Mothers-Hood

This is me with Addie, who is Kirk and Barrett’s mother:

She came to help the boys give their talks today!

It was so sweet, and so good for the boys – and for Kyrie, who adores her little “cousin” – as long as she isn’t pushing her buttons.

Because that’s motherhood, doing your best for these babies, even when that means sharing.

Because family, that’s why.

Kirk’s Primary Talk: I am a Child of God

The song “I Am A Child of God” makes me feel good when I listen to it. It’s track number 3 on a CD I listen to in my room. It helps me to feel the Spirit

The Spirit helps me choose the right, and be kind, and be honest.

The Spirit also helps us to follow Jesus, and helps us to know what is true.

I don’t always make good choices. Sometimes I make mistakes or choose bad things. That’s part of life.

When we make bad choices we get hard consequences. In our family, sometimes we get plain Rice Krispies instead of a fancier breakfast.

When we make bad choices, we need to fix them and never do them again. We need to repent.

If I hit Alex in the head, I need to tell him I’m sorry, and pray to tell Heavenly Father I’m sorry, and never do it again.

Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to be forgiven. He died for us. He suffered for us in the Garden of Gethsemane and paid the punishment for our sins.

Heavenly Father lets us make bad choices because he wants us to learn from our mistakes. If we didn’t get to make our own choices, then we wouldn’t actually learn.

Our bad choices move us away from God, but our good choices move us closer to him.

Heavenly Father sent us here to earth for a little while to see if we can do what he taught us to do in heaven. He wants us to be able to live with him again someday. This is called the Plan of Salvation, or the Plan of Happiness.

I have a testimony about Jesus Christ, that I know he is true. I know that I am a child of God, and I want to repent and live with him again someday.

And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Barrett’s Primary Talk: I am a Child of God

Heavenly Father sent us down to earth so that we can learn.

He wants us to know that he is the God of this earth and he made all things.

He wants us to learn how to make good choices before we get old and die.

If you make good choices, you get good consequences.

If you make bad choices, it makes life harder.

When we make bad choices, we need to fix it.

That’s called repentance.

To repent, you say sorry to the person whose feelings you hurt.

You’re also supposed to say a prayer to tell Heavenly Father you’re sorry.

And you’re not supposed to make that bad choice ever again.

Jesus made it possible for us to be forgiven.

He prayed in the garden so hard that his blood came out.

When we repent, our sins disappear and we can have good things.

If we follow Heavenly Fathers Plan, we can go back home to him when we die.

I know that Heavenly Father wants us to live with him, and after the resurrection we will never get killed.

I know the church is true, and that God sent the disciples to build the church up.

And I know that I am a child of God and can live with him again.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

New Video: The Brother of Jared

Our church is a bit frugal, and one way we are good stewards of our resources is to share our church buildings.   So whenever you see a church building for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you can know that three or four wards actually meet there.  We do this by rotating times, with one ward starting at 9 and one ward starting at 11, and one ward starting at 1, or some other similar schedule.

This year is our year to go at 1pm.  The best part of this is that afterward, we just have to eat supper and go to bed!  The hard part of this is that church happens right at naptime.  The fun part of this schedule, though, is our own family tradition for afternoon church: spending the morning making scripture videos!

So the children are back, with more scripture videos this year, and this week we share the story of “The Brother of Jared”.

Celebrating Normalcy

Dead mom week, check.

Kids rooms moved around and finished (except hanging pictures), check.

Everyone with new piano and violin things to practice, check.

Third grade English project of how to write letters and address envelopes, check.

Homework finished, tests given, typing lessons complete, check.

Chores done and house cleaned, check.

Five pieces of trash picked out of Anber’s hair, check.

Everyone’s laundry put away, check.

Little ones down for naps after last night’s big hockey game, check.

Cake baked and cooling, check.

Home studies completed, turned in, and invoiced, check.

We, as a family, officially caught up all of our work and survived all the extra projects we needed to do before the Sabbath tomorrow.

We are officially settled into our new home, except for hanging pictures, which are all here now so we can do that when in the mood.

But there was one more big event before anything else could be done, and it was more important than anything else: Kirk’s birthday! He turns nine this week, and he could not be more excited.

Kirk came to us right after he turned six, so it’s crazy to think he has been with us three years already. I had actually met him at a daycare where I saw little tiny patients three years before that, but we didn’t put that together until recently. I would be in his class working with some other children, and get called in to help with Barrett being a disaster in his toddler class. How funny is that?! So we actually have known each other for six years already! I can’t believe it!

Kirk is an amazing child, overcoming deep wounds and significant physical challenges. He never avoids activities because of cerebral palsy, and always pushes further than what anyone would expect him to do. He has grown out of his glasses, which surprised us, but still has a shunt that runs from his brain to his heart, and braces on both legs and his left arm.

He is a kind child, and very funny. He feels things deeply, and I actually have to keep a close eye on him because he will hold things in too long and fly under the radar if we aren’t careful. He is sensitive, has serious questions about his past, and has processed a lot already with his biological family about why he was in foster care and why they couldn’t adopt him. So many people love this boy!

We waited for a long time for him to attach and connect with us, but that’s part of how we know he has woven himself into our hearts these years later. Any affection from him is authentic, and he means it. He keeps it real, this boy.

For his birthday dinner, Kirk wanted “cheese with hamburgers” and baked beans and potato salad and chips.

He also wanted a “square cake that tastes like a circle one”, and we did our best to accommodate that!

He got the hockey game last night, and a shiny new trumpet today – we are such a musical family, and he has worked hard at piano with one hand, but theoretically he should be able to play trumpet if he works at it carefully. He’s so excited to try!

Another thing we were able to do for him when my friend hooked us up with new beds was to get him a race car bed! Not a cartoon bed, but an actual race car looking bed. Some of his biological family races cars, and it seemed a fun way to bridge that for him. He was so excited! He loves it!

Besides his other gifts, Kirk was mostly excited about movie night, which is why we had to work to get all our work done for the day.

Nathan and I were only so glad to get through everything and spend the evening resting! I think the children, too, needed not just rest but some perceived wins after the extra work of moving and the challenges of adjusting. It was good for all of us, and we had one happy birthday boy!

Motherhood in the Nosebleeds

Five years ago, I wrote this blog post to process what I experienced when my mother was killed by a drunk driver.

Years later, it became the first chapter of Keeping Kyrie.

I also wrote this open letter to the man who killed her, and published it with permission from my brother, because we didn’t want to be poisoned by what had happened.

Saying goodbye was hard enough.

My mother’s life was hard, with difficult life experiences and mental health issues that challenged her interactions with others and peace of mind. From beginning to end, these afflictions haunted her, and in the middle of it was us kids. Besides all that, her depression that was there before we were born grew worse once we arrived – bringing with us all the joys of post-partum depression along with everything else.

I tried to help, tried to be good, and tried to make her laugh. I even claimed my baby brother as soon as he came home. I wanted to protect him, and care for both of them, and managed to stay in his way until we were off to start our own lives.

Everything fell apart after that, as we all struggled to pull ourselves together, to heal and become our own selves, and to find our way full circle.

Nathan shared the eulogy he wrote for my mother, and sometimes I re-read it, just to remember the compassionate way he tied things up in a bow for her. He was always good at that.

He was good for her.

My mother giggled and laughed those last four months more and harder than I had ever even seen her smile. It was amazing.

His love for her was an act of service for her and me both, and he is why we finished well in the end.

Her death was hard. Really hard.

When my father died from cancer, that was slow and awful but it gave us time as a warning. We were still reeling from that, and focused on his temple work (like a memorial ritual in our faith tradition, but bigger than that), when her car accident happened out of nowhere without warning. I think that’s part of why it was so complicated for us.

And the fact that I was supposed to be driving. There’s that.

My final rebellion, at the last minute, to stay home curled up with Nathan because of morning sickness.

And she went anyway, by herself.

And almost made it home again.

Except she didn’t.

Ten minutes away, maybe fifteen.

She was so close.

But then the lady took her leave.

I took leave tonight. It’s my weekend off, so I am supposed to work tonight. I thought enough years have passed that it would be easier, but not this anniversary and not that ER. I just couldn’t do it.

But falling apart isn’t an option, either, so I stayed busy. I worked hard, all day long. And once again, so did Nathan. Because love.

We spent the morning doing homeschool, of course.

But while I did that, Nathan put the children’s new beds together! They were finally delivered, and it took all day to get most of them assembled. We are so grateful for these gifts for our little ones as they spread out.

We got Alex moved back into the room with Barrett, which seems to work better for them both. That gives Mary the whole hall to herself, which she was super excited about. Then we got Kyrie’s junior loft bed put together and wired for oxygen and ready for feeds and full of baby dolls and books. Anber got settled under her, and we were all glad to have their room cleaned up !

Kirk’s bed is a surprise for his birthday next week!

Everyone worked so hard and helped so much! It normalized a hard day for me, and got most of us through it in one piece.

And just when I wondered how to distract myself through the evening, a friend messaged about free tickets to the Oilers game.

Hockey seemed about as far away from my mom as I could get, so that felt perfect.

Alex missed out because we found remnants of all the missing food in his room when we moved it, plus shreds of his stuffed animals and blankets and bedsheets. He had used safety scissors from his school box to destroy his bedding! That boy! So yeah, we still aren’t ready for a pocketknife.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that adorable and hilarious nine year old is really a five year old emotionally. He’s come so far, and I am so proud of him! But parenting is a challenge when you are trying to untangle behavior versus delays.

Parenting is also hard when your worst nightmare is the most exciting thing to happen to these kids so far this year! Long lines, crowds, and steep stairs to the nosebleed section! We were so high!

But the children had their sprites and hot dogs (a continuation of the nightmare) and thought it was amazing! They had so much fun! They screamed and cheered and gave me a good picture with their mouths full of food.

And all teasing aside, we really feel strongly about taking the children to cultural events – and this counts.

They need more than just the events that are my favorite.

They need exposed to all kinds of things, even hockey.

Because that’s what good mothers do: give kids junk and teach them how to fight.

Just in case, I guess, for when Alex gets that pocketknife some day.

Madison

Ten years ago, I met this family:

They were my dance teachers, my friends, and my introduction to the church.

They were the original Hamilton cast.

I loved this family who worked so hard to model family to me, and it is because of their friendship and sweet service that I was baptized nine years ago this October.

It is because of them that I now have my own family, too.

Just seeing them makes me cry with gratitude and laugh with memories, all mixed up together.

Now they have another little toddler son, and I got to meet him tonight when I finally saw my dear friend Cassie again:

That’s what is crazy, that it really has been ten years since I first met them!

I can’t believe it!

But that’s why I got to see them this week, because their daughter who was only seven or eight when I met her, got her Young Women Recognition this week!

Can you believe it?! I was so proud!

In our faith tradition, that’s like meeting all the scout requirements to graduate youth group, basically.

I mean, it’s a big deal. A really big deal.

And now there she is, all grown up!

I was so absolutely and entirely delighted that she invited me.

As a child, she was a friend to me when I thought I had no one. She signed to me before I had ears. She played with me until I had the courage to dance. She loved me until I believed for myself that I was worth rescuing, and it changed my life.

And now I have a daughter her age, back then, and I would be honored for her to be anything like Madison.

But when I hugged her, she said I was her hero, and it made me cry.

Because she saved my life, that little girl who is now a Young Woman.

And any good I have been able to do in this world, or in the next through temple ordinances for my family and countless others, or any talk I gave that helped someone, or anyone I counseled, any book I have written, any child I tried to help, any of all that I have tried in being a steward of what has been given me, that has been the good God did in me through this family.

They are saviors on Mount Zion, and I am forever grateful.

And I will love them for always.

But you know what else I learned from them?

That saviors on Mount Zion (Obadiah 1:21) are just regular people. They are regular people who are kind, who serve others, who are compassionate enough to smile at the world around them. They are regular people who speak truth without judging, who ask how you are doing and mean it, who share their testimonies through love and everyday moments.

It was their kindness, their time, and their friendship that taught me of the love of God, and that it was big enough even for me.

They didn’t do anything big or magical to hunt me down and drag me into the church.

And, they will die of embarrassment if they read this.

All they did was be my friend.

And that was exactly the love I needed.

Their prayers made sure I wasn’t lost, even when I ran away, and their tenacity stuck around long enough to get me home and all the way to the temple.

Their blessings healed my heart, literally, and their hands cared for my wrapped up head when I got my ears.

Their dances delighted my mother, and made my body strong enough to fight cancer.

Their home sobered me up, kept me fed, and taught me about family.

Love changes everything.

And this young woman has a heart full of love.

She is going to change the world.

Graced

I was delighted when Barrett qualified to join us at the January Series yesterday:

I also caused great controversy on Facebook, by sharing that Alex got approved by Boy Scouts to carry a pocketknife, and I had declined.

But I did not decline him forever.

And I am fully aware I live in rural Oklahoma where a pocketknife is a cultural a rite of passage as was Mary’s heeled Sunday shoes she got for Christmas.

I just meant the Boy Scouts had neither warned nor prepared me for Alex to have a pocketknife, and that I was going to need a little more convincing.

Especially in a week when he had already three times stabbed a sibling with a pencil, lost fancy bed privileges for having his own cave in the hallway room, and generally not completed any task at all during school time or chores.

It wasn’t the day to ask for favors, is all I meant. End of discussion.

Barrett, however, has had an excellent week in his own personal progress kind of way, and I was so excited he got to come with me! He was delighted to go to a big kid event.

Kirk also got to come, which was perfect because the speaker was the Vice President of Walgreens, who spoke about his pioneering program of employing people with disabilities. Kirk got to listen to one of supervisors speak about her cerebral palsy and what it was like to discover she had the right and the capacity to have a regular job. He loved it! I cried!

Mary was with us, and Kyrie made it through another one before falling asleep afterward while our car was still in the parking lot!

She was in charge of carrying the leftovers, which might seem cruel but she thinks it empowers her, so I’m all for it.

Nathan pulled her out of the van and carried her inside for me, as the children scrambled out of the van to go ride bikes after being such ladies and gentlemen for a whole entire hour.

I reluctantly drove away, watching them grow smaller in my rear view mirror as I spent my night off from the hospital doing home studies for foster homes and adoptions. I check the homes for safety and readiness to host children, interview everyone in the home, do geneograms and ecomaps, run background checks, go over all the paperwork, gather the supporting documents, and type it all up into a thirty page paper before going back to the family to have everything signed. It’s a lot of work, but I am grateful for it.

It reminds me of those early days before everything happened, before our babies died, before my mother was killed, before cancer, before eighty-five children came and went, and before our six stayed. We were just happy, then, and cozy. We were expecting, even expectant.

Precious moments like that are good reminders that I will someday miss these moments, even moments like tripping over their toys and shoes left in my doorway at 5am:

I worked a double shift today, leaving home at 5:30am and working until 9pm. We got things caught up enough I got off work two hours early, for which I was grateful. I came home to sweet Nathan cleaning the kitchen and making me dinner, as I hadn’t had anything since the yogurt I got from the hospital cafeteria this morning.

I slipped away for a hot bath while he did that, washing away the hospital and long hours and sadness from missing the day with the children.

And the stress of our phone calls from Cincinnati, where they are arranging scopes and procedures and stents and cardio and swallow studies and feeding consults and x-rays for another jaw distraction, which we are trying to decline.

And the heaviness of next Friday, which is the five year anniversary of my mother being killed.

I thought of my dream last night, where the many faces of my experiences paraded before me, and the strong and wise women who led me this way gathered in a garden wearing hats. There was something I was going to tell them, some way I was going to thank them.

But now I am tired, and have forgotten.

But I remember what I felt: that I am not alone, that I am loved, that angels of God help me as He directs, and that all of it is love.

Someone told me the other day that they would not have been able to go through what we have endured with such grace.

But it’s not my grace, I said. It’s His.

It is the grace of God that has lightened my burdens, gifted me with the capacity to endure, and sent me the loving help I have needed along the way.

It is grace that holds me still, wraps me safely, and keeps me here. That is where I draw my strength. That is my comfort. That is my rest, even by candlelight.

The January Series

So one of my most favorite experiences of my entire chaplaincy training experience was The January Series.  It’s hosted by Calvin College, and the put on these lunch meetings that are like Ted Talks meet CEU trainings, except by the most incredible and amazing and inspiring people who are leaders of their fields in theology, science, culture, literature, and all these amazing topics.  The local broadcast is held at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Tulsa from 1130am to 1230pm every weekday until the end of the month.  CLICK HERE to see the schedule of speakers for this year!  It’s only a few dollars for lunch, but the broadcast is free and eating is optional – or you can bring your own bag lunch.  But it’s super fun, and I love it so much!  This year I get to be a volunteer, and the children will be taking turns helping me for a different kind of service.  They are so excited!

Today it was Mary’s turn to help me:

I took her first, partly because she is never in trouble so it’s always easy to snag her for an extra outing, and partly because I knew she would love their current art exhibition!

It’s all hands, which is extra special to Deaf girls on dates with their Deaf moms.

You can CLICK HERE for a full list of speakers and the schedule of which day they will be presenting, but today was a fancy pants chaplain who talked about church attendance trends in the millennial generation and how to connect with them and interact with them and what their unique needs are and it was so good!

Mary thought dessert was good, too.

Kyrie ate a few blueberries and loved those, but mostly loved the gorgeous stained glass windows!

I was glad for the extra snuggle time with this little one, who for the first time got a cold (along with the rest of us) and got through it without pneumonia or a hospitalization.  Ba-bam!

Then we had an extra surprise when we got home and turned the corner onto our street and found new signs up for Mary and Kyrie!

She was so proud.

I had to go back to work after all that, but I felt very centered after a morning of pondering President Monson’s teachings and a chaplaincy training in the rainbow windows of the January Series.

It was a good thing I felt in such a good place, because work was very busy and very intense.

I don’t just mean the ER.  I actually at one point used the phrase “when you send me Godfather clips, I feel threatened”.  Getting to say something as tough as all that came in between demonstrating my mad ninja skills to the security team and trying to hitch a ride on the pretend zambonis that clean the floors at night.

I can hold my own, you see?

But it means that it’s good to have something like President Monson podcasting into my brain as I walk the empty hospital halls at night.  Because they aren’t really going to let me ride the zamboni, and I ought not drop kick any security officers.  And because Godfather is rated R, I have never even seen it, so I can’t even tell you why it is creepy.  It just is.

So life can be rough, you guys, and scary sometimes, but you know what is amazing?  Rainbow windows with sunlight sparkling through as fancy speakers inspire you while you eat chocolate covered strawberries.  You should come.

Peace to Him, Joy to Us

The principles of living greatly include:

the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness,

and trial with humility.

These are words I have clung to in these recent difficult years, and words that gave me courage as our family faced one challenge after another. They are words that helped me not to drown, and words that gave me comfort that some greater purpose was shaping me through such trials of fire.

Choose your love. Love your choice.

These are words that taught me to use my agency in dating, to be wise in who I pursued, to keep an eternal perspective as I settled into my grown-up converted life. These words brought me Nathan.

Work will win when wishy washy wishing won’t.

These were words we all laughed at the way we laughed when he wiggled his ears, but they were also words that helped me put my shoulder to the wheel when circumstances seemed impossible and our situation tempted despair. These words gave me direction, and function, and hope.

I’m a great believer that the Lord provides us specific experiences to prepare us to deal with some of the challenges that we’re going to encounter in our own period of service.

These words gave me perspective when I sat in awe of the good things that came our way, and as I sat on my knees through the hard things came our way. Everything is preparatory. That means I was prepared for this moment, right now, no matter what that moment is, and prepared before I arrived in this moment. It means this moment right now is preparing me for the next. These words gave me means to put one foot in front of the other when otherwise my burdens would have been too heavy to carry.

We should strive for steadiness, and for a commitment to God that does not ebb and flow with the years or the crises of our lives.

These words taught me that circumstances are irrelevant. My faith is real, and the truths that I cling to are still true no matter what I am enduring and just as true when life brings fresh air on easier days. My joy is in who my Father is, who my God is, and who that means I am. My peace is in a Savior who kept His promise, in the Holy Spirit who corrects and guides and comforts me, and in the priesthood that guides me and cares for me on this earth – and of which I am very much a part.

Find someone who is having a hard time, or is ill, or lonely, and do something for him or her.

These are words that taught me to be a chaplain. These are words that taught me to serve others as so many had served me in so many ways. These are words that softened me back into being human again when I had nearly grown cold. These words warmed my heart.

Never delay a prompting. When you honor a prompting and then stand back a pace, you realize that the Lord gave you the prompting. It makes me feel good that the Lord even knows who I am and knows me well enough to know that if He has an errand to be run, and He prompts me to run the errand, the errand will get done.

These are the words that taught me to act out my faith, to live what I studied, to breathe the gospel by keeping my covenants and doing what is asked of me. These words taught me to take responsibility for myself, to repent, to act in faith, and to act quickly. These words taught me to be more responsive to my God, to be more aware of those around me, and to trust that He knows me and them enough to assign us such tasks together.

Though we may not necessarily forfeit our lives in service to our God, we can certainly demonstrate our love for Him by how well we serve Him.

Like the other quotes, these words were spoken by our beloved prophet, Thomas S. Monson, who was the President of our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In my faith tradition, we believe God uses prophets for leading His people, just as He has always used prophets.

Like Moses, like Abraham, He still uses prophets today, since the restoration of the fullness of the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith.

As a convert, President Monson was the first prophet for me to get to know, to learn, and to love. He taught me to be faithful. He taught me to be true. And he taught me to smile.

He has passed away, and like the other members of our church, my family mourns the loss of him.

But we also know where he is, and the work He is doing as he reports on his work on the other side of the veil.

There will be some grand conference of some sort when it is time, and my parents will be there, and they will hear him speak and feel the truths of what he has to say.

And my spirit soars at the thought of it.

I cried last night and this morning, and settled the children at the table to break the news to them as the sun rose.

They cried, too.

We loved him.

We still do.

But we know what he has asked us to do: read the Book of Mormon, serve others, and go to the temple.

We will remember him as we do these things.

And we will raise our hands, when it is time, to sustain President Russel M. Nelson as the next President of the church.

We have witnessed the transition, felt his love, and our testimony continues.

Because we know it is the church of Jesus Christ, in these latter-days, and we move forward in faith – even with heavy hearts.

A true prophet testifies of Christ, and offers that love to all. President Monson did with all his being:

Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes.

“Jesus, our Savior, was the epitome of kindness and compassion.”… let us examine our lives and determine to follow the Savior’s example by being kind, loving, and charitable.

And as we do so, we will be in a better position to call down the powers of heaven for ourselves, for our families, and for our fellow travelers in this sometimes difficult journey back to our heavenly home. I so pray in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord, amen.”

Until we meet again.