October 14, 2018

When Half My Heart is in Antofagasta Chile

Housing the Homeless

Image result for housing the homeless

I work for Onondaga County, as HUD Housing Grant Administrator. The grant I administer is a Shelter Plus Care grant. To qualify for Public Supportive Housing you must be chronically homeless (homeless for over one-year straight or have four episodes of homelessness in three years). If you are sleeping on your friend's couch, you are not homeless. Homeless really means you have nowhere to sleep at night.

Our goal is to provide support so that everyone in our county has safe, stable, sanitary housing conditions. The book Evicted, details the stories that I see first-hand every day. 

My first month of work I cried every single day, at work. I sobbed at home. I was told that in time I would become numb to the pain. I wrote this Facebook post- 

"You'll get numb to this in time," they tell me as I sit in their offices (daily) with tears slipping down my cheeks. This is HARD. Today I had my first home visit and spent a short time at a local food bank. I watched a young mom try to carry a stroller full of groceries home while pushing a two-week-old baby and gently coaxing her darling, three-year-old little girl who was burning up with a fever. Oh, God bless that Momma. God bless those babies. Last Friday, I spent the morning at eviction court where I watched people lose their homes, so many people, too many people. Mothers with young kids holding onto their legs, Grandmothers, men, and women who struggle with addiction, and college kids who made some poor choices. My heart broke. BROKE."Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
Every day I speak to tenants and landlords of HUD Public Supportive Housing program and I try to provide safety and stability to those most difficult to keep housed. More than giving a homeless man a dollar or a granola bar, I am learning to know our most vulnerable neighbors. There are many who care for them, and we try to support them so that they will always have a home.
Every day I wonder, as a nation, how do we define our bottom line? How low will we allow someone to go? How much support can we and will we give to those who struggle to maintain safe, stable housing? How can we help them? How can we help their families? What kind of homes do their babies deserve to be raised in?
Oh, friends. It is easy to live in a segregated society where most of us never have to SEE the suffering that is just around the corner from us. To SEE it. To FEEL it. To really KNOW our neighbors who are living day to day... this HURTS, but the pain is the price I am willing to pay to love my neighbors. This ache reminds me that I LOVE GREATLY. I can't do much, but I CAN DO A LITTLE. And, so can you. Donate to your local Salvation Army. Donate money, food, diapers, furniture, clothes, or time. Serve. SEE your neighbors and do something. We can each do something. This is my thing. Please help me never to become numb to this.
There are two things that I have learned as my eyes are being opened to the REALITY of our nation.
1. It is BAD. 
Our NEIGHBORS are living lives that no human being should have to endure. We must change. We must help them. We must decide as a nation how we will handle those with mental illness among us. We must address the problem of intergenerational poverty. The programs that we have in place right now are not working. How can we fix this? I do not know, but I am determined to be a part of the solution. 
2. There are SO many GOOD people fighting the good fight. 
The meetings that I attend are INSPIRING. I sat through the Chronic Homeless Taskforce last week in a room with 8 young women, two young men. This is a group of community leaders who work every day in our homeless shelters. These kind souls described our communities most mentally ill and difficult to house population. They went down the list, person by person, expressing HOPE for them. They know and love the homeless in our midst. They visit them in their homes (under bridges, in tents on the side of the road, in abandon warehouses). They know their stories, they have seen their illness/addictions, and they love these people with a fierce devotion. I am surprised that it is mainly young women (with some devoted men) who work with those who society might label as the most "dangerous" or "ill" members of our society. These women are able to look into the eyes of someone who is dirty, addicted, absolutely without worldly success or possessions, and see within their soul a person worthy of care and effort. This ability to love and serve is absolutely inspiring to me. I feel honored to know these valiant workers in our community and I feel humbled to serve among them. 
In a matter of days, I found myself sitting through two very different meetings. 
The first, was a meeting called by our Superintendent to discuss recent construction on our elementary and high school. In the meeting, parents demanded to know if the workers in our schools have had to undergo background checks. The Superintendent said that the construction company is responsible for the background checks and that he had only recently requested that our town sheriff run their own checks to be certain no sex offenders are allowed to work on our schools. 
I am not someone that is every overly concerned about things like this, but I did feel like it was appropriate for workers to be scanned. 
A few days later I sat at a meeting discussing "Re-Entry". At this meeting was the director of prisons in our area, the DA's office, the Parole office, women and men who hold positions that enable them to lobby for prison reform, nonprofit leaders who work with ex-convicts and help them to transition into society. I felt in this group a unified desire to help people create good lives for themselves. Again, I felt HOPE for our society and a daily dedication to helping those who are transitioning from prison to find meaningful jobs and have the tools necessary to succeed. 
At DSS, I heard the story of a young man, recently released from prison. He wanted to live with his mother but was told that it takes two weeks for his parole officer to inspect his mother's home to grant him approval to live with her. In the meantime, this boy was sent to a homeless shelter. (Most prisoners are sent to a homeless shelter when they are released from prison.) While in the shelter, this boy was exposed to drugs. He sat in the office at DSS, with his mother, and SOBBED. He did not want to tell his parole officer he was using again, because he would have been sent back to prison. But, he knew that staying in the shelter he was not strong enough to say no to the temptation that was surrounding him. Oh, my heart.  He just wanted to go home to live with his mom. How can we help these, our brothers and sisters? 
At the Re-Entry meeting, I heard the joy in the voice of one, wonderful, humble woman who works every day to help train ex-convicts to enter the workforce. She said that in this area, construction crews are hiring! They are so great to work with the prison re-entry team! For the first time in a long time, she is having success helping those released from prison find jobs.  
At that moment, my mother-heart flip-flopped.  In my soul, I believe in second chances. I believe that drugs/alcohol can cause people to do some pretty bad things and that people can and should be allowed to change. Even if that means that these ex-cons are working at my children's school. I would feel honored to have them working at my children's school. 
My job takes me to parts of Syracuse where there are a lot of people who are homeless or who are currently living under the power line. I notice something as I walk by these people. They don't look at me. They look down. They physically shrink. I feel them saying to me, "Don't be afraid, I won't hurt you." And, I challenge that. I make an effort to catch their eye and smile. I say with my smile, "I SEE YOU AND I'M NOT AFRAID OF YOU." Isn't it interesting that just taking the time to LOOK at someone and smile at them can physically change someone? I have seen it time and time again. I walk through my path with my head held high and a smile in my soul. I want those around me to feel that I see them, love them, and accept them as a fellow human being.
Because I do. 
I was talking with one of the participants in my program who kept apologizing for being crazy. He had been given a 3-day eviction notice (that he should not have been given) and it triggered a panic attack in him. He probably left me ten messages before I had the chance to get back to him. He felt bad that he had some mental problems that were triggered by this eviction notice. As I talked to him, I told him that his concern WAS NOT MENTAL. He was told that in three days he would have no place to live and he was concerned. THIS IS NORMAL. THIS IS HEALTHY. Anyone would be worried by that notice. I just SAW him and told him I was not afraid of him. And, in one second, he melted. 
I had another mom call me and she was VERY upset. She wanted to move to another state. The problem was, that she would lose her rental assistance if she moved. She had just spent some time arguing with an intake coordinator and was ready to fight with me. I asked her, "Why do you want to move?" 
In tears, she told me that just yesterday, a 12-year-old boy was shot ONE BLOCK from her house. "My babies are next," she told me. "I have to leave or my babies are next." 
I heard her. I told her, "You're right." 
She was shocked. She said, "Can you say that again so I can put you on speaker? Tell my husband what you just said."  
I told her that where she lives has almost 100% impact on how her children will turn out. The best way for her to escape poverty/gun violence is for her to move to a place with less poverty/gun violence. We talked about the support systems that she has in her life, like her rental assistance and her extended family. I told her to look online at school tool or another internet indicator of good school districts and find the best district she can find. I told her to look for an apartment in a different town, maybe a more rural town, and move her children. I told her to read to her children every single night and teach them the most powerful thing they can have in this life, is an education. 
She calmed down. She said, "You understand what I'm saying, don't you? You know why I'm worried for my babies. I don't care about nothing else, just my babies. I don't want my baby to be next." 
I told her that it was so GOOD that she cared about the safety of her babies, but that she did not have to leave the state to protect them. She did have to move away from the gun violence in her neighborhood. 
I see you, my sister. I hear you. I will fight for you and your babies. I'm not afraid of your emotion, I honor it. 
Government alone cannot fix these problems. The problem with temporary assistance or socialism is that we pay our taxes and just expect that giving the government money is going to solve the problems. It is too detached. Our neighbors do NOT just need our money. They need US to see them and to show them how to succeed in life. They need us to offer them jobs. They need us to be friends to their children.
How do we house the homeless? How do we end intergenerational poverty? 
I don't know but I am going to keep SEEING, keep LOVING, and keep TRYING. 
I'm sharing my story with you so that you also can see. SEE them. Because if you saw what I saw you would agree. There is so much that is not good even as there is so much good in this world.
Oh, if you could see what I see you would ache like I ache.
We can and we must change things. 

A Working Mom of Eight

This summer I accepted a position working at Onondaga County Department of Social Services- Economic Security. Onondaga County just became the grant administrators for a HUD Public Supportive Housing- Rental Assistance Program, formerly Shelter Plus Care. This grant provides housing subsidy and supportive services to those in our community who are chronically homeless and permanently disabled. I work 35 hours per week (8 am to 3:30 am or 8:30 to 4, depending on how my morning goes) and I hold one of six management confidential positions in the county. (Which means I am salaried, not hourly, I did not have to take a test to get my position, and I work with some very amazing people.)

My younger two children (Eve and Ben) go to the home of a friend of mine for one to two hours after school. They don't really need to do this, because I have older kids who could watch them. But, I didn't like the fact that they were not really being watched at home. My teenagers were busy with homework or staying after school. And, my middle-aged kids were not quite mature enough to watch the youngest (more creative) children. Having Eve and Ben at my friend's house has been SUCH a gift to me. She is a sweet mother (with older children) and she gives these little ones a mother's touch after school. Also, have them at a sitter allows my other children the freedom to participate in after-school activities. Most days, Eve and Ben go to my friend's house, Leah and Lily stay after for art club or drama and then they walk to the library, and Anna and Ellie stay after for sports or international club or choir. So, I get home anywhere from 4 to 5 pm and usually pick all the kids up on my way home. It really works. And, it's fun for them. 

While I was considering this fulltime position, I was called as an Early Morning Seminary teacher. We have twelve high school students (and their parents) who come to our house from 6 to 7 a.m. each morning. I teach seminary in our basement and my husband fixes everyone breakfast. We do this five days a week. Most of my students travel 30 minutes each way to attend seminary. We have the BEST group of kids and I honestly could not think of a better way to spend my mornings. When I was first called, I felt like I was being asked to do the IMPOSSIBLE. As I have served, I have realized that the opportunity to teach seminary during these transition months where I am heading to work, has been such a gift. When you have less time, you are more discerning of your time. Teaching seminary keeps me grounded in the scriptures and teaching my two teenage daughters (and their friends) keeps me connected to them at a time when it would be easy for them to drift away.

This opportunity has been a great learning experience for me. It is the first time (in over 20 years) that I am earning a salary for the work that I do and it is the first time that I am required to account to another person how I spend my daily hours. It has been an adjustment for both me and my family. Figuring out how to do laundry was my first hurtle. Now, I put one load in most nights, switch it to the drier in the morning and fold/put it away when I gather the next load the next night. I have yet to figure out how to serve my family healthy dinners. The quality of our dinners has been significantly decreased since I started work. I miss family dinner time (where we sit together at a set table to eat). This is my next goal.  

My home is tidy. My children are happy. My kids are still very involved in extracurricular activities. They are still straight-A students. They don't watch tv (most days) unless it is the weekend. They love to read. We have family scripture study and prayer most days. And, we are happy. I say this, not to brag, but to testify that it IS possible. I really did not know that it was. 

I have enjoyed the routine that accompanies employment. I love wearing dressy clothes. I am learning to do my small part and to stay balanced. I'm used to working hard to finish a task, but I am learning to work from 8 to 3:30 and then to come home. Work never ends. So, I can just do my part while I am there and it will wait for me to return the next day. I love having a desk and an office with a window. I love interacting with people all day. I really like the fact that I am not home and I cannot clean up after everyone else. So, my kids are learning to keep things clean on their own. I love driving to and from work with my husband (most of the time, he is an impatient driver and this makes me crazy some days- ha). I LOVE learning new things every day. 

Work is not always easy. I don't always do things right. I once offended a coworker by calling her "honey" and she spoke to me about that. I felt sick. But, I am learning. There really are so many good people in this world. I feel honored to work with them. I feel grateful for the privilege of working. I'm able to pay for my sons' missions with my salary and I feel like that is an honor. (Yes, they saved enough to pay for their own missions, but I want them to have that money when they get home.) I'm also adding to our savings and helping to pay off some student loans that we still have. It feels good to earn money. 

Working isn't all fun. I really don't have a lot of free time. But, it is good. I'm writing this blog again to share a little about what I am learning.

Lessons I Learned as a Mother in Graduate School

I want to share with you some of the lessons that I learned as a mother in graduate school. 

Practical Tips-
- Buy a laptop (i loved my Lenovo)
- Buy a messenger bag (I loved my Timbuk2)
- Look professional and you will feel capable
- I took notes in 5x7 moleskin books, paperback, one per class
- I scheduled my classes for M W and did homework T Th
- Watch your extra things. My one regret was that I stayed involved in outside/community things while I was in school. (Good for a resume, not good for sanity.)
- Exercise!  Yoga for 30 min in the mornings saved my life.
- Just do it. School is harder than work, on your family. Because you always have homework. I'm glad I got my degree in one year instead of dragging out the process.
- Apply for grants! There are a lot of scholarships for moms returning to school.
- Budget! I regret being lax on finances while I was in school (just because we were busy).
- Don't feel guilty about the time you aren't home, just make the time you are home POSITIVE
- Remember- school life is not real life. As a mom, you KNOW that nobody cares if you got a B- in Statistics, so try hard but don't worry too much about stuff that doesn't matter.
- There is a time and a season for PTA and your kids don't care if you send store-bought cupcakes to school on their birthday
- I brought my kids to class with me a few times and they loved it (just ask your teacher before you try it and be sure your kids are super well-behaved because everyone will be watching you)
- At the beginning, tell your groups that you are willing to work hard in the early morning and late night hours, but that you will not attend group meetings between 5 and 8 pm.
- Make friends! Don't pull away because you are different. I cherish the friendships I made with so many young, amazing students, teachers, and staff. I just didn't let myself feel dumb eating lunch with a professor or a student that was half my age. 
- Talk about your life, but not too much. 
- LEARN. I wish I had read even more and learned deeply the lessons I was paying to learn. You will never again have time to study and absorb at such a concentrated rate.

1. Women are very capable.

I am surprised that it was possible for me to do well in school AND care for my family. Granted, things were never picture perfect. But, things were not picture perfect even when I was home all day. I have spent a lot of time pondering what we spend our time on. When I was home full-time, I wish I would have cleaned less and accomplished more. I'm not sure why I allowed myself to spend so much time on temporal things. I wish I would have continued to learn. I wish I had taken a language course, gave myself permission to read more, or spent more time out of my house and in my community with my children.  Not all work is valuable. But also, not all time spent at home is valuable. Just because I didn't work, did not mean that I was spending my time effectively. Sometimes, when you have more time to waste, you waste more time. Having less time helped me to become more discerning and I think that is a good thing for capable women to become. You can do more with your days than you think you can.

2. Showing your children that you can do hard things is a valuable lesson.

For twenty years, I showed my children that they were my most important work. I would never trade those years. Additionally, I would not trade this year of my life. The lessons they learned watching me learn, study, and try hard to do something hard, that was a great life lesson for them also. I don't think that watching me go back to school encouraged all of them to want to work when they get older. They definitely missed having me in the home. So, in some ways, my year of graduate school may have reinforced, in their minds, that when they raise a family they will want a mom who stays at home. I am grateful for the seasons of life. I felt like this was another, very good season.

3. How your house FEELS is more important than how your house LOOKS.

My mother was home with my children during the summer months while I was in school full-time in an intense, condensed program of study. When I came home from school, she would tell me she had spent the whole day cleaning (and mopping). The honest truth is, I could NOT tell. I didn't notice when my floors were dirty and I couldn't tell when my house was clean. I just felt that my kids were happy and that is all that I cared about. Do you know HOW MANY YEARS I spent feeling stress about the cleanliness of my kitchen floor? I was somewhat offended when I spent my day cleaning and my husband didn't even notice. You know what, it is very hard to tell whether your floor is recently mopped or not if you aren't focused on floors. This seems obvious but was quite shocking to me.

4.  It is HARD to transition from work/school to a home mentality.

Right away, I noticed something surprising. My husband, who has spent YEARS balancing between work/school and family, had this amazing ability to just come home and jump right into family life. I trained him to do this after years of telling him, "When you are home, BE HOME." He is AMAZING at leaving work at work. I would drive with him to school and drive home with him. He could just walk right in the door to seven busy, needy kids and just be the dad.  And, I could not. I had a harder time transitioning. My brain was still at school, thinking about upcoming tests, homework assignments, statistics. My kids were a bit overwhelming for me. It took me time to unwind and connect. I could see myself as the husband that wants a Lazy-boy chair and ten minutes to read the news before any children can come to talk to me. This made me laugh. As a stay-at-home mother, I was not sensitive to the idea that my husband had a lot on his mind. I didn't appreciate what a great asset a one-track mind is until I saw his ability to instantly switch lives and I was very impressed.

5. Learning is healing.

Sitting in a classroom, learning, with a class full of young, energetic, beautifully diverse classmates is absolutely inspiring. My soul was filled as I learned. It did not matter what I was learning, the act of learning made me feel young and capable.

6.  Mom-head is not always a good thing.

When I was participating in group work, I recognized that I was somewhat offended when everyone didn't agree with me and do what I said we should do. I thought that my life experience and natural wisdom gave me some pretty good insight that the group should pay attention to, and much of the time they did. But, I wasn't always the leader and I certainly was not the smartest cookie in the jar. It took me some time to understand the emotional conflict this caused me. I had spent the past twenty years in a world where I was the queen and everyone needed to listen to me. I taught, and expected, that everyone in my group would obey me (not instantly, but eventually). It was very healthy for my brain to realize that I might be the queen of my castle, but I am not the queen of the world. Ha!

7. It feels good to get dressed, use office supplies, and learn from people who are learned.

School is just plain fun. I am a social person. Staying at home, in the country, was boring to my brain. I had become lethargic. It felt SO GOOD to get dressed in cute clothes, buy pens and notebooks and folders, and learn from knowledgeable people. Honestly, every class was just fun and fascinating. Being older (the oldest in my cohort) I just didn't stress that much about the fact that I really do not naturally understand economics. I tried my best and it was just fine. I didn't get straight A's, but I have a degree and I learned a lot. Learning is really fun. Graduate school was energizing to my soul.

8. Balancing school and home is hard.

I had nights that I cried because I couldn't do all that I needed to do. My house was sometimes a mess and I hate that. I didn't always balance well. I spent too much time up in my bedroom studying while my kids watched Netflix. I got out of the habit of cooking dinner. My husband took up the cooking and he is not as healthy as I am. Laundry was a bit out of control. My gardens were weedy. My refrigerator didn't get cleaned out. We had fewer people over for dinner. My kids did not have any fancy birthday parties. I did not watch every cross country meet or volleyball game. I didn't get much sleep. My mom-friends stopped calling me. I was in a limbo-life. Not a stay-at-home mom, not a working mom, and not a student. I just had to be confident in who I am. My brain is not as smart at some things as I used to be. Graduate school was hard, but it was the best hard.

9. People are good.

By far, the best part of graduate school is the exposure that I had to new people and new ideas. I was blown away by the goodness of those that I learned to love as we spent our days together. People are so good. I loved being in a setting where we could discuss topics from our unique perspectives and learn from one another. I am a better person because of the students/professors I came to know and love while in graduate school.

10. Kids need their mother.

When I am engaged in mothering, my children are happier, healthier, and more kind to one another. I can be engaged in mothering even when I am in school full-time. Similarly, I can be disengaged in mothering even when I am a stay-at-home mother. The transition hours are so important. Before school, after school, and bedtime. Hold those times sacred. Tell your kids what you are learning. Study with them. Take them to class with you. Remember, you don't need to read everything they tell you to read. You do need to listen and interact in class, take good notes, and find a group of smart people to study with.

Going to graduate school was one of the best decisions I ever made. I cherish the memories I have from this year.  My life is changed because of this experience and graduate school did not just bless my life. It was a blessing to my whole family.

Note: I have never felt that my life is the "right" life or that my choices are for everyone. I don't believe that everyone should have eight kids and I certainly don't believe that everyone who has eight children should return to graduate school when their youngest goes to school.

I do believe that, if you are listening, you will hear God nudge you closer to your unique and beautiful life's mission. I felt him nudge me. (He literally had to shove me.) I followed Him and oh, how my life has been blessed.

I stopped writing a blog while I was going through school. I did this for a few reasons. First, because I didn't have the extra time to spend writing. Second, because I knew that young mothers read my blog and I just didn't want them to feel like I felt that being a mother was not enough. It is. Third, because I honestly didn't KNOW for sure how things would turn out. I was prepared to quit school at any moment if I felt that it was harmful to my family.  Fourth, I didn't know why I was in school. I never imagined that I would actually work after I graduated. I just knew that school was a good thing for my family at this time.

My mother came and lived with us for a lot of the time I was in school. She cared for my kids during the summer months and the first Fall. And, my husband is a professor with a very flexible schedule, so he was able to be a part stay-at-home mom while I was studying.

I graduated from Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in June 2018 with a Masters of Public Administration. I LOVED my time at Maxwell. This was a decision I did not make lightly and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

A Missionary Mom Birth Story: When Sending Your Son on a Mission Hurts

Being a mother means that we are willing to HURT and WORRY and STRETCH and GROW to facilitate life and we do this to add one more bright, glorious soul to this world. Being a mother means that you choose to open your heart to love another human and to hurt for another human. It really is incredible.

 I am a mother who weeps at Hallmark commercials and always wants to adopt another dog from the animal shelter. I am a tiger mother who has taught my children to be independent and I am a helicopter mother that almost always brings them the homework they have forgotten on the counter in our morning rush out the door. I’m a good mom with a big heart who tries and fails and tries again.

And, I really have been SHOCKED how hard it has been to say goodbye to my oldest son who left six months ago on a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This pain is not just mine. It is a universal pain. It is a BEAUTIFUL pain. A pain that comes only because we allow ourselves to love. Mothers feel this pain when their children die. Mothers feel this pain when they can’t get pregnant. Mothers feel this pain when their children hurt or make difficult choices. Mothers feel this pain when their children leave for college, leave for kindergarten, and maybe even the first time they wave and walk down the street without holding on to our finger. Some aches last longer and some aches sink deeper, but moms universally celebrate and mourn.

Loving brings both pleasure and pain. Feeling love can hurt and feel amazing at the same time. Isn’t that awesome to think about?

There is so much guilt that comes with aching. We sometimes feel selfish for hurting. We feel that if we had enough faith or if we really cared about them more, that our joy would somehow erase the pain that we feel. Because we want our children to grow, because we do trust that they are God’s first and ours second, we feel that our pain is somehow doubting and faithless. This hurts.

When preparing for the natural childbirth of my seventh child, I read a book that suggested that our pain during delivery is made greater by fear. That we have two conflicting sets of muscles. One set of muscles that are contracting to push the baby out and another set that is triggered by fear, designed to hold the baby in so we can run and escape. This book suggested that if we can labor without fear, our pain would be less. I thought this was an interesting and helpful perspective. I feel like our heart also has two sets of muscles. A set that contracts when we are saying goodbye and a set that is holding on because we feel guilty. Guilt for all that we haven’t done right, guilt for feeling sad that they are gone, guilt for wanting them to fly and stay at the same time. Don’t you think the guilt muscles make life transitions more painful?

I’ve read that people used to believe that pain during childbirth was a sign of SIN. They said that women who were pure and righteous hurt less during childbirth. As a mother who gave birth to eight children, I can tell you that some childbirths hurt more than others. Some transitions are more difficult because of complications, some are easier because of numbing medication, some women have child-bearing hips and some women have a much more difficult time delivering babies anatomically. Some childbirths are bonding and some are heartbreakingly lonely. Some babies come too early, and some come late. Some babies struggle and some mothers die in childbirth. We appreciate a mother’s role in childbearing these days. We celebrate their efforts and we do not diminish their pain.

Today I want to celebrate the natural and beautiful pain that a mother feels as she delivers her child out into the universe. Cutting the umbilical cord once is difficult. But, cutting that cord again, after you have already learned to know and love and mold your whole life around this tiny human- well that takes a great amount of courage, sacrifice, and love. The contractions of your heart equal in strength to the contractions of your womb. Feel that cleansing, ripping, transition and PUSH through it. Because the birth of a man or a woman is just as miraculous and holy as the birth of your baby so many years ago. Holding your baby to your chest for the first time years ago was a life-altering moment. And mom, letting your baby walk into the world on his own is a similarly transforming and refining transition.

Trust the process.

Know that you are not alone.

Know that the amount of pain you do or do not feel is not tied to your goodness, your faith, or your strength. Feeling pain is not a sign of sin or doubt. Faith and aching CAN exist in the same mother at the same time.

I am a 40-year-old mother of eight who has been laboring for (eighteen years and) six months to let go of my oldest son, to trust him to live a life he was destined to live. I may have had a little post-partum depression that started to hit me at the awards assemble his Junior year of high school. Motherhood should have prepared me for the fact that PAIN and JOY can exist simultaneously. Loving someone makes us vulnerable and that vulnerability is holy.

“When Jesus, therefore, saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, and … Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” John 11:33-36

I LOVE being a mother. I LOVE giving birth. Part of what makes birth-days SO very amazing is that it is the first day that I get to really SEE the sweet, amazing, unique baby that God has so graciously trusted into my care. Getting to know a new baby with an old soul is truly one of the most magnificent experiences of my life.

I am still raw in the letting go part of life. But, I feel its crowning. I know that as I am letting go, God is expanding Jakob to help him truly become a man. Watching your child become a man has got to be one of the most magnificent experiences of life.

So now, excuse me while I cry, and scream, and ache, and trust this dumb, holy process.

I know growing pains are holy.

I feel so honored to ache.

Can we pause for a birth story?

I was a little embarrassing as I was giving birth to Jakob.

I was “envisioning my flower opening” having been well-trained in Lamaze, but my flower was stuck at 4 cm forever and my doctor told me that the baby was in distress and I would need a C-section if they couldn’t get the baby out quickly. He wanted me to get an epidural and I think I cussed at the anesthesiologist who gave me my epidural. Twenty minutes after I was fully medicated and relaxed, I had gone from a 4 to a 10, and two pushes later I was looking at the most perfect, adorable, happy baby that had ever been born.  

When Jakob went to kindergarten I spent the afternoon talking to the principal about the mean lunch ladies who yelled at him for not standing in line, when Jakob told me he didn’t even know what a “single-smile line” was. And, I have been a little (or a lot) too worried about Jakob getting robbed or not having warm shoes or not getting enough food (he tells me he has gained 15 pounds since he left on his mission).

Have I told you that Jakob is on a mission in UTAH? I know. I’m a little much.

But, that big soul of mine does learn to calm down with experience and I can do hard things.

God gave me Jakob first because Jakob can handle my love. He holds my hand and walks confidently forward, not only helping me to let go but showing me that HE IS OKAY.

How I love that boy. Oh, I love him. I miss his joy in my home. I miss his face. I miss his friendship. I miss the comfort I felt having him looking after his younger siblings. I miss the inside jokes we have and how he would get so frustrated that I knew every single time he lied in BS. I miss the energy that surrounded him and I miss his friends who somehow became my friends. I miss knowing what to do, or how to help, or feeling like he needed me. Saying goodbye at the airport was so painful I couldn’t breathe. It is a real pain in my chest that creeps up instantly and floods my eyes with tears and hurts so deeply and so physically. It is also a constant feeling like something, or someone is missing. Family dinners feel empty. The car feels empty. The home feels eerily unbalanced. My soul is screaming to me that someone is MISSING. I’m counting and searching instinctively for my chick that is usually right here under my wing, only he is not. He’s gone and then next year his brother will leave. In the next three years, I will send out four of my eight kids. There is a hole with Jakob’s departure that will never, ever be filled again.  That stage of life where my babies were all within an arm’s length from me, that stage is gone. I can’t hold on to it. And oh, how I LOVED those babies. My family remains but my life is changed. That long, exhausting, joyful time with all my young children at home is gone, and it will be gone forever.  I should have taken more videos.

I mourn for the boy that he was even as I look with admiration on the man that he is becoming.
His letters home hurt me because I get a taste of the kid I love so much and can’t have. And, his letters home make me swell with joy because he is learning and growing and becoming and that really is all that I want for him.

I want him to grow up. I want him to be strong. I want him to face the world without me.
I WANT him to have his bag stolen. I want him to be hungry and learn to budget. I want him to feel lonely and turn to God. I want him to know God like I know Him and so, like Hannah, I will let him walk out of my arms into God’s arms.

I am pushing. He is catching. Praise ye the Lord.

I can’t end without sharing the thought that perhaps somewhere in the Heavenly realms I have a mother who knows my mother-pain oh too well. Maybe she is my doula who is whispering through the sunshine to my soul that everything is going to be okay. I feel her soft touch on my cheek reassuring me that I can exhale and trust this process. Did you ever feel that universal place of sisterhood when you were in labor? That moment where you just let go of your pain and joined the millions, billions, even trillions of women who had gone before you in the process of labor. There is something so incredibly unifying about knowing that we are not alone and just trusting our body to do what it was designed to do. It is an honor to be a mother. As my children become 18, 20, 60, 80, 400 years old, my motherhood just continues to expand and grow. Just as tearing a muscle makes it stronger, so the stretching and aching and expanding of my mother heart just adds to my strength and power as a mother.

Birth is a sacred sacrament. So is this time of transition from home and childhood. Thanks for sharing this process with me. 

A Mormon Mom of 8 Turns 41, Goes to Grad School Full-Time, and Finds JOY in Life

Today, as I sit anticipating General Conference, my home is filled with the mess and beauty of Easter morning and songs of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir fill my home. The Professor just cracked a raw egg (because we didn't boil enough eggs on Friday and so I let the kids dye non-boiled eggs). Haha.

I used to do Easter big. We celebrated the life of Christ all week long with inspiring devotionals. I loved to host Christian Passover and have a Jesus Meal on Easter Sunday. We always did Easter Bunny on Saturday and only Christ's Resurrection on Sunday. I admire that young, energetic mother I was. I miss her. I ache to be what she was. And, I am not really that anymore. I'm older, I'm not willing to stay up late doing small, creative things that I used to care so much about.

We had intended that the Easter Bunny would come on Saturday. But, we took Eve, Anna, and Drew to the mall for a birthday dinner and shopping trip on Friday night. We got home late to a house that was a mess (Ellie was babysitting- she is fun, but not especially tidy). And, the Easter Bunny was TIRED. Honestly, Saturday was exhausting. We cleaned the basement/toyroom/bedroom to our four youngest kids and it was tough. While we tried to watch conference, Eve and Ben were playing chase and gymnastics and we spent a few hours trying to get them to play Legos in the basement so we could concentrate. By the end of the day, the Easter Bunny was tired again.

Lily said, "I bet the Easter Bunny won't even come this year just like the Leprechauns never came."
[insert breaking-mom-heart and laughing-mom-heart all at once]
 Just FYI- The Leprechaun was in NewYork attending the United Nations Summit on the Status of Women on St. Patrick's Day and the Easter Bunny is just tired.

My teenage girls (who are incredibly helpful when I need them to be even after an afternoon of being incredibly frustrating) straightened up the whole house sprinkling Easter cheer and flowers. Anna made pancakes for dinner and I gave the young kids baths/showers. I'm not sure when the last time they showered was. (Wednesday?)

I often say that I love teenagers. And, I do!! I love them so much. I think it is because they are equally as wonderful as they are frustrating. Yes- my girls are sassy (because I am sassy). But, they are really WONDERFUL kids and I feel SO grateful to be their mother. The best part of being a mother of a large family is that in these later years (when I am tired) my older kids pick up the slack and the traditions that I established when they were younger seem to propel our family forward.

This morning, my little kids gathered on our bed and I turned on Easter videos from LDS.org. They loved them and learned from them that He is Risen!! I felt the Spirit. It looked different (not as picturesque) as years past but, it was still a morning where God filled my home.

I will graduate with my MPA in June and I am currently applying for jobs. Yes, I hope to work full-time next year. I NEVER imagined I would do this. I thought I would be a stay-at-home mother my whole life. But, I feel peace and inspiration as I head into this new stage of life. This past year, as I have been in graduate school full-time, my family is doing well. Things are not always perfect but they are so good. My family is strong. My kids are happy. I feel the Spirit guiding and directing my life now and I'm amazed at the opportunities that I have been given.

I want to end with two funny stories about my little ones (I'll add pictures later).

Ben has been studying nursery rhymes all week in full-time pre-K. He went to school last Friday wearing his church pants (trousers) and one of Eve's knee-socks. He had a sign around his neck that said he was Diddle Diddle Dumpling My Son John who went to bed with his trousers on. He thought it was SOO funny. I also sent him with a stuffed pig and the back of his sign said he was Tom, Tom the Piper's son who stole the pig and away did run.  Ben skipped all the way into school!

Yesterday we were getting ready to go deliver Easter treats to a few neighbors. (I made the kids sing "If the Savior Stood Beside Me" as we dropped off the treats-- Easter Caroling.)  Drew was slow getting his shoes on and Ben said, "Drew be nimble, Drew be quick."  Then, he laughed and said, "Drew be nimble, Drew be FAT, Drew jumped over the big, fat cat."  Ben thought this was hilarious. He just kept giggling and repeating his new rhyme the whole time we were traveling. I love him and his cute sense of humor.

I took Eve to Claires and let her pick out her own birthday gifts. They were having a sale, buy three get three free. Eve chose a ballet choker, a sea turtle necklace, sea turtle clip-on earrings, a cell phone (with make-up in it), and fake glasses.  Anna chose to get her nails done for her birthday. Eve and I joined her at the nail salon after Claire's. Eve put on her new glasses and skipped around the store. She felt SO cute. Everyone was smiling as she said, "Mom!! Don't you think that I look like such a READER?!"  "I definitely look like a reader in these glasses, don't I Mom?" She is adorable. All day yesterday, she let Lily wear her new glasses and necklaces, and make-up. Eve is adorable. She is a gift to our family.

Eve lost one of her top teeth and her adult tooth has quickly filled the cute gap in her mouth. That adult tooth just aches my heart. She is growing up. My baby girl, is just growing up. How I love her and how I will miss the adorable baby girl that she was.

Being a mother is just the best thing I have ever done. I love my family so much it physically hurts me to watch them growing older and moving on. At the same time, I feel God preparing me to continue my own personal progression and to feel at peace as my parenting changes from being a stay-at-home mother to being a mom that works outside of the home.

It feels like the transition that I had when I went from being a mom of one to being a mom of two. This was a difficult transition as I had to learn to be a manager instead of a constant companion. Instead of playing with Jakob all-day long, I had to set up centers for Jakob and Drew to play together while I cooked dinner or straightened up or showered. The transition was difficult at times, but it was growth. I kept feeling that what I was giving Jakob (a brother) was more than what I was taking from him (my constant attention). I feel that now.

We are learning to be more organized and structured. My kids have watched me bravely try new things and increase in learning. They have watched my husband take over the cooking/planning of meals. They have stepped up and helped with little kids after school. They have started doing their own laundry. Watching my family adapt to this new stage of life has been really beautiful.

Right now, Ellie is making chicken salad for lunch and Leah is making egg-salad sandwiches. They are confident in helping out because I am not doing it all. My school has been an education for all of us. It has been a gift for all of us.

Life is beautiful.
He is Risen.
Today, I feel SO Grateful to be alive and SO privileged to be alive to turn 41!

November 19, 2017

Lily Turns 9. A Simple Lego Party.

Birthdays are simple at my house. We don't spend a lot of money on extravagant gifts. My kids are happy with a small stuffed animal and a wall full of why we love them. 

Lily felt like it had been too long since she had a friend party. So, her sisters and I put our heads together and helped her plan a little party. 
Simple and sweet as a 9-year-old birthday party should be.

Lily has the sweetest friends.
She is a joy. 

Drew's Treasures

Drew saves things.
He will leave on his mission next summer and I will miss finding his treasures around my house. 

Drew especially likes to hide things on my bookshelves.
He makes cool things, like paper airplanes, and he brings home free books. I find old books hiding on my shelves and in random cupboards. He makes me smile. 

Sometimes I want to go through and throw away all his junk. Sometimes I do. He kept an old TV in his closet for years because he wanted to take it apart and fix it.

Today, my book shelves aren't styled like a magazine, but they are full of treasure. I KNOW I will miss his treasures when he leaves home next year.  

I love this kid.

Building With Grapop

This is the cutest story that Eve wrote about building a barn with her "Grapop".
Love these memories.

My Dad Builds Us A Small Barn In Our Pasture

We have a few cows that my kids raise and sell for beef.  

My dad called a couple weeks ago and offered to come and help us build a small barn for them out in our pasture. We are still waiting for it to warm up so we can paint it to match our house and big barn.

It has been so fun watching him work with my husband and my kids. Drew stayed home from school and helped with walls and shingles.
Thanks Daddy! 
It is perfect.

Another Sampler.

A friend gave me a cross-stitch pattern for a sampler that I love. I think it was called Mystery Marquis.  

Here is the sampler that someone stitched on dark fabric...
When I went online I found a blog where another woman took the pattern and personalized it to tell the story of her life. 

I love this SO much. 

I think I'm going to start one over Christmas break.

I love this color palette.
Aren't those bright colors fun? 
I also love these light colors.

Oh, don't you love dreaming up new projects? 

Anna Acts

Anna played a prim and proper wife who dies in the high-school play Blythe Spirits. 

She had SO MANY lines and was darling to watch.

Anna is naturally lady-like. She's lovely and strong.
Anna just got her patriarchal blessing last week. It was beautiful to hear the Lord blessing her. 

She is speaking next week at our Stake Conference, can't wait to hear her speak.

Honestly, SO fun to be a mom of teens. 
Love her. 

Ellie Crochets.

Ellie is always making things, beautiful things. 

I love that about her. I love her. 

This morning, I was running late for church and when I came downstairs Ellie had gotten all the little girls dressed and was curling Eve's hair.

Ellie is sweet and spunky, simple and lovely.
My life is better because she is mine. 

Just Eve.

She has freckles on her nose and is my only baby who had dark hair that didn't turn light.

At parent-teacher conference her teacher said that Eve has a glow about her. She is spunky and passionate. She often slips into her own thoughts and wanders in her own paths. 

She hugs big and puts her hands on my cheeks to tell me often how much she loves me.

Eve is one of my extra-credit kids. Just joy.
Life is good.
I love being her mom.

November 03, 2017

There Is Unity is Diversity

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The truth is that I am weird, I’m not someone who has ever had one best friend or one favorite ice cream flavor. I love people, I have 20 best friends, and I like ice cream. My favorite colors are blue skies, pink cheeks, brown and white spotted cows, gray cats, hazel eyes, purple grapes, deep red cranberries, fluffy yellow baby chicks. You get the picture. My favorite thing about this world is the diversity within it. Buy me a bouquet of wildflowers not one dozen pink roses.

Sometimes I wonder if I am an odd phenomenon. We raise chickens. And, chickens are interesting. They naturally flock together with chickens who look like them. If we buy a bunch of baby chicks a mix of 4 different breeds and raise them together from day one in the same box with heated lamps, as they grow, they will naturally segregate. The brown chicks will sleep in one corner, spotted chicks will sleep in the middle, and the yellow chicks will sleep in another. A chick who looks or acts differently from every other group will be pecked to death by the other chickens. It is so sad. Are humans like this?

I once sat on a design team for an interfaith dialogue committee. One man, a former Interfaith founder, and director said, “Nobody thinks they are racist. But, when was the last time you had someone that was a different race or religion from you over to your house for dinner.” This quote shook me a bit. Since then, I have made it a point to fill my home with colorful, unique, diverse people. Diversity and I are not just talking about race, gender or sexual preference is my favorite thing. Diversity is so much more than the skin we are in. We are all different. I think we spend too much time focusing on how we are all the same and not enough time celebrating the fact that we are NOT the same!  Differences make us beautiful!

Families are the first places where we learn to love people who are different from us.

I may be a bit biased, but believe me when I tell you that my first child was perfect. He was adorable. He was good. He potty trained before he was one. He said please and thank you and spoke in complete sentences before he was one. He was kind and obedient. If I told him not to go in the street, he wouldn’t even step one foot on the driveway because it was the same color as the street. Honestly, once my mother in law was babysitting him for me, and when I came home, she was crying because she thought Jakob was so perfect he would die young. I love that kid. From the day he was born, he has always tried so hard to do what was right.

And then, I had another little boy, only sixteen months later. My little Drew Bear as we called him, was very different from his older brother. If I told Drew not to go in the street, he would run, laughing across the street with a cute, maniacal giggle. Drew had a hard time getting along with other kids. He would push them over at the mall playgrounds and scratch their faces in the 3-year-old Sunday School class. Drew ate dirt. He made big messes. And, he potty trained early, but he would do things like walk into the bathroom and pee on the bathmat. Once his dad saw him do that and asked, “Drew, what are you doing,” To which Drew replied, “Oh Dad, sometimes I do that.” Drew was tough.

You might think that as a mother it would be easier to love my perfect Jakob than it was to love my independent Drew. Tis not so. They were both quite easy to love, and I LOVED that they were so different. I never let anyone label Jakob, the good kid and Drew the bad kid. Drew was Drew. Powerful, strong, and independent. Jakob was Jakob, disciplined, orderly, and obedient. Both boys have grown up to be inspiring, amazing teenagers. Jakob graduated third in his class. He played the French Horn, started on the Varsity Soccer team, ran track, is an Eagle Scout, was voted “most likely to succeed” and had a room that was always clean. 

Drew was voted “most opinionated” and is the senior class president. He started his own business selling beef, he wakes up at 4:30 am every day to go milk cows at a local dairy. Drew is strong and passionate. He is by far my easiest, kindest, most hardworking teenager. I have eight children, and every one of them is beautifully unique and equally endearing. My favorite part about being a mom is by far, getting to know eight very different, equally beautiful souls. We all have different strengths, but we all have strengths. Our goal in life should not be to create an ideal person. Our goal should be to investigate each person we meet to find their hidden talents. It is our differences that make us great.

Religious differences teach us to love a universal God.

I am a very devout Mormon girl. I met my husband (who is currently a Mormon Bishop) at BYU where I graduated with a degree in Human Development, taught Mormon seminary classes, and was a stay-at-home mom for twenty years to eight children. I didn’t find my fullest religious identity until I joined Interfaith Works of Central New York, right here on James Street in Syracuse? I didn’t fully appreciate prayer until I knelt next to my Islamic friends and prayed during Ramadan. I didn’t fully know what it meant to love my neighbors until I heard the stories of the Unity preachers. I saw Heaven at a world harmony day when my family sang “families can be together forever” to a room full of beautifully diverse Interfaith friends. I facilitated an Interfaith Dialogue in the basement of a little church in the Northside of Syracuse, and I confronted my fears and strengthened my love for good people like my friend Nebraski Carter, preacher at the Church of God in Christ.  I feel God as I study his word. I see God as I love his children.

Different cultures add richness and beauty to our lives. 

The first time they asked me to pick a refugee family up from the airport, I was really scared. Because I have eight children, I drive a ridiculously large, white, 15 passenger van that was needed to transport a family arriving at the Syracuse Airport as Muslim refugees from Afghanistan. We waited anxiously for their plane to arrive and then watched in anticipation as a large, refugee family came through the rotating doors into the lobby where we were standing with an interpreter. The children were excited and energetic. The parents were concerned and wary. All that they owned was in their bags or in a few, heavy, plastic shopping bags that they clutched close to their bodies.

While the interpreter filled his car with these luggage bags, I smiled and acted out charades encouraging them to follow me, to get in my big, white van, and to buckle their seatbelts. This particular family had a few, younger children that sat in my own children’s car seats and boosters. They looked up at me with big eyes and smiles as I talked away in English that they did not understand, and clicked them in, just like I have done hundreds of times to my children. At that moment, these children were my children. My heart opened up and sucked them right in. I have worked with many, many refugee children since that first day. My fear is gone, and my heart overflows with love for these people. I don’t love them because they are like me. I love them because they are different from me and still so, so good. Goodness transcends ethnicity.  

Differences can be just as unifying as similarities.

Yes, diversity is unifying. Our world is better because every one of us has something different to add. Think how limited we would be if we were all the same. When I was little, I always order vanilla ice cream with wet walnuts at Baskin Robbins, just like my mom. Today I know that my favorite ice cream is a new flavor that I’ve never tried before. Diversity is my favorite. Audre Lord said it best when he said, 

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” 

Celebrate the differences in your families, in your communities, and in the world. 
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