Alex’s Primary Talk about the Priesthood

Today was Alex’s turn to give the talk in primary this week, and he was assigned to talk about how “Blessings of the Priesthood are Available to All of Us”.  Here is his talk:
I am still learning what the Priesthood is.
I know the Priesthood performs ordinances, like being baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost. 
I know there are two kinds of Priesthood: the Aaronic and the Melchizedek.
I know you can get the Priesthood when you’re twelve. 
The Aaronic Priesthood holders bless and pass the sacrament.
They can also be home teachers. One of our home teachers right now is a boy who has the Aaronic Priesthood. 
A Melchizedek Priesthood holder can give blessings. 
My father can bless me when I’m sick, and he blesses me when I start school.
When I was adopted, I was given a name blessing like some kids get when they are babies.
I was also sealed to my parents in the temple. That’s another ordinance.
Not just anyone can do Blessings and ordinances. Yo can’t do it just because you want to.
Part of the Priesthood is about having permission to do things.
Part of the Priesthood is about doing what Jesus would do if he were here. Jesus would bless the sacrament, and heal the sick, and go to the temple.
Jesus wants us to do the things that he would do so that we can learn to become like him.
We can all have the blessings of the Priesthood. We can receive those blessings from our dads, or the bishop, or other Priesthood holders.
We feel those blessings in the Gift of the Holy Ghost, in having eternal families, and by following the prophet.
I am so excited to get the Aaronic Priesthood, and I can’t wait to grow up to be like Jesus someday.
GI say that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

LDS Nursery at Home – Lesson 9: I Have a Body Like Heavenly Father

We continue sharing Kyrie’s nursery lessons from home, as we know there must be other nursery children who are medically fragile and on precautions so unable to stay for nursery class at the church building.   This week we did lesson 9 from the nursery manual, learning about how we have bodies like Heavenly Father has a body.

Anniversary: Five Years of Hell

Someone vomits every year on our anniversary.

It’s true.

It’s not just because every single blessing we get talks about the work Heavenly Father plans for us and the adversary’s attacks to stop us.

We know we get our fair share of opposition, and that just encourages us to keep going.

But the vomit?  That’s more about the timing of flu shots every year.

And this year?  It was Nathan.

Poor Nathan has gotten puked on every single birthday since we were married, and someone has vomited every single anniversary.  It’s like they know that nothing is worse for Nathan about parenting, and so they just save it up all year just for him.

Except now he cannot blame anyone else, except Anber, who was sick exactly a week ago.

So that’s how we spent our anniversary, once again cleaning up vomit.  

Our gift to him was all of us going to the park all afternoon so he actually got some rest, and his gift to me was a short nap afterward.   Now that the children are tucked in bed, we will celebrate tonight with a mean game of Phase10.

Because we live pretty wild around here.

We have been married a whole five years.

People literally say to us, “Your life has been hell!”

Helpful, guys.  Really helpful.

At our sealing, the blessing said that “as you  act in faith by living lives of consecration, Satan himself will repeatedly attempt to knock your legs out from under you because he does not want you to succeed at what you are now setting out to do.”

Yeah.  Happy wedding day to us.

And it’s been that fun ever since.

Five years.

Five years of wedded bliss: hurricanes, job lay offs, miscarriage after miscarriage, cancer with chemo twice, hysterectomy by default, dead parents, crazy church assignments, eight billion thousand diapers, a gazabillion fosters, three moves in one big circle back to where we started, six adoptions, two years in hospitals, a year of overnight shifts away from each other, both of us working three jobs while publishing fourteen books so far, writing two other big ones on the way, plus two musicals, an opera, six plays, thirteen song lyrics, more than two hundred YouTube videos, a violin album on iTunes, an audiobook recorded, homeschooling all six kids, teaching them piano and violin everyday, thirty-seven therapy appointments a week, a baby on palliative care, financial ruin from dead parents and cancer and aforementioned toddler, and a partridge in a pear tree – no, wait, that sweet bird got taken by my nephew when my mother died, and Nathan’s parents have the dog.

It feels like it has been five lifetimes, not just five years.

Our life together these five years has basically been hell, by anyone’s standards.

Except that I have a husband who is authentically good and genuinely kind.

And I have a husband who is tender and soft and expressive.

And I have a husband who is respectful and wise and strong.

And I have a husband who is faithful, to me and to our God, which matters more than anything.

He lives worthy of the power we need to endure what we have, worthy to lay hands on my head and bless me with the vision and strength and capacity to continue this life we live.

He does not cause me pain, or tears, or fear.

He is beyond what I ever could have imagined was possible, and better than I ever could have dreamed up on my own.

He is my greatest blessing, ever, the very best thing ever to happen to me.

And if I am called to walk through five years of hell, then I am glad it is his hand I chose to hold, and I know it is his hand I will still be holding on the other side of this mess of mortality.

But also, we don’t really look at the hell through which we’ve been.

Because it’s irrelevant.

I only look in his eyes, and in them see whole eternities.

That’s what matters.

There is nothing I love more than holding his hand, or snuggling into him, or our late night talks at the end of our very hard days.

He is my best friend, and I trust him.

I love him.

And he says our only problem is that in premortality, when they passed out the forms to sign up for classes we would endure in mortality, we were just so googley-eyed excited that we checked all the boxes, to endure everything, instead of just selecting a few.

But we checked all the boxes because we really wanted to make it all the way back Home, together.

So maybe we used up all our money taking care of other people’s children.  And maybe we have to work so much that we spend more time apart than as much time as we would like to spend together.  And maybe when they say to consecrate even your very lives if necessary, they mean it.

So maybe our life together has been hell.

But at least we are getting it over with.

And if there was ever anyone good enough and pure enough and strong enough and wise enough and kind enough to walk me straight through the fires of affliction, faithful enough just to ensure I came through on the other side… that would be Nathan, who has never shirked from all we have faced, who has held my hand every step of the way, who has changed diapers and done dishes and helped with chores and run children to appointments and held me when our babies died and swept up my hair when it fell out and tucked children in at night when I was doing my calling away from home.

So yeah, it’s been a long and hard five years, an impossible five years.

But Nathan is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I love our little family very much no matter how hard it is.

I can’t exactly say I’m looking forward to another five, but, you know, I am glad we will still be holding hands.

Because eternity is worth it.

Even when mortality tries to smack that silly grin right off your face.

So thanks a lot, Nathan, for more than the adventure you promised, for still being here, and for marrying me in the temple of God for time and all eternity.

Making a Wish

I got it.

I got the picture I needed, the one I wasn’t sure we would be able to capture.

It’s the perfect picture.

It’s a picture of bright, shining eyes, full of light and sparkle the way that only happens when she is feeling well and laughing, those eyes where the left one is never quite as open as the right one since her stroke, those eyes that are open after three comas, almost thirty surgeries, and so many lifeless stares as they pushed on her little chest and pushed helium into her too-small lungs to try and help her breathe again.

It’s a picture of that little button nose, in a moment when they were empty of tubes for feeding or breathing.

I know it isn’t a complete picture of her experience, but it gives me a picture of who she is under all those layers.

It’s a picture of Kyrie just being Kyrie, and not Kyrie being sick.

It’s a picture of that crooked smile.  Oh, her smile!  It’s crooked from nerve damage from two of the surgeries, and even still that too-small mouth from her too small jaw that doesn’t have room for all her teeth – those miracle teeth they said she wouldn’t have, those teeth that don’t even get to munch on food.

It’s a picture of her perfect little chin – too perfect, shaped by plastic surgery so many times in two years, trying to make room for her to breathe.  If she had barely turned one way or the other, you would have to look closely to see the scars on the side of her face, usually hidden by her hair.

Even the bump on the inside of her lip is there, marking where her tongue was sewn to her lip for the first year of her life.  They didn’t cut her tongue back away from her lip until she was one, at the same time they repaired her cleft palate, and even then they pierced her tongue and stitched it to her cheek, just to keep her airway open while she recovered.  That’s how she spent her entire infancy trying to drink from a bottle without actually using her mouth, breathing formula into her scarred lungs, and using more calories trying to suck than she ever actually gained from what she was able to get down.  That’s why the ng tube was always there, taped to her round cheeks until she finally go the gtube.  That’s why her tongue moves sideways only, and doesn’t lift up, no matter what tricks they try in speech therapy.

This picture?  It is is a picture of a miracle.

 

 

It’s the perfect picture of Kyrie, because it captures her and all her stories, but without her looking sick.  Because she’s more than just a sick girl.  She’s Kyrie.

It’s the picture we will use for her funeral if that’s the Winter we have, but it’s also the picture that gives us hope for Spring.

But funeral planning is a thing, when you have a palliative care team, when you are a little girl who can’t breathe.

(Farah Alvin will be singing, by the way.)

But here, in this picture, there is life in her face, and that was the picture we needed, the picture she needed.

She is the picture of hope, of courage, and of life.

That’s what they told us last when her story was submitted for Make-A-Wish.

It was a sucker punch, getting that notification.

I mean, it’s an amazing thing they do, and I have no idea what Kyrie will wish or what choices we will discuss or what will really happen or not.  I know that if she is selected, that it will be a very special experience no matter what she wishes.  We are so grateful for them to even consider her, and it’s an amazing program that strengthens and cheers so many children.

But the selfish part of me knows that making a wish means the end is coming, and I’m not okay with that.

In fact, I am really, really, really not okay with that.

No one would wish that.

In fact, wishes are now off limits for everyone (my apologies to Alex, who has the next birthday).

Except it’s not about being selfish, and it’s not even about a life being over.

It’s about embracing the strength and courage to endure hard things.  It’s about celebrating what life means, and how living life to the fullest helps others live, too, whatever living means to them.  It’s about celebrating a life that has changed thousands of other lives.

It’s about stepping away from hospital life, and just being a family, for a moment, without the stress and worries that are very much a part of everyday life when you have a child on the “chronic death trajectory”.

It’s about comfort, and quality of life, and spending time together as a family.

Because time is all we have, really, until later, when time won’t matter anymore.

It’s about acknowledging that the last two years were hard – really hard – and taking a moment to stop and rest.

Maybe even breathe.

But not wish.  I can’t.  I can’t do it.  It’s too hard for me.

But that’s okay, too, because it’s not my wish.  It’s her wish.  And so we will let her wish.

Because when you look into a face like that, and see eternities in eyes full of light like hers, then there are still adventures to be had, worlds to conquer, and wishes to be made.

Make a wish, baby girl.  Make a wish.

Adoption Grief

This blurry-you-can’t-see-her-face picture is of the first drug baby ever placed with us.

The picture was taken more than three years ago.

She was a hard baby withdrawing from drugs.  We brought her home from the hospital as a newborn.  We couldn’t keep her awake long enough to eat.  She cried hard when she was awake because she was detoxing.  We did everything we could to stimulate her, praying for every brain cell she had left… we played classical music for her, we rocked her in the room while Nathan played violin, we got her in all the SoonerStart therapy services, and we read to her and sang to her and touched her and held her and everything we could think to do to give her a chance.

But those drug babies – that’s hard work.  It was exhausting.  It was scary, because she wasn’t gaining weight because she couldn’t stay awake to eat.  She was barely five pounds when she was born, and every feeding we would have to completely remove all her clothes, change her diaper in the middle of it, tickler her feet, and just keep stimulating her in all the ways we could just to keep her awake enough to eat.   She wasn’t very interested.

We thought that was hard, back then, before Kyrie, but now we know it was preparatory for Kyrie.

This baby is the one from our book, in the chapter about cancer, the baby the took from us when we found out I had ovarian cancer.

After dinner, we took the children over to Nathan’s parents for them to say goodbye.  While Nathan kept an eye on the pack, as they rioted through Grandma and Granddad’s house, I slipped away with the youngest — a drug baby — for some time to say my farewells in private.  It was hard.  I cried.  But what a gift, to have known her, for even a short bit of time, and maybe helped in some small way we would never know.

What a miracle that, after all those miscarriages, we would get to have our new-parent experiences: bringing a newborn home from the hospital, middle of the night feedings, bottles and burping and diapers galore, and even sleep deprivation!  I was so grateful to her, for that little taste of normal, for her sweet smile, and for her tenacity to survive so much in her short life thus far.  I cried and I kissed her, I fed her and rocked her one more time, and then I sent her away.

It was strange, after the caseworker loaded up the children and their bags of things and pulled out of the driveway, to come in to an empty and quiet house.  My nieces who had come for the summer had already been sent home early, and our teenager that graduated had already moved out on her own.  All that was left was Alex and Anber, who had already changed into pajamas and climbed into bed.

I just stood there, listening.  Nothing moved.  I heard the ticking of a clock for the first time in two years. I started tearing down the streamers and balloons still up in the dining room, left from a foster birthday party.  Suddenly they didn’t belong anymore, and not just because the birthday was over.  It’s one thing to be ready to fight cancer, and another thing all together to invite it to a party.  There would be no cancer party.  So I took the balloons down and threw the whole mess away.

I walked back to the bedroom that was mine and Nathan’s before the newborn invasion, and swept it clean of baby stuff.  I packed up all the Onesies and zip-up jammies, and moved out the swing and the bouncy seat and the bassinet.  I loaded up miniature shoes and gloves and hats, blankets and burp rags.  I took empty bottles to the kitchen, and looked for pacifiers the way children look for Easter eggs.  I took out the trash, and then cleaned this corner, and then that corner, and then over here, and then over there, and then dusted, and then made Nathan move this and move that, and then vacuumed until I ran out of things to do.

That was a hard day.

There was a lot of grieving.

Of course we had to do what was best for the children, and let them go since I was sick.

We almost got her back, later, a couple times, and wanted to take her back.  We loved her, that one, and would have kept her… except her pre-teen sister was part of the deal.   We loved her sister, too, even though she kept hiding poop in her lunch box.   The sister also did a lot of stealing, but we figured that comes with fostering, and if we gave her enough time and enough chances, she would figure things out.

Except then she stole Mary’s hearing aids, and that was the last straw as far as family votes.

It broke my heart.

They also had a brother, but he was too close to age in Alex and neither were good for the other.  They each did fine with us individually, but Alex and the other boy together were a disaster.  It just didn’t work.

These three, the baby and her brother and her sister, were a sibling set we adored, and we would have been a perfect match for any of the children individually, but they couldn’t seem to be healthy together, and we couldn’t match them with the children already in our home.

Also, they were still trying to go home then, and we supported that, and when we found out about the cancer, we hoped they were headed home soon.

But then we found out they didn’t.

It was a sibling set we watched slip away from us, and worried about, and never forgot, and will forever love… but it was a sibling set that didn’t get to stay with us, and we said goodbye several times as they came and went and kept not staying.

It was heartbreaking.

But this baby?  We kept seeing her.  We saw her at the doctor’s office.  We saw her at the DHS office.  We saw her at a fast food place once.  We saw her at the library.  We saw her at a school.

She didn’t know us, of course.

She didn’t know that we brought her home from the hospital, or fought so hard to keep her alive.  She didn’t know that we cleaned her umbilical cord until it fell off, or took her on walks in the park, or took pictures of her in serving bowls to show how small she was.  She doesn’t remember Nathan’s violin, or the songs I sang to her, or that we tried our best to give her all we had in the little time we had together.

She isn’t aware of what she gave us, like how she made Anber smile again when she fed that little one a bottle for the first time on the same day Anber’s mother didn’t show up for her second birthday party, the same week Kyrie was conceived among a swirl of toxic substances that would take her twin sister and leave her fighting for every breath.

She isn’t aware of what she gave us, like teaching us how to care for drug babies so that we were ready and prepared when Kyrie came along in a much more critical state.

But when we saw her around town, and we couldn’t help but smile at her, and sometimes Alex or Anber even waved or tried to play with her.  They remember her, too, even though she doesn’t remember us.

But that’s fostering: you are strangers to the ones you love, when they first come and when they have gone home again.

Except this one didn’t go home.

And this week?  We found out she is getting adopted.

And I couldn’t be more thrilled for her, or more relieved.

This one was one of two little ones we especially missed and struggled with understanding why things didn’t work out differently for them, or for us.

So it is a bit of closure, even if it stings when the worker contacts me to let me know, or even if I cry while I select pictures to send to her new adoptive mother who isn’t me.

But she has one, a new mother, a family that loves her and cares for her, and she’s doing really well.

And that’s how it works, when a community raises a child, or a little one weaves her way through foster care until finding her forever home.

And she’s alive, and safe, and doing well.

And that makes us happy, even if we will always miss her, always remember the smell of her, always remember the little sounds she made when she snuggled against our shoulders.

And if she and her brother and sister had stayed, we wouldn’t have the four others who eventually came to stay after Alex and Anber.

It’s all exactly as it should be.

Even if we cry.

Or maybe I cry because it’s also the week my father died, two years before we met this little one… just months before I met Nathan.  I can’t even write about that tonight.

But I had to share her story, this little one who has found a home, and my gratitude for the workers who care for children who have no one, children who have no where, children who wait three years to find where they belong.

And tonight, when I say my prayers, I will thank God for the one who will tuck this baby girl into bed tonight, and add this “new” mother to my prayers every time I think of this little one, one we will never forget.

And we will celebrate her finding her forever home, even though it was somewhere else.

Because we know it must be exactly right for her.

And that is amazing.

A forever home is always worth celebrating.

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.