March 30, 2016

Because I Believe in MOTHERS


I was choosen as 2016 New York Mother of the Year.  

I'm not someone who seeks after recognition, in fact it makes me quite uncomfortable.  But, I accepted the nomination because I felt in my soul that this would be an honor that would allow me to use my story to inspire others.

I believe in mothering!  I believe mothers have a sacred work to do, and I believe we will not know our power until we learn to mother our offspring and mother our nation.  

Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.

Oprah Winfrey

Mothers nurture, heal, nourish, create, comfort, organize, inspire, and love.  This mothering begins at home but if mothering ends at home our nation will perish.  

I truly believe the only way we will ever have peace in the world, heal sickness, banish poverty, or unify our communities is if good mothers expand their nurturing.  A mother's love heals scraped knees and  aching communities.  What power is greater than the unified love of mothers to heal our nation?

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Rules The World
    Blessings on the hand of women!
    Angels guard its strength and grace,
    In the palace, cottage, hovel,
    Oh, no matter where the place;
    Would that never storms assailed it,
    Rainbows ever gently curled;
    For the hand that rocks the cradle
    Is the hand that rules the world.

    Infancy's the tender fountain,
    Power may with beauty flow,
    Mother's first to guide the streamlets,
    From them souls unresting grow--
    Grow on for the good or evil,
    Sunshine streamed or evil hurled;
    For the hand that rocks the cradle
    Is the hand that rules the world.

    Woman, how divine your mission
    Here upon our natal sod!
    Keep, oh, keep the young heart open
    Always to the breath of God!
    All true trophies of the ages
    Are from mother-love impearled;
    For the hand that rocks the cradle
    Is the hand that rules the world.

    Blessings on the hand of women!
    Fathers, sons, and daughters cry,
    And the sacred song is mingled
    With the worship in the sky--
    Mingles where no tempest darkens,
    Rainbows evermore are hurled;
    For the hand that rocks the cradle
    Is the hand that rules the world.

    William Ross Wallace
Mothers create and sustain life.

A mother's body literally creates the cells of her child.  A mother's breast nourishes her child.  A mother's mouth preaches the first sermons her child will hear.  A mother's love warms her child's soul.  A mother's neglect is foundationally damaging for a child, and a mother's nurturing is foundationally stabilizing.

"When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?"

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

Mothers are our best national resource.

As we have moved across the country and lived in the East, West, North, and South, we have found strong families, loving communities, and devoted mothers.  

When I feel my own inadequacies as a mother, I thank God for neighbors, teachers, coaches, bus drivers, authors, musicians, preachers, and friends who help to guide and nurture my children and me.  

Mothers give life and save lives.

Two years ago, I almost died giving birth to my grand finale little boy.  Being diagnosed with Placenta Percreta, I knew that choosing to carry my son meant risking my life and that was a risk I chose.  

During weeks of hospital bed rest, I would scoot my wheelchair to the rooms around me getting to know other mothers who were carrying high-risk pregnancies.  I have never walked the halls of a veterans' hospital, but I saw that type of bravery on that mother-baby floor.  I felt that bravery in the NICU and saw hero mothers and soldier children on the pediatric floor.  Hospitals are brimming with brave, enduring soldiers who nurture and endure to save lives.

I was not the only mother in the operating room when Ben was born.  Brave nurses, doctors, and surgeons literally held my life in their hands and fought for over twelve hours to keep me alive.  There were complications and one of my main arteries was accidentally cut.  A surgeon later told me.  "It was one of the worst days of my life, you were dying in our hands and we loved you."

My heart kept beating as the blood from over 200 strangers was pumped through 5 different ports into my body.  That day my life was literally saved by 200 strangers and hundreds of hospital workers, community and family members, and strangers who read my blog and offered a prayer for me.  

Perhaps this experience made my heart grow two sizes, because today it explodes with love and gratitude for good, good people who bless the lives of others.  This was just one traumatic and beautiful day in my life, but this is their everyday.  

My life was saved by a community and I feel compelled to pay that forward.  My story is the story of our nation.  We are a nation of caring families, friends and strangers.

Mothers triumph over difficulty.

The Statue of Liberty boasts her grand proclamation in the immortal words of Emma Lazerus, 

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-tossed, to me: 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Ground Zero stands as a monument to good rising from evil, where etched in stone is the promise, "Terrorist attacks can shape the foundations of our tallest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.  We will not tire.  We will not falter.  We will not fail."  G. W. Bush

Both monuments represent the power of goodness to triumph over difficulty through community.  Mothers, not governments, are best suited to welcome  these huddled masses and mothers lay America's indomitable foundation.  The spirit of America is the spirit of motherhood.

Mothers unite to do good.

I have come to know and love many powerful organizations nationally and locally.  PTA, The Red Cross, Hope for Accreta foundation, InterFaith Works, Women Transcending Boundaries, the Relief Society, and even my local book group has made a difference in who I am today.  These organizations have expanded my home and improved our community.  I feel that a nationwide organization of American Mothers has the possibility to do great things.

Mothers need more children and bigger kitchen tables.

This past year, I participated on a committee to develop community-wide sessions focusing on interfaith dialogue.  While at one meeting a friend said, "It is easy to say you are not racist, but when was the last time you had someone of a different race or religion over for dinner in your home."  This statement changed me.

Mothers can expand their influence. 

Over the past year, opportunities were presented to me where I would serve outside of my comfort zone.  Initially, I was surprised and embarrassed by my feelings.

I felt fear driving to dialogue sessions in small churches in downtown Syracuse at night.  I felt nervous entering a gated Muslim Mosque.  I felt inadequate representing Mormonism on TV and Radio programs focused on African American family history and discussing religion on a panel at a Catholic school.  I felt unsure coordinating a booth of very white Mormons in the NAACP PanAfrican Village of the NY State Fair.  

My heart broke as I loved a young teenage girl who wouldn't smile because she was embarassed by her teeth.  It broke again when a dear friend told of spending hours online with a missionary who was helping her with family history.  She was so grateful for this service  provided by my church, but then said, "I didn't tell that woman that I was a married lesbian, because I still wanted her to help me."  

Maybe these opportunities would have been easier for others, but for me, they were stretching and life changing.

Mothers know healing hurts sometimes.

With intense health challenges I learned not to fear pain, because often feeling pain means you are healing.  I feel this healing as I intentionally diversify my community.  Temporary discomfort is followed by growth and expansion.  

My fear was transformed into love as stereotypes faded behind real people with real stories.  As I have purposefully sought to enlarge the boundaries of my community, I have felt my heart swell, and my already large family has grown more colorful and more diverse.

My young friend who wouldn't smile was introduced to a community who worked to get her the dental care she needed.  She told me she wants to be a dental hygienist someday.

My daughters wrapped their heads in silk scarves and knelt beside me to pray with our Muslim sisters in their mosque.

My husband and I helped to drive, feed, and house refugee families arriving off the plane for their first night in America.  No matter what politically charged headlines say, I will never forget the moment those tired mothers first learned to fill a bathtub with warm water to bathe their children. Looking into their grateful eyes, I knew our hearts spoke the same language.  We were different colors, different religions, different nationalities, but we were both mothers. 

My seven year old performed at one event with a theatre club holding signs that said, All Lives Matter. As the only white child in the group, Lily said, "First I was afraid because I felt alone.  And then I realized they were all my friends, so it was really fun."

And really, that is what I have learned as a mother to my own children and as I expand my mothering to include those in my community.  We are alone until we look outside ourselves to see friends.  

We mother our children best when we help them to know that our family extends beyond our home into our communities.

I am a mother.  My life centers on eight of the most precious, smart, beautiful, sassy little spirits on Earth.  But I would not be here if it weren't for the love of strangers, the power in community, one dear mother who literally gave of herself to create my life, and many surrogate mothers who nurtured me along the way.

Yes, I am the NY Mother of the Year and I believe in New York mothers.  I believe in American mothers.  I believe in the mothers of the world.  I know that a mothers love can heal our homes, our communities, and our world.  

I have held eight of my own, perfect, precious newborns and in their eyes I have seen greatness.  I've prayed that God would expand my heart to love more, my mind to know more, and strengthen my hands to serve more for them.  I've seen greatness in your children also.  I've offered that same prayer that God would help us to love them.  God answers those prayers, because God believes in mothers.

Every woman is mother of the year to those she nurtures.  Let us all mother more, mother further, and mother greatly.

March 26, 2016

Run Like a Horse

"You know, you can take a good mule up in the mountains, and the mule will do a lot of work for you.  But when a mule gets tired, it will stop.  You can push it, you can pull it, and you can motivate it with a stick, but until it has recovered it will go nowhere.  But, if you have a good horse, you can run with that horse until it drops over, completely exhausted or dead.  Today you ran like a horse." Coach James as quoted in BYU Magazine, "Run Like a Horse". Winter 2016


I was so inspired as I read this article written by a great BYU track coach, Edward Eyestone.


This was a parable told to Ed after he dropped of heat exhaustion in a race, failing to qualify as All American something he has spent a year training for.


Coach Eyestone went on to say, "That made me feel better-- the fact that he thought I had given it that kind of effort.  I think what my good mentor Coach James taught me at that time was that life is structured such that many times we are going to do everything possible to accomplish our goals, but the nature of life is that sometimes, despite doing all the right things, we are going to come up a little short.  But if we have done everything in our power- if we have run like a horse- then that is all that is required.  We can hold our heads high.  We're going to accomplish a lot in the process."


"I made All-American 10 times after my mission, but the fact is, I don't cherish or remember those 10 times I had success nearly as much as the one time I came close and Coach James said I ran like a horse.  We often learn more from our so-called failures than from our successes."



I'm not sure why this story healed a part of my soul this morning.  But I found in this example a sense of pride in weakness and fatigue that has helped to heal the guilt all good mothers feel as we notice our capacity is not as great as our desire to serve.  


We are mothers.

We run like horses.

We love, we serve, we train.

We win some and we loose some.

We try again.


And, I'm proud of that.

I just know that our coach is smiling even on days we fall short of All American.


Happy Easter friends.

Life is good.


March 03, 2016

My Story

My story was published today on Design Mom- you can read it here.  Last year I sent her my story in an effort to raise awareness for hopeforaccreta.org when I was running for the Face of Accreta.

Gaby told me my story was too long and I never sent her a revised draft.  A few weeks ago she sent me a note saying her editor had cut it down and that it was in queue. 

I flipped over to her blog tonight after watching the Republican debate and was surprised at the amount of comments that has been deleted or edited to remove rudeness.  It seems that my birth story has turned into a bit of a pro-life/pro-choice debate.  

I felt myself defending my choice to keep Ben to a group of strangers.  As I was typing, I KNEW that all I would need to do was invite these women to my house for one afternoon to feel how alive and beautiful and beloved this child is in our home.  Not one person who has met Ben would think I should have aborted him.  

Having eight children is not for everyone. Choosing not to abort a life-threatening pregnancy is not for everyone.  Being a stay-at-home mother is not for everyone. Having cows, chickens, and a horse is not for everyone.  Not everyone feels the same passion for speaking out, blogging, or being involved in the community that I do.

We waste too much time in life trying to live like other people.  

This is MY life.  This is our story.  Todd and I made many choices in life that brought us to the decision to bring Ben into this world.  And we feel BLESSED to have him.  We feel BLESSED to have all of our eight children.  (God grant us the patience to deal with our blessings- ha!)

Yes, physically Ben's birth was VERY hard.  It was hard mentally.  It impacted me, my husband, and our children.  My extended family and friends suffered as I suffered.  Ben is almost three and his difficult birth still affects my life daily.  We moved across the country months after Ben's birth and that is still hard.

It is hard to have a large family.

Sometimes I would give anything to have my health and strength back, anything except my little boy.  He is worth the sacrifices I have made to give him life.

I believe you can't give God a crust without getting a loaf.  I've given God my crusts and He has given me eight of the happiest, kindest, smartest, most helpful, sassy little kids ever.  And, I'm ridiculously in love with my Mary Poppins practically perfect husband.  

I REALLY LOVE MY CRAZY LIFE.
I AM HAPPY AND so, so GRATEFUL.

I'm not sure I would choose health trials, but they have taught me so much.

No, I'm not a perfect mother.  I'm sure my kids will need therapy later because I'm weird.  They might grow up to have eight kids or they might grow up not wanting children at all.  

They will have to choose.  
You will have to choose.  
And, I chose.

I'm choosing every single day.

Today, I had two little girls home sick, one with the flu and the other with strep.  I had a potty training little boy who agreed with me that it was time for new carpet in the family room.  I had two middle school daughters who were in the High School Musical and two sons who cooked dinner, cleaned up, and carried on a lively dialogue as we watched the Republican debate.  My husband worked late teaching a night class and made me laugh as he barely choked down one sip of the black pepper tea a friend of mine told me to drink.  

I spent too much time and money online and too little time mopping my kitchen floor.

Tomorrow a carpet cleaner is coming and I'm ridiculously excited.  I also agreed to dog sit my friend's giant Doberman puppy (she's up to my waist).  I'm a little nervous.  I feel 80% physically healthy and 80% mentally healthy, and I'm ok with that.  I have great friends and a great family.  

Honestly, if I could change anything about my life, I would be healthier, have a little more money and hire a housekeeper (just until Ben hits kindergarten).  But, I wouldn't wish away one of my children.  I wouldn't wish away the trials of my life.  Because, my greatest gifts came well packaged.  

Thank you for reading my story even as you are writing yours.

Here is a poem I love that I read again tonight...
My life is but a weaving

Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;

And I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent

And the shuttles cease to fly

Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful

In the weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.
(Corrie ten Boom)


Here is the comment that my sweet and eloquent Aunt Sandra wrote on the article.  I'm just copying it here because I want to remember it.

One of the great joys of my life is to be Jenifer’s aunt. The openness with which she has used her experiences to educate others on this condition has touched tens of thousands of lives on continents around the world. She has shared her story through her writing and on tv. She and Ben have led blood drives to celebrate this birthday to ‘pay back’ & honor the hundreds of people who saved her life that day. She has done more than our society could ask to help others learn about the risks and the need for early detection of this condition. No one enjoys putting their lives out there in this sort of public forum, least of all a mother who is herself still dealing with intense medical issues while raising 8 ‘sassy’ kids (as she describes them). I am a lefty-liberal pro-choice feminist (whatever any of that means). And I can tell you this vibrant, loving woman embodies the very best of our human instincts for survival. I have had the privilege of hugging young Ben and seeing the sparkle in his eyes. Whatever some of your readers think they might know about Jen and her faith, they can’t come close to understanding how down-to-earth, grounded, and loving an act bringing Ben into this world was, decisions that had to be made and reinforced time and again over months and months. Even as we in her extended family watched her body struggle to regain blood flow and oxygen, we were comforted in the knowledge that she was fighting for her family with every ounce of strength she had. And on those days, I envied her faith, because lacking a religious background myself, I was struggling to find the hope she relied upon. Even if the worst had happened, I would never have second guessed her. Jen’s choice was as legitimate as any other option out there, and she put her life literally on the line for it. Her story tests us so-called feminists. Are you really ‘pro-choice’ or just ‘pro-your-choice’?

Green Food Coloring

Oops!

I enjoyed a morning trip to the grocery store, and the Professor offered to work from home and watch the little ones.

It seems we need to up his multi-tasking skills.  Ben sure gave him a run for his money.  
This incident felt so nostalgic to me.  I vividly remember the great messes that Jakob and Drew used to make 15 years ago.  It's been awhile since we've had true distruction.

This one might get me new carpet.
(Under the desk in the family room.)

Oh, I love this life and this cute boy.
Even if they are both a bit messy sometimes.

February 20, 2016

Finishing, Tidying, and Dieting

I know, I know you are all going to want to lecture me after you read this post.

So, let's start with a warning:: I am not asking you your opinion on how I should spend my time.  I'm just making for myself a record of my thoughts at this time and sharing them with you.  

If one person tells me to take it easy, rest, or listen to my body I'm going to scream.

My body is in major nesting mode and like any wise woman who has been pregnant for over 7 years of her life will tell you-- when you're body is nesting, go with it!  I actually feel really good this week.

My body is sick of being sick and more than anything my mind cannot stand the thought of one more less-active day.

I'm sure there are stages somewhere that could explain my stages of dealing with physical illness.

-ignoring
-crashing
-acknowledging
-grieving 
-accepting
-booty kicking 

I'm in the booty kicking stage.  

When my oncology appointment was cancelled for weather I literally threw 7 kids in the car and drove to visit family in CT.  It was SO nice to get away from doctor visits and just have fun with family.

We got home this afternoon and I'm ready to really readjust my life.  There is a small voice in my mind that tells me I'm trying to do too much at one time.  But, another part of me says-- JUST DO IT!  Aim for the stars!   Who cares if it's too much, trying is better than not trying.

So, here is my list...

1- FINISH A LITTLE FURTHER!!  My finishing line is too soon.  The morning comes and I push through tiredness to get the kids fed, pack lunches, and out the door and then I crash.  I need to push a bit further and have my "finished" be a clean kitchen.  Same with dinner time-- finish with a clean kitchen or sleeping kids.  After church, I crash in the car before we go inside!  I need to push a little longer.  Have kids bring everything in from the car, get dinner cooking, start kids on an activity, and then go take a nap.  At bedtime I need that kneeling prayer and journal time.  I just need a 20 minute further finish line.  I can do that.

2- The Magic of Tidying Up!! I hate fads.  Philosophically I'm against the "give everything you own to Goodwill" philosophy.  I judged all of you crazy people who held shoes and asked if you felt joy or donated half your books to the prison.  

And now, I will join you.  

I have yet to read that Konmari book (although I just ordered it- to add to the pile of books I will soon be giving away). 

But, I feel in my bones another fad organizing technique.  It's called, the "If Tomorrow Never Comes" technique.  Where thoughts of dying begin to burn inside you an intense desire to get your life in order and sort all your crap so someone else won't have to.  

This is similar to the "I'm tired of getting new carpet so I can move" feeling.  I just don't think it will hurt anyone if I kick booty and organize!  I'm giving myself two weeks.

Here's my plan--

3- Whole 30!  If you know me, you will know two things.  First, I absolutely LOVE to eat good, healthy food.  It is my favorite.  Veggies are my prosac.  I love buying them, cooking them, touching them, eating them, looking at them, feeding them to my kids.  I'd choose asparagus or Brussels Sprouts over ice cream.  I love variety, I love simple foods, I love pretty salads.  There really isn't a food I don't like.

Second, I HATE FAD DIETS.  I hate extremes.  I hate trends.  I think you make yourself crazy when you tell yourself one bite of gluten is hurting you, unless you have been diagnosed with Celiacs.  I believe people make themselves sick by eliminating foods and then eating them again.  They say they're sick because they ate unhealthy food, I say they're sick because they trained their bodies that anything other than salad was unhealthy.  I like grains-- I think they are God given and divine.  I do not think God designed this world so that we all would need to eat coconuts and acai berries to be healthy.  That makes no sense.

See, I'm offensive and judgemental and I HATE FADS.  I'm not a trend follower.  I rebel against what is popular.  I think healthy should be more simple and more affordable than unhealthy.

And yet... I NEED TO DO THIS.  I'm going to.  I'm just going to try to eat the Whole30 diet for 30 days because my whole body is inflamed.  This might not be related, but I'm CRAVING tomatoes like a crazy woman.  I honestly can eat salsa with a spoon.  I like spice these days.  I almost feel like my body is trying to clean itself out and I'm going to help it a little.  

Whole 30 will not be hard for me.  It will force me to eat more protein and less string cheese.  I really don't think it will be hard because I would be eating the foods I prefer to eat.  But, sometimes I think I should wait to start something new until my life settles down a big.  And then I say-- why?!!  Just start eating healthier today.  Just do it.  It can't hurt.  

4- Photo Books, I Am Doing Them!  So, in the magic of tidying up spirit, I'm focusing on gathering this week.  I'm going to set up a table and gather every photo album, journal, and box of keepsakes I have compiled.  Then I'll sort, then I'll create.

(This sounds like a great plan if we don't discuss distractions like Thing One and Thing Two, Eve and Ben.  Or, simple distractions like laundry, dinner, and oncology appointments.)

I think I'm going to use Blurb books.
I think I'm going to make a family book telling our story generally, dating, marriage, moving, and the birth of each kid, a few pages per kid and then after that, I'm going to copy those pages into individual books for each child.  

I'm SO ready to sort, scan, use it, or throw it away.

And, that's all friends.

Tomorrow my goal is to start by folding the 7 loads of clean laundry I left when I went in vacation.
Then, I want to sort every closet and dresser in my house.
While eating healthy.
And, orchestrating Saturday chores.
And, convincing my boys to help move tables, and tupperware of pictures to my bedroom or maybe my sewing room...

Without being bothered by the fact that The Professor will find my mass sorting purging bothersome and untimely.

Doesn't that sound fun to you?
Haha!  

I did not mention any sewing projects, exercise plans. fun toddler ideas, or ideas for family vacations...
We'll work on that next week.  ;)

Life is good!
I've got this.
(But, wouldn't those bookmarks be fun to sew?). 

February 16, 2016

Contemplating Mortality (Again)

I have not been feeling well lately.

My symptoms are odd and scary.  I'm passing out (vasovegal episodes) when I go to the bathroom.  My ankles have swollen and my feet have had intense neuropathy.  My joints ache, my muscles are weak, my head is spinning.  Thankfully, most of my symptoms respond well to steroids.

I've been diagnosed with everything from having normal aches and pains for a mother of 8, to Aids, to Stage 3 Lymes Disease.  Every test I take comes back positive for something weird.  My internal inflamation is rampant so it's probably some sort of auto-immune disease.  So many people I know struggle with the challenges of life that I am well aware I'm not unique or even particularly special in my challenges.  

They recently found two grapefruit-sized cysts on my right ovary.  They look complex and cancerous.  These cysts, combined with swollen lymph nodes, spots on my lungs, an inflamed spleen, and neuropathic involvement led my doctors to suggest that I might have stage IV ovarian cancer.

Don't google that.  It's very scary and very sad.  17% 5 year survival rate.  It's also probably not a good idea to watch youtube videos of moms who had stage IV cancer, vlogged about it, and then died.  It might give you a headache.

Sigh.
See this mom?  She died only a month after this picture was taken.  Good, good people are not spared the trials of life.  I know this.

I had a tough weekend.
It's scary thinking your body is filled with bad stuff.  Thinking that you could die is terrifying, purifying, humbling, and somewhat empowering.

Honestly, I believe that contemplating and accepting my own mortality (on more than one occasion) has been a powerful process for me.  
It brings perspective and beauty to life.

Please excuse me for a moment while I share this walk into the darkness with you so I can record here in this place,  the beautiful light I found on the other end.  I don't mean to sound melodramatic, although I think a little drama is quite cleansing at times.

Saturday morning I called my sweet aunt, I was sobbing.  I kept telling her that I NEED to finish my picture albums.  Leaving my children without leaving them their stories as told by their adoring mother is my single greatest fear.

I will die someday... Maybe sooner maybe later.  I do not want to die without leaving them a tangible reminder that they were conceived in love, birthed in love, cherished, adored, and raised in love.  We have some family books but I want them to have personal books. 

I'm doing this-- now.  
This year.
No excuses.

I also want to make each of them a quilt.

I am not going to spend another year caring how messy my basement playroom is.

Isn't that funny?
The possibility of IV ovarian cancer has me crying about picture albums.  
(This was also the reason I knew I wouldn't die with Ben.  I just felt that God would let me prepare my children and I knew I had not done that.)
My single greatest fear when faced with terminal cancer was that I would die without telling them their story.  I want them to know it and always remember.

I'm a lady that has already been blessed with nine lives and I'm just not going to take any more chances.  I need to make their books.  (Oh friends, help me figure out how to do this!!)

Can I be honest with you about something else?

My second greatest fear about dying is that my children would hurt and do without if I died. 

I believe mothering is so important-- I want my children to have a mother.

It was such a painful thought to me that it took my breath away, I couldn't breathe from the ache.  I would just sob to my husband or sob when I saw my kids and felt my momma love for them.  

(This was a cheerful Saturday at my home as you can imagine-- mostly I just stayed in my room contemplating death while Todd handled life downstairs.)

Sunday was a holy, healing day for me.  
Gut wrenching agony always carves room for the holiest of healing balms.

A dear friend and an Elder in our church, came to our church meeting.  He spoke to us, he counseled with us, and he blessed both Todd and me.  My favorite part of enduring illness is feeling surrounded by a tangible love.  I felt that on Sunday.

My heart was changed.
It was a gift from a loving Father.

As I prayed earnestly during the sacrament, I heard God.  I am someone that loves others easily and He knows that.  

While I was pouring to Him my fears and aching-- The Lord whispered to me the promise that my children would have me for as long as they need me.  I knew it.  I will live every day of the life I am created to live.  And I know my mothering will not end with death, it is an eternal calling.  

I know that He loves me and He loves them more than I do. 

He whispered a simple idea into my soul.  He asked if I could imagine another woman with strengths and talents different than mine that coul love and bless the lives of my children?  Yes!  I know so many woman that I cherish who are way better than me at so many things.  I love so many amazing women.

I felt the sweet assurance that IF God ever decided to call me home, He would bless them with another mother who would love them like I do. Taking me would not diminish my influence, but it would only open the way for them to have MORE.  The sting of death would hurt for a moment, yes.  But like all experiences of life, it would be for their good.  

My fear and hurt was washed away.
Where before I saw punishment I began to see blessing.  Where at first I could only see loss, I began to see GAIN.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I began imagining so many of my beautiful, single friends and how I know they could love my children.  This might sound dumb, but my heart aches for women who aren't loved like I am loved.  Todd is my greatest gift.  I would share him with someone that I love.  I would also share my beautiful children and grandchildren with a good, good woman unable to have children of her own.  

I have spent a few late nights whispering to Todd the traits he should look for in his second wife.  Ha!  I promised him that I would pick her for him and made him promise me that when and if I died, he would marry again.  (Not too quickly, but pretty quickly.)

He is not enough.  
My kids NEED a mother.  

He has gently endured my passionate instructions.  

She has to love Anna as much as Eve.
Bring her to the store and see if she picks out things for herself or if she says things like, "Leah would love this!"
She has to be able to organize large gatherings and fun family reunions.
She has to be beloved by those who know her, everyone you talk to will tell you what a great woman you're getting.
Look for someone from a strong family.
Tidy and well groomed is more important than hot and high maintenance.
But, I do hope she's beautiful and lady like and classy so she can teach that to my daughters.
Educated, well-read, organized, discerning.
For his sake, I would choose a women with a mild, tender voice (I have always wished I was a bit less "passionate" with my opinions on... everything.)
Choose someone like your mother, I make him promise.
Rebekah (my sister in law) will know, I insist.  And so will Ellie.

It's actually quite fun thinking of the angel woman I would choose to co-mother my children with.

In a moment, this part of the pain and fear of dying was simply removed from me and replaced with peace, love, hope, and a perfect assurance that ALL THESE THINGS shall be for our GOOD.

I know it.

I know one more thing.
I have never written this blog for strangers.  I have always written it for my daughters and shared it with strangers.
They will know my voice after I'm gone.
I have poured out my advice to them on the pages of this blog for years.  They will know me.

Today, I want them to know one more thing.

Since I was a young girl, I have had a special gift.
I see angels all around us.
I sense angels, I know when they bless my life in little ways, and sometimes I can literally see them as shadows of light.

I've known angels were surrounding me at my wedding, at the birth of my children, as I've given talks, on days when I'm overwhelmed with life, and on days when I'm overflowing with love for cute little toddlers as they eat their lunch.
I feel my grandmothers near me.
And, I actually think they are MORE a part of my daily life since they've passed than they ever could have been when they were alive.  They really know me, they know my children, and they help strengthen me.

Just recently I was heading to a meeting and I felt very ill.  I could barely get out of the car.  I had the thought that I could do this.  I just needed to put some lipstick on, put a smile on my face, and keep my head up!  As I swiped my lips with red, I laughed.  I KNEW that was my grandmother.  She was right with me, strengthening me.  I feel their humor buoying my spirits.  I really have no doubt that angels are here and active.

I have ALWAYS wondered why God has given me this spiritual gift.  And now, I understand.  This gift was given to me so that I could teach my children what I know.  Even if I die, I will be with them.  I will talk to them, I will babysit for them so they can sleep in on Saturday morning, I will cry at their weddings and I will make their babies smile on the day they are born.  I will hold them when they're sad and celebrate with them when they're happy!  I will help them find the perfect wedding dress and I will send them gifts like flowers, sweet scriptures, good friends, and convenient parking spots.

I don't fear death because I KNOW death is not the end.  I know it.
Yes, there is a veil.  But it is thin.
I will be a really great angel someday!!

I'm sorry.
I'm sorry that there is pain attached to death.
I believe that grief is holy and it is the price we pay for loving someone.
I know that grieving is temporary!
We are not alone, we are loved, this life is but a short chapter in the eternal story.
Death is not the end of the book, our story continues.

Here is my favorite quote on death--

What is dying
I am standing on the seashore, a ship sails in the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at last she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says: "She is gone."
Gone!
Where
Gone from my sight that is all.
She is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw her, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says,
"She is gone"
there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout:
"There she comes!"
and that is dying.



I'm sorry that I have spent so much time talking about death.
I promise I don't have a death wish nor am I walking around in sack cloth and ashes.
I thank God that I'm not dead yet.
I don't want to die.
I want to grow old!!
I LOVE THIS LIFE.

BUT!!!  BUT--
I am at peace with death.
It comes to all of us sooner or later.
You don't die because you're bad and you aren't spared from death because you're good.

The span of my life is in God's hands and He is a God of omnipotent love and mercy.  I trust Him and I trust His plan.

Today-- I am going to build memories.
I'm going to enjoy this life!
I'm going to spend time loving my family, teaching them, feeling them.
I'm going to write their stories for them!

I'm meeting with a surgeon, an oncologist, and a rheumatologist.

My blood test results came back yesterday and they showed a LOW likelihood that I have ovarian cancer.  !!!!  Yay!!  But, you know what?  I don't care.

I don't care if a doctor tells me I have two months to live or fifty years to live-- all that we know for sure is that we have right NOW.  And I'm so very grateful for today.  

Oh my friends-- if I only had 38 years to live, I would choose to spend my years surrounded by little children, the best husband, and cows with cowbells.  I'd have bunnies in my chicken coop and little boys who sneak screwdrivers to take apart my vacuum cleaner.

My life is perfect.
I am SO blessed today, I was blessed yesterday, and no matter what mountains I am asked to climb, I know eternity will be full of joy AND family.
All is well, all is well.

February 14, 2016

Family and Banana Cake

I brushed Lily's hair this morning as we were getting ready for church.  I didn't have time for anything fancy, I just parted her hair in the middle and braided the two front sections.  By the time church got out it had fallen in her eyes.

I'm not the sweetest mother.  I wish I was a more cuddley mom and that I always spoke with a gentle, kind tone.  I don't, especially on Sunday mornings.  

But, tears filled my eyes as I brushed Lily's hair this morning.  Sweet, sweet Lily-- she is the one child I can count on to always follow through when I ask her to do something.  I love that child.  I love all of my children.  I love being a mother and I thank God for the opportunity I have been given to spend my days mothering.

Leah came in my bedroom last night to remind me to order the third set of Warrior books.  She has read the first two sets (12 books) since Christmas.  Her hair was messy and she was a bit sassy. She was wearing her favorite (It's a fox life) shirt with her cute skirt, and I just LOVED her.  Oh how I love that freckled faced beauty.  I love her spunk, I love her goodness, I love her bravery, I love her mind.  I feel so blessed to be her mom.
Here is a blurry picture I have on my phone, it is of a night when I was gone at a meeting late.  The kids cooked themselves dinner, set the table, and they were all sitting down to eat when I got home.  Oh how I love these kids.  

My boys are superstars.  They are the best babysitters, the best cooks, the best helpers.  Sometimes they are too rough with their sisters or too sassy with their father, but they are my rocks.  I can always count on them.  They're strong and good and steady.  Everyday they empty the dishwasher before I wake up, without being reminded.  They care for the animals.  They get good grades.  They excel at all they do.  

This morning it was -23 degrees and my van had a hard time starting.  I only knew because Jakob was out trying to warm it up for me.  Drew suggested that we have family prayer.  Our neighbor came by to help and our van started right up.  Those boys keep me going.
These girls!!  Honestly, I teased them today that they were 7 and 8 on my ranking of favorite children.  They are so snotty sometimes to each other mostly and to me sometimes-- I hate it.  I'm afraid I'm snotty right back to them too often.  I wish I could just snap them out of that bad habit and help them to truly be best friends.  But, aside from the occasional attitude they are both WONDERFUL.  They are so fun and creative!  They plan parties, they're kind friends, they decorate and sing and they're funny.  I love their unique styles and their similar confidence.  They are helpful and they pull through.  These ladies will be good mothers.  They are good in their core.
This little Eve, she is my gift.  She just radiates joy.  She hugs and kisses me throughout the day.  Even when my mind is far away, Eve pulls me back.  She is a wonderful thermometer- if I am kind she obeys, if I am cranky she does not.  Todd and I often ponder all we would have missed out on if we didn't have eight kids.  Eve-- she is just a gift.
He's beautiful and he's so good.  His heart is kind.  He's so funny and so smart.  He still doesn't speak much, but he communicates and teases.  He yells at Rocco, "Ruff, Ruff, Ha, Ha!" And runs, daring Rocco to chase him.  That boy and his dog are so cute together.  Ben reminds me of everything I have loved about mothering.  He is my full circle wholeness.  Today he wore a pair of blue socks from Baby Gap or Old Navy, they are almost too small.  I remember buying those socks for Jakob's first church outfit, a blue polo, khaki pants, and a leather braided belt.  My oldest and my baby... Oh, the circle of life.
This was a typical Sunday evening.  Todd was tickling Eve, Lily, and Ben on the couch.  Rocco was waiting for me to throw him his toy.
Ellie was cutting the banana cake she had just baked.  Anna was talking to me. Drew was teaching Leah a piano lesson. And Jakob was reading in the basement.

My kitchen was a mess.  The living room was littered with stuff that didn't belong.  My house was messy.  And our home was filled with love.  We were together.  We are almost always together.

I love my messy, noisy, busy, beautiful life.

My whole life I have tried to make my life less messy and I honestly haven't figured out how to do that yet.  But, I have learned to love the mess.  
A lot.

A normal, ordinary, messy banana cake kitchen life is so good.





February 05, 2016

Seventeen.

My oldest child just turned 17 yesterday.
Doesn't 17 seem so much older than 16?  It's so close to 18 and 20 and manhood...

In a house with many children, those oldest kids are given a lot of responsibility.  As an oldest child myself, I've tried to shield him from feeling like it was his responsibility to raise our children.  But, that feeling of responsibility just naturally comes.  Jakob really does help me raise my family.  His example is powerful and oh how I have relied on his physical stamina (especially when I'm not feeling well).

Jakob has always been my social child.  He's active at school and has a lot of friends.  Since we've moved to New York, he's been home more.  I love his calm, disciplined presence in our home.  He is a good, good kid.


Jakob sings with the select choir at school, he plays varsity soccer, he's on the robotics team, teen institute, and plays the Guitar, French Horn, and the piano.  He has a little angus bull named Mignon that he cares for daily.  And, he loves to play a few rounds of Super Smash Brothers with his dad and siblings at night before he goes to bed.  (Usually, I put the B Team to bed while the A Team finishes up their homework and the kitchen.  They play a couple rounds of Super Smash and I convince them to watch one episode of Blue Bloods with me.)

Jakob is a good cook.  He's not afraid to follow a recipe.  For his birthday he got a bread cookbook and I'm excited to taste his experiments!

Jakob is really smart.  He's gotten straight A's his whole life and is currently ranked 4th in his grade for his GPA.  He is independent.  I've never had to wake him up or tell him to study or remind him of upcoming events or help him with an essay.  This kid was born more responsible than I am.  I honestly just watch him and feel grateful that he's mine.
It's not just that I love him because he's my baby grown up.  I like him.  I admire him.  I learn from him.  I'm proud of who he is becoming and know that he came this way.

I worry about him too.  Poor child has always gotten the brunt of my parenting intensity.  I'm never sure that I'm doing things right with my oldest.  I get so worried about little things that I have to force myself to step back and see the big picture.  

I'm hard on him, maybe too hard.
He's got a lot of responsibility, maybe too much.
He is surrounded by little kids all the time, that's fun and overwhelming at times.

Oh, Jakob.
Thank you!  Thanks for being the best oldest child a mother could ask for.  Thanks for being a darling big brother and a natural peace maker.  Thanks for vacuuming the floor anytime I ask and cleaning up the grossest messes that make me gag.  Thanks for making me laugh and for sharing your strength when I'm tired.

I brought  balloons and a Burger King lunch up to the HighSchool for his birthday.  Jakob was sitting at a table with all girls, bundled up in his coat with his backpack on.  He said he wasn't feeling well and I felt his head, he was burning up.  He said he was sick but wanted to take his quiz in AP Biography.  I suggested he come home with me.  The nurse had to take his temp and it was 102.

Jakob came home and poured his Oreo shake into cups to share with his little brother and sisters.  He collected sheets, pillows, blankets, tissues, and a trash can and made himself a sick bed on the couch.  He found Johnny English on Netflix and yelled for me and Ellie (who is also home with a fever) to come watch it with him.
We had wonton soup and egg rolls for dinner because everyone is a little sick.

Jakob, he's good.
I love him.
I feel humbled as my children grow.  My body worked with God and Todd to create their bodies, but I did not create their souls.

Jakob came wise.  
17 is so close to 18, 19, 20.
It's hard to fathom.
I know that I will miss his presence in our home as he grows up.
Happy Birthday Kid.
You are loved.

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