Unity

This week, more than one stranger walked up to me and asked who Mary was, or why she was with me, or where I “got” her.

All of them followed up with, “because, well, you know, she’s a different color than you.”

One lady once clicked her tongue at me, either because I shouldn’t have adopted brown babies or because she was assuming I did something naughty to get them biologically.

Because, of course, if I am walking around with six babies in my little rainbow family, then the natural conclusions is that I have been sleeping around.

Or, maybe, just maybe, we chose our family long before any of us were born into skin color.

 

And maybe, just maybe, that’s not so different from any of us in our lives, even our own selves.

Maybe we all have parts of us that are different in some way or another, just like in nature all around us, and all of that variety plays an important part in our daily experience.

Maybe the only thing better than a rainbow family is heading home to your own family.

Maybe being a real family means it’s harder to be apart than together, even when being together isn’t always easy.

Maybe the best thing about being together is going home.


And maybe home is where you are all together, rather than who is different and why.

Talking Day

Today was the day for giving my talk to my fellow LDS chaplains and the military and priesthood leaders.

Mary took this fun picture of  me:


She also made sure she got one, too!

The man introducing me did talk to Mary, and asked her to “tell me about Mary”.

Mary replied, “Well, she was a young woman who had a baby and she named him Jesus.”  It was so funny!

Ever the Princess, she has very much enjoyed her weekend of fancy dinners and fancy luncheons!

She especially liked my fancy name card at my plate that showed where we were to sit:

She has also enjoyed every local museum we can find, this one while I was in training (and thanks to one of my chaplain friend families).


I missed having us here as a whole family this year, but with money so focused on Kyrie and her already in isolation precautions, there was just no way.  We have done a lot of FaceTiming home, and we are very excited to start heading home soon.  Mary is pretty sure she can just fly home on her own now, and doesn’t need me “because this trip got me really good at maps”.

She wanted her picture taken where the general authorities just got their pictures taken, “and right next to Jesus in the picture, because He loves me so much.”

As excited as we are to go home, and as hard as it is that we don’t have better news about Kyrie from this clinic than any other, the one on one time we had together this weekend was really good for us.

And some time of her getting spoiled all on her own was pretty special, too.

I finished my talk, and am still endorsed by the church as a chaplain, so maybe I did okay!  I gave my best, trusted the spirit, and felt we all learned together… mostly I am glad that is finished, and Mary and I will find a way to celebrate tonight – one more stressor off the table.

“And more candles on the table, but not for setting fancy napkins on fire,” Mary says.

That girl, so funny.

#LDSConf Talk: Chaplain Training

For chaplains, military leaders, and priesthood leaders who attended and requested the links for the books…

For the website where you can buy our memoir, Keeping Kyrie, about the story of our family, see www.ParentingClass.Solutions/the-books

For the website where you can get the commentaries that have been released thus far, see www.ParentingClass.Solutions/lds-resources

The books are all discounted there if you get them from us directly that way, though they are also available on Amazon and iTunes, etc.


My Talk:


Over and over, the Book of Mormon tells of our covenant with Heavenly Father:

  • that if we will keep His commandments,
  • we will “prosper” in the land.

In Hebrew, the word for “prospering” is צָלֵחַ, tsalach.  This word is consistently used in the Old Testament in the same context as the Book of Mormon covenant discussions, including the overlapping Isaiah verses (see Strong’s H6743, occurring 67 times in 64 verses).

This implies making it through hard times the same way you would fight to cross a river with a current trying to pull you under.

It is the word used when a plant can grow between dry rocks and still manage to blossom into a flower.

Tsalach is a word that means being prepared for anything,
no matter what burdens are placed upon you
or what mission you are given to accomplish
and remaining true to who you are
while completing that assignment.

Tsalach is also the word used when the Spirit of God falls upon a person,
crossing from Heaven to Earth in such a way
that somehow beyond what we can understand
that person is also changed and crosses through to Heaven –

the same way you are going to get soaking wet
trying to get across that river.

Now, we know that Nephi said all things are both temporal and spiritual, so we can look at both layers (1 Nephi 15, 1 Nephi 22, 2 Nephi 2).

As a mother of six special needs children, I would love some prospering, even if just enough to cover their medical bills without losing our home and family van.

And as a convert living in rural Oklahoma, it would be easy to assume this “prospering” meant what the so-called “Bible Belt” refers to as “the prosperity gospel”.

While I do have a testimony of tithing, and have experienced “sufficient for my needs” because of it, I don’t think these “prospering” verses are talking about getting rich from being good.

When the spiritual context is explored, “prospering” means making progress by “breaking out mightily”.  It means causing the success of others by working alongside them, by giving or sending help, and by going to where they need help (as opposed to staying where you are comfortable).  It means pushing forward in what is good, when what is bad seems to hold you back.   It means “to thrive” despite the circumstances in which you find yourself.

Putting all this together, this one little word for “prospering” – tsalach – means that no matter how hard life becomes
and no matter how intense your work is
and no matter how difficult your circumstances seem,

you continue to progress
by pressing forward in faith,
fully determined to keep your promises to Heavenly Father
and fully assured He will keep His.

“Prosper” doesn’t mean to gain wealth to yourself.

It means to pour out your whole self,
everything you have to give,
and all of who you are,
until you have served your purpose –

even completed your work on the Earth.

It means to return home victorious,
not just having kept your covenants on earth,
but returning home to embrace Heavenly Parents
with whom you made premortal promises
that have now been fulfilled
against all odds
with Their help.

That’s what צָלֵחַ, tsalach means.

That’s a lot for one little word.

That kind of thriving is what Frank asked me to share with you today.

I did not grow up in the church, and by circumstance and by choice, I was on my own at age 17.  Being separated from my family meant I had to put myself through college if I was going to make it, and that meant I was homeless between semesters.  It meant seeking help where I could find it, even if it was not always the best crowd.  The dangers and the messes I got myself into complicated things further, and I found myself in a miserable state – and I don’t just mean Missouri.

Alma 36:12-15 says it this way:

 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.

 I was in an awful state, living in a depraved world, drowning in misery and bondage.

I was so miserable, actually, that the very first time I saw the missionaries was through a peephole of my front door – and I refused to open it when they knocked.

I just stood there, watching them, but not opening the door.

I felt my bones on fire – yet I could not physically open the door.

It was two years later, in an entirely different city, before I finally opened the door – and that only because friends introduced me to the Gospel simply by living congruently with it.

Ultimately, our friendship culminated in me asking more direct questions about the source of their faith and family values.   That’s when they invited me to their house for dinner with the missionaries.

They gave me my first Book of Mormon, which I read overnight at a park near the river.  I called in sick to work the next day, and read it again.  And then read it again the next day.

Everything changed.

I had grown up Southern Baptist, but had been confirmed as a Catholic while I was in undergrad, and then during grad school I was attending Jewish synagogue.  When I met the missionaries, I was in desperate search of ancient truth I found in different communities, but had so far been unable to integrate into a single practice.  I struggled with my personal relationships, was very distant from my family, and coped with it all through Buddhist meditation communities to help relieve some of my anxiety.

It seemed I had tried everything, and I had little hope anything else would really work.

In fact, when my first pair of missionaries presented me with a baptism date after six weeks of lessons, I responded by informing those young boys that they were the reason I hadn’t dated in high school.

I know!
I was so mean!
I was a mess, and had little strength left for any hope that life could be better.

But it was real.

And I changed slowly, and carefully.  My new friends in my new ward were careful not to mention my progress.  I showed up one Sunday in an actual dress.  A few weeks later, I showed up without any piercings, and my tattoos covered.  A few weeks after that, I posted on social media about giving away my very fine alcohol collection – my friends were only too eager to help.  A few weeks later, I shared a picture of my coffee maker in the dumpster.  I wouldn’t acknowledge anything, and wouldn’t talk to the missionaries, and my friends at church said nothing, but we all knew I was trying.

Except when you know it is real, there is only so long you can stall.  Nine months after my first meeting with the missionaries, I finally emailed the mission president and asked to re-take my lessons.

He replied by stating he would be agreeable to us meeting for an interview in the next half hour.

That’s how my life in the church has happened since that day.   I was baptized (finally) that Saturday – eight years ago today – and confirmed on Sunday, spoke for seminary on Friday, and went to the temple for the first time that Friday night.

Alma 36:17-23 continues:

And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

 I had been born of God.

Miracles happened the moment I acted in faith: I was promised I would hear and understand my own endowment, which seemed impossible, but then I unexpectedly qualified for cochlear implants just four months before I went to the temple.  I worked very hard, and my efforts were blessed more than what they had said was medically possible, and I was able to hear and voice for myself at my endowment.

I loved the temple, making the two hour drive every week and sometimes several times a week, after I was baptized.

Like Lehi wanting to share the fruit with his family, so did I want to share this new life with my family. Except I didn’t know them anymore, and had gone far from them, and did not know what to do or how to do it.

It seemed impossible.

But I was empowered by Temple blessings, and I did my best to gather my family.

I began to write to my parents every Sunday –  in part because I didn’t yet know what else I was allowed to do on the Sabbath – and this provided opportunity to testify of the atonement and share my love for my parents, and our Father’s love for my family.

It was the atonement that built a bridge between me and my father, who was dying of cancer, and his last words to me were to “do what God tells you to do”.

My mother responded to my letters right away, just a few months after I was baptized, she went with me on a road trip to see Nauvoo where she accepted a Book of Mormon at the Carthage jail. She already knew much of the history of the Church, and she actually taught me along the way.  It changed our relationship, and barely in time – as she was killed by a drunk driver the weekend after my brother and I did our father’s temple work.

Alma 36:24-28:

Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors; For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen;

 I was called on a church service mission two weeks before I was endowed, and served for almost four years for the family history and temple department.  I was part of the team that answered emails for people who had questions on FamilySearch.  We also started the FamilySearch Wiki, the community pages on Facebook and other social media, and developed the program and video that became the youth emphasis for family history work.  These experiences grew in me a love for the temple and ancestors I had once felt so distant – thousands of my own family names were taken to the temple, and I have felt their presence and support as I have done their work in the years since.

What once seemed the hardest part of my life had become the source of my greatest support.

Other opportunities followed because of this work, including several trips to Israel and Syria and Gaza and Jordan and the West Bank.  I got to meet with the congregations there, speak to them, hear them, and learn about their worlds and their struggles.  I had to find ways to minister to people enduring more than I could imagine, people who sometimes conflicted politically with what I understood to be good or helpful, people who were of such different cultures than to what I had previously been exposed.

This led me to wrestle with issues such as my past or even my own identity, the kind of issues we work through in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education, specialized training for chaplains).

The atonement released me from the bondage of my past, and yet reconnected me to my real past – that divine spark that is within me, and has always been there, as a spirit daughter of heavenly parents, and that spark grows within me each time I act in faith or obedience.  This “growing larger” makes more of me than there was before, as His Spirit leads me higher, line upon line, climbing Jacob’s ladder one rung at a time… except the ladder turns, for I am always repenting, and so it becomes the spiral staircase designed within me, even my very DNA.  I am ever led forward and upward by His presence.

That is צָלֵחַ, tsalach.

The same pillar of cloud by day, the same pillar of fire by night, that very same light, the Hebrew sheckinah itself that led the Israelites through the wilderness has led me through my own wilderness, released me from bondage, and set me free.  D&C 58:42 says “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.  By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”

It is my Saviour who does make me Holy.  D&C 60:7 says, “And in this place let them lift up their voice and declare my word with loud voices, without wrath or doubting, lifting up holy hands upon them.

For I am able to make you holy, and your sins are forgiven you.

To be holy is to be set apart; it means to forsake the world, and to leave the past behind.  It means not being afraid to move forward, and to seek after righteousness with all my being.  It means to thrive.

That is צָלֵחַ, tsalach.

The atonement makes this possible, and at my baptism I said I was willing to take upon me the name of Christ, but it is only at the Temple that I do so.  To become holy is to become at-one with my Father, through the embrace of the Prodigal Son.

Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.

The Hebrew word for this process is  קָדוֹשׁ- “kadosh” (Strong’s 6918).  It is the process of sanctifying.  It means the cleansing of what is not-holy for the purpose of proving oneself as sacred.  This separates us from what is not-of-God, and only then can we become holy, which is a work beyond just repentance.

Holiness is what happens because of thriving.

קָדוֹשׁ Kadosh is a result of צָלֵחַ, tsalach.

That’s why “enduring to the end” is part of the deal.

But we do not endure passively, waiting for the difficulties of mortality to be finished.  In Hebrew, there is an idiom that means “to fill the hands”, which implies we must be about the hard work of ministering.  There is a literal transfer of power (Exodus 28:41, 29:22, 26; footnote on Leviticus 21:10) from Him to us.

This means to be both equipped (have the capacity to) and authorized to minister, and it implies that the more you minister, the more you are empowered to minister even more, until your hands are literally full.

We call this the Priesthood.

And when we are consecrated – set apart for (in purpose) and dedicated to (fulling that purpose) – the Priesthood…

That is צָלֵחַ, tsalach.

But even the work we are given to do comes to us line upon line,
precept upon precept,”
here a little and there a little
(2 Nephi 28:30).

My first assignment in the church was to start a blog and share my conversion process.  It was unusual and I wasn’t sure what to write, but that’s what the missionaries and my Bishop told me to do.

I named my blog “Housewife Class” because I didn’t know what Relief Society was called in English.

But I wrote a little every day, recording my studies of the scriptures and what I was learning.  Heavenly Father made my small talent into something greater, so that the blog was turned into an app, and then I was hired by Deseret News, and then was asked to help write reviews and articles about mental health and family relationships and social issues.

A year later, I got the assignment to write a blog post for every chapter of the Book of Mormon, which was daunting and took me almost an entire year.

But that was also the year my parents died, and the intense study of the Book of Mormon is what got me through those depths of grief.

Heavenly Father continued to bless my efforts, and now eight years later, those writings are now being released as a seven volume commentary on the Book of Mormon.

I could never have imagined that as a brand new convert.

Back then, I was only focused on where I had come from and all too familiar with my faults.  I felt I had nothing to contribute, and no resources with which to do any good.

My perfection, as Elder Holland said this weekend, was “still pending”.

It is true, of course, that we often fail.  But our failure is neither permanent nor fatal.  Only Christ met the demands for holiness, but in this new and living covenant He has consecrated us, through the veil of His flesh, so that by His holiness we boldly approach (Hebrews 10:20; Hebrews 4:16).  This is the veil pattern, the point of His mortality:  that there is a discrepancy between who He has called us to be and who we have only been, but by claiming the atonement there is a transfer of power and we are able to become like Him –

  • able to become who He has called us to be
  • able to be who He has said we already are.

This process of becoming, by the Law of Consecration, through tsalach, gives us an active way not just to believe in God, but to believe in what Heavenly Father has promised: that we can become something more than we now are.

Elder Christoffersonh said we are sanctified as we make sacrifices to choose holiness.

Unfortunately for me, the next step in my faith development was learning that I needed to get married – and even this understanding came “line upon line”.

First, I had to gain a testimony of the doctrine of marriage and family.

Then, I had to act in faith – which included reaching out for blessings, fasting, and praying.

I was sealed to my husband, Nathan, in the Oklahoma City temple three years and two weeks after I was baptized.  He had served as a missionary in Korea, and then returned to New York for graduate school.  He was a writer, like me, except he wrote musicals and plays and song lyrics, all of which were way more fun than the stuff I was writing.

But I couldn’t just check marriage of the list and assume my progress was complete.

Nor did the wonderful blessing of finding my husband mean life suddenly became easy.

On the contrary, marriage provided a new context that I needed in which to continue to progress – which meant thriving despite difficult circumstances.

As soon as our honeymoon was over, Nathan had to return to New York to finish his employment contract, and he was stuck there during Hurricane Sandy.  He came home for good just before Thanksgiving, but then my mother was killed right after New Year’s.  We had five miscarriages in the first year, and grief seemed to drown us and we clung to each other through such difficult times.

But then these difficult times grew more complicated as we fostered more than seventy children in four years, and while I fought ovarian cancer twice.  We ultimately adopted six of the children, all with special needs and the youngest spending most of her life in the hospital and now on palliative care.

As we endured these challenging experiences, I could not complain.  Heavenly Father had gifted me with what I had most struggled with: family, and it was my work to learn and heal and grow and improve.  For me, these challenges were a restoration of all things, as I progressed from having no family to having all things restored.

Yes!  The restoration of all things!   BAM!  A family of eight!

But seriously, for me, this was tsalach.

My posterity is my prosperity, in a tsalach kind of way.

They are the token of my restoration,
a blessing from the signs of obedience I have offered.

They are the promises of kadosh, of holiness.

My family is the covenant blessing.

My family is the plan of happiness.

Heavenly Father has given me experiences, that I might be purified and prepared, even set apart as consecrated – even for His holy presence.

That sounds lovely in concept, but in real life it has been really hard.

Really hard.

So much has happened, and it would be much easier just to quit, to give up, or to give in.

There are days when I don’t even know how to act in faith, such as when we are faced with choices like either paying the mortgage or paying for the equipment for our daughter to stay alive.

There are days I want to scream “uncle” and let it be over, days I want to run and escape, and days I think I might drown.

Because life is really hard sometimes.

But He never, ever lets me drown.

I pray every day with my children, during our family prayers and all their individual prayers.

I pray every day with Nathan, during our couple prayers.

But when it is my turn, in the morning and in the evening, to talk to my Father who is my God, I beg for His help, for His mercy, for this cup to pass from me.

ENOUGH!  I want to say.

Except that is the one thing I do not say, because there is only thing I want more than for a very hard life to stop: I really, really, really do want to progress home to my Father.

But I also know is that because He is my Father, it is okay for me to ask if the cup may pass.

The Savior did.

And what I know is that because He is my Father, it is okay for me to ask for help in bearing the burdens placed upon my shoulders, because it is promised – even already given.

But what I also know is that He is my God, and He knows more and better than I, and so it is His will I want, even when life is too painful to see clearly.

Like when you look everyday into the eyes of children growing up in the shadows of others’ consequences.

Like when you are out in the field, or in the ER, or in the community, and find a gun pointed at your head when all you did that morning was get up to go to work.

Or when you really want to be at home in your own bed with your spouse, but you are sent far away on assignment or it’s your turn for overnight hospital coverage.

Or when you are working all the hours you can just to pay off medical bills, and Heavenly Father sends you a big-ole-self-care slap in the form of a Health Survey for chaplains.

Those are moments we need to remember tsalach, and the promises of Heavenly Parents.

Those are the moments we need the very embrace of our Father-in-Heaven, and those are the moments we cling to temple covenants.

This is the doctrine of Christ, even the plan of happiness – a plan for YOUR happiness – that no matter the how others may violate you, and no matter what circumstances you may find yourself in, and no matter no matter the trials and afflictions of mortality, you have been given the promises of children of God.

More than the flowers of the field,
and more than the birds in the sky,
He knows you.
And loves you.

As I close, let me tell you two short stories to demonstrate this:

There once was a man who had served in Afghanistan and come back home.  Having endured much trauma, he sought counseling at the VA for PTSD.  They struggled to find him a good medication mix that worked well for him without causing other problems.  When some of his soldier buddies began acting out instead of seeking treatment, he sometimes quarreled with them as he urged them to seek professional help as he had.  On one of these nights, one of these soldiers, who was dating the man’s sister, got too rough with his girlfriend.  This man defended his sister, but because of domestic violence laws in that state, all three of them were arrested.  He paid his fine and the charges were dismissed in court, but the man decided to move across country to get away from his buddies who were drinking too much.  He got his counseling services transferred to another VA, enrolled in college, and packed up to start a new life away from all the drama and war trauma he had endured.

There is another story about a man with a criminal background driving under the influence and speeding while fleeing his parole officer from Tennessee.  Giving in to some road rage, he started playing chicken with a semi-truck traveling from St. Louis to Oklahoma City.  The semi called in the problem and asked for help, and another family called in another concern on the road, so another patrol car joined in the race to try and slow the guy down.  The patrol car spotted the guy with his car packed so full he didn’t even see the flashing lights.  Instead, the guy tried one more time to pass the semi, speeding ahead once again but this time clipping the front edge of the semi as he tried to change lanes.  The force of the impact locked them together, spun them around, and threw them across the median into oncoming traffic where they came to a stop – right in front of my mom’s car.

These two men – the soldier who defended his sister and asked for help for wartime PTSD – and the guy who clipped the semi and killed my mother – they are the same man.

It is the same man, but his story told two different ways.

This is why I forgave him that dark night, because anyone could take any snapshot of my life and tell very different stories from one moment to the next.

But it is Christ who transforms them.

It is Christ who transforms me.

Elder Scott said:

“Complete healing will come through your faith in Jesus Christ and His power and capacity, through His Atonement, to heal the scars of that which is unjust and undeserved.”

Experiencing this level of healing prepared me for chaplaincy, even when Frank told me that I still needed another Master’s Degree no matter what PhD I had.   The timing coincided with more women chaplains, and this encouraged me and strengthened me to do the hard work of all the hoops through which we jump.

Completing the CPE process helped me integrate some of these separate pieces of my life into one story, but coming here each fall has given me the courage to offer something back to the world in which I live.

I have made friends here in your good care, though am often too overwhelmed by real life to be a very good friend from so far away, but this room fills my heart with love and spirit-strength that will help me to endure hard months yet to come.

I thank you for your kindness to me.

This is the plan of happiness.   Happiness.  No matter how hard life gets, and sometimes life is really, really hard.

But there is beauty – even tsalach – in adversity.

Tsalach in adversity means that all is not lost.

It means there is purpose in all we endure, that it means something.

Even in the adversity of every day life, besides work, or the work of marriage and raising a family, or advocating for the special needs of my children or even placing my daughter on palliative care,

even then,

there is joy for us – joy for us even now.

There is beauty in the love that we share, and rejoicing in the miracles that make us a family.

 

I testify that we are children of Heavenly Parents, who love us deeply and know us intimately.

I testify that our Savior lives.  He died innocent in place of our guilt, and now He is resurrected, and He lives.  He is the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten of the Flesh, and He is my Redeemer.

I testify that the Spirit will correct, instruct, guide, and comfort me to the degree that I respond.

I testify that He has set prophets as the flaming sword that guards the path to the Tree of Life, and that Joseph Smith was a humble and mortal man but also a prophet of God – as is President Thomas S. Monson our prophet today.

I know that the Book of Mormon is true, and that it is a story of a family, even for my family, and that it changes everything.

I testify that temple ordinances have been restored along with the restoration of the priesthood, and that “the divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally” (Family Proclamation).

I know that because of the temple, I am not married until death do us part, but for time and all eternity.  I know that I have also been sealed to my own parents, who have already passed through the veil, and that this same sealing power has blessed my very own marriage that was exactly right for me, and has continued to bless us as we adopted our six children – so much that not even hospice gets the final say.

I know that this is the plan of happiness, no matter how hard life is sometimes.

and that even when life is hard,

we are not alone

or forgotten.

We are known
and remembered
and loved.

And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ,
Amen.

Already Home

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t actually enjoy public speaking.

I have to do a lot of it for work.

And like everyone else in my church, I have had to take my turn giving talks (sermons – our church does not have paid clergy, so we all take turns doing the work of Sunday services).

I can even do well enough to get positive feedback sometimes.

Other times I make mistakes the same as any speaker, like the one time I thought I was speaking for 15 minutes but it was supposed to be 50 minutes.

(15 and 50 lip read the same, by the way.)

Sometimes my nerdy self has something to offer, other times I’m asked because of clinical experience but it doesn’t always transfer to church spirit-ness and I struggle to make it work.

But I don’t ever actually enjoy it.

In fact, I get so anxious – every time – that by the time I finish speaking, my body is covered in hives.

It’s all very unpleasant, actually.

But my family needs the money, so I do it for book tours or clinical seminars, and at church we all have to take turns so that we learn together, like it or not, so I am willing in an obedience kind of way.

And tomorrow is my turn.

Except it is in Salt Lake.

I got an email, the same email everyone else for these meetings got, and it included the agenda and all the conference talk topics – which had my name on it!

Not Just Survive, but Thrive, by Emily Christensen, it said on the program.
I emailed back, asking if they meant to have my name on it or if they meant someone else.

They said they meant me, but would talk to me later.

Several weeks went by, and no one called me back, which only made me more anxious, so I checked in again to follow up.

That time they gave me an appointment to call.

I called the priesthood department back at the correct time and he said, “Your life has been hard for several years, we thought you might want to talk about that.”

Not particularly.

“And your baby, is she still with us?”

She’s not dead yet.

“What a miracle that one is.  We just wanted to invite you to share your story.”

They went on to discuss in detail all the crazy things that have happened in the last eight years.

That was a fifteen chapter book, like literally.  I don’t know how to turn it into one talk.

It would be fine, they said, because I would be the luncheon keynote and have the whole time to speak.

Gulp.

So I have tried my best.  

I have studied and prayed and written and prayed and rewritten and edited and prayed and edited some more.

I have practiced the timing and tried to remember to look up from my paper once in awhile.

But I have been covered in hives since last night, and by tonight was in full blown panic attack.

I have a lot of stressors in my life, but I am not a panic attack kind of girl.

A talk, though?  That will give anyone some anxiety.

It’s just my turn for that, too.

Besides that, I am so homesick I am nauseous, so it’s all just a bad mix.

And maybe I am anxious about more Kyrie results tomorrow, or missing my children, or being off work so long, or going back to work the day we get home, or just how to give that talk tomorrow in front ofthose people who know and care and serve so much already.

It was bad enough that I finally had to reach out for help.  I messaged Nathan, who, speaking of panic attacks, is back home counting the minutes until he gets to take the other five children to his parents’ home tomorrow!  We did our scripture reading and we prayed, but he also was very sweet and sent me a song.

It’s a Brandi Carlile song, and I don’t even know if he knows how that takes part of me way back in a good and comforting kind of way.

But it was soothing.

Part of the song says:

I was already home, 

right where I was supposed to be

You were right in front of me

And I guess, whatever it is that makes any of us anxious, the easiest thing is just to run, or to hide, or to fight your way out of it.

But I am home with Nathan, already, even when I miss him.

And giving a talk isn’t the end of the world, I suppose, especially when your talk is about how adversity isn’t the end of the world.

So ironic, right?

And opposition.

So much opposition, so dark and cold, and all I am trying to do is tell my story.

Or maybe I am trying to avoid telling my story, since it leaves a girl so vulnerable when there are so few safe places in the world and this feels pretty public, more public than writing a book about it.

Excepting I don’t have to talk about me.

I just have to testify of my Savior, the one who rescued me, and that I can do.

And when I am homesick, having to give a talk so far away from Nathan’s encouraging smile, I just have to look in our little book he hid in my suitcase for this moment.

It’s the book we started on our wedding day, with love notes back and forth between us these five years.

Next week is our anniversary.

And I open it up to the newest entry, where he has written me a sonnet.

Of course he has.

And with love from a Savior,

and love from a husband like Nathan,

the world can’t be such a scary place, right?

A girl could do anything, with love like that.

Conference Weekend

Mary was so excited to go to conference!

We started out once, and Mary was to cold in the dress she picked and I was a genius to start out without my shoes.

We turned around and got my shoes and changed her dress and grabbed her a sweater, and then got there again without our tickets.

We finally made it inside on the third try, after getting ourselves together proved to be more challenging than the rain or protestors.

Mary couldn’t believe how big it was, or that she could really see the choir!

The Deaf section is on floor level at one side, where we have a large screen to see up close for lip-reading, one tv for the ASL, and one tv for closed captions.  It’s so great!

Also, the ASL is all done by Deaf interpreters.  They study the speeches ahead of time, and translate it into ASL natively.  Then during conference, they watch a hearing interpreter who signs what is being said so they know if anything is different and what is benign said when – but the hearing interpreter is not shown, only the Deaf interpreter.  It’s so perfect!

Back home, Nathan set up a “King Benjamin tent” for the other children!

Not only was conference so good, but almost all of my talk that I have to give on Monday was mentioned in one place or another, so it was a relief to know I am on the right track.

Know what else was amazing?  This bowl of vegetable soup after walking in the rain!

Mary, however, was more excited about this candy apple she got the day before, and which may take her all week to eat!


This morning we each had a biscuit from the bakery and some apple juice, which we got Friday before the crowds came to take over the local shops.  

We watched conference from our hotel room today, because Mary wanted to give away our tickets while we were having the traditional Sunday picnic at temple square.

We finished conference this afternoon, and then had a lovely simple meal of a v8 we pretended was tomato soup, nuts and dried berries, and a bit of cheese.


I suspect she will be finishing off that apple tonight, as well!

We have gotten much needed rest, been fed spiritually, and made special memories together on this adventure.

I have also been able to continue working on my talk for tomorrow.

We also talk to Kyrie’s doctors tomorrow for clinic, so hopefully that will be helpful.

Mostly, we are very homesick.

And in need of more colored pencils!

Homeschool: #LDS Church History

Mary was up and ready to go right away this morning, and specifically all ready to swim.

I did some laps and then soaked my travel muscles in the hot tub while she played.

Then she came to soak her feet in the hot tub next to me, sharing that swimming is more fun with five siblings than by herself.

We got cleaned up for a walk, then, and headed through City Creek toward temple square.

She was delighted with everything.


We worked so hard for so long to get language into Mary that this was the first time she was actually understanding the history we were trying to share with her.

In our faith tradition, we understand that the fullness of the gospel and the priesthood of God was lost after the Apostles were martyred during New Testament times.   We are indebted to and grateful for those who gave their lives since then protecting and passing down the scriptures so that we can have what is the Bible today.  But the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the priesthood needed to be restored again.

In the 1800’s, the boy Joseph Smith was growing up in the time of “the Great Awakening” in American history, and he was looking for that fullness.  He read in James about asking God for wisdom when you need help knowing what to do.  So he went off in the woods alone to pray about which church was true, because they were all competing and clamoring for people to join them.  He didn’t know which one to join.

We believe that in response to that sincere prayer with a young boy’s faith, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ visited him and began, through a series of other visitations, what we call “the restoration” of that fullness – even the priesthood of God.

Part of that restoration included passing down what we now call “the Book of Mormon”.  We study it in addition to the Bible, not instead of as many say.   It is a record of a family who left Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah, when prophets were warning of the destruction to come.  The family made it all the way to the Americas, and the book is about what happens to that family as a consequence of the choices they made – and what promises are still in store for those who keep their covenants.

But also, because the priesthood was restored, then so were temples.

Temples are a place of learning and worship and peace, in addition to the meetinghouses where we go to church on Sundays.

When the early saints built the first restoration temple in Ohio, they had to leave it behind because of persecution.

They were driven to Nauvoo, just outside Missouri when the governor issued an extermination order against all “mormons”.

“Mormon”, by the way, is the name of one of the prophets in the Book of Mormon, and he was named after a river where early believers were baptized.  That’s where that comes from.  And it’s “the Book of Mormon” because he gathered the family records, condensed them, and then helped his son hide them to be kept safe until the records were later found by Joseph Smith during the restoration.

But the whole book isn’t about him.

It’s about Heavenly Father, and covenants, and the plan of salvation made possible because of Jesus Christ.

That’s why the subtitle of the book is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” – another, as in besides the Bible, which we also study.

Anyway, when Joseph Smith was killed, the saints had to leave the Nauvoo temple behind as well, barely completing construction before having to flee for their lives.

They ran west for safety and freedom of worship, settling in Salt Lake.

So building the temple here, and that we got to keep it, and that it is still here, is pretty special to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“LDS” or “Mormons”).

This is the temple built in Salt Lake City by the early pioneers.

Mary was so excited to be here and to touch it!

It is also special to Mary because part of our faith practice includes being sealed together in temples, like an eternal adoption.

Think Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18:

And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

This means Nathan and I didn’t just have a wedding ceremony to be together “until death do us part”.

We were sealed in the temple by priesthood authority with the capacity and authority to do so, and now we will still be married even after we die – for time and all eternity.

The same thing happened for the children when they were adopted.  When we finished their civil adoptions in court, we drove all the way to Oklahoma City for their sealing.  For us, that makes their adoption eternal.

And today, Mary understood for the first time how the temple was built – one stone at a time.

And that here was a plan and a design before the temple could be built, just like with us before we were born on Earth.

And how hard the men and women had to work to build the temple, just like we work hard at being a family.

And see up close what Moroni looks like, and the words at the top of the temple.
We even got to examine a dollhouse type model of the temple, and explore all the different things we do in temples.
We even had some very grown up conversations about church history, like black men waiting for the priesthood, and about women already being within the veil.


And then we celebrated with a lunch date!

I got sushi.

She was homesick and chose something a little more sophisticated.


We also found a market to get fresh food this week, and bought our food for Sunday.

We had a big day!  Nathan and I do try to regularly spend time with each of the children individually, but an extended adventure like this is obviously pretty special!  Our time together this trip is very important, and so very special, and has already been so very good.

And we did finally find her some more children to play with before meetings start later this afternoon!

Because dinosaurs.

Settling in Salt Lake City

If Alex and Kirk were jealous of Mary for getting to fly on an airplane, wait until tomorrow when we show them the little silver sports car we get to drive!


Mary was just super excited to be in a hotel and have her own bed she doesn’t have to share with her sisters!


Somehow because of our points package, room service was included the first night.

I told her to enjoy that because it’s not happening again!

But it did make things easy for settling in after our long day – and gave us leftovers for lunch tomorrow.


She finally settled in with a book about slavery, as any young girl would read for bedtime material.

For those of you who don’t know, what she is wearing on her head is a silk hat.  She and Anber sleep in these hats to protect their black hair from breaking or their braids from getting too fuzzy too soon.  It’s just a part of being black, and a part of caring for their hair.  They are so grown up!


She is finally asleep now.

We are so worn out!

It was a very exciting day.

We have plenty of plans and book signings and meetings that start tomorrow, so I am glad she finally settled down to get some sleep.

I am so thrilled she is feeling so special and enjoying herself!

Look at the view we have outside our hotel window!

Mary’s First Flight

We said goodbye to the children this afternoon.

And got ourselves through security… 

Can you see our friend Brother Anderson working in the background in the top left of the picture?

Then Mary had an upgrade on her recent social studies homework about how to use maps.  I showed her our tickets, and what everything meant, and I showed her the board and how to read the graph.

Then it was her job to find our gate!

She did so great!

And there was a little restaurant that wasn’t super busy just across  the way, so we were able to wait comfortably.

She got so excited when our plane arrived!

And then even more excited to find our seats on the plane!

She completely freaked out when the plane took off, shouting, “We are flying!  We are flying!”  It was so funny!

With two and a half hours to fly, though, she settled down soon enough.  

We don’t go anywhere without art supplies, and so enjoyed the time drawing together.

I loved her drawing… we are big Hidden Figures fans, obviously.

We spotted all kinds of different types of clouds – best science ever!

And guess who we sat with on the plane?!

Some of our very most favorite people!

Which meant Mary had a new friend to play with for most of the flight!

We are so excited to be back in Salt Lake City!

Nature Walk with Shannon

Here are the children with our friend Shannon, who teaches at the high school and is famous for sitting behind us in church.

Her daughter was one of my young women, now all grown up, and we are grateful to this family for their ongoing kindness over the years.

But Shannon is also famous for being the one I pulled out of sacrament meeting the time one year old Anber was throwing a screaming baby fit in the hallway at church – right next to some kind of snake that had found its way indoors!

I didn’t care what kind of snake it was, only that she move it away from my daughter!

Shannon scooped up the snake quickly, telling me it was such-and-such a snake, and not to worry because it would only bite if I did this, which she then did just to show me how it bites!

I stood there, my daughter screaming in the background, while Shannon held her hand in my face with a snake hanging by its fangs.

It’s maybe my favorite church story ever.

So naturally, if there were anyone to boost our medically induced homeschool program, Shannon would be the teacher to call.

This is a huge excitement to the children, and a huge blessing to me and Nathan – she is taking the children on nature walks once a week.

And it was so quiet at home!

She gets to play with little ones, they get to escape Mom for a little while, and I get to meet my therapy goal of doing something for myself once in awhile – which today consisted of an entire hour in my pajamas doing nothing.

Well, except editing that talk for Salt Lake next week.

And doing Kyrie’s feeding tube.

And putting away laundry so Mary and I can pack.

And getting dinner served out of the waiting crockpot.

But that’s the thing: it all got done!

And they had so much fun!

And they got to touch everything we have been studying in school!

It was amazing!