Monday, February 6, 2017

Unfreezing Our Frozen Hearts

It's been six weeks since we moved here to Cranberry Township, PA...just outside of Pittsburgh.  Six weeks of being crammed in an apartment.  Six weeks of sickness.  Six weeks of trying to find a new routine and learning the ropes at school.  The children have been missing their friends a lot, so I decided it was time to head home for a quick visit...only I didn't tell them!  It was a total surprise.

Our old hometown Lewisburg, PA has a fun Ice Festival every February, and the kids and I have been going for years.  I wasn't about to miss it.  Turns out it was a great opportunity not only to hug our friends and blow off steam, but also to step back and realize how far we've come in six weeks and how much we've each grown.  My favorite moment was watching Scarlett jump into the arms of her friend who was also totally surprised to see her come for a visit.  (I'll share that video on my Facebook page!)

It was so refreshing.  There is something about being in a familiar place that is very rejuvenating.  It's hard being somewhere where everything, even driving to the grocery store takes a lot of brainwork. It's exhausting.

But being home and knowing that their friends are STILL there for them was good for the children.  And for me.

Lately, Scarlett has been writing uplifting messages and leaving them for us to see.  Yesterday, during church, she stood before the congregation and said, "I know that when I'm going through hard things I can pray to Heavenly Father and he will help me through."  That's something we can all gain a knowledge of as we face our individual challenges, and if it took moving ot learn that then it will have been totally worth it!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Many Mansions

Today is a happy day.  This morning, we met with our new home builder to have the "groundbreaking" meeting, which officially starts the build of our new home.  What a relief it is to know that we won't be living in an apartment indefinitely.

But today is also tinged with sadness for me, as we just received news that our former home, which we loved so much, has also sold.  Of course, this is good news financially, and a blessing to have it sell so quickly (and over Christmas!), but it's just making me a little teary this afternoon.

Have I ever told you the story about our old house?  It's a good one, and one that is full of proof that God knows who we are and knows the end from the beginning.

When we first moved to Lewisburg Pennsylvania, about 10 years ago, we bought our first home.  And it was wonderful.  But originally, I didn't want to look at it because it didn't have any trees or any landscaping on the property.  Over the five and a half years that we lived there, my husband and I worked tirelessly to landscape and put in trees.  We like to do things ourselves, so we bought the largest trees we could find and stayed up way past dark digging holes and putting them in the ground.  I spent many hours with my three little children running around, through, and to and from greehouses in our area, bringing home all sorts of plants to try and make our yard more private, lush, beautiful, and fun.

Soon, we were pretty happy and proud of (at least the back yard). Although, not every plant took, because of the poor soil, it was becoming quite lovely.

I remember destinctly one day, I went to a playgroup at a local Mom's house. I parked in her cul-de-sac, which was tucked away in a wooded neighborhood that I didn't even know existed.  I remember stepping out of the car and noticing the house next to hers.  It was only partially exposed, because the vegetation around it was so thick, lush, and green.  It was the strangest feeling, as if someone had taken my face with their hands and turned it toward this mysteriously hidden gem-of-a-house.  I stopped completely in my tracks, and thought, "Someday, we'll live in a house like that."  Then, of course, I immediately stopped myself.  "No, you won't.  Why are you even thinking like that??"  We weren't in the market for a home.  This house wasn't for sale. And there were no other properties that I knew of like this one in our town.

I forgot about that moment completely and a few years passed before I ever thought of it again.

Then about four years ago, right after the birth of my 4th child, I found that my husband had been looking for houses online sort of on the down-low. One day, soon after giving birth, he said to me, "I've found the perfect house for us, do you want to see it?"

I looked at him with disbelief.  Why would he be looking at houses? We loved our neighborhood, dearly loved our friends on our street, we'd made memories here, I had just had a baby and was in no condition to pack up and move, and it was almost Christmas for crying out loud.

But I looked...just to humor him.

He turned his laptop toward me, and in about .5 seconds I saw what I had seen that day in the cul-de-sac outside of my friend's house.  

I said, "I know exactly what house that is. I've seen it...It's amazing."

And so the story goes.  I cried when I left my first home, but I was able to move on to the next place that God had waiting for me, because I had had that spiritual impression years earlier.

When we moved in to what my Dad calls "the sacred grove house" it was nearly spring.  What I was able to see when the trees and bushes bloomed was that trees which I had painstakingly planted at our old house were already in my yard (only there were nine of them, instead of one), the soil was rich and every type of beautiful, flowering, evergreen plant you would want was growing there.

There were like 5-10 different things about that house that were absolutely fulfilling things that were on my wishlist...things that only God could have known would make me personally happy.  And the thing was that those "things" were put there 20-30 years before we ever lived there.

I came to respect the fact that God really does know the end from the beginning, and admire the fact that He loves us so much that He orchestrates so many small details in this world to create a place for us to grow to love Him in...whether He is giving us our dreams or asking us to wait for them...or even only letting us experience them for time...He has it all in His scope.

I also came to understand that we are all just stewards of this life and the things in it.  We landscaped our home for another family to enjoy.  Other people came before me and created something beautiful that our family was able to enjoy.

Now we have passed that beautiful property and all of its blessings on to another family to appreciate (and I hope that they do!)  Either way, our turn is up and we've traded the beauty of the woods for what is, for the moment, a three bedroom apartment and a pile of rocks...that will soon be the foundation of another new home in which we will learn and grow together.

It isn't easy to leave the old and familiar behind for the unknown, but having a past to look to gives me more capacity to hope for an eternal future.  I never thought the Lord could create something so particilar to me, something that I would love so much. It was a masterpiece that took years of foresight to make...and yet, because He proved to me He was capable, I leave open the door to trust that He can do it again....and I can open my imagination--just a little bit--to believe that just like he prepared our last house for us, He prepares Mansions in eternity for us to inhabit some day.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

So Many Ways to See

Yesterday, as I watched my husband hold out our baby so that a blind woman sitting near us in church could feel his baby tie and then his chubby hand and finally his soft face and silky, fine hair, I was reminded that magic really does exist. 

With each gentle touch she smiled brighter and exclaimed, "You're just so beautiful." 

This whole interaction began when the woman in front of her turned around to help her take the sacrament (which was also so sweet, kinds, and magical) and mentioned to her, "You can't see this but there is a baby next to you wearing a sweet little tie..." 

So much was magical in this moment but the happiness she found in experiencing something she could not see with her eyes is what I'll always remember.

Have a great week, guys!  And take time to slow down and "see" the blessings that are right in front of you!

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Work and work and wait and see...

Well, we made it to Pittsburgh.  We moved two days before Christmas.  I picked the kids up right after their last day of school.  They bawled.  It was the saddest sound I've ever heard.  It was the sound of their first broken heart.  

Other details about our move.  My baby threw up in the packed car, but, thankfully, didn't make too much of a mess.  We headed back to say good-bye to our house and clean up the baby.  While there, my 4-year-old started throwing up all over the kitchen.  She threw up all the way to Pittsburgh. I stopped 5 times in four hours to empty the barf bowl and clean it out with snow from the side of the road.  But even that wasn't that bad.

There have been many tender mercies, but still it's been really hard. We're living in an apartment until our house is built.  But we've all been sick over Christmas and New Year's, especially my baby who threw up for a week straight, had a cold, and now is battling a fever. And the kids, who are all sharing a room, never want to go to bed nicely.  Not at all.

I know that the Lord is watching out for us though, as he sent many friends to help me move (My husband was already in Pittsburgh. He came a month earlier.).  He has sent other people to befriend us.  In fact, the first night here, I met a woman in Target at like 10:30pm.  I asked her to be my friend because, well, we kept getting in each other's way, and I was feeling like I just needed a friend, and she agreed. (It turned out her son is my son's age and in his "teaching team" at school.)

One night soon after, I found myself making a late-night Walmart run.  I suddenly realized I didn't know a soul (and at Walmart back home, I usually know many of the people working and shopping!)  I felt really lonely, so I said something about it on facebook.  Wouldn't you know, the friend I met in Target invited me out for pie at like midnight.  She dropped everything for me, a stranger, and came out in the cold at midnight to cheer me up.  Super cool, good woman.

I had to stay home from church today to tend my sick baby.  As he slept, something caught my eye.  There were three deer running past our apartment window...something that happened frequently at my old house.  It might not mean much to someone else, but to me it meant something.  

I know the Lord is watching over me.  I know He sees me struggle and feel sad and miss old friends and old ways and the comfort of a home and my things around me.  But I know He knows what's best for me and for my family, and so I keep going.  One day at a time until I learn the lessons He wants me to learn and arrive at the places He wants to lead me through.

It's a little scary.  It's a lot lonely.  It's very draining.  But I trust in Him.

And for now, we work and work and wait and see...what the Lord has waiting for me.
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Sunday, December 11, 2016

To think in such a place...

It's been a little quiet around here, but not quiet at all in my real life.  Just to catch you up, we had a baby in April (a sweet, sweet boy named Val!) then we pretty promptly found ourselves without a job, we went on a super amazing family road trip that took us all the way to California and back with lots of stops at points in between (this was in the works before the job loss!)  Then we waited a lot and worked a lot to find a job.  And I was sad a lot about the thought of having to move for a potential job and leave this little town I've come to love, and then my husband was blessed to find a great job, which is taking us to the much bigger city of Pittsburgh (which is 1. still in Pennsylvania 2. lots closer to my family, and 3. going to be an amazing place to live!)

So, just to back up, if you've been around my blog here for a while, you might have noticed that I love living here in rural, central Pennsylvania.  I will say, it has not been without it's ups and downs.  But at some point over the last decade of living here, I made a decision...not just to tolerate this smalltown life, but to love it.  Not just to give a passing glance at my neighbors, but to get to know, love, and serve them. Not just to complain about the way things were going down at school and the community, but to make positive change.  

I have mentioned almost none of those life-changing episodes here on my blog, mainly because some of it is sensitive in nature, but these are the experiences that have shaped who I have become over the last 10 years. And the friendships.  Oh, the wonderful friendships I've experienced with Moms of all walks.  Words can't express how much those friendships have nurtured and taught me.

So yes, I have given my heart and soul to my life here, to the neighborhoods and communities I've been a part of.  Where too many transplants come here and complain (a lot) about the lack of stores, lack of "cultural experiences", the very small stakes and wards, the lack of...fill in the blank, I decided not to do that.  And because I decided to deliberately fall in love with this place and to see its beauty, it hurts all the harder to leave. 

But even the hurt feels good and right to me.  If I wasn't sad to leave, then I'd wonder if I'd managed to do what I came here to do.  
I'm sure Heavenly Father, knowing my heart, made sure to give me PLENTY of time to start to let go of my life here, and to say my good-byes.  He knew I'd need time to accept this change.  As soon as the job went away, I knew we would most likely move.  So starting in August, I focused on saying good-bye.  I focused on not just good-bye but on taking my friends aside one by one and telling them just how much I loved them, what it was that they did for me, what I see in and respect about them.  And just giving nice long, real hugs.

In addition to good friends, I found myself saying good-bye to helpers who care for our family: our dental hygenist, my favorite Walmart cashier, my lady at the Post Office, and on and on all who I know by name.

(Knowing most people by name, I'm going to miss that.  Seeing the same people day in and day out, I'm going to miss that too.)

The more I thanked people and expressed my love for people, the more aware of my blessings I became.  Every time I think maybe I've come to the end of my list of friends to say good-bye to, there seem to be more.  This is both humbling and soul-filling.

So, here I am at the end of 10 messy years, really my first decade of Motherhood, looking back with deep, deep, deep gratitude.  

At the school where I attended college there was a saying, "To think in such a place, I led such a life."  Those words come to mind now when I think about life in Lewisburg.

Do other people feel this way about the places they live?  They must. I can't be the only romantic out there.

The saving grace about moving for me is knowing that the Lord is leading us, He is blessing us. He has NEVER let us down before.  And I know that He is leading us to the next phase of our lives, to a place where we can learn and grow and continue to become the people he wants us to become.

I am reading a book that I randomly heard about. It's called, "This is Where You Belong: the Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live." I don't anticipate not being able to love where we will be living next. In fact, I probably could have written this book, however I'm open to suggestions, and my heart is open and ready for new friendships, new challenges, new opportunities to stand as a witness.

I'll admit, I've only read part of the very first chapter, but the quote on the first page is one I'm pondering in my mind, and maybe you'll think long and hard about it as well. It goes like this, "A place belongs forever to whoever claimes it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image." - Joan Didion.

I claim Lewisburg, Pennsylvania from June 2007 to December 2016, and I hope when the earth is rolled up like a scroll, it will claim me too.

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Togertherness: the best part of Conference

Another #LDSConf has come and gone, and what a spectacular one it was for us.  

For nearly 11 years now we have watched all of the sessions of General Conferences as a family...just my husband and me...and babies.  Those babies became toddlers, and toddlers became school kids who are venturing into tweendom.  And all of those years of practice watching and learning from General Conference is really beginning to pay off.  They can sit.  They can identify principles. They can learn. They can feel the Spirit.  They can record their feelings. They can ask questions.  They can discuss what they heard with us.

They did all of that this weekend, with surprisingly little assistance from us, and that made me feel proud and happy for them.

However, as I was cleaning up this evening, I realized that the best part of Conference for me this time around was just spending time together as a family.  

Now that they are a little better at watching Conference, and now that they are mostly in school, I guess I was better able to notice what an amazing gift it is to simply BE together with my family for two whole days, with no expectations, nowhere to be, no jobs to fulfill, only that we sit and listen and think and feel...and laugh and eat and smile and giggle and snuggle and...hear the true words of God, uninterrupted by commercials or other media.

Some of my favorite moments are:

- watching my nearly six month old roll and roll around on the floor and then sit by himself for the first time
-listening to my almost 11 year old pound out Christmas songs on the piano and hearing him say, "I never knew I was good at piano!"
-seeing my 3 year old walk in wearing my high heels and bathrobe pretending to "be old"
-enduring a holy fit thrown by my 9 year old who won't eat her lunch and tells the whole family that the only reason we think it tastes good is because we are "all weird" (then smiling as she willingly eats that same meal 4 hours later and says, "actually, Mom this is delicious!" To which I respond, "Oh, good! I always knew you were just as weird as the rest of us." To which she smiled sheepishly and then we laughed together about the whole thing.) 
-looking around while the other children are being rowdy and seeing my almost 8 year old standing and singing during the congregational hymn, oblivious to anyone else, but being a great example at the same time.

And there was a really hard thing we were dealing with too, crushingly difficult, but even that was made a little lighter by virtue of just being together.

So, nothing earth-shattering here, just a realization that the blessings of Conference are many and great and long-lasting if we stick with it...I want to remember these good times.

The Church is wonderful.  The Gospel is true.  The Savior Lives.  His power is real.  And I want to use it to become better for my family which I hope will last forever and ever, Amen.
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Friday, September 30, 2016

Identifying Principles Taught in #LDSConf

Like many of you, I am doing some last-minute prep-work ahead of General Conference weekend.  I've got some food to cook and then I *really* want to get to bed early tonight, so I can enjoy Conference tomorrow.

I've done a few "doodle books" for my children over the years and shared them here, so I thought I'd share what we're doing this time as well.

I really do think it's true that the Lord helps us time-crunched Mothers out.  As I was running errands today, the thought came to me that during General Conference this time, I should ask my children to try to identify the principle being taught during each talk.  This is something we've been doing in our scripture study for a while now, so it only makes sense that we focus on that during Conference.

So I made our little doodle books up to go along with that theme.  Instead of trying to write down everything they hear, we are going to listen for and write down three things:

1. the principles being taught
2. the promptings we feel
3. our plans to apply that principle

Here is the format we will be using in doodle book form...nothing fancy, but it prints out neatly on 8 pages and makes for a no-fuss way to focus our minds on the most important things in the messages we look forward to hearing the weekend.  (We print them out and cut them in half, creating a little half-sheet booklet.) Have fun! (And see our General Conference Ideas Page for more helpful ideas for watching General Conference & studying it with children.)

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

#PhillyLDSTemple Cultural Celebration

Our family really enjoyed seeing the cultural celebration of the Philadelphia Temple last night.  It was our first time attending such an event, so we really didn't know what to expect. 

Our family accidently ended up sitting on the backside of the stage so it was difficult for me to get pictures of all of the amazing things represented in the program, which included William Penn who founded Pennsylvania as a place to worship God, the founding of the United States, the making of the Flag, George Washington at Valley Forge, Benjamin Franklin's innovations, the Restoration of the Priesthood and much more.  But we were able to partake of the spirit and see our young friends perform and share testimony, and that's what matters most.

On the way to the arena at Temple University, our GPS took us through some of the hardest neighborhoods I've seen in quite a while.  This is not news to us who have been attending the open houses for the temple or watching it being built. The temple is located right downtown in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Philly. The neighborhoods where the temple is located are very destitute in a lot of ways.

I share this one photo I snapped as we drove in, but really it is one of the nicer buildings, absolutely does not represent what we really saw.  I just share it for a point of reference.  It struck me as we passed through and saw children playing in vacant lots that passed for "parks".  It humbled me.  It impressed upon me. All I could think was, "And the Lord put a temple here!"  He put a temple here, because He loves ALL of his children.  All nationalities, all colors, all creeds, all ages, all circumstances, all economic classes.  He is actively calling each one of us to come follow Him.

The evening was amazing.  We loved hearing and seeing the youth from our stake bearing such powerful testimonies of the Savior Jesus Christ and His gospel and of the importance of temples.  

Some moments I really liked included hearing the story of young William Penn who prayed to God when he saw his father imprisoned.  Not understanding why just men were punished and then feeling light fill the room and vowing to serve God all his days echoed to experiences shared by George Washington and Joseph Smith who also turned to God in prayer for answers.

I loved seeing George Washington crossing the Delaware river and praying with his soldiers.  During that sequence I watched a group of boys posing as soldiers freezing at Valley Forge.  I saw a boy in a wheelchair being brought over to join with his fellow young men around the campfire.  That also touched my heart.  There is room for everyone is Christ's church.

I also loved the sequence where the founding fathers signed the Constitution. They seemed so vulnerable, but also so clearly willing to do what the Lord wanted them to do and to put their trust in Him.

Some of the more delightful and entertaining sequences were Ben Franklin's kite episode and the type-writer sequence. (Hopefully they will post it online so you can see it!)

But my favorite moment had to be the end of the program as the youth circled the replica of the temple which they helped "build", with hands raised, singing "The Spirit of God".  It was so powerful.  I moved up a few rows higher to get a better picture and when I turned around I noticed that there was a "couple" standing in front of the temple getting married.  The whole scene was moving, positive, joyful, strong.

As we drove home we talked about some of the scenes we saw together. We talked of the temple where there is so much order and how things tend to be in a home where there are mothers and fathers who are actively looking out for families, actively teaching them day in and day out, actively forgiving one another and trying to improve together.  We obseved that the Lord has a pattern that He clearly lays out for us in temples, and if we will do our best to follow it, our families will be happier and stronger. In fact, his pattern is the very reason families exist at all.  And if we turn our backs on it, if we stop trying to do the right things in our families, over time, families fail and societies crumble. If we follow it, regardless of our class or economic status, our families can be happy, strong, and grow to be incredible as generations pass.

As hard as it is at our house these days, as stressful as it tends to be trying to keep our family moving in the right direction during what is a very difficult time for us, I can see that I must keep trying no matter how easy it might seem to give up. As tired as I am of telling the children to clean up after themselves, as tired as I am of trying to teach them to be kind to one another...somewhere I must find the strength to try again, one more day, and the day after that one.  And I know the strength I seek to strengthen my family can be accessed as I worship in the temple.

So those are just some thoughts I had last night.  It was a privilege to watch these amazing youth express their love of the gospel and their joy for life last night.  Now, I need to get ready for the dedication later today.  Have a blessed Sabbath!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Holy Hamburger, Batman!

Our family is in a bit of a tight spot here this summer as my husband's job went away semi-suddenly.  He's been with the same company for nearly a decade, and we've been so blessed during that time. Now he's job hunting, but there is a lot of uncertainty about what this will mean for our family in the coming months.  

Needless to say, with a new baby and the job situation, things are stressful for us.

So, our day to serve in the new Philadelphia Temple open house finally came last weekend.  I was signed up to serve Friday night, which meant leaving my husband to fend for, feed and get our five kids settled in our downtown hotel all on his own.  Let me just say that given the conditions of the downtown area where the temple is located, this was a BIG ASK.  

Anyway, my shift was from 5-10pm, and the last time I had eaten was 2pm, so midway though my volunteer time I started to get hungry. 

While I was standing there waiting for another group to come through my thoughts turned to food.  I found myself wishing I could have a hamburger for dinner...and wishing I could tell my husband to pick one up for me before he came to pick me up (which would be well after 10pm that night.) 

I couldn't text my husband though, because our cell phones and purses were being kept in the meeting house next door.  So, without thinking about the impropriety of my request, I said a prayer in my head, "Heavenly Father, please ask Steve to pick up a hamburger for me before he picks me up from my shift tonight."

I caught myself and, that seems like an inappropriate request to ask God for a hamburger!  What am I thinking?  But I had already thought the prayer!  So, again in my head, I tried to soften the request with, "A salad would be ok too...but a Burger would really hit the spot."  Man, I thought, God must think I have some nerve!

When my husband picked me up, he told me how difficult it was with all the children and the circumstances at the hotel...then trying to secure dinner for them all.

I asked, "You didn't happen to pick up any food for me, did you?"

Of course, his answer was yes.

It wasn't until we made it to the hotel that I discovered he had indeed bought me a hamburger!!!  (Which is not at all a usual request for me!)

He said he was all set to pick up Panera for the kids.  He had even taken their orders.  But when he walked downstairs to get dinner, he walked by a burger joint and he suddenly thought, "Hmmmm, a burger sounds good."  He scrapped his plans and bought hamburgers for dinner instead.

I don't know why the Lord saw fit to get me a burger that evening.  I am well-aware that the most powerful-being in the Universe does not need, nor should be expected to fulfill such a silly request...and yet He did and He does....all. the. time.  Because He can.  And because He loves us.

Because of the physical demands and changes of having a baby and the stress of not having a job, I have felt spiritually distant lately.  But through this experience, I felt the Lord reaching out to me, pulling me back in, and showing me, once again, that there is nothing He can't request too great or too small...and that if I will just lean on Him a little more, He can help me with anything.

The temple is beautiful.  Life is beautiful...and strange sometimes.

And that burger was DELICIOUS!

(Burger Fi brands their name on their burgers as you can see.  We had never even heard of Burger Fi, but even re-heated, this burger was smashingly good.  So for our ward Linger Longer this week, Steve made his own branded Temple burgers!)

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Finally, a Temple in Pennsylvania!

Oh, I know it's been a while.  I've been enjoying precious, sweet, personal time with my new baby.  I wouldn't trade it for the world...or for the blogging-world.  Sorry guys!

But if there's anything that would be a strong enough pull to bring be back to blogland, it would be the completion of the first ever temple in my beloved home-state of Pennsylvania.

Our family has waited 8 long years, since the announcement, to see this temple come to fruition.  (My grandpa who was born here and who has passed on has waited much longer!) Two years ago on our way to the airport, we visited the temple under construction, and it was thrilling even to see a shell of a house of the Lord gracing this beautiful land we have come to love so much.

So, yeah, we're excited to go serve in the temple open house this weekend and to take our children through on a tour.

Although, our family has a lot of big things going on at the moment, I was reminded at church this morning not to let this once-in-a-lifetime, much anticipated season of life pass me we're making every effort to follow the admonishment of our Stake leaders to try to serve in the temple as open house volunteers 3-5 times before its dedication.

With 5 kids and a nursing baby, this seems like a lot (seeing as the temple is 2.5 hours from our house!)  But we want to be a part of the miracles that will undoubtedly accompany the dedication of such a beautiful house of God.

I'm pretty sure I can't even begin to describe what this temple means to me personally as a proud-Pennsylvania saint living in one of the smallest and most spread out stakes in North America...but I'm sure you can imagine.

If you're a reader anywhere on the East coast, please think about coming over to tour this temple built in the heart of the birthplace of America.  You can book a tour here.
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