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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Reflections

It has been a wonderful month with my little family, leading up to today's celebration. I've loved watching Ben and Hugh start to catch on to the whole idea of Santa Claus, but even more starting to understand the real reason is to celebrate Jesus' birth. They seem very familiar now with the role of the three wise men, thanks mostly to Marc's role and costume at our Church's Christmas dinner.

I've especially loved the quiet moments with my little Lucy. I love her so much, to the point that my heart aches with love. (Not that I don't love my boys just as much... it's just a different love.) I don't know quite how to describe it. I think there is some aspect of feeling extra protective of my baby girl, as well as some part of me that is reminded of how much I love my other two girls.

But, there is something extra magical about celebrating Christmas with a baby around. It seems so much easier to imagine being Mary, holding her precious newborn, anticipating what blessings and surprises the future will hold for that little one. I can't imagine what emotions she must have experienced knowing her perfect, tiny babe would be the most important person ever to come into the world.

The other day at church, my heart was particularly tender and as we closed the final meeting with Away in a Manger, the words overwhelmed me to tears. Since I was the one leading the music, I tried my best to hide it, but at one point I was too choked up to even get the words out.

We had just had a lesson, based on this talk by Elder Holland (my favorite talk from this past General Conference). I was feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude for the Savior's love in my life, for His willingness to fulfill His mission, His willingness to suffer for my pains and sins, His willingness to die so that we can live again and find purpose in living when life falls apart. He has been with me through life's hardest moments, I've felt it and know it without a doubt. He has been my source of strength and hope.

Lucy had fallen asleep in my arms about half way through the lesson. The weight and warmth of her little body cuddled up against mine filled my heart with so much love. Love for her and love for the little Baby born so long ago, making it possible for my little family to be eternal. But, not just my family. Every family. Those grieving families in Connecticut. I'm still thinking of and praying for them.

So, after that particularly touching lesson and with my little Lucy still softly sleeping on my shoulder, as we sang the final verse of that Christmas hymn, there was no way to keep the tears from coming.

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay Close by me forever, and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, And fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.

This is precisely why it's the most wonderful time of the year. Music and words that make us pause and reflect and recommit and prioritize. The challenge now, like with every year, is to remember those reflections and promises to try to be just a little bit better and remember the love and role of our Savior just a little bit more.

Monday, December 17, 2012

His Hand is Stretched out still

We don't watch a lot of TV, especially not during the day. Last Friday I didn't hear about the awful events in Newtown, CT until a little later in the day. It was disturbing news... even before finding out that it all took place at an elementary school. That just took it to a whole new level. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief, so much that by early afternoon I had a headache and a stomach that wouldn't settle.

That afternoon, in a bit of a daze, I watched my boys making messes and doing things in general that usually drive me crazy (unrolling a whole roll of paper towels, fighting over toys, etc...) and I actually found myself feeling grateful that I had them there with me, alive and well enough to be making those messes.

When it quieted down for nap time, I took some time with each of them to cup their faces in my hands, looking into their eyes and told them that I loved them. Hugh looked back at me with big eyes, almost as if he sensed the intensity of the moment. I honestly felt a little relief that they are too young to go into any detail with them about what happened. It makes me a little sad to think that one day there will be some other awful story in the news and I'll probably have to then. I just hope a horror like that isn't ever anything any of us will have to experience first-hand.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of a six-year old child in that kind of situation or in the shoes of a mother who has to hear her child is gone, taken in such an evil way. But, it was all too unsettling and I just couldn't go there.

In the process of trying to come to terms with my own feelings about the tragic details, I came across a lot of quotes and images on facebook that people wanted to share. One that came up a number of times was the quote by Mr. Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world.”

I appreciated hearing such wise words from a wise man. There was another sentiment that came up that, on the surface, seemed like a good explanation, but deep down made me feel uncomfortable. This idea that the shooting happened in Newtown because we've pushed God out of our schools and so He's abandoned us.

I'm still sorting through my feelings on the matter, so bear with me. While God doesn't force His will or His love on us, I feel very certain that He has much "thicker skin" than us emotionally fragile humans. We can push Him away over and over and cut Him off completely, but as was often quoted by Isaiah, even at our very worst, "His hand is stretched out still." I can't imagine that God, a loving Father in Heaven, would withhold His comfort and presence from a school full of young children, HIS young children, just because there was some person somewhere that said there shouldn't be prayer in school.

What about the shooting that happened at the Amish school a few years back? They likely had prayer to start their day. Or, what about shootings that happen inside churches or other places of worship? In those cases, the logic of that sentiment totally falls apart.

The truth is that sometimes we pray for things and sometimes those prayers are answered and sometimes they're not. Sometimes God sees fit to intervene and provide protection and sometimes He doesn't. It can feel futile to try to make sense of why He does or doesn't do something, but it's important to remember that God sees a much clearer picture of His plan and His purposes.

It seems to me that it comes down to a matter of agency, or free will. God allows us to make choices. He can try to persuade or prompt us in a certain direction, but He will never force us to be good or to follow His commandments. That means that sometimes evil things happen. Does that make God less powerful or less available to the innocent who suffer at the hands of evil? No way.

In fact, if there were some way we could get a glimpse of Sandy Hook in the moments before, during, and after the shooting occurred, and if it were possible to see the tragedy with spiritual eyes, I wonder what we would see. I imagine we'd see hosts of angels, waiting and ready to comfort, to calm, to inspire, to strengthen. Just because the shooter was able to accomplish his evil act and killed so many innocent children, and equally innocent adults, doesn't mean that God was not there. Surely He was no where else but there that day, watching with the same heartache and sadness at one of His own sons using his agency to hurt so many people in an unimaginable way.

I don't know why He allowed it to happen. I don't know why He didn't intervene. But, the God I know wouldn't have been anywhere else that day. And, for those who have been left behind, I know He is there walking with them, suffering and grieving with them. He does not leave us comfortless. He seeks us out and walks with us.

It's awful what happened. It's unimaginable. I've shed tears over it.

I'd imagine God has shed more than anyone.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thanksgiving in Seattle

What a busy time! So much has happened, is happening, and will be happening... where do I even begin?! I really dislike doing recaps, but I dislike even more not making note of special events and experiences that I know I'll forget if I don't write them down.

So, here it goes...

We made the long drive up to Washington to visit Marc's family for Thanksgiving. The kids did great in the car! We've figured out the trick is having lots of variety of snacks (including their very favorites like red licorice and animal crackers), a few new toys (this time it was magna-doodles, and some new hot wheels), as well as a selection of DVDs (on this trip we watched Finding Nemo and Cars).

Pulled out of our driveway at 5:21am. Three hours later we stopped at a McDonalds in Shasta Lake for breakfast - nice, clean, quiet, easy on/off freeway, definitely will stop here again. Next stop was a Quizno's in Grants Pass for lunch, then a walk around Fred Meyer for Marc and the boys while I fed Lucy in the car. Next stop was a McDonalds in Salem (I think) for a quick ice cream cone for the boys, while I fed Lucy in the car. It was raining so hard and I was really distracted by all the people lining up around the Red Box. In the rain. Final stop was Vancouver for a few days' visit with Marc's sister and family.

Highlights - Chaplan (their bird) loved the top of Ben's head. The boys were in candy heaven, eating nearly the entire supply of Swedish fish within their reach. We watched the Avengers with the whole family (while our three little ones slept). Lounged and chatted, laughed, and got all caught up with the goings on in each others' lives. It felt just like heaven, as it always does.

Then, we made our way up the rest of the way to Seattle (or more accurately, Auburn) on the day before Thanksgiving, which was a huge mistake. What should have been a two-hour drive ended up being more than four. Terrible traffic, making for some interesting and creative ways to feed Lucy while keeping her buckled up. Not easy and definitely not fun, but sometimes you just do what you have to do.

Some favorite moments from the few days with the rest of Marc's family - spending time with Nana - the boys love all of her tanks and planes that they get to play with when we visit and we all love the extra attention and help. My brother-in-law's amazing guacamole (I ate so much - I couldn't resist!). The rest of the food was delicious, too! Getting to meet baby Henry and seeing Lucy and him interact. Ben wanting to play outside, no matter how cold or how dark or how rainy it got, and watching Hugh struggle between wanting to keep up with Ben and just wanting to be dry and warm inside. Leaving Lucy to take a nap with Daddy while I went on a long walk with the boys around Nana's neighborhood. Eating lasagna one night and then watching "Romantics Anonymous" (a cute French movie) with Marc's brother and his wife. So fun! The best part is watching our kids connect and make memories with their extended family!

The trip back home went just as smoothly, though a little slower with a few more stops and took a little longer. We stopped for lunch and final good-byes in Vancouver (and to pick up a stray pair of Ben's pants), got lost in Eugene trying to find a park for the boys and ended up stopping at a rest stop, and visited a friend from home that just recently moved to Grants Pass, before we finally made our way to Redding for the night. We ate some terrible microwave food for dinner (since it was Sunday and we were trying to keep the fifth commandment as much as possible... or is it the fourth? Sabbath day holy? Anyone?) and then Ben slept with Daddy, while Hugh and I shared a bed, and Lucy slept in the pack 'n play.

It was awesome to see the looks on the boys' faces when we went down for breakfast the next morning. All that food and all within reach! Ben went straight for a slice of bread, while Hugh went for the blueberry muffin. I tried to help an older lady get her waffle off the waffle iron, and after touching it for a quick second with the tip of my finger realized I probably really over-stepped the boundaries. Oops!

That final leg took us three hours and we were so happy to be home! I even got everything unpacked and organized before the end of the day. Fun times and fun memories!

I'll come back and add in photos later... hopefully tomorrow.