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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Learning to Submit

At the beginning of this year we were chosen by a birthmother to adopt her baby, who would be born in June. The situation involved a birthfather who was less than thrilled about adoption, and more particularly the choice of the birthmother in selecting us as the couple. As a result, the first few months of this year were filled with ups and downs. We weren't sure whether to embrace the anticipated joy of welcoming a little boy to our family or whether we should keep ourselves aloof, to protect our hearts.

Near the end of February, we received word that the adoption probably wasn't going to happen and that it was in everyone's best interest to limit our contact with the birthmother. We had already grown to love this incredible girl, who was trying so hard to make the right choices for herself and her unborn baby. And, we had already grown to love this little boy who would soon be coming to earth, and genuinely hoped for the best for both him and his mother.

As we faced the reality that the adoption probably wouldn't happen, I crumbled. I spent a couple of days feeling completely devastated and broken. Fortunately the Lord blessed me with some obvious evidences during that time that He loved me and was aware of me. Feeling that love from Him in the midst of my disappointment, humbled me to the point of complete acceptance of God's will, whatever it was. 

I remember one day very clearly... in a moment of prayer I admitted to God that I didn't know what the outcome of this adoption would be. I didn't have the insight or wisdom to see how things were supposed to work out. As difficult as it was to do, I handed over my will to God in that moment, letting Him know that I trusted in Him and in His love for me so much that whatever the outcome would be, I wanted it to be done according to His will. That experience was incredibly liberating. 

I remember thinking at the time, "wow, this is so much easier to handle knowing that all I have to do is accept however God intends for this to work out." Of course, the foundation of that feeling had to be the strongest assurance that God truly loved me and had my best intentions in mind. All of a sudden I didn't have the burden of trying to convince God to make "my will" be done. I finally handed it all over to Him... it was now in His hands.

Well, within a month of having that experience, Marc and I experienced the biggest shock of our married life - we were pregnant! And, then two weeks later, the second biggest shock of our married life - we were expecting twins! At the time I felt like my submission to God's will was all He was waiting for... the result of that submission was this most incredible blessing. And, I remember thinking, "this is so easy to accept God's will when something really wonderful like this happens... the real test would be to accept His will in the midst of disappointment."

Since our first pregnancy, five years ago, ended at 7 weeks, we felt very cautious in those early months. There were a number of times I expressed the feeling that "no matter how this all turns out, I will always consider this pregnancy the most incredible miracle." And I did. And I still do. I think approaching the pregnancy with caution made me even more grateful for each moment, each new experience, not knowing if/when it might end.

Morning sickness was awful... but, it was such a joy to experience it, knowing that my body was working to make two beautiful babies. After throwing up, with tears streaming down my face, I would pat my little belly and tell my babies how much I loved them. Watching them in our ultrasounds, and finally feeling them move around inside me... these were all miracles and blessings that brought us such incredible joy that would often leave us in tears. After five years of "unexplained infertility" these were all things that we had wondered if we'd ever experience. 

The day of our 10 week ultrasound, I recorded in my journal how nervous I was before the appointment. I had gone in our nursery and kneeled down to pray. My first inclination was to pray for a healthy, full-term pregnancy, without any complications.... that was my desire, afterall. That was exactly what I wanted, so I started to express those very specific desires to God. I paused, though. I found myself offering a completely different prayer than the one I intended to offer. Instead, I prayed that everything would work according to God's will... and with tears flowing, I pled with God to "please bless me with the courage to accept thy will."

Well, that appointment went wonderfully... as did many of the subsequent appointments. As the pregnancy progressed and our fears were settled, we started to allow ourselves to feel unleashed excitement at the anticipated arrival of our two precious little girls.

Then, came July 16th. We had been rushed down to UCSF when my water unexpectedly broke. After laying in that hospital bed for almost 12 hours, with nothing happening, except that I was losing more and more fluid as the clock ticked on, I became very frustrated that no one was doing anything to try and save my babies. I felt so helpless. I was fighting to keep them and I felt so utterly alone in that fight.

As I reached that point of total desperation, I offered a silent prayer. Again, I found myself admitting that I didn't have the wisdom or insight to see what the outcome of this situation was to be. I expressed my feelings that I was fighting an uphill battle, and that if God was behind me in that battle that I was willing to fight, to do whatever I had to help my girls live. But, I also was able to see that my fighting to keep them here may have become a fight contrary to His will for them and for me. And, then came another moment of submission... "please, Father, help me to have the courage to accept thy will."

Within an hour of offering that prayer, my physical condition worsened to the point that made it clear that infection from the surgery a week before, was the cause of preterm labor... and ultimately the doctors were concerned for my life. Some may consider it coincidence. I felt then, and still feel now, that those turn of events were confirmation that God had a different outcome in mind for our little girls than what we had expected. Their purpose and mission would be fulfilled in simply receiving a body... and we were entrusted with the bitter-sweet experience of being the means whereby they could fulfill that purpose.

I share all of this more for myself than for anyone else. You see, I have been struggling to remember that the events of the last few weeks and months have all gone according to God's will... and that, on more than one occasion, He was preparing me to accept this outcome. I have had moments of complete submission, where I willingly gave up my most coveted desires, and I entrusted my life into the hands of God.

The pain in my heart sometimes whispers thoughts of bitterness and anger that my girls were taken from me. "If God really loved me, why would he do such a thing?" And, I find myself needing to discern between the truth and the lies that fill my mind. God has not taken my girls from me. He has not abandoned me. He has not stripped me of my promised blessings. No. He has rather ensured the immediate return of our girls to His presence and with that the blessing of motherhood to come in a day not far distant.

I know that over the course of the last six months, maybe even much longer than that, God has been preparing me to accept the outcome of our daughters' short lives. It is a daily battle to fight away the feelings of frustration and sadness that try to deceive me into believing that I have been robbed and cheated and denied. Deep down I know I haven't. Deep down I know that God loves me and is so tenderly aware of me right now. Deep down I trust in Him and in His will for my life. Deep down I want to submit my will and desires to Him, like I have before, knowing that He will bless me with the courage to accept the outcome, just like He has before. 

"... the submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we “give”... are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!"

 - Neal A. Maxwell (Ensign, November 1995)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Camping on the Coast

We went camping along the Northern California coast, in a rather secluded area that we had never been to before. Whenever we go to the coast we always have our usual beaches and favorite spots we like to visit... but, lately we've felt the urge to break away from the old, the familiar... and find new favorites and discover new adventures. I guess that makes sense. With our hearts feeling so vulnerable and exposed to such unfamiliar feelings, it seems fitting that we would feel most comfortable being out of our comfort zone.

The sunset was spectacular:

The three raccoons that were gently clawing at our tent, ended up being harmless:

The weather was cool and refreshing, without a cloud in the sky:

The waves and ocean brought renewal and healing:

Walking along the shore, watching the waves wash over the rocks, it almost felt as if we were getting an intimate glimpse into our own hearts. We are experiencing our own waves of pain and healing. There is high tide and there is low tide. There is the ebb and the flow. It's so much of how we've been feeling lately that being near the ocean makes us feel very much at home.

It's comforting to find that even when we're in unfamiliar territory that there are constants that we can rely on without fail... like that no matter what part of the ocean we go to, we are still going to find the same feelings of comfort and calm.

Even more than that, we're grateful that along this unchartered pathway of our grief we find constance in the One who has traveled this road before, who has not abandoned us in our time of need. We have felt His assurance again and again: I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. - John 14:18

Saturday, August 23, 2008


On August 23, 2002 we began our journey of life together. I remember so clearly the joy and excitement I felt. 

The only down side to the day was that the Mt. Timpanogos temple spire was covered in scaffolding, to repair some cracks that had formed underneath Angel Moroni, which were caused by some lightning storms a few weeks before. So, we didn't bother getting many full shots of the temple since it was under construction. Besides that... oh, and the small fire that started at our reception that night... but, besides those two things, the day was perfect!

Yesterday afternoon I came across an old journal and read something I wrote on December 31, 2001. We hadn't been dating very long at that point, but we were already talking about our future together. Here's part of that entry:

"As far as my wish for my future with Marc... I don't really know. I know that I just want to take one day at a time - suck the marrow out of each day, enjoy our time together, learn to trust him more and more, and prove that he can trust me completely. I guess my wish is to build a friendship so strong that we'll always be each other's best friend and that through everything that comes our way, we'll only be strengthened even more and bonded together."

I found that entry to echo so much of what I feel now. Six years ago, I had no idea we would be where we are today... but, I am more grateful than I've ever been to have my best friend by my side to go through life with. Our marriage and our friendship have definitely been strengthened through all that we've been through. I'm beyond grateful for our temple sealing - it has come to mean even more to me, knowing that our sealing extends to our girls. They are ours forever. There isn't anything that brings more joy and peace than that knowledge.

We will be together forever.

Marc, I love you! I'm so lucky to be married to my best friend!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blossoms in August

My heart has been touched deeply by small miracles lately. In the last couple of days, three separate plants of ours have blossomed flowers. I don't remember the last time they produced flowers, and I surely wasn't expecting blossoms in August, but they are beautiful and so alive.

When I look at them I feel an overwhelming sense of God's love and awareness. They feel like His gentle way of reminding me of life... life beyond death, victory from the grave. I'm grateful to a loving Father who is so gently blessing us through what may be our darkest hour, who is guiding us along this rugged path, who is filling our life with sweet reminders of His love for us and for our little girls.


We will spend the next couple of days soaking up the beauty and life from the incredible outdoors. It is calling and we are definitely needing to fill up from the fountains of life. I love this quote by John Muir:

Thousands of tired, nerve shaken, over civilized people are beginning to find that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Not on my own

1 Corinthians 10:13 - God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted (tested or proven) above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

I've always taken great comfort in the promise in the scriptures that we won't be tested or tried above what we can handle. Except there are times (like now) when I've doubted that promise, questioning if God really knows me well enough to know what I can and can't handle. I find it interesting that every hard experience we've been through has been preceded by the thought, "that won't ever happen to us, because I just couldn't handle something like that." (I've since stopped thinking such thoughts... why tempt God to prove me wrong?)  

I've come to the conclusion that I really can't handle this experience. I've tried, believe me. Fortunately there is another part of the equation - the Lord. I really can't get through this, if I don't have the Lord's help. If I leave off that last part, then I am 100% right that I won't make it through this or any other really hard thing that comes in life. But, with God, I can do all things. 

Standing on the outside of the refiner's fire, looking in, it's impossible to know the comfort and peace that will come while being in its midst. As we've entered this particular refiner's fire, and felt the extreme heat and pressure, we've actually experienced some of the most powerful moments, as they have provided us with experiences to feel a greater measure of the Lord's awareness of and love for us.  

I know I can't pray for my daughters to come back to life... this burden is with me to stay. But, I can pray for a stronger back to carry the burden. And, while my weak muscles are going through growing pains, I know the Lord is doing His fair share of shouldering my burden, because He loves me. 

Lately the burden has been heavy, the pain acute... and, I know the fastest way to find relief from that most intense pain is on my knees.

Without fail, He is always there.

The promise isn't that we will be able to handle life's greatest tests on our own... the promise is that with the Lord we will get through these paths that we do not know. It is only through our reliance on and acceptance of the Savior's help, that He will get us through life's hardest moments. Whatever the challenge, whatever the heartache, when we call out for help to make it through, we will find strength beyond our own to overcome.

I have found the Lord has lifted me, He has made up for the strength that I lack. He has soothed my heartache in such dark moments that I know the relief could only come from Him.

Alma 13: 28-29 - But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted (tested or proven) above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;  Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Psalms 147:3 - "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds."

Isaiah 61:1 - "he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted"

I was looking through some photos from earlier this year and I came across one that reminded me of an experience I had a few months ago. In fact, I had meant to share this back when it happened... but, coming across it now seems so much more appropriate, in light of our recent experiences.

We have two cats - Einstein and Watson. For the most part they are really good cats. Since we keep them inside, though, they sometimes find creative ways to be active. Like, trying to climb the bookshelves and clawing our couch to pieces. We've been somewhat successful in training them, but everyone once in a while we aren't able to keep them completely under control. *Sigh*

So, back in February I came home one day to find this laying on the living room floor:

This is one of my Dad's most beautiful ceramic pots, totally shattered to pieces. It had been sitting on the mantle. One of our cats had apparently jumped up there and knocked it down. I was so devastated... it was my most favorite of his pots.

I gathered up the pieces, not sure what I was going to do with them, and left them on the kitchen counter for a week or so. I went back and forth trying to decide if it was worth it to try to somehow fix it or if I should just throw the pieces away.

Well, a couple of weeks later I was preparing for a seminary lesson when I came across a perfect opportunity to use the broken pot as an object lesson. I brought in the pieces, explained the situation to my students, and asked them if this pot was worth fixing. After getting some mixed responses, we had a really good discussion about how they decide whether or not something is worth fixing, and how this broken pot might relate to their lives.

I shared the following story, related by President Packer, with my students:

"For a number of years I found relaxation in carving and painting songbirds, at times spending a full year on a single carving.... Once, I had a newly finished carving on the back seat of a car driven by Elder A. Theodore Tuttle. He hit the brackes suddenly and the carving was thrown to the floor and damaged.

Elder Tuttle felt terrible, supposing he had ruined a year's work. When I waved aside his apologies, he said, 'You sure don't seem to be upset about it.' To reassure him, I said, 'Don't worry. I made it; I can fix it.' Actually it had been broken and fixed many times while I was working on it.

Later, Brother Tuttle likened that experience to people with lives broken or badly damaged - supposedly ruined with no hope of repair - who do not know that there is a Maker, a Creator, who can fix any of his creations no matter how hopelessly broken they seem to be."

All day I couldn't stop thinking about the pot and Elder Packer's words: "Don't worry. I made it; I can fix it." Finally I decided to glue the pot back together. It ended up being an incredibly overwhelming experience... recognizing that if this pot was worth my time and energy to fix and if I could find such satisfaction in spending time on it, that God must feel that a hundred times more when it comes to His children.

At the time I was going through some things... and I felt as broken as this pot. And, as I was carefully trying to put it back together and make it as perfect and beautiful as it was before, I felt very strongly that God was just as intently and lovingly working with me, wanting to heal my broken heart and make me whole again. Because He made me and loved me, I was worth His time. I sensed that just as I was finding joy in putting this pot back together, so was He finding joy in binding up my broken heart.

Now, I find myself feeling more in pieces than ever in my life. I'm grateful to know there is One who has fixed me many times before, and will also be able to fix me this time around. I know it won't be quite as quick or as simple, but I know my broken heart will be healed. And, I know it will be because of only one thing - because He who created me loves me and finds great worth in my soul.

We all find ourselves at times feeling broken and falling apart, for many different reasons. I know that there is no break that He cannot fix. I know there is no limit to the love and time He will spend on making us whole again. No one is too far or too low that He cannot reach.

Precious Savior, dear Redeemer,
Thou wilt bind the broken heart.
Let not sorrow overwhelm us;
Dry the bitter tears that start.
Curb the winds and calm the billows;
Bid the angry tempest cease.
Precious Savior, dear Redeemer,
Grant us everlasting peace.

(LDS Hymnbook, #103)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


*image courtesy of flickr

In the final days of my mission in Italy I wrote a letter to myself. Basically it included advice to myself about how to return home, back to my old life, without turning back into my old self. I wanted the experiences I'd had to have a lasting effect on my life. I wanted to hang onto the things I had learned, I wanted to be a different person than I was when I had left home. I knew it would be hard, though, when nobody at home knew exactly what I'd experienced in that year and a half. I knew it would be easy to fall back into being the same person I was before I left.

Well, I came home and the adjustment was hard. I felt like a foreigner. I opened up with certain people who seemed genuinely interested in hearing about experiences from my mission. But, even then there was so much more that I felt just couldn't be communicated with words alone. I couldn't look at photos of my mission for the first six months without crying. I really felt like I was in a state of crisis, only nobody knew because I kept it all inside and put on my "happy face." Then, one day I decided to do something drastic with my hair (it was bad!)... and then I felt like it would have been more effective and less painful to wear a sign around my neck - "I'm in a crisis."

I was trying so hard to be "normal" again. I wanted to get back to a normal life. I wanted to function like a normal person. I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin. I wanted to feel like who I was on the outside was the same as who I was on the inside, or how I felt on the inside. But, because there was so much going on inside my heart that I didn't understand myself, I didn't know how to act. I didn't know anymore what "normal" even meant.

While those feelings about returning home from Italy aren't *exactly* how I feel right now, I've realized that some of the feelings are very similar.

I feel like this experience has been sort of an accelerated course in humility, in faith, in patience, in pain, in heartache, in grieving. I've never been much of an over-achiever. I've always been happy to just do the bare minimum to get by. So, this accelerated course has not been easy.

I feel like a foreigner... even moreso than I did when I first arrived in Italy. I feel like I am completely unable to even attempt to make sense to myself or others what foreign things my heart is experiencing. I feel like my heart and my mind are in constant conflict. My mind tells me everything is going to be okay. But, as quoted in Steel Magnolias, "I wish somebody would explain it to my heart."

I'm trying to get back to a "normal" life, but I don't know what that means anymore. I want to be true to myself. I want to be honest with how I feel. But, the truth is that I'm completely confused by all that I feel. The fact that pain and peace constantly co-exist in my heart in the exact same moment doesn't make sense to me. But, they do. I feel like I should paint my face like one of those mimes where half of the face is painted happy and the other half is painted sad. Then, everyone would be as confused as I am about how I'm doing.

I want to soak up all the lessons I can learn from this, because I want to become a better person than I was before, but also because I don't want to go down this road again.

So, maybe it's already obvious... but I'm going to admit it outloud - I'm completely faking my way through this period right now, because that's all I know how to do. I feel like I'm having to re-learn the basics... even having to remind myself to breathe sometimes.

I know I'll eventually get back into a "normal" life, but it won't ever be whatever "normal" was before July 16th. I guess I'm in the process of reinventing "normal" for my own life... and I get the feeling it's going to take some time.

(And, if I mention to any of you that I'm thinking of changing my hairstyle in the midst of all of this, please convince me to wait at least a few more months... I really don't need a hair crisis like I had before.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lesson learned on a Pioneer Trek

Two summers ago Marc and I participated in a "Pioneer Trek" with the youth in our church. It was obviously a much smaller scale trek than what the pioneers experienced in the 1850s. We definitely didn't cover thousands of miles and didn't suffer nearly what they went through. Still, it's amazing the lessons that we learned in just a couple of days of attempting to walk in their shoes.

Marc and I were the "Ma" and "Pa" over a group of 10 youth. Each "family" was provided a handcart, that was packed with all of our supplies for the 3-day trek. As a family, we had to pull our handcart through fields, up hills, across dried riverbeds, down hills, with each member in the family sharing in that duty.

There is one experience from the trek that I've been thinking about a lot today.

As "parents" we were informed in advance of some of the surprises along the way. One of those was a long, steep hill that we would cover on the first night of the trek, at about 10pm. This specific part of the trek was to be done only by the girls in each family. At the base of the hill we were told to quietly ask the boys to stop pushing or pulling the handcart, leaving only the girls in each family to pull the handcart to the top of the hill on their own.

In our family, that meant we had four girls pulling a very full and very heavy cart. At first they did okay. But, as the hill got more steep and their energy more drained, it was clear that they were seriously struggling. At one point they were having such a hard time that the handcart almost started rolling backwards.

It was very painful to watch them struggle. It took everything in me NOT to step in and help push that cart up the hill. When they made it to the top of the hill, though, I wanted to be able to tell them that they did it. I didn't want to take away that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment from them. I wanted them to learn something about themselves - that they were strong and able to do something really difficult.

That simple experience ended up being a very important learning moment for me. For the first time in my life I understood a very small portion of what it must be like for a loving Father to stand back and watch as we struggle up life's very steep and painful hills. For an Omnipotent God to exercise such restraint from reaching out and saving us from every heartache and challenge in life must be almost unbearable. It isn't that I thought he stood carelessly back, uninterested in my life... it just had never occurred to me the sorrow it would cause Him to not intervene, when it would be so easy for Him to make everything perfect. I'm just grateful that, while he may not remove my steep hills, I am still able to feel His gentle encouragement and loving support that give me the strength to keep on going.

I know He could have worked some miracle in my life on July 16th, that would have made everything work out perfectly the way I wanted it to go. But, there are reasons why things turned out the way they did. And, though I don't have a clear picture or answers to why things happened the way they did, I trust completely in a loving, all-knowing, all-powerful Father in Heaven.

Among other things, these kinds of experiences in life allow God to pull out of us what He already sees within us. As tragic and heart-breaking as the last month has been for us, I'm grateful for the strengthened relationship I've found with God, for the Savior's tangible comfort that has come in dark hours, and for the change all of this is having on my heart. I think I will find myself completely agreeing with Elder Maxwell's assessment:

"In retrospect, we will even see that our most trying years here will often have been our best years, producing large tree rings on our soul, Gethsemanes of growth!"

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hurdles and Angels

We've cleared what feels like the first big hurdle - four weeks.

This week started off okay, and then got progressively harder until it peaked last night. I was sitting in our backyard reading a book, trying so hard to distract myself from the fact that it had been four weeks since we shared our brief moments with Elliana and Emmaline. The harder I tried to avoid the memories from that day, the more heavy the burden became. So many emotions surfaced and I found myself quietly sobbing.

Those sobs reflected sadness at experiences that have been delayed, an aching to be with my girls just one more time, and a fear of not being able to make it through the coming days and weeks. In those intensely painful moments, the road ahead seems impossibly steep and long. Hence, the wisdom in following the good advice to take just a moment at a time becomes a powerful coping tool.

I'm grateful for the comforting words from a friend last night, that gave me strength and courage to hang on, and the assurance that the road ahead isn't impossible to travel since she's already much further ahead of me in getting through it. She has been a blessing in my life, an angel.

And, the truth is we have been surrounded by angels on every side. Last night I had a dream that I had collapsed from carrying a load that was too much for me to handle. (I've had some bizarre dreams lately, but this one wasn't too hard to figure out!) While laying on the ground, I became aware of "angels" lifting things off me, so that I could get up again. I wasn't aware of who they were, but just very aware of their love and concern.

This morning I awoke feeling "light". The burden that had followed me to bed last night was no longer weighing me down. I know that we've survived the last four weeks, in large part, to the angels in our life, who have so lovingly helped carry our burdens. Heaven has sent us angels in so many forms in the last month. I have felt like we have been abundantly blessed with this promise in the scriptures: "I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up."

My sister shared this song with me the other day... and, I must say that for a pop song, it has a rather profound message:

Sometimes I feel like I don't belong anywhere.
And it's gonna take so long for me to get to somewhere.
Sometimes I feel so heavy hearted, but I can't explain cuz I'm so guarded.
But that's a lonely road to travel, and a heavy load to bear.
And it's a long, long way to heaven but I gotta get there.
Can you send an angel?
Can you send me an angel to guide me.

Furnace of Affliction

"The thermostat on the furnace of affliction will not have been set too high for us - though clearly we may think so at the time. Our God is a refining God who has been tempering soul-steel for a very long time. He knows when the right edge has been put up on our excellence and also when there is more in us than we have yet given. One day we will praise God for taking us near to our limits - as He did His Only Begotten in Gethsemane and Calvary." - Neal A. Maxwell

The following is a little story - perhaps fictional, but still containing truth - that has helped me on many occasions to put things into perspective when in the midst of the "furnace of affliction." In particular, it has helped me through recent heartache and pain.

Years ago, a group of women met together to read the Bible. While reading the third chapter of Malachi they came upon a remarkable expression in the third verse: "And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver."

Intrigued by this expression, they debated its meaning until one of them proposed to visit a silversmith and report back to her friends what he said on the subject. She went accordingly and found an old silversmith. Without telling him the objective of her errand, she begged to know the process of refining silver. He then proceeded to describe the process to her. "But Sir," she said, "Do you sit while the work of refining is going on?"

"Oh yes, Madam," replied the silversmith, "I must sit with my eye steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the time necessary for refining is exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured."

The lady at once saw the beauty and comfort of the expression, "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." Christ sees it needful to put His children into a furnace; His eye is steadily intent on the work of purifying, and His wisdom and love are both engaged in the best manner for them. Their trials do not come at random; the very hairs of their heads are numbered.

As the woman was about to leave, she thought to ask one more question of the silversmith: "How do you know when the refining process is complete?"

He then replied, "I only know when the process of purifying is complete by seeing my image reflected in the silver."

There is purpose for what we experience. We are known in such personal and intimate ways by a loving Father, who tenderly watches over us as we go through our refiner's fire. I find great comfort in knowing that He knows me and is with me every step of the way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


July 24, 2008 - Thursday afternoon

A few hours after the Memorial service, we held a private Graveside service with just our family members. We sang "I Am a Child of God." Marc dedicated the grave, blessing it to be a place of inspiration and comfort to all who visit. Again, it was a beautiful moment, shared together with our families.

Memorial Service

July 24, 2008 - Thursday morning

The couple of days prior to the Memorial Service had me feeling nervous and unable to follow through with our plans. I felt relieved that Thursday morning I woke up feeling calm, reassured that we would make it through the events of the day. I know we were being strengthened by the countless prayers being offered for us, as well as being completely surrounded by our families. We were overwhelmed as we found out that more and more of our family members were traveling from long distances to be with us. Between Marc's family and my family, we had 17 family members here with us. We are so blessed to have the most supportive, loving families.

At 8am we held a private viewing with just our families. We sang "Teach Me to Walk in the Light" and had an opening prayer. The feeling in the room was one of the most incredible feelings I've ever felt. It was the most powerful feeling of the purest love. It was sacred. As each member of the family had their moment to say their good-byes to Elliana and Emmaline, there was not a dry eye in the room. The Spirit was strong, feelings were tender. Marc and I were overwhelmed with love for our girls... and with love for our family members who already loved our girls so much. It is a moment we won't ever forget.

At the entrance to the chapel, we had this set up:

At 9am we held the Memorial Service. Again, we were overwhelmed with the response from so many of our friends who took time out of their morning to come mourn with us. Our hearts were deeply touched by the love and support we were receiving. We opened the service with "Be Still my Soul" and an opening prayer by my oldest brother. Then, I shared some of my feelings and the assurance we have felt that we are bound to our little girls forever.

For the special musical number my sisters sang "My Heavenly Father Loves Me"... it was the song I would always sing to Elliana and Emmaline when I was driving in the car alone. It has always felt like it was their song. My sisters sounded like angels! They did a beautiful job!

At the front of the podium, we had this beautiful picture, that we realized later went together so beautifully with the special musical number:

Marc followed the song by sharing his thoughts about the Plan of Salvation and how we've been strengthened every step of the way, because of our testimonies. Our bishop, then, shared some sweet feelings, giving his assurance of the eternal nature of our family. We closed the meeting with "Families Can Be Together Forever" and a prayer by Marc's Mom. 

As we greeted those who came to the service, our hearts were so full. We were hugged and kissed, we were filled with love. So many people were so generous and sweet. We were completely overwhelmed with love. It filled us to overflowing.

Never before in my life have I understood better the power and beauty of the covenant to "bear one another's burdens, that they may be light" and to "mourn with those that mourn" and "comfort those who stand in need of comfort." Being on the receiving end of such pure acts of love softened our hearts and truly filled us with the comfort and the strength we so desperately needed. Our burdens were lifted, our hearts were comforted in a very real way.

We know there were many who weren't able to be there physically, but whose love and support were felt so strongly in our hearts. We are so grateful for their love and prayers for us, even from a distance.

My brothers, Danny and Jamie, carrying the casket from the chapel


Dressing our Girls

July 23, 2008 - Wednesday

We spent part of the afternoon at the mortuary, dressing our girls for the first and last time. It had been a week since their birth, a week since we'd said our good-byes. But, there in that room in the mortuary, we realized that our good-byes from the week before weren't really final. Though their bodies are no longer united with their spirits, they are still very much with us.

We included some special items in their casket. We made two matching pillows, one to lay their bodies on, and one for us to keep to remind us of them. I also made two matching necklaces for Elliana and Emmaline, and a matching bracelet for me. We wrapped their bodies in a blanket my Mom had crocheted, and covered them in a blanket that my sister-in-law made. We put some notes and letters in with them, too.

Words don't exist to try to describe our experience that day. Here are just a couple of photos:

*these are the dresses the hospital sent us home with, for our girls.

*these are the pillows we made, one for them, one for us

*the matching necklaces and bracelet.

We also included a beautiful poem my Dad wrote, in honor of his granddaughters:

Lord, How Is It Done?

How is it
That holding them brought
Such sweet peace
When dreams and plans had been snatched away?
One bruised little body,
Tiny token of the gift of her life's blood,
That her sibling might live and stay.
A reflection however dim:
This too bears record of Him,
Of God's own Son
Who in Gethsemane
Sent blood from every pore
To give us life and make us one.
Here then is the two-fold source:
The incomparable gift that binds forever,
Infinite love
From the Prince of Peace
Angel twins that beckon us.

-Grandpa Jim

Monday, August 11, 2008

At the flip of a coin

I made a quick trip to the grocery store for three items: cereal, juice, and mascarpone (to make tiramisu - the mormon version, of course). The man checking me out... err, I mean, checking my grocery items out, asked me how I was doing. To be completely honest that's a much harder question than it appears to be... because most of the time there's more to the answer than one word, but I know that's all most people want to hear. But, today my answer came really easily - "Not too bad." After it came out, I thought to myself, "yeah, that's a pretty accurate answer of how I feel right now."

As I got back in the car to drive the whole three minutes back home, a song came on... and BAM! The tears were flowing.

Just like that. One moment, doing fine. The next moment, just a sobbing mess. As strange as it is to live with a heart that feels so fragile right now, I'm grateful to feel emotions that run so deep. There is something about feeling this incredibly extreme range of emotions that makes me feel complete, even while feeling an aching emptiness at the same time. 

As I was bringing the grocery bags up to the house, I was grateful for the "Families are Forever" rock that sits outside the front door. It's one of those things that I rarely notice since it's always just sitting there, and when I do notice it I usually think, "yeah, that's nice."

But, in the last few weeks, knowing my family is forever is more than just "nice." It is the reason I'm able to live. It's the reason I'm able to get out of bed in the morning. It's the reason I'm able to go to the grocery store and tell some random guy that I'm "not too bad." It's the reason my heart feels peace through all of this. I've gained a whole new appreciation for gospel principles that used to be nice words on paper that made me feel good. Now, they are my life. I literally feel able to keep on breathing because I know one day I'll be able to hold my girls in my arms again and I won't have to say good-bye. That means more to me than words can express.

In case you were wondering the song that opened the flood gates today was this song. Yeah, I know, I'm a total sap to cry at a Phil Collins song. But, how could I not with words like these: 

I will protect you
from all around you
I will be here
Don't you cry 

For one so small,
you seem so strong
My arms will hold you,
keep you safe and warm
This bond between us
Can't be broken
I will be here
Don't you cry 

'Cause you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on
Now and forever more

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Living in the present

Last Sunday after church I was telling a friend how I wished there was a "fast forward" button for my life. It had been such a hard day that I wanted to be able to skip ahead to six months from now, maybe even a year. Sundays, in general, are really difficult days for me. I think it's a combination of being around a lot of people, as well as just feeling so hungry for spiritual uplift that even just singing the hymns make me weep uncontrollably. 

Some things have happened this week that have really helped me a lot. At the risk of sounding masochistic, I will admit that in the last couple of days I've even felt like I wish my life had a "pause" button instead of "fast forward." I don't want to fast forward through this period, as painful as it is at times. I don't want to miss out on any learning opportunities that this experience can provide. I want to appreciate and soak up the desires to be better. I want to make sure I have enough time in this moment to really allow it to have a lasting affect on the condition of my heart.

Our perfect little girls are counting on us to learn and grow from this experience. I know I have a lot to learn between now and the time I meet them again, so that I can be more ready and more able to be their mother.

I actually had a dream a few nights ago that I had found out I only had a week to live. In my dream I was aware that my death would mean I'd be reunited with my girls again, but there was part of me that felt unprepared. I was in a panic, trying to figure out how to get myself ready in just a week. It was kind of a strange dream, which is common for me lately. 

The next day I was trying to figure out where that dream came from, why I would be dreaming of my own approaching death. Then, I remembered that just before going to bed that night I had read a quote that my sister, Mandi, had sent me from a book she's been reading. The book is "Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber".

The part in the book is just after this woman has had another recurrence of cancer - it's her fifth major recurrence and the cancer is found in her brain, her lungs, and possibly her liver. She's going through more treatments and alternative therapies, but mostly she and her husband are just trying to focus on the present. The second paragraph is an Emerson quote, as quoted in the book:
"Friends and family often wondered, is she being unrealistic - shouldn't she be worrying? fretting? unhappy? But the fact is, by living in the present, by refusing to live in the future, she began exactly to live consciously with death. Think about it: death, if anything, is the condition of having no future. By living in the present, as if she had no future, she was not ignoring death, she was living it. And I was trying to do the same. I thought of the beautiful quote from Emerson:
These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time for them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time."

This living in the present is exactly how I've been trying to go through my days. I don't want to think about any regrets or guilt from the past. I don't want to worry about what lies ahead. I cannot control either of those things. I just want to enjoy every present moment, whether it comes with sadness or joy, pain or healing. I want to find joy in each step of progression along this journey. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Rainmaker Mountain

* Rainmaker Mountain in American Samoa, photo courtesy of

I've been wanting to share some of the details of our Memorial and Graveside services. But, it's been hard to know where to start. So, for now, maybe I'll just share things in parts or pieces.

To begin, I thought it'd be appropriate to continue with this topic of perspective. In my talk at the Memorial service for Elliana and Emmaline, I shared a story that was shared with me by my brother-in-law. I LOVE the message of this story and I have appreciated how much it has helped me see the events of the last few weeks in a different way.

The story is attributed to Randy Bott, who was actually my Mission Prep. teacher at BYU:

The next time you're through American Samoa I'd like you to note that there's a mountain down there called the Mapusaga rainmaker, and it's like some angry giant underneath the crust of the earth has taken his fist and thrust it skyward for 1,500 feet straight in the air, including the tabletop. Well, two teenage boys, Christmas vacation, not heavily endowed intellectually, either one of us. We decided that we would climb the mountain. 

I'm not going to tell you about the climbing the mountain, but I will tell you that before that time when I lived in American Samoa years ago, there was one road that went from one end of the island to the other. It was the most miserable thing I had ever traversed in my entire life. It was designed by the devil himself and constructed by his engineers. It was just one jig and jog after another and where there wasn't a jig or a jog there was a big pothole. 

Well, on top of the mountain, because there is no pollution in Samoa, on a clear day you can see forever. And for the first time in my life, I received one of the great revelations in my life--there was no 5,000 watt light bulb. No voice; no vision. But from 1,500 feet in the air I could see what I could not see from down there on the road, that there was purpose in the jigs and the jogs. The bush in Samoa is so thick you can't see a dozen feet off the road, and so you couldn't see that there was a huge boulder that the road had to weave around, or there was a bog hole over here that would have swallowed up the bus, or there was a village, or there was an ocean, and it just made perfect sense from 1,500 feet in the air. And brothers and sisters, from 1,500 feet in the air you couldn't see the potholes.  

I am convinced that just as sure as God lives the day will come when each of us, individually, will have the chance to stand atop the Mapusaga Rainmaker of our lives and with the Savior, be able to review all of the jigs and the jogs all the way through. And then, if not before, you will be constrained to admit that he has done admirably well your test of mortality and exaltation. Nothing is frivolous. God does not do things serendipitously. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bikes and Perspective

Today has been a good day. We were initially awakened by Einstein (our cat) tapping our closed bedroom door with his paws, like he does whenever we sleep in past 6am. We don't know where he learned that, but it always makes us laugh. That is a pretty good way to start the day. But, I was motivated to actually get out of bed when the phone rang. It was a close friend, inviting me to go to the Hot Springs with her today. Unfortunately I'm not able to go since my doctor said "no soaking for two more weeks." But, I appreciated her thoughtfulness.

The best part of the day, though, was hopping on our bikes and riding to the cemetery together. It has been a while since I've been on a bike... there will be soreness tomorrow morning for sure. But, it was refreshing to ride through the quiet streets this morning, with a cool breeze in the air, knowing I was doing something healthy for my body, my mind, and my spirit. I know in a few days (or maybe weeks) the sore muscles won't be so sore, and being on a bike won't feel so foreign.

So, we visited the gravesite of our girls. We decided the other day that it was something we wanted to do, while we're feeling this draw to visit there. I'm guessing we won't always feel drawn there, but for now it is a place that we want to be. It is a place of peace and inspiration for us. It always seems to put things back into perspective... and it brings us closer together.

I've found that when my perspective of this life is put in its proper place in the span of eternity, I feel lighter. The burden of doubt and fear become non-existant. I think that's been the hardest part of this experience - fighting the doubts and fears of how we'll get through today, what tomorrow will bring, and if we'll survive whatever experience is lurking around the next corner. Not exactly the recommended way to go through life.  

Fortunately past experience has taught Marc and me that Christ will strengthen us to bear our burdens with ease, and in Him we will find rest. As long as our foundation is built on Christ, whatever storms of life come, we will overcome. Whatever the future holds, we will make it with His help.

So, the challenge then is to keep our perspective in focus. I came across this quote today by an American philospoher, Will Durant:  

We want to seize the value and perspective of passing things and so to pull ourselves up out of the maelstrom of daily circumstance. We want to know that the little things are little, and the big things big, before it is too late. We want to see things now as they will seem forever -- "in the light of eternity." We want to learn to laugh in the face of the inevitable, to smile even at the looming of death.

The trick, now, is to find some way to remember that, especially as we go through the valleys along this journey. Maybe it's just a matter of mental discipline, to practice thinking about everything in life in terms of eternity... identifying the small things and the big things and giving them their proper place of priority. Yeah, I know that isn't easy... but maybe it gets easier with practice, just like anything else in life... like riding a bike.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Last night was...




Why? I don't know... just because. I'm learning things like this happen with the grieving process.  There are peaks and valleys... we just hope for a trend that is continuously upward. Hopefully we've just crossed the deepest valley we'll have to wade through.

The GOOD news: the Sun won. 

Morning came. The darkness was gone. The long night was over.

I have never felt more grateful for that one constant truth I can always depend on - the dark night is always followed by a beautiful dawn, speaking in literal and spiritual terms. I find great comfort in that as I try to make sense of the chaos in my heart.

Psalms 30:5 - weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

*Image credit: Pip Wilson

Sunday, August 3, 2008


When I told a close friend about the early delivery and sudden parting of our little girls, her advice was, "surround yourself with reminders of life."

With that advice I've spent some time outside, cultivating some plants in terrible need of attention. One day I worked on a tree - digging around the base of the tree, taking out rocks that were affecting its growth, and then adding some rich soil instead. Another day I nurtured our indoor plants, pulling off the dead leaves, and adding more good soil to each plant. 

While spending time with my hands in the dirt, I've been reminded of some important things:

1. I love the smell of soil... and I love getting my hands in it.

2. Rocks are rarely good for plants.

3. Good soil is always good for plants. 

4. If you leave your garden without planting "good" plants, then it'll most likely be overrun with "undesirable" plants, like weeds.

I know these are really basic facts to even the least experienced gardener. But, I've been struck with how they relate to my life right now. 

I've always found joy in working in our garden, whether with vegetables or flowers or other plants. But, lately digging in the dirt has also been a source of healing for me. While pulling out rocks, I find myself wondering - are there "rocks" in my life affecting my ability to grow?

And, while adding in fresh, new soil, I question - what is the nature of the soil in my heart? Am I softened enough to accept the good seeds that are being planted? Or will hardness and bitterness keep those good seeds from bringing continued growth and goodness to my life?

I have to be honest, over the last couple of weeks it has been really easy to entertain the thoughts of "why me?" and "what if..." and "if only..."  As I've chosen to push those thoughts out, I've realized that's only the first step. It isn't enough to avoid the bad thoughts, just like it isn't enough to pull out the weeds... they'll just keep coming back. The mind is like a garden, where good thoughts must be planted, so that there is no place for the unwelcome thoughts to find a home. 

So, rather than allowing those destructive questions to fill the garden of my mind, I have been focusing on planting thoughts that inspire gratitude for the blessings we've received. Right now, in these early stages, it's still a battle to push those tempting questions aside, but as we do we become more aware of and grateful for the blessings in our life... and dare I say even the blessings of this trial. 

I love the words of the Savior, in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13):

  3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 
  4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 
  5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 
  6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 
  7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 
  8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. 
  9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

I hope we always choose to have softened hearts, ready to receive the hundredfold of blessings the Lord is anxiously waiting to give.

With all these thoughts in mind we decided to plant a new rose bush in our front yard, in honor of Elliana and Emmaline. It serves as a reminder to fill the gardens of our minds with thoughts as beautiful as our peach-colored roses. And, another reminder that there really are many blessings to be found... even amongst the thorns. 

Friday, August 1, 2008

Finding Peace

As of yesterday, all of our family members have returned home.

The numbness is starting to wear off, the reality of everything that has happened is sinking in.

Today is the five year mark of our first miscarriage. Time really has healed the pain from that, but with everything that has happened in the last few weeks, I'm just reminded of the long journey we've had, and fearing how much longer and harder it's still going to be.

I'm learning to allow myself to feel every emotion that comes, validate each thought and feeling, and even find some element of joy in the sorrow. We've been reminded that sorrow is a by-product of love. If we didn't love, we wouldn't be sad. The last five months were full of greater joy than we have ever experienced, anticipating the arrival of our two beautiful girls. So, yes, we do grieve our separation from them. The pain and heartache are real. 

Gratefully, the peace and healing we've found are also very real. 

We have found peace in each other. Lately we've hugged a little tighter and held on a little longer. Our time together is precious. Our priorities have changed. 

We've found peace in the temple. There is such powerful healing there.

We've found peace at the cemetery. It's a comfort to have a place to go to remember our girls, and to know where they are, both physically and spiritually.

We've found peace in quiet moments of study and reading.

We've found peace in writing. The process of putting feelings into words is therapeutic.

We've found peace in laughter.

We've found peace in music.

We will continue to feel pain, and we will continue to find peace and healing in the midst of that pain. One of my favorite titles for the Savior has always been "The Prince of Peace"... and I feel that even more now. In all these places where we've found peace, it is Christ who is the true source of that peace we've found. 

John 14:27 -  Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

John 16:33 -  These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Phillipians 4:7 - And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Alma 38:8 - I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul.

Doctrine & Covenants 19:23 - Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.