Every day joy

I recently finished a wonderful book called “The Shell Seekers” that captures the story of three generations of family members. Some I fell in love with and some made me cringe. Within the family there are a few characters who prioritize material possessions, money, and status. Other characters find happiness in things like spending time in a garden, at the beach, enjoying a piece of art, or time with people they love. The book got me thinking about how often we chase the wrong things in the name of happiness. A shiny new car, another new outfit, a big promotion, a checked-off to-do list. Usually, though, joy is simpler than that. It’s right there in front of us, waiting to be picked up. Kind of like shells in the sand. Funny how good I used to be at picking up shells with my bucket on the beach. Grownups sometimes forget.

One day recently with this book on my mind, I was on a run with my dog. It was a sunny day and he was just leaping around in front of me, exploring the trail and bushes, stopping to look back at me periodically with his tongue flopping out the side of his mouth. I swear he can smile. I was listening to an NPR podcast about research on joy. Scientists, the host explained, had discovered something interesting about joy in a recent study. They had asked hundreds of people what brought them joy. The results were surprising. Joy, they found, wasn’t anything grand or complicated. People reported finding joy in little moments when time just dissolved. Maybe it was watching a child play with bubbles, or seeing hot air balloons in the sky, or sipping a cup of hot chocolate, or meeting a friend for lunch. I slowed down and thought about that for a minute. How easy it might be to miss those moments.

For me, as a stay-at-home mom, I probably have hundreds of moments in a day where I could pick up a little joy. Yes, at any given time, I might have laundry to fold, dinner to cook, bills to pay, a carpool to drive, dishes to do, a doctor’s appointment to make, a leaking fridge to address, and a toilet to unclog. But when my little four year old son came up to me recently and said, “Mom, would you snuggle me?” and gave me that look with his big brown eyes, I had a choice to make. I could think about what I wouldn’t be getting done, or I could pick him up, and lay down with him in the sunny spot in our window alcove and just snuggle together. Which is what I did. I enjoyed. En-JOY-ed. I wonder how many of those moments I miss.

For today, and hopefully tomorrow, I am recommitting myself to joy. When I have a minute to sit and listen to Ellie tell me about school, or when Addie asks me to brush her hair or play Uno, or when Zach wants to show me the latest dog meme that made him laugh, or when Sam asks for just one more bedtime story, I am going to say yes. I am going to pick up that tiny shell in the sand and know that this is what life is all about anyway. The lengthy to-do list can wait a few more minutes.

beach shell

Family adventuring in the Caribbean

A few months before Christmas we warned our children that we did not want presents to be the focus of the season. We were going to think about what we wanted to give. No lengthy lists of all the items they wanted for Christmas. This season was going to be about the Savior and what we could do to be more like him. Shocking us, one of our children actually said, “I think that will help us all be happier.” Wise little souls they can be.

What we didn’t tell them was that our family Christmas present was going to be a surprise trip to Mexico, leaving the day after Christmas. On Christmas morning, they unwrapped a few little gifts they had gotten for each other and opened their stockings with treats from Santa. Then they each got one gift bag from Mom and Dad. As they looked inside and found a swimming suit, flip flops, and snorkel set, they got a little suspicious and all looked our way, waiting. We sat there and just said “Merry Christmas!” They stared. We giggled and then said, “OK, we have one more thing.” Then we gave them each an envelope with a bow. Inside the envelope, each child found a copy of a plane ticket to Cancun and a few photographs of the white sand, turquoise beaches we’d be enjoying for the next week. They jumped and screamed and Ellie even said “I knew you were going to do something like that!!” She’s very perceptive. So we packed our bags that day and took off the next morning for the Yucatan.

We had lived in Mexico when our oldest was just a year and a half and spent a month enjoying one of the most beautiful, geologically diverse places I’d ever been. Underground rivers, cenotes, tropical forests, beautiful beaches, Mayan ruins…it’s an adventure paradise. So I couldn’t wait to bring the kids back to explore. We decided to do our lodging on the cheap through Air BNB, which worked out great. Nothing fancy (as in, our place was on the fourth floor and the elevator only worked about 1 out of every 5 trips and when it stormed one day we had water leaking through window onto the bedroom floor). Still, we had a great view of the ocean from our balcony window, an infinity pool pool to enjoy, and awesome boogie boarding waves just steps away. The kids were in heaven.

Because we felt great about the money we were saving on our accommodations, we decided to splurge a bit on a couple of day-long excursions. Our first big outing took us an hour and a half south to an eco-adventure park called Xel-ha. The first thing I loved after we walked in was knowing we could go to any restaurant and eat whatever we wanted–and not have to worry about dishes. (I’m a mom cooking and cleaning for 6 daily so you see the draw.) Now we were on vacation! Zach got the biggest kick out of the soda stations where he could just stop, get a drink of whatever he wanted, leave his cup, and carry on to whatever cool activity was next on the agenda.

The park is nestled on the edge of the ocean where a giant, clear lagoon works its way to the coast from a ways inland. We rode bikes to the top of the lagoon, then snorkeled down. We floated in tubes, we zip-lined, we cliff jumped, we rode a giant waterslide down from the top of a lighthouse, and we zip biked through a rainforest (basically riding a bike in the air attached to a cable above so you can soar over cenotes, through caves, beside waterfalls). The girls and Scott even got to do a dolphin interactive experience, which they loved. We kept all our stuff in lockers so we could just walk around in swimsuits, playing, swimming, and stopping in restaurants when we got hungry. The weather was lovely, and after a short afternoon shower we even looked up to find a rainbow arching over the place. Heavenly.

We left Xel-ha wet, happy, and full of delicious Mexican food then spent the next day relaxing back at our condo. Then we were ready for another adventure. We had heard about a tour company called Alma’s LDS Tours, which offered a specific Book of Mormon emphasis to some of the Mayan ruins. We decided that sounded just right for us. The tour bus picked us up at 7 a.m. and we headed back down south to explore the ruins of Tulum and Coba. Tulum was a gorgeous civilization built between the 13th and 15th centuries right on the Caribbean coast. Our wonderful tour guide Arnie shared the history of the area and then pointed out interesting LDS tidbits, like the many carvings of what has been dubbed the “descending God,” a figure that looks like it is coming down from heaven to live among the people. Book of Mormon scholars think that the Nephite civilization could have been just south of this area so the story of a God coming down from heaven sounds a lot like 3 Nephi, when Christ comes down to heal and teach the Nephites.

In the ruins of Coba, first settled around 100 A.D., we found more Book of Mormon similarities, such as a carving of a tree with two men that looked rather unhappy and turned away from the tree, and another two men walking toward it. Lehi’s Tree of Life perhaps? Our tour guide also asked Zach to read from the Book of Mormon where we learned about raised roads that paved the way between cities (see 3 Nephi 6:8).

We read this scripture standing in an area where there is evidence of an ancient road raised off the ground (or “cast up” as it reads in the Book of Mormon). How cool is that? The Book of Mormon is a record of an ancient civilization that would have been near the ancient people of the Yucatan. I loved thinking about these histories and the way the people lived and loved and worshiped many hundreds of years ago. Plus, it’s significant to remember that Joseph Smith hadn’t been on vacation recently to the Yucatan when he was translating the plates. He just wrote down what he saw. Coba wasn’t officially discovered in modern times until 1926, 82 years after Joseph Smith died.

Our last stop was at a beautiful cenote (or pool of water in a cave fed by the underground rivers that run through the Yucatan) where my kids completely peer pressured me into jumping off the highest platform I ever have into the water below. I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Check. We drove home, first stopping to drop off another family at an all-inclusive place that we were told cost $800 per person per day. The kids asked if we could do that next time. We laughed. “Um, probably not.”

All in all, the trip was an incredible success. We got everything we were looking for: family time, warm weather, the beach, culture and history, and lots of adventure. It wasn’t easy getting on the plane and realizing that in four hours the temperature outside was going to go from 80 degrees to 20. Luckily, these sorts of experiences don’t completely get left behind with the weather. We keep them in our minds and hearts and remember them forever. I have a feeling that this December we might just give our children the same warning that we will not be honoring wish lists for toys and clothes. We want to give something more–something that last a lifetime.

Resolving to be more like Christ

Last night for our family home evening we decided to work on setting some goals for the new year. We usually do this every January. Typically, we all will write down a few things on a piece of paper, wish the kids luck, and some weeks later completely lose track of the papers and whatever was written on them. Well, thanks to a little inspiration from a book by the amazing Linda and Richard Eyre called The Entitlement Trap we felt inspired to step it up a notch. This year, I gave each person in our family a thick poster board that they could write on and keep in their room to actually notice and remember what it is we are working toward.

When we finally had wrangled all four kids into the family room, I turned on a video as an introduction to the night’s purpose (it’s amazing the magic of a quick video to get their attention). This two-minute video helped me step back a bit as I asked what we are hoping to achieve. We are hoping, little by little, to become more like the Savior.

https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2014-01-001-christlike-attributes?lang=eng

I loved watching this video for the reminder it gave me about what I want to become–more selfless, more kind, more loving, more humble. We have been commanded to “be perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48), but not all at once. Heavenly Father wants us to do our best to progress in this life because he knows our potential. He knows we can become like Him, because we are his children. He has told us that “by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76: 24). What a powerful reminder–I am his daughter and I can become like him!

We’ll make mistakes. In fact, shortly after this inspiring video about becoming more loving and selfless, two siblings began arguing over who should be using what markers that may or may not belong to someone specific. And cute Sam was coloring with a marker that not only covered the entire board but spread all over his hands, feet, and face as well. Sigh. Perfection? We’re not even close. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start with the end in mind.

We won’t get there today, but maybe, just maybe, if we remind ourselves regularly (perhaps with a giant board in our room) we’ll be a little better next year than we are today. Thankfully, we’re not on our journey alone. God didn’t say “be perfected all by yourselves. Good luck.” He said, “Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10: 32). What an invitation! For me, that means remembering that His grace is enough to have me covered, with all of my flaws and mistakes. All I have to do is my best to become like Him, and try again, and again, and again.

We are priceless

I recently was in a teacher training meeting where we saw an object lesson that I couldn’t help but go straight home and replicate for family home evening. It’s a message that I think will stick with me for years to come, and one I hope my children will remember too.

The message required a crisp $100 bill, which I picked up from the bank. We gathered our children around the dining table and asked them, “How much is this worth?” They ooh-ed and ah-ed for a moment, as I’m not sure any of them have actually seen one. Then they said “100 dollars.” Yep! “OK, now let’s pretend this bill is you. What things have you accomplished that you are proud of?” I asked. They said things like this: “I’m good at piano, lacrosse, soccer, dance. I am kind. I got 100 percent on my spelling test. I am a good big sister or brother. I am a happy person. I got three merit badges last month.” For each of the things they said, I put a little sticker on the bill.

“Now how much is it worth?” I asked. Zach, calculating the price of the added stickers said, “100 dollars and 25 cents?” We laughed, and then I said, “It’s still $100.” No matter all the accomplishments and amazing things we do in our life, we are still ultimately worth the same.

“OK,” I said. “Now let’s talk about our mistakes.” I put the $100 bill into a plastic bag and grabbed a cup of dirt. “What mistakes have you made?” Their answers included things like, “I’ve been mean. I’ve forgotten to do my jobs. I’ve lied. I’ve been whiny.” For each answer, I poured a little dirt on the $100 bill. The kids were a bit flummoxed, thinking surely I had protected the bill in another bag. Nope. The bill was getting filthy. I topped it off by pouring water into the bag with the dirt and shaking it up.

“Now how much is the bill worth?” I asked.

The kids looked at each other. They looked at me. “Still $100?”

Yep. They got the idea. I pulled out the bill and rinsed it off. (Thankfully, it has dried just fine and will be returned to the bank pronto.)

We ended the night be giving them a paper that says “25 things I appreciate about me.” We handed out pencils and asked them to write down things they liked about themselves. It took us all a few minutes to do. And some of us needed some help and ideas from each other. I was so happy to see that each one of us was able to come up with 25 things we liked or appreciated about ourselves. I don’t think we usually let ourselves spend much time considering the neat qualities about ourselves. I did notice that our 13 year old seemed a little more cheerful after doing the exercise. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of what we have to offer the world.

Here’s what touched me most about our evening together, as a bit of an A-type overachiever. Ultimately, our accomplishments don’t change our value. Our mistakes don’t either. Our Heavenly Father finds us absolutely priceless no matter what we do. Isn’t that incredibly comforting to remember? Even if we have done every stupid thing imaginable, our Father still loves us and sees who we really are and who we can become. And it doesn’t matter so much to Him whether we make the dean’s list at Harvard or the cheer team in high school or become President of the United States. I wanted our kids to know that. Sure, we like them to learn new things and do their best and find joy in their accomplishments. And we expect them to make mistakes. They will probably end up with a few ribbons, and a few scars. But at the end of the day, I hope they know that they are priceless, no matter what. I hope I remember that too.

D&C 18:10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

My privilege

It was one of those days where things weren’t going super well at home. I can’t remember the specifics, but I think one of the kids wasn’t remembering to turn assignments in at school, two of them were fighting all the time, and one of them was peeing on the floor for the 19th time, despite all my best potty training tricks.

After that blessed hour where all four were finally asleep, I crawled into bed exhausted and discouraged. I started saying a prayer with some level of complaining. “Why is this so hard?” I remember asking. I asked for help knowing what to do and how I could help these precious kids find their strength and happiness. That’s when a thought came into my mind, and I’m quite sure it wasn’t just from me. It said clearly: “This is your privilege.”

I thought back to the night before, when we held a family home evening on the topic of becoming like Christ. We watched a great video about some of the attributes of Christ: He was kind, selfless, forgiving. Then we emphasized this message to our children: We aren’t perfect now, and that’s OK. No one expects us to be perfect now. We are simply trying our best to become more like our Savior, and we get to make as many mistakes as we need to on our journey. He is the North Star, guiding us to where we want to be.

These thoughts swam around in my mind until I saw exactly what my job is as a mother. I am here to help my children through all the weakness and struggle and all the failure and challenge. I am here to help them learn to become like Christ.

Over the past few weeks that message has popped up again and again in my mind through the hard parts of mothering: the temper tantrums over not getting ice cream after lunch at Chick-fil-a because the line was too long. The fighting pre-teen girls who seem to only see the other person at fault. The repeated conversations about why it is actually important to wash your hair when you shower. The struggles are how they learn to be patient, how they learn to work hard, how they learn to forgive. The weakness is how they learn to depend on and become like Christ. My job is to love them and be there alongside them, reminding them that this is all part of the plan. And sometimes, reminding myself too.

I love this scripture: And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27).

Our children have weakness for a reason. How blessed I am as a mother to be there while they struggle and learn to turn those weaknesses into strengths. That is my privilege.

Image result for mom and child on porch

Finding Family Love for Valentine’s Day

I used to think Valentine’s Day was all about mushy love notes, chocolate, and flowers. I actually got upset the first Valentine’s Day Scott and I were married because he didn’t give me anything. I feel pretty silly about that now. Those things don’t matter so much to me these days. Don’t get me wrong–I like all of those things. But after 17 years of marriage and a family of two that’s turned into six, I’ve learned a thing or two about love.

First off, love is hard sometimes. And it’s not always about having good feelings toward someone. I have to remind my children about this regularly. Loving my husband is pretty easy. I don’t have a hard time seeing the good stuff in him–because there is so much of it. And at our age we’ve learned to talk through our disagreements without calling each other names (though we may still need to take a break sometimes when we aren’t getting our way!).

My kids are still learning about love. They didn’t get to choose each other the way I got to choose my roommate. They fight. They say mean things. Their personalities sometimes clash. They ask regularly why they can’t have their own room. Sigh. Those times are hard. They are heart-breaking for a mom who’s maybe a little oversensitive. I know they always love each other. Sometimes it’s just really, really deep down there.

Ah, but then there are those other times. The times when, like last night, my two older kids were up talking and laughing at the dining table way past their bed time. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt them, even though I knew they’d be tired in the morning. These are the moments when they are putting deposits into their sibling bank accounts. My job is to just take a breather when they decide to pull out some of those deposits–because tomorrow there is a very good chance one of those kids is going to tell me they’d prefer their sibling move to a different planet. We’ll get past it.

But for Valentine’s Day, I wanted to see if we could focus for a little bit on what it means to be a family. I sat them all down and said, “I know it’s hard having siblings sometimes. And it’s hard having parents sometimes” [this was particularly directed to the 12 year old who was mad at me for not buying him the $70 Vans his friends have!]. “But the great thing about this family is that we will be together forever, no matter what. And the people around this table are going to love you forever, no matter what. How great is that?” They looked around at each other. One person rolled her eyes but the rest sort of smiled and nodded. (I guess 5 out of 6 ain’t bad!)

Addie, my 7 year old, then passed a big paper heart to everyone at the table. On each heart was the name of someone in the family. “Here is the plan,” I said. “On this heart is someone’s name. You have one minute to write everything you love about that person. Go.” Addie set the timer and we started writing. When the timer went off, we passed the hearts to the right. It was cute to see them want more time. After everyone had a turn writing on every heart, Addie passed the hearts to their owners. I loved seeing everyone take a look at what their siblings and parents had written. Siblings who had fought earlier were writing things like “You’re a great sister!” and “You are so funny!” and “I love you. You are a great big brother.” I think everyone enjoyed taking a minute to realize how much they are loved–no matter what.

Today, the hearts still sitting on the dining table made me think of a book I wrote that came out a few months ago called “I Can Love Like Jesus.” I always thought it looked more like a Valentine’s book, but I hadn’t picked it up and actually read it for a couple of months. Today while I was snuggling up with Sam for his nap time, we read the book. It reminded me of why I wrote this book. It’s all about Christ’s love.

I wanted to capture the idea that we say “we should love like Jesus” but we don’t often talk about what that actually means. I loved cuddling Sam while we read about service, and forgiveness and thinking of others before ourselves. That’s what love is really all about, and we have the perfect example to learn from. [Side note–I love how this author captured how we live in the world today but can still love others the way Christ did 2,000 years ago. And I love that the kids are fighting on the couch–perfect! Thanks Chase Jensen!]

My plan for Valentine’s Day is to focus on what love really is all about. Not so much the chocolate (though I will be enjoying some of that) or the paper valentines (though I will be helping my kids make those) but real, no-matter-what, so-glad-you’re-part-of-my-life, you-couldn’t-get-rid-of-me-if-you-tried love. That’s the kind of love I want to celebrate.

Home

Tomorrow we get the keys to our new house. I can’t say home yet…because it won’t be home for a while. Right now, home is still the place we’ve lived for the past 10 years. It’s the place we first came when our oldest son (and only child at the time) was only 18 months old. He’s almost 12 now. A place only becomes home with time, and that’s what we’ve had here. Lots of quickly moving time.

Thankfully, this was our choice. I wasn’t pushed out of my home by a bank, like my parents were when I was little. I wasn’t evacuated because of a heartbreaking storm like so many people have been in recent weeks. We had a door open and, even though we weren’t looking to move, something started to feel right about taking our family to this beautiful, new, more spacious place. It wasn’t terribly hard to say yes. We had, after all, started to feel a bit squished in our 1500 square feet of finished space, with 6 people and a puppy. My grandmother said it first years ago when she first came to our little home: “You are going to need more space.” I insisted she was wrong at the time. Turns out, she was right.

And yet, after this last weekend of putting our home on the market and having people come along, looking to take our place, I’ve had a hard time. I cried several times after groups of people left and I had the quiet house to myself again. The emotion has surprised me. But I can’t help remembering the times we’ve had here.

I think of coming into the home, our first home, for the first time, giddy with excitement for what we were absolutely sure was our forever home. I think of Scott painting the bedroom upstairs blue for Zach’s Christmas present since he had a new baby sister coming to take over the nursery. I think of bringing home our precious newborns–first Ellie, then two years later Addie, then four years later Sam. I think of my kids sipping Otter Pops on the back patio steps or traipsing around in the snow in our beautiful little backyard. I think of family night movie nights by the fire in our family room and bedtime stories snuggled together upstairs. I think of making breakfast by my beautiful stained glass windows and the sun coming through in the morning. I think of my little ones riding their bikes around our circle and taking walks around the block. I think of the friends and neighbors we love here. So many memories. I love this home.

And I hope the family who takes over will love it too. It’s not their home yet, but in time it will be. Thankfully, there is one thing I know about a home–it becomes that way with love, and with family, and with the memories we will create. I look forward to turning our new house into a home, over time. But I will always love this place we’re leaving behind. Thank you, home, for having us these past 10 years. You’ve been a wonderful gift to my family. We’ll miss you immensely.

A Blessed Nation

This time of year I like to spend a little time thinking about the people who came before me, who sacrificed so much so that my family can enjoy the blessings we have. It is so easy to take our nation for granted. Just being able to live in a home and neighborhood of our choice, to have the opportunity to send my children to school, to worship as I choose, to choose what I wanted to study in school, to marry the man I love, or even to be free to drive down the street as a woman. Not everyone has these freedoms, even today.

We didn’t get here by chance. For starters, there was the courage of a select few who saw an injustice and chose to do something about it. I will forever be grateful to those people who were willing to fight and die for our country. I can’t imagine having to make that choice. But in addition to the courage and sacrifice of men and women, I believe that God has been guiding us along and helping build this nation for centuries. I love the book 7 Miracles that Saved America, which points out some significant events in our nation’s history that are really just impossible to explain without a higher power being involved. If you haven’t read it, please do.

One historical story I came across in the book The Lincoln Hypothesis by Timothy Ballard captures another example of what seems too impossible to explain without some kind of divine guidance. This was a Civil War story I had never heard before. It isn’t a well-known story in our history books. But that’s probably because our history books don’t usually include much about divine intervention.

I’m no Civil War expert, but here are a few of the facts of what was happening in 1862. According to a private memo which titled “Meditation on the Divine Will,” Lincoln was actually praying about whether he should let the slaves be free. He even told some colleagues that he had made a covenant with God that if the North won the next battle at Antietam, he would take it as a sign from God that it was his duty to move forward with Emancipation.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Lee’s troops had set up in a field in Maryland where Lee gave out five top secret orders (Special Order No. 191) to five military leaders. The orders were not written by Lee because of an accident with his horse that caused him to wear hand splints for a period of time. The orders were instead written by Lee’s assistant, Robert Chilton. The leaders who received these orders were instructed to guard them with their lives. One leader had the order sewn into his jacket and one even memorized it and then ate it–it was that big of a deal. If these plans got out, it would significantly shift the South’s ability to gain victory over the North.

A few days later the Confederate army had packed up and moved out. That’s when Union Corporal Barton Mitchell was taking a walk in this same field and looked down in the grass to find three cigars with a note wrapped around them. Corporal Mitchell unwrapped the cigars and opened the note–it was a copy of Lee’s secret order. Of course, they couldn’t be sure it was authentic unless someone could verify the handwriting. As luck would have it, Corporal Mitchell’s assistant happened to be good friends with Robert Chilton, who wrote the order. He knew the handwriting and was able to confirm that the order was legitimate.

According to Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian and Antietam expert James McPherson, the odds of that order being found and authenticated were “a million to one.” The Union’s having that order significantly altered their ability to come out victorious at Antietam, which was the bloodiest battle in the Civil War. Without the advantage of that order, the Union may very well have lost that battle, which ended up being a major turning point in the war.

The field where Lee’s Special Order No. 191 was found by Union Corporal Mitchel.

Because of Lincoln’s personal covenant with God, the outcome at Antietam caused him to say, in a draft meeting of the Emancipation Proclamation, that he must keep his promise to himself and to his maker. The Union had won the battle, and thus Lincoln was driven to emancipate the slaves, as promised. The Union was also a step closer to ending the war. Who knows what would have happened if that order had not been found! To this day, no one knows who the order belonged to, or how it came to be lost. But what happened in that field may very well have changed the course of history as our nation’s leader was then motivated to keep his promise to make freedom a priority for millions.

The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

If we think that God is not involved in directing the affairs of our nation, then we are giving far too much credit to Fate. God is there, in the details, helping our nation become the beautiful, strong, free land that I love. I hope I never take for granted the work of the many souls who have given so much, or the Father in Heaven who wants to bless us all.

Heartbreak and hope in Sandy

This is hard to write about. But my head and heart are swimming with so many emotions that sometimes the only thing that I can do is write everything down.

Last Tuesday, my girls came home from school after their usual half-mile walk up the hill on Alta Canyon Drive. But their knock when they arrived home was more urgent. I opened the door to see their white faces and heard them say that they had just seen a car accident and a man with a gun who started shooting at the bottom of the hill. Then they had run. Over the next several hours, we learned what had happened to our neighbors.

Memorez Rackley, and her 6-year-old son Jace along with her 11-year-old son Myles had been walking home from school when a crazy, obsessive man started harassing them. They tried to get help from a woman who pulled over her car. Then the man started shooting. Memorez and Jace were killed and Myles was shot through the shoulder, neck, and jaw.  Another girl was shot in the leg. Dozens of children and parents were right there in the chaos. Our neighborhood was broken apart in a way I had never thought possible.

Some tragedies are the result of forces of nature or sickness beyond our ability to control. But some happen because there is evil in this world. I don’t have words to express the sadness I have grappled with as I have thought of the Rackley family, or the children and parents who watched these events unfold, or my own children who were so close to it all. I don’t have words to explain how a man could use this kind of violence here. I don’t know why this all happened. My heart breaks for this family every time I picture their faces, or look outside my front window, across our quiet cul de sac, to their lovely suburban home.

There is evil in this world. But the days following the incident have shown me how much goodness is here alongside it.  I saw it in the “Good Samaritan” who pulled over to help this scared mother and her children. I saw it in my neighbor who pulled over just behind the scene and screamed for my son and his friends to get in her car so she could drive them to safety. I saw it in the police officers and first responders who were so quick to arrive at the scene, but who have expressed their grief that they were too late to stop it.

I saw goodness in the woman who let a bleeding girl into her home and cared for her while they waited for paramedics. I saw it in the church leaders who immediately went to the hospital to be with the Rackley family, and then spent hours working on a plan for how to help them and the community heal. I saw it in my husband’s willingness to stay up until 4 a.m. organizing and communicating a plan to help our neighborhood. I saw it in the makeshift memorial on the sidewalk, full of teddy bears, flowers, and balloons and in the vigil at the school where floating lanterns were lit and counselors were available for anyone in need. I saw it in the Interfaith meeting held two days later to help us all learn how to grieve and heal together.

I saw goodness in the phone calls and texts and meals and gifts brought to my family, with notes and words of comfort. I saw it in the community gathering held to release blue balloons into the sky (Myles and Jace’s favorite color) and to tie hundreds of blue ribbons on every tree and post in sight. I see more goodness every day as I drive through our neighborhood, past those ribbons signifying our unity, our heartbreak, and our love.

There is a form of Japanese pottery called kintsugi where a broken pot is sealed back together with gold adhesive. Potters cherish the end result for its unique beauty. The pot, after its cracking and subsequent sealing, is stronger than before. I suppose our neighborhood has been through a sort of kintsugi–broken and sealed back together in a way that quiet possibly makes us stronger than we were. I know that after this experience, beyond the grief and fear and pain, I feel grateful for an incredible community of heroes.

I have seen darkness this week beyond anything I have ever experienced.  I have seen the destruction that one person is capable of.  I will continue to pray and ache for the Rackley family. But I will also feel the incredible power of the goodness and love that has taken place here. I feel hope. For now, the words from Sunday’s congregational hymn will remain as an echo in my heart:

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;

With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end. 

Twelve Fun Places to Take Your Kids This Summer in Salt Lake Valley

Summer is coming. I sense it with a mix of excitement and dread. I love having my kids home and getting to see their cute faces all day. But ALL DAY is a long time when we are talking about 2 and a 1/2 months. We need a plan. They have a few things going on that I can count on–sports and art camps and a few daily must do’s, like chores, music, math, and reading. But I find that having one day a week where we plan a fun outing together gives us all something to really look forward to. Call it “Take-a-Trip Tuesday” or “Field-Trip Friday” or just “Let’s-Get-Out-of-the-House-Before-Mom-Goes-Crazy Day.”  Whatever you call it, you’ll feel armed and ready to experience plenty of adventures with your kids this summer if you have a list in your back pocket. Here are some of our favorite stops in the Salt Lake Valley:

  1. Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. I’m a grown woman who has never tired of watching orangutans, gorillas, giraffes, lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). All of these and so many more amazing creatures you’ll find at the zoo, along with a great little water play area for cooling down when it gets hot. Admission: $16.95 (adults), $12.95 (children 3-12). Annual family membership: $149 
  2. Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake. We love the free interactive exhibits at the planetarium, where kids can learn about Earth, our solar system, and outer space. Cool educational IMAX and Dome Theater shows about the sun, black holes, the Amazon, extreme weather, the moon and more play daily. Show tickets for ages 3 and up are $7. Make it extra fun by riding TRAX downtown.

3. Hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon. We love getting up in the mountains to explore rocks, trees, water, animals and all the other beauties of nature. And guess what? If you live in Salt Lake Valley,you are only minutes away from some amazing options. A few of our favorite fairly easy hikes are Mill B South Trail, Bells Canyon Reservoir, and Donut Falls Trail. I have a two year old, so he would normally ride in a backpack (on my husband’s back!) when we hike. But he can meander for a ways on his own, and I can get a great workout if I decide to haul him on my shoulders. Win-win!
4. Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City. This is a fun way to explore the outdoors (without as much hiking as you’ll get in the canyons). You’ll find over 100 acres of display and natural gardens, walking paths and hiking trails. The whole family can enjoy activities year-round including concerts, classes, festivals, events, and exhibits. Admission: $12 (adults), $7 (children 3-17).5. The Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City is a fun and fascinating look at natural history subjects, with an emphasis on Utah and the Intermountain West. Kids will enjoy the many interactive exhibits (mine especially love the dinosaurs). Admission: $14.95 (adults), $9.95 (children 3-12). 6. Tracy Aviary and Liberty Park in downtown Salt Lake. If you love birds, this is the stop for you. With 8 acres that feature our colorful feathered friends, you might just feel like you’ve entered the Amazon. Admission: $11.95 (adults), $7.95 (children 3-12). Also in central Liberty Park are a few fun carnival rides that my kids love to hit (the ferris wheel especially). Before you head home, consider stopping by the pond to see the ducks and maybe rent a paddle boat! 7. Discovery Gateway in downtown Salt Lake is a hands-on, interactive children’s museum with dozens of fun options for kids of all ages, including obstacle courses, a pretend grocery store and gardens, a fun gravity exhibit, and a life-flight helicopter to explore. Admission: $9.508. Treehouse Museum in Ogden offers interactive, hands-on exhibits and experiences with a focus on literacy and creating a lifelong love of reading. I haven’t been here yet but hope to take my kids this summer. Admission: $5 (adults), $7 (children 1-12).9. The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper is a beautiful hands-on aquarium, home to 4,500 animals representing 550 species. Our favorite part is the underwater shark tunnel that makes us feel like scuba divers in the Caribbean. Admission: $19.95 (adults), $14.95 (children). Family membership for up to four children: $189. 10. Lagoon in Farmington offers spinning, soaring, flying, and falling for all ages.  If theme parks are your thing, look no further. Admission: $39.95 (48 inches and under) and $55.95 (over 48 inches).11. Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. You truly could spend your whole summer here. You’ll find Farm Country, the Museum of Natural Curiosity, the Museum of Ancient Life, and the Thanksgiving Point Gardens along with concerts, summer camps, cooking classes, restaurants, gift shops, and a farmers market. Annual family membership: $220. Museum admissions: $15 (adults), $12 (children), .

12. Seven Peaks in Salt Lake City and Provo. After receiving 17 emails from Groupon and KSL about this deal, I finally caved and bought the Pass of All Passes for $20 a person. But guess what? We’ve been to these waterparks twice already and it isn’t even summer yet! My kids have had a blast. Tubes, slides, waves, and rivers…this may very well be our favorite stop all summer (and we’ll go again, and again, and again…because we can).

So, yes. Summer is coming, ready or not. Don’t worry. Aside from the daily bouts of sibling squabbles and occasional boredom, you’ll have a wonderful time together. Especially if you have a few fun plans along the way. And before you know it, those favorite people of yours are going to be back in school all day, and you’ll miss them like crazy. It happens to me every summer. Let’s make every day count.