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 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'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


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.

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