie’s hand, and at the moment I did so, I was invited to consider the much bigger picture of eternity. The follow-up may not have been necessary, but it did occur. Again I was inspired, by the spirit, to share my broader views with Jeannie. She had been prepared also. She was not put off by my strange admission that I knew we were going to be married.

Before we got married, we were aware of the possibility that we could not have children of our own. The fact didn’t bug either of us too much. In fact, it led us to the discussion of adoption. We both agreed that it was an option we would look into when the time came. But, frankly, neither of us were in too big of a hurry. We liked each other so much, that neither of us wanted to change our family dynamic. A number of years went by and we had both applied to about 6 or 7 graduate schools in 3 cities that we thought we would enjoy. Jeannie was accepted to one school in Boston, one school in New York, and one school in Chicago. I was accepted into two schools in Chicago and none in the other cities. It was clear that we would be going to Chicago, even though it was probably the lowest on the list of the three. While we were there, we were again guided through the same model of commitment. We sat through a very spiritual presentation about adoption and LDS Family Services, presented by a friend of ours. We were inspired to move forward with adoption. In this case, the follow-up was necessary. We dragged our feet. We had lost our motivation and were not proceeding with the paperwork and other bureaucratic steps that needed to be completed. For this reason, I feel, we were sent to Chicago. The counselor at LDS Family Services was not one to let people drift through the process. He was on top of our case from the very beginning. One day he received an email about a young woman in Oregon who was looking for some specific traits in the adoptive parents for her unborn son. He asked us to write a letter, even though we hadn’t finished our other paperwork. Even though we weren’t, technically, ready to take that step. We wrote a letter, and the woman chose us to take Warren. From then, it was a flurry to get through the paperwork and bureaucracy before Warren was born so that we could be there to take him home from the hospital.

It happened again when we were finished with graduate school. I was blessed to find a good job in Goleta, even interviewing long-distance from Chicago. This is the part you are more familiar with, but maybe I can fill in some of the details. When we came out, we were about ready to start the process over with LDS Family Services. We did so, but there was a new option. Angels is a local organization that many of you are already aware of. It was founded the year we moved here by Meichelle Arntz of the Mesa Vista ward. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to provide bonding opportunities for infants and toddlers in the foster-care system. We knew about it, but were scared of falling in love with a child and having to send the child back to his or her birth family. It just seemed like it had very high emotional risk. After watching the Rays and the Jepsons have good experiences, however, we were moved to consider the option. We prayed about it, and felt secure going forward.

While we attended classes, the Angels staff were caring for a medically fragile baby girl while her respite care family was ill. As soon as we finished the classes, Meichelle called us up and asked if we would be willing to take this baby into our home. She explained the seriousness of her medical conditions and what it would likely mean for her and our future. Madeline’s medical conditions don’t seem so serious just looking at her. But I assure you she is alive today due to advanced medicine and science, and the care of angels, both seen and unseen.

When Maddie was about to turn 2, we were ready to go back to Angels and help another child. Jeannie told Meichelle that we would be ready when Maddie was 2, and that we would even take twins if they were available. I thought that was crazy talk. I mean, who would willingly choose twins. Especially with a 4-year-old and a medically-complex toddler. Not to worry, though. Twins are rare, and they had never had twins come through the system. What are the odds that twins would be available when we were ready to take another child. Obviously, Jeannie was a bit more open to spiritual guidance than I was at the time.

Jacob and Joseph joined our home on December 7th, 2010, two days after Maddie’s birthday. They were sealed to our family on March 30th of this year. These children were meant to be in our family. And Heavenly Father saw that it was important enough to guide us in the process. He prompted us to move to this town and paved the way for it to happen. He prepared us spiritually. He invited us to take some difficult life steps. And he followed up to make sure everything went according to plan.

Through the years, the complexity of our future has become clear to us. Both Jeannie and I have a mentally-disabled sibling. Jeannie is one of two children, and I am the oldest remaining child, and most established of 5. There is a very high possibility that we will be adding 2 adult dependents to our household within a very small number of years. On top of that, Madeline will certainly need more specialized medical attention, possibly including additional open-heart surgeries. Almost every year that we have lived here, we have gone through a process of:

  1. realizing that we can’t, logically, make it work
  2. deciding that the right thing to do would be to move
  3. lamenting that fact because we love this ward family
  4. praying about it
  5. receiving a revelation that we should stay a little bit longer, and
  6. celebrating because we get to stay.

This year it was different. We knew that it was time to ask again after Jake and Joey’s adoption was finalized. We went through the same process. We fasted. We went to the temple. The logical answer is to move. What’s more, the logic is even stronger in favor of moving because we are now concerned about Jeannie’s aging parents. This time, our prayer and supplication led us to decide that we would leave Goleta, at the latest when our lease was up in November of next year. We planned to find a location where we can afford to buy a home with property and prepare a second home for Jeannie’s parents.

Two days after our fast, the new CTO of my company was visiting the office and announced that they are opening a new office in the Seattle area. Once again the same pattern is emerging: His announcement was a priming event, the inception of an idea. We were already spiritually prepared due to fasting and much prayer. We hadn’t made the decision to move yet, but were actively debating the pros and cons of living in Goleta vs. anywhere else. I texted Jeannie during the meeting, and she thought I should talk to Larry, the CTO. Larry and I met for breakfast the next morning and he invited me to interview for the job. I scheduled a trip to Seattle a week later. Before I left, Jeannie and I finalized our discussion and came to the conclusion, again, that it was time to move. This time the spirit confirmed our decision. This was one of those moments where our hearts and minds did battle. We knew, now, with spiritual and logical knowledge what we were supposed to do. The Lord had even paved the way by showing us the possible opportunity to transfer within my company. But it was against the desires of our heart to leave Goleta.

We went forward, trusting the revelation we both received (separately, I might add). I went to the interview and was given every possible advantage one could hope for in a set of technical interviews. They offered me the position immediately, and I was ready to accept, having verified with Jeannie that morning that she was willing to go forward with it.

We were prepared and invited. We acted on the invitation, even though we are even still saddened to do so. And, oh how Heavenly Father has followed up. I called Dave Field to find out how we can get out of our lease. We still have a year left. He gave me his advice, which was very helpful, but not very promising. We prayed that our land-lady’s heart would be softened. I contacted her, and she decided to end the lease early herself.

We started looking for apartments that could fit our large family. I spent half a day calling about apartments between my new office and the place we will be looking to live permanently. Nobody had large enough apartments available. Finally, Jeannie sent me an email about an apartment that she “felt right” about. I called and they had one apartment coming available on the day we planned to move out of our house here. We could reserve it by getting them $200. However, they wouldn’t accept a credit card over the phone. I was worried that if I tried to put a check in the mail, someone else would reserve the apartment before us. I explored a few options to expedite a check, but none of them would have been sufficient on a Friday afternoon. My best option was to call our friends, who live 45 minutes away, when traffic is at its best, and ask them to brave rush hour and get them some money before the office closed. Another blessing was already in the works. Our good friend had taken the day off and they left their children with a babysitter and were spending the day in the temple, 10 miles away from the apartment. Without a second thought, they changed their dinner plans and drove to our new apartment to pay the deposit.

It is clear to me that Heavenly Father is again guiding us along a path that He has chosen. The pattern is clear. He has prepared us and invited us through revelation. He is following up, confirming our faith to stick with this decision by removing all obstacles from the path. I don’t know what He has planned for us to do once we get there, but we have enough faith to go.

Believe me when I say we are heartbroken to leave. Mostly I have been asked if I will miss the weather. Weather is not difficult for me to say goodbye to, but people are. And we have established many relationships with good people here. We must travel the path laid before us, but we will miss you, dear friends.

I bear my testimony that God continues to guide our path. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.