I'm home from church today because I'm not feeling well, but I'd really wanted to share my testimony since it is Fast Sunday. And then I realized, I still can! I can share with you all. So bear with me, this is going to be long.
Summer has all but flown this year. Several small trips, many not part of our original plans, have brought fun and laughter to our family. And many have brought some valuable lessons. So I'm going to break it down by trip:
1) Always be willing to serve with a smile. Ben got a pretty nasty case of bronchitis midway through this summer, which was scary because he's still little. Really, bronchitis is always scary. He woke Jonathan up coughing and struggling for breath at 6am and after a little while to see if he improved, we knew we needed to get him to a doctor. No parent wants to have to wake up all the children for a trip to the hospital, especially when you have no idea how long the visit will take. I hate calling people early in the morning, especially that early, because I know how much I love my sleep. But I remembered that a sister in our ward had recently moved two doors down and had told us, "Anytime you need a sitter, let my girls know." Feeling terrible because I knew I was probably about to wake her up, I called Kate. She answered and I explained the problem. "Not a problem. I'll wake Rebecca up and send her right over." By 6:45, Rebecca was at my house with a bright smile and ready to help my older two while we took Ben to Garden City. When we finally arrived back home, we offered to pay her and she refused. "I'm happy to help you out." I could have kissed her. Having been a babysitter, I know a long day of watching kiddos can be tough. But she did it with a smile, helping my children with their chores, keeping them calm and happy while we took care of Ben's need. Gail and Gary couldn't stop talking about how awesome their new friend Rebecca was. Her service meant the world to us.
2) It's okay to get help, even if you don't think you need it. One of our trips to Derby was a surprise for my parents. Eliza needed some help with the organization projects she had planned while my parents and youngest brother were at a family reunion and since we had time, we decided to help out. We spent our days clearing out and cleaning and had a great time doing it. Something my mom and mom-in-law have both said is, "It's always easier to clean someone else's house." And you know what? It's so true! I polished silver, dusted shelves, wiped counters and tables while my husband tackled the garage and my children helped put away the little things. On the night we had planned on being our last in the area, we decided to celebrate all the work we'd gotten done by going to Village Inn. I had been working hard, admittedly probably a little too hard in my condition, and had not been drinking water and snacking like I normally do. I felt fine until we got to the restaurant. And then it happened. I passed out. Each time I came to, I tried desperately to make it to the bathroom because I knew what would come next and each time I fizzled out again. Thankfully my sister was there to break my fall and the staff at Village Inn were amazing. Two were helping take care of me while another helped get my children seated. When I finally came around enough to get to the bathroom, my sister walked in with me while the waitress waited outside the door and let me know EMTs were on their way. Great, I thought, they're going to make a big fuss because I'm pregnant and all I need to do is sit down, cool off, and eat. Sure enough, the fire department arrived first and asked what happened. I explained and they asked, "Do you want to go to the hospital?"
"Oh, I'd really rather not if I can avoid it. I think I'm just a little overheated and hungry. I'm sure once I get something to eat and sit down for a while, I'll be just fine."
"Well, ma'am, because you're pregnant, the EMTs will probably want to take you in, just to be safe. But we'll see what they say."
They arrived next and you got it, into the ambulance I went and to the hospital. I'll admit, it grated my nerves at first. I knew what the problem was. I knew I was fine and that my baby was fine. Then a tiny voice said, "Just let them help you." So I swallowed my pride and had a great conversation with one of the EMTs, who it turns out graduated with me from Derby High, all the way to the hospital. Despite my blood pressure being low enough I shouldn't have been coherent, I was able to keep talking and laughing. Jonathan met me at the hospital and I was poked and prodded, got blood tests done, and had to repeat the same information for the nurse, the med student, and the doctor. All for them to tell me, "You probably had this episode because you were hungry and overheated. But make sure you tell your OB as soon as you can."
Yep, that's what I told you.
But at the same time, as Jonathan and I drove back to my parents' house, I was grateful for the help we'd received. Jonathan told me how the staff at Village Inn had made sure our children got dinner while I was being taken care of and how the manager had covered their meals. Everyone who worked with me was kind and compassionate, because nothing makes me feel dumber than creating a scene. I have all the sympathy in the world when it happens to someone else, but when it's me? Come on, Jess, get a grip! And despite my bravado of saying I knew I was fine and knew Baby was fine, it was so reassuring to hear that little heartbeat. Getting help, even though I was so certain I didn't need it, was a blessing.
3) God is watching over us. The next trip to my parents' house was one I'd planned. Jonathan was going to be in Denver for a teaching conference and rather than spend the week with just my kiddos for company, I decided they would do well with some Grammy and PaPa time. Plus it would give me some time to wrap up a writing project that was fast approaching its deadline. So the day of our trip, we gave Daddy hugs and kissed, piled into our van, and drove to Derby. The drive went smooth without a single hitch. We spent the next day and a half playing and having fun. Then as I was working on my story, I said goodbye to my dad who was heading out to work, only to have him come right back inside. "You don't plan on going anywhere today, do you?" he asked.
"Well, I had planned to do some shopping today."
"Mom will be driving you right?"
"Dad, I've got my car. I was planning to drive."
"Let me rephrase that. Mom will be driving you, right?"
A sinking feeling settled in my stomach. "Why?"
"Because you've got a flat tire."
"What? Which one?" Panic hit me big time. I choose to be cash only and I certainly hadn't brought enough cash for a new tire.
Dad could see my panic and said, "Don't worry about it. Let's go look at the tire. Maybe it just needs to be reinflated." So we go out and look at the tire. And it was a horrifying sight. The tire was run down clear to the wire threads on the inside in places. As Dad and I looked at it we both had the exact same thought which Dad voiced, "How on earth did this not explode on your way out here? This should never have survived the four hour drive from Plains to Derby in the kind of heat we're having."
"Extremely, overly-diligent guardian angels?"
"Yeah, something like that. Okay, let me get changed into clothes I can get dirty in and I'll go over to the tire shop and get a new tire for your van. Has this tire given you any problems?"
"Well, it had a slow leak, but other than that it seemed fine."
"I'm looking at your other tires."
I knew better than to argue with Dad. He looked at the others. Two were just fine and I remembered that Jonathan had gotten two new tires just the year before. The other tire was going bald.
"How are you, financially?"
I about cried. "I don't have money with me for tires, Dad. I only use cash because I know I overspend if I have a card. We're tight right now, but I'm sure we could figure something out. I just don't have Jonathan here with me to pay now."
Like a good father, Dad wrapped his arms around me and said, "It'll be fine. I can get the tires. Don't worry about it. I'll get this tire off and go get a new one. Then we'll put that on and take your van in to replace the bald tire. It's going to be fine." So he got changed into tee-shirt and jeans, took my old tire off the van, called into work to let them know he was definitely going to be late, and then drove to get my new tire. But the whole time, I couldn't stop thinking about the wire threads I saw. How had that tire stayed together? And I knew the answer. God was watching out for me. He knows that I'm pregnant and there are three small children in that car with me almost every time I drive. He knows the small highway we drive doesn't get a ton of traffic and there are long stretches between towns. He knows I don't currently have the strength to change a tire on my own. Willpower, yes. Knowledge, yes. Strength, no. He knows my needs and He knows yours. He knew I needed to be able to get to my destination before that tire gave out and He miraculously held it together when by all accounts, it should have blown to smithereens on the highway.
4) The temple is a refuge from the storm. This summer our Elliott reunion was in Nauvoo, Illinois. For those in the LDS church, the name is familiar, but for those who aren't I'll give a little background. Nauvoo was one of the settlements the early members of the church built before the migration to Utah. It was a thriving, bustling town with farms, cute little houses, schools, and a temple. The temple was destroyed after the pioneers left, but has been rebuilt. While in Nauvoo, my husband and I wanted to be able to go to the temple. We decided to take turns rather than go together, based on what needed to be done that day for the reunion. I got the first turn and drove to the temple, so thrilled to be going again. I had names from my family to take through and I just could not wait. The week we were in Nauvoo was beastly hot with heat indices between 111 and 117. I spent each day struggling with the heat and high humidity. Somehow I was able to push through to enjoy the activities, but inside I was melting! When I arrived at the temple, I walked through the oppressive atmosphere and as soon as I stepped inside the doors, I was wrapped in cool, refreshing air. But it wasn't just the air conditioning that enveloped me. It was the peace and calm of the temple. There's a special spirit in the places our ancestors have walked and met. Nauvoo is no different and the temple, while not the original structure, still carries that sweet feeling of familiarity and love. I got the family names printed out and went up to the changing room, reveling in the sweet calm I felt. I felt close to those who had gone before me. Worries and tension I had been carrying about various projects and issues in my life melted away into blissful peace. The temple gave me refuge. It gave me peace. It gave my mind clarity to see solutions to some of my problems and to let go of others. I received the gentle reminder that I was God's daughter and that He loved me. It was a special experience and I was almost sad to leave when my session was done. But that spirit I felt there, I carried with me. Suddenly, the heat didn't seem so intense. The humidity didn't seem quite so oppressive. Peace was in my soul and joy in my heart.
It has been a long time since I posted in this blog, and hopefully I can get back into regularly writing here. But I felt the need to say how blessed I am. Our Heavenly Father knows and loves each of us. I know many are facing challenges and may feel abandoned, but I promise you He is watching over you. Your experiences may be vastly different from my own, but God loves you and is watching you. He is blessing you, perhaps in ways you cannot now recognize. Not everything gets a simple answer. But He is there. He loves you. He hears you. And I know as we listen, He speaks to us in ways only we feel and understand. Listen for His voice in your life. And watch for the little miracles and blessings He gives.
Friday evening just as I was about to sign off of Facebook, I noticed that a post had been put up on our family group. Since posts tend to be few and far between, I decided to take a look. I learned that my husband's uncle had been in a bike accident and prayers were requested. It was later in the evening when my father-in-law called with the news. Uncle Mike had passed away. Details were limited, but he encouraged us to pray for Mike's family and patiently wait more information. I expressed condolences and promised to share the information with my husband when he got home as well as keep the family in our prayers.
It is hard to describe the emotions that went through me. After hanging up the phone, my children eagerly asked who I'd been talking to and who I said we'd pray for. It never gets easier, talking to children about the reality of death. I gently explained that it was Grandpa who'd called and that his older brother had passed away. "We're going to pray for his wife and children, for Grandpa because Uncle Mike is his brother, and for Grandma-Great."
My Gary's little nose wrinkled in confusion. "Why are we praying for Grandma-Great? Is she sick?"
"No, sweetie. But Uncle Mike was her baby just like you are my baby. It hurts when a parent loses their child."
"But Uncle Mike's not really lost. Families are forever!"
Oh to have the faith of a child! Yes, sweet Gary, families are indeed forever. Uncle Mike is not lost to us. Not now and not in eternity.
We talked for a while and after saying our prayers, Gary said, "You know, I bet Uncle Mike is up with Grandpa Gary watching over Grandma-Great and Grandpa and everybody in our whole family and even in the world."
I hugged this faithful, inspiring little boy and smiled through my tears. "Yes, Gary, I do believe you're right."
My word this year is rejoice and you might be wondering why I would share sad news with such a theme. I admittedly did not know Uncle Mike extremely well. We didn't see him often since we lived in different states, but when I did see him, Mike embodied the word rejoice.
Uncle Mike seemed to always be laughing. In fact, I'm not sure I ever personally witnessed him frown. Whether I saw him interacting with adults or playing with his grandchildren, joy and love radiated from him. He was the type of person you just couldn't help feeling good around. His love for his family was clear in everything I saw him say and do. And his faith in Christ and in the gospel was palpable. When he bore testimony, it was with power and conviction. He was a man with a commanding presence, and yet Uncle Mike was one of the most humble men I knew. I remember once, and I can't for the life of me remember where we were, hearing him say, "I'm the Hyrum to Mark's (my father-in-law) Joseph." He served those around him with love and kindness. I remember seeing him take grandchildren at reunions so their parents could eat unhampered. During one meal when I was holding my own sleeping child, he cut the meat on my plate since I couldn't cut it one-handed, let alone the fact that only my left hand was available.
In my eyes, Mike was a modern-day Sam. He quietly did what was needed with faith and determination. There will be some who feel that the world lost a great man Friday, and I suppose it is true. But I prefer to think that Heaven gained one. And as my son reminded me, families are forever. The joy of the gospel is that family units are eternal. It is one of the things that brings me the most peace at times like this. Though they are physically gone, they are not lost. I will surely miss Uncle Mike's laugh, his quiet strength, his joy and love at our next family reunion. I will miss seeing his eyes light up when he talks about the gospel or his children and grandchildren. But I know that in the end, we will see him again. We will see all our family again. And how sweet a reunion there was in Heaven tonight as Uncle Mike joined those who have gone before him!
Though my heart aches for his immediate family, I rejoice in the knowledge that his family will one day be reunited. What joy there is in knowing that those who go before us are not lost forever, but wait for us to rejoin them in the eternal realms above. There will be moments of sadness, of course. It is natural when we lose a loved one to grieve. And I would never suggest that you repress those feelings of grief. We must experience sorrow and difficulty in order to fully understand and appreciate joy and peace. But in our sorrow, we can find peace and joy in our faith. Faith in our Heavenly Father, in His plan for us, in His promise that families are eternal and that we can be reunited not only with Him but with all we love; this faith is what gives us the strength to rejoice in times of sorrow. This faith is what gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow. This faith is what reminds us that those who are gone are not lost to us.
Goodbye, Uncle Mike. God be with you until we meet again.
I decided to start my year in the Book of Mormon. Even though I had gotten somewhere in Alma by the end of the year, it felt right to just start again at Nephi 1. Especially since between you and me, my study has not always been as regular as it ought to be. Over the past week I've read 1Nephi 1 - 10. Most nights, because I'm taking notes as I go, I only get through one chapter and often go over my 10 minute goal. It's amazing when you choose a focus word how much you find. So let's delve a little!
For those unfamiliar with 1 Nephi, let me give you a brief summary of what's happened so far. The book is written by Nephi and at the moment he is giving an abridgement of what his father taught and the journey of their family into the wilderness. His father, Lehi, is a prophet around the same time as Jeremiah. The people of Jerusalem are wicked and Lehi is tasked with warning them to repent or be destroyed. Those familiar with the Bible will know the people didn't listen. In fact, the people sought his life. The Lord commanded Lehi to take his family and journey into the wilderness towards a land promised them. In these first chapters, the family takes their journey and the sons are sent back twice. The first time, they go to retrieve the brass plates which hold the records and a genealogy of Lehi's family. The second time, they go to bring the family of Ishmael so that the sons of Lehi will be able to marry and have families of their own. The common theme here is that Laman and Lemuel are the naysayers and Nephi and Sam are the righteous brothers, with Sam often following Nephi's lead though Nephi is the youngest of the four. These chapters also record Lehi's dream regarding the Tree of Life.
Now that we've got a basic idea of what's going on, let's move into where rejoicing fits in to all of this.
When we read the first two chapters, we get an idea of the how Lehi's family is accustomed to living. Lehi was a righteous man and also a prosperous one. I'm sure there was shock in all of his family when he told them they were leaving their home, which in chapter 3 we learn has gold, silver, and precious things, and journeying into the wilderness with nothing more than simple tents and supplies. I have to admit, as much as I love camping (and I truly love camping!), if my husband came home one day and said, "Honey, we're going to have to leave the house and everything in it. I don't know how long we'll be living in tents and we're going to have to carry only our supplies, but it's what the Lord wants," I'm not sure how faithful I would be in that moment.
Here's something I think bears pointing out. Often in Sunday School when we discuss these chapters, Nephi is the one who just automatically says, "Let's do this!" and Sam listens to him while Laman and Lemuel, the oldest boys, whine and complain. But I don't think that's how it happened and Nephi, while he doesn't directly come out say, "When my father spoke these words I thought he was nuts," does give an indication that he had some misgivings about leaving their luxurious home to live in a tent and go only God knew where. Let's look at 1 Nephi 2:16 (emphasis added):
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, neverthless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers."
Did you catch that? Why would Nephi's heart need to be softened? Nephi had his doubts. Like the rest of us he was presented with a challenge and his initials thoughts were probably along the lines of, "What now?" So what made him different from his brothers? His actions following the doubt. It's okay to have questions, to have things you're just not sure about. What made Nephi different was that when doubts came, as they will to all of us, instead of dwelling in doubt and deciding, "Oh I'm not sure about this, so my father must be crazy," he took it to the Lord. He prayed for understanding and because he acted in faith, even though he wasn't sure, the Lord answered him and softened his heart.
Now, what does that have to do with rejoicing? It's a lot easier to see the good in challenges, to find reason to rejoice, when your heart is soft and you have faith that you're doing the right things.
When they paused in their journey, the family rejoiced and offered thanks to the Lord for bringing them safely that far. But their rest didn't last very long. Soon Lehi told his sons to return to Jerusalem to get the records. Laman and Lemuel murmured and Nephi gave his famous, "I will go and do," statement (1 Nephi 3:7). We don't often hear much about Sam. But I have a feeling that Sam was the type who just quietly goes about doing the Lord's work. He followed the directions of his priesthood leaders, and listened to those who understood things better than he did. Of all the people in the scriptures, of any book, I most relate to Sam. Sam is the person I most want to be like. Don't get me wrong, Nephi is awesome and his faith and courage are amazing. But, when I'm feeling discouraged or have questions, I want to have faith like Sam to listen. I want to have faith like Sam to just go and do without fanfare (and no, I don't think Nephi was looking for a parade). I want to have faith like Sam to trust in the Lord even when I'm not quite sure.
Now, we're going to jump forward a bit to when Nephi and his brothers were in Jerusalem. Sariah, their mother, was understandably worried and upset. They'd left their home because of the threat to her husband's life. And now they had just sent their sons into the fire, if you will. I can understand why she began to murmur and complain about him being "visionary." But I love how Lehi comforts her:
And it came to pass that my father spake unto her, saying, I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren.
Here's what I love about this. First, Lehi acknowledges Sariah's concern and gives a beautiful testimony of his role. He reminds her that he knows he is visionary, and explains why that is a blessing. Second, he reminds her of their promise. He shows her why he can rejoice and reminds her that she can as well. For if he has obtained a promised land, she surely has as well. He reminds her of what they have been blessed with and what lies ahead of them. Last, he reassures her that their sons will return and be all right. I find it very interesting that he did not bring this up first, but made it his last point. Why? Perhaps it is because as we recognize our roles, as we ponder on and rejoice in our blessings and promises, we can face the challenges we are presented with greater faith.
Isn't this true of what we face in today's world? There are challenges each of us face in this journey of life. We can be like Laman and Lemuel, compelled to obedience and quick to complain. It can sometimes feel like the easier road.
Or, we can be like Sam and Nephi. We can take our doubts to the Lord. We can ask those who love us most and who have the faith and knowledge to dispell our doubts. We can quietly and faithfully "go and do." And along the way, we can rejoice in the blessings we have received and the promises we have obtained.
As many of you already know, I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. During the last General Conference in October, many of the talks seemed particularly geared to missionary work. As a stay-at-home-mom, this is sometimes challenging. I have faith and I have a desire to share, but often for one reason or another, the time eludes me. Some of it is that I know I write beautifully. But when I start talking? Yeah, tongue-tied, nervous, all those things start to happen. And so as I listened to seemingly talk after talk about being a better missionary, I found myself asking, "What do you want me to do?" Just so you know, you should always be careful when you ask God a question. He'll answer you!
Elder Dallin H. Oaks talked about using social media and other resources and I knew this blog needed to happen. I put it off for a while. I didn't want to use my regular blog because that is focused on my writing and daily life sort of things. If I was going to blog about my faith, I wanted it to be separate.
The title for the blog came immediately as I remembered as a young seminary student (seminary in the LDS church is a scripture study class high school students take, focusing each year on a different book of scripture) hearing my teacher tell us to always be watching in our study for "God's love notes." She explained that these were passages of scripture that stood out to us in a special way. "It may not mean anything to anyone else in the class, but if it stands out to you, God is trying to tell you two things. One is a lesson and the other is that He loves you." I've tried to do that in my personal study of the scriptures ever since and my seminary scriptures were notoriously colorful with many post-it notes stuck in.
The purpose of the blog is two-fold. One, it allows me the opportunity to share my faith with those of you who are close to me and to some who are far away. Some of you reading this may be people I don't know. Some of you are probably family and close friends. In either case, I hope that in sharing these love notes, that God will be able to touch your life as He has mine. The second purpose is to have a place to record some of these love notes. I have a study journal and more notebooks than I can count with conference notes and bits of scripture that came to mind. Here I plan to focus in a little more and really delve into specific notes that come to mind.
Many of you have probably heard of the one word trend. Rather than making a large list of resolutions, you pick a word to focus your year around. I thought that was a pretty good idea, but I wanted to use it in my scripture study. The question was, which word to choose? I wasn't all the sure until I started looking for a scripture for my family to work on memorizing together for the new year. I wanted it to be something about renewal, so I flipped through my Topical Guide and as I was, I stumbled on this word:
I knew this was another love note from God. Last year was a tough one for me and rather than lingering in a funk, I knew it was time, past time really, to dig myself out. That word rejoice stood out as though the letters were lit from the inside. I put a bookmark there to come back to it as I continued to look for the scripture I wanted, which incidentally was Isaiah 40:31 if you'd like to learn it with us. After finding what I needed, I returned to the page. Rejoice. I scanned the list of scripture references and stopped on this verse in Ecclesiastes:
And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
How often do we rejoice in our labor? I read the verse again and again. I knew the message God was sending me. It's easy to be happy when things are going well. But when life is hard and everything seems too challenging, rejoicing can seem impossible. I love my writing and I love my art and my children and all the myriad activities and responsibilities I have. Yet there are times when I forget to rejoice. God has given me so very much. In the midst of every trial, He has been there. In my times of joy, He has been there. God has never abandoned me. Even at the times I felt loneliest, I knew that God was there and He loves me. What greater reason than this have we to rejoice? How precious is the love of our God! It was because He loves us that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to be our Redeemer. It is because He loves us that He gives us the ability to choose for ourselves what we will do. It is because He loves us that we have so much to rejoice in, even when times are hard. Perhaps especially when times are hard.
The photo I chose for the header of this blog is one that my husband took last August when we traveled to Fort Collins, Colorado for the Fort Collins Temple open house. It had started out beautifully in Kansas, overcast but warm. However as we traveled the weather got steadily worse until it was stormy and cold when we reached our destination. We stopped at a Walgreens to buy umbrellas before then going to the temple. It was raining off and on and unseasonably cold. Yet when we went into the building to view the beautiful artistry, the chill faded away. It wasn't just the warmth inside the building. It was something deeper. The pure joy of being in the Lord's house was something even my young children recognized and felt. We walked the grounds, huddled together to keep that warmth and stopped briefly so a friend could take pictures of our family. Then we took our children to the car and Jonathan returned to the temple grounds with the camera to take pictures. At the time, we had no idea of the storm which would hit our family at the end of the month. For that day, all was peace and joy, despite the drizzle and cold. When I learned of my ectopic pregnancy, I latched onto this day and the pictures of this temple. The peace, the love, the joy held there buoyed me up during those difficult days of grief and despair. The way the lights of the temple glow and gleam, no matter what the weather is doing, spoke to my broken heart. For me, this picture, and the others we took that day, symbolize the beauty of rejoicing even when it's hard.
And so, I hope this year as you decide your spiritual goals that you will choose something specific to focus on. This year, I choose to rejoice.
What are Love Notes?
When I was a high school freshman attending LDS seminary, my teacher taught us at the beginning of the year to pay close attention to scriptures and passages that stood out to us. "These," she said, "are God's love notes just for you."