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Monday, November 23, 2015

Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving week. As usual, as the week approaches, I've been a little more reflective. My blessings are innumerable; to count them feels impossible. But, still, as I've been counting them one by one, I've been asking myself this:

How do I show gratitude for all that I have, for all the ways I'm blessed?

I try to offer prayers of gratitude more often, expressing with my words and heart throbs that I appreciate my gifts and blessings, and recognize the Source of it all. But, somehow as life goes on and I find myself continually more and more indebted to God, it starts to feel like a simple prayer just isn't enough.

Lately, I've become aware of verses of scripture that talk about giving thanks in a different way.

"...when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water. And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God." (1 Nephi 2:7)

"And it came to pass that they did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel." (1 Nephi 5:9)

"...after I and my brethren and all the house of Ishmael had come down unto the tent of my father, they did give thanks unto the Lord their God; and they did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto him." (1 Nephi 7:22)

Prophets of old, in living the Law of Moses, offered sacrifices of Thanksgiving. That law has since been fulfilled, but I feel drawn to consider what kind of sacrifices I could offer that would show my thankfulness.

I was reminded of a time in Italy when President Curtis encouraged us to fast, focusing only on our expressions of gratitude, not asking for anything. Those 24 hours without food and water ended up being one of the sweetest fasting experiences I've ever had. That may have been when I understood best what he meant when he told us that "one of the fastest ways to bring the Spirit into your lives is through expressing gratitude."

As I searched for other answers, I came across this quote by Elder Oaks: "Our Savior requires us to continue to offer sacrifices, but the sacrifices He now commands are that we “offer for a sacrifice unto [Him] a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” He also commands each of us to love and serve one another—in effect, to offer a small imitation of His own sacrifice by making sacrifices of our own time and selfish priorities. In an inspired hymn, we sing, “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven."

This Thanksgiving, I'm counting my blessings as well as thinking of sacrifices I can offer that will prove my gratitude with my actions and not my prayers alone. I'll search for chances to help someone in need, I'll make cookies and build puzzles with my kids, I'll seek out a sad heart to gladden, I'll spend more quality time with Marc after the kids are in bed, I'll ask for heaven to guide me to those who need my time and my help.

And, after Thanksgiving is over, I'll try even harder to remember all of this. Everyday I'm blessed. Everyday I can find ways to sacrifice my time, my talents to show just how grateful I am for all that I have been given.

What will you sacrifice? I'd love to hear your ideas, too!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The souls who surround me

I spent the end of last week at a Girls' Camp for the young women from Church. Along with the camp directors, I helped plan and put together a special faith-promoting activity for the last night. To our surprise, when we arrived at the camp, the couples who are the year-round care-takers had set up a smaller version of the same type of obstacle course we had plans to carry out. They were generous enough to take as many of the leaders through as possible, allowing us to experience the course for ourselves, to put ourselves in the shoes of the girls. It was an incredibly enlightening experience.

We started off being instructed about what we were about to experience - we would be blindfolded, we needed to be quiet while blindfolded, there would be uneven ground, we'd have a rope that would get us from the beginning to the end, there'd be some challenges along the way, but as long as we held onto the rope, we'd make it safely to the end. Once there, we'd need to stay blindfolded and quiet until told otherwise.

They had us put on the blindfolds and almost immediately I felt a hand gently take mine and guided me to the starting point. As we walked there, the woman's soft whisper offered some final reminders and words of encouragement and then she placed my hand on a rope. It was dark and disorienting to be without my eyesight. Relying solely on sound and touch proved to be much more confusing and frustrating than I expected. I came to a couple of dead ends, but really had no idea that's what they were and wasn't sure initially how to respond. Do I turn back and retrace my steps and how far back do I have to go? Is there another rope connecting that I just haven't found? I knew better than to let go of the rope, so I did go back and both times immediately found other connecting routes that finally led me to the end. There, after fumbling around, wondering if I'd reached another dead end, I felt a hand along with a voice that whispered, "Welcome home!"

I was guided to a bench, where I sat waiting for the others in my little group to come through. At one point, the woman who was our guide came back and asked for my blindfold for another person that had come to do the course. Without my blindfold, I couldn't help but look back on the course I'd just struggled through. It was so short and looked so simple and straightforward. There was nothing truly complicated about it. And, I found myself questioning - Why was that so hard? Why was I so worried and confused? Why did I not enjoy the process with a little more trust? I should have enjoyed it more!

And, then as I was reflecting on my response to the experience, I started watching the final person struggling to find the right path, making many of the same mistakes I had made. And that's when I saw something I hadn't had the perspective to see for myself while blindfolded and in the thick of it. That struggling girl was surrounded by helpers. Our guides were at the dead ends, they were standing next to the cliff drop-offs, they were watching our every step, ready to intervene and redirect if we were in danger or distress.

And, that was when I wished I could get the tiniest glimpse of who those unseen souls (or angels) are that surround me through this real-life experience I'm in right now. How have I been protected from danger without even knowing it? Who has quietly assured me through my doubts? When have I received heavenly encouragement that I wasn't even aware of? As I pondered all of this, I felt sure that at least at times, if not continuously, there are two souls who will one day call me mother who are much closer to me now than I can fully comprehend. I've always felt that to some degree, but watching this simulation of life play out before my eyes, it just felt so true and so right.

Last night, as the first wave of grief hit me and I couldn't help but relive the events from seven years ago, I recounted some of this Girls Camp experience to Marc as we waited for sleep to come. I told him that I didn't like feeling sad for my loss because I know it's all okay, but at the same time if Elliana and Emmaline are surrounding me today - on their birthday - then I'd want them to see my tears and to know how much I love and miss them. But, I also want them to know that I'm okay, that I have the firmest hope of one day having the blessing of being their mother through the eternities.

I feel comforted knowing that they are in a safe place.  Just as we surrounded each other to get through this day, I hope that they had their own fellow angels to surround them today, too. Surely their Papa Carson and all sets of their great-grandparents, and their Uncle Robbie, just to name a few. But, surely, for them it isn't as hard or sad, since they have a much clearer perspective of this course of life we're in right now.

If I can only remember what I felt as I looked back on the simulation - recognizing how short the experience really was and wishing I had just enjoyed it more. So, that's exactly what I'm going to try to do today. And for the rest of the todays I have left until I see my girls again and then we can look back together on this life and they can recount for me all the moments they were with me through it all.

As for today, I just feel so grateful to have so much to live for and so much to hope for, being surrounded on both sides with the most precious of souls.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I can do small things

The last few days my heart has felt heavy. It all settled on me so subtly that I couldn't quite pinpoint the cause, though, which then meant laying in bed last night filling the dark space between my husband and me with quiet ramblings, trying to sort through what was weighing me down. Thankfully, he is a very patient and loving listener.

It started with worries for a close friend who is fighting cancer. I've been feeling unsure of how to help ease their burdens, how to show our love, how to make sure they know they aren't alone. I still don't know. But, I have to believe that God surely knows. I hope I can be aware of quiet promptings that might help me know what they might need.

Then, there's Nepal. The death toll continues to rise and my heart keeps sinking with every updated headline. I know God works in mysterious ways and is able to make beauty from ashes; I know He can take life's worst tragedies and disasters and turn them into miracles and triumph, but I just want to cry right now. Not because of a lack of faith, but simply because I feel so helpless. I just hope that my prayers and mourning can somehow ease their suffering and pain.

And, Ghana. Our youth were involved in a service project, sending school kits to a new school that has nothing. I just got photos, showing the children receiving their kits. I was told they were so happy they were dancing around, chanting, "we are so happy! We are so happy!" I haven't been able to stop looking through the photos. My heart is warmed seeing their smiles, but I can't help but notice the edges of poverty framing each photo, the lack of common comforts that I totally take for granted. We sent them some simple supplies that I hope can make some small difference, but I just wish it could have been so much more.

I have so much. I have health and comfort and security. I know those aren't givens and all can be taken away in an instant, but I just have so much abundance that I wish I could transfer some of my excess to make things more even. I keep telling myself there's a reason and a plan. But, I don't get it. Why are some born into so much and others born into so little? The one thing that keeps echoing in my heart is that in my abundance I have a responsibility to give in any and every way I can. Maybe part of the test of life is to seek to even things out, to find people with less and give of our excess.

I feel an urgent need to relieve human suffering. Obviously with three little ones that are my happy priority right now, I'm not exactly available to travel the world doing humanitarian work, but I'm finding that there are little things I can do. I find inspiration in the words of Mother Teresa:

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

My heaviness comes from feeling helpless not hopeless. I take comfort in knowing that I can do small things and hope that somehow it can help someone somewhere. Today I'm going to think of those sweet school children in Ghana who have a new set of colored pencils and the joy they might be feeling to be able to finally draw a rainbow. And, then I'm going to open my eyes and my ears, seeking for opportunities to spread light and love in my own neighborhood.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Mixed Emotions of our Open Adoption

Today we were lucky to get a visit from Tracey and Grandma Kay to celebrate Ben's birthday (a little late). I'm always surprised at how much emotional energy goes into these get-togethers. Not in a bad way, of course. It's just that it's impossible to see them without having a flood of memories come racing back. Memories that hold so many mixed emotions. On most days I just enjoy the joy and wholeness I feel with Ben in our family. But, our open adoption reminds me of the sorrow and the sacrifice that produced my joy.

There are no words to describe how humbling it is to be the recipient of love in the form of a baby. That is a kind of love and sacrifice that leaves me speechless.

When we first jumped into adoption, there were a lot of unknowns. Like, the obvious, who would choose us and why would they choose us, and who was the baby that would come into our lives. But, one of the big ones was how would we navigate the unknown territory of an open adoption after placement. I remember initially being terrified at the idea of it. And, though I hate to admit it, it made me feel shamefully possessive. But, the more I heard others' stories and the benefits of open adoption, I knew there had to be more to it.

What I wasn't prepared for was how much our open adoption would open my heart in new ways. On most days, I forget that Ben was adopted. Not in the sense that I forget the way he came to us, but I don't look at him and think, "oh, he's adopted, so he'll be treated differently" or whatever. I just think, "he's my son and I love him the same as I love Hugh and Lucy." But, when we meet up with his birth family, I'm reminded all over again of his adoption. I'm reminded of the emptiness of my infertility, that was in large part healed the first time I held Ben in my arms. I'm reminded of the sorrow that likely came to Tracey because of her selfless choice. I know adoption wasn't her first choice, but there were circumstances out of her control that guided her to seek adoption, all because she loved her son so much she wanted to give him something she wasn't able to at the time.

Processing this full range of emotion is draining, but I'm grateful for the reminder of how much my heart can feel. I've come to realize it is a gift to feel so much, to be reminded of the sorrows that have been healed and the joys that have filled the empty cavity carved by pain. The greatest gift I can give to Ben is making sure he knows his roots and the incredible love that motivated Tracey to place him in our family. There aren't words to express that to him. We teach him that by showing him and letting his birth mother show him when we come together. Our open adoption is truly all about love.