I was really glad to say goodbye to 2012, because it was the year of grieving the death of my father, and I knew nothing could be that hard.
Then I was really glad to say goodbye to 2013, because it was the year of grieving the death of my mother, and our many miscarriages, and that was definitely way harder.
And then 2014 happened, and it hurt in a whole new way.
But that doesn’t mean it was a bad year, just rather unpleasant.
We knew it would be a hard year because the very first thing that happened was moving to Bartlesville, quite unexpectedly, without any warning. We got a prompting one day, followed up, explored an option that didn’t quite feel right but helped us know what we needed, both of us found the same house separately, we looked at it, and closed on it 26 days later. It was insane! But we were thrilled for more room for so many kids, and to be closer to Nathan’s parents and my work.
I still had hair then.
Our first two years of marriage included five miscarriages, the deaths of both my parents, and forty-two foster kids. It has been hard, and exhausting, and brutal, even, but also amazing and glorious and strengthening and healing. Our power, and our hope, comes from the temple, and these are the covenants we lived and practiced while we were taught such lessons of endurance:
I clung to the temple promises as we did the work for my father the week before my mother was killed, and this year we were able to do her work, which mean they could be sealed together, which meant my brother and I could be sealed to them. Finally, our family was whole. It was the most powerful and healing and restorative experience I have ever felt in my life. It lifted grief from me, and it gave me access to my parents in ways I have never before had. I am so, so grateful for the restoration of the priesthood and for temples being on the Earth again, that our families can together forever, and not just “until death do us part”.
It was standing up from that moment in that picture that we knew something was wrong. Strange pains and weaknesses started making life a bit more challenging. We thought I was too tired from having so many foster kids, and I almost didn’t notice as I started sleeping any moment I wasn’t working. Besides, there was so much excitement! They told us Five’s adoption would be final by April (we forgot to ask which April), and we were proud of Toddler’s mom for doing well enough to start reunification – we didn’t know yet she would relapse again, get a string of felonies, and that Toddler’s plan would be changed to adoption.
Nathan was busy, too. His musical Broadcast was performed in Wisconsin, and the release of The Giver movie renewed interest in their first musical, The Giver, now that producers knew there really was an audience for it.
April came and went, and there was no progress on Five’s adoption.
I was desperate to regain my energy and strength, and really irritated with myself that I was not strong and well, and so kept pushing myself to try and take walks on Pathfinder, so very frustrated I could not get myself running.
I served in my calling for the nursery:
And Nathan led the primary music:
Nathan made homemade Easter baskets with the kids, and we watched General Conference, and the kids helped make my nursery craft, I started translating the Book of Mormon from Hebrew back into English, and I sewed the toddler an Easter dress using the materials she helped pick out:
I got a new haircut for my new cochlear implant processor upgrades:
In May, we had our kids do the “Live Below the Line” project to learn about poverty in other countries, what programs help their families in this country, and how to budget their money and choose healthy foods.
For Mother’s Day, I made my mother a gravestone finally, and took Five and Toddler to see her again, remembering that her burial was the first weekend Five had come to stay with us:
For my old Owasso ward, I gave a talk about the Evils of Pornography, and at home, we started the summer homeschool journey to get Five ready for Kindergarten. He worked so hard all summer, and I was so proud of him!
I did, however, have to sew pink lace on the bottom of his shirts to teach him how to keep them tucked in, and that worked well for him. He knows how to feel for the bottom hem of his shirt now, and keeps it tucked in really well. His new shirts no longer require lace!
By the end of May, all I could do was sleep. I was at the lowest I had ever been on my clinical caseload, and as soon as work was finished I came home and fell onto my bed. Literally. And slept until morning. As in, Nathan and his father would sometimes give me blessings and I wouldn’t even know. Sometimes Nathan couldn’t even get me to wake up to change into my pajamas. I was exhausted all the time, and in pain whenever I was awake. It was a terrible time, but we decided maybe I was just doing too much (imagine that), and needed to play more.
So Nathan took me on a date! For Indian food, all the way in Tulsa!
I was so grateful during these days. Nathan really stepped up and helped the kids so much, driving them to appointments I had usually handled, picking them up from school, juggling work (even another trip to New York) and playing in the symphony and his community activities with Musical Research Society. He sacrificed so much creative time to care for the children, and to care for me.
His parents helped, too! This was one Sunday in June, when Nathan and his parents helped the kids make homemade puppets and put on a puppet show for me!
I love our family so much, and I am so glad the kids have Nathan’s parents. I tell them stories about my parents, too, and I am glad their spirits live on and my kids are getting to know them. We took them to visit my father’s grave for Father’s Day:
It was in June that the Toddler officially turned two, and when we showed up at her birthday party that her biological mother had scheduled and no one came, that’s when we knew something was up. The next few weeks would be one felony report after another, stories not for telling now, and the sudden realization that now Toddler would not be going home at all. The rest of the year unfolded that story, with one court hearing after another, about every six weeks, putting into place the final pieces for termination of rights. There were a million emotions, with grief for the mother and the heaviness of her consequences, and the ecstatic joy to realize this little girl we had loved for more than a year would stay with us.
We have learned enough from court to know that we never know what will happen.
June was also when I was no longer strong enough to open the baby bottles to feed our newborn foster baby, and when we realized that my sleeping was more than just late night feedings. Something was wrong, and something was off, and Nathan got me to the doctor. The doctor thought maybe I was having an onset of rheumatoid arthritis, which turned out to be the case, but in the labwork for those test some other blood work came back scary. I was sent immediately up a few floors to see my obgyn, who did an ultrasound, and sent me packing to the hospital for surgery.
It was ovarian cancer, and it was bad.
I wrote about that day HERE, and it has been one of the most read blog posts I have ever written. I celebrated my unexpected last day of summer with a swimming-dance, and ultimately about my surgery and the rope of death pearls that saved my life. Surgery included a full hysterectomy, even taking my cervix and some lymph nodes. Recovery was slow and painful, with scary fevers I barely remember. Chemo and medications and vitamins and protein gummies that hurt my teeth were not any fun, and green juice is better with tomatoes and carrots in it, and recovery was horrific and painful. We were indebted to so many who brought us food, sat with me, cleaned our house, and helped care for the two children that DHS let stay during my illness. It was an intense time, but it was a sacred time. We danced with death, and we spent time as a little family, and we fought to discover what it means to be alive.
Oh, and I lost my hair.
But we didn’t lose our smiles.
Well, there was a lot of crying. Because cancer is hard. And it goes on for ages. And it is exhausting.
But we didn’t forget who we were, or that we were us together, or that we weren’t finished yet.
And that’s a lot to smile about.
And this was my favorite picture of the whole entire year:
They also never tell you that real life keeps happening while you have cancer. Our teenager got her green card finally, and then decided to start her own family (baby due in April). Five started kindergarten, and is doing great. Five’s father petitioned the courts for visits when he got out of prison, and so now that’s a weekly thing. Toddler finally started talking, which we were worried about because she had been tongue tied. As I gained my strength back, I started writing again (including the article about Women and the Priesthood), to wake up my mind before returning to work. A nasty storm-almost-tornado hit Bartlesville, knocking down lots of the trees in our neighborhood, which was a great service opportunity for our family.
In September, we started taking foster kids again, and I cared for one in the hospital, one I know I will keep seeing again because I am so very connected to her and love her so much, even when that means – like most of our foster kids – that loving well means saying goodbye.
But it was good to be fostering again, and that’s how we ended up having three six year olds and three toddlers all fall into the end of the year.
Because life, you see?
Speaking of life, it was hilarious when the Church finally released the mission video they had filmed at our house in Owasso!
October was awesome for three reasons: General Conference, someone gave us a swing set, and I got hair (almost)!
November was packed full! We had stake conference, during which the new Bartlesville stake was created! I gave a talk on the temple, set up the new girls room, and attended a parenting training with Nathan after work one night – which gave us an excuse to go dancing afterward!
Oh, yeah! And I failed a drug test (not really, but goodness!). That made an exciting start to my new second job-that-pays-for-cancer as a member of the psych team at the ER at a local hospital. I also began the residency phase of my post-doc, starting a chaplaincy at Hillcrest, which means 2015 may be such a blur there won’t be any pictures. It will be crazy busy!
December was good for rest and play, though. Days off. Playtime with the kids. Holiday parties (or half of the required ones, because all of them is too much). Christmas traditions like homemade ornaments, gingerbread houses, and homemade gifts for each other – even the ones that don’t turn out like we expected.
There were fewer adventures this year, some might say. No fancy trips to Israel or to some other country. No grand sappy surprises in New York. No more surprise baby announcements or exotic date night adventures.
Our adventures this year were internal, discovering what we are made of and how to strengthen the forts that are us. Our lives were poured out for children we did not keep for long, and our hopes into children we can’t yet claim. Our lives were saved by blessings, by hands that served, by hearts that helped, by friends who loved.
This year, our adventure was simply to be alive.
And that’s how we will welcome 2015: alive.