Motherhood is for everyone

Her name is Jasmine.

Actually I think her name is something else but she told me she likes to change her name every day for fun. I guess yesterday was a “Jasmine” kind of day.

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She loves the color purple. She wants to be a soccer star when she grows up.

She smiles all the time and pretends she’s a princess. And yet–life is hard for her.

Throughout the day I learned that Jasmine’s sister died, her mother can hardly take care of her, and she’s never met her dad. So she comes here after school to play, get help with math homework, and have something to eat.

I wasn’t sure what to expect yesterday when I went with my company to do volunteer work at a group home. But I certainly didn’t expect to meet Jasmine–or any of the other twenty-something kids who seemed to just blow in with the wind.

These kids come every day after school since they have nowhere else to go. They’re wandering souls not yet immune to the poison of a hard world.  My heart couldn’t help but break as I scanned the room that day. A group of teenage boys sat alone at a table playing a card game and erupted into laughter and playful jests as soon as someone won. A toddler sat on someone’s lap, his shirt soaked with apple juice. A group of young girls with braided hair and pink shoes formed a circle in a far corner, talking with their hands. So many kids. So many struggles. So little moms.

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And then, of course, Jasmine broke my train of thought.

“Do you have kids?” she asked me. I shook my head no.

“Well, you can be MY mom now!” she exclaimed during snack time.

And the words struck me.

Maybe it struck me because I’m not yet a mom–and because of medical reasons, it’ll be awhile before I am. Maybe it struck me because motherhood always went hand in hand in my mind with pregnancy, painting a new nursery, or driving a car strapped down with car seats. It never really struck me before that moment that I can still be a mom. So can you.

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It really is the most sacred calling.

I have a world against me on that opinion– I realize this. You might be too.

Bloggers, columnists, extreme feminists and modern-day thinkers join in a fight against motherhood. Motherhood is restricting, they’ll say. Motherhood is a 1950’s approach to oppressing women. Motherhood, some say, is for those women who don’t have any other ambitions in life or for those who wind up chained down. And with this line of thinking we slowly forget what being a mom even is. We forget that it’s all about reaching out to someone who needs it. It’s about selflessness. Mentorship. Nurturing. Compassion. God’s work.

I think back now to not only my amazing Mom, but the countless other women along the way who loved me, taught me, sacrificed for me, and wound up on their knees for me. They were women who had no children of their own, women who had quite a few mouths to feed at home, women who were young, women who were so old that I only remember them in my early childhood memories. They were women who taught me patience or music or writing well or faith in God. Women who stayed after school to help me with long division. They were strong, selfless, beautiful women consistently taking on the role of mother. Those are the women I remember.

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We aren’t called to live a life dedicated to ourselves. It’s never the reason we came. And I’m tired of living in a world where selflessness is equated with weakness.

Elder Holland once said in an address, The work of a mother is hard, too often unheralded work. Please know that it is worth it then, now, and forever.”

It’s always been worth it.

Eve understood this when she stepped out of Eden just so we could be born. Sarai understood this when Abraham told her their generations would be as numerous as the stars and she thanked God for it. Mary understood it when she rearranged her entire life and lost friends and a good reputation all to make way for the Savior. Jesus himself understood the value of motherhood when some of the last words he spoke were to John, asking him to take care of his mother. From the beginning of time we’ve been reminded of our responsibility to God’s children and the eternal principle of it. Why have we forgotten?

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Be the woman that changes everything for someone. Jasmine’s simple, childlike plea reminded me of the urgency of it all.

Whether you have six children or no children, whether you grew up in a home with a mother who loved you or a home without one present–be someone’s rescue, if only for a period of time in their lives.

Be someone’s mom.

Oh, and I promise you–it’s not old fashioned to change the world.

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It’s your turn to rise again: A letter to a sinner

I thought of you today.

It’s a day before Easter Sunday and I was finally able to see “Son of God” in theaters. A fitting time, if you ask me.

Throughout the movie I tended to focus on a particular person: The sinner.

Judas, who betrayed Jesus all for a handful of coins and ended his life because of the shame of it. Peter, who denied Christ three times and couldn’t even bear to sit at the foot of the cross because of his shame. The woman caught in the act of adultery, who cried at Christ’s feet and expected nothing except a stone.

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The woman in the crowd who reached out to simply touch the hem of His garment–hoping that it would simply make her clean again. The pharisees, who within their doubt and corrupted laws, hammered nails through the purest hands that ever came to earth and then fell to their knees when the skies went dark and they realized they had killed the Messiah. Thomas, who doubted that Jesus would rise, and then fell in a guilty heap at the master’s feet when he saw for himself the holes in His hands.

The sinner is also you. Me. The man next to me who I’ve never met.

We often talk about Christ and his atonement and we praise faithful acts of John and Matthew while also scoffing at the fear of Peter. We shake our heads at the Pharisees who refuse to believe. We wonder how Thomas could doubt.

But then– ahhh yes. We come to a point in our lives when it hits us harder than usual that we too have sinned. That we too have slipped so far away. That we–just like Peter or the adulterous woman or the tax collector within the temple–have messed up horribly.

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Sometimes that realization and the shame of what we’ve done is enough to keep us away from the foot of the cross. Sometimes our sins seem “so dark” or so beyond recovery that, like Peter, we decide to step back. That might entail skipping church every sunday morning. Maybe it means we stop praying. Sometimes we decide we’re too far gone and we let other mindsets or beliefs take the seat of what once was reserved just for Him. Then there are the times when we decide to put our scriptures in a drawer that never really gets opened again.

Sometimes we just stop believing altogether.

I write this to you, Sinner, because I’m a sinner too. And maybe, just maybe, this is more for me than it is for you today. Maybe not. But either way, I write this because I think that as humans we have the habit of seeing the beauty in the gospel and the faithfulness and power in others while telling ourselves beneath muttered breaths that we’re no good. That we’re lost. That we don’t fit in with the mold. That we’ll never be up to par. That Christ is beyond disappointed with us.

And I think that when we buy into that thinking, we step so far back that we trick ourselves into thinking that Christ was the one that stepped back first.

This painting was my Dad’s favorite.

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While he was hospitalized during the last month of his life before coming home to hospice, this painting was hanging on the wall opposite of his bed, and I would catch him staring at it often, amidst the muffled beeps of machines and the chatter of visitors. The one time I asked about the picture he told me that it’s his favorite because he feels like he’s the man in the picture. No matter what I’ve done or how bad I’ve messed up in the past, he said, Jesus will welcome me home with open arms and say ‘Well done’.

I wish, especially this Easter, that you’ll remember the same thing my Dad did.

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I don’t know what kind of mistakes you’ve made. You might be a teenager who slipped up in a relationship and didn’t quite wait for marriage. Maybe you’re a victim of something that made you feel less than what you are. Maybe you’re overcoming an addiction or have spent the last fifteen years convincing yourself that church isn’t a place for you. Or maybe–I’m actually quite certain–you’re a sinner just like me who sometimes pushes Christ away when all He really wants to do is give a hug and show us the escape. We’re forgiven.

Christ came for the sinner. Not for the perfect. That’s my cue that we can let him into our damaged, fragile, beaten and bruised hearts. We can let him see into those dark shadows of our minds and those painful remnants of the past. He can see our scarred hands and tear-filled eyes and he can see all of our second, third, fourth, fifth chances and all the times we fell short. We can rise again out of the ashes and still be confident that he loves us. Each and every time.

Let him rescue you, fellow sinner.

Let him be your Savior.

 

A word from Mr. Lemmon: It’s time to look outward

 My husband isn’t a writer. He’s not what he would even consider “creative” or artsy. He’s a nursing student on track for an RN next year and most of his days are inundated with numbers, long words I can’t even pronounce, stacks of books, and hour after hour of studying every single muscle, organ, and disease you can imagine. But “I’m not a writer” he told me three–maybe four–times before he showed this to me, telling me it’s something that’s been heavy on his mind lately. And I guess I’d have to disagree with him there.

You see, we’re all writers when we have something to say. And I think he said it perfectly. 

 

As I sit reflecting the world we now live in, I feel a sense of urgency in our need to change. Most especially in the youth and the twenty-somethings. Although there is much good in the world and I recognize there are countless acts of kindness that go unnoticed, I would like to highlight what could make our human relationships much more enjoyable.

Although I’m not going gray, I don’t own a home, I don’t have children, and I’m still in college I feel like my generation growing up was so much different. I grew up with computers that had green and orange screens which ran off MS-DOS. (Before the days of Windows) I grew up when the number of cell phones were scarce, not in every hand. In fact I didn’t own my first cell phone until I was 17 or 18 which didn’t even have a camera, and I had to pay for each text I sent and received. Before I continue to age myself any further (I know I’m not THAT old) I’d like to get into the heart of the matter.

I have noticed ever since cell phones have become glued to our hands and have overrun our attention, human relationships are dwindling. Now I’m not saying that cell phones or technology are sinful, I just feel it has gone too far. Let me explain.

One word has recently come into our dictionaries and more so our everyday vocabulary. That word? Selfie. What word is found in Selfie? You guessed it. Self. But I’m not immune to it. At least when I was a teenager. Even before the word selfie existed I got my ol’ point and shoot digital camera and tried to look so good for I don’t even know who. I would put on my new, favorite shirt. I’d pop the collar, cause that was “cool” then. I would take 20 or 30 to get the best one. I look back and realize that there was a need for validation. Validation from friends. From girls. From classmates. But it wasn’t until later that I realized the validation I truly craved and needed in life is from my Father in Heaven—and He didn’t even care to look at those pictures.

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We are created in the image of God, however, we are not God’s gift to the world. Who was God’s gift to the world? Jesus Christ. The Savior of the world and our ultimate example. Still, many focus and are obsessed with themselves. In 2nd Timothy 3:2 we read:

“For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy…”

You may be thinking, why are you complaining and not giving any solution? Well, this morning I read in the April 2014 Ensign, a church magazine, “A focus on self is not the path to happiness. Rather, joy is found in surrendering our egos in service to others.”

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                Let us spend more quality time with one another and take pictures that will treasure memories. Let us find true enjoyment other than praying others will “comment” on, “like”, or “retweet” our latest self-portrait. Let us give a loving hand to someone who needs it. Let us spend our days serving our fellow brothers and sisters. Let us visit those who need our love and encouragement.

We are the Lord’s hands. I am confident His hands would not be magnifying himself. His hands would be serving others.

               

The four simple truths that matter most: And why we often forget them

My favorite teachers are three and a half feet tall.

They snort when they laugh, they get sticky hands when they eat suckers, and they hoard the crayons when they draw pictures.

My favorite teachers have barely filled in their school shoes, they still wear bows in their braids, and they dream of being astronauts, doctors, and missionaries in different countries.

They come in the shape of my nieces and nephews–and also my primary kids.

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Primary is a class we teach every sunday at church–and for the past year I’ve seen the same group of kids go from pre-school to Kindergarten. And from barely talking *because they’re playing the shy card* to barely letting me get a word in edgewise.

They’ve been my pseudo-children in a sense–and they’ve been some of my greatest teachers.

It really hit me yesterday how much they’ve grown in front of my very eyes, reminding me every week of why we’re here on earth, what we’re meant to do, and who we’re called to be like. Back to the basics, they teach me. Keep life simple.

And simplicity can be so hard.

Yesterday was one of those *Wow, I’m learning more from these kids than they are from me* days. I have those days a lot. But yesterday was something out of the ordinary, really.

 

I came to church straight from a work meeting, and I was frazzled beyond belief. Is there even enough hours in the day? I’m not convinced quite yet that 24 are enough. My mind was nowhere where it should have been, but I quickly rushed to class and tried to get in the mindset of the lesson.

We were teaching about the holy spirit. As we talked, the kids, one by one, all wanted to share stories. That’s not an uncommon thing really–but these stories seemed uncommon. Uncommonly simple and profound all at the same time. With these stories I was reminded of four simple things that I think we ALL tend to forget as soon as we grow out of our size four shoes, stop coloring out of the lines and no longer consider Spider Man our greatest hero.

It was good to get a reminder.

Kindness matters. 

David–one of the boys in my class– reminded me of a motto that I’ve always tried to live by. He told a story of a little boy in his kindergarten class who isn’t very nice. He says rude things to people and kind of likes to be alone. One day at recess the boy was coloring outside and the breeze whisked away a couple of his pages. Without even thinking David scrambled after them and retrieved the papers, bringing them back to the boy and letting him know that a good trick is to keep the loose papers under his foot while he’s drawing so they won’t blow away. I asked David why he helped the little boy out when he’s been nothing but mean to him. “Because it doesn’t matter how he is,” he responded matter-of-factly. “I’m supposed to be kind.”

How often do we forget kindness? We live in a society and a world where many believe that kindness is something to be earned, deserved, or given if the mood is right. But kindness–in its simplest and truest form–is actually running after those runaway papers in the wind simply because that’s what Christ would do.

Prayer works.

After David’s story, Kali’s hand shot up. It wasn’t about kindness, she prefaced, but prayer. Her dad had recently traveled to Mexico and when he came back from the trip he had given her a charm bracelet with beautiful stones. Well one day, she explained, the bracelet went missing and she couldn’t find it anywhere. She searched and searched and searched and finally she fell on her knees and prayed that she would PLEASE find that pretty bracelet from her Dad. After saying amen she had a feeling to check under the stairs. And there it was. Does Heavenly Father care about your bracelet? I asked. “Probably not,” she shrugged. “But he cares about me.”

Did you think to pray?

Count your blessings–then share them.

I sometimes forget this one and I bet you do too. Count your blessings, we hear. Count your blessing, Name them one by one, we sing. But what good is hoarding the blessings and not sharing them? As I watch these kids I’m reminded of the importance of sharing every piece of everything. They don’t hesitate to tell the new kid in class about Jesus. They don’t hesitate to share their jelly beans or share how to spell the word Heaven on the chalk board. They go to school each day and share with their teachers what they did at church, not even giving a second thought about how it may be perceived. They share the good news of everything that comes their way. Why don’t we?

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” is one of my favorite quotes. And as I observe my class I often see a class full of blazing candles–all flaming like torches as they seek out wicks that have dried out.

Follow where others try to lead.

We’re a society aimed toward being revolutionary. Changing the world. Discovering new planets, changing the way politics operate, or being top in sales at our firm. And that’s perfectly okay to aim high. But whatever happened to the virtue of following? In the attempts to forge a new path I think it can be easy to forget that we’ve had many saints, prophets–even the Savior himself– pave the way already. We’ve had pioneers walk miles to reach a common place of rest, hearts all turned toward the same Zion. We’ve had prophets teach the same stories and generations of family members instill the same traditions and morals. We have so many heroes to emulate. “She wants to be just like you,” I’ve had mothers say to me when talking about their kids in my class. They never say, “She hopes to be way better than you”.

There’s so much fear nowadays in mediocrity and not enough desire to uphold the things that generations before us fought for.

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I could honestly go on and on about the things I’ve learned from these kids. But the simple things are my favorite. And the older I get the more I need to be reminded of the basics. The simple things that keep families together and the beggars with change in their pockets. It’s the simple things that were once preached on mountain tops and etched in stone and written by hand on parchment only to be passed down to us. It’s the simple things that turn us from a hardened, bustling, distracted adult into a child again– fresh from Heaven, and at the Savior’s feet. The beauty in the gospel–and in life– lies in its simplicity.

In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “…Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is simple. It really, really is.
And I’m grateful to all my three-foot something giants for showing me that.
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Endings are the saddest part: But they often don’t exist

I bet everyone can agree that there’s always beauty in beginnings.

Driving to the hospital to meet my newborn nephew the other day, getting the keys to that first apartment or the brand new cherry-red car on my 16th birthday. Putting a veil on and carefully tying the back of a brand new wedding dress, accepting that much-prayed-for job offer, the first day on a brand new campus that’d be home to my lifelong memories. Beginnings always carry a sweet smelling perfume of a memory to me. But endings? No. Normally, *unless it’s a boring movie or a canker sore* endings are the stuff that tragedy is made up of.

At least it seems like it.

Recently I got the news that my sister-in-law’s best friend Logann was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. But this time, it’s in its final stages. My sister-in-law had cancer too and died just two years ago. Logann’s sister, Lauren, reached out to me with pictures and memories, and before long I was scrolling through her facebook page, blinking back tears and reading statuses that hint at worsening symptoms. I don’t know Logann much, but I know how it feels to face an ending.

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I carefully clicked through the photos of the young faces of the kids she’ll soon leave behind. The ending for their family is coming, just as it had for Natalie, who didn’t even make it to that last trip to DisneyLand with her kids. Just as it had for my Dad who hadn’t even had the time to acquire wrinkles. Just as it had for countless faces and names from my readers who share pictures and stories throughout my inbox–people who share the general ache of having been through an ending of some sort.

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For some, it’s the ending that comes with seeing a child move across the country with a new husband and a U-Haul. For some, it’s the loss of a career or a divorce that leaves empty drawers, empty halls, and an empty heart. For some, it’s the ending that comes with a severed friendship or a miscarriage that leaves you with empty arms and a few loose ultrasound pictures to prove that a child ever even existed.

Time can seem like a relentless, cruel train that moves fast and uninterrupted. Time stops for no one and quickly reminds us that every day we’re dying or nearing an end of something. Some of us just know when that time will be, others of us have no idea.

It all just ends in an ending, we think.. And the only beauty we can possibly hope for is that there will be a beginning soon after.

But what if we decided to find the beauty before that eventual beginning? Is it possible? Well, today–I learned it is.

Today was General Conference in my church. General Conference is a time when leaders of my church come together to talk about a wide variety of things that they’ve prayed about or felt inspiration to teach. No matter where you are in the world you can listen in by internet or television or broadcasts in meetinghouses. One talk in particular today reached me in a way that made me wonder if Heaven itself wrote that message just for Kayla. But of course not–we all needed to hear it.

The talk was by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. He spoke about gratitude throughout the pains of life, understanding in all things, and before ending his talk he simply stated,”There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings. Why is this? Because we’re made out of the stuff of eternity. Endings are not our destiny.”

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Endings don’t sit well with us because there’s often no such thing. We feel the need to keep existing–to keep connected with those we love and to always have another sunrise. We often forget, I learned today, that we’re not dying every day. We’re just continuing.

And if we believe in eternity, then that means we believe that nothing–not even death–can be considered an end.

As children of the creator of a universe dotted with galaxies and stars and life still undiscovered that goes on and on and never hits a wall, we also follow the pattern of creation. We don’t end either.

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Sometimes it’s hard to see simply because we don’t comprehend the magnitude of it, just as we can’t wrap our minds around the nonexistent walls of universe that stretch on forever. But every now and then, like those words that hit me today, the spirit will whisper a reminder.

Lauren sent me a note recently tagged along with the photos of her and her sweet sister that states she’s grateful for time that she has left with Logann–the gift that reminds her this isn’t where it ends. It’s simply a pause. She said Logann spends her days talking about eternity with the kids–a concept that is almost impossible to understand now, but something that will be the only comfort someday and the only truth.

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There’s a beauty in knowing that we’re more constant than the sun–that our eternal value is more dependable than the tides. There’s a beauty in being reminded that what we call endings are nothing more than a flicker of pause in a seamless fabric of eternity–the same fabric that makes up an ever-stretching universe. The same fabric made from our Father’s hands.

When we look at it that way–at least for me–it’s not just the beginnings that seem beautiful. It’s the continuing.

Click here to donate to Logann and her sweet family.

He is not here: A reminder during a rescue mission

I had the strangest dream last night.

Now, I have some pretty off the wall dreams at times so for me to say it was the strangest is kind of a big deal for me.

In my dream I joined the search of the hundreds of people right now trudging through debris and mud and toppled cars and fences in the Oso area here in Washington, lifting piles of unrecognizable filth to find the victims of the horrific mudslide. This area is close to where I grew up in Arlington, barely a fifteen minute drive, so I had spent time in this place. I had spent summers along these now flooded riversides and jogs against the backdrop of these now crumbled hills. In my dream I vividly saw the stillness of the pastures and the emptiness of the flattened landscape–a grave now to all of those who walked here or drove or worked nearby when the mountains gave way just nine days ago. Oddly enough, even though in reality it’s not this close, I saw my old backyard in my dream as well–flattened. Overturning branches and muck and fighting through tears, I frantically searched and searched. Then suddenly, I heard someone calmly say to me, “He is not here.”

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I woke up from the dream this morning knowing fully well why that voice in my dream had to tell me that. It was about my Dad. And that voice will soon be whispering it to the hearts of all of those still trudging through the remains of the landslide, clutching shoes and wallets and remnants of children and parents.

On the news last night a firefighter, with his hat drawn off his head and dirt surrounding his eyes, said mournfully, “We know this isn’t a rescue mission anymore–it’s a recovery mission. But in our hearts, for a long time, it’ll be a rescue mission.”

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Tears raced to my eyes when I heard the man say that–and the reality of what a rescue mission is followed me into last night’s dream. No matter who you’ve lost–or how you’ve lost them–your spirit goes through a period of time where you’re on a rescue mission. Not usually literally. You’re looking for ways to feel them or sense them close by to bring them into your “present”. You’re hunting through memories and retracing their face over and over as to not forget. You’re half-expecting them to come through the door again, only to be devastatingly disappointed when there are moments that you realize they won’t. Of course, they won’t, you’ll cry. And it’ll hurt all the same. You’ll also relive memories of the moment they died or the place they died or the last time you held their hand–and that moment seems to be where they forever lay.

But it’s not.

To minimize the devastating effects of the Oso and Arlington area landslide is not my intent. My heart breaks for the people who lived a stone’s throw away from me–people who lost children and parents and siblings and neighbors and pets. People who now sit and rest against what used to be a rooftop, looking out at a dismal landscape made up of mud and tears. The loss is indescribable.

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But at the same time I can draw a simple parallel to the words of that one firefighter. Maybe you can too. Maybe those words rang true for all of us who have gone through the sting of loss in one way or another.

The moment where you know for a fact your loved one is truly gone doesn’t always occur at the same time that your heart figures it out. And for a while it just remains a rescue mission. For a while you trudge through the debris of the unrecognizable world around you. For a while you’re looking for the dead in all the wrong places.

As for me, I know I have been. I’ve been angry at times for not feeling Dad as much as I’d like–and have been praying for him to be part of my life again in any way I can muster. I’ve been vividly remembering the day he left us, reliving the night painfully, stuck in that pocket of time as if Dad were stuck there too. But just as the angel told Mary as she leaned against a rolled-away stone and peered into any empty grave for the Savior, “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)

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I pray for peace for all of those who still search and wander the debris near my hometown. I pray that their rescue mission can come to an end and that they too will remember that their loved ones aren’t there–but in a place that has risen far above shallow graves. I pray for your own rescue mission to end too. I pray that the angels will find us all at empty tombs, reminding us gently of where we should look instead.

The voice reminds me of it when I look for my Dad in painful memories of his last day in hospice. He is not buried or stuck in folds of memory or fenced into the past. He is not laying idle on a hospital bed. He is not sick. That echoed voice of an angel from the scriptures gently reminds me to leave the debris and remember the promise of eternal life.

That gentle voice reminds me to look up.

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It really does matter where you come from

I read a little sign hanging in a window just the other day that really got me thinking.

It simply asked, “Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” If my research serves me correctly, that’s a quote from Danielle LaPorte.

I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately.

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Maybe it’s because just this last Sunday my baby nephew had his baby blessing during church service. With heads bowed we joined in prayer as his Daddy blessed him.

Dressed in an adorable white little outfit and looking out at us with wide blue eyes, the quote came to me once more. Simply because my nephew had just come from God’s presence. He had no biases, no strong opinions on worldly matters. He had no conditioned ideas of himself brought on by teasing classmates or snide co-workers yet. He hadn’t yet looked in the mirror, making assumptions about what people saw. He’s new. Untouched by the world–and untaught by it.

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But in time, he’ll grow. Just like we all do. And that’s definitely not a bad thing.

It wasn’t Heavenly Father’s plan to keep us in a tiny shell, unable to form words or beliefs. It’s His plan for us to grow, hit bumps in the road that bruise our knees, possibly grow so old until we wrinkle and smile without teeth, and to find joy in relationships that come along, and in hard work and sacrifice. And it’s also His plan for us to slowly remember who we are again and where we come from as we turn our minds to Him, so the giant circle can be completed and we can return to where my baby nephew just came from.

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Too many times I want to forget the past because it’s painful. Because *I know this all too well* I messed up. I fall into the thinking of, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter about then, it only matters who I am now.’ But if I take it back even further than that–I won’t find mistakes or missed curfews or those awkward middle school haircuts *yeesh* or those heartbreaking teenage years–if I take it back far enough, I’ll remember my divine heritage. I’ll remember I’m a daughter of a King and that I was sent here at a very particular time to fulfill my callings. It really DOES matter where I come from.

Because the world will tell you it doesn’t.

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The world, just like it will to my nephew eventually, will tell you that you shouldn’t be an artist because artists don’t make enough money. The world will tell you you’re fat when you see the stretch marks across your stomach that gave you your children. The world will tell you that you’re a nerd just because you’re extremely good with computers. It’ll tell you that you’re not very good at making friends so it’s better to just sit alone. It’ll tell you that with all the mistakes you’ve made, there’s no coming back now.

The world will lie.

I think back to days like these–this was my third grade class. (I’m the one with the thick brown bangs and my hands up…I know. Yikes.)

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We grew up together and eventually graduated together. I think back to the innocence that didn’t sort us into groups of “cool” “uncool” “smart” or “awkward”. It was a time when we didn’t let the world whisper into our ears and teach us about what makes someone pretty or successful or worth listening to. We were just kids–who somehow, deep inside–still remembered our divine worth.

And I think we can still remember now, even neck-deep in the sludge of words and scars and perceptions and false lessons. We get glimpses when we read our scriptures or fall on our knees to pray or hold our children. We have glimpses of memory that sustain us.

And I think that once we get a good grasp *even if it’s simply by faith* on where we’ve come from and who we really truly are–that’s when we’ll remember where we’re going.

And at that point–the world won’t be able to teach you any different.

God will give you more than you can handle: I guarantee it.

There’s a certain phrase I’ve come to really dislike.

All my life, I’ve heard this phrase whenever I go through a rough patch. *And by rough patch, I mean a prickly, gnarly patch that leaves me bleeding to near death*. You’re probably familiar with those kinds of “patches”.

“God will never give you more than you can handle” is the phrase I’m referring to.

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And it’s a sweet sentiment, really. The people who say it are speaking from caring and concerned hearts.

BUT–it isn’t true.

I know that sounds harsh, but I promise I haven’t suddenly lost my mind or have become an angry-with-God bitter woman who hates the world. Actually, when I realized the simple fact that God can–and will–give us more than we can possibly bear, it got easier.

And it all started to make more sense.

I’ve often trudged through trials that overwhelm me. Ever since my childhood there have been trials that have made me “grow up” pretty fast. But granted, I know for a fact you’ve had your own fair share too, because that’s the reality of life. But this last trial is the one that shook me to my core and had me searching like a mad woman for answers as to why it was happening–and how I could possibly even survive it.

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I lost my Dad to cancer last month–if you’re a follower of mine, this is old news. But–it was absolutely horrific.

Every day leading up to his death was like walking through every level of hell–slowly– for lack of a better term. There’s no other way to describe it. The images…the sounds…the sleepless nights…the cries for God while we look on, helpless…the torment of rubbing morphine in his cheeks, praying it’ll absorb–but to no avail. The horrible, wrenching pain that came with lifting him up, laying him back down, lifting him up, laying him back down…because he became so restless and cried out for “home” every few minutes. And all along, in the back of my mind, I reminded myself that millions of people go through this, and have already gone through this, very thing. And it is simply unbearable. If you disagree–it’s because you haven’t been there.

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This trial was so consuming that I hate to even put it in the past tense–sometimes it still consumes me. Yesterday, at my Dad’s memorial service, it consumed me all over again.

I’ve suffered from nightmares where I relived the memory over and over mercilessly–I sometimes see his face on strangers that pass and worry that I’m going crazy. I cry over sad songs in the car and torture myself with stacks of pictures and yellowed photo albums. It’s beyond just missing him. And even with a firm testimony of the gospel and with peace that he is exactly where the Lord prepared him for, it is still too much for me to handle at times. It steals my breath–and it can steal my joy.

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So, the other day, I turned to the scriptures. I needed help.

I wanted to know where that phrase was that people kept repeating to me in church and at work and over the phone. Why did the Lord “trust me so much”?! Why did He think I could handle these kinds of trials?

And then I realized: I couldn’t find that quote because it isn’t there.

It never mentions anywhere in the scriptures that the Lord won’t give you more than you can handle. Yes, in 1 Corinthians 10:13 it speaks of Him giving us an escape from temptations so that it’s not too much to bear. But when it comes to pain, trials, heartache, and burdens– not once does it say it won’t be more than we can bear. Instead, it beautifully says this instead:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 28-30)

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The words struck my heart, as you can imagine. Christ is speaking to those of us who are carrying burdens much too heavy for our own shoulders. And in that one verse he simply states the reason why we are given more than we can handle: It’s so we can come to him. It’s so we can trust him enough to hand over our heavy, crippling burdens and let him carry the load.

You might be heavy laden right now like I was before reading and re-reading and re-reading once again this scripture that has never stuck out to me as much as it has lately.

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You might be shrunken with sadness or drowning in debt. You might be overwhelmingly angry at someone at church or aching under the pressures of raising children or maybe the inability to have them. You might be dealing with a terminal disease and you still have young children. And chances are–you might need your Redeemer to find you on the path and take up that heavy cross you’re dragging. Besides, even he tells us that he’s more equipped to carry it, so why not hand it over?

I’ve come to learn–slowly but surely–why I need Him.

I suppose it’s because of pride that I always thought I could just do things on my own. I’m strong, I’d say. I’m a tough cookie. I can help others through their tribulations while carrying mine all by myself. Well…wasn’t I wrong.

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I didn’t really know what needing him meant until I had no other choice. I didn’t know what it meant until I wrapped my arms around my middle so I wouldn’t fall apart–or the time I choked on tears and yelled toward Heaven. Or the times when I was utterly alone, and the silence was too much to bear. Those are the times that taught me he’s not just a want or a convenient symbol of love or a reason to do good deeds.

No, he’s the very air we breathe.

And he’s the only one who can make it bearable when life is simply anything but.

Where are you, Christmas?: My search to find it this year

Christmas music started playing on the radio right before Thanksgiving.

And I was probably the first one to turn it on.

I’ve always loved Christmas–every single thing about it. But especially the music.

But this year, the music is different. It’s haunting, actually. Every song carries with it a particular memory, and it isn’t exactly pleasant to hear. From the Chipmunks’ rendition of “Christmas, Don’t be late” to “Jingle Bell Rock” to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, I have flashes of memories that now poke at my heart in a painful kind of way. It’s easy to cry this season–a lot. And it’s because this Christmas is so…different now.

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Hospice gave us the heads up that my Dad has only days left now and making it until Christmas is out of the question. So now, the only song that seems vaguely relatable is this one: Where are you Christmas?

“Where are you, Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you gone away? Where is the laughter you used to bring me? Why can’t I hear music play? My world is changing, I’m re-arranging. Does that mean Christmas changes too?”

I found myself in a puddle of tears the other night when this song came over the radio. Just like the song says, my world is changing… and I often feel like a zombie passing through this merry season blanketed with twinkle lights and pine trees and busy shoppers.

But you see, I know I’m not the only one. I guess that’s why I felt like writing this. I know there are others this Christmas who are having their first–or maybe second or third–grown-up Christmas. Maybe they’re alone at night, missing a soldier. Maybe they’re aching over a heartbreak. Maybe they’re missing a child or refusing to put lights up after a nasty divorce. Maybe Christmas this year isn’t so merry.

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And because I’m one of these people, I’ve been on a personal mission of sorts to find the Christmas I’ve always known. The one that gives me swirls of colorful memory every time I see a Santa or a nativity set or houses clothed in sparkling color. The one that had music fill our house growing up and the one that had me in my dad’s arms dancing to Jingle Bell Rock. The one that had my dad on the roof hanging lights and cursing under his breath when his nail gun didn’t work. The one that brought snow. And family. And turkey with cranberry sauce. And stockings. And memories of not being able to fall asleep because of my imagination creating footsteps on the roof.

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I’ve missed that Christmas.

So I prayed. A lot. Where is Christmas, God? Where is it? And nothing came to me, really. Nothing except a small thought that I should buy decorations and take them to my parents’ house. So I did just that. Couldn’t hurt.

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I spent last Saturday hanging lights, setting up the old ceramic nativity set, stringing garland, and dancing around to Christmas music as my dad watched from his bed, in and out of sleep, captivated at times by the rotating Christmas tree that I set up by his bed. He used to be the one to do it. But now, it’s my turn to create. And a little bit of Christmas started to show itself. Slowly, but surely.

After that, I watched as my husband’s side of the family poured in from hours away, visiting dad, who they’d only met a handful of times, speaking softly and filling the home with quiet laughter.

And there it was. I felt a brush of Christmas again.

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And of course–family from my side has come almost every day.

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Then we all watched my dad’s favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Even though he slept through most of it, we laughed at all the same parts and cried at all the same lines.

Then friends from church took my sister to pick out a Christmas tree. And some came to share scriptures and holiday messages and offer warm hugs.

And little by little, although it’s not the same (and may not ever be) I feel like I’m finding Christmas simply by realizing that I create the season for myself. WE are the spirit of Christmas. And as we change, so will Christmas. But it’s magic–it’s spirit of love and remembrance for all we have–never will if we keep it alive.

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We choose to hang the lights. We make the choice to turn up the music and let snowflakes touch our tongues. We choose to remember, even while saying goodbye to a loved one who made Christmas wonderful for us our entire life, that because of Christmas day, we’ll never be apart.

Whether you’re missing a Christmas season gone by when Santa was real and reindeer could fly and mom and dad cut out gingerbread men with you with unwrinkled hands–or missing a Christmas season where your heart didn’t ache like it does now–it’s easy to question where Christmas went. It’s easy to give up on that special feeling that every child knows.

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I guess that’s just part of life–it’s just part of the lesson that comes on your first grown-up Christmas when you realize Christmas doesn’t just fall into your lap and bring joy and peace and instant excitement. Christmas instead, is the opportunity to create it, simply by remembering the one who gave it all up for us.

There it is, I feel myself thinking every once in a while while seeing Dad smile at the lights I hung or closing my teary eyes on a memory of opening a doll I’d asked for all year and watching Dad grin with his full head of hair and youthful eyes.

There it is, I feel myself thinking now when family surrounds us, offering love and standing as a testament as to why that special baby once laid in a manger under a star-filled sky.

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There it is, I feel myself thinking when we place the same star my dad used to always place on top of the tree on top of a picture of the Savior instead this year.

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There you are, Christmas.

Armies of angels and marshmallow hearts: The signs of an eternal family

I can never read straight through The Family: A Proclamation to the World without stopping at a certain paragraph.

It’s impossible, actually. My eyes will read and re-read a few lines at the top until I look up from the page, imagining certain faces that come to life when those words are read.

These lines read: “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”

Eternally. It’s a concept that is too large to imagine. It’s a concept that doesn’t conjure up images of galaxies dusted across a black universe or golden gates piercing endless blue skies. Not for me, at least. Instead, I see faces.

The first face I see is usually the face of my uncle. His name is Uncle Tom. And when I see his face, he’s smiling as he usually was, a glimmer of mischief in his eye as he plans his next joke, an easy smile as he props up a baseball cap onto his head to itch the hair underneath–a random memory I have of him from early on. I usually imagine him holding me as he reads to me from my arsenal of books I’d bring over to his house when I was tiny–or I see him holding my left hand as my Aunt holds my right, walking down a forgotten pathway somewhere in the recesses of my memory. I see him wink at me again, just as he did from his bed right before he left us, lifting his hand to hold mine–telling me he’ll watch me from Heaven as I take on the world. He’s eternally there. Unaged. Untouched when I read this from the proclamation.

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I then see the face of my sister-in-law, Natalie. And usually she’s laughing–one of those big, crazy laughs that have the rest of us busting up within seconds. I see her throwing her mane of curly hair over a shoulder as she shoots pictures with her beloved camera, seeing the world through a different lens. I see her sitting on the dressing room floor of a bridal shop with me, laughing until tears come down our faces, because we had ripped the back of a dress that I was trying on. I see her holding one of her children on each hip, still strong enough to support their little bodies. Still breathing without the support of oxygen. Unaffected by cancer.

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Shortly after her, I see the face of my cousin Kenny. A spunky, rebellious guy with a twinkle in his eye and a way of making life into a roller coaster of adventure. I see him scheme with an exaggerated rub of his hands as he cheated his way into winning the game of Clue each time we played. I see him singing terribly to Leeann Rimes. I see him untouched by the hand of a murderer. Safe, smiling, cheeks flushed from his last adventure somewhere.

I see my Great Grandma, also known as Grandma Ducky. And when I see her she’s usually still at the lake she’d take me to, bag of bread in hand, chuckling her raspy chuckle as I’d throw the bread and nervously back up as swarms of ducks flocked to my feet. I see her dancing with me in her arms,  and I smell tobacco and sweet perfume on her sweater. I see her arranging photo albums again, her crooked hands stroking the pages with each passing memory. She isn’t asleep in bed, a heart monitor by her side. She isn’t in a coma anymore, passing quietly beyond the veil. No, she’s awake.

And then, I see my dad. He’s a family member who isn’t gone, but right now he’s bravely fighting cancer–waking up each day with renewed energy and positivity despite his paling skin and dire diagnosis. But I still see him as I read those lines from the proclamation–and he’s not sick. I see him with a full head of hair–thicker than mine sometimes. I see him picking blackberries with me in our backyard and creeping out to our pond to catch frogs with me and dump them into our bathtub, much to my mother’s dismay. I see him from across the altar in a chair next to my mom as I got sealed to my husband, smiling proudly in a bright blue tie.

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With these lines of the proclamation I am given the renewed perspective that there is no end. And the love of family is far stronger than the distance created by death. They feel close to me when I read those eternal words and when I remind myself that relationships are perpetuated beyond the grave. It’s as if they never left or are never going to leave.

Elder Holland once said something that underscores the truth of this principle: “In the gospel of Jesus Christ you have help from both sides of the veil and you must never forget that. When disappointment and discouragement strike…you remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed to come to our protection.”

Those words ring true in so many ways. Those who love us always will, even from beyond the veil. I’ve felt them so many times–their encouragement, their concern, their love.

When my sister-in-law passed away it was a day before my birthday. We were at my parent’s house and my mom set in front of me a slice of cake and hot chocolate, trying to bring whatever joy she could into the house. Tears slid down my cheeks, and I grabbed my husband’s hand. In a silent prayer I asked Natalie to just send a sign that she’s ok. I don’t know why I needed it when I so clearly believe in the world to come, but during that kind of pain, I did. Nothing happened right away–no bold voice from the sky or extraordinary vision. But as I reached for my hot chocolate I looked down into the mug and saw it. A heart. A heart perfectly formed from melted marshmallow. To some, it may seem crazy. To tell you the truth, I haven’t told a soul until now. But to me, it was all I needed. OF COURSE Natalie would send me love that way. She was creative, funny–and she knew I’d know it was her.

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The sweet truth of eternal families is all around us if we simply choose to take notice and choose to believe.

Sometimes those loved ones will ride to your rescue on unseen chariots of fire.

Sometimes they’ll smile at you in your dreams.

Sometimes they’ll whisper love to you when you read the Proclamation to the Family or bend your knees in prayer.

And sometimes, they’ll simply send you their love with a marshmallow heart.

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**This is a blog that I wrote for the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” celebration. I was honored to write for this! Many thanks to Monserrat, the creator of this celebration, for asking me to do this. You can find my post, as well as many others, very soon on her wonderful blog at http://chocolateonmycranium.blogspot.com/.