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. 

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. 

November 02, 2017

Going to School With the Professor

The best part about going back to graduate school at age 40, is spending ALL DAY with my favorite professor. 
He carries my messenger bag even when his arms are pretty full. 

Love this old cat.

October 31, 2017

Moss Halloween 2017

I love my gang.

Today, I started crying as I took a picture of Drew during the costume parade at the elementary school. 
The custom here in Tully is that the Seniors dress-up and march in the elementary school costume parade. Drew and his friends were lucky charms. 
On the way out, I held up the parade for 20 seconds while I snapped a few pictures. When Todd mentioned that I was holding up the line, I told him this was the last Halloween EVER that I was ever going to take his picture at. 

Oh man, that just stabbed my heart. 

Today was hectic and loaded with mom-guilt for me. For 20 years I have really celebrated these dumb holidays and this year it was a bit thrown together. No themed Halloween lunch (like I've done in years past). No beef stew with mashed potato ghost and pea eyes. 

Leah wanted to be a wizard from Hogwarts. She ended up being pretty happy with her black ninja/the if costume even if she told me it "wasn't a real costume." 

I had cute accessories for all my little bandits. But, the masks were annoying, the hats were SO ITCHY, the tool belt was too big, and the dollar signs were peeling off the money bags. Even Todd complained about wearing a black hat as we walked around the neighborhood. 

Honestly, this was a really nice Halloween. We only went trick or treating to one nearby neighborhood, our two closest neighbors, and their piano teacher.

The kids really were SO exited tonight. And, that's why we do what we do,
I am tired. Good night.

Sassy Teen? Pray!

(I wrote this last summer but debated whether or not I should post it. Today, I just am. It's real. My kids are sassy and I love them still. A lot. I'm sassy and imperfect as I deal with them. And, God loves me still. This is life.) 

Here is my trick for dealing with teenagers (or toddlers) who are brats sometimes.

We currently have four teenagers and five daughters. They are all really great kids, but as a sassy mother I have created kids who are also sassy at times. 

Each child has their own individual strengths and weaknesses, but any child will, at times, talk back or respond harshly. In my experience, the more sensitive a child is, the more defensive they become when they sense displeasure. The kids who have the highest, happiest highs also have the lowest, crankiest lows. I LOVE these sensitive kids because I am one.

I don't always handle bratty kids well. There have been (too many) times when I have slapped the mouth of a rude child who was yelling at me. It is almost instinctive. I don't believe acting like a tantruming child yourself is the best way to handle a child who is hurting. But, I am as quick to apologize afterwards as they are and I think that, at least I hope, that my parenting failures mix in with my parenting successes.

A rude retort is not the best response to a rude child. Learned that the hard way too.

So, what works?


For my younger kids, a hug works better than a lecture.

Usually sassy little kids are tired or hungry.

Sassy teens usually have something else they are worried about. I would guess it relates to their self worth, feeling overwhelmed with life, or friend troubles.

When words don't work well and your teenager needs a hug but is too proud to accept one, PRAY for them with your whole soul (in your mind), and ask them questions instead of giving them answers.  

I used hypnobabies to help me through my natural childbirth with Eve. I loved that they told me what to think when my natural reaction was to panic.

Prayer is the way that you can listen to a teen say things that are harsh and unkind without saying things harsh and unkind back. Prayer gives you power AND calls down the power of heaven to bless, comfort, and teach your child. 

It is easy to see the loud, sassy teenager. It takes help and divine perspective to see the eternal and inherently good being  that is learning to navigate physical and emotional ups and downs of mortal life. 

Prayer works. 
Being a mom is the hardest, best thing I have ever done. 
Good thing I have the first few kids as guinea pigs so that I can have things all figured out by the time we get to our second shift of teenagers. 

October 30, 2017

It's like riding a bike

On Monday, my classes start at 1 p.m. and end at 8 p.m. It's a long day. When I got home, Ellie said she had picked out costumes for her 4 younger siblings. 

She's great.

I'm trying to be more disciplined with this blog journal, kneeling daily prayer, personal and family scriptures. Two for two! 

I'm skipping my class tomorrow so I can watch the Halloween parade at my kids' school.

Here is a small thought from Jakob's letter this week:

I hope you all have a great week this week. Stay safe. Ration your candy a little bit, and look for ways God is blessing you. If you happen to feel like He isn’t there, or that He doesn’t really care, I encourage you to pray and ask Him if He is there. I promise each one of you, that if you will ask him he will answer. There have been times when I felt like he wasn’t there. That no matter how much I prayed, or how much I believed he would answer my prayers, he just wasn’t. I had a friend show me recently a scripture that I wish that I would have found then. It is in 1 Nephi 21:15-16. It says,

15 For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.

16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

I know that no matter how much you feel like God wouldn’t want you. Like you're pocket lint and all you're good for is to be thrown away. I know that God is next to you. He is waiting, with his hand outstretched, saying, “Please take my hand. Allow me to help you. Accept the gift that I am trying to give to you”. If you will ask God with an honest intent to know, He will answer you. I promise you this.

One of my best friends from married student housing at BYU, ran into Jakob at Winco today. She knew him when he was one AND she has a son named Todd. I love that!! He's in good hands. Thanks Utah! 

Life is good my friends. 

October 29, 2017

Journaling The Home Stretch

I got pretty sick last week. There was an afternoon I thought I had the mumps (it is going around SU). I don't have mumps and I'm finally feeling better! Yay!!
I made these posters for our interfaith Christmas Festival of Nativities. It was really hard for me to do, I'm using programs I've never used before. But, I'm learning and remembering skills I used to have. It feels good and stretching.
Eve begged to come to the band concert with Todd and me. She hugged Drew the moment she saw him. What would it have been like at age six to have a brother who is a Senior? 
They love him. 
We all love him. 
Oh, how we will miss him.
I LOVE school because I could NEVER give my children all that they get by the good people they are continually surrounded by.
Bad picture, lovely girls.
Eve just didn't make it all the way through the concert. (She is an angel.)
Neither did Todd.
Statistics is HARD. It is also surprisingly addicting and fun. This problem is wrong.  I divided by a standard deviation of 10 but the SD was something like 4.063 or something. I can't remember but I fixed it. My life is blessed because I have good friends that FaceTime me and help me with my homework. 
CONFESSION: My mom, my husband, and my little kids cleaned my barn ALL DAY Saturday and I did homework ALL DAY. I barely left my bedroom. I did not allow myself to feel guilty about this, I just focused, and it felt SO good to feel prepared for this next week. 
Anna and Ellie both had parties they wanted to go to on Saturday night. I told them they could not go unless they were completely caught up on their seminary lessons. Ellie was 30 lessons behind (or something like that.) They are doing online seminary. Worked well for my boys who woke up at 5 a.m. every day. Doesn't work so well for my girls who wake up at 7a.m. to leave by 7:30 a.m.

Yes, I let Ellie stay home sick on Friday to catch-up. I think I did the right thing. She feels so much happier with seminary completed and with a clean room. They both had fun at their parties Saturday night.

Things I take from my kids during church sacrament meeting...
Love those letters.
Leah sneaks and folds her program into origami planes, cootie catchers, and whatever else she thinks of. I don't really mind, but she IS eleven years old. I always ask her to stop if I see her, I think this helps her keep her folding small and unnoticeable. 

Guests were sitting right in front of us in our small church meeting today.

When I tried to take the chicken Leah was flinging around, she didn't want to give it to me. I insisted. I whispered, "Give it to me now, please. That's one. Two. Three." She was still arguing. I laughed at myself saying "Three. I said three. I'm serious now." 

She said "fine!" Too loud. And gave it to me. Really, I didn't think these little things were too distracting. But, we spend enough time arguing about dumb small toys and I never have to worry about big distractions. I guess my church philosophy is that if I draw my line ahead of what I really do think is too loud for church, they never get there. 

My kids are pretty good during church. We have no toys or books, but I do give them a piece of gum or a mint halfway through. Sometimes I give Eve or Ben a pen and a program. The teenagers are harder than toddlers because they tease the toddlers and make them scream. 

We take a whole row at church. I ALWAYS wanted that.

I love sitting with my kids and watching Todd on the stand.

Today I taught all the 12-18 youth second hour and then taught 12+ third hour (a Stake PA Just Serve presentation).
A mom from Midvale texted me this picture of Jakob and his companion at church today. Her daughter, Sister Johnson (pictured on the plaque), is serving here in the Utica, NY mission. I can't wait to see her and text a picture back to her mom! 
Isn't he adorable?
Man, I miss his face.
I miss his JOY. He brings joy. 
Oh, I love that kid. 
Can you believe TWO moms from Midvale texted me pictures this week?
He doesn't feel that far away when I see pictures. Look at those good, good young men. God bless them. 

Be kind to the missionaries you see.
Listen to the message they have to share.
I thought this was a funny costume for Todd and I to wear at a couples party. 😂


But, I'm NOT kidding that Halloween is on Tuesday and I still do not have costumes for my kids. I'm thinking 
Not too hard.
I have already decided that all black will work if I can't find black and white stripes at Walmart tomorrow. 

I've got this.

Oh friends. We went to a fireside tonight about journaling and I am committed to journaling again. I do write a private journal at times. But I think I miss this space, to think and record.

I almost sent Ben to bed early tonight because he was running laps in my living room, I sent him to count to ten on the bench, and he did not listen. I dressed him in is green and white pjs and he stood with his hands on his hips pleading not to go to bed. "Please Mom," he said in his calm, sweetest voice, "I will count for you. How many? One? Two? Three? I will do that. No problem mom." I said twenty. He said. "Okay, that's fine mom," and he went down to the bench. Ellie was beside me cracking up. 

I love that my kids love little kids.

My mom has been staying with us. I can't even tell you how nice it is to have her folding my laundry, caring for my kids when I'm gone, cooking dinner, and working in my yard. She amazes me. She does so much. There is nobody in the world that tries harder.

It has been such a blessing to have her here. And, it has been hard having her here too. I'm snotty sometimes. I'm also protective and defensive. Her ways are often different than mine. 

Honestly, I want to figure out how to live with my mom. I want to learn how to listen without feeling defensive and how to speak without being offensive. 

It is good to learn these lessons. 
Grad school, grandma, Halloween, missions-- I guess the theme of my life right now is that life is good, even as it stretches us.

I'm not quite sure why I am someone who is always stretching. I do know that there is joy in the journey.

Thanks for listening to my deep thoughts on a Sunday evening. 

Good night. 

September 04, 2017

Civil Societies Change the World for the Better

Have you ever heard the term civil society?
Are you a member of an organization that was started by citizens to help make the world a better place?
How much of your time is spent volunteering?
How much money do you devote to philanthropic causes?

These are questions we should all as ourselves as we consider the applied role that citizenship and religion should play in our lives.

Active community service is not only central to my belief as a Christian generally and a member of the Mormon Church specifically, but participation in society is incumbent upon us as citizens of a democracy.

“Western societies are not held together primarily by the overall enforcement of laws, which would be impractical, but most importantly by citizens who voluntarily obey the unenforceable because of their internal norms of correct behavior. For many, it is religious belief in right and wrong and anticipated accountability to a Higher Power that produces such voluntary self-regulation.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Read the transcript of his talk The Complementary Functions of Religion and Government in a Global Setting here.

One of my favorite things about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the humanitarian aide work that we are involved in. LDS Charities is an example of a faith-based organization (FBO) that is an active part of our Civil Society.

There are many different definitions of civil society, in general this refers to a third-sector of society, separate from both government and business. Civil society usually refers to nonprofit organizations formally and any charitable group informally that is focused on philanthropy, volunteerism, and contributing to the overall good society in the world.

This year, I am in graduate school full-time completing a one-year Masters in Public Administration program with a certificate of advanced studies in Civil Society Organizations from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Prior to returning to school, I was a civil society junkie without ever knowing the term civil society. I have been actively involved as a member, teacher, leader and Public Affairs representative for the Mormon Church. I have been a National Face of Accreta and president of the New York chapter of Hope for Accreta,  a Red Cross Spokesperson, MOPS member, a PTA and PTO member in 4 different states, a PTA board member, President, and district board member. I helped to design the Finding Common Ground 6 week interfaith dialogue course with the El-Hindi Center for Dialogue at Interfaith Works of CNY. I was a sponsor and planner for Dinner Dialogues, World Harmony Day, the Duck Race to End Racism, Refugee Ambassador Program, and The Spirit of America. I'm currently serving as the National Communications Chair on the board for American Mothers, Inc. Additionally, I have been part of many informal, socially involved groups including my Tully Mother Cluckers book group, various quilting clubs, mom preschool and play groups, and as a member of many online Facebook or blog groups. I love civil society.

For twenty years, I was a full-time, stay at home mother and homemaker who rarely stayed at home. One of my favorite parts of not having a 'career' was the fact that I could choose how I spent my time and efforts. Early on, I realized that my family and community were equally blessed as I served outside my home. My eight children have grown up sitting quietly beside me as I attended community meetings, helping me to set-up and clean-up from community events, interacting with friends in our communities who were physically, ethnically, and religiously diverse. My children have developed a natural ease and confidence, they are quick to help, they aren't afraid to plan large events, suggest large projects, or to lead large or small groups of people. Because we were always involved in our communities, my home had to function smoothly and orderly. Civil society has blessed my family.

Civil society or charitable efforts have brought about great changes in societies around the world. As we work together to find peace, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, respond to disaster, rescue, teach, heal, and love each other, our world is becoming a better place. Goodness begins with citizens.

I believe in civil society.
Image result for because i have been given much

Giving USA 2017 Infographic

August 26, 2017

Loving Your Neighbors

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He was a French teacher and she has the happiest laugh and the sweetest daughters.  They are from Mozambique and spent 10 years in a refugee camp before coming to America. I learned in a storytelling class that I participated in, that we need to be very careful telling other people's stories.  I honestly can't tell you their story, but I can tell you mine.

I was scared of refugees when I was first asked to pick up a large Muslim family who was arriving from the Middle East. I got the call from my friend, Daryl, who works with Interfaith Works in CNY who works along with Catholic Charities to settle refugees in Syracuse. She called because it was a large family and they needed my 15 passenger van to get them from the airport to their new home.  She mentioned that they usually provided a meal but due to the late notice, they didn't have a meal planned. I was sitting in library story time and withing 5 minutes all of my fellow story time moms had agreed to make part of a meal that I could bring with me later that night.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that being there, at that airport that night, was a transformative moment for me. I was born-again, again. I saw a family walk nervously through the halls of the Syracuse International Airport and stop, unsure how to proceed through the revolving doors that separated us.  Their clothing surprised me because it was very American.  The parents wore colorful, native outfits, but the children were dressed in shirts with NFL team logos or funny American "drink milk" slogans. They wore shoes awkwardly, flip flops really, and were obviously cold but had no jackets. All of their belongings were packed in a few zippered, plastic bags, similar to the recyclable bags you can buy to bring your groceries home in.

It is hard to describe the people, because they had a depth in their eyes that is hard to describe. I saw pain, hope, exhaustion, excitement, fear, love, worry, and gratitude. My soul immediately loved them and I yearned to ease their concern and welcome them to their new land. I have NEVER felt more proud to be an American then I did in that moment.  In that moment, I felt like the statue of liberty, representing America to these people.

Emma Lazarus' poem was etched into my soul with a strength and love that will ever remain.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 
With conquering limbs astride from land to land; 
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand 
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand 
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command 
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she 
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 
Give ME your tired, your poor, your HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE, THE WRETCHED REFUSE OF YOUR TEEMING SHORE. SEND THESE, THE HOMELESS, TEMPEST-TOST TO ME". (I love this inspired poem.  I love the image of a brass warrior, a Greek giant who guards against intruders who has been by a welcoming MOTHER holding a torch in her hand to guide weary travelers safely to our doors. Yes! Let us welcome. Let us hold our torches high! Not just to welcome kings, but to welcome the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to BREATHE free.  We breathe free my friends. Can we not share this great gift? Isn't there always room for one more at our table?)

I remember the sign-language, charade style introductions.  My husband helping with bags and logistics and me, trying to catch the mother's eye to smile deep into her soul.  Instantly I was drawn to the children. The teenagers had eyes that held secrets no teenager should have to carry, but the young children still twinkled with mischief and joy. As I buckled these sweet children into my van, into my own children's car seats and boosters, I literally felt my heart attach to theirs. I knew then, as I know now, that these families need our help. They are not 'foreigners' or even terrorists.  They are my brothers, my sisters, my sons, my daughters, and not only did my conscience demand that I help them, I knew that my religion meant NOTHING if I did not love and serve His children who were seeking refuge.

And, since that day, I have shared my conversion story with many people.  I have helped to initiate some beautiful efforts to help refugees in our area.  But, there is so much more I wish I could do.

I get overwhelmed when I think of all the world problems.  I frankly get overwhelmed when I try to write a To Do List of all that I have to do for my own family each day.  But, I have learned an eternal and essential lesson.  Our families are BLESSED as we  SERVE with them. Perhaps I should say SERVING others is actually BLESSING your family.

Jesus taught the parable of the loaves and the fishes.  Share all that you have and He will multiply it. He makes 5 loaves and 3 fishes enough to feed 5000.  I believe in miracles because I have SEEN miracles. I have watched me teenagers become holy, kind, loving young adults BECAUSE they serve others.

I don't feel sorry for refugees. God holds them in his hand and His light shines in their eyes.
The reason I believe in a loving God even when I see tragedy around me is two fold.

First, I believe trials refine and purify our souls. I believe suffering is temporary and holy.  One of our main purposes in coming to Earth (indeed even one of our Savior's main purposes in coming to Earth) is to descend below all things. As we ache, we are able to feel comforted. As we yearn, we recognize answers. As we want, we feel true gratitude. As we are filled with sorrow, we have room for a fullness of joy.  Suffering highlights all that is real and true in life.

Second, I believe in a God of Compensatory blessings. He compensates when times are hard by sending angels round about us. He blesses us with gifts and understanding, compassion, empathy, eternal perspective, community, and peace. In the midst of great suffering, He sends true healing.

Perhaps this is why I love refugees so much. I feel within them a refined soul. I feel their nearness to God. I feel their humility and their pure gratitude.  Having watched naturalization ceremonies where refugees have become American citizens, and having sat with them as these new Americans talk about what they love about our country, I have felt renewed in my love for democracy, and citizenship in this land that strives for freedom and justice for all.

I am not bragging about the service that I have done. In all honesty, I have done VERY little. My heart is bigger than my capacity to serve at times.

I'm sharing with you my deep, heartfelt conviction that we can and should love our neighbors more.
We should start with a desire and try to do something, even if it is a small thing.

We should invite people into our homes who are different religions, different colors, different nationalities. We should love their children and share the gifts God has blessed us with. As we do this, our families will be blessed.  Not just blessed by God because they are doing some noble service.  Blessed by the people we THINK we are serving because really, it is an honor to serve people who are refined.

Matthew 25
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a "Mormon," I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.

—Joseph Smith, 1843
Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Do you want to help refugees in your area? Click here to read 40 Ways To Help Refugees in Your Community.

40 Ways to Help Refugees in Your Community.


The Labor of Graduation: A Second Birthing Story

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I felt my first graduation Braxton Hicks contraction sitting in a band concert at the end of my oldest child’s Junior year.  My neighbor was watching her only two children, twins, perform for the very last time before they headed off for college and I felt a pain I remember only distantly from child birth.  This odd pain that started in my stomach and increased in pressure through my very core until it nearly took my breath away.  My eyes filled with tears and I looked around at the other mothers in the room wondering how on earth women from all generations of time just seemed to naturally transition into the empty nest stage of life with grace when I was beginning to panic and scream for an epidural one year before my child was even out of my house.
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Those Braxton Hicks lasted all through my son’s Senior year. They would hit me hard in moments that I least expected them. I would be cleaning up my kitchen after sending my kids off to school in the morning and notice three varsity soccer jackets or hoodies draped over the chairs in my kitchen. I would be upset and think, “For 18 years I have been telling this kid to hang his coats in the closet or take them to his bedroom.  Will he EVER learn?” And then, my eyes would cloud over with tears and that pang would start in my stomach and tighten up to my heart and I would know, this time next year, his coats will not be draped over my kitchen chairs.  And, oh how I would miss them.
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It’s as if that whole year, every event was foreshadowed with the knowledge that “this is the last” first day of school, the last football game, the last Halloween, the last Christmas morning, birthday at home, family trip, Easter basket, Highschool Soccer game, track meet, band concert, award ceremony, prom. The last time I would pack a lunch for him or bring cinnamon rolls up to the school for a bake sale. Even as I enjoyed every moment, there was this pain that I did not expect and could not escape.
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Jakob was my first of eight pregnancies. I had great plans for a natural childbirth. I remember when my first real contractions pulsed through my body, taking my breath away and opening my eyes to the reality of the event I had spent 22 years and 9 months anticipating. I remember telling my husband that “this is really stupid.” I couldn’t imagine that every single woman throughout history had experienced this and survived. My nurse said, “Why do you think there are bars on the window honey?” She really told me that.  What a horrible thing to tell a first-time mom in labor. I took Lamaze classes and I spent eight hours breathing deeply and envisioning my flower opening before my doctor announced that this baby was ready to come but I wasn’t dilating.  He said we either needed a c-section or I needed to try an epidural.  30 minutes after an epidural helped me to relax, I had dilated from a 4 to a 10, and I was looking into the eyes of the most beautiful baby boy I had ever seen.  I was tired and scared, but this little baby in my arms stared into my eyes with the confidence and wisdom of the ages.  I knew we would be okay together. 
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Pregnancy is 9 months long, because a mother really needs to feel done before she is ready to push that baby out.  I think it takes 9 months to prepare for your first birth and 18 years to prepare for your second. 18 years of watching your child learn and grow and prepare for life outside of your home. 18 years before your home, like your womb, begins to feel restrictive instead of nurturing.
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You see the ultrasounds of college acceptances, future plans and dreams, and you know that on the other side of this major transition is a human being that will bless humanity. You are so excited and anxious to see the next stage of your child’s life. And yet, it hurts. The thought of letting go and saying goodbye literally rips you apart sometimes. A casual good night hug extends as you just hold him a little too long trying to squeeze that little boy who you will forever see inside this man-boy’s eyes.
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Maybe it’s good that we really don’t comprehend how painful it is to say goodbye to half of your heart.  No matter how many children you have, saying goodbye to one of them is a labor of love.
It is confusing to be so excited for the future and so sad to say goodbye to the past, all at the same time. Every mother WANTS her child to graduate, to move upward and outward.  We want our little boys to become men even as we mourn the loss of life as we know it.

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I took Jakob to his last physical at the pediatrician’s office he had visited since he was a child.  They were kicking him out even as he was preparing to leave for a two year LDS Mission. Because Jakob was 18, I sat out in the waiting room during his exam, right next to a new mom who was bouncing her 2 week old little boy. Oh, how I have loved being a mother.  Every stage is equally challenging and rewarding. I saw that new mother’s worry and her pride as she smiled at her sweet baby and fumbled with her over-sized diaper bag and awkward car seat. I knew that she would soon experience teething and rolling and walking and talking. I wanted to tell her to take pictures and laugh when things are hard, to hold him tight when he is naughty, and to not give up when he complains about piano practicing.  I wanted to warn her that teaching your child to drive is scarier than she might imagine it to be. And promise her that he won’t always sneak into her bed at night, or tease his little sister (actually, that’s not true, he will always tease his little sister and she will love it). I wanted to tell this new mom that she doesn’t need to be afraid of the teenage years, because teenage years are SO great.  Watching your kids grow into funny, frustrating, and inspiring young humans with friends that you love is one of the best stages of motherhood.  
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I wanted to just pick up that little boy and hug him and smell him, and rock him in the middle of the night ONE LAST TIME.  Instead, I just sat there watching this cute mom with her baby, with tears running down my cheeks.  I smiled and I told her to enjoy every moment because it goes so fast.  Right there, in that pediatrician’s office, I BECAME that old woman in the grocery store that tried to warn me so many times as I muddled through motherhood.  Enjoy this moment, it goes quickly.
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I said goodbye to Jakob at 4:30 am on 8/8/17. He was 138 lbs, 6’2”, and wore a size 10.5 shoe. There was a moment when all my Lamaze training up to this point was failing me and although I was breathing and trying to envision my flower opening, I was panicking and couldn’t breathe.  I held on so tightly to this kid and really didn’t know if I could let him go.  And then, he pulled away. He was dressed in man clothes with his suitcases meticulously packed.  He was the most beautiful 18-year-old missionary I had ever seen. I was tired and scared, but this little man in my arms stared into my eyes with the confidence and wisdom of the ages.  I knew he would be okay.  I would be okay.
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Sometimes, in the grocery store, I run into veteran mothers who understand what it is like to deliver a child into the world. You can see it in their eyes. Some mothers have an easy time of delivery, they make it look simple. Other mothers have deliveries that last weeks and weeks.  I just talked to a sweet kindergarten teacher who said she slept in her son’s bed for three weeks after he left for college and wore his sweatshirts each day.  She said two things helped her to transition, putting her heart into teaching kindergarten and remembering that her younger son still needed her. I didn’t understand how hard it was to say goodbye, until those first Braxton hicks hit me my son’s junior year.  I have successfully endured my first, graduation labor, and I must say it was harder than I imagined it would be.  But, it was worth it. 
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I still get teary-eyed when I talk about saying good bye to my oldest.  I still feel sore when I sit down at the dinner table and there is always one empty seat.  I still count kids on Sunday morning as we head out the door for Church and I always, always feel that someone is missing.  I mourn for the compact family life I have grown to love even as I am excited to learn a more expanded definition of family.
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But, I have a new life that I am loving.  We receive letters home each week from a man-child in Mexico City who is learning a new language as he is learning to love a new culture of people. He is still the same kid joking about poop stories and sending home pictures of the beautiful mountains around him. And, he is different, more humble, more independent. I like this stage. Jakob still teases his little sister and is still setting an example for her.  We hang pictures of him on our fridge and the emptiness I was dreading isn’t really an emptiness. I feel him with us. I feel him close to me. I didn’t realize that even though he is over 2,642.6 miles away, I can still feel when he’s having a hard day. 
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most likely to succeed
His heart is somehow still connected to mine. I’m glad for that.
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Labor is not something you can really prepare for, the first or second time you experience it.  Labor is an initiation ritual that qualifies you to be the sage women in the grocery story that has the authority to tell young teenagers to enjoy their youth and young mothers to cherish each moment. We know why there are bars on the windows and we also know that life beyond delivery is absolutely worth every pain we endure to get there. Life is beautiful. Growing hurts sometimes but the result is worth the process. Looking back, I cherish my yearlong labor. Because every single tinge of sadness I felt inspired me to really SEE each moment. I loved being a mother. And, love hurts sometime.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” (The Velveteen Rabbit, by Marjorie Williams)
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